National Cat Day with Mark Twain

The reports on Mark Twain’s love of cats are not an exaggeration.

frontispiece_AMTv2_kitten copy
Samuel L. Clemens with kitten. Tuxedo Park, New York, 1907. Courtesy of the Mark Twain Papers, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

He had, count them, at least 32 cats. Though it is worth noting his self-proclaimed genius practice of renting cats:

Many persons would like to have the society of cats during the summer vacation in the country, but they deny themselves this pleasure because they think they must either take the cats along when they return to the city, where they would be a trouble and an incumbrance, or leave them in the country, houseless and homeless. These people have no ingenuity, no invention, no wisdom; or it would occur to them to do as I do: rent cats by the month for the summer, and return them to their good homes at the end of it. Early last May I rented a kitten of a farmer’s wife, by the month; then i got a discount by taking three. They have been good company for about five months now, and are still kittens—at least they have not grown much, and to all intents and purposes are still kittens, and as full of romping energy and enthusiasm as they were in the beginning. This is remarkable. I am an expert in cats, but I have not seen a kitten keep its kittenhood nearly so long before.

(from the Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2)

Perhaps it was really Mark Twain, and not the Taiwanese and Japanese, behind the ‘cat café’ concept?

And, it should come as no surprise that he came up with clever and amusing names for his cats. These included Sackcloth and Ashes, Billiards, Blatherskite, Satan and her kitten, Sin, and Soapy Sall, to name a few.

Sour Mash was a favorite, and Twain wrote the following on her:

I believe I have never seen such intelligent cats as these before. They are full of the nicest discriminations. When I read German aloud they weep; you can see the tears run down. It shows what pathos there is in the German tongue. I had not noticed, before, that all German is pathetic, no matter what the subject is nor how it is treated. It was these humble observers that brought the knowledge to me. I have tried all kinds of German on these cats; romance, poetry, philosophy, theology, market reports; and the result has always been the same—the cats sob, and let the tears run down, which shows that all German is pathetic. French is not a familiar tongue to me, and the pronunciation is difficult, and comes out of me incumbered with a Missouri accent; but the cats like it, and when I make impassioned speeches in that language they sit in a row and put up their paws, palm to palm, and frantically give thanks. Hardly any cats are affected by music, but these are; when I sing they go reverently away, showing how deeply they feel it. Sour Mash never cared for these things. She had many noble and engaging qualities, but at bottom she was not refined, and cared little or nothing for theology and the arts.

(from the Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2)

Twain’s life was filled with cats and all the things that come with them. The Autobiography brims with wonderful stories about them—from cat parades to baskets of kittens in the front hall—and most of all, his deep admiration and affection for them.

Happy National Cat Day! We feel Mark Twain certainly would have been a fan.

Slideshow images are of Samuel L. Clemens and kittens at Stormfield. Redding, Connecticut, 1908. Courtesy of the Mark Twain Papers, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

For further reading, see also: Mark Twain’s Book of Animals