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 20, 2018

September 20, 1928

The Weekly Standard ran this picture with their obituary for Donald Hall (September 20, 1928 to June 23, 2018).




Donald Hall in his blue chair.
Aram Boghosian / Boston Globe / Getty

They describe 'Donald Hall, one of the great formalist poets .... [who] wrote scores of works. He was a talented playwright, a superb memoirist, and an omnicompetent anthologist.
.....there is little recondite and nothing pretentious about Hall’s poems.'

We see that in this text:

'Snow fell in the night.
At five-fifteen I woke to a bluish
mounded softness where
the Honda was. Cat fed and coffee made,
I broomed snow off the car
and drove to the Kearsarge Mini-Mart
before Amy opened
to yank my Globe out of the bundle.

'Back, I set my cup of coffee
beside Jane, still half-asleep,
murmuring stuporous
thanks in the aquamarine morning.

'Then I sat in my blue chair
with blueberry bagels and strong
black coffee reading news,
the obits, the comics, and the sports.
Carrying my cup twenty feet,
I sat myself at the desk
for this day’s lifelong
engagement with the one task and desire.'

Hall was nearly 90 when he died. Ann Patchett quotes him about an age which should interest us all:

'However alert we are, however much we think we know what will happen, antiquity remains an unknown, unanticipated galaxy. It is alien, and old people are a separate form of life.'

A jolly prospect.







September 19, 2018

September 19, 1911

You may remember this:

The Inheritors

'In contrast, the Neanderthal people in The Inheritors do not hunt, although they will eat fresh meat if they find it. Lok and Fa find a doe that has been killed by a sabre-toothed cat:
'A cat has sucked all her blood. There is no blame.’
'The people believe that all animals are born of Oa and it is wrong to kill them. However, as the people are hungry, Oa will not punish them if they eat another animal’s kill. The doe’s body is watched over by a pack of hyenas with their ‘evil talk’, and buzzards, who are told to go away by Liku. Their refusal to hunt animals is an important symbol of the Neanderthal people’s inherent goodness, and love of nature.'

Yes, this is William Golding (September  19, 1911 to June 19, 1993): a glimpse of his novel The Inheritors (1956)

Golding's website has a section on animals. Surely Golding would have been quite pleased at the recent research suggesting the Neanderthals were an artistic, tool making race.

September 18, 2018

September 18, 1980

In Katherine Anne Porter: A Life by Joan Givner (1982) ‎we learn of "Katherine Anne Porter's rise from Texas log-cabin poverty to a position as a well-known short story writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, stressing her stamina, wit, and determination."

And her cats. She was a cat person. Her dates are May 15, 1890 to September 18, 1980.

September 17, 2018

September 17, 1953

Tamasin Day-Lewis (September 17, 1953) has a reputation related to her television chef shows and books, but she is a familiar name in culture, I have to assume, as much also for her literary connections. Her father was  poet laureate of England, UK (1968-1972).
Tamasin Day-Lewis outlines, in a story drawing on her own youth, another set of connections. Her youth included living at times with the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard. Howard's husband at the time was Kingsley Amis, and Howard's stepson Martin Amis, lived in that household before entering Oxford. 

'I had already known Mart for years – he was the stepson of my godmother Jane [Howard] – and I was as in awe of him as my youngest daughter is now of her older brother's friends.

'When Jane and her husband, the novelist Kingsley Amis, Mart's father, moved to their house, Lemmons, in Hertfordshire, I used to go for weekends. I was, like most teenagers, desperate to escape the confines of home, the perceived illiberality of my own parents [Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis and actress Jill Balcon] and the stultifying tedium of being a teenager.

'Lemmons was full of impossibly glamorous older people and a core commune of writers, painters and inventors; even the dogs and cats shared a communal basket, and there were always stray writers and publishers whose marriages were unravelling. The drink flowed as freely as an open artery at family dinners. After all, "Kingers", as we knew Kingsley, wrote about drink for Playboy, which sent him crates of assorted liquor every week.....

[Martin Amis and I then] ....had hung out together, lived in the same house together, shared secrets, observed things, been conspiratorial when Jane's mother was dying at Lemmons.
....[Then]...... my father was sick and I was at a crammer doing Oxbridge entrance .... My life was about to be turned upside down when we learned that my father was dying, and Jane and I conspired to get my whole family moved to Lemmons for the duration.

'Nobody ever spoke or wrote about Kingsley being kind, and it is not how Mart is ever described either, but I saw that side of both of them, noticed their similar way of showing affection awkwardly, embarrassedly, conveying real fondness nonetheless. While my father lay dying, I will never forget the kindness, the way both Kingsley and Mart appeared to try to imagine what it must feel like and almost to tiptoe around my feelings.

'Mart and I were – are – both the children of successful, well-known parents; the blessing and the curse of it linked us, however unspoken or unrealised back then. ....

'....  The night I heard I'd got a place at King's, I remember ringing Mart and he took me out to dinner to celebrate. That was the first time we had ever done anything like that, as we had always been at home in Maida Vale or at Lemmons. We had always been "the children". Mart was touchingly proud and pleased. That was surprising, too.

'Now, when we bump into each other, usually at each other's book launches, I am just terribly glad we can acknowledge something of our shared past by being genuinely pleased to see each other and pleased for each other that we have done what we have both done in life. ...'

This touching detail, "the dogs and cats sharing a communal basket," makes a frame for a story of literary Britain.

September 16, 2018

September 16, 1823


Francis Parkman Jr. (September 16, 1823 to November 8, 1893) was a 19th century American writer, whose volumes on the history of our country cover the period until 1763.  Here is a graceful introduction to the scholar who wrote "
an epic saga of North America’s discovery, exploration, and settlement":
'....Born into the topmost ranks of Bostonian society, Parkman was the son of a prominent Unitarian minister who set him on the conventional path to Harvard (Class of 1844, LL.B. ’46) in order that he be trained in a respectable profession, having observed that the young man showed signs of eccentricity. While still a boy, Parkman had become fascinated with nature. (He later served a year as professor of horticulture at Harvard.) He loved the life of the forest, and in particular the lives of the forest’s people—the American Indians.

'During two summer vacations from college, Parkman and Harvard friends headed for the deep woods of northern New Hampshire and western Maine, camping, canoeing, bushwhacking, hunting, and living among woodsmen and Indians. In that near-wilderness, Parkman was not simply a tourist. As a college sophomore, he had formed a grand ambition: to write the history of the 200-year contest between France and England for dominance in North America, from the earliest voyages of Cartier and Champlain to the final defeat of the French at the Battle of Quebec in 1759. This work inspired and directed his entire life.

'[Before he could] further his long-range plan ...
Parkman found himself in need of all the toughness and stoicism he could muster. His health had long been uncertain. He suffered from insomnia and poor digestion, his eyesight sometimes failed for months on end, and an arthritic knee often confined him to a wheelchair. He was also the victim of obscure depressive symptoms, what he called a “whirl in the brain,” a nonspecific anxiety or agitation that made concerted mental work impossible. .... For nearly 20 years—essentially the middle of his life—he was a virtual invalid.

'Even so, Parkman summoned the will and the patience to advance his work. Unable to write, he composed long passages of prose in his head and dictated them to secretaries. He used readers and copyists. He published The Oregon Trail, his famous account of his Western travels and always his best-known book, in 1849.

'Through the 1850s and ’60s, sometimes slowly and painfully, he pushed ahead on his major work, France and England in North America, comprising eight separate books. He thought of it as “the history of the American forest.” When his health permitted, the tireless and super-meticulous researcher traveled to Canada, Florida, Paris (at least three times), and London to consult original documents. Reference materials for one volume ran to 6,000 pages.

'More remarkable than his research, however, was the vitality and color of his writing. His history, for all its scholarship, is never dry. The major figures—the explorers Champlain and, especially, LaSalle; Frontenac, the royal governor of New France in Canada; Braddock, Howe, and Wolfe, the doomed British generals—are brought memorably to life, as are their settings: the dark Canadian wilderness, the vast grasslands of the Plains with their endless herds of buffalo, the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico. Parkman had an ability unsurpassed among writers for putting the reader in the scene.

'Nor was he only a painterly romantic. His passages of straight narrative and of analysis and exposition are invariably lucid and graceful. Much of their energy comes from a pervasive irony related to the contrast between the human actions described and the scale of the continent that is their stage. In LaSalle and the Discovery of the Great West, he tells of the explorer’s arrival at the mouth of the Mississippi River and his vainglorious proclamation that half North America was now, henceforth, and forever the property of Louis XIV:

'"On that day, the realm of France received on parchment a stupendous accession. The fertile plains of Texas; the vast basin of the Mississippi, from its frozen northern springs to the sultry borders of the Gulf; from the woody ridge of the Alleghenies to the bare peaks of the Rocky Mountains—a region of savannas and forests, sun-cracked deserts, and grassy prairies, watered by a thousand rivers, ranged by a thousand warlike tribes, passed beneath the scepter of the Sultan of Versailles; and all by virtue of a feeble human voice, inaudible at half a mile."

'Parkman’s health improved in the 1870s and ’80s. He had been bringing out the main volumes of his history since 1865 and published the final one in 1892. At his death, he was recognized, according to one biographer, as “a great historian, the greatest perhaps who had ever appeared in the country.” ....

We quote from the great man's work, (The Works of Francis Parkman, Volume 3, 1897) his explanation of the Cat Nation. After -- we glance at certain observations about the religion of some tribes: 

'[The indian sacrificed] to the powers he wished to propitiate, whether his guardian spirit, the spirits of animals, or the other beings of his belief. The most common offering was tobacco, thrown in solemnity, a white dog, the mystic animal of many tribes, was tied to the end of an upright pole, as a sacrifice to some superior spirit, or to the sun, with which the superior spirits were constantly confounded by the primitive Indian. In recent times, when
Judaism and Christianity have modified his religious ideas, it has been, and still is, the practice to sacrifice dogs to the Great Spirit. ....

'[...Their] mystic ceremonies, extravagant, puerile, and often disgusting, [were] designed for the cure of the sick or for the general weal of the community. Most of their observances seem originally to have been dictated by dreams, and transmitted as a sacred heritage from generation to generation. They consisted in an endless variety of dances, masqueradings, and nondescript orgies; and a scrupulous adherence to all the traditional forms was held to be of the last moment, as the slightest failure in this respect might entail serious calamities. If children were seen in their play imitating any of these mysteries, they were grimly rebuked and punished. In many tribes secret magical societies existed, and still exist, into which members are initiated with peculiar ceremonies. These associations are greatly respected and feared. They have charms for love, war, and private revenge, and exert a great, and often a very mischievous influence. The societies of the Metai and the Wabeno, among the Northern Algonquins, are conspicuous examples; while other societies of similar character have, for a century, been known to exist among the Dahcotah.'

Such generalizations one assumes applied to most of the Indian tribes. Two of these tribes actually, were called The Nation of the Cat, or Cat Nation. This descriptor applied to the Neutral Nation and the Eries. Below the quotes explain why

.... the forest traveller reached the border villages of the Attiwandarons, or Neutral Nation. As early as 1626, they were visited by the Franciscan friar, La Roche Dallion, who reports a numerous population in twenty-eight towns, besides many small hamlets. Their country, about forty leagues in extent, embraced wide and fertile districts on the north shore of Lake Erie, and their frontier extended eastward across the Niagara, where they had three or four outlying towns. Their name of "Neutrals" 
was due to their neutrality in the war between the Hurons and the Iroquois proper.

...The Niagara was then called the " River of the Neutrals..." The hostile warriors, meeting in a Neutral cabin, were forced to keep the peace, though, once in the open air, the truce was at an end. Yet this people were abundantly ferocious, and, while holding a pacific attitude betwixt their warring kindred, waged deadly strife with the Mascoutins, an Algonquin horde beyond Lake Michigan. Indeed, it was but recently that they had been at blows with seventeen Algonquin tribes....They burned female prisoners, a practice unknown to the Hurons...Their country was full of game, and they were bold and active hunters. In form and stature they surpassed even the Hurons, whom they resembled in their mode of life, and from whose language their own, though radically similar, was dialectically distinct. Their licentiousness was even more open and shameless; and they stood alone in the extravagance of some of their usages. They kept their dead in their houses till they became insupportable; then scraped the flesh from the bones, and displayed them in rows along the walls, there to remain till the periodical Feast of the Dead, or general burial. In summer, the men wore no clothing whatever, but were usually tattooed from head to foot with powdered charcoal.

'Southward and eastward of Lake Erie dwelt a kindred people, the Eries, or "Nation of the Cat." Little besides their existence is known of them. They seem to have occupied southwestern New York, as far east as the Genesee, the frontier of the Senecas, and in habits and language to have resembled the Hurons. They were noted warriors, fought with poisoned arrows, and were long a terror to the neighboring Iroquois.'

Parkman put the answer to our question, why name a tribe "the nation of the cats," in a footnote:

'* Le Mercier, Relation, 1654, 10. "Nous les appellons la Nation Chat, u cause qu'il y a dans leur pais vne quantite prodigieuse de Chats sauuages." — Ibid. The Iroquois are said to have given the same name, Jegosasa, Cat Nation, to the Neutrals. — Morgan, League of the Iroquois, 41.'
Which is to say, "We call them the Cat Nation, because there is a prodigious quantity of Savage Cats in their own soil."

(There's a story about cats here, with Parkman's putting the answer in a footnote, but that is a different blog post.)

September 15, 2018

September 15, 1784

We have the story of the first cat to balloon around England. It also mentions a certain Vincenzo Lunardi, a very brave fellow who was also quite an animal lover.

'In his own estimation, Vincenzo Lunardi was made to fly balloons. Born in Italy in 1759, he’d started his career as a diplomat, acting as a secretary to the Neapolitan Assembly in England. While he was there, though, he became obsessed with accounts, mostly from France, of a new invention: the hot air balloon, a massive sackcloth filled with hydrogen that could float up into the sky, and take a human with it.

'There was just one problem: the Londoners didn’t think he could do it. In fact, they didn’t think anyone could do it. While France had seen its fair share of ballooning success, whenever aspiring aeronauts had demonstrated in Britain, they had failed spectacularly, either damaging their balloons irreparably during takeoff, or failing to leave the ground at all. If they were successful—as in the case of James Tytler of Scotland, who managed to get aloft in August of 1774—they flew for so little time that spectators nearly rioted.

'So when Lunardi came to London, he started by talking the talk. He drummed up enthusiasm for his endeavor by putting his balloon on public display, and distributing pamphlets that promised a “Grand Atmospherical Excursion!” Then on September 15, 1784, having built up a suitable amount of excitement, he walked the walk: he and his crew brought the balloon to London’s Artillery Grounds, pumped it full of gas, and took off.
....
'In Lunardi’s telling, the drama started before the balloon even left the ground. While the crew was checking the envelope, one of the upright supports fell, knocking a high-up crew member off balance. Thankfully for Lunardi, he responded like a stuntman: “With great dexterity, he seized on a rope, and slid with coolness and unconcern to the ground,” Lunardi wrote.

'There was even interpersonal drama. Around 1 p.m., Lunardi and his assistant, George Biggins, climbed into the basket but the load proved too heavy, and a disappointed Biggins was forced to climb back out again. “[Nothing] could be more visible than the regret which they felt on separating,” Lunardi wrote. (His aforementioned other basketmates—two pigeons, a cat, and a “favorite lap dog”—were allowed to stay.) After takeoff, there was another slapstick moment, as the balloon dipped dangerously close to nearby houses.


Vincenzo Lunardi, his dog, and his cat. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/ LC-DIG-PPMSCA-02244

'Lunardi threw out a bunch of sandbags, and one of his steering oars, and the balloon menagerie continued on its way. “The loudest acclamations rent the skies,” Lunardi wrote. “Some cried through excess of joy, some wept for his safety… the Prince of Wales drank to him, in a glass of wine.” From above, the ever-cool Lunardi “calmly waved his flag.”

'After that, he was on his own. The rest of the journey was a mix of sprawling vistas, scientific experiments, and moments of peril. Although Lunardi steered as best he could with his remaining oar, air currents buffeted him to and fro, at one point blowing the balloon high up in the atmosphere, where the passengers were subjected to extreme cold. Icicles formed on his clothes, and “the cat was so benumbed as to be rendered motionless.” He himself almost fell asleep, and decided to drink several glasses of wine in quick succession for warmth, and to vigorously snuggle the dog, who, he thought, might not otherwise make it.

'Looking over the basket was also dicey. Although he grew to enjoy the view—especially the clouds—at first it was so overwhelming that he was seized by “a sudden giddiness,” and had to step back. Later, though, he grew confident enough to lean over the basket’s edge, and to shout out at the public through his speaking trumpet. When he saw an acquaintance on the ground, he lowered the balloon enough to toss the traumatized cat overboard to him.
....
'All told, Lunardi stayed aloft for a little over three hours. In that time, he traveled about 80 miles total, back and forth over a 26-mile stretch of land. He landed around 5 p.m., in a small village called Colliers-end, where a local farm girl helped him keep the balloon’s envelope from dragging on the ground. At this point, he was very cold, he wrote, and “the dog was very wet.”

'Lunardi would go on to enjoy a long, storied career as an aeronaut, full of literal and figurative ups (he eventually earned the nickname the “Daredevil Aeronaut”) and downs (after a young boy died while crewing for him, he was forced to flee England for the United States). But this first ride over London set the tone, not just for his career, but for balloon travel in general. The balloon was placed back on display, and Lunardi himself became something of a sex symbol, a daring man who had ventured alone to parts unknown. ...

'In the decades to come, balloonists would cross the English channel, head up to the stratosphere, and help to introduce audiences to the panorama, a brand new way of seeing the world. With his ride—and in his own words—Lunardi had successfully inaugurated, in one country’s imagination, “a truly wonderful and magnificent Machine.”'

September 14, 2018

September 14, 1860

One encyclopedia article relates that Hamlin Garland (September 14, 1860 to March 4, 1940),

'.....was born near West Salem, Wis. Garland's father was an industrious farmer who moved his family from farm to farm in Wisconsin, Iowa, and South Dakota, hoping to wrest a better living from the fertile but unreliable fields. The successive homesteads—Garland later described them as "bare as boxes, dropped on the treeless plains"—provided little in the way of literature, but what little was available young Hamlin read with enthusiasm. His parents encouraged his literary interests and helped him get as much education as the area and his necessary work on the farm would allow. In 1882 he received a diploma from Cedar Valley Seminary in Osage, Iowa, where his family was then living. He took a brief trip to New England and then returned to teach school for 2 years in Illinois.

'Garland's brief visit to Boston (which still kept up its pretense of being the literary capital of America) inspired him to return, and in 1884 he went to resume his education there. The only "university" he could afford was the Boston Public Library, but it proved ideal for him: whenever possible he devoted 14 hours a day to reading.

'Garland entered Moses True Brown's Boston School of Oratory, working for his tuition. But, lacking money, he soon decided to give up his studies temporarily. When Brown heard that his brilliant pupil was quitting school, he proposed to make Garland a teacher. Consequently, in 1885 Hamlin Garland, "Professor of Elocution and Literature," presented public lectures on American, French, and German authors, the admission fee being his pay.

'His lectures brought Garland the attention of Boston literary people, and his reviews, articles, and stories were soon appearing in the Transcript, Harper's Weekly, and other publications. His admiring reviews of William Dean Howells eventually led to a meeting with that important novelist and critic, beginning what Garland called "the longest and most important friendship" of his life. ....

'However polished his exterior, Garland's stories were intentionally plain and rough. This was apparent in his first and best book, Main Traveled Roads. His objective was to convey the hard, unromantic truth of life on the plains, and he accomplished it effectively. His hostility toward landowners is manifest in one of the best stories in this collection, "Under the Lion's Paw." A poor man with a sick wife and hungry children rents a dilapidated farm from a greedy town merchant who turns farmers' misery to his profit. The tenant farmer has the owner's promise that he can buy the property at a reasonable price if he can make it pay, and so he and his family slave for 3 years to improve the house, barn, and fences which will one day be their own. But when they have doubled the value of "their" farm, the owner doubles the price, ensuring that both land and tillers will remain mortgaged to him forever. Garland dedicated the book to his parents "whose half-century pilgrimage on the main roads of life has brought them only toil and deprivation."....

'Garland's commitment to realism in literature was expressed in his stories and also in his vigorous support of the new realistic drama and of many young realistic writers, most notably Stephen Crane. Crumbling Idols (1894) states Garland's theory of "veritism:" "The realist or veritist is really an optimist, a dreamer. He sees life in terms of what it might be, as well as in terms of what it is; but he writes of what is, and, at his best, suggests what is to be, by contrast." Garland seldom attained this ideal after 1891. His next novels, Jason Edwards, A Member of the Third House, and A Spoil of Office (all 1892), were hastily written propaganda pieces, not carefully wrought works of fiction. ....

'In 1899 Garland married Zulime Taft, a beautiful woman with artistic training. Two daughters were born to the couple. After his marriage Garland consciously or unconsciously abandoned his bleak realism and in such books as The Captain of the Gray-Horse Troop (1902) achieved greater popularity at the cost of literary value. But if his fiction declined in quality, he found a new medium in which he could excell: autobiography. A Son of the Middle Border (1917) and A Daughter of the Middle Border (1921) treat his own life with honesty and understanding. The latter book received the Pulitzer Prize in 1922. Many honors came to Garland in his later years. He continued to write memoirs and accounts of psychic research until his death on March 4, 1940.'


"Under the Lion's Paw" a short story mentioned above, uses a metaphor of the savage feline which was actually a trope common at the era, and one author in a short article, "Escaping the Lion's Paw: Jungle Cat Imagery and Late-Nineteenth-Century Political Reform" points out prior uses, like "Tammany Tiger" for corrupt city government. This unsentimental facet of feline behavior seems appropriate to the harsh prairie circumstances Garland sketches.