Mark Twain’s affection for all creatures, whether they had paws or claws, wings or whiskers, was one that he shared with his family – and with his readers. His beloved cats, family dog, horses, donkeys, and calf won the affections of his three daughters at their Hartford home. As a boy in Missouri, he reveled in knowing the creatures of the woods and prairies – and in old age, he felt a deep kinship with the animals large and small that he encountered in his travels.
Inevitably, these critters slithered, hopped, and galloped their way into Twain’s stories, essays, novels, and travel tales. There they were fleshed out as characters and served as vehicles through which Twain commented on society – and, in typical fashion, the joke was on us, the humans.
On March 22, to mark this rich dimension of Twain’s life and literary achievement, The Mark Twain House & Museum opens a new exhibition, Tails of Twain: How Animals Shaped the Man & His Work. A reception at 5:30 p.m. in the museum’s Hal Holbrook Hall will precede the opening of the exhibition in the second-floor gallery at 6:00.
“Twain and his family had a real and deep passion for animals,” says Tracy Brindle, Beatrice Fox Auerbach Chief Curator at The Mark Twain House & Museum. “We are thrilled to present yet another captivating and relatable facet of his life through this exhibition.”
The exhibition is rich with items from the museum’s collections, including the Clemens family’s horse-drawn sleigh, recently partially restored; a copy of a book called The Rubaiyat of a Persian Kitten, “signed” by the family cat; an extraordinary drawing of a dachshund going around a corner, rendered by Twain himself; a cement lion’s head from Twain’s final home in Redding, Connecticut; an Audubon Society pin from the era when daughter Jean was a devoted member; and many other rarely displayed treasures.
Stories and excerpts from letters, journals, and published works bring to life the snakes of Hannibal, the street dogs of San Francisco, the camels of Syria (who ate Twain’s coat, he claims), and the cats of Hartford (with names like Soapy Sal, Pestilence, Famine, Zoroaster, Satan, Sackcloth, and Ashes). There are the ants he studied for hours on the floor of Germany’s Black Forest and the crows he observed minutely from a veranda in India.
Other objects on view outline the new-found passion for pets in the Victorian era and the battle against cruelty to animals: Twain became the most famous American celebrity of his day to speak out against such practices with his famous “pen warmed up in hell.”
Tails of Twain: How Animals Shaped the Man & His Work is sponsored by United Technologies Corporation. It will be on view at The Mark Twain House & Museum through January 21, 2019.