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.

October 31, 2014

October 31, 1912

Oscar Dystel ( October 31, 1912 to May 28, 2014), was  a giant in book publishing. We reference his New York Times obituary below.

[Oscar Dystel was born]  in the Bronx, the only child of parents who worked in a tailor shop and later owned a general store. As a child he played the violin and performed at Carnegie Hall, but he gave it up after realizing that he would never be a virtuoso. He received a track scholarship to New York University, which he supplemented by working as a typesetter at The Times. He graduated in 1935 with a major in advertising.

Mr. Dystel won a scholarship to Harvard Business School and graduated in 1937. He was then hired as promotion manager at Esquire magazine and later promoted to editor of Coronet magazine, which was owned by the same company. He helped increase Coronet’s circulation to two million from 87,000 before leaving in 1942 to join the Office of War Information, where he worked on psychological warfare.

He won the Medal of Freedom for planning, editing and distributing millions of leaflets to people in Nazi-occupied southern France. The leaflets were “valuable factors in reducing the enemy’s will to resist,” the citation said.

Dystel became famous for the success of Bantam books under his leadership.

Bantam Books was founded in 1945 to take advantage of new methods that allowed paperbacks to be produced cheaply and of a public eager to pay 25 cents for a book that might have cost $2 as a hardback....

Oscar Dystel, ... combined sharp editorial judgments, shrewd marketing and attention-grabbing covers to propel Bantam Books from the brink of collapse to pre-eminence in paperback publishing after World War II, ....

... [B]y the time Mr. Dystel retired as chairman in 1980, its sales exceeded $100 million a year. It was the largest publisher of paperbacks, with more than 15 percent of a market served by 14 principal houses and several lesser imprints. Paperbacks had come to account for more than half the dollar volume of sales in the nation’s bookstores.

This notable feat was accomplished by Dystel's policies.

Mr. Dystel reduced inventory, pushed a program to sell classic books by Dostoyevsky and other authors, expanded publishing for schools and children, multiplied the sales force and built a corporate structure.

And he did what he liked most: He found books with a shot at popularity and sold them vigorously.

[Such titles as] “Valley of the Dolls” by Jacqueline Susann, which Mr. Dystel predicted would sell a million copies, [ and which then] had a press run of four million the week after its paperback publication in 1967. Four million more copies were published in less than a year.

When no hardcover publisher was interested in William Peter Blatty’s novel “The Exorcist” in 1971, Mr. Dystel bought both hardcover and paperback rights. ... Bantam sold 10 million copies ....[of the book which became] the basis of a 1973 blockbuster movie of the same title.

Covers mattered. Bantam made red the preferred color for paperback books, and other companies followed, until bookstands were almost solidly red. It then did the same with white, and later with raised metallic titles.

When the New American Library’s rights for J. D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” (1951) were expiring, Mr. Dystel resolved to acquire the book. It turned out that what Mr. Salinger most wanted was to design the cover himself. “No problem!” Mr. Dystel said...

Mr. Salinger’s cover is the one that became familiar to millions: the title and author’s name in yellow against a red background. “Catcher” sold half a million Bantam copies a year beginning in 1964, and by 1978 it had been through 46 Bantam printings.

Mr. Dystel’s maxim for publishing success was as simple as it was difficult: “There’s no disastrous situation in publishing which cannot be saved by the publication of one really big best seller.”

We conclude with one of Oscar Dystel's Bantam covers:

This 1967 Bantam title features cover art by 
Mitchell Hooks.

October 30, 2014

October 30, 1894

Philip Heseltine (October 30, 1894 to December 17, 1930) is remembered as a British composer. Here is how the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography summarizes his artistic contributions:

Heseltine's compositions include more than 100 songs, mostly with piano accompaniment, though some have instrumental accompaniment, notably his acknowledged masterpiece The Curlew (1915–22), a song-cycle of poems by Yeats for tenor, flute, cor anglais, and string quartet. It is a work which shows the influence of Bartók, whose music he was championing at the time. Other instrumental works include An Old Song (1917–23), a serenade for string orchestra (1921–2), and the popular Capriol (1927). He also composed a number of short choral works. His scholarly output includes a large collection of Elizabethan and Jacobean vocal solo, choral, and instrumental transcriptions as well as an edition of Henry Purcell's string fantasias. He was also the author of a number of books, including Frederick Delius (1923), The English Ayre (1926), and, together with Cecil Gray, Carlo Gesualdo: Musician and Murderer (1926).

Heseltine is remembered also for a "wild, bohemian" lifestyle; both D. H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley based characters upon Heseltine. His fondness for cats was striking enough to earn a note in the ODNB article.

October 29, 2014

October 29, 1993

‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ a stop motion film produced and co-written by Tim Burton, opened on October 29, 1993. As is often the case, the movie was not immediately recognized as a classic. The movie, and the music by Danny Elfman, now are.  

The story involves Jack Skellington, a skeleton, living in Halloween Town. who discovers Christmas Town, and decides to invigorate his own world, by kidnapping Santa Claus. And Jack is in love with a rag doll and wants to help her escape from her creator, a mad scientist.

There is a mountain of spinoff products out there. For instance, the skeleton's dog, named Zero, is featured in figurine sets, and I think there is also a black cat in some sets. The cat, seems not to have been named. Here is a picture of a wedding cake topper, with our theme:

October 28, 2014

October 28, 1900

Max Müller (December 6, 1823 to October 28, 1900), was a Professor of Comparative Philology, at Oxford University. Now hiis name is rarely heard outside academe, although he was one of the last scholars to speak intelligibly about basic philosophical issues. After a quote from his writing, The science of language: founded on lectures delivered at the Royal institution in 1861 and 1863, (Volume 2, from an edition published in 1891.) we have some biographical notes on this scholar.  This quotation below is a graceful  summary of  the distinction between the concrete and the abstract. His analysis of etymology suggests to me how brilliant were the first speakers, though that last is not Muller's point. Here is what he wrote:

"The difference between animal and infant is, that the infant possesses the healthy germs of speech and reason, only not yet developed into actual speech and actual reason, whereas the animal has no such germs or faculties, capable of development in its present state of existence. We must concede to animals 'sensation, perception, memory, will, and judgment,' but we cannot allow to them a trace of what the Greek called logos, i. e. reason, literally, gathering, a word which most rightly and naturally expresses in Greek both speech and reason. Animals were called by the Greek aloga, whether in the sense of without reason, or in the sense of speechless. Logos is derived from legein, which, like Latin legere, means, originally, to gather. Hence, katalogos, a catalogue, a gathering, a list; collectio, a collection. In Homer, legein is hardly ever used in the same sense of saying, speaking or meaning, but always in the sense of gathering, or, more properly, of telling, for to tell is the German zahlen, and means originally to count, to cast up. Legein, used in the sense of reason, meant originally, like the English tale, or the German zahlen, gathering; for reason, 'though it penetrates into the depths of the sea and earth, elevates our thoughts as high as the stars, and leads us through the vast spaces and large rooms of this mighty fabric,' is nothing more or less than the gathering up of the single by means of the general.' [Muller here is quoting John Locke]

To sum up, as Kant says, it is the office of the senses to perceive, and the office of the understanding to think; but to think is to unite different conceptions in one act of consciousness. The Latin intelligo, i. e. inter-ligo, for interlego, expresses most graphically the interlacing of the general and the single, which is the peculiar province of the intellect. Expressions like cogitare ... to comprehend, rest on similar metaphors. But Logos used in the sense of word, means likewise a gathering, for every word, or, at least, every name is based on the same process; it represents the gathering of single impressions under one general conception. As we cannot tell or count quantities without numbers, we cannot tell or recount things without words. There are tribes, we are told, that have no numerals beyond four. Should we say that they do not know if they have five children instead of four? They certainly do, as much as a cat knows that she has five kittens, and will look for the fifth, if it has been taken away from her. But if they have no numerals beyond four, they cannot reason beyond four.... "

This is as much as we are quoting now. Here are some biographical notes about Max Muller, italicized as is our usual habit. This biographical section is rather long, and based on the Gifford lectures website. Muller deserves to be remembered.

Friedrich Max Müller (1823-1900), Sanskrit scholar and philologist, was a pioneer in the fields of Vedic studies, comparative philosophy, comparative mythology and comparative religion. Müller was born on 6 December 1823 in Dessau, Germany, to the popular lyric poet Willhelm Müller and his wife Adelheid, the eldest daughter of Präsident von Basedow, the prime minister of the Anhalt-Dessau duchy. Müller inherited an intense love of music from his mother and his godfather, composer C. M. von Weber. In 1827, when Müller was only three years old, his father died unexpectedly, and his childhood was shadowed by his mother’s resultant grief. He began his formal education in Dessau at the age of six, and in 1839, at age 16, he was sent to the Nicolai school in Leipzig, where he studied classical literature. Upon completion, Müller won a scholarship allowing him to attend the University of Leipzig.

In 1841, Müller entered the University of Leipzig, concentrating on the study of Latin and Greek and reading Philosophy – in particular the thought of G. F. W. Hegel. He was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1843, at the age of 19, for his dissertation, ‘On the Third Book of Spinoza’s Ethics, De Affectibus.’ Müller travelled to Berlin in 1844 to study with Friedrich Schelling, whose lectures proved to be very influential to his intellectual development. Whilst in Berlin, he was also given access to the Chambers collection of Sanskrit manuscripts. At Schelling’s request, Müller translated some of the most important passages of the Upanishads, which he understood to be the greatest outcome of Vedic literature. He emphasised the necessity of studying the ancient hymns of the Veda in order to be able to appreciate the historical growth of the Indian mind during the Vedic age. Müller was convinced that all mythological and religious theories would remain without a solid foundation until the whole of the Rig Veda had been published.

Müller arrived in Paris in 1845 where he studied with the famous French Sanskrit scholar Eugene Burnouff, with whom he remained friends for many years. Burnouff encouraged Müller to undertake the preparation and publication of a full edition of the Rig Veda; this project proved to be his most significant and lasting contribution to scholarship. To further his work on the Rig Veda, Müller came to London in June 1846 to work with manuscripts in the library of the East India Company, which eventually underwrote much of the expense of printing Müller’s Rig Veda. While Müller initially came to England to spend three weeks in Oxford, he stayed in England, making it his home for the remainder of his life. He became a close friend of William Howard Russell, the famous Times correspondent, and Baron von Bunsen, the Prussian ambassador in London. Müller was visiting Paris in early 1848 when the revolution began, but he and his valuable manuscripts were able to return unscathed to England. In 1849 Oxford University Press published Müller’s first volume of the Rig Veda, the sixth and final volume of which was not published until 1874. In 1851 he was appointed Professor of Modern European Languages at Oxford and was made full professor in 1854. He became a naturalized British citizen in 1855, and he married Georgina Adelaide on 3 August 1859; their marriage produced four children.

In 1860, Müller was considered for Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford. The chair has been left vacant due to the death of the previous professor, and Müller was by far the most eligible candidate. However, at this time in Oxford, candidates for professorships were elected by all those holding MA degrees from the University (mostly clergymen), and much more attention was paid to a candidate’s political and religious view than to his academic qualifications. Müller’s Christianity, which was of a liberal Lutheran variety, was brought under considerable scrutiny, and the supporters of Müller’s evangelical competitor even waged a defamation campaign against him in the press. Their efforts were successful, for the post went to the less qualified candidate.

After Müller’s bitter disappointment at being passed over for the professorship, the focus of his career shifted slightly. He continued to work on his monumental Rig Veda, but most of his time was devoted to the preparation of books and lectures on comparative philosophy and mythology written with the public in mind. He delivered a series of very popular lectures at the Royal Institution, London, on the science of language in 1861 and 1863, which were quickly published and reprinted fifteen times between 1861 and 1899. His contributions to such public discourse brought a level of recognition that considerably made up for his aforementioned disappointment, and he was generally thought to be a leading figure of public life in Victorian England.

In 1868 the University of Oxford created a new Chair of Comparative Philology, and Müller became its first occupant. This new post was accompanied by a decrease of lecturing responsibilities and an increase in salary, both of which were welcome changes. After twenty-five years of service at Oxford, he formed a small society of the best Oriental scholars from Europe and India, and they began to publish a series of translations of the Sacred Books of the East. Müller devoted the last thirty years of his life to writing and lecturing on comparative religion. In 1873 he published Introduction to the Science of Religion, and he delivered lectures on the subject at the Royal Institution (1870) and Westminster Abbey (1873). In 1878 Müller inaugurated the annual Hibbert lectures on the science of religion at Westminster Abbey, and he was invited to deliver the Gifford Lectures in Natural Theology at the University of Glasgow. He temporarily relocated to Glasgow with his wife and daughter in 1888 and began his first course of lectures on the subject of ‘natural religion’. An audience of 1,400 attended his first lecture, including a large number of Glasgow professors, representatives of Glasgow churches and other members of the public. Müller gave an unsurpassed four courses, totalling 62 lectures, between 1888-92.

Müller’s other important project during those years was founding and editing of a series of English translations of Indian, Arabic, Chinese and Iranian religious texts. Müller translated selections from the hymns of the Rig Veda, the Upanishads, and the Dhammapada, a Buddhist text and also contributed to The Sacred Books of the East published by Oxford University Press. By 1900, at the time of Müller’s death, forty-eight translated volumes had been published in the series, with only one volume remaining to be published.

Müller’s health began deteriorating in 1898, but he continued his writing, publishing The Six Systems of Hindu Philosophy in 1899, only a year before his death. During this period he also produced several essays and material for his autobiography. He died at his home in Oxford on 28 October 1900, and on 1 November 1900, All Saints’ Day, he was buried in Holywell Cemetery in Oxford.

Müller’s scholarly works, published as an 18-volume Collected Works, include A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature So Far As It Illustrates the Primitive Religion of the Brahmans(1859), Lectures on the Science of Language (1864, 2 vols.), Chips from a German Workshop(1867-75, 4 vols.), Introduction to the Science of Religion (1873), India, What can it Teach Us? (1883), Biographical Essays (1884), The Science of Thought (1887), Six Systems of Hindu Philosophy (1899), and his four volumes of Gifford Lectures (Collected Works, vols. 1-4):Natural Religion (1889), Physical Religion (1891), Anthropological Religion (1892), andTheosophy, or Psychological Religion (1893). Also of note are his two volumes of biographical reflections, entitled Auld Lang Syne (1898), My Autobiography: A Fragment (1901) and The Life and Letters of the Right Honourable Friedrich Max Müller (1902, 2 vols.), which was edited by his wife.

October 27, 2014

October 27, 195x

A. N. Wilson (October 27, 1950) is an English historian, a prominent public intellectual who does not back away from fights with other academics. Wilson's children's book, Stray (1987) about the adventures of a cat who has several homes, contains this dialogue:

I ran to the window ledge and said to Tom-Cat, "We've got to run." "No cat leaves here without my permission," he snarled. I could see his eyes gleaming in the darkness and not for the first time I was struck by how deeply stupid he was...

When we remember Wilson's public spats, it is easy to imagine he was inspired by the stupid eyes of certain other writers. Although his exchanges with Bevis Hillier chronologically could not be the exact inspiration, that one gives us a sense of how some spats spark. 
Anita Singh recalls in her article of April 5, 2012:

In 2002, he [Wilson] reviewed Bevis Hillier’s biography of John Betjeman and called it “a hopeless mishmash”.  Four years later, Wilson wrote his own Betjeman biography and included a passionate love letter supposedly written by the poet’s mistress. It turned out to be a hoax concocted by Hillier, and the first letter of each sentence spelled out “AN Wilson is a s---”.

The cat on the cover of Stray looks able to take care of himself:

October 26, 2014

October 26, 1952

The previous poet laureate, to Carol Ann Duffy, was Andrew Motion (October 26, 1952). He was the first poet to serve a limited term, and so, except for John Dryden, who was fired as poet laureate, Motion is the only one who can say "I was poet laureate." We learned this tidbit from a Guardian article dated March 9, 2009, which interviewed Motion about the honor he was quitting.

Being poet laureate in Great Britain is a tough job, it turns out. Apparently the Queen told him, "you don't have to do anything". Which means, you don't have to write special poems about events of which royalty is a prominent feature. Still, Motion says he felt beneath her smile, another directive. And he in his tenure focused not just on promoting poetry itself as a valuable dimension,-- he wrote some poems for royal events. Duffy has said she is not about to write poems about royal events. Both of them work hard to promote poetry.

Andrew Motion continues to correct what he deems a modern devaluation of poetry -- a position he described as corresponding to the poetry section in book stores. He said:

We're used to reading newspaper stories about the tiny book-audience for poetry, and to visiting bookshops where the poetry shelf is upstairs, at the back, and filled with GCSE texts, anthologies about cats, and the Complete Shakespeare.
How lovely: bookstores in Britain have an upstairs.

October 25, 2014

October 25, 1881

Picasso, (October 25, 1881 to April 8, 1973) it turns out, liked his own art so much that a huge collection was found after his death. A trove that was unsuspected by anyone. According to a article in The Guardian, with lots of dishy detail, and dated October 16, 2014,

He kept a bank vault in Paris, filled with paintings, prints, sculptures, and even poetry.....
No one had known the scale and substance of this private dimension to Picasso’s genius. It was not just the stupefying quantity of works he kept, but how and why he kept them, which had no equivalent in art. As early as 1932, when he still had four decades of creativity ahead, Picasso worked closely with the Greek critic Christian Zervos on the first volume of what was to become a 33-volume catalogue raisonné of his output....

I am not sure if the painting below belongs to a museum or not. It is dated October 23, 1962.
Nature morte avec chat et homard (Still life with cat and lobster)

is one of several cat paintings Picasso did. None of his cats appear distorted the way his pictures of people sometimes do.