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.

June 16, 2013

June 16, 1865

An excerpt written by Margaret Benson (June 16, 1865 to May 1916) starts us off:

WHEN Alice went through the Looking-glass, she sprang down into a world where a change had passed on all familiar things ; so that she must walk away from the things she wanted to arrive at, and time ran backwards and stopped. When a merman brought a girl through the translucent mirror of the water to be his wife in the great caves below the sea, she heard but dimly the church bell and the sounds of the world above, and saw but seldom its sights when she rose through the bay. And when Tom slipped into the stream he found himself in a great empty world below the water ; and it was not for some time that he was able even to see the crowds of merry water- babies with which it was peopled.

Knowing that the author of this disordered sketch suffered from a mental disorder that was incapacitating at times, might cast some light on a story which jumbles Lewis Carroll and Charles Kingsley in one paragraph. The book from which the excerpt comes is The Court of the King (1913) and all the stories are about hidden places. The author was the daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury and her work illustrates a peculiarity about the 19th century. In lieu of religion as an intellectually valid investigation of the world, a view becoming easier to distort and losing popular favor, at the time, a bunch of tiny subjective, other worlds, popped up in the literature. The topic of fairies for instance, was very popular at the time, and they figure in some of the stories in this book. The author though had also published a book about her discoveries in Egypt:

The Temple of Mut in Asher: An account of the excavation of the temple and of the religious representations and objects found therein, as illustrating the history of Egypt and the main religious ideas of the Egyptians, (1899).

The Egyptian desert was another hidden place. It was as if the blue sky people shared, shattered, in the latter 19th century and all you were left with was little puddles on the ground. Max Weber described the "disenchantment of the world." about this time. My point is rather that nothing went away, it just became subjective. Shared assumptions became private, leaving more people vulnerable. Not that there was not also a genetic component in Margaret's case.

Margaret Benson  did not go gently. The venture of rational faith. appeared in 1908, after she wrote The Soul of a Cat, (1901)
image of page xviii

And the illustrator here  is Henrietta Ronner who did multiple sketches for the book.  There are also photographs in The Soul of a Cat, of cats named Persis, Mathilda, Joey, Taffy, and Mentu.

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