Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Republic of Cats

Mark Twain’s last major work, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, first appeared in 1889. Twain was no friend of monarchy, once calling it “… surely the grotesquest of all the swindles ever invented by man.” In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court Twain’s hatred of aristocratic privilege is played out through assailing the ideals associated with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It is this mockery of the British monarchy that is at the heart of the story.

The protagonist of the story, Hank Morgan is no doubt a ferocious champion of Twain’s own anti-monarchical leanings and calls for the creation of a republic through a rounded and complete governmental revolution without bloodshed.

Hank discusses this idea with his friend Clarence, who describes his idea of a republic without privileged orders but with a hereditary royal family at the head of it instead of an elective chief magistrate. When Hank urges that kings are dangerous, Clarence replies, “then have cats”.

He was sure that a royal family of cats would answer every purpose. They would be as useful as any other royal family, they would know as much, they would have the same virtues and the same treacheries, the same disposition to get up shindies with other royal cats, they would be laughably vain and absurd and never know it, they would be wholly inexpensive; finally, they would have as sound a divine right as any other royal house, and ‘Tom VII, or Tom XI, or Tom XIV by the Grace of God King’, would sound as well as it would when applied to the ordinary royal tomcat with tights on. “And as a rule,” said he, in his neat modern English, “the character of these cats would be considerably above the character of the average king, and this would be an immense moral advantage to the nation, for the reason that a nation always models its morals after its monarch’s. The worship of royalty being founded in unreason, these graceful and harmless cats would easily become as sacred as any other royalties, and indeed more so, because it would presently be noticed that they hanged nobody, beheaded nobody, imprisoned nobody, inflicted no cruelties or injustices of any sort, and so must be worthy of a deeper love and reverence than the customary human king, and would certainly get it. The eyes of the whole harried world would soon be fixed upon this humane and gentle system, and royal butchers would presently begin to disappear; their subjects would fill the vacancies with catlings from our own royal house; we would become a factory; we should supply the thrones of the world; within forty years all Europe would be governed by cats, and we shold furnish the cats. The reign of universal peace would begin then, to end no more forever … Me-e-e-yow-ow-ow-ow-fzt-wow!”