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Directory of Mark Twain's maxims, quotations, and various opinions:



When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.
- "An Incident," Who Is Mark Twain?

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A man’s treatment of a dog is no indication of the man’s nature, but his treatment of a cat is. It is the crucial test. None but the humane treat a cat well.
- "Winter-end Excursion to the Sutherd" (1902)

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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?
- Pudd'nhead Wilson

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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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You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does -- but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you'll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it's the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain't so; it's the sickening grammar they use.
- A Tramp Abroad

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Of all God's creatures there is only one that cannot be made the slave of the lash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.
- Notebook, 1894

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, Henry W. Fisher (1922)


Limited edition print titled "Mark Twain and Friend" from the Centennial Collection of portrait artist Susan B. Durkee

Perfect independence of character is found in not one of God's creatures except the cat. One man in ten millions creates it in himself, and it makes him as conspicuous as the Milky Way; but no cat is born without it.
- unused aphorism for "Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar," (published in Pudd'nhead Wilson, 2024 Works edition)
[NOTE: Nathaniel Hawthorne penned a passage about "perfect independence of character" in swine in 1841 -- published in Complete Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Volume 9 (1883).]

A cat is more intelligent than people believe, and can be taught any crime.
- Notebook, 1895

One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.
- "Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar"

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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.
- Letter to Mable Larkin Patterson, 2 October 1908

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Pool cats

I urged that kings were dangerous. He said, then have cats. He was sure that a royal family of cats would answer every purpose. They would be as useful as any other royal family, they would know as much, they would have the same virtues and the same treacheries, the same disposition to get up shindies with other royal cats, they would be laughably vain and absurd and never know it, they would be wholly inexpensive, finally, they would have as sound a divine right as any other royal house. ... The worship of royalty being founded in unreason, these graceful and harmless cats would easily become as sacred as any other royalties, and indeed more so, because it would presently be noticed that they hanged nobody, beheaded nobody, imprisoned nobody, inflicted no cruelties or injustices of any sort, and so must be worthy of a deeper love and reverence than the customary human king, and would certainly get it.
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

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...the person that had took a bull by the tail once had learnt sixty or seventy times as much as a person that hadn't, and said a person that started in to carry a cat home by the tail was getting knowledge that was always going to be useful to him, and warn't ever going to grow dim or doubtful.
-Tom Sawyer Abroad

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.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

Cats - Fast asleep
Mark Twain's cats "Fast Asleep"
photo by Elmira photographer
Elisha M. VanAken, 1887

Cats - Wide Awake
Mark Twain's cats "Wide Awake"
photo by Elmira photographer
Elisha M. VanAken, 1887

[Photos from the Dave Thomson collection]

"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.

Hartford, Conn. April 2, 1890


DEAR SIR: -- There is nothing of continental or inter-national interest to communicate about those cats.

They had no history; they did not distinguish themselves in any way.

They died early--on account of being overweighted with their names, it was thought. SOUR MASH, APPOLLINARIS, ZOROASTER, and BLATHERSKITE, -- names given them not in an unfriendly spirit, but merely to practice the children in large and difficult styles of pronunciation.

It was a very happy idea. I mean, for the children.


Above letter from an undated magazine story was found in photographer VanAken's personal scrapbook. It was reprinted in the Mark Twain Society Bulletin, Jan. 1989

Porcelain cat
It is a porcelain cat, from a work by a great French sculptor, and is perhaps the only hand-made cat in existence that is perfect in form, attitude, and carries in its face and eyes the right and true charm and spirituality of its race. This is the most satisfactory work-room cat I have ever had, because it does not fuss with the manuscripts nor try to help do the writing.
- "Mark Twain's Pictures," Ladies Home Journal, 20 Nov. 1903, p. 1.


I had a great admiration for Sour Mash, and a great affection for her, too. She was one of the institutions of Quarry Farm for a good many years. She had an abundance of that noble quality which all cats possess, and which neither man nor any other animal possesses in any considerable degree -- independence. Also she was affectionate, she was loyal, she was plucky, she was enterprising, she was just to her friends and unjust to her enemies -- and she was righteously entitled to the high compliment which so often fell from the lips of John T. Lewis -- reluctantly, and as by compulsion, but all the more precious for that:

"Other Christians is always worrying about other people's opinions, but Sour Mash don't give a damn."

Indeed she was just that independent of criticism, and I think it was her supreme grace. In her industries she was remarkable. She was always busy. If she wasn't exterminating grasshoppers she was exterminating snakes -- for no snake had any terrors for her. When she wasn't catching mice she was catching birds. She was untiring in her energies. Every waking moment was precious to her; in it she would find something useful to do -- and if she ran out of material and couldn't find anything else to do she would have kittens. She always kept us supplied, and her families were of choice quality. She herself was a three-colored tortoise-shell, but she had no prejudices of breed, creed, or caste. She furnished us all kinds, all colors, with that impartiality which was so fine a part of her make. She allowed no dogs on the premises except those that belonged there. Visitors who brought their dogs along always had an opportunity to regret it. She hadn't two plans for receiving a dog guest, but only one. She didn't wait for the formality of an introduction to any dog, but promptly jumped on his back and rode him all over the farm. By my help she would send out cards, next day, and invite that dog to a garden party, but she never got an acceptance. The dog that had enjoyed her hospitalities once was willing to stand pat.
- Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2 (2013), p. 216. Dictated 3 September 1906.


The cat sat down. Still looking at us in that disconcerting way, she tilted her head first to one side and then the other, inquiringly and cogitatively, the way a cat does when she has struck the unexpected and can't quite make out what she had better do about it. Next she washed one side of her face, making such an awkward and unscientific job of it that almost anybody would have seen that she was either out of practice or didn't know how. She stopped with the one side, and looked bored, and as if she had only been doing it to put in the time, and wished she could think of something else to do to put in some more time. She sat a while, blinking drowsily, then she hit an idea, and looked as if she wondered she hadn't thought of it earlier. She got up and went visiting around among the furniture and belongings, sniffing at each and every article, and elaborately examining it. If it was a chair, she examined it all around, then jumped up in it and sniffed all over its seat and its back; if it was any other thing she could examine all around, she examined it all around; if it was a chest and there was room for her between it and the wall, she crowded herself in behind there and gave it a thorough overhauling; if it was a tall thing, like a washstand, she would stand on her hind toes and stretch up as high as she could, and reach across and paw at the toilet things and try to rake them to where she could smell them; if it was the cupboard, she stood on her toes and reached up and pawed the knob; if it was the table she would squat, and measure the distance, and make a leap, and land in the wrong place, owing to newness to the business; and, part of her going too far and sliding over the edge, she would scramble, and claw at things desperately, and save herself and make good; then she would smell everything on the table, and archly and daintily paw everything around that was movable, and finally paw something off, and skip cheerfully down and paw it some more, throwing herself into the prettiest attitudes, rising on her hind feet and curving her front paws and flirting her head this way and that and glancing down cunningly at the object, then pouncing on it and spatting it half the length of the room, and chasing it up and spatting it again, and again, and racing after it and fetching it another smack -- and so on and so on; and suddenly she would tire of it and try to find some way to get to the top of the cupboard or the wardrobe, and if she couldn't she would look troubled and disappointed; and toward the last, when you could see she was getting her bearings well lodged in her head and was satisfied with the place and the arrangements, she relaxed her intensities, and got to purring a little to herself, and praisefully waving her tail between inspections -- and at last she was done -- done, and everything satisfactory and to her taste.

Being fond of cats, and acquainted with their ways, if I had been a stranger and a person had told me that this cat had spent half an hour in that room before, but hadn't happened to think to examine it until now, I should have been able to say with conviction, "Keep an eye on her, that's no orthodox cat, she's an imitation, there's a flaw in her make-up, you'll find she's born out of wedlock or some other arrested-development accident has happened, she's no true Christian cat, if I know the signs."
- No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger


That's the way with a cat, you know -- any cat; they don't give a damn for discipline. And they can't help it, they're made so. But it ain't really insubordination, when you come to look at it right and fair -- it's a word that don't apply to a cat. A cat ain't ever anybody's slave or serf or servant, and can't be -- it ain't in him to be. And so, he don't have to obey anybody. He is the only creature in heaven or earth or anywhere that don't have to obey somebody or other, including the angels. It sets him above the whole ruck, it puts him in a class by himself. He is independent. You understand the size of it? He is the only independent person there is. In heaven or anywhere else. There's always somebody a king has to obey -- a trollop, or a priest, or a ring, or a nation, or a deity or what not -- but it ain't so with a cat. A cat ain't servant nor slave to anybody at all. He's got all the independence there is, in Heaven or anywhere else, there ain't any left over for anybody else. He's your friend, if you like, but that's the limit -- equal terms, too, be you king or be you cobbler; you can't play any I'm-better-than-you on a cat -- no, sir! Yes, he's your friend, if you like, but you got to treat him like a gentleman, there ain't any other terms. The minute you don't, he pulls freight.
- "The Refuge of the Derelicts"


Kitten in hand

"That cat will write her autograph all over your leg if you let her."
- from memoirs of Clemens's secretary Mary Howden published in
New York Herald, December 13, 1925


Royal Crown Cola ad from the 1940s featuring Mark Twain's story about his cat in the corner-pocket.


Also see: Bambino
and "A Talk with Mark Twain's Cat" at this site.

Cat Lovers cover
Recommended reading from Mark Twain for Cat Lovers

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