71:  Of Reading, Writing, and My Greatness

I was not born great.  I first oped my eyes in the old Earl’s stable.  A place of scents and sounds most dear to me.

But my lord’s stable was not so peaceful after my little niece lodged there.  She oft told me that she longed to be akwaynted with a book.  I believe it was our play that put this maggot in her head.

A row of books, jumbled on a shelf.

One day when my house was quiet (most being gone to a fair or somesuch) I offered to show her the book chamber.

My niece – unaccustomed to so great a house – was doubtful.  She crept in low-bellied, her eyes wide and dark.  I told her we would hear if any came.  She could hide herself while I feigned mouse-watch.

A close=up of the nose and squinting eyes of Gib's niece - a blacl, white, and orange cat.She whispered that she feared the books who sat so still.  “They mean to spring on us,” she sayt.

“They lack the power of motion,” sayt I, and plucked one from the shelf.

She sprang away, but then sat swivel-eared.  “It tells of nowt.  I cannot hear it, nor take its thoughts.”

When she grew bold enough to nose it, she sayt, “It tells of you, and of a man.  He had his hand on a dog not long since.”

I sayt, “Your nose tells who last pawed it.  If you could read, your eyes would show you hawks.  This book is of falconry.”

Her innocent questions made me merry.  But I was mazed, too.

I entered my lord’s service before I was weaned.  I sat with him and his lady sister in the schoolroom and took my learning there.  I had forgot how strange all must seem to one reared in a barn.

I offered to show her another part of the house.  I arrkst if she would like to swing from a curtain, or see her self in a mirror.

She refused.  “I wish to know what reading is,” she sayt.

So I leapt onto a table where a soiled, sour thing lay.  Some knave had thumbed it in an alehouse before he left it here.  But it would serve.

“Now see,” sayt I, “these black marks?  Like to a host of little worms?  They are sounds imprinted.”

She joined me, and sayt she could see nowt.

“You’re too near,” sayt I.  “You must sit a way off.”

She drew back, then poked the page.  “They will not move,” she sayt.

“They’re not true worms,” sayt I.  “But they can creep from your eyes to your brain and grow wings there.  Look!  Here it says: tread on a worm and it will turn.  I believe that means a snake will bite you.” 

A page from Robert Greene's Groatsworth of Wit containing his famous attack on 'the upstart crow', generally believed to be Shakespeare.

I read a little more, and sayt, “Here it tells of a tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide.  I have a tiger’s heart, as do you, for all are cats.  But how came a mere player to have the heart of a cat? Perchance he thieved it.  We must read more to know. ” 

“Worms! Flies! Tigers! Eyes!” She struck the page four times.

“Have a care,” I warned her.  “If any page be clawed or torn, this chamber might be closed to me.”

Another lesson I learnt young.  But how learnt I to read?

Then it come to me.  First I learnt to write.  I listened to the sounds my lord made, and watched him make marks with his pen.

And after I could write these marks, I looked for them in books.

The marks in books were many, and oft unknown to me.  Some books are imprinted fair; others are foul and hard to read, but I found a book of little tales I liked.

Next I came upon the Bevis book.  From that I made my first tale.

I believe there are some in this world who can read what’s imprinted, but know not how to write. There are others who can hold a pen and make their names or another pretty mark, but cannot read.

I can do both.  “And that,” as I told my niece, “is why I achieved greatness as a poet.”

“And why my mother told me you never caught owt in your life save a jewel hung from our Earl’s ear,” she sayt.  “But now I know you watch for worm-words, not mice.”

I sayt, “If you are as witty [clever] as your mother was, I can teach you to write.  You need not trouble yourself with reading.”

“Good,” sayt she.  “Your books are false.  I believe what my nose, mine eyes, mine ears, and my whiskers tell me.  And what my mother sayt.  Nowt else.”

As I led her from the house I sayt, “I’ll fetch you when next I find all that’s needful for writing left readie.”

She did not ask what was needful.  For which I offer thanks: I had not the strength to explain the use of quills, ink, and paper.

Instead she sayt, “Then I’ll have greatness thrust upon me.”

Saucie.  Like unto her mother.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe first book Gib read “of little tales” was probably a collection of Aesop’s fables.  We know he read some of these, because his tale of The Fox and the Cat is derived from Aesop.

The “sour thing” – he means its smell – that he shows his niece is Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit, published in 1592 and attributed to the playwright Robert Greene (1558-1592).  It’s famous nowadays for its attack on an actor referred to as an “upstart crow” who, owing his success to the work of writers such as Greene, thinks he can “bombast out a blank verse” and is “in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.”  This is almost universally accepted as an attack on William Shakespeare, though a case has been made for the actor Edward Alleyn.

However, astute readers of this blog have spotted that Shakespeare appears to have pilfered some of Gib’s work.  Oh dear.  Who wrote what, and about whom, is just so complicated. 


55 thoughts on “71:  Of Reading, Writing, and My Greatness

  1. Timi Townsend September 15, 2016 / 9:37 pm

    I doth both read and write: greatness was thrust upon me likewise! Another stellar post, Denise!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dos beans en my pocket September 15, 2016 / 11:19 pm

    I can read but I can write. I’m not a” verbal” poet. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dos beans en my pocket September 15, 2016 / 11:30 pm

      I can’t write as a poet , that’s what I meant:-))

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 15, 2016 / 11:40 pm

      In the 16th century, when Gib lived, imaginative writers were considered to be “poets”.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 16, 2016 / 1:36 am

      P.S. They need not have written what we would call poetry.


    • daveply September 17, 2016 / 4:44 am

      I don’t know if, even in the 16th century I’d manage to be considered a poet – I certainly don’t have that skill now. Perhaps I should find a cat to teach me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Soul Gifts September 15, 2016 / 11:33 pm

    Swinging on curtains! Oh dear – just as well they didn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 15, 2016 / 11:50 pm

      Even worse, the curtains would have been on beds. When your rooms are lit by candles you don’t have to be too fussed about the windows!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Soul Gifts September 16, 2016 / 12:37 am

      Oh dear. Gibs must be well loved if he’s been allowed to play on the curtains. We had a cat once that did that. They were on the windows of course – lace – he shredded them. I wasn’t happy !

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 16, 2016 / 12:57 am

      Gib’s lord was super rich. I don’t suppose he was too worried about scramblings up the bed curtains.
      There weren’t many corridors back then, so to get around the house you walked from one room to the next. Beds, therefore, had solid curtains.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Claudio LeChat September 15, 2016 / 11:39 pm

    This is an exquisitely drawn post. The description of the little niece discovering and exploring new objects and experiences is right on the mark. I recall how I once reacted to new things as a kitling. And still do to some extent, but I am now of course, a sophisticated cat of the world – like Gib.
    Also love your illustrations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 15, 2016 / 11:45 pm

      Thanks! But with a posh name like yours I do not believe you were reared in a barn.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. WatchmanMomma September 15, 2016 / 11:50 pm

    I’m enjoying everything seen through cat’s eyes, and find it all quite delightful. That writing is as worms on a page, and sounds imprinted, is a marvelous revelation.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Chris White September 16, 2016 / 12:22 am

    What a splendid post literary-wise. And I just adorethe notion of an educated cat. Your tales and tails are such a source of delight. All the very best. Chris.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 16, 2016 / 12:29 am

      Thanks, Chris. I must admit that I always thought that reading came first, but why wouldn’t holding a well-inked quill between your toes and scratching out the sounds?


  7. April Munday September 16, 2016 / 12:55 am

    Poor Gib. His small niece will wear him out with her demands.

    Poor Robert Green, as well. It must be galling for a poet to be remembered only for sagging off the greatest poet of the age.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 16, 2016 / 11:45 am

      Life just ain’t fair. It’s a sobering thought that had Shakespeare died in 1593 (as Christopher Marlowe did) he’d scarcely be remembered at all and Marlowe would probably be regarded as the greatest.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WatchmanMomma September 16, 2016 / 3:08 pm

      Wasn’t the real author of the Shakespeare works Edward de Vere (the 17th earl of Oxford)? Were the other options members of these court? Me thinks the likes of a rattling spear n’ere kept company with catts.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 16, 2016 / 5:24 pm

      Gib made the Earl of Oxford the hero/villain of the play he devised. Perhaps Gib also suspected Oxford of stealing his work?

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday September 16, 2016 / 7:15 pm

      Alternatively, imagine how brilliant Marlowe would have been if he’d lived as long as Shakespeare

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 16, 2016 / 8:30 pm

      True. Unless, of course, his death was faked so he could flee the country and become “Shakespeare”, as some contend.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday September 16, 2016 / 9:50 pm

      So many theories. I think I’ll just watch and read the plays and leave such thoughts to others.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. dornahainds September 16, 2016 / 4:25 am

    Always a phenomenal read, story-telling. 😉


  9. Rachel McAlpine September 16, 2016 / 12:50 pm

    I read this historic post with awe. I digested with a rush of brain and belly rumblings. I wrote “How to teach your cat to write” as a tribute. You have no idea how many thousands of cats are being subjected to flash cards and Janet and John books today as a consequence of Gib’s example and now, this post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi September 16, 2016 / 1:22 pm

      I fear that cats today would rather blob in front of TV than learn to write and read. And, sadly, keyboards are not designed for cats’ paws or feet. Cats are often reduced to jumping on them, with disappointing results.


    • WatchmanMomma September 16, 2016 / 3:15 pm

      I remember a sweet animation of an Oriental cat family who learned to write with the tips of their tails in ink, the beautiful brush script of old.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 16, 2016 / 8:33 pm

      That sounds lovely!


  10. Claudio LeChat September 16, 2016 / 5:00 pm

    Especially when they disable the mouse function as I once did.

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi September 16, 2016 / 5:27 pm

      Cats are not well-served by modern technology.


  11. Mick Canning September 16, 2016 / 10:36 pm

    Loved it, Denise. Clearly, I used to teach children to read the wrong way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 17, 2016 / 1:22 am

      Well, should you ever be tempted to do a spot of teaching as a reliever, now you know. First, teach them to write. Just cut a quill, dip it in ink, and stick it between their toes. The results may amaze you.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Shafali September 17, 2016 / 3:01 pm

    I’d not mind being Master Gib’s pupil. He appears to be a very patient teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shafali September 29, 2016 / 1:46 am

      What age? He’s a strapping young cat.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 29, 2016 / 8:24 am

      Strapping, yes. But he’s about 15 years old now!


  13. roshendalal September 17, 2016 / 3:36 pm

    I think cats can learn to read! Certainly Sweetie knew how to type!

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 17, 2016 / 11:41 pm

      I just visited your blog to see if it was Sweetie who found the index cards you’d made some time back for a bibliography on Zoroastrianism. I was very impressed by that, but in your post she or he was nameless.

      Liked by 1 person

    • roshendalal September 18, 2016 / 5:10 pm

      will look at the post again–to remember which cat it was!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Val September 18, 2016 / 1:25 pm

    I am now wondering if the true reason cats go after birds is for the quill pens…

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Robyn Haynes September 18, 2016 / 2:25 pm

    A lovely story of Gib’s romance with literature. I especially loved what Gib said of ‘worms’ on the page: “But they can creep from your eyes to your brain and grow wings there.” I can relate to that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi September 18, 2016 / 4:12 pm

      A pity his niece couldn’t. I think the more Gib said, the more confused she got!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Robyn Haynes September 18, 2016 / 4:41 pm

      Isn’t it the way that we can leave out that knowledge which we take for granted when trying to explain what we know to others? Gib couldn’t imagine a world without reading and writing and his niece couldn’t imagine a world with it. I loved the way she was so sensory driven – just as I imagine cats would be. Gib existed on a more cerebral plane.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. colonialist September 20, 2016 / 10:12 am

    A reading need,
    A delight indeed;
    But to write not read —
    Can such rite succeed?

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Claremary P. Sweeney October 28, 2016 / 5:31 pm

    I love this saucy, little maggot. And Gib is very patient with her. He’ll make a grand teacher because he has a true love of reading. And I’m sure she’ll achieve the greatness destined for her.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. mitchteemley January 8, 2017 / 11:32 am

    I’m with Gib, I learned to love those little worms early on, and thereupon found the joy of making them!

    Liked by 1 person

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