Litter-ary Cats: Mark Twain, Animal Advocate in Fact and Fiction

sketch of black cat from the back

Giuseppe Ignores Me, charcoal © B.E. Kazmarski.

Of all God’s creatures there is only one that cannot be made the slave of the lash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.

Nearly everyone has heard this quote, though not perhaps in its full context, but it certainly clearly states Twain’s opinion of felines. It doesn’t appear in any published writing, but in his notebooks (Notebook 33, typescript pp. 56–57).

Though Twain clearly likes cats and lived with quite a number—up to 19 at one time—he also wrote fondly of other animals in his novels, short stories, essays and notebooks.  Animals often symbolized or outright bespoke his opinions about current politics, social issues or people in general.

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.

~The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, chap. 16.

While Twain’s animals led him or his fictional characters to conclusions, or he might ponder and consider just what they were thinking as they laid in the sun or grazed on grass or trotted purposefully into town, they rarely ever spoke themselves, talking to humans or each other. Just a few stories allow this, as in A Horse’s Tale, when one horse answers another’s question of whether or not he is educated:

Well, no, I can’t claim it. I can take down bars, I can distinguish oats from shoe-pegs, I can blaspheme a saddle-boil with the college-bred, and I know a few other things—not many; I have had no chance, I have always had to work; besides, I am of low birth and no family…

That horse is as smart as he needs to be, though he’s never had any formal education, and that was Twain’s opinion of education, that it needed to come from life as well as books and that you did as well as you could with what you were given.

And then there is “Letters from a Dog to Another Dog Explaining and Accounting for Man”. You can just imagine what the dogs have to say. You can find it in the book I reference below—read it and others so you can sit and have a good read and a good laugh.

Perhaps it’s partly because America was still largely a rural agricultural society that animals appear all over Twain’s writings, but I’ve read authors from the same times and places and they might mention harnessing the cart horse and nothing else. It’s clear that Twain really loved and respected animals, and in the day when animals were largely kept for their use to humans, first his mother then he and his wife Olivia were advocates for humane treatment of animals.

Twain was writing primarily between 1850 and 1910. The first SPCA in the US was founded in 1866 in New York; American Humane, founded to help both animals and children, was founded in 1877. Clearly animal welfare was in its infancy, yet he was writing directly about how animals should be treated, and also dispensing advice to persons about how to treat animals and incorporating that into his notebooks and letters.

Stories and wood engravings, “Mark Twain’s Book of Animals

While I find anything by Twain to be a good read, to focus on his writings about animals look for a 2010 book entitled Mark Twain’s Book of Animals, a compilation edited by Shelley Fisher Fishkin with expressive wood engravings by Barry Moser that show incredible animal personality. Fishkin compiled all of Twain’s writings about (and by) animals into this one volume including many works, some only a brief paragraph in length, that had never before been published. His writings are divided by decades beginning with 1850 with a full table of contents in front and title and content indices in the back. The 30-plus wood engraving illustrations in the book and on the covers were created for this book, not pulled from other sources, and many are humorous in their own right; I can tell you I’m going to explore wood engravings very soon. I checked my copy out of my local public library, but this may be one I need to own.

Specifically for cat lovers is a children’s book Twain “wrote” that was actually derived from his bedtime stories to his daughters about two cats named Cattaraugus and Catiline who fight often and have different goals for their day, just like the two sisters. A Cat-tale was written down by Twain from the favorites of the stories and also illustrated with line drawing by Twain as well.

Find these two books, and enjoy yourself!

I had seen in several places photos of one group of Twain’s cats, and I found them on a website with quotes from Twain about cats as well as a portrait of him sitting in a chair with a cat tucked in by his hip and some other really wonderful illustrations plus lots of quotes and stories. This is at www.twainquotes.com, and his cat quotes are specifically on www.twainquotes.com/Cats.html.

So now I’ll close with another Twain quote many cat lovers are familiar with:

A home without a cat—and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat—may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?

~The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, chap. 1

You may also be interested…

Literr-ary Cats: T. S. Eliot

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


“Dog Confessions” and “I’d Rather Be a Cat” Winners!

black cat looking at books

Jelly Bean and I had our work cut out for us.

So we have two winners! I did toss the entries in the air and see which one Jelly Bean went for, but five black cats each wanted to choose the winner! Seems the others were a little miffed at the popularity of the little brother. I think we may have some competition for the next book review…

So I put the cat entries in one bag and the dog entries in another and let a neighbor choose.

First, the dogs

image of book dog confessions

Dog Confessions: Shocking Tales Straight from the Doghouse, from author's website.

The winner of Dog Confessions is Ale Oliver!

Now for the cats

cover of i'd rather be a cat

I’d Rather Be a Cat: the Official “Better Than Dogs” Cat Book, from author's website.

The winner of I’d Rather Be a Cat is Lane Hill House!

Thanks to everyone who entered!

If you didn’t win, but you’d still like one of the books…

About Allia and where to find the books

Allia Zobel Nolan is an internationally-published, award-winning author of over 170 children’s and adult trade titles with close to three million books in print and a long career in publishing as well as a fellow member of the Cat Writers’ Association. For more information about Allia, visit her website or her blog. These books and others by Allia are available in print at bookstores and also on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and directly from the publisher.

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Book Review and Giveaway: Cat Truths and Dog Confessions

black cat looking at books

Jelly Bean and I had our work cut out for us.

So which one would you rather be, a cat or a dog?

You’d think we’d rather be the cats we are, but Jelly Bean was very curious about these dog things. We found that indeed we would rather be cats because we are already superior, but that some things dogs do sound pretty fun and…a cat might use an electric toothbrush to clean his tongue.

Author Allia Zobel Nolan has done it again—twice—with a pair of brand new gift books in her usual quick and witty style and colorful, whimsical design: Dog Confessions: Shocking Tales Straight from the Doghouse and I’d Rather Be a Cat: the Official “Better Than Dogs” Cat Book.

images of books

Two new gift books by author Allia Zobel Nolan.

Both pocket-sized books—easily carried for quick reference in discussions of dog and cat habits and virtues—feature delightfully detailed photos of cats and kittens and dogs and puppies in action, often in close-up so you can see the sincerity in their eyes, so we know these words came directly from them to Allia.

sample pages from books

Samples page from 'I'd Rather Be a Cat', from author's website.

And for the pure visual enjoyment of we human readers, each two-page spread is in a rich and bold color scheme to complement the animal depicted, so that turning each page leads to another to pause and enjoy the view as well as what the cats and dogs have to say. As a designer and artist I reveled in the design and visual pleasure of these two books as much as what the cats and dogs had to say.

black cat turning pages in book

Jelly Bean is paws-free while easily turning pages with his nose.

Jelly Bean found the pages very easy to flip through using only his nose, very convenient for our animal friends who don’t have thumbs. If more books were this size, other animals would be able to read much easier.

And while JB might have seemed more interested in looking at the cats and dogs and reading their statements, he is an art cat and paused for extra study on certain pages. He especially liked the clear faces on all the animals as he could read their feelings much easier (though I noticed he paused longer on the pages that included food).

All in all, he found both the size and design to be very pleasing for a cat of his abilities and sensibilities.

image of book dog confessions

Dog Confessions: Shocking Tales Straight from the Doghouse, from author's website.

First, the dogs

Following the similarly-designed and eye-catching Cat Confessions: A Kitty Come Clean Tell All Book, Allia was asked to diligently research and write a similar book about dogs. What was a dyed-in-the-fur cat person to do? After all the “tweets, texts, e-mails and snail mail” from dogs all over the world “begging (which they do so well) me to let them to shake off the guilt of their secret indiscretions”, Allia agreed to let them confess and go on to live new lives as “good dogs”!

Happy to finally confess their sins in public, the 30 dogs in Dog Confessions freely tell of intentional misbehaviors such as knowingly eating things they should not have, trading money for treats and using mommy’s lipstick. But they also confess to sins of vanity, such as Harley Boy who gets a regular mani-pedi to keep in touch with his feminine side, and of Maurice the French spaniel who bleaches his moustache.

But they also confess to not indulging in things we all thought were typical dog behavior! “I’ve never told a soul this, but I don’t chase my tail.” Can you believe that? “I really hate begging…it’s so bourgeois.” No, it’s not entirely what you think, and you might actually find a few confessions that are, well, “cat-like”!

cover of i'd rather be a cat

I’d Rather Be a Cat: the Official “Better Than Dogs” Cat Book, from author's website.

Now for the cats

In Cat Confessions we discovered that even the things cats unapologetically confess to are clever and show superior intelligence and ability. I’d Rather Be a Cat confirms that cats are still unapologetic about anything they choose to do and they really are the quieter, more introspective species and much “purrrr-furrrrrr” it that way.

It’s true that “…when something’s considered unattractive, what do humans call it? You got it—a ‘dog.’ ” Yes, feline abilities are often used as analogies for speed, agility, cunning and dignity while dogs, well, you don’t see many new car models or national sports teams named after dogs. One could argue that the cats in question are usually big cats, not domestic felines, but a cat is a cat, and that’s that, right?

And anyone knows that, “Dogs are known for their annoying trait—barking. Cats are recognized for the sweetest sound on earth—purring.” Really, I’ve never heard that barking can help heal anything, but purring, cats have been proved to purr at a frequency that actually facilitates healing.

Some of the things cats have to say are truly profound as well. “Cats are intuitive thinkers. We weigh our options before we pounce, if, in fact, we pounce at all.”

The consensus: cat or dog?

cat reading book

Perhaps the dog would share if he lived with Jelly Bean?

While we confirmed what we knew, that cats and dogs are clearly different, we also found endearing similarities such as an attraction to human food, and a propensity for simply being endearingly manipulative. And while Jelly Bean agreed with the feline sentiments, he found the dogs very interesting since he’s never met one in the fur and paid close attention to what they had to say, especially the pages where food was mentioned.

About Allia and where to find the books

Allia Zobel Nolan is an internationally-published, award-winning author of over 170 children’s and adult trade titles with close to three million books in print and a long career in publishing as well as a fellow member of the Cat Writers’ Association. For more information about Allia, visit her website or her blog. These books and others by Allia are available in print at bookstores and also on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and directly from the publisher.

Jelly Bean would also like you to know that he is, indeed, a child star in one of Allia’s books, the afore-mentioned Cat Confessions. Read about that in an earlier book review.

black cat with book

The choice is surprisingly difficult.

So what is your vote?

I have a copy of each of these books, only reviewed by myself and Jelly Bean as you see in the photos, that I’d love to give away to one of my readers. Please comment on this post with your vote, “cat” or “dog”, to be entered in the drawing, and feel free to vote for both books! You have from today, March 10 to next Saturday, March 17, to cast your vote.

I’ll write your name on a scrap of paper, toss them all in the air and let them land, and whichever one Jelly Bean sits on is the winner. No, probably I’ll be a little more scientific than that, but the drawing will no doubt involve little scraps of paper and Jelly Bean and even a few other members of my feline household.

I was provided review copies of these two books by the publisher and know the author personally, though Jelly Bean has never met her.

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.