Mark Twain's Book of Animals

By Mark Twain; Shelley Fisher Fishkin | Go to book overview

AFTERWORD

The Cultural Conversation about Animals

THE ISSUE OF MAN’S treatment of animals acquired greater urgency during the last three decades of the nineteenth century as new books published by Charles Darwin suggested that there might be emotional and intellectual continuities between humankind and the lower animals, in addition to the biological continuities he had put forth in On the Origin of Species. In 1871, Darwin had claimed in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex that “the lower animals are excited by the same emotions as ourselves.”1 He followed that volume with a book devoted completely to the topic, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).

The Descent of Man, which Twain acquired in late 1871, the year it came out, was the first book by Darwin that Twain read.2 That book, Twain wrote, “startled the world.”3 The many pencil marks Twain made in the first four chapters of the Descent of Man are evidence of the care with which he read it. His well-worn copy is in the Mark Twain Papers in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, where I examined it.4 The passages that Twain marked show him to be particularly fascinated by evidence that nonhuman animals manifest behavior decidedly similar to the way humans would behave under similar circumstances.5 For example, one passage that Twain marks in chapter 1 is Darwin’s summary of a section in Alfred Brehm’s Life of Animals (Thierleben) detailing the behavior of baboons with hangovers:

… the natives of northeastern Africa catch the wild baboons by exposing vessels
with strong beer, by which they are made drunk. He has seen some of these ani-
mals, which he kept in confinement, in this state; and he gives a laughable account
of their behavior and strange grimaces. On the following morning they were very
cross and dismal; they held their aching heads with both hands and wore a most
pitiable expression; when beer or wine was offered them, they turned away with
disgust, but relished the juice of lemons. An American monkey, an Ateles, after get-
ting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again, and thus was wiser than many

-257-

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Mark Twain's Book of Animals
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii-a
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part One- 1850s and 1860s 35
  • Part Two- 1870s and 1880s 57
  • Part Three- 1890s-1910 97
  • Afterword 257
  • Note on the Texts 281
  • Notes 291
  • Acknowledgments 315
  • Index 317
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