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.

March 23, 2017

March 23, 1881

Roger Martin du Gard (March 23, 1881 to August 22, 1958) was, we learn from the Nobel Prize website:

.... born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, attended two of the finest Paris lycees and, in 1906, was graduated from the École des Chartes with a thesis on an archaeological subject and with the degree of archivist-paleographer. To this training in history and scholarship he attributes his scrupulous realism and attention to minute detail.

Martin du Gard's first success was the novel
Jean Barois, published by his former school friend Gaston Gallimard in 1913. It anticipates some of the thematic material of Les Thibault. Largely in dialogue form, Jean Barois is the story of a life deeply divided by two world views, that of the Catholic Church and that of a freethinking, unflinching, humanistic philosophy of facing and mastering reality. In 1920 he published the peasant farce Le Testament du Père Leleu. He became attached to the circle of the Nouvelle Revue Française and was close to Gide, Copeau, and J. Schlumberger.

After the years of the First World War, which Martin du Gard spent almost entirely in the front lines, he devoted most of his time to the writing of the «roman-fleuve»,
Les Thibault, which culminates in the three volumes of L'Été 1914 [Summer 1914]. The twelve individual volumes of the series of novels appeared between 1922 and 1940.

Les Thibault is a monumental picture of the world before the outbreak of the First World War. Its rambling plot traces the history of Jacques Thibault, the rebel son of an upper middle-class family, against the background of the more staid destinies of his relatives. The work gives a detailed account of the hero's despair at the outbreak of fighting and the failure of his insane attempt to stop it. Various minor works, written for distraction or relaxation, include the drama Un Taciturne (1932) [The Silent One], ...., and a collection of village sketches, Vieille France (1933) [The Postman]. His Notes sur André Gide 1913-1951 [Recollections of André Gide] appeared in 1951. ....

Of these books, we look at du Gard's recollections of his good friend, Andre Gide - specifically his evocation of the palatial middle class Normandy house in which Gide grew up.

... [t]he dining room ...[has] three wicker chairs in front of the chimney piece; a wood fire is kept burning the whole day - mainly it would seem on behalf of three huge Siamese cats. These majestic ever sleepy animals, weighed down with their own fat and wrapped in their heavy coats of brown fur, may generally be found in occupation of the three chairs.

Roger Martin du Gard received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1937. Andre Gide
got the same honor in 1947.

March 22, 2017

March 22, 1941

Billy Collins (March 22, 1941) is a much honored poet and so deservedly. Just one of many honors is his tenure as Poet Laureate of the United States (2001 -2003).

Here is an excerpt from a poem he read on "Prairie Home Companion" February 7, 2015.
"Lucky Cat" is the title I believe. (My formatting may be off).

Though I am famous for my love for dogs, a cat got into the house, and shows no sign of leaving.
I am not sure where she came from, maybe cat-land.
She is pure black and given to disappearing. Her name is Audrey. She does not carry money.

If you can believe in poetry, all kinds of bad fates are averted. And who can doubt with the evidence of Billy Collins.

March 21, 2017

March 21, 1894

Alix Angèle Marguerite Hava Aymé (March 21 1894 to March 21, 1989) was born in Marseille, and pursued an artistic career while thriving in the French Indo-Chine orb. Biographical details are sparse but here is a text I found about her

Alix ... Hava.... studied drawing and music at the Conservatory of Toulouse. A prodigy, gifted in music as well as art, at the age of fifteen she won a gold medal in piano and considered a musical career before becoming a painter. After her graduation from the Conservatory, she moved to Paris where she became a pupil, and then a colleague, of the important Nabi painter Maurice Denis. In 1910 she collaborated with Denis on the decoration of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Later she worked in the Studios of Sacred Art founded by Maurice Denis and Georges Devallières in 1919.

She married in 1920 and went to Shanghai with her first husband, Professor Paul de Fautereau-Vassel, who was posted to the Franco-Chinese Mission there. In 1921, living then in Hanoi, she took part as a staff artist in several scientific expeditions to China. In 1925 she was made a professor and taught drawing at the French Lycée in Hanoi. In 1926, the artist and her husband returned to Paris where their son, Michel, was born. While in Paris, she was commissioned to do the illustrations for a French edition of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, which she did using drawings she had made on a visit to Ceylon. When Fautereau-Vassel decided to remain in France, his wife, taking her young son with her, returned to the life she had created for herself in Asia.

In 1930, she had an exhibition at the Galerie Portal in Saigon, and then settled in Luang Prabang (Laos) where she became close to the ruling family and was commissioned to do a series of large murals in the Royal Palace (official name: Haw Kham, and today a national museum.). The murals in what was the King’s reception room depict everyday life in Laos. According to the Royal Palace Museum web site, each of the murals “…is intended to be viewed at a different time of day, depending on the light that enters the windows on one side of the room, which matches the time (of) day depicted”.

The murals are
[now] considered a national treasure. Unfortunately, there are no reproductions of the murals as it is forbidden by the government to photograph them. In 1931, Aymé moved back to Hanoi and was named professor at the Lycée Albert Sarraut. There she taught the ancient Vietnamese art of lacquer work which she had earlier mastered. In July of that year she returned to Paris and married Colonel Georges Aymé, who later became General Aymé, Commander of the French Army in Indochina. Maurice Denis was one of the witnesses at her marriage. Her husband’s brother, Marcel Aymé, became one of the most celebrated French novelists of the 20th century after the artist helped launch his career by introducing him to one of her friends at the publishing house Gallimard. While in Paris, she had an exhibition at the Galerie Druet and was invited to work on the important Colonial Exhibition to which she contributed a number of works done in lacquer. In 1935 there was a large exhibition of her work in Saigon.

During her years in Asia, Aymé traveled extensively in Indochina, India, and Ceylon. She also visited and painted in China, Japan, and Korea. When she returned to live in Paris in 1945, she was commissioned to do the mural decorations of a chapel in Luc-sur-Mer (Calvados). During this period she became a close friend of, and worked with, the painter Foujita. In 1948 she was given an exhibition at the Galerie Moullot in Paris and moved into an apartment/studio in the Porte de St. Cloud, where she continued to live and work after the death of her husband in 1950. That same year, she was given an exhibition in Paris at the Galerie de la France d’Outremer on the rue de la Boétie, and published an article on the art of lacquer in the journal

In 1952, there was an exhibition in Florence of her works in lacquer, which were also shown in 1952 in Paris in rue de la Boétie. For the journal Pax Christi, in 1960 Aymé wrote and illustrated Paul et Kao au Laos, a story of seven episodes drawn from her experiences in Laos. In 1961 she was given an exhibition at the Galerie Rauch in Monaco. In 1962, Aymé went to live and paint for eight months in Brazzaville in the Congo, the final journey of a life spent largely in travel, exploration, painting and drawing. Alix Aymé died on her 95th birthday while putting the finishing touches to one of her lacquer pieces....

Portrayals of cats was not typical of Ayme's ouevre, but we found a couple.

The interested reader will check out this link where there are a number more of her paintings.

March 20, 2017

March 20, 1890

Fania Marinoff (March 20, 1890 to November 17, 1971) was an immigrant to the United
States when a young girl. She was born in what is now Ukraine. Marinoff worked as an actress and in that world met and married, in 1914, one of our leading cultural figures. We read about her career:

Working on both stage and screen throughout the 1910s, Fania Marinoff developed a reputation as a gifted actress who could perform popular comic roles as well as more challenging classical and experimental parts. Her most celebrated performance was as Ariel in The Tempest in 1916, in which the New York Times found her "bewitching." Marinoff was still quite young when she retired from acting. She and her husband remained central figures in several arts communities, serving as a point of connection between many of the period’s most important artists and thinkers, those from Harlem and Greenwich Village, New York and Europe.

Here we see she was on the cover of a magazine in 1910.

Her husband was Carl Van Vechten. Since  she was on a magazine cover before she met
him, which happened in 1912,  we get a sense of the social realities surrounding their courtship. For he too was a famous person.

Carl Van Vechten was not just a herald for modernism in art, not just the photographer who documented the Harlem Renaissance, he was the historian of cat lovers. The Tiger in the House (1920) in charming detail outlines the modern enthusiasm for the feline species.

Fania Marinoff was Van Vechten's second wife. By all accounts they were very happy the next 50 years. Here is an adorable picture of the couple. 

March 19, 2017

March 19, 1721

John Mullan in his Guardian review of a recent biography of Tobias Smollett (March 19, 1721 to September 17, 1771) ) explains one reason this writer has fallen out of favor among the literary:

Smollett is a caricaturist, his personalities kept alive by his satirical vehemence rather than any psychological acuity. His fiction is savage and cartoonish - too much so for any imaginable TV adaptor. Scabrous and disgusted (never has fiction been so full of bad smells and vile effluvia), it descends from the angry comedy of Ben Jonson and has its present-day progeny in Martin Amis's urban nightmares. Smollett's novels are journeys through human idiocies and indecencies....

We owe to Smollett that enduring description of certain small spaces: not enough room to swing a cat.  There are other reasons to remember him:

Even more than Samuel Johnson Smollett was, ... "the quintessential 18th-century man of letters". The younger son of a younger son, he had to make his own way in the world. First he became a doctor, and his medical training much influenced his writing: nowhere in literature are the pains and mortifications of a pre-analgesic world so alive. He then turned to literature in all its commercial varieties. As well as a novelist, he was a playwright, an editor, an often vituperative journalist, a successful historian and an acidulous reviewer.

The physician and author John Shebbeare, one of Smollett's many enemies, said, "he undertakes to fit up books by the yard on all subjects". His efforts were incredible. At one representative moment in 1754, ... Smollett was completing A Compendium of Authentic and Entertaining Voyages, translating a French economic journal, editing William Smellie's textbook on midwifery, ghost-writing the diplomat Alexander Drummond's Travels, completing his own translation of Don Quixote and writing entries for the massive Universal History from the Earliest Account of Time to the Present (of which he was also editor).

What these tasks reveal is that peculiar mixture of intellectual ambition and grinding manufacture that distinguishes much of the life of writing in the 18th century. Smollett was both hack and Enlightenment man. One of his big financial successes was his Complete History of England, also a work of considerable learning that was written at pace, and certainly without leisure for research. Meanwhile he was shaping the literary world by editing the Critical Review. Along with its rival, the Monthly, this established, for the first time, the role of reviews.
Most of his novels include vignettes of literary ambition and disillusionment. Melopyn in
Roderick Random [1748] tries to earn money from high-aspiring poetry, but progresses downwards through one Grub Street genre after another, until he ends up producing Tyburn tales - sensational accounts of crimes and killings. Peregrine Pickle [1751also tries to succeed as a writer and enables Smollett to include more portraits of his self-flattering fellow authors. In The Expedition of Humphry Clinker [1771] some of the characters even meet Smollett himself, holding court at his Chelsea home to "a parcel of authorlings".
Smollett's lashing of the world was a Juvenalian satirical inclination. In his third novel, Ferdinand, Count Fathom, [1753it led him to the (then) novelty of a conscienceless protagonist, who exploits and betrays all those he meets. Fathom, a Hobbesian analyst of others' self-delusions, was the author's revenge on human gullibility...

Tobias Smollet referred to a type of writer, one who is  "A mere index hunter, who held the eel of science by the tail." And that is a little too accurate for the comfort of some almanackists.

March 18, 2017

March 18, 1812

We see in the life of Horne Tooke (June 25, 1736 to March 18, 1812) his dual interests in philosophy and the changing political world he inhabited. We glance first at his ideas about the nature of language before some biographical details about this interesting English personage. Our sources are first Memoirs of John Horne Tooke: Interspersed with Original Documents, Volume 2 (1813), and then excerpts from his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article.

[Reagrding] Mr.Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding,...[an introduction says] it is here contemplated as a philosophical account of the first sort of abbreviations in language. Had this great man been sooner aware of the inseparable connexion between words and knowledge, he would not have talked of the composition of ideas, but would have seen that it was merely a contrivance of language; for the only composition being in the terms, it is as improper to speak of a complex idea, as it would be to call a constellation a complex star; they are not ideas, but merely terms, which are general and abstract...

[About] the parts of speech ...the distribution for the two great purposes of speech, is here resolved into:
1. Words necessary for the communication of our thoughts; and,
2. Abbreviations, employed for the sake of dispatch.

In respect to the former of these, we are told, all languages, there are only two sorts ... which are necessary for the communication of our thoughts, and these are nouns and verbs; by means of which alone, any thing can be related or communicated ...

We are briefly informed.... that the noun is the simple or complex, the particular or general sign, or name of one or more ideas; and,... that the fate of that very necessary word the article, has been most singularly hard and unfortunate: "for though without it, or some equivalent invention, men would not communicate their thoughts at all; yet, (like many of the most useful things in the world,) from its unaffected simplicity and want of brilliancy, it has been ungratefully neglected and degraded. ....[T]he brutish inarticulate interjection, which has nothing to do with speech, and is only the miserable refuge of the speechless, has been permitted, because beautiful and gaudy, to usurp a place amongst words, and to exclude the article from its well earned dignity." It is observed soon after, "that the dominion of speech is erected upon the downfal of interjections;" and that, "the neighing of a horse, the lowing of a cow, the barking of a dog, the purring of a cat, sneezing, coughing, groaning, shrieking, and every other involuntary convulsion with oral sound, has almost as good a title to be called parts of speech as interjections have."

John Horne Took

...was born into a respectable middle-class family. His mother was a benevolent figure, persuading her husband to donate money to the Middlesex Hospital, of which he later became one of the first treasurers. Horne's father was a man of singularly independent character, exemplified by a lawsuit with Frederick, prince of Wales, who lived next door to the Horne family in Leicester House. When some of the prince's officials sought a passage to Newport market by making an opening through a wall belonging to the Horne property without seeking permission, Horne's father brought the case to court and won. Having achieved his purpose, John Horne senior allowed the doorway to be reopened and was accordingly appointed by the prince as the official supplier of poultry to his household. Despite the immediate honour of this appointment, the prince's sudden death in 1751 saw a debt of several thousand pounds unrecovered.

...After graduating from Cambridge [and some resistance to his father's plans]
Horne finally conceded, being ordained deacon on 23 September 1759 and becoming a curate in Kent. He was not, however, fully committed to his post and resigned within a few months following a sudden attack of ague....Pecuniary circumstances [soon] forced Horne ...[to accept another such position] and on 23 November 1760 he was ordained a priest. His father purchased him a living at New Brentford said to be worth between £200 and £300 a year.
.... With only a half-hearted interest in spiritual matters at best, he studied medicine in the hope of improving the physical well-being of his parishioners and opened a dispensary for their benefit. Despite these efforts and his sobriety at this time, some of his flock found cause to criticize him for what they saw as inappropriate enthusiasm for whatever entertainment the neighbourhood offered and, more particularly, for his fondness for playing cards [and Tooke eventually resigned.]

....Amid ...political controversies and legal entanglements, Horne remained a popular social figure. His political clique met at the house of Richard Liver, and he kept rooms in Frith Street near his friends Michael Moser, keeper of the Royal Academy, and Thomas Sheridan. Horne was also a keen backgammon and whist player, and as such became known to Domenico Angelo and his son, Henry, doyen of fencing masters, as well as the musicians Johann Christian Bach and Karl Abel. Despite his affability, Horne's personal life remained somewhat unsettled. By the early 1770s he had fathered a son, Sidney Montague, the eldest of his three children, who later [worked with] ... the East India Company. He was also the father of two daughters, Mary and Charlotte, both of whom used their mother's surname of Hart, but he never married. ....

[Tooke Horn's sympathies with the American colonists was apparent in his speech saying] when 'the people of America are enslaved [Britons] ... cannot be free'. Following a clash between the colonists and British troops at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the Constitutional Society, at Horne's suggestion, raised a subscription for the Americans concerned. Horne was to convey the money to Benjamin Franklin, and the society's resolutions were drawn up by Horne and published in the newspapers to announce that the subscription was for 'our beloved American fellow-subjects, who ... preferring death to slavery, were ... inhumanly murdered by the King's troops'...

...Horne found himself charged with libel for the advertisement he prepared, and on 4 July 1777 was tried before Lord Mansfield. He defended himself with characteristic forcefulness and audacity but was found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison, to pay a fine of £200, [and other financial impediments were added.]

[Later, when France fell into revolution, Tooke with his radical sympathies resulted in an]  increasingly nervous government ...[having] spies working within ...[his] circle...[T]he suspicion of him as a subversive is reflected in the many caricatures in which he is portrayed as a revolutionary sansculotte.
On 19 May 1794 Horne Tooke was sent to the Tower along with other radical suspects ...... A personal diary kept by Horne Tooke in his interleaved copy of Diversions records the daily inconveniences and hardships of a regimented prison life, his concerns for the welfare of his daughters, and the physical agony which accompanied the constant and painful treatment of testicular and intestinal problems. Despite the adversities, the veteran reformer was both defiant and heroic. ...

. ..[When on] 22 November the jury retired for just two minutes before returning a verdict of not guilty. Horne Tooke's acquittal was the cause of celebration, with newspapers printing trial accounts and his portrait for free. The London Corresponding Society issued commemorative medals, and anniversary dinners became a regular event among reformers, ensuring that the treason trials of 1794 and the hardships endured by the accused remained etched in radical memory.....

Despite the freedom afforded by Horne Tooke's financial security and semi-retirement from public life, he still laboured under the effects of gout. Indeed the desperate search for a cure perhaps accounts for his eccentric belief that jolting removed impurities from the human body. Thus he was in the habit of hiring a carriage and riding the roughest roads for several hours when he felt it necessary for his health. His infirmities, however, proved so debilitating that at the Westminster election of 1806 he was unable to campaign for ...[his friends].

[Toward the end and despite] his will to live, Horne Tooke knew his time was quickly passing. He prepared a tomb in his garden and had a tombstone inscribed. In his last eighteen months he treated himself to a refurnished parlour and refurbished parts of his house, but was characteristically benevolent in discharging the taxes of struggling cottagers behind his property. Horne Tooke's last days were spent in suffering, as he endured kidney stones and gangrene in the legs. Under the constant care of his daughters..., Horne Tooke refused any visit by the clergy and passed his last days correcting a copy of Shakespeare. He died on 18 March 1812 in Wimbledon and, despite his wish to be buried in his garden, his daughters and sister insisted on a traditional Christian funeral... His will bequeathed his estate and possessions to his eldest daughter, Mary Hart.....

March 17, 2017

March 17, 1870

We rely on the Dictionary of Irish Biography for information on John Keegan Casey (August 22, 1846 to 17 March 17, 1870).

[This] poet and Fenian, was born... at Mount Dalton near Mullingar, Co. Westmeath.son of Luke Casey, the local schoolmaster; nothing is known of his mother. He was educated at Mount Dalton and at Ballymahon, Co. Longford, where his family moved. A keen student, he was fond of poetry and especially ancient Irish legends, but he also enjoyed boating on nearby Lough Ree and hunting rabbits and hares. From his mid-teens he assisted his father as a teacher at Ballymahon and later taught at Newtown Cashel, Co. Longford. In the early 1860s he joined the IRB in Ballymahon. The Polish rebellion of 1863 caught his imagination and sparked him to write a poem, the ‘Lesson’, which was published in the Nation. From then on he wrote regularly, contributing to the Nation and the Irish People under the pen-names ‘Leo’ and ‘Kilkeevan’. In 1865 he took a job as a clerk in Castlerea, Co. Roscommon, but he continued to write and work as an IRB organiser. Arrested in Castlerea with other suspects after the Fenian rebellion of March 1867, he was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude and imprisoned in Mountjoy jail, Dublin. Imprisonment took a heavy toll on his health and he was released 16 November 1867.

His poetry documents the prison events. This is from "A Convict Lay:"
“Thirty-five days” he gave—my hands behind me tied,
Fastened with gyves of iron, into a hell-black cell .....
Then hunger came, and I said, I may tread the dear land yet—
The Lord in a hole like this my death does not decree;
So I went upon all-fours a share of the food to get,
For the rats thought it was their rights, and bitterly fought with me. 

But sometimes they went away, and left me my fullest share
(I could almost see the dark with the sight of a mountain cat!)
Men had no pity—their souls with a Demon guilt were bare—
I often thought, mayhap, that pity might move the rat.

I know not when I left—but thirty-five days went by:

...[A]sk me no more, let's think o’ the fields so bright and green.

Other of his writing was more popular:

Among his best-known ballads are ‘The rising of the moon’ (c.1865), ‘Máire my girl’ (written for his wife), ‘Donal Kenny’, ‘Soggarth Aroon’, and ‘St Patrick's day in the morning’. The first of these, invoking the martial spirit of 1798, was particularly popular and he regularly recited it at public meetings to great applause. His poems were collected in A wreath of shamrocks (1866) and The rising of the moon (1869). The Saturday Review said of the former that Casey puts ‘treason in a fascinating, tolerant and intelligent shape’. He wrote some longer poems, notably ‘St Kilian’ (1866), about an early Irish missionary, and ‘Intemperance’ (1876), supporting the anti-drinking campaign of Father Mathew...; he repeatedly argued that every drink taken by Irishmen funded the government that oppressed them. His stirring and patriotic verse was very popular in its day, but much of it is clichéd and derivative and has not aged well. He also wrote short fiction for the Shamrock, Young Ireland, and the Boston Pilot.

A fine public speaker, he made several tours in Ireland and Britain lecturing on the influence of nationalist poetry; he claimed that it was poetry above all that fortified a people's national spirit and gave them the courage to resist oppression. He was a regular speaker at amnesty meetings, and campaigned vigorously at Dungarvan in the general election of November 1868, his fiery speeches helping to unseat the Liberal, Charles Robert Barry... who had earned the enmity of nationalist Ireland by prosecuting Fenians in the state trials of 1865. Casey was generally contemptuous of constitutional nationalists, claiming that the British government would never grant any concessions to Ireland unless forced, and he called on the young men of Ireland to arm themselves and unite in pursuit of Irish independence. He died in Dublin 17 March 1870 from the effects of consumption, compounded by injuries received when his carriage collided with a dray, and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery. His funeral, attended by tens of thousands, was one of the greatest nationalist demonstrations of the period, and a large monument featuring a shamrock, a harp, round tower, Celtic cross and Irish wolfhound was erected over his grave. ...
"A shamrock, a harp, round tower, Celtic cross and Irish wolfhound." St. Patrick's day in the evening.