Like many kids, I marveled at the boyhood adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as I read these classic American novels. I remember being shocked at the brutal nature of the times, the violence, alcoholism and racism that put my comfortable life into sharp perspective. But still, these books sparked a curiosity and wanderlust in me that I’m forever thankful to Mr.Twain for.
Twain’s real name was Samuel Clemens, and his life was just as colorful and chaotic as those of his most famous characters. Born shortly after an appearance of Halley’s Comet, he predicted that he would “go out with it” as well. He prompted died the day after the comet returned. He has been praised as the “greatest humorist this country has produced”, and referred to as “the father of American literature.”
One thing perhaps lesser known about Twain is his enduring love for cats, whom he respected far more than people. “If man could be crossed with the cat,” he once wrote, “it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”
He surrounded himself with up to 19 cats during periods of his life, giving them imaginative names like Apollinaris, Beelzebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Satan, Sin, Sour Mash, Tammany, Zoroaster, Soapy Sal, Pestilence, and Bambino.
His feline affection translated over into Twain’s writing too, and cats make appearances in some of his best-known works, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for example. The story in the book about Peter the cat, who Tom gave a painkiller to, is actually a true story from Twain’s childhood. There was even a book called Concerning Cats: Two Tales by Mark Twain, which came out long after his death in 1910. This book tells two stories about cats which he used to tell his daughters to help them to sleep.
It is said the Twain just couldn’t live without his cats, so while he was on vacation he would ask around to see if he could ‘rent’ someone else’s. Why isn’t cat rental a more common phenomenon in this day and age?
Twain isn’t the only literary giant with a fondness for cats either. His fellow 19th and 20th-century American authors Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot and Patricia Highsmith all shared his passion for all things feline. Maybe there is something about a literary sensibility that combines well with the sharp, but gentle nature of the cat? As a dog owner, it figures.
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