The following book review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by Martin



_Mark Twain's Book of Animals_. Edited with Introduction, Afterword, & Notes
by Shelley Fisher Fishkin. Illustrations by Barry Moser. University of
California Press, 2010. Pp. 340. 7X10". Hardcover. $27.50. ISBN

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Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Martin Zehr
Kansas City, Missouri

Copyright (c) 2009 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

One might assume, a century after his death, that most, if not all, of the
critical influences in Mark Twain's life and career had been addressed and
dealt with, in great detail and multiple volumes, by generations of scholars
who have focused their energies on the study of his writings. One would,
however, be mistaken. _Mark Twain's Book of Animals_ is Exhibit A for the
proposition that many important aspects of this iconic life and career
remain relatively untouched. It is no exaggeration to assert that any reader
of this work will conclude that he or she has, indeed, been missing, or, at
best, underestimating the importance of other members of the animal kingdom
in Twain's thought and writing, throughout his life. Every important aspect
of Twain's writing, stylistic and thematic, is reflected in the sixty-five
bits, sketches and excerpts assembled by Shelley Fisher Fishkin, including
those that are readily familiar to readers of Twain, some which are obscure,
and previously unpublished pieces garnered from a variety of sources. In her
Introduction, she summarizes the scope of these writings when she states "We
read texts that are playful and texts that are dark, texts that are
appealing and texts that are repulsive. We get glimpses of Twain as a child
and as a parent, artist, thinker, and activist. Twain's writings on animals,
in short, are as complex and variegated as the author himself" (p. 1).

The writings in this volume cover a period of more than fifty years in
Twain's life, and are arranged in roughly chronological order in three
sections, the first including pieces prior to 1870, the second the 1870s and
'80s, and the final section covering the last two decades of his life. There
is an Introduction and Afterword in which Fishkin provides extensive
historical context for the included pieces, as well as tracing, from the
writings and Twain's biography, his interest in and concern for the animals
he writes about, and the particular uses to which he puts these writings,
e.g., in service of his often jaundiced views of _homo sapiens_, who, he
opines, in "Man's Place in the Animal World," partly tongue-in-cheek,
descended from the "Higher Animals." (Twain was an early adherent of
Darwin's ideas regarding evolution.) Of particular interest is a section in
the Afterword in which Twain's participation in the animal welfare movement
and anti-vivisection activity is illustrated, largely through cited sections
of his letters and a recounting of the "Brown Dog Affair," which may have
been the inspiration for "A Dog's Tale."  This history is complemented by
two of the included selections ("Cruelty to Animals I & II") which provide
evidence, from Twain's early journalistic career, of his concern for
ill-treated animals and his admiration for the work and mission of the
newly-founded Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York.
The "Note on the Texts" section provides the literary pedigree of each of
the included pieces, some of them unpublished until now, and, in conjunction
with the Notes section, provides sufficient contextual and reference
information to satisfy the curiosity of the most devoted Twain scholar-cat.
And, while Fishkin is the ringleader in this project, she makes it clear in
her Acknowledgments that the task of shepherding this book through to its
completion could not have been accomplished absent a gaggle of supporting
characters and academic resources.

Twain's literary menagerie, as represented in this volume, includes many
familiar characters, as such illustrating his penchant for
anthropomorphizing the "lower" animals. His "cayote" from _Roughing It_, the
acknowledged model for Chuck Jones's Wile E. Coyote, is "so spiritless and
cowardly that even while his exposed teeth are pretending a threat, the rest
of his face is apologizing for it." Likewise, Twain's bluejay from _A Tramp
Abroad_ "is human; he has got all a man's faculties and a man's weakness. He
likes especially scandal; he knows when he is an ass as well as you do."
Twain is careful to note the limits of these comparisons, however, relying
on the St. Bernard named Newfoundland Smith in "Letters from a Dog to
Another Dog Explaining and Accounting for Man" to catalog characteristics
and behaviors that are the exclusive domain of Man. He identifies these as
malice, envy, ambition, "lust of vengeance," cruelty, murder, immodesty and
slavery. In the course of the included selections, the reader is introduced
to a "president" beetle, a jumping frog (of course),  a deceitful turkey,
"presumptuous" ravens, an "idiotic" ant, "loafing" pigs, a "laughing"
jackass, Tom Sawyer's pinch-bug, an "independent-minded" magpie, a "pious"
chameleon, and the "phenomenal" flea, to name only a few of the
personalities in Twain's personal zoology. Twain's acute observations of and
affections for most of the animals in these pieces is obvious, as is his
penchant for utilizing his critters as not-so-oblique foils and commentary
on members of the human herd. Even in those instances in which he is less
fond of a particular species, moreover, there is not a trace of an attitude
amounting to enmity. The best example of the latter in this collection is
"The Supremacy of the House Fly," in which the futile efforts of the Clemens
family to banish this creature from their household are documented in
hilarious detail. Even here, however, Twain admits that "But for my deep
prejudices, I should have admired those daring creatures."

"A Cat Tale" is the least surprising sketch included in this collection;
even casual readers of Twain are aware of his particular lifelong admiration
of and affinity toward the feline species, traced, by Twain's account, to
his mother's ready adoption of the neighborhood strays in his Hannibal
childhood. Twain's partiality to cats is demonstrated in this comically
instructional story, as told to daughters Susie and Clara, and the
"catechism" of catologisms (cat neologisms) with which he responds to his
daughters' impertinent questions, hilarious and vaguely reminiscent of the
experiments in language employed by Lewis Carroll in his stories for
Gertrude, aka Alice. The whimsical nature of the sketch is consistent with
the man whose household was populated by cats with names like Soapy Sall,
Blatherskite, Sour Mash and Pestilence, but Twain's genuine respect for this
member of the animal kingdom is illustrated by the tongue-in-cheek
formulation of a republic with a hereditary royal family of cats in "A
Prescription for Universal Piece" from _A Connecticut Yankee in King
Arthur's Court_. Twain's love of cats has been previously addressed by
scholars in a few short articles over the years and, perhaps coincidentally,
was the subject of a paper titled "Mark Twain and His Cats," presented at
the recent International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies in
Elmira, New York.

The empathic thread which runs through Twain's life and writing is well
documented in this book, beginning with the reference in the Introduction to
Twain's recollection, from his _Autobiography_, of his mother's
intercession, on a St. Louis street, on behalf of an abused horse. We also
read Twain's account of the genesis of his repugnance for the idea of
hunting as sport, in Huck's words, from _Tom Sawyer Abroad_--"I hain't never
murdered no creature since, that warn't doing me no harm, and I ain't going
to," in conjunction with Twain's own account of shooting a bird during his
childhood--"I had destroyed it wantonly, and I felt all that an assassin
feels, of grief and remorse when his deed comes home to him..." No one is
spared Twain's contempt for the idea of hunting as sport, as illustrated by
"The President Hunts a Cow." Samuel Clemens, famously known for his
predisposition to openly assume guilt for his behavior, whether deserved or
not, harnessed these feelings in service of his public advocacy for humane
treatment of animals, amply illustrated in the final section, which includes
his "Letter to the London Anti-Vivisection Society" and "A Dog's Tale." The
ferocity of Twain's opposition to vivisection, regardless of its capacity to
"produce results that are profitable to the human race," is, in his words,
"so strong and so deeply rooted in my make and constitution that I am sure I
could not even see a vivisector vivisected with anything more than a
qualified satisfaction." In "A Dog's Tale," Twain approaches his subject
indirectly, through the first-person (sic) narration which begins, "My
father was a St. Bernard, my mother was a collie, but I am a Presbyterian."
The casual humor is a device employed by its author which leads us,
gradually but inexorably, to witness the horror of cruelty inflicted in the
cause of scientific experimentation by its unapologetic perpetrators. As
Fishkin notes, the beginning and the first-person approach, through
unschooled narrators, in commentary on particular societal horrors, are
characteristics shared with _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_.

For the sake of accuracy, it should be noted that the topic of Mark Twain
and animals has been previously addressed in books by at least two other
scholars. Janet Smith examined the topic in _Mark Twain on Man and Beast_
(1972) which included a wide selection of Twain's writings on the animal
world. Smith's work,a serious effort, does not provide the comprehensive
focus on the subject as well as historical background material that Fishkin
brings forth. Maxwell Geismar edited _The Higher Animals: A Mark Twain
Bestiary_ (1976) which was illustrated by Jean-Claude Suares. Geismar's
book, with its whimsical drawings, lacks the extensive notes and the
contextual material, as well as any discussion or reference to Twain's
involvement with animal treatment issues. It should also be noted that one
of the pieces in Fishkin's collection titled "Assassin" is listed as "Not
previously printed" although it has appeared in at least two previous books.
It is included in a collection from the University of California Press
"Jumping Frogs" series titled _Mark Twain's Helpful Hints for Good Living: A
Handbook for the Damned Human Race_" (University of California Press, 2004).
It also appeared in _Mark Twain: Family Man_ by Caroline Harnsberger
(Citadel Press, 1960). Harnsberger's version, taken from the original
manuscript titled "A Family Sketch," is a longer excerpt.

_Mark Twain's Book of Animals_ is the third installment from the University
of California Press "Jumping Frogs" series. The production values, as any
reader of Twain-related California Press publications has come to expect
over the last four decades, are very high. However, prior California
editions of Twain's sketches and unpublished works often include brief
prefatory remarks for each piece, including information regarding dates of
the original writing, and, having been so conditioned, it is at times a
minor annoyance to flip to the Notes section following the text prior to
reading a particular sketch. The emphasis here, however, is on "minor," and
the editorial decision to present each piece absent these potential
prefatory interruptions is likely designed to appeal to the general reader,
not to the pedantic Twainiac.

The illustrations in this book warrant particular mention, the twenty-nine
woodcut engravings by Barry Moser underscoring both the serious and playful
aspects of Twain's writing, with no trace of gratuitous exaggeration. His
depiction of "The Dogs of Constantinople" from _The Innocents Abroad_
conveys the visual message of Twain's own words-- "In their faces is a
settled expression of melancholy, an air of hopeless despondency." The image
accompanying "The Retired Milk Horse" from _Roughing It_ gives every
evidence of the devil-may-care animal oblivious to the humiliation of its
owner, Clemens himself, from its conditioned habit of stopping at every
house along its pre-retirement route. Moser's work has graced many editions
of literary classics, including _Moby Dick_ and _Alice's Adventures in
Wonderland_, and has appeared in two prior Twain editions, including a rare
issue of _1601_ and a centennial edition of _Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn_, with depictions of Huck and Jim which are more true to the text than
Kemble's 1885 originals. Two of Twain's own graphic efforts are also
included, in "A Cat-Tale." Conspicuous by their absence, however, are any of
the numerous photos available in which the strength of Twain's connection is
captured on film, e.g., the white-suited and like-maned Twain gently
cradling a kitten which graces the cover of the August 24, 1907 issue of
_Harper's Weekly_, an image which conveys Twain's humaneness as eloquently
as his writing. The omission is, perhaps, a minor point, but warrants a

_Mark Twain's Book of Animals_ is proof, if it were needed, that the death
of Mark Twain is, indeed, "exaggerated." The cumulative impact of this
collection is the realization that Twain's empathies toward members of the
animal kingdom, of which he considered himself to be a flawed member,
informed the pathos, empathy and humor which pervades all of his writing.
Indeed, an unstated, but implicit premise of this book is the conclusion
that Twain's attitudes regarding racism, imperialism, human foibles and
empathy for the "lower animals" are all of one piece. The potential impact
of this work is illustrated by its particular effect on its intrepid
editor/creator who, in the course of its making, by her report, was
transformed from her status as _homo sapiens omnivorian_ to _homo sapiens
pescetarian_ The average reader may not have such a strong reaction to these
pieces, but will undoubtedly come to the conclusion that he or she has been
shown another heretofore-hidden facet of the diamond-in-the-rough character
of America's best-known celebrity. _Mark Twain's Book of Animals_ is a work
that can easily be enjoyed by the casual reader of Twain and certainly
qualifies as an essential volume for the devoted Twain scholar. In
retrospect, this book animatedly begs the question, "What took so long?"