Saturday 5 June 2021

Catasauqua - a fictional female Manx cat invented by Mark Twain in a bedtime story

In his book Letters from the Earth, Mark Twain has a section titled A Cat-Tale. It starts as follows:
"A Cat-Tale: My little girls -- Susy, aged eight, and Clara, six -- often require me to help them go to sleep, nights, by telling them original tales. They think my tales are better than paregoric, and quicker. While I talk, they make comments and ask questions, and we have a pretty good time. I thought maybe other little people might like to try one of my narcotics -- so I offer this one. -- M.T. ONCE there was a noble big cat, whose Christian name was Catasauqua --because she lived in that region -- but she did not have any surname, because she was a short-tailed cat -- being a Manx -- and did not need one. It is very just and becoming in a long-tailed cat to have a surname, but it would be very ostentatious, and even dishonorable, in a Manx. Well, Catasauqua had a beautiful family of catlings; and they were of different colors, to harmonize with their characters. Cattaraugus, the eldest, was white, and he had high impulses and a pure heart; Catiline, the youngest, was black, and he had a self-seeking nature, his motives were nearly always base, he was truculent and insincere. He was vain and foolish, and often said he would rather be what he was, and live like a bandit, yet have none above him, than be a cat-'o-nine-tails and eat with the King. He hated his harmless and unoffending little catercousins, and frequently drove them from his presence with imprecations, and at times even resorted to violence."

Mark Twain and kitten
Mark Twain was an ailurophile - a cat lover par excellence. Photo in public domain.

It is a bedtime story to help get his daughters to sleep. The story provides us with a nice look at his writing style and his love of cats comes through. He really did love cats. He is listed in Dr. Desmond Morris' book Cat World as a cat owner and an American humorist and author. His real name was Samuel Longhorne Clemens (1835-1910). He was devoted to his cats and could not imagine life without them. Perhaps it is fair to describe his relationship with domestic cats as codependent. He also wrote:
"A house without a cat, a well-fed, well-petted, and properly revered cat, may be a perfect house, perhaps, but how can it prove its title?"
He gave his cats exotic names such as Apollinaris, Zoromaster, Blatherskite and Sour Mash. He explained why: "names given them, not in an unfriendly spirit, but merely to practise the children in large and difficult styles of pronunciation, it was a very happy idea-I mean, for the children."

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