My Baby She Wrote Me a Letter

Dearest Sylvia,

Can you explain how and why cats make love to us? Tiber will come, if I am reading or writing or lying on my bed and will “tease tow” with his claws. Then coming closer, will gaze into my face, suddenly dig his pointed muzzle under my chin once or twice, retreat, roll on his side, inviting my hand, turn his head dreamily to one side, passive and luxurious. Then he will turn on me almost fiercely with a burst of purring, and so on, and so on.

But is this, as I think, reserved for human lovers? With a female cat I think he displays no such graces but is fiercely practical. It is more like the love that was shown him by his mother when he was a kitten. And naturally it is shown most strongly  before and after I have fed him. But the luxury of his furry love is very beautiful.

He fights continually with the Wood Cat–a savage beast that has run wild and supports himself in the wood by hunting, flying from man. He is more versed in battle, and Tiber is continually appearing with his scalp furrowed by the Wood Cat’s claws, paws bitten through and lame, ears bleeding. He has just recovered after some days of lameness when his paw was swollen like a boxing-glove. I keep him shut up at night to save further fights, but now he can put his paw to the ground he will go off to fight again.

We had a terrible storm yesterday evening, with all the artillery of Heaven and hailstones like large lumps of sugar bouncing all over the carpet from the chimney, and today the leaves are torn and many barley fields laid flat and peasants half ruined. Every room was flooded–except the bathroom.

Very much love from



Dearest David,

Tiber makes love to you for the good reason that he loves you, and loves making love. Cats are passionate and voluptuous, they get satisfaction from mating but no pleasure (the females dislike it, and this is wounding to the male), no voluptuousness; and no appreciation. Tiber has the pleasure of being pleased and knowing he pleases in his love-making with you. I am so glad you have each other. Does he roll on his head? Does he fall asleep with an ownerly paw laid over you?

We had a dark grey cat (Norfolk bred, very Norfolk in character) called Tom. He was reserved, domineering, voluptuous–much as I imagine Tiber to be. When he was middle-aged he gave up nocturnal prowlings and slept on my bed, against my feet.  One evening I was reading in bed when I became aware that Tom was staring at me. I put down my book, said nothing, watched. Slowly, with a look of intense concentration, he got up and advanced on me, like Tarquin with ravishing strides, poised himself, put out a front paw, and stroked my cheek as I used to stroke his chops. A human caress from a cat. I felt very meagre and ill-educated that I could not purr.

It had never occurred to me that their furry love develops from what was shown them as kittens. I expect you are right. The ownerly paw is certainly a nursing cat’s gesture.

You should encourage Tiber to sleep with you. He might come to prefer it to midnight battling with the Wood Cat. Come winter, he certainly will. I am afraid of the Wood Cat’s claws, still more of his teeth.

Were your hailstones blue? We once had such a storm here, with lightning ripping hail from the sky; and the hailstones were hard as marbles, and blue as aquamarines. And there was another storm, after a long drought, when the lightning was green. It was strange to see the bleached fields, the rusty trees, momentarily sluiced with the look of spring.

I have been spared acquaintances who might have explained to me about blue hailstones and green lightning, so I can enjoy them with simple pleasure.

Earth that grew with joyful ease

Hemlock for Socrates–

The longer I live, the more my heart assents to that couplet.

With love,



The editors of the  Oxford Book of Letters explain the above correspondence:

Garnett wrote fantastic novels (Lady into Fox, 1922; A Man in the Zoo, 1924) and a three-volume autobiography. His correspondence with Warner began in 1922 and ended with her death. They had in common, among much else, a passion for cats.

That is one triple-decker understatement.

And besides all that, there’s a bevy of literary devices within, between and surrounding those two letters.

Absolutely divine, eh?



Filed under Books

3 responses to “My Baby She Wrote Me a Letter

  1. Nice! Spoken both as a cat lover and as someone with the collection of letters between Warner and William Maxwell, The Element of Lavishness, sitting right here on my desk. People really could correspond then.

  2. chazzw

    Beautiful stuff, Pat. Thanks.

  3. Kat Warren

    LOVE this.

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