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.

December 19, 2016

December 19, 1878

Bayard Taylor (January 11, 1825 to December 19, 1878), an American writer and traveler, was born in a comfortable Pennsylvania setting, and died in Prussia, a few months after assuming the ambassadorial post in Berlin. In between he traveled to foreign lands, 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

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). [which is about Sweden]

We quote now from At home and abroad : a sketch-book of life, scenery and men (1862),
from his account of a stay in Thuringia.

[Arriving late at a house where he and his wife had previously arranged to stay]

.... the gloom of the evening is counterbalanced by our pleasant feeling of independence—by the knowledge that we occupy a house which we can temporarily call our own, conducting our housekeeping as we see fit. The rooms are neatly but completely furnished; a little bare, perhaps, to an American eye, but we are accustomed to the simplicity of German life, and, moreover, our home is rather outside than inside the cottage. Still, it is well to know that the beds are of fresh linen, that the supply of water is ample, and that the cane arm chairs in the drawing-room are agreeable to sit upon. A peep into the kitchen disclosed the surprising fact that we have butter, eggs, salad, and raw Westphalian ham, and as Hanna, the tidy servant-girl who awaited our arrival, has already made a fire in the ponderous range, I feel that our supper is secure. Let no apprehension for the morrow, therefore, disturb our first day of possession!

Really, this is the ideal of Travel. Not in great hotels, where one lives according to fixed rules, or pays enormously for breaking them—not in capitals, where the levelling civilization of our century is fast annihilating social peculiarities, and establishing, so to speak, a uniform gauge, adapted to all nationalities, can one feel the pulse of a foreign life. Men must be studied in their homes, and, whenever possible, from a home among them. We must find an empty cell in the hive, and inhabit the same, though it be in the character of a drone. ... [Of course one cannot] be so ignorant of the language, as to have a bunch of quills put on the table instead of a fowl, nor so wedded to his home habits as to make himself unhappy because he cannot retain them. With a little human flexibility, a catholic breadth of taste, and an entire freedom from the prejudices of the Little Peddlington in which most men are born, we may, without sacrificing a jot of our individuality, without hazarding the loss of a single principle, live the life of other races and other climates, and thus gather into our own the aggregate experience of Man.

This is the true ... World-Circle—the completed sphere of life on this planet, which he must traverse who shall write the yet unwritten human Cosmos...

This little study,
[where] I find, [myself] illustrates a truth which is known to authors, and to none else: that the range of thought is in inverse proportion to the dimensions of the material dwelling of the thinker. In other words, the narrower your chamber, the wider your brain: hence poets seek garrets by a natural instinct, and the philosopher who could not sling a cat in his room assuredly never felt the need of that diversion. The mental labor which it would be difficult to perform in a spacious Gothic hall, would be comparatively easy in a low hut, with one window. If this journal should be discursive—of which I have a strong presentiment—the reason will be apparent. But where is our home? A familiar spot in a foreign land—distant, happily, from any capital, except that of small principality, aside from the highways of tourists, yet embosomed in a region of the loveliest scenery....

Bayard Taylord may have been a rare one to come from a home like Cedarcroft, below,

and sing the praises of humble dwellings. 

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