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.

November 20, 2018

November 20, 1952

Benedetto Croce (February 25, 1866 to November 20, 1952) was an Italian philosopher whose fame protected him from  imprisonment by the fascists. He opposed the growing power of positivism (a different kind of threat; positivism says only that which can be treated as data, like the physical sciences use, has validty.) with an idealism which did not countenance a world in which philosophical ideas would lose currency simply by being ignored.

Croce says that: "Of those three forms of logical scepticism, aestheticism, mysticism, and empiricism, the third one leads us to the distinction between the logical concept and the scientific concepts, or fictions." He explains this in Logic as the science of the pure concept , which was translated by Douglas Ainslie in 1917, in this manner:

'[Concepts like cat or rose] ... can be looked upon as something fixed and precise, only when we have regard to some particular group of cats and of roses, indeed to one particular cat or rose at a definite moment of its existence (a gray cat or a black cat, a cat or a kitten; a white rose or a red rose, flowering or withered, etc.), elevated into a symbol and representative of the others. There is not, and there cannot be, a rigorous characteristic, which should avail to distinguish the cat from other animals, or the rose from other flowers, or indeed a cat from other cats and a rose from another rose. These and other fictional concepts are, therefore, representative, but not ultrarepresentative; they contain some objects or fragments of reality, they do not contain it all. 

'[On the other hand] The conceptual fictions of the triangle and of...universals, ... have an analogous but opposite representations defect. With them, it appears, we emerge from the difficulties of representations. The triangle and free motion are not something which begins and ends in time and of which we are not able to state exactly the character and limits. So long as thought, that is to say, thinkable reality, exists, the concept of the triangle ...will have validity.'

By placing scientific concepts among the category he calls fictional concepts (like cat) , Croce thought he had diminished the imperialism of  positivism. His defense of philosophy is matched by his physical bravery during the fascist era. 

November 19, 2018

November 19, 1770

A recent assessment of today's writer, Francois-Augustin Paradis de Moncrif (1687 to November 19, 1770):

'AMONG THE conteurs and minor poets of the eighteenth century,
Francois-Augustin Paradis de Moncrif is usually remembered as
the author of L'Histoire des chats, making him the long-suffering
victim of ridicule, both jovial and venomous, on the part of his
associates. While it would be grossly misleading to deny the
general mediocrity of his works, which do not merit detailed
literary criticism, he nevertheless deserves study as one reflect-
ing, better than many of his contemporaries, manifold aspects of
French life of his period. A writer of ability in certain poetic
genres, author of popular dramatic compositions and ballets; for
many years a member of the French Academy and royal censor;
a friend or acquaintance of numerous social and intellectual
leaders, notably Voltaire; a frequenter of countless salons and
societies, Moncrif has acquired an established, if secondary,
position in the literary and social history of France during the
Age of Enlightenment.'

The source of our quote, a book length biographical work on Moncrif de Paradis, is available to view or download :  François-Augustin Paradis de Moncrif, 1687-1770, (Edward Pease Shaw, 1958).

We can summarize: the wonderful thing about Paradis de Moncrif is that he wrote the first book about, just, cats. The Cats, was first published, in French of course, in 1727. There are conflicting stories, of which the most common is that his book was jeered at, and when he took his seat in the Academie Francaise, someone hid a cat and released it crying at the right time, creating a chaotic scene.

The other, the one I prefer, and must try to further document, refines the story: Paradis de Moncrif was writing a parody of the scholarly work of that era of French society, when he wrote Les Chats.

November 18, 2018

November 18, 1983

Ivan Albright (February 20, 1897 to November 18, 1983) was a painter with a unique, cartoonish, style. Others have described him differently, rather as "A Master of the Flesh and Painter of the Soul."

This feline portrait is an example of the work of Ivan Albright.

We quote another source, which also treats Albright as a serious artist:

'Ivan Albright represents a deeply transcendent, even Platonic, idea of the soul, although one could be forgiven for missing it among the mercilessly unglamorous bodies of his figures....

'Albright arrived at his obsession with ugliness through a series of rejections. The first of these was a turning-away from the aesthetic of his father, the minor, late impressionist Adam Emory Albright, whose favorite subjects were children, and whose palette tended toward pastels. An unkind critic would describe the elder Albright’s work as Eakins made pretty — too pretty to hold much interest, other than as décor for the front parlor of a prosperous Chicago merchant who’d once been to Paris to see the Renoirs. As a boy, Ivan Albright modeled for some of his father’s paintings featuring young lads in straw hats gazing into the shimmering water or clutching sheaves of wheat....

'Yet rejecting his father’s aesthetic did not lead him to embrace the alternative artistic paradigms in the 1920s and 1930s: when he paints workers, for example, there is nothing of the burly nobility of Socialist Realism. His 1927 painting “The Lineman” depicts a worker more slouched and tired than grotesque, but when it was printed on the cover of the trade magazine Electric Light & Power, it provoked an angry backlash from readers who, regardless of their politics, would clearly have preferred the healthy, clear-eyed proletarians painted under the direction of the Soviet cultural commissars.
'[A]t this point it’s still hard to see what makes ...[Albright's] a spiritual aesthetic....

'[But all...] this changes with “I Walk To and Fro through Civilization and I Talk as I Walk (Follow Me, the Monk)” (1926-27). In this image of a cowled monk, lit from behind with an auratic glow and seeming to hover ever-so-slightly above the ground, I can feel the influence of El Greco and Zurbarán. A small plant on a windowsill looks none too healthy, and the monk’s face, gaze downcast, shows the inevitable corruption of the flesh by time, but the implication is clear: there is another, better world to which our souls yearn to return. Far in the background and obscured by shadows, a staircase spirals upward, pointing the direction from which we have fallen and to which we should aspire.
'Albright’s obsessiveness contributed to his relative obscurity as a painter: he was reluctant to let any painting go, and priced them far above the market in order to deter buyers (he married into the Medill Paterson newspaper fortune, which rested on the ownership of such papers as The Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News)..... Albright’s neo-Platonic — or even gnostic — message [is] that our true home is a distant spiritual otherworld....'


November 17, 2018

November 17, 1861

Archibald Lampman (November 17, 1861 to February 10, 1899) was a poet. According to our main reference for this article, C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature....An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. (1917):

'ARCHIBALD LAMPMAN, by common consent one of the greatest of Canadian poets, was born at Morpeth, Ontario. His forbears were numbered of those who at the time of the American Revolution preferred exile and the unknown northern wilderness of Canada to comfort and security under the ægis of the new-born republic....

'Now it is characteristic of Lampman, a part of his character as a man, that he ruthlessly revised his own work, printed sparingly and at his own charges, and allowed nothing to appear that had not first passed through the purgatorial fires of stern self-criticism. The standard he set himself was indeed an exacting one. From his earliest years he looked upon himself as one called and set apart to the service of the muses. To his high calling he brought not only an imagination tremblingly sensitive to beauty in every form but the austere conscience of the true artist. “He touched nothing that he did not adorn.” 3

'Lampman is, in a peculiar sense, the poet of that part of Canada which borders the Great Lakes. The prairies and the mountains of the West are absent from his verse, and there is but casual reference to the sea, save as it thunders in The Homeriad. Nor is there any direct reference to the history or art or architecture of older lands. Tied to his desk in the civil service at Ottawa, as he was through all his maturer years, his brief holidays were spent, with a few trivial exceptions, camping and exploring in the vast Laurentian wilderness, which stretches in an unbroken sweep from Labrador to the northwest angle of the Lake of the Woods and northward to Hudson Bay. One might almost divide his poetry, as Goldsmith divided the epochs in the good vicar’s placid household, to migrations from the office to the camp and from the camp to the office. It is quite possible to pick out those poems that were written in the utter wilderness, while the spell of an awful solitude was upon his soul, from those written while wandering in the cultivated fields within a few miles of the city of his habitation—the city whose “sun-touched towers” appeared to him over the frozen snow like “a bunch of amethysts.” Never was a poet more purely local. The flowers described in his verse are neither maritime nor alpine: they are the flowers peculiar to the inland north temperate zone; and this holds true of the fauna, the seasons, and the stars. 4

'And yet Lampman had his universal side. He had in his possession, as all true poets have, the magic carpet of the old legend, and could transport himself in imagination to other lands and times. His poems of a purely imaginary character, such as ‘An Athenian Reverie,’ ‘The Monk,’ ‘Vivia Perpetua,’ ‘King Oswald’s Feast,’ ‘Ingvi and Alt’ cannot by any stretch of imagination be called great, but they are always impeccable in form, dignified in thought, and with a solid content of human interest. The ‘Athenian Reverie,’ especially, makes good reading. The incident is trivial enough—a journey to a wedding and a pedestrian tour with a friend. It is, in fact, a golden dream of certain delicious experiences set forth in highly melodious verse. A brief extract will make this clear. The poet and his friend Euktemon are tramping afoot, “From gray Mycenæ by the pass to Corinth.” They while away the hours by vivid conversation on all sorts of subjects, human and divine. The poet says:—

“Such hours, I think, are better than long years

Of brooding loneliness, mind touching mind

To leaping life, and thought sustaining thought

Till even the darkest chambers of gray time,

His ancient seats and bolted mysteries

Open their hoary doors, and at a look

Lay all their treasures bare.”

As the two friends proceed on their journey the world intrudes its charm.

“The voices of the passers-by, the change

Of garb and feature, and the various tongues

Absorbed us….

I remember too....

... that dainty amorous pair,

Whose youthful spirit neither heat nor toil

Could conquer. What a charming group they made!

The creaking litter and the long brown poles,

The sinewy bearers with their cat-like stride,

Dripping with sweat, that merry dark-eyed girl,

Whose sudden beauty shook us from our dreams,

And chained our eyes. How beautiful she was!
Is it for him alone she wreathes those smiles,

And tunes so musically that flexile voice,

Soft as the Lydian flute?”
'Pass we now to the philosophical and religious side of Lampman’s genius. It has been charged by certain shallow critics that Lampman was altogether too detached and self-centered in his art; that, in fact, he is and must remain the poet of the exclusive few. But this criticism results from a complete misapprehension. It is the race not the individual that attracts the poet. There are no passionate love-lyrics to be found in his verse; no “working-up” of contemporary events; no references to friends. The fact is that his married and family life was so full and rich as to exclude all subjects of purely romantic or erotic interest. He might almost be described as a Puritan in this respect. Such poems as ‘The Child’s Music Lesson,’ ‘To My Mother,’ ‘Personality,’ ‘To My Daughter,’ ‘White Pansies,’ ‘We Too Shall Sleep,’ reveal a heart of gold. No man ever lived who possessed a deeper, one might almost say a more terrible interest, in the tragedies of our human lot. The burden of the daily struggle was always with him. The mystery of life and death literally haunted him. He was an advanced and radical socialist, and one of the few bitter outpourings he allowed himself is his truly awful sonnet, ‘To a Millionaire.’ All his life he was a seeker after light; and if he was able to formulate no smug belief it was because he resolutely refused to allow his soul to be cheated by mere words and phrases. Perhaps in the whole range of English literature there is no poem more poignant than ‘Peccavi, Domine.’ It is of the very essence of religion. ...

'As a poet of the open fields and the wild unexplored places Lampman stands alone. There is no brag or bluster about his verse. The cult of the aboriginal is lacking. He is too sure of his art to depend for his effects upon what are called “strong” words. With a precision of phrase which, at times, is almost uncanny he succeeds in begetting in his readers an actual participation in the scene or the emotion portrayed. ....

'Mr. Duncan Campbell Scott says that if Lampman modeled upon anyone it was upon Keats. True there are certain lines in Lampman that recall Keats; but then there are certain lines in Keats that recall Milton. The floral catalogue in ‘The Ode to a Nightingale’ calls instantly to mind the lovely cadences in Lycidas. The truth is that Lampman is absolutely sui generis. He has a touch all his own. Take the following lines from ‘Winter-Store’ as an illustration of his power to conjure up in imagination a vanished experience, and note the happy qualifying clauses:—

“Shall I not remember these,

Deep in winter reveries?

Berried briar and thistle-bloom,

And milk-weed with its dense perfume;

Slender vervain towering up

In a many-branchèd cup,

Like a candlestick each spire

Kindled with a violet fire;

Matted creepers and wild cherries,

Purple-bunchèd elderberries,

And on scanty plots of sod

Groves of branchy goldenrod.”


Yes, that sounds like my middle west. Here is a link to more information about Archibald Lampman,

November 16, 2018

November 16, 1948

His home was at 18 Folgate Street, London, England, and now this home is a museum, His name was Dennis Severs (November 16, 1948 to December 27, 1999). Severs's teen-age infatuation with BBC costume dramas, resulted in his leaving Escondido California 5 days after graduating from high school, for London. This information is from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. In London he bought an old stone structure and created a home, shared with his partner, who was a potter. Their home was designed as a museum of an older London, and there was a fee for tours. According to The Rough Guide to London (Rob Humphreys, 2010) 

'He created a theatrical experience which he described as 'passing through a frame into a painting.'. The house is entirely candle-lit and log-fired and decked out as it would have been two hundred years ago." This impression is created of an immediacy wherein the "house cat still prowls, there's the smell of food, and the sound of horses hooves on the cobblestones outside" when the museum is open. '

(Back to the ODNB) Dennis Severs: 

'used each of Folgate Street's ten rooms to re-create and instil a moment from the family's history-from their arrival from France in 1688 to their departure shortly after the outbreak of the First World War. Severs's work, which was 'to be one room at a time, finished to perfection' ... began in the cellar and on completion led visitors into, among others, Isaac Gervais's dining room (1724), Edward Jervis's smoking room (1760), William Jervis's attic chamber (1824), and the Jervis sisters' parlour of 1915. In each room Severs created the impression that members of his family had just left and were now elsewhere in the house.
'.... The house motto was 'You either see it or you don't', and those who did not-by failing to participate, by asking practical questions, or by raising doubts over historical accuracy-could be thrown out, along with their entrance fee. The historian.... Raphael Samuel thought the house a 'brilliant success' as 'a provocation to a historical engagement with the arts', albeit one created around a 'fanciful' historical narrative.'

18 Folgate Street is maintained by a trust as a museum to this day.

November 15, 2018

November 15, 1887

My father used to say,
“Superior people never make long visits,
have to be shown Longfellow’s grave
or the glass flowers at Harvard.
Self-reliant like the cat—
that takes its prey to privacy,
the mouse’s limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth—
they sometimes enjoy solitude,
and can be robbed of speech
by speech which has delighted them.
The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint.”
Nor was he insincere in saying, “Make my house your inn.”
Inns are not residences.

"Silence" by Marianne Moore.
We should be robbed of speech.

November 14, 2018

November 14, 1885

We need to learn more about Sonia Delaunay (November 14, 1885 to December 5, 1979). Here is a biographical resource we quote:

'Sonia Delaunay was born Sara Élievna Stern, the youngest of three children, to impoverished Jewish parents in Odessa, Ukraine. At five, she was sent to live with her mother's well-off brother, Henri Terk, and his wife in St. Petersburg, Russia. Although her mother never allowed a legal adoption, Delaunay thought of them as her family and took the name Sofia Terk, using "Sonia" as a nickname. She received a good education, had access to great art collections, and traveled Europe spending summers in Finland. At sixteen, Delaunay's art teacher noticed her talent and encouraged her uncle and aunt to send her to Germany for further art training....

'Eighteen-year-old Sonia began her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe in 1904. After two years in Germany, Delaunay moved to Paris to study at the Academie de la Palette. On December 5, 1908 she married her friend Wilhelm Uhde, an art dealer, ensuring that her family wouldn't be able to force her to come home while also covering for Uhde's homosexual lifestyle. Uhde gave Delaunay her first one-person show in 1908 featuring numerous portrait studies that demonstrated the early influence of Fauvists like Henri Matisse and introduced her to important art and literary figures, including, in 1909, her future husband, Robert Delaunay.

'Sonia married Robert on November 15, 1910 after amicably divorcing Uhde, and their son Charles was born in January 1911. The two were to become one of the art world's most important partnerships, co-founding Orphism, a variation of Cubist art composed of abstract forms of vibrant color....

'Delaunay's refusal to distinguish between the worlds of fine art and crafts, and her friendships with the creative people who gathered at her home on Sundays, resulted in rich a career that included exciting collaborations. Her friendship with poet Blaise Cendrars, for example, led to the creation of a series of "poem-paintings," including La Prose du Transsibérienn et de la petite Jehanne de France (1913).
'Delaunay returned to painting in 1937 when she and Robert were asked to decorate two buildings for the Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne. The murals she created for this commission were well received. After Robert's death in 1941 things became very difficult and Delaunay survived by selling both her own designs and Robert's paintings. Being of Jewish heritage she was forced to move frequently during the war, worried that she would be arrested. There was an occasion, in Cannes, when she was questioned regarding her middle name, "Stern." Apparently she stood her ground and, refusing to show fear, succeeded in boarding her train and escaping capture.....

'[After the war and public recognition of her artistic achievements, we note] In 1978, a year before she passed away, she helped design costumes for a performance of the play Six Characters in Search of an Author and finally published her autobiography. Having made an impact on both the art and fashion worlds, it was fitting that she chose to be buried in a dress that Hubert de Givenchy had designed for her to wear while attending a reception for England's Queen Elizabeth.'

This photo is adorable: Delaunay, her cat, and art.