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.


Litter-ary Cats: T.S. Eliot

orange and white cat on piano bench

One of the reference photos for a portrait of my long-ago orange boy, Allegro.

I majored in English in college, and when in my junior year I studied Modern Poetry and encountered the following lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

…I thought I was imagining a descriptive that sounded an awful lot like a cat.

But modern poets didn’t write about cats, I knew that for sure.

The professor pointed out, however, that there was a section of cat imagery in this poem along with isolated lines here and there, and noted that T.S. Eliot regularly used feline imagery in his poetry. I remember he seemed reluctant to admit this fact. I was thrilled.

I knew there was a reason I liked this poet’s work from the first word (and still do). And that was even before I knew about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. My professors barely mentioned that one. Imagine a world-renowned, much-respected modern poet writing a book of silly cat poetry.

But write it he did, and it’s one that every cat lover should read. When I found this volume, I knew T.S. Eliot was a complete cat lover.

Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats are rather small;
Jellicle Cats are merry and bright,
And pleasant to hear when they caterwaul.

Now, does that sound like something you’d sing to your kitty when you were sure no one else could hear? And I guess it was moving enough to inspire Andrew Lloyd Webber to write one of history’s most popular  musicals, Cats, which is based on this book. However, even if you have seen the musical I recommend every cat lover read the original book. Webber took liberties with the original story, including the little portion about Jellicle cats I’ve included above which are truly only black and white cats, and that and the entire story make a little more sense when you read it in the original form.

black cat bathing on bed

Don't Look!

I don’t have a recommended volume—mine is incorporated in a huge heavy anthology of Eliot’s works which I treasure, but you can find a link to one of the original volumes of Old Possum in Google books in which the pages are displayed by permission of publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. You don’t get all of the book or even the good parts, but it will give you a taste of what the book is all about and you’ll see the illustrations from that era, really cool and inspiring to me.

Better yet, visit your local public library where you’ll usually find at least one published copy of the book in either children’s or adult’s literature. The illustrations are wonderful in every version. In fact, find more than one!

One of the Fantastic Four, little Jelly Bean, is, in fact, a Jellicle Cat, hence his name, in part; also his nose looks like a shiny black jelly bean. Silly me. But he is very pleasant to hear when he caterwauls.

But Webber and Trevor Nunn didn’t stop with Old Possum. They also used imagery and text from two other of Eliot’s poems for the production’s big hit, “Memory” and no doubt took a lot of inspiration for the story from Eliot’s other poetry. Despite the fact the musical is about cats and much of it can be taken lightly, it’s about cats’ rough and often tragic life on the streets and much of Eliot’s poetry reflects the often rough and tragic lives of humans, with a liberal sprinkling of metaphorical cat hair.

The lyrics and no doubt inspiration for “Memory” come from two of Eliot’s other poems, Preludes and Rhapsody on a Windy NightWith a quick read into each of these poems you’ll find imagery and actual lyrics used in “Memory” as well a few more feline images and references. This article on Yahoo Network describes all the references in the cited poems; this article on Wikipedia offers a little more about the lyricists and melody.

orange cat in sunshine

Allegro

And years after I first found the allusion to the yellow cat in Prufrock (above), when I lost my yellow cat on a soft October night when he was the young age of 10, I remembered this verse and thought how much it reminded me of my Allegro, and still does, years later. I look forward to finally painting his portrait on the piano bench, using the photo at the beginning of this article.

And as I write poetry about my own cats and move to subjects beyond I gratefully return to Eliot and my first introduction to the use of imagery in writing. In much the same way observing my cats taught me about the skills of visual representation, no other subject could have taught me the delicate lesson of dancing around technical description with words and sounds and rhythms to create a vision for my reader than to use something so visually inspiring to me, and which I loved so much, as a cat.

You may not find too many other cats in literature, but finding authors who lived with and were inspired by cats are frequent to the point of common. Mark Twain, author of the famous quote about crossing cats and humans and degrading the cat, had many cats who don’t appear in his fiction but do appear in his essays. Ernest Hemingway kept many cats in his Florida home, famously polydactyl (possessing multiple toes), the descendants of whom still live on the property he occupied in Florida. Read about Twain and Hemingway along with other authors on the Winn Feline Foundation blog in “Famous Cat Loving Authors and Pet Names”.

I’ve also written a “Litter-ary Cat” article about Mark Twain.

______________________________

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used 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.


Litter-ary Cats 2: Mark Twain, Animal Advocate in Fact and Fiction

pencil sketch of cat on windowsill

Namir Pencil Sketch, pencil © 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. I’ll tell you later where to find that one 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.

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


Litter-ary Cats

I majored in English in college, and when in my junior year I studied Modern Poetry and encountered the following lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

…I thought I was imagining a descriptive that sounded an awful lot like a cat.

But modern poets didn’t write about cats, I knew that for sure.

The professor pointed out, however, that there was a section of cat imagery in this poem along with isolated lines here and there, and noted that T.S. Eliot regularly used feline imagery in his poetry. I remember he seemed reluctant to admit this fact. I was thrilled.

I knew there was a reason I liked this poet’s work from the first word. And that was even before I knew about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. My professors barely mentioned that one. Imagine a world-renowned, much-respected modern poet writing a book of silly cat poetry.

But write it he did, and it’s one that every cat lover should read. When I found this volume, I knew T.S. Eliot was a complete cat lover.

Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats are rather small;
Jellicle Cats are merry and bright,
And pleasant to hear when they caterwaul.

Jelly Bean the Jellicle Cat

Jelly Bean the Jellicle Cat

Now, does that sound like something you’d sing to your kitty when you were sure no one else could hear? And I guess it was moving enough to inspire Andrew Lloyd Webber to write one of history’s most popular  musicals, Cats, which is based on this book. It’s one every cat lover should read. I don’t have a recommended volume–mine is incorporated in a huge heavy anthology of Eliot’s works which I treasure, but you can find a link to one of the original volumes of Old Possum in Google books. You don’t get all of the book or even the good parts, but it will give you a taste of what the book is all about and you’ll see the illustrations from that era.

Better yet, visit your local public library where you’ll usually find at least one published copy of the book in either children’s or adult’s literature. The illustrations are wonderful in every version. In fact, find more than one!

One of the Famous Four, little Jelly Bean, is, in fact, a Jellicle Cat, hence his name, in part; also his nose looks like a shiny black jelly bean. Silly me.

And years after I first found the allusion to the yellow cat in Prufrock, when I lost my orange cat on a soft October night when he was the young age of 10, I remembered this verse and thought how much it reminded me of my Allegro, and still does, years later. And as I write poetry about my own cats, I gratefully return to Eliot and my first introduction to the use of imagery in writing; no other subject could have taught me the delicate lesson of dancing around technical description with words and sounds and rhythms to create a vision for my reader than to use something so visually inspiring to me, and which I loved so much, as a cat.
Keep reading…