LOIS A. KRIEGER
IN RECENT YEARS it has become common knowledge that cats have surpassed dogs in popularity among pet owners. Cats appear everywhere -- on calendars, T-shirts, greeting cards, and gift-wrapping paper. Occasionally, curmudgeons in some communities have proposed laws or ordinances to license cats or to impose various restrictions on their mobility. In April 1949, the legislature of Illinois actually passed a law of this sort, but it was vetoed by the recently elected Governor Adlai E. Stevenson II.1 The text of Governor Stevenson's veto message, handsomely printed and illustrated with a woodcut by Günther Stiller, has recently been acquired by Baker's Special Collections and will be cataloged for the Presses collection.2
The astute governor, while conceding the desirability of protecting birds, recognized that the nature of the cat would make enforcement virtually impossible. He noted that 'cats perform useful service, particularly in rural areas, in combating rodents -- work they necessarily perform alone and without regard for property lines.' He also believed that the state 'had enough to do without trying to control feline delinquency.'
The tone of the governor's message indicates that he was indeed fond of cats. He would have found many sources of information and amusement in the Dartmouth College Library collections. The catalog lists a wide assortment of subject headings, including 'Cats-Behavior'; 'Cats-Genetics'; 'Cats in Art';'Cats in Literature'; and even the obviously oxymoronic 'Cats-Training.' The Dana Biomedical Library houses the scientific books about felines; the Sherman Art Library is home to a collection of Steinlen's drawings.3 The Sanborn English Library contains a sound recording of a reading of T.S. Eliot's Practical Cats ;4 the Paddock Music Library owns a copy of the original cast album of the London production of Cats5 -- but not, alas, a copy or recording of 'Duet for Two Cats,' sometimes attributed to Rossini, for a pair of dueling, caterwauling sopranos. Special Collections possesses, in addition to numerous editions of Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat, a stuffed Cat in the Hat, but real cats rarely stalk the halls of Baker; a few years ago, a fraternity cat named Vergil occasionally visited, but he later abandoned us for the History Department.
Cats are frequently the subject of fiction. William Baldwin's sixteenth-century Beware the Cat has been called by the editors of a modern edition 'the first English novel. '6 Even confirmed cat-lovers might find Oliver Herford's The Rubaiyat of a Persian Kitten (N.Y.: Scribner's, 1904) rather too much, but May Sarton's The Fur Person (N.Y.: Rinehart, 1957) is proof that a cat story - this one about an independent, debonair gentleman-cat-about-town -- can be charming, and genuinely informative about how a cat really spends his time, without being overly cute or cloying.
Robert Darnton's The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History (N.Y.: Basic Books, 1984) illustrates that cats have not always been held in high esteem; eighteenth-century printers' apprentices, unable to sleep because of the yowling of stray cats, rounded up and killed as many as they could find. Attitudes toward cruelty to animals have fortunately changed greatly in the succeeding two centuries. Despite the existence of 'humorous' books such as Simon Bond's 101 Uses for a Dead Cat (N. Y.: Clarkson Potter, 1981; no copies in any Dartmouth collection!), cats are now enjoying unprecedented popularity, and the Library shelves will amply reward the cat-loving browser.
1. Adlai Ewing Stevenson, The Papers of Adlai E. Stevenson (Boston: Little, Brown, 1972-1979). vol. 3. Governor of Illinois 1949-1953 71-74, 84, 85, 114.
2. 'Adlai Stevenson's Cat Bill Veto,' printed October 1989 at Bird & Bull Press.
3. Théophile Alexander Steinlen, Chats et autres bêtes (Paris: Rey 1933)
4. Alan Rawsthorne, Practical Cats [sound recording (N.Y.: Angel, [1967?]).
5. Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cats [sound recording]: original London cast album (Los Angeles: Geffen Records, 1981).
6. William Baldwin, Beware the Cat: the First English Novel (San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1988). The introduction and text editing were done by William A. Ringler Jr., and Michael Flachmann.