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 22, 2017

September 22, 1743

There is a grave in Pere Lachaise, described by London Magazine, in 1826, this way:

High ...upon the hill top, bordering on the confines of the cemetery, we noticed a massy monument, with ponderous gates of bronze, (if we mistake not,) enclosing the remains of "Quintin Craufurd," [
September 22, 1743 to November 23, 1819]... "born at Kilwinny, in the county of Ayr," ....[and concluding with] the last line of a long inscription in honour of the deceased...

The journey from Kilwinny to Paris involved picking up a fortune in India. This fortune allowed Quintin Craufurd to indulge his art and book collecting. And writing. We glimpse the life of this man, well connected in French society, in an anecdote we found in The Literary Era: A Monthly Repository of Literary and Miscellaneous Information, Volume 2 (1895). The occasion is a review of The Private Memoirs of Louis XV. Taken from the Memoirs of Mme. du Hausset, Lady’s Maid to Mme. de Pompadour. Let's look at this book, and then how it is connected with Quintin Craufurd.

..... These Memoirs [are valuable because of] .... how very human they are, and how near they bring us to a personage who played a really important part not only in the history of France, but, at one particular moment, in the history of Europe. “Elle avait du bon, le genre admis," says Sainte-Beuve of Mme. de Pompadour; and, with all her many faults, political and private, there certainly have been worse mistresses of kings. Apart from what may be called her professional accomplishments, which she possessed in a very
high degree—dancing, singing, acting, an immense faculty for providing amusement and interest—she had a canine love of art and letters, and her ambition to leave her mark on the history of Louis XV’s reign was not ignoble. Nor is it altogether possible to withhold a certain amount of almost admiration, sympathetic for the skill and pluck with which she played her game, maintaining herself to the end, long after her charms had withered, in the favor of the king. .....”


It is the special interest of Mme. du Hausset’s
Memoirs to introduce us to such scenes [involving court politics].... She [
Mme. du Hausset] was evidently not a woman of any great intellectual capacity ; and, paradoxical as it may seem, these very deficiencies served her as a chronicler.

When I was alone with.....[Madame de Pompadour, she] talked of many matters which ... concerned her, and she once said to me, ‘ The King and I have such implicit confidence in you that we look upon you as a cat or a dog, and go on talking as if you were not there.’ There was a little nook adjoining her chamber, which has since been altered, where she knew I usually sat when we were alone, and where I heard everything that was said in the room, unless it was spoken in a low voice. . . . All these circumstances brought to my knowledge a great many things which right feeling will neither allow me to tell nor to record. I generally wrote without order of time, and thus [in these Memoirs] one fact may be related before others which preceded it.”

So ...[Mme. du Hausset] sat in her nook and took her notes, somewhat at haphazard and with no special skill of pencraft—a woman no longer young, for she had a grown-up son, to whom Mme. do Pompadour afterwards left a legacy of 400 livres—a woman with some pretensions to birth, and the widow of a poor gentleman. The direct emoluments of her place as second lady's maid were not large—150 livres a year, while the chief cook had 600—and one, at least, of her relations took, as she considers, and as the king considered too, an over-moral view of her position as lady's maid to the bourgeois... mistress of Louis XV. But there were perquisites—a purse of gold when she had presided over the birth of one of Louis’ many illicit offspring, valuable favors obtainable from the good-nature of her mistress; and even the over-moral lady cousin was propitiated when her husband obtained a company of horse through Mme. du Hausset’s intervention.

Without Quentin Craufurd Mme du Hausset's memoirs might not have survived.

....Mme. du Hausset’s
Memoirs are not only interesting in themselves, and of genuine historical value, but the story of their publication is also not without interest. Books, as the old saying goes, have their special fates. The MS. of these Memoirs had fallen, one knows not how, into the possession of M. de Marigny, Mme. de Pompadour’s brother. He, a careless kind of half Bohemian, was about to burn it; not in any sense from hostility, or because he wished for its suppression as injurious to any fair fame his sister might possess, but simply because he was burning a lot of old papers and did not consider these specially worthy of preservation.

Senac de Meilhan, who was present, begged for the MS., saying he liked historical anecdotes, and afterwards gave it to Quintin Craufurd, while the two were living in exile at Vienna.


Here it fell into good hands. Quintin Craufurd was an excellent Scot who had made a large
fortune in the East India Company’s service, but had returned to Europe without “ the bad liver and the worse heart,” which, according to Macaulay, were popularly regarded as the peculiar possessions of the enriched Nabob of the last century. He collected things of art with intelligence, cultivated letters, made himself a favorite in French society and at the French Court; afterwards, during the evil days of the Revolution, devoting himself bravely to the service of Marie Antoinette—he helped to concert the abortive flight to Varennes—and forfeiting, as an émigré, such of his possessions as were in France. Craufurd, himself a student and an author, appreciated the historical value of Mme. du Hausset’s
Memoirs, and, when better days came, published them. 

[Years later, writers such as ]... Edmond and Jules de Goncourt in their important work on Mme. de Pompadour, [had reason to be grateful to Mme du Hassett and Quintin Craufurd.]

September 21, 2017

September 21, 1947

Stephen King (September 21, 1947) may be the most famous American writer alive. His reputation for the horror genre surely says something about our culture and era, but I can't articulate what. Nor does the Paris Review interview we quote now, address zeitgeist questions directly:
....
King was born on September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. His father abandoned his family when King was very young, and his mother moved around the country before settling back in Maine—this time in the small inland town of Durham. King’s first published story, “I Was a Teenage Grave Robber,” appeared in 1965 in a fan magazine called Comics Review. Around that time he received a scholarship to attend the University of Maine in Orono, where he met his wife, Tabitha, a novelist with whom he has three children and to whom he is still married. For several years he struggled to support his young family by washing motel linens at a laundry, teaching high-school English, and occasionally selling short stories to men’s magazines. Then, in 1973, he sold his novel Carrie, which quickly became a best seller. Since then, King has sold over three hundred million books.

..... Although he was dismissed by critics for much of his career—one
New York Times review called King “a writer of fairly engaging and preposterous claptrap”—his writing has received greater recognition in recent years, and in 2003 he won the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation. King has also been honored for his devoted efforts to support and promote the work of other authors. In 1997 he received the Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers magazine, and he was recently selected to edit the 2007 edition of Best American Short Stories.
.....
INTERVIEWER:
.....
Would you say then that this fear is the main subject of your fiction?
...
KING
.....
I’d say that what I do is like a crack in the mirror. If you go back over the books from Carrie on up, what you see is an observation of ordinary middle-class American life as it’s lived at the time that particular book was written. In every life you get to a point where you have to deal with something that’s inexplicable to you, whether it’s the doctor saying you have cancer or a prank phone call. So whether you talk about ghosts or vampires or Nazi war criminals living down the block, we’re still talking about the same thing, which is an intrusion of the extraordinary into ordinary life and how we deal with it. What that shows about our character and our interactions with others and the society we live in interests me a lot more than monsters and vampires and ghouls and ghosts.....

INTERVIEWER:
....
Bad things happen to children in Pet Sematary [1983]. Where did that come from?

KING:

That book was pretty personal. Everything in it—up to the point where the little boy is killed in the road—everything is true. We moved into that house by the road. It was Orrington instead of Ludlow, but the big trucks did go by, and the old guy across the street did say, You just want to watch ’em around the road. We did go out in the field. We flew kites. We did go up and look at the pet cemetery. I did find my daughter’s cat, Smucky, dead in the road, run over. We buried him up in the pet cemetery, and I did hear Naomi out in the garage the night after we buried him. I heard all these popping noises—she was jumping up and down on packing material. She was crying and saying, Give me my cat back! Let God have his own cat! I just dumped that right into the book. .....
......

INTERVIEWER
......

When you accepted the National Book Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, you gave a speech defending popular fiction, and you listed a number of authors who you felt were underappreciated by the literary establishment. ....

KING

.... This is a critical time for American letters because it’s under attack from so many other media: TV, movies, the Internet, and all the different ways we have of getting nonprint input to feed the imagination. Books, that old way of transmitting stories, are under attack. .....

...[O]ne other thing. When you shut the door to serious popular fiction, you shut another door on people who are considered serious novelists.
.........


INTERVIEWER

You’re something of a book collector. The book dealer Glenn Horowitz once told me that he sent you something by mistake and that, when he apologized, you said you’d buy it anyway.

.....

KING


I think that’s true. I’m not a huge collector. I’ve probably got a dozen signed Faulkners and a lot of Theodore Dreiser. I’ve got
Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers. I love her. At home I’ve got one of those old-fashioned paperback racks they had in drugstores. And I have a lot of fifties paperbacks because I love the covers, and I’ve collected a certain amount of pornography from the sixties, paperback pornography that was done by people like Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block, just because it amuses me. You see little flashes of their style.

INTERVIEWER

What did you learn from writers like Faulkner, Dreiser, and McCullers?

KING

The voices. I’m reading All the King’s Men again now, but I’m also listening to it on CD. And the guy who does it is a good reader. Willie Stark goes, “There is always something. . . . from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.” You hear it and you say to yourself, Oh man, that’s the voice! It just clicks in your head.

.......
[In reference to editing the anthology,] I’m reading all the fantasy and science-fiction journals, especially Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, to see what’s there. Alfred Hitchcock used to be a literary-quality magazine, but it’s been subsumed by the same company that owns Ellery Queen, and the quality of stories has gone downhill. Editing Best American is a good project, but it’s scary because there’s so much out there. What haunts me is, what are we missing?


We still have not fathomed the zeitghost.

September 20, 2017

September 20, 1884

A New Yorker article about A. Scott Berg's book on Maxwell Perkins (September 20, 1884 to June 17, 1947) sets the arena for this article, with these vignettes:

.... “
Max Perkins: Editor of Genius,[1978] was a masterly look at a reticent Yankee who buried himself in manuscripts, wore a fedora everywhere, and deplored innovations—even as he discovered and published Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Wolfe. ....

..... Berg ...
[said regarding] Perkins’s old town house, in Turtle Bay. .....[that] In 1936,...Perkins’s wife painted the limestone exterior black, “and when people asked Max what that was all about, he said, ‘As far as I’m concerned, it’s because Roosevelt got reëlected.’ ” Berg later became close with Perkins’s next-door neighbor Katharine Hepburn, and wrote a book about her, too. “They never spoke,” he said, “but Perkins would stare over at a bust of Hepburn on her second floor. It used to kill him: What kind of woman has a bust of herself? I mentioned that to her, and she said, ‘That’s why he led a quiet life of books and I’m an actress!’ ”

......Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox, ...was Perkins’s nephew,....

......Berg said that when Wolfe wrote a book that detailed how Perkins had hewn his novels from dense forests of Wolfean prose, “Perkins begged him, in vain, not to publish it. Max always said that if editors were too well known the public would lose faith in writers, and that, above all, writers would lose faith in themselves. And that is exactly what happened to Thomas Wolfe.”


And with these vignettes, we are grateful to Berg for rescuing this detail:

"Lady writers expect you to do many things for them apart from their books," Perkins wrote Professor Copeland in the early forties...."Another woman called Max up in tears to say,"My cat, John Keats, is dying." Perkins offered only sympathy. She said, "You must send a veterinary." He replied he did not know much about animal doctors and asked if she couldn't get one in her neighborhood. "But I haven't any money," she whimpered. "Will you pay for it?" In order to get her back to work, he did.

September 19, 2017

September 19, 1808

Theodor Mundt (September 19, 1808 to November 30, 1861), studied philology and philosophy. This article from a German encyclopedia describes him as a "German literary professor, librarian, writer, journalist and publicist."  The article is detailed, in a passable English (better than Google translate) and so I link to it for those wanting more information about this writer who is little known in the anglophone world.

Among the novels of Theodor Mundt we note, this sprawling narrative, Count Mirabeau: An Historical Novel. We quote from a translation by Thérèse J. Radford (1868.) In this humorous scene the discussion centers around an experimental balloon flight. The question is what animals should be included in this balloon flight.

Count Mirabeau approached, and,...said with the air of a patron: "Perhaps I can help you a little in your perplexity, M. Montgolfier. Our friend, Madame Helvetius, has of course a very tender heart for her pets, and probably she fears a moral as well as physical injury to them if they are even a few minutes in the society of the Duke de Chartres. I have, however, a dog, called 'Miss Sarah,' to which I am certainly much attached, but which has recently acquired several disagreeable tricks. I have for some time been thinking of devising an extraordinary punishment, and I have found it at last: I sentence her to be the companion of a royal personage such as the duke. I am curious to observe the effects on, the dog-nature of my favorite, not of the higher atmosphere, but of the immediate proximity of such a privileged gentleman. My dog is in the yard, and at your service. Miss Sarah is a creature of rare beauty, and, if you wish to take her, I will bring her to you."

.....Chamfort, ...
[went on] "Do you not think it would be suitable to make a little addition, from the philosophic country-seat at Auteuil, to the society of the Duke de Chartres? I propose for this purpose 'Tamtam,' the old black cat, that has so often vexed us by her malignant disposition, and who recently scratched the hands of our fair friend. 


Some parts of this sketch have a historical basis: there was a flight with a dog and cat. The people are based on actual historical figures. The home at Auteuil did have cats. I can't tell how likely the comments on the pets are to be historically in tune with 18th century culture,
but the humor comes across the centuries.




September 18, 2017

September 18, 1946


Carole Rawcliffe (September 18, 1946) is a Professor of Medieval History, at the University of East Anglia. Her book Communal Health in Late Medieval English Towns and Cities (2013) provides a corrective to common cliches about the medieval era:

Far from demonstrating indifference, ignorance or mute acceptance in the face of repeated onslaughts of epidemic disease, the rulers and residents of English towns devised sophisticated and coherent strategies for the creation of a more salubrious environment; among the plethora of initiatives whose origins often predated the Black Death can also be found measures for the improvement of the water supply, for better food standards and for the care of the sick, both rich and poor....


Our interest now is the remains left by tanners, furriers and skinners. The latter, Rawcliffe reports:

.....could be remarkably casual when disposing of the remains of slaughtered animals, as we can see from the case of William le Skinnere of Norwich, who in 1288 incurred public opprobrium for throwing dead cats into the pool which fed one of the city's major watercourses...About a third of the seventy-nine feline skeletons discovered in one of Cambridge's medieval wells show signs of skinning...

Other books she wrote include:

The Staffords, Earls of Stafford and Dukes of Buckingham,
1978; 
Medicine and Society in Later Medieval England, 1995
The Hospitals of Medieval Norwich, 1995; 
Medicine for the Soul, 1999; 
(with R. G. Wilson) The History of Norwich, 2004;

September 17, 2017

September 17, 1965

"Honey West" was first on television in an eponymous series starting September 17, 1965. The original was a series of novels first published in 1957 by G. G. Fickling. The setup is this beautiful blonde detective sleuthing it up. The television show only lasted one season.

The female crime fighter, "Honey West" has the advantage of high tech spy gadgets. But that's not all. She is able to leap plot gaps in high heels, fell bad guys with a single chop,  all the time dancing in gloves.  I am not familiar with an earlier scenario in which a woman plays this kind of lead. She has an aunt in the show, and a male cohort who is obviously her sidekick, but she calls the shots.

The show charmingly echoes previous detective settings. Honey lives in a palatial home, with an ocelot, as in The Thin Man series (and Bringing Up Baby). At the same time the intensely urban film noir scenery recurs with dark wet streets.

This show needs a revival, though now I step back, this particular innocent melange of old and new may be impossible to recreate.

September 16, 2017

September 16, 1380

Charles V (January 21, 1338 to September 16, 1380), was the king of France from 1364 to 1380. His reign occurred during turbulent times as this biography makes clear. War (yes, that 14th century), plague, peasant revolts. He was called Charles the Wise and this part of his biography supports that appellation:

Personally Charles was no soldier. .... He modelled his private life on that of his predecessor Saint Louis, but was no fanatic in religion, for he refused his support to the violent methods of the Inquisition in southern France, and allowed the Jews to return to the country, at the same time confirming their privileges. His support of the schismatic Pope Clement VII at Avignon was doubtless due to political considerations, as favoring the independence of the Gallican church. Charles V was a student of astrology, medicine, law and philosophy, and collected a large and valuable library at the Louvre. He gathered around him a group of distinguished writers and thinkers, among whom were Raoul de Presles, Philippe de Mézières, Nicolas Oresme and others. The ideas of these men were applied by him to the practical work of administration, though he confined himself chiefly to the consolidation and improvement of existing institutions. The power of the nobility was lessened by restrictions which, without prohibiting private wars, made them practically impossible. The feudal fortresses were regularly inspected by the central authority, and the nobles themselves became in many cases paid officers of the king. Charles established a merchant marine and a formidable navy, which under Jean de Vienne threatened the English coast between 1377 and 1380. The states-general were silenced and the royal prerogative increased; the royal domains were extended, and the wealth of the crown was augmented; additions were made to the revenue by the sale of municipal charters and patents; and taxation became heavier, since Charles set no limits to the gratification of his tastes either in the collection of jewels and precious objects, of books, or of his love of building, examples of which are the renovation of the Louvre and the erection of the palace of Saint Paul in Paris


This photograph is of the lions which once decorated the tomb of Charles V of France. Construction was begun on this monument about the time he was crowned.





We quote a recent article © Agence France-Presse:

An employee poses for a photograph with a re-discovered sculpture of two carved marble lions, by French artist Andre Beauneveu, commissioned by French King Charles V, ...

[This] sculpture of two lions carved for the tomb of French King Charles V ....was thought lost in the French Revolution ... The 14th-century marble work by French artist Andre Beauneveu ... [was] held in a private British collection for more than two centuries.

.... The lions were carved as near mirror images of each another, with strikingly detailed manes and one baring its teeth. Beauneveu was commissioned by the king shortly after he came to the throne, and was tasked with constructing four family tombs. The lions were sculpted over two years from 1364 to 1366, .... and placed at the foot of Charles's tomb in what was then the Abbey of Saint Denis in Paris. But the family tombs were dismantled in 1793 by France's revolutionary government, and the lions were purchased in 1802 by Thomas Neave, a British aristocrat...

Their appearance [prior to their coming to auction in 2017] had previously been known only from an 18th-century engraving.

Sotheby's has not yet estimated a sale figure for the work, though it is expected to be high.
A pair of marble figures from the tomb of Charles's brother, the Duke of Berry, were sold last year to the Louvre museum for 5 million euros ($5.3 million). 


Lions have been strenuously associated with royalty, throughout history, all over the planet