Cat’s aloof character appealed to Twain

Cat's aloof character appealed to Twain by Bob Karolevitz Last week I wrote a column about Samuel Langhorne Clemens (better known as Mark Twain), but I forgot to mention that he was a cat-lover.

That, of course, should be enough reason for Phyllis to be a Twain fan � his humor be danged!

When Twain's daughter, Susy, was 13, she wrote: " The difference between pappa and mamma is that mamma loves morals and pappa loves cats."

One writer said that his worship of cats began in his boyhood years in Hannibal, MO; but it was most noticable in the twilight of his life when his wife, Olivia (he called her Livy) died in 1904. He then had six more years of idyllic living during which cats were particularly evident.

His biographer and good friend (Albert Bigelow Paine) told of the summer of 1906 when Twain actually rented three cats to keep him company in Dublin, NH. One was named Sackcloth and the other two shared the joint name of Ashes.

"He didn't wish to own them for he knew [eventually] he would have to leave them behind uncared for," Paine wrote, "so he preferred to rent them and pay sufficiently to insure their subsequent care."

You get some idea of Twain's fondness for felines and his tender-heartedness toward cats � when Paine described another personal incident. On that occasion, the humorist allowed two kittens to go through a door ahead of him. Making a perfunctory bow, he said, "Walk in, gentlemen. I always give precedence to royalty."

However, it was in his final house in Redding, CT, that the animals were always "purring on the hearth," Paine penned in the three-volume story of Twain's life. In that handsome manor � which he renamed Stormfield after a turbulent lightning and thunder display � Sinbad, Danbury, Billiard, and Tammany were ever present.

Even in his favorite game of pool, when the cats decided to hop up on the table to play with the balls, their presence was condoned by the curmudgeonly writer, who was not always that kind to his human guests.

"There were never too many cats at Stormfield," the biographer wrote. "The cats really owned Stormfield" � although Mark Twain continued to make repairs on the furnishings, mangled because of their mischief.

In its edition of May, 1909, Harper's Monthly Magazine related how Twain was often indifferent to the comings and goings of other members of the household, but let Danbury show up and he was greeted with due deference, petted and given a treat.

The publication also told how the oft cranky humorist was known to rise from the dinner table and carry choice tidbits of food out on the terrace to Tammany.

The aloofness and sagacity of the animals appealed to Twain, who once wrote:

"We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that was in it � and stop there, lest we be like the cat that sits on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again?but also she will not sit down on a cold one either."

Needless to say, as the result of this column, Mark Twain � and I � have made points with Phyllis, the cat-fancier. I've even seen her paging through my copy of Huckleberry Finn.

© Robert F. Karolevitz

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