Mark Twain’s cats

Figure 1 -  Front page cover of the newspaper L’Aurore of Thursday 13 January 1898, with the letter J’accuse...!, written by Émile Zola about the Dreyfus affair. The headline reads "I accuse! Letter to the President of the Republic," from the Wikimedia Commons and in the public domain.

Figure 1 – Front page cover of the newspaper L’Aurore of Thursday 13 January 1898, with the letter J’accuse…!, written by Émile Zola about the Dreyfus affair. The headline reads “I accuse! Letter to the President of the Republic,” from the Wikimedia Commons and in the public domain.

I went this past Saturday to the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair.  You never know what you are going to see at the Book Fair, which is where the fun comes in.  There are six hundred and fifty years of the printed books; so invariably there are the great tombs of science, the great works of literature, and the everything in between.  Everything in between runs the gamut from, exploration and politics to phrenology.  The whole event serves as a time capsule – an if you think of it as the flotsam and jetsam of human intellectual history, you’re pretty much on the mark.

I do a pass of all the great books and then I return to each stall to explore the ephemera: political and social pamphlets, photographs, and autographs.  One year I was amazed to see Emile Zola’s expose of the Dreyfus Affair, see Figure 1.  But this year it was “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

But more importantly on just about my last pass I found a half-tone copy of the image of Figure 2.  Showing Mark Twain in 1907 with one of his beloved kittens.  Mark twain was a great lover of cats:

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

Twain recognized the fundamental point that the love of a cat was a thing to be sought,  won, and nurtured.

By what right has the dog come to be regarded as a “noble” animal? The more brutal and cruel and unjust you are to him the more your fawning and adoring slave he becomes; whereas, if you shamefully misuse a cat once she will always maintain a dignified reserve toward you afterward–you will never get her full confidence again.

In Figure 2, we see the fundamental human quality of Twain.  Once more photograph transports us across time and he becomes real to us.  We are admitted into his private life.

Figure 2 - Mark Twain with one of his cats, 1907. By Underwood and Underwood, from the NY Times Arcghives and the Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain.

Figure 2 – Mark Twain with one of his cats, 1907. By Underwood and Underwood, from the NY Times Archives and the Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain.

This entry was posted in Essays on Photography.

2 Comments

  1. Marilyn Fuss November 21, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Priceless picture–sending it to many. It’s all the same to Kitty.

  2. David November 21, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    I think that Kitty is a little embarrassed by the white suit and spats.