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 19, 2013

November 19, 1770

François-Augustin de Paradis de Moncrif is remembered as a poet, an academician and as an admirer of the feline species. He was the royal historian for the King of France, Louis XV, whose wife was famously fond of cats. François-Augustin de Paradis de Moncrif (1687 to November 19, 1770) was elected to the Academie Francais, the highest honor available to a French intellectual, in 1733.

There is some confusion in the record, which I am unable to straighten out, due no doubt to my lack of knowledge of the French language. The accounts in English strike me as unlikely. The incidents around his reception by the other academy members is what I mean. Augustin de Paradis de Moncrif wrote the first book about cats. That is titled Histoire des Chats : dissertation sur la prééminence des chats dans la société, sur les autres animaux d'Égypte, sur les distinctions et privilèges dont ils ont joui personnellement. (1727.)

The standard story is that the author was mercilessly teased for writing a book about -- cats. There are accounts of people meowing as he passed by, once to the point that he got into a fistfight over it. And then, the Academie is said to have brought a cat into the chamber for his inaugural lecture, and the other members started meowing. All this strikes me as a story which has been handed down and exaggerated in the telling. Why would people who just elected him to join them, turn around and ruin his first talk? For ruin is the way Moncrif interpreted his reception apparently. He is said to have retorted that his work was meant as a parody of academic style. One really must be an expert in French literature, and history to sort this out. If his Histoire des Chats is a joke, nobody else seemed to get the point.  And no one else has noticed how peculiar the stories are.  Oh well, good thing research is my catnip. 

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