What Sort of Philosophers Are We Who Know Absolutely Nothing of the Origin and Destiny of Cats?

Henry David Thoreau? Grace Goodman Mauran? Apocryphal?

Question for Quote Investigator: The essayist and transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau found cats intriguing. He was disappointed that humanity knew “absolutely nothing of the origin and destiny of cats.” Would you please help me to find a citation for this remark about cats?

Reply from Quote Investigator: Henry David Thoreau recorded his thoughts and observations in a multi-volume journal. The entry dated December 12, 1856 contains the following. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]Website: The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau, Online Journal Transcripts, Henry David Thoreau’s Journal, Manuscript Volume 22, Journal Date: December 12, 1856, The Thoreau project is located in … Continue reading

Wonderful—wonderful is our life and that of our companions! That there should be such a thing as a brute animal—not human! & that it should attain to a sort of society with our race!! Think of cats, for instance; they are neither Chinese nor Tartars; they do not go to school, nor read the Testament. Yet how near they come to doing so–how much they are like us! What sort of philosophers are we who know absolutely nothing of the origin & destiny of cats?

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1921 Grace Goodman Mauran published “Out of the Gathering Basket: A Series of Sketches on Gardens and Books” which included most of the excerpt above from Thoreau’s notebook.[2]1921, Out of the Gathering Basket: A Series of Sketches on Gardens and Books by Grace Goodman Mauran, Chapter: Cosmos, Cats, and Coyotes, Quote Page 76 and 77, Ralph Fletcher Seymour, Chicago, … Continue reading

In 1948 a biography titled “Henry David Thoreau” by Joseph Wood Krutch discussed the philosopher’s perspective on cats:[3]1948 Copyright, Henry David Thoreau by Joseph Wood Krutch (Professor of Dramatic Literature at Columbia University), Series: The American Men of Letters, Chapter: Paradise Found, Quote Page 82, … Continue reading

With the exception of cats, of whom he was extremely fond, he neither at this time nor at any other kept pets, partly no doubt because he himself wanted to be nobody’s pet except in so far as he could be, like a cat, one who walked by himself.

In 1955 “The American Treasury 1455-1955” edited by Clifton Fadiman printed the following from Thoreau’s notebook:[4]1955, The American Treasury 1455-1955, Selected, Arranged, and Edited by Clifton Fadiman, Assisted by Charles Van Doren, Book 3: Various Americans On Things in General, Section XIV: Essayists and … Continue reading

Think of cats, for instance. They are neither Chinese or Tartars. They do not go to school, nor read the Testament. . . . What sort of philosophers are we, who know absolutely nothing of the origin and destiny of cats?

In 1994 “Leo Rosten’s Carnival of Wit From Aristotle to Woody Allen” included the following:[5]1996 (1994 Copyright), Leo Rosten’s Carnival of Wit From Aristotle to Woody Allen, Compiled by Leo Rosten, Topic: Philosophy, Quote Page 364, Plume: Penguin Books, New York. (Verified with … Continue reading

What sort of philosophers are we, who know absolutely nothing about the origin and destiny of cats? —Henry David Thoreau

In conclusion, Henry David Thoreau deserves credit for the words he penned about cats in his journal in 1856.

Image Notes: Picture of a kitten with a flower from Dimhou at Pixabay. Image has been resized.

(A serendipitous encounter with a cat aficionado led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

References

References
1 Website: The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau, Online Journal Transcripts, Henry David Thoreau’s Journal, Manuscript Volume 22, Journal Date: December 12, 1856, The Thoreau project is located in Davidson Library at the University of California, Santa Barbara. (Accessed via thoreau.library.ucsb.edu on November 15, 2022)
2 1921, Out of the Gathering Basket: A Series of Sketches on Gardens and Books by Grace Goodman Mauran, Chapter: Cosmos, Cats, and Coyotes, Quote Page 76 and 77, Ralph Fletcher Seymour, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans at biodiversitylibrary.org) link
3 1948 Copyright, Henry David Thoreau by Joseph Wood Krutch (Professor of Dramatic Literature at Columbia University), Series: The American Men of Letters, Chapter: Paradise Found, Quote Page 82, Methuen & Company, London. (Verified with scans)
4 1955, The American Treasury 1455-1955, Selected, Arranged, and Edited by Clifton Fadiman, Assisted by Charles Van Doren, Book 3: Various Americans On Things in General, Section XIV: Essayists and Aphorists from Emerson to E. B. White, Author: Henry David Thoreau, Quote Page 876, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans)
5 1996 (1994 Copyright), Leo Rosten’s Carnival of Wit From Aristotle to Woody Allen, Compiled by Leo Rosten, Topic: Philosophy, Quote Page 364, Plume: Penguin Books, New York. (Verified with scans)
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