In 1932 Lovecraft wrote to his friend Moe, recalling once again the lost-lost days of 1900 when he had been ten years old. One of the items recalled in his stream-of-consciousness flow was… “the new cat book by Agnes Rapplier”.

Rapplier was a conservative Catholic essayist and reviewer, who also wrote popular books. The “new cat book” must be her The Fireside Sphinx: A Cultural History of Cats which appeared in 1901. Thus Lovecraft mis-placed it a little amid the tumble of memories, as a book of 1900.

It is just the sort of erudite yet breezy book that would have delighted a precocious lad who doted on cats, with chapters on Egypt, Dark Ages hysteria, and cats in his beloved British Isles. It is full of little stories and brisk histories. The book is simply footnoted as The Fireside Sphinx (without its subtitle indicating its non-fiction nature) in the Moe letters, and does not appear in my edition of Joshi’s Lovecraft’s Library. But, as a formative childhood book, it should probably be listed in a future edition of the Library.

Being out-of-copyright it could also make the basis of various new media productions, trimmed down a bit, from dramatized audiobook to graphic novel. Although note that archaeology is starting to dramatically change the story of ancient domestic cats in Europe — that bit would need to be added/updated.

When did Lovecraft have it and read it? A quick search suggests The Fireside Sphinx was probably issued October 1901 with an eye to the Christmas market. Thus it was perhaps a family gift, possibly to his mother or more likely to the young Lovecraft himself at Christmas 1901 when he was aged 11. By my calculations Lovecraft would then have been a doting cat-owner for several years and the kitten Trigger-ban, that had been presented to him as a “tiny black handful” at about age seven, would have fully grown into an adult pet cat by Christmas 1901.