Cats in the 19th Century (Part 13-Mark Twain’s Cats)

The cranky cynical American writer Mark Twain (1835-1910), kept the company of up to 19 cats at a time.  Mark Twain’s cats had such names as  Sour Mash, Appollinaris, Zoraster, Blatherkite, and Beelzebub, and he preferred their company to that of humankind.  There are quite a few quotations attributed to Twain regarding cats as well as a few photos of him with his feline companions.  One photo appearing in a magazine shows him playing billiards accompanied by a kitten who sits on the table and tries to stop the balls as they approach the corner pocket.

Mark Twain with Kitten on the Billiard Table

Mark Twain with Kitten on the Billiard Table


Mark Twains cats kitten in magazine article

Twain writes in a letter, “ If I can find a photograph of my ‘Tammany’ and her kittens, I will enclose it in this.  One of them likes to be crammed into a corner-pocket of the billiard table—which he fits as snugly as does a finger in a glove and then he watches the game (and obstructs it) by the hour, and spoils many a shot by putting out his paw and changing the direction of a passing ball.”  

Mark Twain and Kitten Playing Billiards

Mark Twain and Kitten Playing Billiards


A well known incident proving Twain’s true love of cats occurred when Bambino, who had been a gift from his daughter Clara, disappeared.  Twain put a “Lost Cat” ad in the New York American offering a $5 reward for the cat’s return with this description:

                                    Mark Twain Has Lost a Black Cat.
From the New York American.

Have you seen a distinguished looking cat that looks as if it might be lost? If you have take it to Mark Twain, for it may be his. The following advertisement was received at the American office Saturday night:

A CAT’S LOST – FIVE DOLLARS REWARD for his restoration to Mark Twain, No. 21 Fifth Avenue. Large and intensely black; thick, velvety fur; has a faint fringe of white hair across his chest; not easy to find in ordinary light.
– reprint in Kansas City Star, April 5, 1905


Katy Leary, who worked for Twain, recounts the incident in her book, A Lifetime with Mark Twain.

“One night  he got kind of gay, when he heard some cats calling from the back fence, so he found a window open and he stole out. We looked high and low but couldn’t find him. Mr. Clemens felt so bad that he advertised in all the papers for him. He offered a reward for anybody that would bring the cat back. My goodness! The people that came bringing cats to that house! A perfect stream! They all wanted to see Mr. Clemens, of course.

Two or three nights after, Katherine heard a cat meowing across the street in General Sickles’ back yard, and there was Bambino — large as life! So she brought him right home. Mr. Clemens was delighted and then he advertised that his cat was found! But the people kept coming just the same with all kinds of cats for him — anything to get a glimpse of Mr. Clemens!”


Bambino Mark Twain's cats



His daughter Clara writes of Bambino in My Father, Mark Twain:

“In the early autumn Father rented a house on Fifth Avenue, corner of Ninth Street, number 21, where he, Jean, the faithful Katie, and the secretary settled down for the winter. I was taken to a sanatorium for a year. During the first months of my cure I was completely cut off from friends and family, with no one to speak to but the doctor and nurse. I must modify this statement, however, for I had smuggled a black kitten into my bedroom, although it was against the rules of the sanatorium to have any animals in the place. I called the cat Bambino and it was permitted to remain with me until the unfortunate day when it entered one of the patient’s rooms who hated cats. Bambino came near giving the good lady a cataleptic fit, so I was invited to dispose of my pet after that. I made a present of it to Father, knowing he would love it, and he did. A little later I was allowed to receive a limited number of letters, and Father wrote that Bambino was homesick for me and refused all meat and milk, but contradicted his statement a couple of days later saying: “It has been discovered that the reason your cat declines milk and meat and lets on to live by miraculous intervention is, that he catches mice privately.”

Mark Twain's Cats in a Chair

Mark Twain’s Cats in a Chair


Mark Twain Sitting with a Kitten cats and writers


Mark Twain and Kitten vintage cat photos


Mark Twain and Kitten cats and writers


Want to know more about the cat in history, art and literature? Then this is the book for you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.


Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats





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