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.

June 24, 2018

February 24, 1909

August Derleth (February 24, 1909 to July 4, 1971) was a writer of some fame still. Here is an advertising summary of his career;

'August Derleth was born... in Sauk City, Wisconsin, to William Julius and Rose Louise Derleth. He attended St Aloysius' parochial school, and sold his first story to Weird Tales at the age of 16. He earned his Bachelor's of Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin. While Derleth was in college, he wrote the beginnings of the Solar Pons stories, which was not published in book form until 1945. After college, Derleth went to work for Fawcett Publications as an editor for Mystic Magazine. In 1932, the first of Derleth's "Sac Prairie" stories was published in various local papers such as, "The Midland," "This Quarter" and "Prairie Schooner." Derleth decided to write the "Sac Prairie" saga over the course of fifty books, combining novels, novellas, short stories, poetry, journal extracts and miscellaneous prose. In 1933, he wrote his first Judge Peck mystery novel, "Murder Stalks the Wakely Family" in ten days for a new publishing company. Derleth got a contract with Lourig and Mussey and began writing more and more. Derleth achieved Roll of Honor Status in Edward O'Brien's best short story anthologies. In 1935, his first book was published, a collection of related novellas entitled "Place of Hawks." He then got a contract with Charles Scribner's and Sons and in 1937, Derleth's first "Sac Prairie" novel was published, "Still is the Summer Night." He was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1938 to help him continue the "Sac Prairie" saga. He went on to lecture in American Regional Literature at the University of Wisconsin. In 1939, Derleth founded Arkham House, which consisted of publishers devoted to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsary Algernon Blackwood, A. E. Coppard and others. He also became editor of The Capitol Times of Madison, Wisconsin, a position from which he later resigned in 1960. Derleth began lecturing at Los Angeles State College in 1953, and...[was also] Visiting Lecturer in English at the University of Wisconsin. In 1960, he began editing and publishing a small magazine of poems called "Hawk and Whipoorwill." August Derleth has had upwards of 3,000 works published in over 350 magazines. He has written in several different genres and done well in each. '

Derleth was devoted to, and inspired by, the settings of his home state. One fogotten book of his was a history of a local railroad: The Milwaukee Road: Its First Hundred Years (1948)

We read:

'From its incorporation in 1847 in Wisconsin Territory to its first run in 1851—twenty miles between Milwaukee and Waukesha—to its later position of far-flung power, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad Company had a vivid history. By 1948, the Milwaukee Road had more than 40,000 employees and maintained more than 10,000 miles of line in twelve states from Indiana to Washington.

'Also in 1948, August Derleth's popular and well-crafted corporate history celebrated the strength and status of this mighty carrier. On February 19, 1985, the railroad became a subsidiary of Soo Line Corporation and its identity vanished overnight. Nonetheless, it remains a romantic memory, and Derleth's book remains the only complete history of this innovative and dynamic railroad.'

Therein preserved for history is this worthy detail:

'On hand to meet The Marquette every morning when it pulls into Mason City, Iowa, at 7:45 is Minnehaha, the station cat, whose breakfasts for the last ten years have been served with the compliments of the Milwaukee Road.'

June 23, 2018

June 23, 1942

Martin Rees (June 23, 1942) has had many titles, and of these, such as President of the Royal Society, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and winner of the Templeton Prize, his favorite may be Astronomer Royal.

Rees is concerned about the hazards of man's scientific progress, kind of the old Frankenstein trick. Here is some of his take on this common theme, from a 2015 article with this heading: "An explosion in artificial intelligence has sent us hurtling towards a post-human future, warns Martin Rees"

Rees sketches a picture:

'In Davos a few years ago, I met a well-known Indian tycoon. Knowing I had the title Astronomer Royal, he asked: “Do you do the Queen’s horoscopes?” I responded, with a straight face: “If she wanted one, I’m the person she’d ask.” He then seemed eager to hear my predictions. I told him that markets would fluctuate and that there would be trouble in the Middle East. He paid rapt attention to these insights. But I then came clean. I said I was just an astronomer, not an astrologer. He immediately lost all interest in my predictions. ...

'....[T]his century is special. It’s the first when one species – ours – can determine the biosphere’s fate.
....[B]reakthroughs that may now seem like science fiction.... will offer great hopes, but also great fears.'

'Society is more interconnected than ever, and consequently more vulnerable. We depend on elaborate networks: electric-power grids, just-in-time delivery, satnav, globally dispersed manufacturing, and so forth. Can we be sure that these networks are resilient enough to rule out catastrophic disruptions cascading through the system – real-world analogues of the 2008 financial crash? London would be instantly paralysed without electricity. ...

'Not all those with “bio” expertise will be balanced and rational. My worst nightmare is an “eco-fanatic”, empowered by the biohacking expertise that may be routine by 2050, who thinks that “Gaia” can only be saved if the human population is reduced. The global village will have its village idiots, and they will have global range... So this is a real anxiety – number one in my estimation – and will raise the tension between privacy, freedom and security.'
'We’re witnessing a momentous speed-up in artificial intelligence (AI) – in the power of machines to learn, communicate and interact with us. Computers don’t learn like we do: they use “brute force” methods. They learn to translate from foreign languages by reading multilingual versions of, for example, millions of pages of EU documents (they never get bored). They learn to recognise dogs, cats and human faces by crunching through millions of images — not the way a baby learns.'

'Deep Mind, a London company that Google recently bought for £400 million, created a machine that can figure out the rules of all the old Atari games without being told, and then play them better than humans.'
'AI will take over a wider range of jobs – not just manual work but accountancy, routine legal work, medical diagnostics and surgery. And the big question is then: will AI be like earlier disruptive technologies – the car, for instance – which created as many jobs as they destroyed? Or is it really different this time?... [I]t’s clear that once a threshold is crossed, there will be an intelligence explosion. That’s because electronics is a million times faster than the transmission of signals in the brain; and because computers can network and exchange information much faster than we can by speaking...'

'In the Sixties, the British mathematician I J Good, who worked at Bletchley Park with Alan Turing, pointed out that a super-intelligent robot (were it sufficiently versatile) could be the last invention that humans need ever make. Once machines have surpassed human capabilities, they could themselves design and assemble a new generation of even more powerful machines — triggering a real “intelligence explosion”. Or could humans transcend biology by merging with computers, maybe losing their individuality and evolving into a common consciousness? In old-style spiritualist parlance, they would “go over to the other side”.'

'The most prominent evangelist for runaway super-intelligence – so-called “'singularity” – is Ray Kurzweil, now working at Google. He thinks this could happen within 25 years. But he is worried that he may not live that long. So he takes dozens of pills each day, and if he dies he wants his body frozen until this nirvana is reached.'

'I was once interviewed by a group of “cryonic” enthusiasts in California called the “society for the abolition of involuntary death”. They will freeze your body, so that when immortality is on offer you can be resurrected. I said I’d rather end my days in an English churchyard than a Californian refrigerator. They derided me as a “deathist”. (I was surprised later to find that three Oxford academics were cryonic enthusiasts. Two have paid full whack; a third has taken the cut-price option of just wanting his head frozen.)...'

'[I]nterplanetary and interstellar space will be the preferred arena where robotic fabricators will have the grandest scope for construction, and where non-biological “brains” may develop insights as far beyond our imaginings as string theory is for a mouse.'

'Abstract thinking by biological brains has underpinned the emergence of all culture and science. But this activity – spanning tens of millennia at most – will be a brief precursor to the more powerful intellects of the inorganic post-human era. So, in the far future, it won’t be the minds of humans, but those of machines, that will most fully understand the cosmos – and it will be the actions of autonomous machines that will most drastically change our world, and perhaps what lies beyond.'

Rees overlooked one calculation: the robots already HAVE taken over. That would have begun centuries back, when man's intellect began to be used, not just to solve problems, but to relieve human boredom.

June 22, 2018

June 22, 1956

Walter de la Mare (April 25 1873 to June 22, 1956) was an English writer and anthologist. Praise and literary assessment of this author is always -- qualified. He writes for -- children. His fame is because of the people he knew. Dear reader, I wonder if this slighting tone is appropriate. For you do not study English literature without Walter de la Mare. Take this excerpt from his novel, Memoirs of a Midget. (1921).

But every family, I suppose, has its little pet traditions; and one of ours, relating to those early years, is connected with our kitchen cat, Miaou. She had come by a family of kittens, and I had crept, so it was said, into her shallow basket with them. Having, I suppose, been too frequently meddled with, this old mother cat lugged off her kittens one by one to a dark cupboard. The last one thus secured, she was discovered in rapt contemplation of myself, as if in debate whether or not it was her maternal duty to carry me off too. And there was I grinning up into her face. Such was our cook's—Mrs Ballard's—story. What I actually remember is different. On the morning in question I was turning the corner of the brick-floored, dusky passage that led to the kitchen, when Miaou came trotting along out of it with her blind, blunt-headed bundle in her mouth. We were equally surprised at this encounter, and in brushing past she nearly knocked me over where I stood, casting me at the same moment the queerest animal look out of her eyes. So truth, in this case, was not so strange as Mrs Ballard's fiction.

There is, apparent in the above passage, a rare quality in writing, in people: a slender, unobtrusive, objectivity. And a rare vision in fiction of a child's recollecting.

June 21, 2018

June 21, 1529

John Skelton, (c. 1463 to June 21, 1529), was an English poet. A lot of his work has apparently been lost. And though well known during his life-time, his reputation slipped during intervening centuries. Here is an assessment from the late 19th century:

'Skelton is one of the strangest minds of this strange epoch; he draws his inspiration from the most refined and from the most barbarous models; he is a true transition poet: the Middle Ages and the Renaissance are united in his verse; for him, too, the "Romaunt of the Rose" has not aged, and yet he is familiar with Olympus. His Venuses are true goddesses, which does not prevent his smiling at Bel-Accueil and dreading the witchcraft of Danger. No constraint withal; no poet ever followed more willingly a more irrepressible fancy; he goes everywhere, says all that he thinks, describes all that he sees, and as his vision is clear and his tongue prompt, he gives us multi-coloured paintings, of wondrous distinctness, where beings of all sorts are pictured, in their natural attitudes, graceful or grotesque, from the meadow where nymphs are dancing, to the smoky tavern, thick with the fumes of "nappy ale."...'

'[His life,] like his work, is one long series of contradictions. He commences serious studies at Oxford and at Cambridge, and completes them on the Continent; he takes rank at once among humanists, writes Latin poems, translates classical works, compiles a grammar, and receives the laurel at Oxford, like Petrarch of old at Rome, for his Latin verses. He appears at the court of Henry VII..., and becomes tutor to his son, the future Henry VIII. He takes orders, and his tutorship finished, is appointed vicar of Diss, in Norfolk. He lacks nothing of that which might make of him a grave dignitary of the Church and a famous humanist. Erasmus celebrates his merits, and worthy Caxton,... appeals to the lights of this learned man...'

'Now this laureate, "unum Britannicarum literarum lumen..." said Erasmus,...this grammarian, this tutor of kings, this country vicar, was, with all his knowledge, and in spite of his grave functions, one of the maddest minds that had been seen in this era of renewal and of reform, when mad minds were so numerous. He reverences nothing, writes unceasingly, praises and abuses with the same unbridled impetuosity, the more imprudent that, intoxicated with words and dizzied by his own talk, he scarcely realises any danger. He extols Wolsey to the skies and dedicates to him several writings, declaring openly, without the slightest shame, his interested motives... The hoped-for prebend not coming, this luminary of the Church, [Wolsey] this legate worthy of all veneration, this organiser of victory, is no longer anything but a butcher's dog, a heretic, an unbeliever, an ass, who plunders the State, [and] steals from the Church,.....'

And here is the same writer's (Jean Jules Jusserand) description of Skelton's literary style:

'Skelton's style is as desultory as his thoughts; he revels in the jingle of short verses, which he binds together with the same rime, used ten, fifteen times in succession, a process borrowed by him (although the fact has long passed unnoticed) from ancient French literature,1 with which he was familiar.2 This tinkling of bells causes him unmixed delight; he loses his way' running after these sounds, which is for him one pleasure the more; seldom does one see such an unruly spirit at play; unexpected assonances, strange proper names, odd terms, words, and still more words must he have; he coins some, borrows 'others from all languages; they gush forth in litanies, strung together in endless chains, as with Rabelais; stop he cannot, words fasten on to words, he talks reason and nonsense, says charming things and repulsive ones, and binds with varigated ribbons nosegays of thorns starred with wild roses. He borrows from Catullus the idea of an elegy upon the death of a sparrow, ... Catullus' masterpiece is in eighteen lines; Skelton's work in thirteen hundred and eighty-two . . . And his poem is made up of familiar scenes in which "Gyb, our cat savage," seen beheading the sparrow, of classical reminiscences, of fragments of the service for the dead, and of some passages worthy of the Renaissance, where this mad parson..., softens the tones of his voice, venerates the mistress of the bird, and kneels at last before Beauty.'

But Jussernad does not forget John Skelton's original fans:

'I would encourage thee to noble things, wrote Erasmus to the young Henry (the future Henry VIII.), but there is no need for it; thou art urged towards them by thy nature and by Skelton: '

June 20, 2018

June 20, 1919

Cornelis Johannes (Kees) Kelfkens (Utrecht, 20 juni 1919 – Amsterdam, 18 december 1986) was een Nederlands grafisch ontwerper, illustrator, tekenaar en boekbandontwerper. I hope the Dutch wikipedia is more reliable than the English, because I have found out little about this artist.

They call book covers, book bands, and that is one field this graphic artist excelled at: He did the cover for the Dutch translation of The Lord of the Rings.

And we have this poster, and so we know he was a genius:

June 19, 2018

June 19, 1566

James VI of Scotland (June 19, 1566 to March 27, 1625) ruled a rough country with historic ties to France. His mother, Mary Queen of Scots, as she is now called, had in fact been the Queen of France at one time. Her cousin Queen Elizabeth was well aware Mary's claim to the English throne was strong, and so when Mary was her prisoner, the sensible thing was to have Mary killed. Elizabeth though hesitated, for twenty years, because she thought killing legitimate royalty set a bad precedent. In fact, she had to be tricked into signing the proper warrants. James did not protest against England's execution of his mother. And that shows us a major difference between the 16th century and ours. You can see this shift in sentimental explanation in the the headline of the article we quote, "The Brutal Witch Hunts of a Love- Struck Scottish King." There was never a lovestruck king. Another chasm between our times and his is the assumption of the power of the ill-will of elderly women. This Renaissance phenomenon is demonstrated in the details we recount:

'The brutal witch hunts of a love-struck Scottish king... started with a rumour that witches had conjured up a North Sea storm so powerful it would kill Scotland’s king and his new queen....

'James VI, who became so fascinated with ‘witches’ he wrote a book on the subject, began [about 1590] to investigate the possibility that a coven in Scotland was working alongside counterparts in Denmark to try and kill the new Royal couple as they tried to return to Scotland, News came to the king that his old adversary, Francis, 5th Earl of Bothwell, had kept an active witch coven in East Lothian under his influence.... In Scotland, proceedings were raised against the so-called North Berwick witches, who congregated in St Andrews Auld Kirk in the town, and their accomplices. It was the first large scale prosecution of its type in Scotland and those arrested and put on trial included Dame Euphemia Macalzean, Agnes Sampson, a herbalist of Nether Keith; John Cunningham of Prestonpans, a schoolmaster and secretary to Lord Bothwell; Geilie Duncan of Tranent and Barbara Napier and Ritchie Graham both of Edinburgh. 

It is said that James VI personally interrogated a number of suspects. 

Agnes Sampson was tortured at Edinburgh Tolbooth where she was pinned to the wall using a witch’s bridle, an iron muzzle that clamps the head, and eventually she confessed to 53 charges against her. 

During her confession she claimed she attached parts of a corpse to a cat, sailed to sea in a sieve, then put the cat into the sea to create a storm to shipwreck the king. ...

[She was] among at least 50 people executed for endangering the life of the King 

....Meanwile, James VI published Daemonologie in 1597 following the Berwick Witch Trials, with the proceedings charted in the third section of the book. In it, he attempt[ed] to “resolve the doubting...both that such assaults of Satan are most certainly practiced and that the instrument therefore merits most severely to be punished."...

'The book went on to be a major influence [on] Shakespeare in his writing of Macbeth, it is claimed.'

Once James VI arrived in London, he never went back to Scotland.

June 18, 2018

June 18, 1857

In the early part of the century which preceded our 21st, Henry Huntington, the railroad magnate, possessed 4 copies of Shakespeare's First Folio. Henry Clay Folger, President of Standard Oil, had 82 copies (later to be the basis for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.)

For Henry Clay Folger Jr. (June 18, 1857 to June 11, 1930) ) each First Folio copy was individual and an individual treasure. Here is an example of an particular copy of a print run being especially interesting: this is not from Shakespeare's writing, but Eric Rasmussen in The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folios (2011) cites a manuscript of John Donne's. In one place in Donne's work, where there is a blot of ink, there is also an eyelash which has dried in the ink, and so centuries later Donne's lash is a touching reminder, of the mortality of the poet and that immortality which may transcend.

Rasmussen has another example, this incident about a Shakespeare Folio. Although it is not part of the Folger, the Shakespeare First Folio belonging to the Marquis of Northampton, preserves, near the beginning of "Love's Labour's Lost" a page with 5 cat paw prints. Apparently "a cat with dirty paws jumped up onto the volume as it lay sitting [sic] on a table or lap. It then appears that before it could take a full sixth step, the cat was snatched off of the book."

Eighty-two copies of Shakespeare's First Folio is a wonderful gift to the cultural world of the United States. We do wonder how much Folger might have offered to obtain such a amusingly marked copy as we just described: how much would the price have been to avoid Folger's Labour's Lost?