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 29, 2016

January 29, 1835

Sarah Chauncey Woolsey (January 29, 1835 to April 9, 1905)  came from a prominent New England family, the Dwights (the ones connected to Yale I assume).  She worked as a nurse during the war but is remembered as an author, who wrote, using the pseudonym of Susan Coolidge, children's books. She wrote also nonfiction; she  edited volumes like, The Diary and Letters of Frances Burney (1880). She did not marry and remained in the family home, which in her maturity was in Newport, Rhode Island.

Susan Coolidge, as her readers knew her, also wrote light verse, and we will quote from her poem about the famous cat of Samuel Johnson's.  We found that text in a periodical of the times, a monthly, which mainly republished articles that first appeared elsewhere. The title
is Literary News, and our text appeared there in 1891. The poem was among essays on books which are interesting for the light cast upon the literary world of more than a century ago.  Here is a brief excerpt from an essay: THE PLAGUE OF BOOKS.  I had to look up the first phrase: 
cacoethes means "an irresistible urge to write something inadvisable."

cacoethes scribendi has long been known to be a fever and sickness of feeble minds (says Ouida in a recent diatribe); but never did it reach such proportions as now, when the cheapness of print and of paper all the world over, and the ever critical condition of the public intelligence, give it scope for development to an immeasurable degree. In the last century if memoirs had not possessed the excellence of a particular style, as well as of a strong historical interest, it would have been useless to publish tbem. But in these days style in literature is scarcely at all understood by readers, is neither appreciated nor demanded, and therefore the most feeble, ungrammatical, or involved phrasing passes unperceived, or if perceived, uncondemned by the great majority of persons. ".... In these later years of the nineteenth century "everybody writes;" and from the fashionable lady who cannot spell, to the tight-rope dancer who dictates his "Impressions from an Altitude," any one who has had any grain of vanity or shred of adventure embodies his or her ideas or recollections in an article for a periodical or a volume for the circulating libraries. ...

This analysis of contemporary literature was published first in the Boston Beacon. When republished it appeared in some proximity to Coolidge's 


Burly and big his books among
Good Samuel Johnson sat,
With frowning brows and wig askew,
His snuff-strewn waistcoat far from new;

....close beside him, unafraid,
Sat Hodge the cat.

"This participle," the Doctor wrote,
"The modern scholar cavils at,
But "—even as he penned the word
A soft protesting note was heard.
The Doctor fumbled with his pen,
The dawning thought took wings and flew;
The sound repeated came again—
It was a faint reminding " Mew ! '*
From Hodge the cat.

"Poor Pussy !" said the learned man,
Giving the glossy fur a pat,
"It is your dinner-time, I know,
And—well, perhaps I ought to go;
For if Sam every day were sent
Off from his work your fish to buy,
Why—men are men—he might resent,
And starve or kick you on the sly—
Eh! Hodge my cat?"

The Dictionary was laid down—
The Doctor tied his vast cravat,
And down the buzzing street he strode
Taking an often-trodden road,
And halted at a well-known stall;
"Fishmonger," spoke the Doctor, gruff, 
"Give me six oysters—that is all:
Hodge knows when he has had enough—
Hodge is my cat."

Then home: Puss dined, and while in sleep
He chased a visionary rat,
His master sat him down again,
Rewrote his page, renibbed his pen;
He labored on for all to read,
Nor deemed that time was waste or lost
Spent in supplying the small need
Of Hodge the cat.
That dear old Doctor! fierce of mien,
Untidy, arbitrary, fat,
What gentle thoughts his name enfold....
So generous of his scanty gold,
Kind to all sufferers under heaven —
A tenderer despot ne'er was born;
His big heart held a corner even
For Hodge the cat.

And another essay appeared for those who read about Hodge, whose story they already knew of course.  Here is part of "BOOKS THAT ARE BOOKS."

We cordially wish our faithful readers a glad and bright New Year, full of such prosperity as shall make them feel able to invest a generous supply of money in that most satisfying of purchases—good books. We wish we could inspire them with a great desire not only to read but to possess the volumes from which they read. A real longing for anything worth acquiring generally works around to such acquirement. ..... What we particularly wish our readers to cultivate is exacting fastidiousness as to the size, shape, style, type, print, and binding of the books they read and add to their libraries. ...
[B]oth in mental and physical food the form in which it is presented has a marked effect upon its consumer. ...Make a point of asking for the best edition within your means of every book you buy. The time seems really coming when we, as a nation, are to stop stealing the work of foreign authors and devouring it in "cheap and nasty" shape. An international copyright law will perhaps stir our pride a little, and will certainly make us care more for books on which we pay a living price to the author. Instead of buying a dozen or more volumes of light literature of most heterogeneous qualities, we hope our readers will put the price of the many novels into one of lasting worth. The year just past has been specially rich in good standard editions of standard books.

When we think of the vast sums spent on ephemeral pleasures we feel that the providers of good literature fall far short of their fair proportion of the invested capital.

Turmoil in the book world is nothing new, it turns out.

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