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 31, 2020

July 31, 1901

JULY 31, 201

Jean Dubuffet's dates are July 31, 1901 to May 12, 1985. His print Angry Cat (Chat Furieux) is at MoMA. This is the catalog information:

November 1953. Lithograph, composition: 10 15/16 x 16" (27.8 x 40.7 cm); sheet: 15 1/16 x 19 9/16" (38.2 x 49.7 cm). Printer: Mourlot, Paris. Edition: artist's proof before the edition of 20. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph F. Colin. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

You want to search for it on google images. Dubuffet had the idea he would ignore beauty, in his art, in a struggle against what a friend of his called "the terrorism of the intellectual." What we have left, in this case is "cat."

July 30, 2020

July 30, 1951

David Kynaston (July 30, 1951) was, we read in his Who's Who profile, born in Aldershot, England and is the father of two sons and a daughter. He went to Oxford and in addition to writing histories which focus on modern Britain, he is on the faculty of Kingston University.

His bibliography includes:

King Labour, (1976);
The City of London, vol. 1, (1994), vol. 2, (1995), vol. 3, (1999), vol. 4, (2001); (ed jtly) ;
Austerity Britain: 1945-1951, (2007);
Family Britain:1951-1957, (2009);
Modernity Britain 1957-1962, Book One, (2013), Book Two, (2014)

These vignettes from Family Britain are interesting in themselves, like this discussion of the British awareness of class. 

"The...English had [an appetite] for placing...[others] whose hands, faces, accents, clothes and bearing would, if studied with sufficient attention, reveal valuable items of information...the most important being...[their] social class..."

Kynaston is quoting Dan Jacobson, the writer, and the rest of the quote uses a metaphor for this evaluation activity; it is like "a cat sniffing a person's shoes."

Kynaston sounds unaware of the imprecision of Jacobson's picture. Dogs sniff to determine their position in a pack, and that is presumably Jacobson's point.  Cats have different, simpler, motives for olfactory investigations. The feline may be interested in  the proximity of food, but they are not involved in any pack activity. 

According to Doris Lessing, this awareness of class among her countrymen, was shocking to colonials who arrived in the capital.  

July 29, 2020

July 29, 1750

Laetitia Pilkington (1709 to July 29, 1750) was a prominent figure in Dublin society. She claimed to have been reading a book when armed men broke into her bedroom, and held the man with her, so her husband the doctor could beat him up. She subsequently slipped out of high society; even Jonathan Swift dropped her. (He dropped her husband also, let it be noted). She had tough years before her Memoirs were published and provided some income. It is said they are a valuable source of information about Swift and 18th century Dublin.

Pilkington was a writer and besides her memoirs there is a book she edited titled, Pity's Gift. The full title is Pity's Gift: a collection of interesting tales to excite the compassion of youth for the animal creation Ornamented with Vignettes from the Writings of Mr. Pratt

We quote (I left out the worst descriptions):

Now it is reported by the neighbours of the adjacent village, that the old shepherd, the father, was a mighty odd character, and bred-up his family in a very different manner from his poor neighbours. As he was unable to give them the advantage of an education like ours; and teach them Latin and Greek, he was resolved to furnish them with such accomplishments as his situation permitted. He was a man of tenderness and simplicity, and often spoke to his children in this manner: 

“ Do all the good you can, boys and girls, and be sure you do no harm. You must labour for a livelihood, but you may always get your bread innocently; and the bread that is earned honestly, will be always the sweeter for it. I am myself obliged to attend a flock; your mother is compelled to spin; to the poor sheep we are therefore all indebted ; they afford us food and raiment, they shield us from the cold, and prevent us falling into the jaws of famine. I therefore love the harmless creatures, and would not hurt them for all that they are worth: let this conduct teach you, children, to behave properly to poor dumb animals, and to use them as they deserve to be used. You are their friends, and they are yours. Prove yourselves their protectors; but I charge you presume not to' think you have any right of tyranny; and be assured, wanton cruelty will always be returned upon the tormentor.”....

[N]ow comes the cream of the story, pray therefore attend. The eldest son had one day taken the nest of a Robin, which consisted of five young ones, and a sixth just bursting from the shell. He carried them home to his brothers and' sisters, to each of which he gave a bird; but the little nestling he gave to one of the children...who wrapping it up in a piece of flannel, put it into a small wicker basket, and set it by the fire. 

The boy that found the nest, tied a string to the leg of his bird, and cruelly dragged it after him. ...The third gave his to the cat, or rather pretended to give it, for he held it first pretty close to puss’s whiskers, and then pulled it away from her, but at last she pounced upon it, and carried off one of the legs. ....

[A]bout six or seven months after this, the eldest son (which had been the cause of all this mischief) fell sick, and died; and many people are now living who say, that as he was going to be put into the ground, the ravens, rooks, kites, and other vast birds, all flew over his coffin, screamed, and could by no means be got away, nor could he rest in his grave for them....

That was an interesting example of 18th century morality tales. Here is a link to a biographical sketch of Laetitia Pilkington. Her Memoirs (1748) should be available, but you won't find them free on Google books or, the usually more reliable Hathitrust. The three volumes are available to read on

July 28, 2020

July 28, 1804

Ludwig Feuerbach (July 28, 1804 to September 13, 1872) was a German philosopher. His book The Essence of Christianity was first published in 1841 and an English translation appeared in 1855. In this book Feuerbach argues that all our ideas about god are just a reflection of our own human nature. He is a very good writer and his arguments easy to follow, or maybe that reflects the translator, who happened to be the woman who would soon write Adam Bede, Marian Evans.

Our excerpt is from Feuerbach's major book, which we have already cited.

Creation, .... the creative, cosmogonic fiat is the tacit word, identical with the thought. To speak is an act of the will; thus, creation is the product of the Will: as in the Word of God man affirms the divinity of the human word, so in creation he affirms the divinity of the Will: not, however, the will of the reason, but the will of the imagination—the absolutely subjective, unlimited will. The culminating point of the principle of subjectivity is creation out of nothing.'' 
Creation out of nothing is the highest expression of omnipotence: but omnipotence is nothing else than subjectivity exempting itself from all objective conditions and limitations, and consecrating this exemption as the highest power and reality: nothing else than the ability to posit everything real as unreal—everything conceivable as possible: nothing else than the power of the imagination, or of the will as identical with the imagination, the power of self-will...

Creation out of nothing, is identical with miracle, is one with Providence; for the idea of Providence— originally, in its true religious significance, in which it is not yet infringed upon and limited by the unbelieving understanding—is one with the idea of miracle. The proof of Providence is miracle.... Belief in Providence is belief in a power to which all things stand at command to be used according to its pleasure, in opposition to which all the power of reality is nothing. Providence cancels the laws of Nature; it interrupts the course of necessity, the iron bond which inevitably binds effects to causes; in short, it is the same unlimited, all powerful will, that called the world into existence out of nothing. ....

But we nowhere read that God, for the sake of brutes, became a brute—the very idea of this is, in the eyes of religion, impious and ungodly; or that God ever performed a miracle for the sake of animals or plants. On the contrary, we read that a poor fig-tree, because it bore no fruit at a time when it could not bear it, was cursed, purely in order to give men an example of the power of faith over Nature ;—and again, that when the tormenting devils were driven out of men, they were driven into brutes. It is true we also read: "No sparrow falls to the ground without your Father;" but these sparrows have no more worth and importance than the hairs on the head of a man, which are all numbered.

Apart from instinct, the brute has no other guardian spirit; no other Providence, than its senses or its organs in general. A bird which loses its eyes has lost its guardian angel.

... It is true that religious naturalism, or the acknowledgment of the Divine in Nature, is also an element of the Christian religion, and yet more of the Mosaic, which was so friendly to animals.—But it is by no means the characteristic, the Christian tendency of the Christian religion. The Christian, the religious Providence, is quite another than that which clothes the lilies and feeds the ravens. The natural Providence lets a man sink in the water, if he has not learned to swim; but the Christian, the religious Providence, leads him with the hand of omnipotence over the water unharmed.

.....Providence has relation essentially to men, and even among men only to the religious. "God is the Saviour of all men, but especially of them that believe." It belongs, like religion, only to man; it is intended to express the essential distinction of man from the brute, to rescue man from the tyranny of the forces of Nature. Jonah in the whale, Daniel in the den of lions, are examples of the manner in which Providence distinguishes (religious) men from brutes. If therefore the Providence which manifests itself in the organs with which animals catch and devour their prey, and which is so greatly admired by Christian naturalists, is a truth, the Providence of the Bible, the Providence of religion, is a falsehood; and vice versa. What pitiable and at the same time ludicrous hypocrisy is the attempt to do homage to both, to Nature and the the Bible at once I How does Nature contradict the Bible! How does the Bible contradict Nature! The God of Nature reveals himself by giving to the lion strength and appropriate organs in order that, for the preservation of his life, he may in case of necessity kill and devour even a human being... 

[T]he God of the Bible reveals himself by interposing his own aid to rescue the human being from the jaws of the lion...Providence is a privilege of man. It expresses the 
value of man, in distinction from other natural beings and things; it exempts him from the connexion of the universe. Providence is the conviction of man of the infinite value of his existence....

...... [H]ence the beneficent consequences of this faith, but hence also false humility, religious arrogance, which, it is true, does not rely on itself, but only because it commits the care of itself to the blessed God. God concerns himself about me; he has in view my happiness, my salvation; he wills that I shall be blest; but that is my will also: thus, my interest is God's interest, my own will is God's will, my own aim is God's aim,—God's love for me nothing else than my self-love deified.

Thus when I believe in Providence, in what do I believe but in the divine reality and significance of ... my [own] being?

..... Consequently, the belief in God is nothing but the belief in human dignity...
belief in the absolute reality and significance of the human nature. 

Perhaps there is too much repetition above: I was really interested in the way this guy twisted religion to prove atheistic conclusions.  This is a very influential book in modern history. 

Feuerbach's influence on Marx is much noted: the former shifted Hegel's focus on mind to materialism,  while retaining Hegel's vision of man as a embodying within himself a powerful culmination of history. Feuerbach's view of 'subjectivity' precedes the modern view of man's interiority as a source of uncertainty, and without remembering this, Feuerbach's use of that word does not make much sense. Atheism of course is a possibility throughout history, but here Feuerbach uses logic without regard for extant mysteries to create atheism as a triumphant dialectical progress from theism. All this had an invigorating effect simply because of its cleverness, rather than any cogency.  And notice Feuerbach's emphasis on the word as powerful in itself, without concern for the reality to which the word points -- can we trace an effect here on 20th century analytic philosophy? 

July 27, 2020

July 27, 1916

Elizabeth Hardwick (July 27, 1916 to December 2, 2007) was a major fixture in 20th century American literature. Like her husband Robert Lowell's, her literary output was award winning in several genres. We quote now from her novel Sleepless Nights, (1979) which mentions a "brown skinny cat" with the "yellowish Oriental gaze." Critics have noted the similarities between her own and her  heroine's life.  So there probably was a cat, in her book lined Manhattan apartment.

Her novels though are not as significant as her literary criticism. Her book reviews helped to expand that format into a means of discussing major ideas. She was one of the founders of the New York Review of Books, (1963) and thus part of the picture conveyed in those pages, of the American intellectual as a colossus astride the plains of culture. I myself, like to remember her as the editor of The Selected Letters of William James (1961).

July 26, 2020

July 26, 1978

Remember the cat in Alice in Wonderland, and those in Cinderella, the films Disney made? They were bright and fat and striped and they are illustrations of the art of Mary Blair (October 21, 1911 to July 26, 1978). Last year Google reminded us of Mary Blair with one of their doodles on her birthday. Below we quote from an article the doodle in question linked to:

Her distinctive style, .... inspired several of Disney's early productions....[like] "Cinderella" or "Alice in Wonderland,"..."Her vibrant colors and stylized designs pervade Disney animated films from 1943 to 1953," writes animation historian John Canemaker, author of "The Art and Flair of Mary Blair."

"Beneath her deceptively simple style, lies enormous visual sophistication and craftsmanship in everything from color choices to composition."She graduated from the Chouinard Art Institute of Los Angeles at an important time. The Depression loomed heavily over the art world. Blair set aside her hopes of being a fine artist and accepted an animation job at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She brought with her a strong background in watercolor, with its colorful tones and playful style. In 1940, she went to work for Walt Disney, who quickly assigned her to several big projects."Mary's unique color and styling greatly influenced [Disney's] postwar productions" reads the company's biography of her. Blair's keen eye helped craft "Cinderella," "Alice in Wonderland," and "Peter Pan."Color meant everything to Blair, and she experimented in ways that other animators dared not to. "Mary was the first artist I knew of to have different shades of red next to each other," remembered animator Frank Thomas. "You just didn't do that! But Mary made it work."After a decade at Disney, she left to pursue other projects. She illustrated a children's book, "I Can Fly." She designed advertising for Nabisco and Maxwell House. And when Disney wanted an attraction for the 1964-65 World's Fair, Walt himself "asked Mary to assist in the design of the It's a Small World attraction, which is pure Mary Blair in its style and concept," according to the company's biography. Like many of Google's past novelty banners, this one honors someone whose work is remembered well, even if her name has slipped away.