Mark Twain: Writers and Their Cats

Mark Twain and His Kitten, 1907, from the NY Times archive, Wikimedia Commons

Mark Twain was a writer who loved cats. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910) is known best by his pen name, Mark Twain. But by whatever name, he loved cats. He once wrote, “Some people scorn a cat and think it not an essential; but the Clemens tribe are not of these.” There were 11 cats at his farm home in Connecticut and it is said that at one time he had 19 cats.  Like Hemingway, the Clemens cats had interesting, unusual names. Some of them were: Apollinaris, Ashes, Beelzebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Pestilence, Sackcloth, Satan, Sin, Soapy Sal, Sour Mash, Tammany, and Zoroaster.

Twain advertised and posted a reward for a lost cat.

One of his most famous cats was given the name Bambino by his daughter Clara. Samuel Clemens and his beloved wife Oliva Landon Clemens—he called her Livy—knew what it was to grieve. Their son died when he was only a year and a half old. Two daughters died as young adults. But when Livy died, Clemens went into a deep depression. Clara entered a sanatorium to give herself time to recover and taking a cat, Bambino, with her. However, it was against the rules to keep a cat and someone reported her. Clara gave Bambino to her father.

Bambino was a great comfort to Clemens as he grieved. But one day Bambino disappeared. Clemens was so distressed that he took out an advertisement in the New York American using his pen name, Mark Twain. “Have you seen a distinguished-looking black cat that looks as if it might be lost? If you have, take it to Mark Twain, for it may be his” (Kat Eschner, Smithsonian, 2017).

He offered a $5 reward for her return (around $150 in today’s money). He described Bambino as “Large and intensely black; thick, velvety fur; has a faint fringe of white hair across his chest; not easy to find in ordinary light.” Thankfully, Bambino returned on his own. In the meantime, people turned up at the Clemens residence with cats matching the description. 

Twain loved cats too much to be without them.

Mark Twain with a cat playing billiards
Mark Twain and Cat Billiards, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Mark Twain, humorist and author, was in great demand as a speaker. Clemens toured the U.S. and Europe. He and the family spent several years living in Europe. But he was never without a cat. His cats could not go on tour with him, but when he was going to be in one place for a period of time, he rented kittens. He wrote:

Many persons would like to have the society of cats during the summer vacation in the country, but they deny themselves this pleasure because they think they must either take the cats along when they return to the city, where they would be a trouble and an incumbrance, or leave them in the country, houseless and homeless. These people have no ingenuity, no invention, no wisdom; or it would occur to them to do as I do: rent cats by the month for the summer, and return them to their good homes at the end of it (from The Autobiography of Mark Twain, volume 2).

One summer when he was on vacation in New Hampshire, he rented three kittens. He named one Sackcloth and the other two he named Ashes because they looked alike. Not only did he return his rented cats to the home from which they were rented, Clemens always left money for their continued care (Mark Hitch, New England Today, 2020).

Mark Twain respected others who loved cats.

Mark Twain carries a cat on his shoulder
Mark Twain With Kitten, source unknown, possibly at his Connectiut farm, 1908 and taken by his secretary Isabel Lyon.

Mark Twain was a writer who loved cats and respected others who loved them. He found it difficult to believe that there were people who didn’t share his enthusiasm.

Once, when he was about to enter a screen door with a visitor, two kittens ran ahead and waited. He politely opened the door, bowed, and said, “Walk in, gentlemen. I always give precedence to royalty.” He seemed to like cats more than he liked some people. He wrote, “When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.”

His most famous books are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). He is considered one of the greatest American writers.

Resources: The Autobiography of Mark Twain, volume 2, University of California Press.

11 Fascinating Facts About Mark Twain, Mental Floss.

Mark Twain House and Museum

“Mark Twain Liked Cats Better Than People,” Smithsonian Magazine, 2017.

Mark Twain Rents a Cat,” Yankee Magazine, April 1990.

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