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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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

~ Notebook, 1895

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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

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“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.

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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

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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

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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, Smithsonian.com

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

~ “An Incident,” Who Is Mark Twain?”

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The Great Cat: Cats in History, Art and Literature

https://www.thegreatcat.org/cats-19th-century-part-13-mark-twains-cats/

 

Mark Twain and His Cats–10 Pictures

https://twentytwowords.com/mark-twain-and-his-cats-10-pictures/

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.

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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.

One Dollar and Eighty-Seven Cents

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing left to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

“Pocket watch” by Isabelle Grosjean ZA (Self-published work by ZA) is licensed under GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0,  or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the look-out for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, the letters of “Dillingham” looked blurred, as though they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard. To-morrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling – something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim….

O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi

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O. Henry Museum

The O. Henry Collection

 

 

Poetry: Huck Finn Praises Emmeline Grangerford’s Tribute to Stephen Dowling Bots

Mark Twain is given official credit for this poem, but it was really composed by Emmeline Grangerford, whose family Huckleberry Finn met on his Adventures down the Mississippi River.

Below, Huck quotes Emmeline’s tribute to Stephen Dowling Bots, who came to a watery end. He also records what happened to Emmeline, whose compulsive rhyming finally led to her sadful demise.
This young girl kept a scrap-book when she was alive, and used to paste obituaries and accidents and cases of patient suffering in it out of the Presbyterian Observer, and write poetry after them out of her own head. It was very good poetry. This is what she wrote about a boy by the name of Stephen Dowling Bots that fell down a well and was drownded:

 
Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec’d.
 
And did young Stephen sicken,
      And did young Stephen die?
And did the sad hearts thicken,
      And did the mourners cry?
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No; such was not the fate of
      Young Stephen Dowling Bots;
Though sad hearts round him thickened,
      ‘Twas not from sickness’ shots.
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No whooping-cough did rack his frame,
      Nor measles drear, with spots;
Not these impaired the sacred name
      Of Stephen Dowling Bots.
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Despised love struck not with woe
      That head of curly knots,
Nor stomach troubles laid him low,
      Young Stephen Dowling Bots.
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O no. Then list with tearful eye,
      Whilst I his fate do tell.
His soul did from this cold world fly,
      By falling down a well.
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They got him out and emptied him;
      Alas it was too late;
His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
      In the realms of the good and great.

 
If Emmeline Grangerford could make poetry like that before she was fourteen, there ain’t no telling what she could a done by-and-by. Buck said she could rattle off poetry like nothing. She didn’t ever have to stop to think. He said she would slap down a line, and if she couldn’t find anything to rhyme with it she would just scratch it out and slap down another one, and go ahead. She warn’t particular, she could write about anything you choose to give her to write about, just so it was sadful. Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand with her “tribute” before he was cold. She called them tributes. The neighbors said it was the doctor first, then Emmeline, then the undertaker- the undertaker never got in ahead of Emmeline but once, and then she hung fire on a rhyme the dead person’s name, which was Whistler. She warn’t ever the same, after that; she never complained, but she kind of pined away and did not live long.

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Note: The stamp is German. Here’s a link to a Russian stamp honoring Mark Twain, if a buyer hasn’t already snapped it up.

Sam Clemens’ Mother

Portrait of Samuel Clemens as a youth holding ...
Portrait of Samuel Clemens as a youth holding a printer’s composing stick with letters SAM. Daguerreotype; sixth plate. Plate mark: Scovill. Inscribed in case well: G.H.[?] Jones Jonco? / Hannibal Mo / 1850 / Nov. 29th. On case pad: Samuel L. Clem-/ens – [illegible] / Taken Dec. 1850 / Age 15. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.

               ~ Mark Twain

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A Pitch-Perfect Paragraph–For Readers Who Know Cows

English: Herefords, The Park, Ashford Carbonel...
English: Herefords, The Park, Ashford Carbonel. The light coloured bull calf (1 month old) belongs to the cow on the right. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) “Herefords, The Park, Ashford Carbonel” by Richard Webb is licensed under [CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
I head into the house for my hat and my cane and the keys to my truck. There’s not a thing wrong with me but a bum knee. Several months ago one of my heifers knocked me down accidentally and it spooked her so bad that she stepped on my leg. This happened in the pasture behind my house, where I keep twenty head of white-faced Herefords. It took me two hours to drag myself back to the house, and those damned cows hovered over me every inch of the way.

~ Terry Shames, A Killing at Cotton Hill

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