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 16, 2013

November 16, !964

Donald Culross Peattie (June 21, 1898 to November 16, 1964) graduated from Harvard in 1922, where he studied as a student of William Morton Wheeler, "the great Harvard myrmecologist." Peattie would turn his botanist credentials into books that extend beyond the physical environment to man and his self-knowledge. Here is what the Natural History Network says about the 1935 book of his,  An Almanac For Moderns.

What sets apart Donald Culross Peattie’s An Almanac for Moderns, first published in 1935, and what makes it such a unique contribution to this canon, is its blend of modern and classical styles.

The tone is modernist, reflecting Peattie’s deep literary background. Even though he was a Harvard-trained scientist, for some years a botanist by trade, he was also a novelist, a columnist for several newspapers, and a poet. He was as connected to the world of letters – his mother a literary critic, father a journalist, and wife, Louise Redfield, an author – as he was to the world of science.
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Peattie’s celebrations of the lives of scientists also include real drama. It is hard, for example, not to feel pity for Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, an erratically – and prolifically – creative polymath. He coined over 6,000 specific epithets in the North American flora (many of which have been subsequently ignored), investigated the systematics of fish and molluscs of the Ohio River, and wrote two volumes on the medical uses of plants of the United States. During his lifetime, his peers pilloried him in correspondence as an unprincipled, and perhaps unhinged, charlatan interested only in self-promotion, and he was publically played the fool by a bullying Audubon, who fed him lies and laughed as Rafinesque repeated them as truth. Rafinesque died alone and penniless, his body discovered by a landlord who then attempted to sell the corpse to recoup a debt. As if that were not indignity enough for one lifetime, he was denounced posthumously by Asa Gray as a delusional liar.


These same qualities, erudition and human insight, are apparent in a later book, Flowering Earth (1939). Here is another bit:

Protoplasm alone exhibits the sign of life.The power to grown, not as a snowdrift or a crystal grows, by mere accretion, but from the inside out. The power to repair tissue, which is a kind of growth.[stet] The power to reproduce, which is growth to perpetuity; the living alone, are able, from one self particle, to evolve another complex individual like unto themselves. And response, --response that springs less from the manner of stimulus than from the inner nature of the respondent. Hit a rock and it answers you only according to your blow; but just flick a tiger and it may leap and kill you. In life alone are these properties uniquely combined. Protoplasm, the almost invisible, is the organizer of all the inconceivable multiplicity of life's organisms.


Donald Peattie and his wife, Louise  also have a modest fame for a short story they wrote together. Titled "Plutarch's Lives" it begins with a kitten in a blue satin basket. The story of this Persian kitten was first published in the Ladies' Home Journal, in November, 1927.

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