Although she was only 13 when she wrote a biography of her famous father, Mark Twain’s daughter Susy was as perceptive about the author as any of his subsequent biographers. “The difference between papa and mama,” she wrote, “is that mama loves morals and papa loves cats.”
This worship of cats began in his boyhood in Hannibal, Missouri, and continued until his death in Redding, Connecticut, on April 21, 1910. He was never without cats, even when he traveled. In a pinch, he would rent kittens.
The most famous cat-renting episode occurred in Dublin, New Hampshire, in 1906. 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. “He didn’t wish to own them, for then he would have to leave them behind uncared for,” Paine explained, “so he preferred to rent them and pay sufficiently to ensure their subsequent care.”
Even in the midst of dictation, Twain would stop to tend to his kittens.
“Once, as he was about to enter the screen door that led into the hall, two kittens ran up in front of him and stood waiting,” Paine recalled. “With grave politeness he opened the door, made a low bow, and stepped back and said, ‘Walk in, gentlemen. I always give precedence to royalty.’”
Twain summed up his attitude toward cats when he wrote: “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?”
Excerpt from “Mark Twain Rents a Cat,” Yankee Magazine, April 1990.