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.

January 3, 2014

January 3, 1789

In the same way that Hollywood royalty nowadays travels with a hair dresser in their retinue, real royalty, in the 19th century, traveled with their physician. If that physician was witty and well-read, and also a scientist and an artist, then the King, in this case of Saxony, had a boon companion indeed. That friend and fellow traveler, when the king visited England, was Carl Gustav Carus. (January 3, 1789 to July 28, 1869) . There is no modern day equivalent to the polymath intellect of Carl Gustav Carus.

Carus wrote an account of his travels with the king in a book titled The King Of Saxony's Journey Through England And Scotland In The Year 1844. (and translated by S. C. 
Davison, 1846)

We excerpt at length to obtain a sense of a different world, and a different temperament, so obviously educated and yet, so distant from our own preconceptions:

...I concluded my forenoon, after having made my way with immense difficulty through the tremendous crowds in Fleet-street, by an undisturbed contemplation of the antiques in the British Museum. It is for this reason such a pleasure to have easy access to works of this kind, because one always finds here the systole after the diastole of life, and learns to penetrate deeper into the empire of the ideas here represented in stone....I fixed firmly and deeply in my mind the impression of the Greek poetry of motion, and of the Egyptian poetry of fixedness, and then contemplated with great delight for a long time the small bronzes and terra cottas in the upper rooms. ... Our language would describe the...[art as possessing] .... "an innate original character, expressing at the same time freedom, freedom of spirit, and unconscious naturalness." And yet, all this is united in the most successful of these little works of art; and even in the less successful ones, something of it is found! When I recalled to my recollection the frightful forms of Indian deities, which I had seen at the India House, I could hardly think that both were invented by the same race of men. Strictly speaking, indeed, they were not; for the Greeks are of the stock of the nations of day, the others from that of the nations of twilight....

[L]astly, [I saw paintings of] some animals by Landseer. By the last artist, I particularly remember (which is always a good sign) a painting, representing a moon-light winter night in the Highlands. A large stag is represented in the foreground, stepping over a tree covered with snow. The moon is not represented, but is without the picture, and casts a sharp shadow on the snow. ...One can almost feel the cold of the clear still night, and rejoice with the noble animal in his wild kingdom. ... I also saw a vast quantity of so-called still life, historical scenes and portraits, which have quite left my memory—and yet, not quite! for some have retained their place by their absurdity, or exterior pathological softness. Among the former, I must reckon some sea pieces of J. M. W. Turner. If a bright coloured sea piece were to be painted on a wax tablet, then melted, and all the colours mixed up together, I fancy it would present much the appearance of this artist's paintings. I would give something to know how this painter sees nature, and what there is in his eyes that causes him to see nature thus? ...

Let me be allowed to pass over the sculpture in silence.... It is, however, easy to see what confused fancies are to be found in this branch of art, from the fact, that one artist has endeavoured to represent ...
[a statue of] Law. I could not help thinking of Tieck's "Puss in Boots," in which Law at one time appears like a bugbear, at another, is eaten up by the cat in the form of a mouse....

Now in that last sentence the art criticism is lost in translation and perhaps in the original also. But I did not care to focus on the feline allusions in the pioneering physiology texts also authored by Carus. I refer here to An Introduction to the Comparative Anatomy of Animals (1827).  His words recall an era  before a person's genius gets nailed into a coffin of professionalism.  Perhaps though the most interesting thing about the scholarship of Carus is his pioneering book on human consciousness.

Psyche: On the Developmental History of the Soul, was published in 1846. Here Carus states in the opening passage: " The key to understanding the conscious life of the soul lies in the realm of the unconscious. "

We find an accessible analysis of the significance of this book in an article by Matthew Bell in 
Thinking the Unconscious: Nineteenth-Century German Thought (2010) and edited  by Angus Nicholls, Martin Liebscher:

Earlier philosophers developed theories of the unconscious. Plato and Aristotle perhaps, certainly Plotinus (204/5-270 CE) and in the modern period Marsilio Ficino (1433-99), Ralph Cudworth (1617-88), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646-1716, Christian Wolff (1679-1754), Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854), and Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860). Yet these theories were only ever adjuncts or by-products of  more general theories of mind. No one before Carus made the unconscious central to a theory of mind. 
Goethe was a friend of Carus and read Psyche at the end of his life. Dostoevsky was so impressed he envisaged translating this book into Russian. Yet we have forgotten about P.G. Carus and his research. At least we can quote him generously in our modest blog space.

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