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 11, 2016

January 11, 1825

Bayard Taylor (January 11, 1825 to December 19, 1878), an American writer and traveler, was born in Pennsylvania and died in Prussia, a few months after assuming the ambassadorial post in Berlin. In between he traveled to foreign lands, a lot, and wrote about his adventures. This kind of travelogue was the only access many people had to the expansive effects of strange cultures. Bayard Taylor sometimes traveled as a columnist for an American publication and then the articles were collected in books. Titles like these were very popular:

El Dorado; or, Adventures in the Path of Empire (1850)
A Journey to Central Africa; or, Life and Landscapes from Egypt to the Negro Kingdoms of the White Nile (1854) 
The Lands of the Saracen; or, Pictures of Palestine, Asia Minor, Sicily and Spain (1854)
A Visit to India, China and Japan in the Year 1853 (1855)
Northern Travel: Summer and Winter Pictures (1857). [about Sweden]


Bayard Taylor also wrote novels and poetry.  He translated Goethe's Faust (1870-71.) We found a poem, "The Soldier and the Pard" which illustrates Taylor's love for the exotic, albeit with a bit of fantasy. The narrative of this long poem is a soldier's story about having found himself "alone and left behind" in the Egyptian desert, where he encounters a leopard who, having never seen a person before, turns out to be very friendly.

Here are some excerpts, starting with the scene Taylor sets at the start of "The Soldier and the Pard":


....breathe the hot Egyptian air,
Hear Kleber, see the sabre of Dessaix
Flash at the column’s front, and in the midst
Napoleon, upon his Barbary horse,
Calm, swarthy-browed, and wiser than the Sphinx
Whose granite lips guard Egypt’s mystery.
....

[We marched]....from day
To day, past wrecks of temples half submerged
In sandy inundation, till we saw
Old noseless Memnon sitting on the plain,
Both hands upon his knees, ...
The sphinxes wondered --such as had a face —-
To see us stumbling down their avenues ;
But we kept silent. One may whistle round
Your Roman temples .... or dance
Upon the Pont du Gard ;—but, take my word,
Egyptian ruins are a serious thing:
You would not dare let fly a joke beside
The maimed colossi, though your very feet
Might catch between some mummied Pharaoh’s
 ribs....

[The hero finds himself alone with a wild beast, a leopard, called then sometimes a pard]

Not such as one of those they show you caged 
In Paris, lean and scurvy beasts enough...
No: but a desert pard, superb and proud, 
That would have died behind the cruel bars. 
I think the creature had not looked on man, 
For, as my brain grew cooler, I could see 
Small sign of fierceness...
....
She stopped: she rolled 
A deep-voiced note of pleasure and of love, 
And gathering up her spotted length, lay down, 
Her head upon my lap, and forward thrust 
One heavy-moulded paw across my knees, 
The glittering talons sheathing tenderly.
.....
And more of confidence between us came, 
I grateful for my safety, she alive 
With the dumb pleasure of companionship, 
Which touched with instincts of humanity 
Her brutish nature. When I slept, at last, 
My arm was on her neck.

[The soldier though becomes nervous about the cat; was he]
...
Deceived with false caresses, as a cat 
Toys with the trembling mouse she straight devours. 
Will she so gently fawn about my feet, 
When the gazelles are gone?
.....
[The soldier finds that the big cat follows him if he tries to leave. And]

... as I watched a flock of birds, that wheeled, 
And dipped, and circled in the air, the Pard, 
....
To win my notice, closed her careful fangs 
About my knee. 
Scarce knowing what I did, 
In the blind impulse of suspicious fear,
I plunged, full home, my dagger
[Into].. the Pard, 
Her splendid eyes all film, ....[she] fell
.....and I, her murderer,
Less than a beast, had thus repaid her love. 
Ah, friends! with all this guilty memory 
My heart is sore : and little now remains 
To tell you, but that ...
.... if a man 
Deny this truth she taught me, to his face 
I say he lies: a beast may have a soul.
This work was collected  in 
The Poems of Bayard Taylor, (1865).  It rises above the level of 19th century verse.  Here's the book, containing the whole text of "The Soldier and the Pard".

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