Letters from a Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today feline dedicated post was a birthday gift from my good friend Eileen Travell. She acquired this precious, slim volume at a store I long to experience one day and that I wrote about in an earlier post, 3 Little Kittens, which can be found here, and describes that gift purchased there as well, The Salem, New York shop is 1786 Wilson Homestead (1117 Chamberlin Mill Road, Salem, NY; their website which can be found here). It has set me to dreaming about a future summer day digging through their wares. My copy is stamped School Library, Saranac Lake, N.Y. on both front and back fly leafs.

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While this book is clearly meant for children, complete with very large and easily read text, I am not sure I would say race out and grab this book to read to your small child. Suffice it to say life was cheaper and harder in 1879 and that is evidenced in this book. The overall premise of the book is that while a little girl is away visiting her aunt she receives a series of letters penned by her puss in her absence. (Yes, the remarkable nature of a cat writing letters, however sloppily printed, is covered in the story, although never fully explained. The methods of post are detailed however.)

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Sadly kit has a hard time of it in the absence of her mistress with everything from a spring cleaning of the house, which terrifies her, to an accident with a barrel of soft soap, which I assume is either lye or the lye and fat makings for soap, which almost does her in. All about the plot is is given away in the first part of the book which is penned in the voice of the young mistress now grown.

However, when the little mistress describes how much she loves her kitty and what a glorious cat she is you know that H.H. was herself a cat lover and an understander of the feline nature. (Kim speculated that the timing is right for this book to have inspired Archy and Mehitabel, first created by Don Marquis in 1916 and collected first in 1927. As many of you know, it is best known for being illustrated by George Herriman of Krazy Kat fame.)

Letters from a Cat Published by Her Mistress for the Benefit of all Cats and the Amusement of Little Children has an original copyright of 1879. My edition is from 1930. It has seventeen illustrations by Addie Ledyard. The author H.H. turns out to be Helen Hunt Jackson (b. 1830 and d. 1885, née Helen Maria Fiske) a famous poet and writer of her day.

Jackson was the daughter of a minister, author, and professor of Latin, Greek, and philosophy at Amherst College. Her mother having died when Helen was 14, she and her sister were fully orphaned three years later. However, the father had provided for Helen’s education and she attended a boarding school where she was the classmate of Emily Dickinson with whom she corresponded throughout her life. Helen Hunt Jackson was very much a part of the interesting and broad group of writers and thinkers in the greater Amherst area of the day.

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Jackson begins writing after the loss of husband and sons over a handful of years and before she was much more than 30 years old. (Hunt was the surname of this husband, she eventually remarries while taking the cure for TB in Colorado years later and takes the name Jackson.) Her earliest works are published under the H.H. nom de plume. She became interested in issues surrounding the poor treatment of Native Americans after hearing a lecture in Boston by Chief Standing Bear in 1879 (interestingly, the year Letters from a Cat was published).

Her best known work, Ramona, published in 1884, is a story of a young woman of mixed Scots and Native American heritage, was hugely popular and spawned five films and even was thought to expand the tourism industry of Southern California at the time. While it may have been the romance of the story that made it so popular, Jackson wrote it as a way of showing the plight of the native people. She kept up a very real and fierce lifelong battle with Washington over the treatment of the Indians and fighting for the return of their land and rights.

Of the illustrator, Addie Ledyard, there is really no information except for the trail of books she illustrated which are still available. At a glance I would say cats were a specialty, although she seems to have illustrated at least one volume of Louisa May Alcott stories. Following my nose on her illustrations may lead to some other interesting discoveries.

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This illustration shows Ceasar, the handsome, huge black cat who arrives in town and is an  important plot point.

 

I am reminded of an obscure, antique volume I had years ago and gave to my mother, written by another poet who also wrote from the perspective of her cat. If I can remember it and find it I will share it in a subsequent post. I always think of it when I see a cat watching out a window as her cat called that reading the newspaper daily.

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Letters from a Cat is available on Project Gutenberg (with illustrations) and Google Books, as well as in reproduction and various earlier reprints over time. With renewed thanks to Eileen, I suggest all you cat collectors get on this one.

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Earlier volume of the book.

 

 

 

The Robbers Squeak

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I purchased this volume after researching another book I wrote about recently, Lady Pussy-Cat’s Ball, which featured illustrations by the more than capable artist A.M. Lockyer. This volume however credits only Mr. Lockyer so we must assume that it is not only illustrated by him, but that the story, written entirely in verse, is as well. (There is a song over several pages, Sergeant Sleek’s Song, with music and three verses in the middle of the book. However, words are credited to G.E I. and music by F.R. Cox. A casual search did not turn up any information on them.)

The book’s story is an odd one – and considering I featured dogs yesterday it is a bit shocking that I go out way out on a Pictorama limb and feature mice today, because this is indeed a story of mice. They are both the heroes and the villains of this story, which it should be noted, is a stretch for children, at least as we see children’s stories today. It is a tale of mice who are a marauding band of thieves, stealing feasts of food, but eventually kidnapping a beautiful girl kitten they adore. The image below is when Momma cat comes calling for her little girl kit. This interaction with maternal cat love reforms them and they turn over a new leaf and become monastic mice – who occasionally tell tales of the days of yore.

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As best I can tell, it was published in 1889 – there is no copyright information in the book, although the publisher is noted as Marcus Ward & Co Limited, London, Belfast & New York. Given the availability of the book even now, it must have been relatively popular. The illustrations are beautifully executed, even if the story is a bit odd. Meanwhile, anthropomorphic cats and other animals seem to be A.M. Lockyer’s bread and butter and I have my eye out for other books by him – in particular on called The Cat Concert. I have yet to find a biography of him, although there is no shortage of his illustrations available when you search on his name.

The story of cat and mouse is one that goes back to the beginning of a certain kind of story telling as we know it. It starts with illustrated books and eventually winds its way to Felix and Farmer Alfalfa cartoons and beyond. It is of course an old, old story from life itself – going back to the domestication of our feline friends. Just this morning, as I sat on the phone during an out of the ordinary Sunday morning call for work, I noticed Cookie and Blackie united in an investigation under Kim’s desk. Despite being litter mates, our duo rarely unite in any effort so it is notable. As I attempted to carry on my conversation with the volunteer in Florida the cats chattered and meowed to each other about something under the desk. (Kim wasn’t home and I could not investigate.) By the time the call ended, the cats had tussled with each other and subsequently retreated to their own perches, but of course I do wonder what they saw, or thought they saw.

Living in a many decades old building in New York City generally means you have rodents (and roaches) and it is merely a question of keeping them at bay. To date just the presence of the cats, and their predecessors, have influenced the rodents to bypass us as a stop along the way as they search for food and fun. Still, you never know when a little mousie fellow or gal takes a wrong turn, or decides that they can take on the big guys, much like The Robbers Squeak. Even if I do not, Cookie and Blackie, meanwhile, live in anticipation.

 

Good Cats and Bad Cats

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Okay, still rounding up the last of what was a Pictorama perfect holiday season with more magnificent gifts than I could have imagined! (We are indeed fortunate over here at Pictorama!) This entry is an extraordinarily thoughtful gift from a colleague at Jazz who clearly understands the Pictorama ethos. I am just mad about this little volume, the likes of which I have not seen before. For those of you who are wildly jealous (you will be) I will tell you that a less charming reprint seems to be available, but this original version seems far less easy to obtain.

In case the book itself was not perfect enough, the inscription, in pencil and dated Christmas, 1911, takes it over the top. It reads, To my good Kitten (and then in tiny script underneath which is hard to read) who is sometimes just a wee bit bad. Who wouldn’t love that? The volume, published by Frederick A. Stokes Company (September 1911 so this was hot off the press at the time) is author dedicated thus, To FUZZY WUZZY a Perfectly Good Cat Except WHEN SHE IS BAD or (as is usually the case) UTTERLY INDIFFERENT.

What follows are these wonderful cat illustrations and a volume that is one part children’s book, written entirely in rhyme, describing first a good kitty and then the naughty bad kitty:

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But at times it becomes an actual comic strip:

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There are also these sort of splendid full pages that seem to be something all their own:

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Alas, while we all aspire to being a good kitty, who among us does not as frequently identify with the bad?

Finding information about author/artist Frederick White tested my amateur sleuthing skills mightily and just about when I was ready to turn the question over to you, my erudite readers, I teased out some information from Mr. Google at last by searching his name and 1911 under comics. Born in Queens on December 4, 1869 he seemed to be a journeyman cartoonist, although the artistic trail sort of peters out as you will see below. The real information I found comes from the excellent work of fellow blogger Allan Holtz over at Strippers Guide. I quote from him and link to him below (all these links in color from his blog work) where further information can be found:

American Newspaper Comics (2012) said White did The Gol-I-Fings, from May 5 to June 9, 1901, for the McClure Syndicate. His Gol-I-Fing ran in the San Francisco Chronicle from October 12 to November 2, 1902. 

The Christian Register, January 2, 1908, reprinted White’s verse, Bill, a Cheerful Dog. Apparently it was the basis for the 1908 book from Holiday Publishing. The book was well received by The Presbyterian Banner and American Motherhood.

White created Good and Bad Cats for the News Syndicate which ran it from November 6, 1910 to March 19, 1911. The material was compiled in a book by the Frederick A. Stokes Company in 1911. For the NEA, White produced Kute Karols for Kitty Kats which debuted January 1, 1912. The Day Book (Chicago, Illinois) printed White’s Nine Lives of Kitty Kat from February 5 to 14, 1912. The Boston Globe published White’s Edie and Eddie from August 22, 1915 to March 19, 1916. Edie and Eddie also appeared on the inside back covers of Everyland magazine in the 1920 issues for JanuaryFebruaryMarch and May.

An interesting aside I enjoyed further is that the last home listed is with his sisters at 45 East 85th Street (between Park and Madison Avenues) a few short blocks west from the perch where I write from right now here on 86th Street, near York Avenue.

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Ad for The Nine Lives of Kitty Kat! in the Daily Day Book.