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.

August 16, 2018

August 16

We nothing nothing about the day, or place, of birth of the British publisher Henry Colburn (1784 to August 16, 1855). We don't even know the names of his parents. His remarkable career as a publisher included introducing the "silver key" theme to published books, wherein stories offer a glimpse of upper class life to otherwisely situated readers. An example of this is his publication of -

Memoirs of the Princess Daschkaw, Lady of Honour to Catherine II. Empress of All the Russias: Written by herself.  London: Henry Colburn, Publisher, 1840. First edition. Frontispiece portraits, facsimiles. 1 vols. 8vo. Inscribed form the editor. Inscribed from Mrs. Bradford, the editor to J. Arabella Holt March 28, 1840 

This was but one of many books he published. A longer list is here. He made a lot of money.

Now, we excerpt one of his books, Colburn's Kalendar of Amusements in Town and Country, for 1840. It is a long passage; and I have no summary at the end; you may be bemused by yourself. We begin with a glimpse of horrific detail, which is not really worse than scenes we pretend to forget today. And ends with some sentimentality.

'These gardens are exceedingly attractive, and very beautifully arranged; forming a complete arboretum, containing upwards of 200 varieties of the most choice and hardy forest trees, of this and other countries. The panoramic views, introduced on the borders of the lake, are admirable, and greatly attractive during the season. The whole was founded by Mr. Cross, whose collection of animals at Exeter-Change was very popular before its removal; it is not so extensive as that in the Regent's Park, but some of the animals are much finer, the lion is a most majestic looking old fellow, and brought to our mind a beautiful story recorded of one of these noble animals belonging to the collection in the Tower.

'"It was customary for those who were unable to pay sixpence for a sight of the wild beasts in the Tower, to bring a dog or a cat as an oblation to the beasts, in lieu of money to the keeper. Among others, a fellow had caught up a pretty black spaniel in the streets, and he was accordingly thrown into the cage of the great lion. Immediately the little animal trembled and shivered, and crouched and threw itself upon its back, and put forth its tongue, and held up its paws in supplicating attitudes, as an acknowledgment of superior power; and praying for mercy. In the mean time the lordly brute, instead of devouring it, beheld it with an eye of philosophic inspection.

'"He turned it over with one paw, and then turned it with the other, and smelled to it, and seemed desirous of courting a further acquaintance.

'"The keeper, on seeing this, brought a large mess of his own family dinner: but the lion kept aloof and refused to eat, keeping his eye on the dog, and inviting him as it were to be his taster. At length the little animal's fears being somewhat abated, and his appetite quickened by the smell of the victuals, he approached slowly, and with trembling, ventured to eat.

'"The lion then advanced gently, and began to partake, and they finished their meal very lovingly together.

'"From this day the strictest friendship commenced between them, a friendship consisting of all possible affection and tenderness on the part of the lion, and of the utmost confidence and boldness on the part of the dog; insomuch that he would lay himself down to sleep within the fangs, and under the jaws of his terrible patron.

'"A gentleman, who had lost the dog, and had advertised a reward of two guineas to the finder, at length heard of the adventure, and went to reclaim his dog. 'You see, Sir," said the keeper, 'it would be a great pity to part such loving friends. However, since you insist upon your property, you must even be pleased to take him yourself; it is a task that I would not engage in for 500 guineas.' The gentleman rose in great wrath, but finally chose to acquiesce, rather than have a personal dispute with the lion."

'But let us proceed to the tragic catastrophe of this extraordinary story; a story well known to many as delivered down from father to son.

'"In above twelve months the little spaniel sickened and died, and left his loving patron the most desolate of creatures. For a time the lion did not appear to conceive otherwise than that hia favourite was asleep. He would continue to smell to him, and then would stir him with his nose, and turn him over with his paw; but finding that all his efforts to awake him were in vain, he would traverse his cage from end to end at a swift and uneasy pace, then stop, and look down upon him with a fixed and drooping regard; and again lift his head on high, and open his horrible throat, and prolong a roar as of distant thunder for several minutes.

'"They attempted, but in vain, to convey the carcase from him; he watched it perpetually, and would suffer nothing to touch it. The keeper then endeavoured to tempt him with a variety of victuals, but he turned from all that was offered with loathing. They then put several living dogs into his cage, and these he instantly tore piecemeal, but left their members on the floor. His passions being thus inflamed, he would dart his fangs into the boards, and pluck away large splinters, and again grapple at the bars of his cage, and seemed enraged at his restraint from tearing the world to pieces.

'"Again, as quite spent, he would stretch himself by the remains of his beloved associate, and gather him in with his paws, and put him to his bosom; and then utter under roars of such terrible melancholy as seemed to threaten all around, for the loss of his little playfellow, the only friend, the only companion that he had upon earth.

'"For five days he thus languished, and gradually declined, without taking any sustenance, or admitting any comfort; till one morning he was found dead, with his head lovingly reclined on the carcase of his little friend.

'"They were both interred together, and their grave plentifully bedewed with the tears of the keeper and his loudly lamenting family."

August 15, 2018

August 15, 1845

The eponymous website is a good reference for Walter Crane (August 15, 1845 to March 14, 1915) Of course he illustrated Puss N Boots but there are many many of his illustrations at this site. Including this:

'Walter Crane (August 15, 1845 to March 14, 1915) was an English artist and illustrator. He is primarily known for his illustrations of the Faerie Queen as well as numerous children's books, however he also worked on designs for political pamphlets and even wallpaper, ceramic tiles and other decorative art.

Crane was a committed socialist who saw art as a tool for transforming society. Much of his noncommercial art work was devoted to illustrations for various socialist periodicals and propaganda posters. He was involved in various social causes and reform movements.

In his influential book, The Claims of Decorative Arts, Crane argued that decorative art is not a lesser form of art compared to painting or sculpture, and indeed one cannot have high art "where there is no beauty in everyday things, no sources of harmonious thought about us." He compared the decorative arts to the soil from which flowers bloomed. Walter Crane lamented that capitalism distorted man's artistic abilities by motivating him to devote himself to material gain at the expense of beauty. He described the capitalist system as an "unwholesome stimulus" which promoted the creation of cheap and commercial art, which he called a "catch-penny abomination." Crane prophesized that art, especially the crafts, would flourish in a socialist society once the individual was freed from the bounds of wage slavery and would be able to devote himself to artistic pursuits.

'During the 1800s Walter Crane was considered Britain's greatest socialist artist, and he was asked to illustrate many socialist publications. However his best work was non-political in nature. He earned a good living doing book illustrations, and he was especially in demand as an illustrator of children's books such as nursery rhymes, fables and alphabet books. His drawings often featured child in the garden motifs, and were extremely influential in shaping the direction of children's illustrated literature....

'Walter Crane was a close friend of artist William Morris, a fellow socialist, who also shared his artistic views. Together with Morris, Walter Crane was a leader in the Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts artistic movements. Despite his versatility as an artist and the wide range of his subject matter, Crane was always best known as a children's book illustrator. ....

'Crane would eventually rebel at being pigeon holed as a "mere" illustrator of children's books, and he attempted more serious art including allegorical paintings. However success eluded him, and the galleries would not exhibit his paintings, and he returned to his more successful career as an illustrator.

'Walter Crane illustrations are noted for amazing, vivid details, sometimes bordering on the surreal. He had an unmistakable and distinct style, while at the same time he was clearly influenced by medieval wood engravers and illuminated books.

'Crane was noted for his joyful dedication to his art. However his life ended on a tragic note. His wife, Mary Frances Crane, was found dead on the railway tracks near Ashford Kent in England; they had been married for 44 years. A coroner's jury rendered a verdict that the death was self inflicted while Frances was temporarily insane. Crane was broken hearted and died in hospital just 3 months later, leaving behind three children.'

August 14, 2018

August 14, 1910

Willy Ronis ( August 14, 1910 to September 12, 2009) did not sort his photographs by subject, but someone else put his cat photographs togetherLes chats – The Cats by Willy Ronis.

About Willy Ronis the New York Times said:

'... The man who addressed everyone with the informal French “tu” was one of the last humanist photographers of the Paris school, alongside Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Sabine Weiss.....'

'[Lovers appear in many of Ronis’s pictures — and he knew what others would say about that. “ ‘Photographing couples on the banks of the Seine in spring — what a cliché!’ But why deprive yourself of the pleasure?” Ronis wrote in his photo album. “Every time I encounter lovers, my camera smiles; let it do its job.”...]

'Gérard Uféras, a photographer and a friend of Ronis, as well as the executor of his will, recalled ... how important political commitment was for Ronis: “Willy used to say, ‘As a man and as a photographer, I will die with my heart firmly on the left.’ ”

'.... “Twenty years before he died, when he decided to bequeath all his works to the French state, Willy started going through every single one of the 26,000 or so pictures he took since the early ’30s, and chose 590 of them as his visual testament,” Jean-Claude Gautrand, another close friend of Ronis, explained in an interview. “He neatly placed them in six albums, with a comment for each image.”....'

We excerpt from another source for a biographical glimpse:
'[....Ronis was born] ... to a family of Lithuanian Jews.... Ronis’s mother was a pianist. His father ran a portrait studio on Boulevard Voltaire in Paris, and made what Willy described as “a type of photography that naturally I viscerally despised. He did not have any visual culture. He was a good craftsman, that’s what he was.” However, because of his father’s terminal illness, Ronis had to take over the store and for four years did the kind of work that he detested: sentimental marriage photographs, christenings and communions, retouched studio portraits. “As soon as my father died, in June 1936,” said Ronis, “I abandoned the studio to its creditors and started photographing in the street. One month after, it was the formidable July 14, 1936… I was in the street with a camera that I took from my father’s display window before the creditors seized everything… a Zeiss Ikonta Bellows camera, with a Tessar lens and 4.5 aperture.”'
'Music was Willy Ronis’s first love; and although, because of his father’s illness and his family responsibilities, he could not become a composer, music can still be felt in his work, a subtle force within his beautifully composed images, lending harmony, poise, and rhythm to the most seemingly banal subjects. ....Even in the mid-1930s when working on assignment, Willy Ronis always requested that his photographs not be cropped and his captions not be changed—not the common practice for photographers at the time—which caused numerous professional conflicts, notably with New York magazine, which published his portrait of a trade unionist with a sarcastic caption. Though hurt by such callousness, he continued to accept magazine assignments and publicity work, but he chose his clients [more] carefully.'

As we began:

'... [Willy Ronis] who addressed everyone with the informal French “tu” was one of the last humanist photographers of the Paris school....' and he loved cats.

August 13, 2018

August 13, 2004

The blurb for Julia's Cats: Julia Child's Life in the Company of Cats (2012) authored by
Patricia Barey and Therese Burson, starts:

'WHEN JULIA CHILD [August 15, 1912 to August 13, 2004] arrived in Paris in 1948, she was a thirty-six-year-old newlywed, a late bloomer about to begin a journey that would transform her and forever change the way Americans eat and think about food.
Madly in love with her husband, Paul, and the sights, sounds, and tastes of her beautiful new city, she thought her happiness was complete, until the day an adorable French kitty appeared at the door. Minette came to catch mice in the kitchen, but captured Julia’s heart, igniting a passion for poussiequettes she would always identify with that magical time in Paris and the blossoming of her new life. As Paul once confided, “a cat—any cat—is necessary” to Julia’s happiness.'

An obituary, which includes the correct date of her death, also mentions she had a kitten named Minou, in her last days.

August 12, 2018

August 12, 1884

About the book:

'Rosemary and the cats all live together in an English cottage. To be sure, there's a family, too, and an enviable number of domestics, but the glowing center of the story is Rosemary and her love of all growing things in a nice unstuffy way. There's a cat, Buchie, who is the naughtiest, nicest, most mischievous cat with saucy speech habits. There are three other good cats and a very ""muffing"" kind of dog. There's a sunny garden feeling to the book...'

This description is of The Cats and Rosemary, (1948) a children's book by Frank Swinnerton (August 12, 1884 to November 6, 1982). This title is just one of many reasons to remember this author, critic, biographer, who wrote about 30 books.

Frank Swinnerton considered his book The Georgian Literary Scene, (1935) one of his best, and the full text is at the Internet Archive. Here the glimpse of his own childhood is distinct from that in The Cats and Rosemary. We excerpt:

'[It] seems to me that I can trace my inveterate distrust of myself back to the years when my father and mother used to tell me that I would certainly marry an old woman, Honor King, who used to come to the door begging. This joke did not wear out; it lasted through my childhood ; and I remember still how I used to dread her appearance, or her name, for either was sufficient to incite somebody to remind me of the nuptials that awaited me in a few years. I understood very well that the joke rested on the assumption that I was such an ugly little boy that nobody else would marry me. But whatever the cause it seems to me that there is more force in an argument for negative qualities in the realist than for any belief in a determined choice of realism as against any other ism whatever. ...[George Moore elsewhere describes....], this craving for observation of manners, this instinct for the rapid notation of gestures and words that epitomize a state of feeling, of attitudes that mirror forth the soul, .... . . With the patience of a cat at a mouse-hole I watched and listened; . . . and though I laughed and danced, and made merry with them, I was not of them. '

Swinnerton's obituary in the Times said, with his death we have lost "one of the last links with his great contemporaries, Wells, Galsworthy and Arnold Bennett," an assessment which is often quoted.

August 11, 2018

August 11, 1753 (circa)

We learn about Thomas Bewick (August 11, 1753 to November 8, 1828) that he was

'Born ....[at] Cherryburn, a small farm on the south bank of the river Tyne, in the parish of Ovingham, Northumberland. His parents John Bewick and Jane Wilson had married in 1752. John was the tenant of a small eight-acre farm and adjacent colliery. Thomas being the eldest of eight children was, as a boy, expected to help around the farm and the colliery. His love of the surrounding countryside often led him to truancy from his tasks and he delighted in roaming about fishing, looking at flowers and watching birds and animals. This proved to have a great influence on his work in later life.

'He was schooled in the nearby village of Ovingham by the Reverend Christopher Gregson and at the age of fourteen apprenticed to Ralph Beilby, the owner of an engraving business in Newcastle.

'During his seven-year apprenticeship, Bewick was instructed in all the skills necessary to excel in the engraving business, but Beilby was soon to recognise his obvious talent for wood engraving. He was set to work on a number of book illustrations, including children’s books such as Tommy Trip’s History of Beasts and Birds, Fables by the late Mr Gay and Select Fables for Thomas Saint, a Newcastle printer.

'After the completion of his apprenticeship, Bewick decided to enjoy his liberty, which in his Memoir he describes as a time of great enjoyment, by setting out alone on foot on a five hundred mile tour of Scotland. On his return to Newcastle he immediately took a passage on a collier bound for London to try his luck in the great city. Bewick disliked London, although he could easily have set up business there, and he returned home to Newcastle as soon as he was able, resuming his association with Ralph Beilby in 1777 as his partner.

'After the death of his parents in 1785 his thoughts fixed on marriage and he settled on a local lass, Isabella ‚ ‘Bell’‚ Elliot who brought him a life of uninterrupted happiness. They were married in St. John’s Church, Newcastle in 1786 and had four children Jane, Robert Elliot, Isabella and Elizabeth, who were themselves destined to remain unmarried.

'The engraving business was flourishing and Beilby and Bewick set out on an ambitious project to produce A General History of Quadrupeds. Published in 1790, with the intention of encouraging the youth of the day into the study of natural history, it was exceptionally well received due, in the most part, to the freshness and accuracy with which many of the animals were portrayed.

'With the success of Quadrupeds behind them they turned their attention to a companion work on birds. With this in mind Bewick travelled in July 1791 to Wycliffe Hall near Barnard Castle, the home of the late Marmaduke Tunstall. The partners had come into contact with Tunstall when he had commissioned the large engraving of ‚ ‘The Chillingham Bull’‚ published in 1789; Bewick’s most celebrated wood engraving. Tunstall had formed an extensive private museum collection, which included many stuffed birds, especially foreign species; and with the purpose of researching for the new book, Bewick was invited by William Constable, who had inherited the estate, to spend two months at Wycliffe in order to study the skins. Many of the specimens from Tunstall’s collection were later to find a home at the Natural History Society’s Museum in Newcastle.

'After sketching a large number of the birds, Bewick wrote to Beilby commenting on the enormity of the task and his dissatisfaction with the badly stuffed specimens. They decided to concentrate their book on the British birds only and two volumes of the History of British Birdswere published, Land Birds in 1797 and Water Birds in 1804. It is here we see Bewick at his best as a keen observer of wildlife, drawing in most part from his own experience of living birds or from fresh specimens sent to him by his many friends and admirers.

'The partnership of Beilby and Bewick ended acrimoniously in January 1798 and Bewick, retaining the engraving business, went on to publish further revised editions of Quadrupedsand British Birds. He turned his attention in 1812 to a new venture, The Fables of Aesop, which he published in 1818. Fables and moral tales had formed a great part of his boyhood reading and the interest had continued into his adult life, inspiring many of his vignettes or ‚‘tale-pieces’‚ as he called them.

'Thomas Bewick died in 1828 at the age of seventy-five, leaving the engraving business to his son Robert and a wealth of watercolour and pencil drawings, woodblocks and engravings assiduously collected, over many years, by his family.

'Robert continued to publish two further editions of the Birds in 1832 and 1847 (the latter edited by John Hancock the ornithologist and taxidermist) and also Bewick’s last major work, an engraving on wood Waiting for Death, published in 1832.

Pressed by his daughter Jane to produce an account of his life, Bewick had completed a manuscript of his Memoir which he commenced in 1822, but it was destined to lie fallow for many years, eventually being published, in a much edited state, by Jane in 1862.

Thomas Bewick was a celebrity in his own lifetime, and the great fascination with his life and work continued unabated throughout the lives of his family and long after their deaths. When Isabella, the last surviving member of Bewick’s four children, died in 1883 the family possessions were dispersed. Through the executors of her will a large collection of original watercolour and pencil drawings by Thomas Bewick and his apprentices was presented to the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne....'

And here is our cat, from

 A General History of Quadrupeds where he described four types of cats, while thirty-six types of dogs were listed

August 10, 2018

August 10, 1869

The poet and art critic, Laurence Binyon, (August 10, 1869 to March 10, 1943) is perhaps overdue for a revival of public acclaim. Here is a brief look at his career.

'Laurence Binyon was a poet, playwright, art-historian (an authority on Far Eastern painting), and in his old age a professor of literature, though employed for most of his working life as a civil servant in the British Museum's Department of Prints and Drawings. He was born, a vicar's son, in Lancaster in 1869 and went to St Paul's, one of the great public schools, and Trinity College, Oxford, where he won the Newdigate Prize for poetry. In 1893 he joined the staff of the British Museum and stayed there, off and on, until 1934, retiring as Keeper of Prints and Drawings. In 1904 he married Cicely Powell: they had three daughters. In 1916, now aged forty-seven, he served as an orderly with the Red Cross on the Western Front. His book about it all, For Dauntless France, was published in 1918.

'Post-war he went back to the Museum where, as well as his day job as a Keeper, he wrote books on (among other things) Blake, eighteenth-century English watercolourists (Girton, Cotman, Towne), and Persian and Japanese art. His own Collected Poems came out in 1931 when he was already sixty-two. The following year he was appointed Companion of Honour and the year after that Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard. Then in 1940, now aged seventy-one, he became Byron Professor of English Literature in Athens University. His tenure was cut short in 1941 by the German invasion and occupation. Binyon died in Reading in 1943. Four years later the first, and only, part of his Arthurian verse trilogy was published under the title The Madness of Merlin.

'While he was at Oxford he met Robert Bridges who showed him Gerard Manley Hopkins's still unpublished poems. Binyon himself began writing poetry in what Hopkins called Ôsprung rhythm' which simply means paying attention to the stresses and letting the unstressed syllables to take care of themselves. It was a style he followed for the rest of life. His plays, too, were in verse. One, Attila, staged in 1907 was set to music by Sir Charles Stanford. Binyon was also interested in the spoken verse movement associated with Masefield. It's said, as well, that he introduced Edward Thomas to Robert Frost (who then persuaded Thomas to write poetry). He was also a friend of Ezra Pound and Arthur Waley, the translator of Chinese poetry into English.'

Binyon spent most of his career in the British Museum, so he knew Max, the museum cat, the topic of a recent book. With a bit of tongue-in-cheekiness the biographer of Max, opines that

'Its...inappropriate... a cat should be commemorated in sheer doggerel, like Edith's Nesbitt the bland leading the bland. Laurence Binyon would tell you the rot set in with Thomas Gray's (1748) "Ode on the Death of a FAvorite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes"...'

Requiescat: A Cat's Life at the British Museum is this biography by Nigel Barley (2013).

We have forgotten Binyon, and here, is a reason why I think we should not:

In the high leaves of a walnut

In the high leaves of a walnut,
On the very topmost boughs,
A boy that climbed the branching bole
His cradled limbs would house.

On the airy bed that rocked him
Long, idle hours he'd lie
Alone with white clouds sailing
The warm blue of the sky.

I remember not what his dreams were;
But the scent of a leaf's enough
To house me higher than those high boughs
In a youth he knew not of,

In a light that no day brings now
But none can spoil or smutch,
A magic that I felt not then
And only now I touch.