The Genius Guide To Pets

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

In order to truly attain geniusishness, you'll need to let genius seep into every corner of your life, including pet ownership. What, you don't think the right pet will help you become a genius? Chopin would beg to differ.

Like many introverts, Isaac Newton got along better with pets than he did with people. His dog, Diamond, was one of his best friends - although legend has it that Diamond caused Newton to have a nervous breakdown.

Running around one day, Diamond knocked over a candle, causing a fire that destroyed many of Newton's manuscripts and 20 years' worth of calculations. After despairing, "O Diamond! O Diamond! Thou little knowest what mischief than hast done!," Newton sank into a deep depression.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's cocker spaniel, Flush, was the subject of a biography written by no less a literary genius than Virginia Woolf. Flush is probably Woolf's least-admired book, although in 1933 the New York Times called it "a brilliant biographical tour-de-force." (This of a book that devotes pages to the joys of eating pudding.) Remarkably, Flush also starred in another book, as well as a play.

Purportedly, George Eliot spent almost her entire book advance buying her pug, Pug. For that kind of money, you'd think she might have given him, like, a real name. But she clearly fancied her cleverness: A pug named Pug makes an appearance in her novel Adam Bede.

Lexicographer, wit and all-around genius Samuel Johnson loved his cat, Hodge, so much that he would make daily trips to the market to ensure Hodge ate only the freshest oysters.

Johnson's biographer, James Boswell, immortalized Johnson's description of Hodge as "a very fine cat indeed." After Hodge's death, the poet Percival Stockdale - they don't make names like that anymore - wrote "An Elegy on the Death of Dr. Johnson's Favourite Cat."

Legend has it that Frederic Chopin was inspired to write his "Waltz No. 4 in F Major" after hearing his cat walk across his piano. Later, F. Scott Fitzgerald had a cat named Chopin, who is not recorded to have inspired anything.

If you want to be a genius, you'll do well to name your pet after another genius. It worked for Fitzgerald, and also for the first lady of feminism, Gloria Steinem, who owned a cat named Magritte.

It's always nice to have someone in your house who not only loves you but believes in your genius. So take a lesson from Paul Cezanne, who taught his pet parrot to say, "Cezanne is a great painter!"

Adapted from Genius Instruction Manual (HarperCollins), available at leading bookstores. For a daily dose of quirky fun visit and check out mental_floss magazine at your local newsstand.