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.

September 28, 2016

September 28, 1959

Gerhard Hoffnung, (March 22, 1925 to September 28, 1959) was a German illustrator and musician who made England his home. As of course did many others at this period.

Some of the books he did the pictures for include: 

The Isle of Cats (by John Symonds, 1955)
Reigning Cats and Dogs (by Stanley Penn, 1959)
The Boy and the Magic
(by Colette, 1964).

According to this article about his music, "Hoffnung was passionately fond of cats."
There we learn that his book:

Musical Chairs, a delight for animal lovers..[It] includes perhaps Hoffnung's best known and loved drawing, that of the smiling cat playing his stave-like whiskers with a violin bow held with his tail....

Here is a Hoffnung drawing:

September 27, 2016

September 27, 1977

This blog is not about Grigori Raspustin, the peasant monk who some say destroyed the Romanoff monarchy. It is not about the man murdered by an aristocrat, who felt this deed necessary to save the Russian homeland. It is about Rasputin's daughter Maria (1898 or 1899 to September 27, 1977).

We are indebted to Atlas Obscura for the story:

The Imperial Family stuck by the sisters, [after their father Rasputin was murdered in 1916] and they spent many hours at Tsarskoye Selo with the royal children. But, soon this safety net was ripped away as well, when the long brewing Russian civil war began. On her last visit to the palace, Maria remembered the cold but kindly Empress telling them, “Go my children, leave us, leave us quickly, we are being imprisoned.”

Maria and Varvara escaped to their mother’s home in Pokrovskoe. In 1917, Maria married her “dear friend,” Boris Soloviev, a man of questionable character [--he studied among other things, theosophy--] who many considered her father’s successor. The couple lived a chaotic, fugitive existence, attempting to save the royal family from their imprisonment in Siberia, and constantly on the run from the Red Army. ...[a life which turned into a restless exile like that of many Russians then.]

[Her husband Boris died in 1926, after other family members were also dead.]

Maria was alone, but at least she was alive. The entire family of Nicholas and Alexandra had been murdered at Yekaterinburg’s Ipatiev House, the “house of special purpose,” in 1918. Her mother and brother disappeared into the Soviet gulags of Siberia. Her sister, Varvara, died in Moscow in 1924–some said of starvation, others said of poison. But Maria soldiered on, supporting her daughters as a lady’s maid and companion to a rich Russian exile.

[Then Maria found work as a cabaret dancer]... allowing herself to be billed as “the daughter of the mad monk.” In 1929, she published her first book, The Real Rasputin, a strongly worded defense of her father.

Soon Maria took on another career- that of an animal trainer in a traveling circus. With her characteristic sense of humor, Maria said: “They ask me if I mind to be in a cage with animals, and I answer, ‘Why not? I have been in a cage with Bolsheviks.’” She also published another book about Rasputin, 1932’s My Father. ....

She traveled in the United States as part of Ringling Brothers circus in 1935. Here is a poster:

Maria officially immigrated to America in 1937 (her daughters stayed in Europe) and gave up her circus career after being badly mauled by a bear.

Following a career of odd jobs, which included getting paid for interviews, she settled in Los Angeles, in a neighborhood with a large Russian population, with quiet happiness.

September 26, 2016

September 26, 1888

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats was published in October, 1939, weeks after the war began. T. S. Eliot ( (September 26, 1888 to January 4, 1965) is remembered by some, as much for this volume as for his poetry on grand themes. Here is the first cover -

This cover, we read, is the artwork of the poet himself, and appeared on the first edition, first printing:

Well before this satirical feline material attained such grand embellishment for and far-reaching fame on the stage, it took its first, humble public form in 1939. Had you bought Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats then, you would have bought the one above, with Eliot’s hand-drawn cover. (It runs $37,000 now.) The very next year, a new edition came out fully illustrated by Nicholas Bentley. 

Recently I read his widow was at pains to present T. S. Eliot as a dog person. Not sure I believe that--about Eliot that is, there is presumably no doubt his wife said it.

September 25, 2016

September 25, 1906

Dmitri Shostakovich (September 25, 1906 to August 9,1975) was a Russian composer . In harrowing political times he did survive with some artistic viability. This site has a picture of the young (1925) musician with his cat named Lady Catbeth of Mtsensk. (He had composed an opera titled Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.)

shost cat2

Here is an interesting discussion of the relations between the Soviet authorities and this artist; I am not sure how accurate it is. My suspicion is that someone who has not undergone that kind of suffering may have little insight. What is not in doubt is the astonishing genius of the music of Dmitri Shostakovich.

September 24, 2016

September 24, 1825

Louis Eugène Lambert (September 24, 1825 to May 17, 1900) gained some fame as a painter of animals.

We learn this from

Lambert’s great success at the Salon of 1857 with “Cat and Parakeet” decided his career; thereafter he garnered a world-wide reputation as a painter of cats and dogs, and was dubbed the “Raphael of Cats.” He received medals in 1865, 1870 and was presented with the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1874. In 1874, he painted Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild surrounded by his dogs. Lambert also produced imaginative illustrations for many books, among them the
Fables of La Fontaine.

According to a contemporary review of his work:

"The cats of H. Louis Eugene Lambert are as usual the most attractive and characteristic reproductions of animal life to be found at the Salon. One of his contributions this year is probably destined to as widespread a popularity as was obtained by his 'Envoi en Provence,' that basketful of recalcitrant kittens that won such a success a few years ago. This year H. Lambert takes an historic flight, and, remembering the tact that Cardinal Richelieu was passionately fond of cats, he paints for our delectation
the pets of the great statesman His other contribution is felicitously named
'Fallen Greatness.' A tiger skin Is spread upon the floor, and a sober mother cat and ber family have taken possession of this relic of the king of the forest. The languid dignity of the mother cat, with her glossy fur, pink nose, and reposeful attitude, is well contrasted with the irrepressible vivacity of her offspring."
— Art Journal, August, 1878.

We have this example of his work, titled: Three cats red cherries and bees

It could be argued that Lambert, a pupil of Eugene Delacroix, does not surpass his teacher.

September 23, 2016

September 23, 1879

Charles Camoin (September 23 1879 to May 20, 1965) was a French painter, associated with the group called Fauvists.

One site gives us a sketch of his life:

A lifelong friend of Henri Matisse and Albert Marquet, each of whom Charles Camoin met while enrolled in the Beaux-Arts de Paris, the three artists were primary among those referred to as “Wild Beasts”, or “Fauvists”. Camoin himself was instrumental in the 1905 exhibit where art critic Louis Vauxcelles backhandedly anointed the artists with the title. Their Fauvist style committed colors to the primary importance, blending light and shadow equally, with their use of thick, direct brush strokes and outlined edges making for stark, strong two-dimensional paintings.

Camoin decided early on, in part through corresponding with his informal mentor, Paul Cezannes, that he would not push exaggerated boundaries, but keep to painting “truth in color”. After a childhood spend with his mother in Paris and the resorts of the Riveria, and a bleaker period of military service, in 1920 Camoin lived between Paris and Saint Tropez, immortalizing the latter as the port and city of amazing light and colors.

“I still consider myself a Fauve. There are two kinds of colors, real ones and superficial ones. You have to chose.” Camoin proved himself to be a wizened sort, and stayed away from the educational art revolutionaries of Dadaism and Cubism, and toned his heavy colors and outlined shapes and figures with realistic presence, to the delight of all.

One incident that gets repeated about his life: In 1914, before the war, there was

A special exhibition of sixty of his paintings held Druet Gallery in early 1914. But in June, Camoin destroyed much of the paintings - "He cuts them into pieces before throwing them out. They are recovered and quickly resold at
[a] flea market . Subsequently, these paintings reappear on the market and Camoin refuse to accept paternity.

Apparently a rag-picker found the pieces of canvas, and sold them. They were then collected by another artist who sold them as art. I can't get the picture: were the pieces put back together, or were the pieces used as a basis for another work. Guillaume Apollinaire said the discarded pieces were the most interesting of this painter, left "lying in his studio."

I like this one of his pictures: brave of him to want to capture an unusual pose for a species which has many quite graceful ones. And yet, this is drawn from life.

September 22, 2016

September 22, 1743

Quintin Craufurd (September 22, 1743 to November 23, 1819) was well-connected at the French court. He was a Scotsman who accumulated a fortune when he was with the East India Company, and then settled in Paris. He in fact was involved with a plot to rescue Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, after the revolution turned dire. What part he played in distracting the guards, preparing a coach and setting them on a course to Varennes (near the border) I am not sure. What no one did is suggest traveling with the crown in their luggage was a bad idea. And that in fact is how the royal couple were recognised and recaptured. In the aftermath Craufurd fled to Brussels, and then Vienna.

This all happened after Craufurd's  book on the Bastille:

The History of the Bastile: With a Concise Account of the Late Revolution in France (1790)

This history includes the imprisonment of 
Mademoiselle de Launay  in the Bastille. She, better remembered as the famous memoirist, Madame de Stael, was arrested in 1718, because her friends the Duke and Duchess of Maine were suspected of collaborating with the Spanish court.

In these confines, she found a friend in her captor: Lieutenant Maisonrouge. When she confessed her fear of torture to this person, she noticed the subject resulted in his turning away "walking with immensely long steps, and making profound reflections."

This she found ominous. But--

I found out afterwards that the lieutenant "was deaf of one ear, and that I had got "on his deaf side when I addressed my last "observation to him. I have often laughed since at the fright his supposed circumspection then occasioned me."

Craufurd  includes an affecting detour on the topic of imagination:

"Here many desires are precluded, by our being removed from the objects that create them; or stifled in their birth, by the impossibility of their being gratified : but when we are abroad, and dependant on others, things are presented and denied to our wishes in the same instant. Here,...likewise, we are free from the submissions, the duties, the ceremonies of society; and taking all together, I almost think that one is as free at the Bastile, as anywhere else....

She continues to analyze her own experience of going from a life with French nobility to prison.

There are situations that people contemplate at a distance, as they did formerly the regions of the torrid zone; they  thought only of the excessive heat, without considering that it was tempered by winds and rains. When I grew calm,.
..[I] found out a variety of occupations and amusements. It is not the price of things...that renders them really valuable, but our ...need of them. I have been surprized ...since, at the resource I found against listlessness, with a cat. She was big with...young; [
she] had kittens, and those produced others, for I staid long enough to [s]ee different generations."....

Mademoiselle de Launay was discharged from the Bastile on the 6th of June 1720.

The Lieutenant du Roi, in the course of his duties had fallen in love, and wanted what was best for her. He knew this was her freedom.

Craufurd includes these details:

The cat, that had amused her in her solitude, became the favourite companion of Maisonrouge. He says, in a letter to her, dated the 7th, "I  wished you away—you aré gone, and I am wretched."

Quintin Craufurd described and also, participated, in these events convulsing Europe, rather like, Andre Maurois in the last century.