Sixteenth U.S. president Abraham Lincoln spent so many hours playing with his pets that when she was asked if her husband had any hobbies, Mary Todd Lincoln said “cats.” In addition to caring for orphaned kittens, the Lincolns kept a dog, horse, goats, and rabbits. Lincoln even spared the life of a Thanksgiving turkey at his son’s request. On the subject of felines, Lincoln is quoted as saying: “No matter how much the cats fight, there always seem to be plenty of kittens.”
Sir Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton is best known for defining the laws of gravity, but legend has it that he invented the cat flap by cutting a hole in his laboratory door and covering it with a felt flap so that his cat, Spithead, could come and go freely. Later, when Spithead had kittens, Newton made a smaller kitten-sized hole in the door as well, which shows that even a genius can miss the obvious. Unfortunately, like the story of the apple falling on Newton’s head and triggering brilliant insights about the nature of gravity, the story of the cat flap is unverified and remains a subject of debate.
Dr. Albert Schweitzer
Physician, philosopher, musician, theologian, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Albert Schweitzer was an animal lover with a particular fondness for cats. Schweitzer claimed that “Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace” and that “It is man’s sympathy with all creatures that first makes him truly a man.” On the subject of felines, he is noted for saying “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.”
Author and humourist Mark Twain, praised by William Faulkner as “the father of American literature,” once wrote: “Of all God’s creatures, there is only one that cannot be made slave of the lash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man but deteriorate the cat.” Twain had a number of pet cats with fabulous names such as Sour Mash, Zoroaster, Appollinaris, and Blatherskite.
Florence Nightingale, widely hailed as the mother of modern nursing for her contributions to patient care, health policy, hospital design and management, and medical hygiene, believed that cats possessed more feeling and sympathy than people. She kept as many as 17 cats at a time and had a strong interest in improving veterinary care. Nightingale carefully chose what she considered to be high-quality mates for her cats only to discover that they often preferred lowly tomcats from the local mews.
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci, artist, writer, mathematician, engineer, architect, botanist, musician, and inventor, was another animal lover who favoured cats. He once wrote “The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men” and asserted that “The smallest feline is a masterpiece.” Many of da Vinci’s works feature cats, and his painting, Madonna with the Cat, is based upon the legend of a cat born at the same time as Jesus Christ. Da Vinci had a number of pets over his lifetime, including cats, dogs, and horses.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Ernest Hemingway shared his home with an enormous number of cats. Today, approximately 60 cats live at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, descendants of his pets and other local cats from the shipping era that were kept to catch rodents before the use of pesticides. Many of these cats have more than five toes, as they are descendants of a six-toed (polydactyl) cat given to Hemingway by a ship’s captain.
Robert Heinlein, one of the most popular and influential science fiction writers of all time, was an ailurophile to which a number of notable quotes are attributed, including “How you behave toward cats here below determines your status in Heaven” and “If you would know a man, observe how he treats a cat.”
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill owned a number of cats, including Nelson, who accompanied him to wartime cabinet meetings, and Jock, who was so beloved that Churchill’s will requires that a Marmalade cat named Jock must live at his estate at all times. Jock IV is the current cat incumbent.
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- Animal Rights Online. (n.d.). “Quotations: Dr. Albert Schweitzer.” All-Creatures.org.
- Bostridge, Mark. (15 June 2003). “Cultural Capital.” The Independent on Sunday.
- Bright, Melanie. (2008). “Leonardo da Vinci: Leonardo’s Animals.” IdeaMarketers.com.
- Bullock Kagamaster, Allie. (5 November 2008). “Throughout History, Cats Counted.” CatChannel.com.
- Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. (2002). “Our Cats.” HemingwayHome.com.
- National Park Service, U.S. Dept. of the Interior. (2006). “Lincoln Pets.” NPS.gov.
- Oliver, Harry, & Mosedale, Mike. (2008 ). Cat Flaps and Mouse Traps: The Origins of Objects in Our Daily Lives. London, UK: John Blake Publishing.