The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

July 23, 2014

July 23, 1888

The man who wrote

The Big Sleep (1939),
Farewell, My Lovely (1940),
The Little Sister (1949), and 

The Long Goodbye (1953),

Dashiell Hammett,  (July 23, 1888 to March 26, 1959) has been labeled a serious writer, not just a detective novelist.



I am not sure of the distinction. Nor was Taki, his black Persian cat. Here is author and cat




Chandler lost Taki after almost twenty years, just before Christmas, 1951.  He wrote to a friend on January 9, 1951, "Thanks for the letter and Christmas card. I didn't send any this year.We were a bit broken up over the death of our black Persian cat. When I say broken up I am being conventional. For us it was tragedy."

The Chandlers  got another Persian, another black one, within the year. They named it also Taki. Probably just as hard-boiled as the original Taki.



July 22, 2014

July 22, 1898

Alexander Calder (July 22, 1898 to November 11, 1976), the American sculptor, was always very fond of France. That is where he met his wife, (grandniece of William James) and where he had a studio. And he often titled his work in French, as we see in our picture, "Chat Mobile."





This photo of  a 1966 sculpture, made of painted sheet metal and wire, is by Nathan Keay.

July 21, 2014

July 21, 1664

Matthew Prior   (July 21 or 23, 1664 to September 18, 1721) was an English poet.

Here is an excerpt from

WHEN THE CAT IS AWAY, THE MICE MAY PLAY.

....
A Lady once (so stories say)
By rats and mice infested,
With gins and traps long sought to slay
The thieves; but still they 'scap'd away,
And daily her molested.

Great havoc 'mongst her cheese was made,
And much the loss did grieve her:
At length Grimalkin to her aid
She call'd (no more of cats afraid),
And begg'd him to relieve her.

Soon as Grimalkin came in view,
The vermin back retreated;
Grimalkin swift as lightning flew,
Thousands of mice he daily slew,
Thousands of rats defeated.


....


The picture above was ancient long before the poet was born. His intent here is a satirical comment on the some political scene in England. His grace as a writer is spoken of and this certainly illustrates that.

Matthew Prior was a famous poet in his time, and not really forgotten til the last century. This line from a long biographical article at poetryfoundation.org  perplexes:

Matthew Prior was the most important poet writing in England between the death of John Dryden (1700) and the poetic maturity of Alexander Pope (about 1712). 

I guess I didn't think of importance as something measureable  by decade. According to this source:

He was particularly important in his own century in England for two accomplishments: he helped to keep alive as a lesser current, in the main current of polished Augustan couplets, the Restoration gifts of lyricism and levity in tone and of octosyllabics and anapests in metrical form; and the tremendous financial success of his 1718 Poems on Several Occasions, with its 1,446 subscribers paying half the price of the edition in advance, helped to teach his fellow poets a significant economic lesson—that it was possible to support oneself handsomely by relying on the reading public in general rather than on one titled patron.

That praise is a bit pinched. Or so it seems; this is a world that has disappeared.  From his biography:

Prior later praised the training he had received at Westminster, particularly in the making of extemporaneous verses and the composing of declamations in a short length of time.

His was a different world, with standards we have forgotten.  And yet a world like our own, where even the religious, can say with Matthew Prior, they are “unable to explain / The secret Lab’rynths of Thy Ways to Man.... “


July 20, 2014

July 20, 1847

Max Liebermann (July 20, 1847 to February 8, 1935) was a German impressionist painter whose wealthy Jewish background (his father was a textile manufacturer) allowed him to pursue his artistic genius. From a biography found at the current web site, built around the villa he constructed at Lake Wannsee, in 1910,  we learn that in 1889 Liebermann

participated in the Exposition Universelle in Paris, marking the 100th anniversary of the FrenchRevolution. For political reasons, the Prussian government forbade him from accepting a knighthood from the French Legion of Honour.

Here is an example of his work when he liked most to paint scenes from the lower classes. This theme ended about 1900 and so the painting probably dates to before then. "Girl Sewing with Cat," is a Dutch scene. He loved Holland and visited there 
every summer from 1874 to 1914 .



Girl Sewing with Cat - Dutch Interior


In 1897 Max Liebermann was appointed professor at the Royal Academy of Arts at Berlin. From 1920 to 1932 he was President of the Prussian Academy of Arts at Berlin. In 1933 he resigned as honorary president of that Academy upon the fine art department’s decision to stop exhibiting pictures from Jewish artists. Max Liebermann died at the family home in Berlin in 1935.

July 19, 2014

July 19, 1912

Norman Carr (July 19, 1912 to April 1, 1997) received the British honor, an MBE,  for his conservation work in Africa. The award he said, actually should have gone to the tsetse fly. When this pest was eradicated, the cattle moved into an area, and that meant people. With that tsetse fly part of the environment, the wildlife had their world to themselves. This and most of the rest of this post we owe to his obituary in the Independent.

Carr himself felt the need to get away from a world of lots of people, traffic, and city confusion. He was happy to return to Africa when his schooling was over. As a young man he worked with elephant control, and by the age of 32, he had killed 50 elephants. 


Norman Carr shot his 50th elephant on his 20th birthday when he was a government elephant control officer in Northern Rhodesia. It was a dangerous but necessary job, for the local tribes depended on what they grew and, if marauding elephants destroyed the crops, the villagers faced hunger and real hardship. Carr was one of four such officers in the country. Of the other three, one died of drink, one after being mauled by a lion and the tombstone of the third reads "Killed by his 350th elephant".

The accomplishment of Norman Carr though, as his career evolved,  rests on the national parks he established in what is now Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. And the whole idea of eco-tourism was invented by Norman  Carr as a way to protect wildlife.  The concept that people will pay to see wild animals, and that is a means of preventing the local population from killing the animals, which have become a source of revenue --- this was formulated and tested by Norman Carr. 

He wrote several books, and a movie was made of one, Return to the Wild, (1962) which talks about two cubs he raised, after one of his wildlife officers had to shoot the mother, after inadvertently coming between her and her cubs.  Yes, you have heard that story before.  Born Free, was published in 1960, and perhaps it's runaway acclaim obscured the contributions of Norman Carr. 

July 18, 2014

July 18, 1760

The following is what substituted for snapshots in the 18th century.




The subject is Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his sisters. The artist is Philip Mercier (1689 to July 18, 1760). Mercier was the official painter for the Prince, and also had the title of librarian in the Prince's household. The painting dates to 1733. Though Mercier was French, he had been born in Berlin, and no doubt those credentials helped him since the House of Hanover was only recently established in England.


And we have "A Girl Holding a Cat" dated to about 1750




Watteau is said to have been a big influence on Mercier. So was Chardin, and you can see that in the light on the face in this lovely portrait.

July 17, 2014

July 17, 1674

Isaac Watts (July 17, 1674 to November 25, 1748) was the author of many books, and though his reputation is as a religious leader, his interests obviously were also focused on questions of scholarship. Some of his books have these titles:

The art of reading and writing English (1722)
The Knowledge of the Heavens and the Earth Made Easy (1726)
Philosophical Essays on Various Subjects (1733)
The strength and weakness of human reason (1737)
The ruin and recovery of mankind (1742)

We see in these titles one result of the revolution and religious wars of the 17th century. The chaos inspired numerous attempts to understand the source of the political turmoil. John Locke's philosophy was one such, and so was the religious writing of Isaac Watts. Both of them seemed to think it would help a lot if people reasoned better. 

Watts could not attend Cambridge or Oxford because he was a dissenter, not within the Church of England. He had a congregation, in a London suburb, and a co-minister since Watts was sometimes very ill. This last was a factor in his living circumstances. A local family of great wealth, that of Sir Thomas Abney, onetime Lord-Mayor of London, and obviously sharing the Nonconforming views of Watts, took him into their household, and this allowed him access to the peace and dignity which beauty can bring. He lived there for 36 years. 

We cheated a bit and used an anthology of Watts' works in preparing our essay: 

The Beauties of the Late Rev. Dr. Isaac Watts: containing the most striking and admired passages in the works of that celebrated Divine, Philosopher, Moralist, and Poet
(1821).

The preface to this volume describes Isaac Watts as

....the man who had unquestionably contributed more than any other to convince the dissenters, who bad been ever remarkable for, an affected contempt of the beauties of language, and a studied inelegancy of expression, that the great truths of the Christian gospel would become doubly attractive when displayed in the fascinating powers of a polished diction.
.... Few men have left behind such purity of character, or such monuments of laborious piety. He has provided instruction for all ages, from those who are lisping their first lessons, to the enlightened readers of Malbranche and Locke; he has left neither corporeal nor spiritual nature unexamined; he has taught the art of reasoning, and the science of the stars.

And Watts had this to say about raising children:

Children should not he encouraged in cruel diversions. Nor should they ever be allowed to practice those diversions that carry an idea of barbarity .and cruelty in them, though it be but to brute creatures. They should not set up cocks to be banged at with cudgels thrown at them about shrovetide; nor delight in giving a tedious lingering death to a young litter of dogs or cats. that may be appointed to be destroyed and drowned, lest they multiply too much in a house.... nor should they take pleasure in pricking, cutting, or mangling young birds which they have caught;. nor using any savage and bloody practices toward any creatures whatsoever; lest their hearts grow hard and unrelenting, and they learn in time to practice these cruelties upon their own kind, and to murder and torture their fellow-mortals ... or. at least to be indifferent to their pain and distress, so as to occasion it without remorse.

The words above are a great chance to look at the heart of a previous century.

In 1719 the hymn "Joy to the World" was published. It was written by Isaac Watts.