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 19, 2018

March 19, 2010

This from the metadata for her archival collection:

'Claire Kral Necker was born Claire Kral Nemec on 16 October 1917. In 1939 she married Walter L. Necker, who was then completing a BS in zoology at the University of Chicago. She and Walter shared interests in science and bibliography. Walter worked with a variety of organizations as, at various times, scientist, librarian, curator and rare books cataloger. Claire earned Master's degrees in Zoology and Chemistry (when and where is not documented, though it was sometime before 1968), and after World War II she and Walter started Aardvark Books, a mail-order antiquarian book business. Claire and Walter divorced in 1968, and she found work at a local library. Claire had for some time pursued, without much success, a career as a free-lance writer, but in 1969 she published her first book, Cats and Dogs (A. S. Barnes). Necker's other works include The Natural History of Cats (Delta, 1970), Supernatural Cats; An Anthology (Doubleday, 1972), Four Centuries of Cat Books (Scarecrow Press, 1972), and The Cat's Got Our Tongue (Scarecrow Press, 1973). She died 19 March 2010 in Pawling, New York.'

So much said, so little said, above.

March 18, 2018

March 18, 1919

The philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe (March 18, 1919 to January 5, 2001), according to a post in the OUP blog

'...had a close relationship with her mentor, Ludwig Wittgenstein. She would end up translating many of his books and papers, including Philosophical Investigations. Much of his influence can be seen in her writings, including her seminal monograph, Intention. Anscombe was a formidable debater and engaged with long discussions with students and faculty members while a professor at the University of Cambridge. She is also known for her high profiled debate with C.S Lewis, which resulted in Lewis re-writing parts of his book, Miracles.

'Anscombe was a social activist, much of this guided by her Catholic religious beliefs. She opposed Britain’s entering World War II and the deployment of the atomic bomb because of the amount of civilian deaths it caused. She was staunchly against abortions and attended various sit-in protests.'

Anscombe describes, in one of her essays (collected in The Moral Philosophy of Elizabeth Anscombe, 2016) how what :

'the cat thinks is the same as what you think. Now, this appearance, I want to say, is wrong. What the cat thinks is, in a decisive sense, not what you think. The appearance to the contrary is due to the fact that we have to render the feline thought by verbalizing a human variant of it: we put it in words in the words of human language. You can of course join the cat in crawling and prying in front of the cupboard.'

Such settings are glossed elsewhere, as in the words of Martin Gustaffson:

'According to Elizabeth Anscombe, having a language belongs to the nature of a human being, in a similar sort of way as having sight belongs to the nature of a cat. Plausibly, however, she would be aware that the notion of 'having a language' does not have the sort of determinacy that characterizes a notion such as a cat's being sighted. For a language is embedded in wider and dynamic patterns of human life – habits, institutions, traditions, ways of living together with others ...'

If one may be trivial, it is possible to say that Anscombe put the feline in Wittgenstein.

March 17, 2018

March 17, c 800 AD

We have a charming gloss on an old illustration to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

'The Book of Kells was written around the year 800 AD. It contains the four gospels and is written on vellum made from 185 calf skins. It contains a Latin text of the Gospels in tiny script with amazing decorations of illumination in the margins, in the text, and whole decorative pages throughout..... [Such as this] Cat, mouse, host...[a detail] from the Book of Kells, Trinity College, Dublin...:

'One of my favorite images is apparently a reference to a medieval joke/conundrum: It shows a cat chasing a rat or mouse that is eating a Eucharistic host. The unanswered question was: If Jesus says “I am the bread of life and whoever eats of this bread shall have eternal life,” and if the host is truly turned into the Body of Christ so that all who eat of it will have life eternal, then what happens to the mouse who nibbles on the Eucharist in the middle of the night? And what about the cat that eats the mouse?

March 16, 2018

March 16, 1956

Dr. Michael Dixon, (March 16, 1956), director of the Natural History Museum, spoke about the mission of such institutions. 'Technology can bring the magic of museums to all' was his summary of the significance of the museum's collaboration with a recent David Attenborough film: "Natural History Museum Alive 3D", ...[wherein] Attenborough meets characters from the Natural History Museum usually only known by their skeleton or fossilised remains. The dodo and the diplodocus, the sabre tooth cat and the ichthyosaur — each comes alive through scientifically accurate 3D.
'The visual effects specialists at Colossus productions worked very closely with our scientists to devise a plausible recreation of each animal. For the scientists, it was an interesting and surprisingly difficult task. Accustomed to working with them as fossils, it was an intellectual leap to imagine them in detail as living and breathing creatures. Responding to the questions from the 3D production team meant working out how these animals might have moved, sounded and behaved to a level they had not necessarily considered before.
'For scientific collections, increased access brings international democratisation, expanding the workshop of scientific research from the corridors of South Kensington to the labs and offices of researchers on every continent.

'The world’s great museums are already actively working to digitise their collections. The Smithsonian Institution recently announced an impressive multi-million dollar commitment to it. And the French government has funded the Paris Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle to digitise its herbarium. Such comprehensive approaches promise that many thousands of physical loans can be replaced with an instant flow of shared information. Digitisation also opens up scientific information to a technologically literate, smartphone-wielding public, offering the potential for crowd-sourced science. This democratisation of science can really increase the rate at which we fully understand the world.[stet]'

My own guess is that the biggest CGI job in these nature films is Attenborough himself. But now let's find out more about Michael Dixon  who has been director of the Natural History Museum since 2004.
Michael Dixon studied at the Imperial College, London and graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of York in 1984. He married twice: first, from 1988 to 1999, to Richenda Milton-Thompson. Then he and Deborah Mary Reece married in 2001.

He worked as the Publishing Director for John Wiley & Sons Ltd, from 1983–96.
Other relevant posts include his tenure as Director General of the  Zoological Society of London, from 2000–04.
And until recently he was a Trustee of the International Trust for Zoolological Nomenclature, (2004–14.)

Michael Dixon was knighted in 2014. 

March 15, 2018

March 15, 1791

Charles Knight (March 15, 1791 to March 9, 1873) was an English publisher and editor. His father had been a bookseller.

Shadows of the Old Booksellers (1865) reflects on his profession. Passages of a Working Life during Half a Century (2 vols., 1864–1865), is supposed to be autobiographical but we see the same scanning for a pattern in the events which are important to him, a desire to define changes of which he is a part.

'... In the Professional Class, whilst we find thirty-eight thousand persons connected with Divinity, thirty-four thousand with Law, thirty-eight thousand with Medicine ; whilst we have thirteen thousand artists and fifteen thousand musicians, we have only three thousand five hundred and eighty authors and literary persons, including one hundred and eighty-five female authors. Surely all those who write books, or are contributors to Reviews and Magazines, are not comprised in this enumeration. Certainly not. The author or the journalist, in many cases, has a more definite rank as a clergyman, a lawyer, or a physician. He may be a Lion in fashionable parties, but the writer, qua writer, does not go to court. Female authors were never so abundant, whether as Novelists, or Poetesses, or Biographers. They wisely claim to belong to the Domestic Class—and find their place amongst the Wives, Mothers, and Daughters of. the English households. They have no distinctive place in the Census like "the Shoemaker's Wife."

'It is a hundred and thirty-three years since the first Magazine—The Gentleman's—was produced in England. It is a hundred and fifteen years since the first Review—The Monthly—was started. These were more ambitious publications in point of size than their illustrious predecessors, the Essayists, who rose up to form the taste of an age possessing very little general knowledge; when "Men not professing learning were not ashamed of ignorance; and in the female world any acquaintance with books was distinguished only to be censured." Johnson thus describes the age of Addison and Steele. These periodical writers came to take the patronage of men of letters out of the hands of the' great and the fashionable, to confide it to the people.

'The periodical literature of the present day is almost as wonderful as its newspapers. I have glanced at the extent of this species of literature in 1844, when there were sixty weekly periodical works issued in London, two hundred and twenty-seven monthly, and thirty-eight quarterly; (Vol. ii. p. 278.) To Mitchell's Newspaper Press Directory is now added "A Directory of Magazines, Reviews, and Periodicals." There were in 1863, four hundred and fifty-three Weekly and Monthly Periodicals, and eighty-four Quarterly. Of these five hundred and thirty-seven publications, a hundred and ninety-six are of a decidedly theological character, in which the Church of England is adequately represented, and almost every sect has its peculiar organs.

'It would be impossible for me to present even the most superficial analysis of this list of five hundred and thirty-seven periodical works. Many of them are devoted to special branches of science, art, or industry—such as Civil Engineering, Botany and Gardening, Music, Photography; Magazines for Trades wholesale and retail, and for Artisans of various degrees. We have Law Magazines, and Magazines of Medicine and Surgery, and Nautical Magazines. Magazines for the young present themselves in manifold shapes—of Boys' Journals, and English Girls' Journals, and Child's Own Magazines. We have every variety of Temperance Advocates, and so earnest is proselytism in this direction that we have an Anti-tobacco Journal. The Religious Tract Society has five Penny Periodicals, and the Christian Knowledge Society has also its cheap organs of amusement and instruction. These divide the market with a shoal of Half-penny and Penny Weeklies, which have acquired the name of Kitchen Literature. This name is, with some injustice, exclusively applied to these delights of the Servants'hall; for their unnatural incidents and their slip-slop writing may be traced in the literature for the parlour. Some who are fashionable and popular have arrived at such a pitch of exaggeration, that no form of writing that is plain and simple is judged fit to stir the minds of masculine girls and effeminate lads. In a remarkable French book, published in 1840, "Les Classes Dangereuses," the writer laments over the "immondices" of the popular literature of Paris. In another ten years or more, there were amongst ourselves too many cheap publications which went upon the principle that the Penny Readers would like something low. They found their error, and in the endeavour to be moral contrived for a long while to be preternaturally silly. I rejoice to find it asserted that the aggregate weekly sale of immoral publications is now estimated at no more than nine thousand copies, whilst three years ago their circulation was estimated at fifty-two thousand.* The unnatural style of the penny literature—the three sorts of style "provided for imbecility," described by Johnson as the bombastic, the affected, and the weak,—will gradually give place to attempts to rival the higher ability which now marks the cheap Numbers, and almost equally cheap Monthly Magazines, which are avowedly conducted by writers of the first eminence, or by other editors whose names are no secret in the community of letters.

'I have intimated that some of the faults of taste, which characterise the humblest species of periodical literature, have penetrated into those regions where authorship is better paid for, and may therefore be presumed to be of a higher quality. But there are faults of a less pardonable nature in the writer of fiction, than a total ignorance of the habits of good society, or a total incapacity to touch the subjects, or to reflect the style, that mark the discourse of educated persons. The grosser evils of the attractive reading that may be purchased for a penny in every street of London have spread, as an epidemic spreads from the hovel to the mansion. The current demand for "sensation novels," to be provided for the Circulating Libraries at half a guinea a volume, has been absolutely generated by the weekly sheets that commanded a sale by suiting their contents to the palates which demanded the coarsest dishes highly seasoned. The diseased taste, which appears to be now common to the sanded kitchen and the carpeted. drawing room, has been stimulated by the same class of writers. They have seen that the incessant whirl of the social machine produces an influence upon most domestic circles, which demands a continued excitement in the hours of leisure. The newspaper, exciting as it is, is not enough. In a sensation novel of the genuine sort, are to be found a pleasant distillation of the topics that daily present themselves in the
records of the criminal courts and police offices, all so softened down and made easy to juvenile capacities, that murders, forgeries, burglaries, arson, breach of trust, adulteries, seductions, elopements, appear the common incidents of an English household. It is not the taste for horrors that characterised a former age of sensation novels, when murders and ghosts always went together. Crime is not now an exceptional thing, but the normal condition of common life. The dramatists before Shakspere dabbled in blood. There are violent deaths in abundance even in Shakspere. But he saw how the vulgar element could be raised into grandeur by the poetical; how crime could be taken out of the region of horrors, by being surrounded by those accessories which belong to love and pity. There are writers of novels amongst us who deal with "sensation" incidents in that higher spirit. But the number of those who grossly administer to a corrupt taste seems increasing.'

''England! the time is come when thou shouldst wean
Thy heart from its emasculating food."

Thus Charles Knight analyzes the context and significance of the intellectual in 19th century England.  The verses he quotes are not the words of an old man. They are those of William Wordsworth, possibly written when that poet was 33 years old.

March 14, 2018

March 14, 1869

Algernon Blackwood, (March 14, 1869 to December 10, 1951) an English writer of ghost stories, is the subject of this biographical essay:

'Algernon Blackwood is perhaps best known for his story "The Willows" which is considered one of the finest supernatural tales ever written. Born in in Shooter's Hill, Kent, on March 14, 1869, he grew up in a strict Calvinist family. He was the son of the widowed Duchess of Manchester and her second husband, Sir Stevenson Arthur Blackwood, a clerk in the Treasury and later Secretary of the Post Office. While in private school, at the age of 14, he decided to become a doctor. One of his teachers, a doctor himself, fascinated Blackwood with the powers of therapeutic hypnotism. Blackwood determined to be devote himself to psychiatric medicine. At the age of 16 was sent to Germany for a year to study at the Moravian Brotherhood school in Königsfeld. In line with his strict upbringing he found the military discipline of the school and by the meditative atmosphere and sense of honor and justice. But against the oppressive Sandemarian Calvinism background, a fellow medical student from India introduced him to the Hindu religion. Young Blackwood became fascinated with the Bhagavad Gita, the Vedanta, the Yoga of Patanjali, and theosophy.

'He finished college at Wellington College, Cambridge and spent a year abroad in Switzerland, and the a year in Canada doing business for his father. He went on to the University at Edinburgh but left the year after. His intention toward medicine was gone. Instead, in May of 1890 Blackwood moved to Canada and founded a dairy farm. It failed. He turned to hostelry but the hotel business didn't suit him and he sold his share of the business in 1892.

'Financially troubled and in conflict with his parents, Blackwood disappeared for a summer into the Canadian backwoods, a setting which would reappear consistently in later writings. Revived spiritually, Blackwood moved to New York City and went to work at the Evening Sun as a reporter for a small salary. He did make some side money modeling for artist Charles Dana Gibson...  New York was not a good place for Blackwood. He was unhappy, surrounded by crooks and worse. Besides being conned of his money and framed for arson, Blackwood made the mistake of befriending and rooming with the unscrupulous Arthur Bigge. Bigge robbed Blackwood and took off. In return, Blackwood tracked the man down and had him arrested. (Bigge's appears as Boyde in Blackwood's autobiography Episodes before Thirty. He was also swindled out of sorely needed cash while he was lying on the brink of death, and was almost railroaded for arson.

'In 1895 he was hired as a reporter for the New York Times which gave him a more financially stable existence. Two years later he left the paper to work as the private secretary to banker James Speyer. But in 1899 Blackwood gave up the New World and returned to England. ....

'In England, Blackwood returned to dairying, sort of. He becamse a partner in a dried milk company but spend most of his time traveling in Europe. In 1900 he discovered the Golden Dawn, the secret society, a return to the paranormal and spiritual interests of his childhood. And he began to write. He collected the meager produce and submitted it to Eveleigh Nash who published them in in 1906 as The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories. Blackwood followed this with a series of psychic detective stories featuring John Silence, "physician extraordinary." It was this series of novels and short stories on which his reputation rose. And he settled down to life as a writer moving to Böle, Switzerland from 1908 to 1914. During this period he wrote "The Centaur" (1910), often considered his finest work, after a trip to the Caucasus Mountains. A trip to Egypt produced "The Sand", "A Descent in Egypt", and "The Wave". His "A Prisoner of Fairyland" was adapted by Sir Edward Elgar into the successful musical The Starlight Express.

'When the First World War broke out, Blackwood enlisted in the British military intelligence (seemingly a common career for writers in wartime). After the war, Blackwood returned to his native Kent and produced two more collections of stories Tongues of Fire and Shocks but the majority of his fiction output was drama or children's fantasies ....

'His admirer, H. P. Lovecraft, wrote of him in his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature": "Less intense than Machen in delieating the extremes of stark fear, yet infinitely more closely wedded to the idea of an unreal world constantly pressing upon ours is the inspired and prolific Algernon Blackwood, amidst whose voluminous and uneven work may be found some of the finest spectral literature of this or any age. Of the quality of Mr. Blackwood's genius there can be no dispute; for no one has even approached the skill, seriousness, and minute fidelity with which he records the overtones of strangeness in ordinary things and experiences, or the preternatural insight with which he builds up detail by detail the complete sensations and perceptions leading from reality into supernormal life or vision. Without notable command of the poetic witchery of mere words, he is the one absolute and unquestioned master of weird atmosphere; and can evoke what amounts almost to a story from a simple fragment of humourless psychological description. Above all others he understands how fully some sensitive minds dwell forever on the borderland of dream, and how relatively slight is the distinction betwixt those images formed from actual objects and those excited by the play of the imagination."

'While Lovecraft considered "The Willows" to be not only "foremost of all" Blackwood's tales but the best "weird tale" of all time, Blackwood, who was familiar with Lovecraft's work, failed to return the compliment. As he told Peter Penzoldt, he found "spiritual terror" missing in his young admirer's writing, while it was all-important in his own.

'In 1934 Blackwood was invited to read ghost stories on BBC radio. This was a great success. Blackwood turned to broadcasting as a playwright and personality. In 1936 he began appearing on television. In 1949 he received the Television Society's medal and, in 1949, was made a commander of the British Empire. ... '

One of Blackwood's tales was included in Van Vechten's Lords of the Housetops (1921) an anthology of cat stories. We excerpt certain descriptive paragraphs from Blackwood's story titled, "A Psychical Invasion":

'Cats, in particular, he believed, were almost continuously conscious of a larger field of vision, too detailed even for a photographic camera, and quite beyond the reach of normal human organs. He had, further, observed that while dogs were usually terrified in the presence of such phenomena, cats on the other hand were soothed and satisfied. They welcomed manifestations as something belonging peculiarly to their own region. .... 

'The cat he chose,[to help his investigation] now full grown, had lived with him since kittenhood, a kittenhood of perplexing sweetness and audacious mischief. Wayward it was and fanciful, ever playing its own mysterious games in the corners of the room, jumping at invisible nothings, leaping sideways into the air and falling with tiny mocassined feet on to another part of the carpet, yet with an air of dignified earnestness which showed that the performance was necessary to its own well-being, and not done merely to impress a stupid human audience. In the middle of elaborate washing it would look up, startled, as though to stare at the approach of some Invisible, cocking its little head sideways and putting out a velvet pad to inspect cautiously. Then it would get absent-minded, and stare with equal intentness in another direction (just to confuse the onlookers), and suddenly go on furiously washing its body again, but in quite a new place. Except for a white patch on its breast it was coal black. And its name was--Smoke. 

'"Smoke" described its temperament as well as its appearance. Its movements, its individuality, its posing as a little furry mass of concealed mysteries, its elfin-like elusiveness, all combined to justify its name; and a subtle painter might have pictured it as a wisp of floating smoke, the fire below betraying itself at two points only--the glowing eyes. 'All its forces ran to intelligence--secret intelligence, wordless, incalculable intuition of the Cat. It was, indeed, _the_ cat for the business in hand.

[Which business involved the cat which ]
'....had jumped down from the back of the arm-chair and now occupied the middle of the carpet, where, with tail erect and legs stiff as ramrods, it was steadily pacing backwards and forwards in a narrow space, uttering, as it did so, those curious little guttural sounds of pleasure that only an animal of the feline species knows how to make expressive of supreme happiness. Its stiffened legs and arched back made it appear larger than usual, and the black visage wore a smile of beatific joy. Its eyes blazed magnificently; it was in an ecstasy. 'At the end of every few paces it turned sharply and stalked back again along the same line, padding softly, and purring like a roll of little muffled drums. It behaved precisely as though it were rubbing against the ankles of some one who remained invisible. A thrill ran down the doctor's spine as he stood and stared. His experiment was growing interesting at last.'

Other of Blackwood's writings also involve cats, for example the pdf available at this site.

March 13, 2018

March 13, 1948

Alberto Manguel (March 13, 1948) is an Argentinian writer who now has Canadian citizenship, and a home in France. His books like The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (co-written with Gianni Guadalupi in 1980), A History of Reading (1996), The Library at Night (2007) and Homer's Iliad and Odyssey: A Biography (2008), all have a peculiar slant. We read:

'[These books] all tremble with carefulness. I can't imagine him putting the letters together to form a reckless word. It is as though his writing self is still a boy cupping his hands around fragile birds or butterflies and offering them up to us with a serious, wide-eyed whisper of "Wow! Look at this!" ....'

We glimpse a life out of the ordinary further on in this interview which we cite for the text above, and that below.

'Although he was born in Argentina, his father's diplomatic career led to a childhood of travel, during which books gave him "a permanent home, and one I could inhabit exactly as I felt like, at any time, no matter how strange the room in which I had to sleep, or how unintelligible the voices outside my door". He loved the shrill covers of the Noddy books and the hurtle of a Rider Haggard plot. He was swept away by Homer and Conan Doyle – although he thought Chekhov was supposed to be a detective writer and found the mystery in "Lady with a Lapdog" rather thin. As an adolescent back in Buenos Aires, he would curl up alone among the "small, silent miracles" of his father's largely unused library, where many of the books had been trimmed to fit the shelves, often lopping off first lines or page numbers. "Sometimes I would make the effort to go outside and be with others, but there was nothing as exciting as a Stevenson story in the real world."

'Now his own children tell him that their home in Canada – a converted barn – is like a library. "They joke that they need a ticket to get in," he laughs. All of his own writing has been a direct result of the volumes in which he has sought refuge. Manguel was commissioned to write his first translation (Katherine Mansfield into Spanish) when he was just 18. Was he intimidated by the responsibility? "Oh no, not at all. I have often felt…" he breaks off, looks, and laughs again loudly, "an overwhelming sense of irresponsibility!"'

It may be this balancing of irreverence with a sobriety about literary spaces that explain the charm of the topics about which Alberto Manguel writes.

Another of his titles By The Light Of The Glow-worm Lamp: Three Centuries of Reflections on Nature, (1998) is blurbed:

'From ancient Greece to the close of the second millennium, the keen scientific eye has been translated over and over into graceful and meaningful texts in which not only the world observed but the act of observation itself is set down for the common reader.'

To this end Manguel quotes another: "Sometimes a tame cat takes to the woods and when it does, it becomes wilder than a wild cat." In this case the act of observation does not correlate well with the world observed, but such inaccuracies are rare.