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 18, 2013

September 18, 1951

Who, looking at the landscape of American humor, has not heard the phrase, "the purple cow."..."I'd rather see than be one."?  And who HAS heard of Gelett Burgess, it's author? During his lifetime Gelett Burgess (January 30, 1866 to September 18, 1951) complained that one verse overshadowed all his other work. After he died, the reading public  forgot him altogether, except for that nonsense verse.  This neglect has hidden some marvelous jokes. Let's look at a few of his book titles to indicate his cleverness:

Vivette; or, The memoirs of the romance association
This is a parody of Charlotte Bronte's Villette (1853).

Goops and how to be them; a manual of manners for polite infants inculcating many juvenile virtues both by precept and example, with ninety drawings, (1900).

The Burgess nonsense book ; being a complete collection of the humorous masterpieces of Gelett Burgess ; adorned with less than a million heart-rending illustrations (1901).

The romance of the commonplace, (1902) I'm not sure what this is about. By now I may be laughing at anything he writes.

The Rubaiyat of Omar Cayenne, (1904).

Are you a bromide? or, The sulphitic theory expounded and exemplified according to the most recent researches into the psychology of boredom, including many well-known bromidioms... (1906) I guess that's too early to be a satire on Freud.

The White Cat (1907) (more at the bottom of this post.)

The maxims of Methuselah : being the advice given by the patriarch in his nine hundred sixty and ninth year to his great grandson at Shem's coming of age, in regard to women ...
(1907).  A parody of Mel Brooks here, oh, wait...

The master of mysteries; being an account of the problems solved by Astro, seer of secrets, and his love affair with Valeska Wynne, his assistant...  (1912)

The cat's elegy, by Gelett Burgess and Burges Johnson.
(1913) The first line of "The Cat's Elegy": "The tea-bell tolls for Nell to pass the tray..." A parody of Gray, 
 "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," (1751.) The original begins: "The curfew tolls the knell of parting day...."

The maxims of Noah : derived from his experience with women both before and after the flood as given in counsel to his son Japhet (1913).

My maiden effort; being the personal confessions of well-known American authors as to their literary beginnings, (1921).

Have you an educated heart? (1923).

Look eleven years younger (1937).

Back to The White Cat, a novel Burgess wrote in 1907. The cat in the title refers to a fairy-tale. The novel's plot involves a young man in an automobile crash, who wakes up being cared for in a wealthy country home, by a beautiful young woman, who in our excerpt, is recounting a fairy tale: 

....I reached over and took the prism from her hand. I couldn't help wanting to touch
her, however casually."And of course—you don't need to tell me —he did find the fairest lady in the whole world." She smiled dimly and clasped her hands. "Thank you," she said, not too absorbed to pay me most graciously for my compliment. Then, more seriously, she added, "Yes, I am the White Cat. That is the way you must think of me, when you have gone. The enchanted White Cat!" I dared not answer. All the peculiar moods she had shown me came up for a new vision. So she knew that something was the matter, something of which her amnesia was only a symptom. She had never come so close to it before. I stooped down, took her hand and carried it to my lips.

Well -- I think it's funny.

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