Mark Twain’s Mother: What We Have in Common–They Followed Us Home


Some people scorn a cat and think it not an essential;
but the Clemens tribe are not of these.

~ quoted in “UC’s Bancroft Library celebrating Mark Twain,” San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 2, 2008


That sort of interference in behalf of abused animals was a common thing with her [Twain’s mother] all her life; and her manner must have been without offense and her good intent transparent, for she always carried her point and also won the courtesy and often the friendly applause of the adversary. All the race of dumb animals had a friend in her. By some subtle sign the homeless, hunted, bedraggled and disreputable cat recognized her at a glance as the born refuge and champion of his sort–and followed her home. His instinct was right, he was as welcome as the prodigal son. We had nineteen cats at one time, in 1845. And there wasn’t one in the lot that had any character, not one that had any merit, except the cheap and tawdry merit of being unfortunate. They were a vast burden to us all–including my mother–but they were out of luck and that was enough; they had to stay. However, better these than no pets at all; children must have pets and we were not allowed to have caged ones. An imprisoned creature was out of the question–my mother would not have a rat to be restrained of its liberty.

~ Mark Twain, The Autobiography of Mark Twain


I’ve posted some of these quotations before. For the record, I like dogs, too. But at the moment, I’m sitting under a sleeping cat–and holding the laptop at a most uncomfortable angle–so cats are on my mind. So is Mark Twain. And I might as well get them out of my system.


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?

 ~ Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson


He would call (the cats) to “come up” on the chair, and they would all jump up on the seat. He would tell them to “go to sleep,” and instantly the group were all fast asleep, remaining so until he called “Wide awake!” when in a twinkling up would go their ears and wide open their eyes.

~ Anonymous article titled “The Funniest Writer on Earth. Some Anecdotes about Mark Twain,” The Rambler, Dec. 24, 1898.


A cat is more intelligent than people believe, and can be taught any crime.

~ Notebook, 1895


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


“Other Christians is always worrying about other people’s opinions, but Sour Mash don’t give a damn.”

~ Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2 (2013), p. 216. Dictated 3 September 1906.


That cat will write her autograph all over your leg if you let her.”

from memoirs of Clemens’ secretary Mary Howden which were published in New York Herald, December 13, 1925


I simply can’t resist a cat, particularly a purring one. They are the cleanest, cunningest, and most intelligent things I know, outside of the girl you love, of course.

~ quoted in Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field, Fisher


Twain owned up to 19 cats at one time, writes Livius Drusus for Mental Floss, “all of whom he loved and respected far beyond whatever he may have felt about people. His cats all bore fantastical titles, among them: Apollinaris, Beelzebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Satan, Sin, Sour Mash, Tammany, Zoroaster, Soapy Sal and Pestilence, writes Drusus.

Throughout his life, when Twain travelled he would rent cats to take the place of his left-behind companions. “The most famous cat-renting episode occurred in Dublin, New Hampshire, in 1906,” writes Mack Hitch for New England Today. “Twain biographer Albert Bigelow Paine was there when the author rented three kittens for the summer. One he named Sackcloth. The other two were identical and went under the joint name of Ashes.” Why rent, you ask? He couldn’t travel with the cats, so he’d rent them and then leave behind money to help cover their care during all nine of their lives.

~ “Mark Twain Liked Cats Better Than People: Who Wouldn’t?” Kat Escher,


When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.

~ “An Incident,” Who Is Mark Twain?”


The Great Cat: Cats in History, Art and Literature


Mark Twain and His Cats–10 Pictures

Benjamin Bunny, My Hero

Packing up treasures, I came across Benjamin Bunny hiding in the corner of a china closet. I was surprised, because Benjamin Bunny doesn’t usually hide.

My mother gave me Benjamin for Christmas after she heard me extol his virtues. (I was nearly forty at the time.) Benjamin is brave and bold. While Peter Rabbit is still recovering from the cold he contracted from hiding in a water can in Mr. McGregor’s garden, his cousin Benjamin convinces him they should return to the garden to retrieve Peter’s clothes, which are now worn by Mr. McGregor’s scarecrow.

Peter’s clothes have shrunk because they were out in the rain overnight. Benjamin tries on the scarecrow’s tam-o’-shanter. It’s too big, but he wears it anyway.

Peter is nervous. He keeps hearing things and wants to go home, but Benjamin insists on filling Peter’s pocket handkerchief with onions to take to his Aunt (who doesn’t know they’ve gone back to the garden, of course). Then he eats some lettuce. On the way to the garden gate, they run into a cat lying in the sun.

They hide themselves and the onions under a basket. The cat strolls over and sniffs the basket. Then she jumps upon it and lies down. She stays for five hours.

What happens next I’ll leave to my dear readers to discover for themselves. Suffice it to say things get worse before they get better.

I’ve always loved Peter Rabbit, but there’s a special place in my heart for Benjamin Bunny. He’s a scamp. Knowing full well what happened to Peter in Mr. McGregor’s garden–losing his clothes and almost becoming the main ingredient in a rabbit pie–he convinces Peter to go back. And he risks not only his own neck, but the wrath of his Aunt and his father and his mother and . . .

I admire Benjamin Bunny. He’s what I am not. I don’t have the nerve to visit Mr. McGregor’s garden. Never had it.

And I don’t have the nerve to dress with style. That tam-o’-shanter is just to die for.


Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, complete with the original illustrations, appears at Project Gutenberg.


The backdrop in the photo above is one of several kitty blankets owned by the Davises. It’s not a good backdrop, but it was close at hand, and I didn’t want to search for something better.


A detailed–and interesting–article about copyright as it applies to The Tale of Peter Rabbit and other Beatrix Potter works appears at the LibraryLaw blog. The publisher, Frederick Warne & Co Ltd, has been to court several times arguing that it holds copyright to the books and that the illustrations are trademarked. Decisions have generally gone against Warne–but it’s complicated. I didn’t see a date on the article (although I might have just missed it); the latest comment reads 2009. Since then, the law might have changed.


Every scrap of content on the Internet should display a date in big font where it jumps out at readers. That’s my opinion, and I’m right.

Simone de Beauvoir: “The Subject Is Irritating, Especially for Women”

I hesitated a long time before writing a book on woman. The subject is irritating, especially for women; and it is not new. Enough ink has flowed over the quarrel about feminism; it is now almost over: let’s not talk about it anymore.

Simone de Beauvoir in 1967 by Moshe Milner, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. Via Wikipedia.

Yet it is still being talked about. And the volumes of idiocies churned out over this past century do not seem to have clarified the problem. Besides, is there a problem? And what is it? Are there even women? True, the theory of the eternal feminine still has its followers; they whisper, “Even in Russia, women are still very much women”; but other well-informed people–and also at times those same ones–lament, “Woman is losing herself, woman is lost.” It is hard to know any longer if women still exist if they will always exist, if there should be women at all, what place they hold in this world, what place they should hold. “Where are the women?” asked a short-lived magazine recently. But first, what is a woman? “Tota mulier in utero: she is a womb,” some say. Yet speaking of certain women, the experts proclaim, “They are not women,” even though they have a uterus like the others. Everyone agrees there are females in the human species; today, as in the past, they make up about half of humanity; and yet we are told that “femininity is in jeopardy”; we are urged, “Be women, stay women, become women.” So not every female human being is necessarily a woman; she must take part in this mysterious and endangered reality known as femininity. Is femininity secreted by the ovaries? Is it enshrined in a Platonic heaven? Is a frilly petticoat enough to bring it down to earth? Although some women zealously strive to embody it, the model has never been patented. It is typically described in vague and shimmering terms borrowed from a clairvoyant’s vocabulary. . . .

~ Simone de Beauvoir, Introduction to The Second Sex, 1949



A Blogging Thing: My List of Uncompleted Resolutions

So Magaly Guerrero posts,

“So, my Wicked Luvs, for our first week of doing this blogging thing with each other in 2019, I invite you to include 1 or 3 (even 13) of the New Year’s Resolutions you have made year after year after year… but have never truly completed.”

A couple of years ago I resolved to stop jumping into blogging challenges. But I didn’t resolve anything about blogging things, so here’s my list of never truly completed New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Lose weight. [This isn’t completely uncompleted. I’ve lost a lot of weight since I was thirteen.]
  2. Maintain weight loss. [This isn’t completely uncompleted either. I’ve maintained a lot of weight losses. Some longer than others. The last two nonmaintenances weren’t my fault. In the first instance, I was told I had to gain it back to stay sane. In the second instance, an undiagnosed something fueled the gain, and boy, am I unhappy with the person who considered me a hysterical middle-aged woman who just needed to exercise when I told him I couldn’t walk a mile without becoming exhausted. And unhappy with myself for letting him get away with it for so long.]

Okay. Enough of the self-serving public unburdening. Maybe I’ll resolve to stop that.

Here are my uncompleted resolutions, some more uncompleted than others.

  1. Give up television. [For years, I watched nothing but the British comedies, Law and Order, and Masterpiece Theatre. Then I gave up the latter two. Then a new channel that carried the Jack Benny Show in the mornings appeared, and I started watching that. Somehow other programs crept in, mostly horrible ones from the ’70s. I gave them up but then another new station appeared– this HD-TV thing has much to answer for–and I found the original Law and Order again. Then I gave David a subscription to Netflix, and guess who watched it, and he gave me a subscription to Acorn, and I watched it, and then we got a Roku thingy and I discovered Youtube carries more old shows plus Frederica von Stade singing “Song to the Moon.” And “The Flower Duet.” It’s a slippery slope.]
  2. Clean up this mess. [I’ve done that periodically but have no talent for keeping things straight. The main obstacle is that it gets worse before it gets better, and before it gets better, I find another project. Furthermore, I’ve been told I have no executive function, and is that ever true. But hope springs eternal, so I’m again in the process of tidying–I’m on a break even as I type–but this time the worse won’t stick around, because I’m divesting myself of china and crystal and most of my mother’s lovely things that I don’t use. The majority is already packed. A great-niece and -nephew, bless them, are taking the china. Service for twelve plus serving pieces. When I was a child, we used it every Sunday, and when the Waller family gathered for Thanksgiving or Christmas, almost everything was on the dining room (extra leaved) table. But David and I, preferring dishes that like the dishwasher and don’t break so easily, have let it lie fallow for too long. The sideboard and one of the china closets are going to other members of the family. Bless them. I’m keeping only a few special pieces. Some of this stuff dates from my parents’ marriage in the early ’40s. Some has been around for four or five generations. You just don’t sell or take such treasures to the Salvation Army without replacing them with a load of guilt.]
  3. Learn Spanish. [I learned Spanish for fourteen semester hours in college but had no one to speak with and so ended up with an excellent accent and a few phrases. (¿Qué hora es? ¿Como está usted? Me llamo Kathy. ¿Como se llama?) Early in our relationship, David offered to speak with me–he has a master’s in Spanish and roamed around Mexico with ease when it was safe to roam–but I was afraid with my limited memory of the preterito, not to mention the pluscuamperfecto, we’d never get to know each other. I haven’t given up hope, but the continuing ed. class in beginning español always fall on days I’m already busy.]
  4. Be brief. [I’ve already spent over 600 words on this, and I don’t think that’s the kind of list Magaly has in mind, but if it’s a list of uncompleted resolutions . . .]

Because 2019 is still an infant, I include this year’s resolution:

The cup is already broken.

No pressure. No striving for perfection. No guilt over uncompleteness.

I didn’t post on January 1, so I don’t have to post every day. I ate Wheat Thins I didn’t need and didn’t want. I haven’t finished packing the treasures.

The year is already broken.

Broaden the smile and the picture applies. Perfectly.


The resolutions go 1, 3, 5, 7 because I wanted to double space, and WordPress lists don’t do that.


Images of cup and dragon from licensed under CC0
Cup and measuring tape by ahgomaaz
Dragon by GraphicMama-team

Image of china, Gotham by Haviland, by me.



Mark Twain’s Mother

Her interest in people and other animals was warm, personal, and friendly. She always found something to excuse, and as a rule to love, in the toughest of them–even if she had to put it there herself. She was the natural ally and friend of the friendless. It was believed that, Presbyterian as she was, she could be beguiled into saying a soft word for the devil himself, and so the experiment was tried. The abuse of Satan began; one conspirator after another added his bitter word, his malign reproach, his pitiless censure, till at last, sure enough, the unsuspecting subject of the trick walked into the trap. She admitted that the indictment was sound, that Satan was utterly wicked and abandoned, just as these people had said; but would any claim that he had been treated fairly? A sinner was but a sinner; Satan was just that, like the rest. What saves the rest?–their own efforts alone? No–or none might ever be saved. To their feeble efforts is added the mighty help of pathetic, appealing, imploring prayers that go up daily out of all the churches in Christendom and out of myriads upon myriads of pitying hearts. But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most, our one fellow and brother who most needed a friend yet had not a single one, the one sinner among us all who had the highest and clearest right to every Christian’s daily and nightly prayers, for th pelain and unassailable reason that his was the first and greatest need, he being among sinners the supremest?

This friend of Satan was a most gentle spirit and an unstudied and unconscious pathos was her native speech. When her pity or her indignation was stirred by hurt or shame inflicted upon some defenseless person or creature, she was the most eloquent person I have heard speak. It was seldom eloquence of a fiery or violent sort, but gentle, pitying, persuasive, appealing; and so genuine and so nobly and simply worded and so touchingly uttered, that many times I have seen it win the reluctant and splendid applause of tears.


The Autobiography of Mark Twain, edited by Charles Neider. New York: HarperPerennial, 2013.

The cover displayed above is from the Deluxe Modern Classic (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) Kindle edition, published in 2011.

A Tale of Two Christmases

Christmas Compromise, 2009


Posted on Whiskertips, December 24, 2009, when William and Ernest were still young adults.


If you read my earlier post, our Christmas tree
has been the subject of intense, but not unexpected, conflict.

As soon as the tree lit up, so did William and Ernest.
William had to be physically restrained from chewing on the lights.

The next morning Kathy found the tree lying on its side and the cats out of sight.
The tree spent the day en deshabille, as it were.

After lengthy trilateral negotiations, a compromise was reached.

Ornaments and tree skirt are, of course, out of the question.

Gifts will appear Christmas morning immediately before they’re to be opened.




Christmas Compromise, 2013

After Ernest began eating everything he found interesting–
thread, twine, string, ribbon, “elongated things,” the veterinarian said–
and his health care became repeatedly expensive,
David and Kathy decided Christmas tree needles shouldn’t be allowed in the house.

David bought a small artificial tree complete with lights and set it on a chair.

William supervised setup and checked for stability.


A certain instability was discovered, but William said Ernest was at fault.

Ernest said, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”


Since then, however, nothing untoward has occurred.

William continues to keep watch.

In 2018, gifts still appear Christmas morning immediately before they’re to be opened.



Note: The black thing William is lying on started as my bearfoot slipper
but soon became a soft, squishy thing for William to make biscuits on. 


Another note: I don’t think my cats are cuter
than other people’s children and grandchildren,
but I don’t have children or grandchildren,
so William and Ernest get their pictures broadcast worldwide.


Eugene Field: Jest ‘Fore Christmas

“Jest ‘Fore Christmas” appeared in an anthology of Christmas stories and poems given to me by my Aunt Betty Barrow on my seventh Christmas. I memorized the poem and recited it at my fourth-grade music appreciation class party. The anthology is long gone, but the memory remains.

Father calls me William, sister calls me Will,
Mother calls me Willie, but the fellers call me Bill!
Mighty glad I ain’t a girl—ruther be a boy,
Without them sashes, curls, an’ things that’s worn by Fauntleroy!
Love to chawnk green apples an’ go swimmin’ in the lake—
Hate to take the castor-ile they give for belly-ache!
‘Most all the time the whole year round, there ain’t no flies on me,
But jest ‘fore Christmas, I’m as good as I kin be!

Got yeller dog named Sport, sick him on the cat;
First thing she knows she doesn’t know where she is at!
Got a clipper sled, an’ when us kids goes out to slide,
‘Long comes the grocery cart, an’ we all hook a ride!
But sometimes when the grocery man is worrited an’ cross,
He reaches at us with his whip, an’ larrups up his hoss,
An’ then I laff an’ holler, “Oh, ye never teched ME!”
But jest ‘fore Christmas, I’m as good as I kin be!

Gran’ma says she hopes that when I git to be a man,
I’ll be a missionarer like her oldest brother, Dan,
As was et up by the cannibuls that lives in Ceylon’s Isle,
Where every prospeck pleases, an’ only man is vile!
But gran’ma she has never been to see a Wild West show,
Nor read the Life of Daniel Boone, or else I guess she’d know
That Buff’lo Bill and cowboys is good enough for me!
EXCEP’ jest ‘fore Christmas, when I’m as good as I kin be!

And then old Sport he hangs around, so solemn-like an’ still,
His eyes they keep a-sayin’: “What’s the matter, little Bill?”
The old cat sneaks down off her perch an’ wonders what’s become
Of them two enemies of hern that used to make things hum!
But I am perlite an’ ‘tend so earnestly to biz,
That mother says to father: “How improved our Willie is!”
But father, havin’ been a boy hisself, suspicions me
When, jest ‘fore Christmas, I’m as good as I kin be!

For Christmas, with its lots an’ lots of candies, cakes, an’ toys,
Was made, they say, for proper kids an’ not for naughty boys;
So wash yer face an’ brush yer hair, an’ mind yer p’s an’ q’s,
An’ don’t bust out yer pantaloons, an’ don’t wear out yer shoes;
Say “Yessum” to the ladies, an’ “Yessur” to the men,
An’ when they’s company, don’t pass yer plate for pie again;
But, thinkin’ of the things yer’d like to see upon that tree,
Jest ‘fore Christmas be as good as yer kin be!


Eugene Field’s “Jest ‘Fore Christmas” appears on Project Gutenberg, “a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to “encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.” (Wikipedia) 


Katherine Paterson on Ideas

“The writer of an article about Dr. Seuss reported that at the end of an interview Theodore Geisel congratulated him for not asking the one question that people invariably ask. When the writer asked him what that one question might be, Dr. Seuss replied, “Where do you get your ideas?” “Well, all right,” said the reporter. “Where do you get your ideas?” “I’m glad you asked that,” Dr. Seuss said, and pulled out a printed card. On the card was spelled out the secret that the world pants for. It seems that on the stroke of midnight at the full moon of the summer solstice, Dr. Seuss makes an annual pilgrimage into the desert, where an ancient Native American hermit and wise man has his abode. That old Indian, Dr. Seuss declared, is the source of all of his ideas. But where the old Indian gets his ideas, he has no notion.

“Where do you get your ideas? I suppose the people who ask this question are expecting a rational, one-sentence reply. What they get from me is a rather stupid stare.”

~ Katherine Paterson, “Ideas,” October 1983


Katherine Paterson. The Invisible Child. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2001.


Image via Pixabay.