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.

December 17, 2017

December 17, 1930

Dorothy Rowe (December 17, 1930) received a Ph.D in psychology from Sheffield University (Yorkshire) in 1971. She has a number of books. Her teaching posts have been mostly in England though she was born in Australia.

Among the books listed in her Who's Who write up are:

The Experience of Depression
, 1978, 
The Construction of Life and Death, 1982, 
Depression: the way out of your prison, 1983,
Living with the Bomb: can we live without enemies? 1985,
Beyond Fear, 1987,
 The Successful Self, 1988; 
The Depression Handbook, 1990
 Time on our Side, 1994; 
Dorothy Rowe’s Guide to Life, 1995; 
The Real Meaning of Money, 1997; 
 My Dearest Enemy, My Dangerous Friend, 2007; 
What Should I Believe? 2008;

A summary of her ideas was recounted in a Guardian article:

"If you make happiness your goal, then you're not going to get to it," says psychologist Dorothy Rowe. "Philosophers have been saying it for thousands of years. The goal should be an interesting life."

"Rowe has devoted her life to trying to help people free themselves from what she famously termed the "prison" of depression, to live that interesting life. In more than a dozen books, the self-help pioneer has set out what she believes are the obstacles that hold people back, and offered a recipe for, if not happiness, then a greater degree of satisfaction with their lot.

"Drawing on her own life experience, including a miserable childhood and a marriage ended by her husband's infidelity, as well as her clinical work as an NHS psychologist, Rowe has developed a clear set of ideas about depression, and the best way to fix it. In the process, she has become something of a guru, with some admirers convinced that just reading her books is enough to bring about a transformation, even a cure."

The same article provides a biographical glimpse of this writer:

"Rowe's early training in psychology was Freudian, and she has retained a strong sense of the importance of childhood events and relationships. Her early life, as "a country girl" in Newcastle on the east coast of Australia, was confusing and unhappy. She doesn't know if her mother really wanted children, but her father wanted a son. "He was very kind, but he hated any kind of trouble," she says. "As he got older he sort of withdrew, he just wanted a quiet life and would never intervene in anything that would get my mother going." ...

"The family was dominated by her mother, whose fundamental dishonesty and insistence on her own point of view to the exclusion of all inconvenient facts drove Rowe herself to the brink of psychosis. "I know now that in my last year at school, had there been some kind of disaster in my life in that year, just a car accident or something like that, I wouldn't have been able to hold myself together . . . I'd have become very psychotic." In fact, nothing happened to tip the vulnerable teenager over the edge, and she left home to study for a degree in psychology 100 miles away in Sydney.

"She became a teacher and began working as an educational psychologist, got married and had a son, Edward. Then she discovered that her husband, a lawyer, was having an affair. Partly out of respect for her adult son's feelings, Rowe has resisted writing in detail about her marriage, but in her new book, Why We Lie, she offers the story of the poet Cecil Day-Lewis, who was serially unfaithful to his wife Mary, as a kind of analogy. She suggests Mary was a substitute mother-figure for Day-Lewis, with the consequence that when she became pregnant, he felt betrayed. "He did what men like him always do in this situation. He had an affair."

"Unlike Mary, however, Rowe did not wait for her husband to leave. She ended the marriage and, in 1968, decided to move to England. One of her correspondents had advised her there were jobs, so she signed up for a PhD at Sheffield University.

"Now 79, Rowe lives alone in a quiet garden flat in Highbury, north London. She chooses her words carefully, and speaks in a distinctive hushed voice. She has recently had cataracts removed from both eyes, and is finding her improved vision a revelation....

"Rowe's son lives in Australia. He remains the most important person in her life, and she moved to London partly to make it easier to meet when he travels to Europe. ... Marriage, she decided, was "worth trying only once".

"...But while titles such as The Successful Self, Wanting Everything and Dorothy's Rowe's Guide to Life placed Rowe in the vanguard of the expanding self-help industry, Lott believes "the way she's labelled a self-help guru does her a great disservice". She remains a champion of the original self-help idea, "the notion that the experts are rubbish and we can do this ourselves", but in conversation and in print she is more thoughtful and more political than much of the faux-spiritual, money-seeking advice that saturates the "self-help" market...."

From one of her books, What Should I Believe?: Why Our Beliefs about the Nature of Death and the Purpose of Life Dominate Our Lives (2012) we read: [I]f you said there is a power beyond the working of the law of karma....[I]f I go out and kick the cat...[there will be repercussions.]

Recently, she wrote that she could not be considered a "proper psychologist" as she was too aware of the "curious mystery" of life. Which sounds appropriate for someone who lists their hobby (Who's Who) as "Looking at the sea."

December 16, 2017

December 16, 1668

Constantijn Netscher (December 16, 1668 to March 27, 1723), the Dutch artist, was the grandson of a German sculptor, Johann Netscher. His father and brothers were also painters. His father Caspar (1639 –1684) was famous for his rendering of fabric, and you see a similar skill in this son. Such talent was particularly important in an era when clothes made the social standing.

So far as I can tell Constantijn Netscher was the only one of this talented line who painted a cat, and even he painted more dogs in his portraits of wealthy people. This painting is dated 1711.

It is an effective rendering of a youth and a cat.

December 15, 2017

December 15, 1934

We rely on her New York Times obituary for the quotes below about Lee Hall (December 15 1934 to April 17, 2017), an abstract artist.

As we often do, we may rearrange segments when our own narrative objectives differ from those of the original writer, though never diverging from a common commitment to a factual story.

This photo accompanied the obit.

"Lee Hall in her studio in Massachusetts in 2013. Credit Christopher Clamp"

Lee Hall was also an author and an administrator. Her books include “Betty Parsons: Artist, Dealer, Collector” (1991) and “Elaine and Bill: Portrait of a Marriage,”(1993) about the de Koonings. And she wrote “Common Threads: A Parade of American Clothing” (1992), and “Athena: A Biography” (1997), about Greek history. A review of the latter is available at Kirkus Review.

About her early life we learn: "Lee Hall was Lexington, N.C. Her father, Robert, and her mother, the former Florence Fitzgerald, divorced when Lee was young, and she grew up with her mother in Florida.

"Resisting pressure from her mother to attend secretarial school, she returned to Lexington after high school to live with her grandmother and enrolled in the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina, in Greensboro (now the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro), where she studied with the abstract painter John Opper. She received a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1955.

"She continued her education at New York University, earning a master’s degree in art education in 1959 and a doctorate in creative arts in 1965. She went on to do postdoctoral work at the Warburg Institute in London.

"While working toward her doctorate, she taught at Keuka College in Keuka, N.Y., and Winthrop College in Rock Hill, S.C. In 1965 she was named head of the art department at Drew University in Madison, N.J."

Ten years later, she continued her painting while also serving as "president of the Rhode Island School of Design; appointed in 1975, she was asked to deal with fiscal chaos and difficult faculty politics. Her tenure was marked by conflict, as she struggled, with some success, to end the practice of deficit spending and increase enrollment.

"She was less successful in coaxing more work and more involvement in campus life out of teachers accustomed to a three-day workweek. Faculty members responded by organizing a union drive and, in early 1983, going on strike. To reinforce the message, they collected quarters to buy Ms. Hall a one-way ticket back to New York. She left the school later that year.

"In a speech to the School of Educational Management at Harvard in 1980, Ms. Hall listed her criteria for the qualities needed by a college president: “the aloofness of a cat; the cunning of a fox; the eye of an eagle; the hide of an elephant; the slipperiness of an eel; the courage of a lion; the stubbornness of a mule; the tenaciousness of a terrier; and the wisdom of an owl. To which should be added: a heart of gold; nerves of steel; and a stomach of iron.”

Lee Hall would continue her painting, administrative jobs, and writing after that Ivy League summary. She is credited with encouraging the careers of various artists.

December 14, 2017

December 14, 1727

About François-Hubert Drouais (December 14, 1727 to October 21, 1775) we read that he:

".... belonged to a dynasty of French painters that included his father, Hubert Drouais (1699-1767), and his son, Jean Germain (1763-1788). François-Hubert was born in Paris....During his relatively short career, he established himself as one of the leading portrait painters of the age of Louis XV. He is presumed to have studied at various times with Donat Nonotte (1708-1785), Carle Van Loo (1705-1765), Charles Joseph Natoire (1700-1777), and François Boucher (1703-1770). He mastered the rules governing portrait painting in the ultra-refined society of mid-eighteenth-century Paris and Versailles.

"By the late 1750s, when he presented his candidacy for membership in the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, he had become the chief rival of Jean- Marc Nattier (1685-1766), whom he would eventually succeed as portraitist to the royal family, Louis XV's last two official mistresses, and members of the nobility and the high-ranking bourgeoisie. Unlike Nattier, however, he made only infrequent use of the mythological and allegorical trappings of history painting. Graceful poses, sumptuous costumes, richly decorated interiors, or lush garden settings are distinctive features of his best works, and a brilliant technique enhances their allure.

"It became very fashionable in the Paris of the late 1750s and the 1760s to have one's portrait painted by François-Hubert Drouais. His art epitomizes the rococo at the moment of its decline. The full-length portrait of Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764) (London, National Gallery), which he finished in 1764 after the sitter's death, is a virtuoso performance of extraordinary elegance. He was also perfectly capable of capturing the inner life of his subjects. The two diploma pieces he presented to the Académie on his election in 1758--portraits of the sculptors Edme Bouchardon and Guillaume Coustou (Musée des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon), his handsome likeness of his wife Anne Marie Françoise Doré (Paris, Musée du Louvre) of c. 1758, and his bust-length portrait of Louis XV (Versailles) of 1773--are all refreshingly sober images. Drouais' success at court continued after Louis XVI's accession to the throne in 1774, but he died shortly thereafter on October 21, 1775, at the age of forty-eight. He had been a regular exhibitor at the Salon, where his works were judged, often harshly, by such critics as Denis Diderot (1713-1784).

"Drouais' son, Jean Germain, became Jacques Louis David's (1748-1825) most promising pupil and assisted the master in the execution of The Oath of the Horatii (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Unfortunately, the young prodigy died prematurely in Rome."

We don't know the name of this subject, but it speaks to the genius of this artist.

"A Girl with a Cat" is dated to 1767. I don't know the context where cat tweaking is acceptable. There may be some allusions which are not apparent to us now.

December 13, 2017

December 13, 1797

Heinrich Heine (December 13, 1797 to February 17, 1856) was a renowned German writer. We have two excerpts of his writing below. First a glance at his life:

"Heinrich Heine was born in Düsseldorf, Germany, to assimilated Jewish parents. Heine’s uncle was a powerful banker who supported Heine for much of his life, only to write him out of his will. Heine attended university in Bonn, Göttingen, and Berlin, ostensibly studying law but in truth focusing his efforts and attention on poetry and literature. Because of repressive anti-Jewish laws, Heine converted to Protestantism in an effort to secure a job. His experiences of persecution at the hands of an anti-Semitic state meant that, even as Heine took part in the German Romantic movement, his poetry is widely seen as inaugurating the post-Romantic crisis, wherein art was seen as insufficient to overcome the traumas of modernity. ...

"In 1824, Heine traveled to the Harz mountains. He fictionalized the adventure in Die Harzreise (The Harz Journey)and followed it with four more Reisebilder (Pictures of Travel) (1826-31). These works, with their blend of fact and fiction, autobiography and social criticism, helped secure Heine’s literary reputation. His final collection Ideen. Das Buch Le Grand (Ideas. The Book Le Grand) (1827) was conceived as a travelogue of his journey into himself.

"After the July Revolution of 1830, Heine went to Paris, where he remained until his death. ....Heine wrote many penetrating newspaper articles about the cultural and political situation in France... He also wrote two books of social criticism aimed at Germany: Die Romantische Schule (The Romantic School) (1833-35) and Zur Geschicte der Relgion und Philosophie in Deutschland (On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany) (1834-35).....

"Heine’s last years were unhappy: by 1835, his works had been banned by the German government. His uncle died in 1844, leaving Heine destitute. And in 1848, Heine was bed-ridden with the disease that would claim his life ten years later. Before his death he returned to writing lyric poetry. The lyrics, collected in Romanzero (1851) and Gedichte 1853 und 1854 (Poems: 1853 and 1854), are considered to be the finest poems he ever wrote...."

Our quotes are amusing. The first was cited by Brian Leiter (who mentions that Freud quotes the same paragraph in his Civilization and Its Discontents):

"Mine is a most peaceable disposition. My wishes are: a humble cottage with a thatched roof, but a good bed, good food, the freshest milk and butter, flowers before my window, and a few fine trees before my door; and if God wants to make my happiness complete, he will grant me the joy of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanging from those trees. .... One must, it is true, forgive one's enemies -- but not before they have been hanged."

And at last, from "Beware of Kittens":

"Beware my friends, of fiends and their grimaces;

Of little angels' wiles, yet more beware thee;

Just such a one to kiss her did ensnare me,

But coming I got wounds and not embraces.

Beware of black old cats with evil faces

Yet more of kittens white and soft, be wary;


You can read the whole text here.

December 12, 2017

December 12, 1868

Sydney Schiff (1868 to October  29, 1944) was the son of a wealthy stockbroker. The family affluence allowed Schiff to not just pursue his interests as a writer but to be a patron of the arts. Schiff was illegitimate and no one seems to be able to document an actual birth date; the family celebrated Sydney's birthday on December 12. He was a prominent player in the art world of England and France in the first part of the 20th century. An example is the dinner Schiff hosted at a Parisian hotel in 1922. The guests included James Joyce, Stravinsky, Picasso, Marcel Proust, Diagalieff. Few could have brought such a gathering together, and no one, apparently could make it sparkle.

Stephen Hudson was the pseudonym Schiff used for his novels. We excerpt from Richard Kurt (1920) to get a sense of his prose:

"He would have had to come back eventually when Elinor returned, and what would his life have been then? What would it be now, supposing he made a superhuman effort and gave her up? What was the good of deceiving himself? He knew that there was not a ray of happiness, not a moment's contentment, to be got out of the empty shell of his married existence. He realised now that all this beauty and charm of scene, all the idle luxury of his life, had only made its emptiness more apparent. That idea, the seeking an objective cure for a subjective malady, the creating of an atmosphere of happiness out of material things, the building of a shrine for the worship of nothinginess, was the greatest illusion of all. As he pursued his way downwards he no longer looked about him for pleasing evidences of Elinor's creative taste. His feeling towards Aquafonti was ripening into something near akin to hate.

"Richard found Elinor and Robinson having tea in the wintergarden. Richard saw at a glance that she was in a bad temper and that the little painter was uncomfortably aware of it. His face lightened when Richard sat down and accepted the cup passed to him by his wife, who did not look up and preserved a stony silence.

"Where's Jason?" he asked, more to break the embarrassment than because he wanted to know.

"Robinson, seeing that Elinor made no sign of replying, answered:

"He stopped at Scapa with Lady Daubeny and Mrs Prothero. Lovely place it looked. To tell the truth, I hoped Mrs Kurt would call, so that I could see it."

"He stopped, looking again at Elinor and then at her husband.

"And I told you, Why don't you go on?"

"Robinson fidgeted. His self-inflicted social discipline dictated unwilling reticence, but he was longing to know what underlay his hostess's resentment of Mrs Rafferty.

"Elinor cast a withering glance at him and fire leapt into her eyes.

"He needn't be so mealy-mouthed. I told him old Rafferty is a spiteful old cat, and I hate her, and I wouldn't go to see her if she begged me to on her knees."

"Richard was thinking that there was little enough likelihood of that. Robinson's look said: "There, now."

"And," went on Elinor recklessly, "I consider it vile form of Jason to go there. I ask his friends here to please him, take them up the lake and then, if you please, they calmly leave me alone and go off to call on a woman I'm not on speaking terms with. Charming guests!"

"Richard was exceedingly bored. Time was when he would have been humiliated by his wife's lack of dignity, but he had ceased to care. And yet he hankered to smooth things over, to let her down as easily as circumstances permitted.

"You mustn't be so hard on Jason," he interposed. "Mrs Rafferty asked him to come the other morning when she was calling on his friends. I got let in for luncheon at Hohenthal's at the same time. One can't sometimes get out of things."

''Can't one? I can when I choose. Not that I in the least care. He's welcome to live with Mrs Rafferty for the rest of his life. Thank goodness he's going soon, and I sha'n't be bored with his rotten playing and his mooning sentimentality."

"With this she gathered together her gold bag and other rattling objects and sailed out of the room.

"I'm sorry Mrs Kurt's so annoyed," Robinson was beginning, but Richard stopped him. He could put up with the scene, but the sympathy of this little outsider was unbearable."

Sydney Schiff also drew. This link has pictures of some of his renderings, including one titled "Curiosity Killed the Cat".

It is for the people he knew, and the artists he helped, that we remember Stephen Schiff.

December 11, 2017

December 11, 1953

Klaus Schmidt (December 11, 1953 to July 20, 2014) was a German archaeologist. He is famous for leading the excavations at Göbekli Tepe (1996 to 2014). This Turkish site has upended our assumptions about the beginning of human history. His death occurred unexpectedly while he was swimming in a pool.
The Turkish press noted it:
"Professor Klaus Schmidt, a pioneer of excavations in Göbeklitepe, known as the “zero point in history” in the eastern Turkish province of Şanlıurfa, died of a heart attack while swimming in Germany at the age of 61.

"Schmidt had been working at Göbeklitepe for 20 years for the German Archaeology Institute. Through his works, he proved that the Neolithic-age ancient site was the world’s oldest temple.

"He had published books on the Göbeklitepe excavations in Turkish, German, Italian and Russian, along with countless scientific articles and work on exhibitions and conferences across the world.
"The archaeological remains in Göbeklitepe, which date back to 10,000 BC and are considered one of the most exciting recent archaeological findings, show that hunters and gatherers of the Stone Age, while struggling to survive and meet their basic needs, also tried to understand nature, believing in superpowers and/or gods and came together to worship. Built thousands of years before previously known temples, Göbeklitepe has changed the way scientists think about the Neolithic Period and the birth of civilization.

"Since 2008, Schmidt had been working with a team of German archaeologists. His schedule was two months of excavation in the spring and two months in the fall. In 2011, Schmidt was interviewed and revealed that roughly 5 percent of the site has been excavated. In 1995, Schmidt purchased a house in Şanlıurfa. Last March, he said a canal-like formation was unexpectedly discovered during the construction of the two roofs. ..."

The picture revealed by 
Klaus's excavation was a world where large pillars were decorated with fauna, representations which included lions and possibly leopards. The results of carbon dating suggest Gobekli Tepe was older than Stonehenge, older than Catalhoyuk and the buildings more sophisticated than those at the Jericho of that era. One site summarizes is significance in these words: "The earliest sanctuary for communal ritual activity known to date, the Göbekli Tepe ruins have led scholars to reconsider the origins of religion and human civilization."

One thing the literature does not stress about the significance of this site: scientists had blindly assumed that religion was an aspect of urbanization. Gobekli Tepe opens the possible horizon that man's religious concern was not just epiphenomenal, but a dimension of his nature.