Mark Twain Quotes

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See also: Mark Twain Quotations

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer. He was lauded as the “greatest humorist this country has produced”, and William Faulkner called him “the father of American literature”. His novels include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), the latter often called “The Great American Novel”.

Mark Twain Quotes

Mark Twain

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. – Mark Twain

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect). – Mark Twain

The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. – Mark Twain

A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. – Mark Twain

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great. – Mark Twain

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. – Mark Twain

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. – Mark Twain

Who would find out that I am a natural fool if I kept always cool and never let nature come to the surface? Nobody. – Mark Twain

Ah, well, I am a great and sublime fool. But then I am God’s fool, and all His works must be contemplated with respect. – Mark Twain

my mind changes often … People who have no mind can easily be steadfast and firm, but when a man is loaded down to the guards with it, as I am, every heavy sea of foreboding or inclination, maybe of indolence, shifts the cargo. – Mark Twain

I would rather have my ignorance than another man’s knowledge, because I have got so much more of it. – Mark Twain

My interest in my work dies a sudden and violent death when the work is done. – Mark Twain

People who always feel jolly, no matter where they are or what happens to them—who have the organ of hope preposterously developed—who are endowed with an uncongealable sanguine temperament—who never feel concerned about the price of corn—and who cannot, by any possibility, discover any but the bright side of a picture—are very apt to go to extremes, and exaggerate with 40-horse microscopic power. – Mark Twain

I am as prompt as a clock, if I only know the day a thing is wanted—otherwise I am a natural procrastinaturalist. – Mark Twain

Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising. – Mark Twain

Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself. – Mark Twain

It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either. – Mark Twain

The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane. – Mark Twain

Principles have no real force except when one is well fed. – Mark Twain

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. – Mark Twain

Mark Twain Quote

Mark Twain Quote

To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence. – Mark Twain

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear – Mark Twain

The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. – Mark Twain

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. – Mark Twain

Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please. – Mark Twain

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. – Mark Twain

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. – Mark Twain

You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. – Mark Twain

The lack of money is the root of all evil. – Mark Twain

Mark Twain Quotes

Mark Twain Quotes

A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation. – Mark Twain

Better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt. – Mark Twain

Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well. – Mark Twain

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. – Mark Twain

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. – Mark Twain

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read. – Mark Twain

Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first. – Mark Twain

A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. – Mark Twain

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great. – Mark Twain

Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life. – Mark Twain

Golf is a good walk spoiled. – Mark Twain

Mark Twain Quotes

Mark Twain Quotes

The holy passion of friendship is so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring in nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money. – Mark Twain

Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it is the voice of God. – Mark Twain

When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained. – Mark Twain

Put all your eggs in one basket — and watch that basket! – Mark Twain

The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven. – Mark Twain

Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand. – Mark Twain

The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice. – Mark Twain

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. – Mark Twain

After a few months’ acquaintance with European “coffee,” one’s mind weakens, and his faith with it, and he begins to wonder if the rich beverage of home, with its clotted layer of yellow cream on top of it, is not a mere dream after all, and a thing which never existed. – Mark Twain

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. – Mark Twain

Grief can take care of itself; but to get the full value of a joy you must have someone to divide it with. – Mark Twain

The lack of money is the root of all evil. – Mark Twain

Mark Twain Quotes

Mark Twain Quotes

It is better to have old second-hand diamonds than none at all. – Mark Twain

Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live. – Mark Twain

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society. – Mark Twain

There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress. – Mark Twain

When angry, count four; when very angry, swear. – Mark Twain

I have been studying the traits and dispositions of the “lower animals” (so called) and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of man. I find the result humiliating to me. – Mark Twain

What’s the use you learning to do right, when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same? – Mark Twain

All kings is mostly rapscallions. – Mark Twain

“Classic.” A book which people praise and don’t read. – Mark Twain

To string incongruities and absurdities together in a wandering and sometimes purposeless way, and seem innocently unaware that they are absurdities, is the basis of the American art, if my position is correct. – Mark Twain

The common eye sees only the outside of things, and judges by that, but the seeing eye pierces through and reads the heart and the soul, finding there capacities which the outside didn’t indicate or promise, and which the other kind couldn’t detect. – Mark Twain

In order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to obtain. – Mark Twain

Whoever has lived long enough to find out what life is, knows how deep a debt of gratitude we owe to Adam, the first great benefactor of our race. He brought death into the world. – Mark Twain

Mark Twain Quotes

Mark Twain Quotes

Do not put off till tomorrow what can be put off till day-after-tomorrow just as well. – Mark Twain

Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. – Mark Twain

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear. – Mark Twain

Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person. – Mark Twain

Government is merely a servant – merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. – Mark Twain

The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out the conservative adopts them. – Mark Twain

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. – Mark Twain

It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse races. – Mark Twain

Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing the matter with this, except that it ain’t so. – Mark Twain

The elastic heart of youth cannot be compressed into one constrained shape long at a time. – Mark Twain

The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it. – Mark Twain

Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education. – Mark Twain

Familiarity breeds contempt — and children. – Mark Twain

When a humorist ventures upon the grave concerns of life he must do his job better than another man or he works harm to his cause. – Mark Twain

What a man wants with religion in these breadless times, surpasses my comprehension. – Mark Twain

I always did hate for anyone to know what my plans or hopes or prospects were—for, if I kept people in ignorance in these matters, no one could be disappointed but myself, if they were not realized. – Mark Twain

Men are easily dealt with—but when you get the women started, you are in for it, you know. – Mark Twain

We chase phantoms half the days of our lives. It is well if we learn wisdom even then, and save the other half. – Mark Twain

Mark Twain Quotes

Mark Twain Quotes

From Wiki Quotes

  • I haven’t a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices whatsoever.
    • “Answers to Correspondents”, The Californian, 17 June 1865. Anthologized in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches (1867)
  • I’ll risk forty dollars that he can outjump any frog in Calaveras county.
    • “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”; first published as “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” in the New York Saturday Press, 18 November 1865; revised by the author and reprinted the following month in The Californian; first anthologized in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches (1867), ed. John Paul
  • I don’t see no p’ints about that frog that’s any better’n any other frog.
    • “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” (1865)
  • He was ignorant of the commonest accomplishments of youth. He could not even lie.
    • “Brief Biographical Sketch of George Washington”, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches (1867), ed. John Paul
    • Cited by: William E. Phipps, Mark Twain’s Religion, Mercer University Press, 2003, p. 18
      Richard Locke, Critical Children: The Use of Childhood in Ten Great Novels, Columbia University Press, p. 12
  • I have seen Chinamen abused and maltreated in all the mean, cowardly ways possible to the invention of a degraded nature, but I never saw a policeman interfere in the matter and I never saw a Chinaman righted in a court of justice for wrongs thus done him.
    • “The Treaty With China”, article in The New York Tribune, 1868-08-04. Quoted in Mark Twain’s Letters, volume ii, p. 239
  • Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run.
    • “The Facts Concerning the Recent Resignation”, described by the author as written about 1867, first published in Mark Twain’s Sketches, New and Old‎ (1875)
  • Tomorrow night I appear for the first time before a Boston audience — 4000 critics.
    • Letter to Pamela Clemens Moffet, 9 November 1869, in Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain’s Letters: Arranged with Comment (1917), Vol. 1, p. 168
  • He is now fast rising from affluence to poverty.
    • “Rev. Henry Ward Beecher’s Farm” (1869), anthologized in Mark Twain’s Sketches (1872)
  • Barring that natural expression of villainy which we all have, the man looked honest enough.
    • “A Mysterious Visit”, Buffalo Express, 19 March 1870. Anthologized in Mark Twain’s Sketches, New and Old‎ (1875)
  • Formerly, if you killed a man, it was possible that you were insane—but now, if you, having friends and money, kill a man, it is evidence that you are a lunatic.
    • “A New Crime”, first published as “The New Crime” in the Buffalo Express, 16 April 1870. Anthologized in Mark Twain’s Sketches, New and Old‎ (1875).
  • Is not this insanity plea becoming rather common? Is it not so common that the reader confidently expects to see it offered in every criminal case that comes before the courts? […] Really, what we want now, is not laws against crime, but a law against insanity.
    • “A New Crime” (1870)
  • It [the press] has scoffed at religion till it has made scoffing popular. It has defended official criminals, on party pretexts, until it has created a United States Senate whose members are incapable of determining what crime against law and the dignity of their own body is—they are so morally blind—and it has made light of dishonesty till we have as a result a Congress which contracts to work for a certain sum and then deliberately steals additional wages out of the public pocket and is pained and surprised that anybody should worry about a little thing like that.
    • “License of the Press”, an address before the Monday Evening Club, Hartford (1873)
  • Benjamin Franklin did a great many notable things for his country, and made her young name to be honored in many lands as the mother of such a son. It is not the idea of this memoir to ignore that or cover it up. No; the simple idea of it is to snub those pretentious maxims of his, which he worked up with a great show of originality out of truisms that had become wearisome platitudes as early as the dispersion from Babel.
    • “The Late Benjamin Franklin”, The Galaxy, Vol. 10, No. 1, July 1870[1]. Anthologized in Mark Twain’s Sketches, New and Old‎ (1875)
  • This poor little one-horse town.
    • “The Undertaker’s Chat”, first published as “A Reminiscence of the Back Settlements” in The Galaxy, Vol. 10, No. 5, November 1870[2]. Anthologized in Mark Twain’s Sketches, New and Old‎ (1875)
  • “It has become a sarcastic proverb that a thing must be true if you saw it in a newspaper. That is the opinion intelligent people have of that lying vehicle in a nutshell. But the trouble is that the stupid people–who constitute the grand overwhelming majority of this and all other nations–do believe and are moulded and convinced by what they get out of a newspaper, and there is where the harm lies.”… “That awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoemaking and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse.”
    • – Mark Twain “License of the Press” speech, 1873
  • A baby is an inestimable blessing and bother.
    • Letter to Annie Moffett Webster (1 September 1876)
  • The funniest things are the forbidden.
    • “Notebook 18 (February–September 1879)” in Mark Twain’s Notebooks & Journals, Vol. 2 (1975), ed. Frederick Anderson, ISBN 0520025423, p. 304
  • We haven’t all had the good fortune to be ladies; we haven’t all been generals, or poets, or statesmen; but when the toast works down to the babies, we stand on common ground.
    • Answering a toast, “To the Babies,” at a banquet in honor of General U.S. Grant (November 14, 1879).
    • The Writings of Mark Twain, Vol. 20 (1899), ed. Charles Dudley Warner, p. 397
  • Among the three or four million cradles now rocking in the land are some which this nation would preserve for ages as sacred things, if we could know which ones they are.
    • “To the Babies” (14 November 1879)
  • That is a simple rule, and easy to remember. When I, a thoughtful and unblessed Presbyterian, examine the Koran, I know that beyond any question every Mohammedan is insane; not in all things, but in religious matters. When a thoughtful and unblessed Mohammedan examines the Westminster Catechism, he knows that beyond any question I am spiritually insane.
    • Twain, Mark – Christian Science: Book I. Chapter V
  • Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
    • Draft manuscript (c.1881), quoted by Albert Bigelow Paine in Mark Twain: A Biography (1912), p. 724
  • Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any.
    • “Advice to Youth”, speech to The Saturday Morning Club, Boston, 15 April 1882. Mark Twain Speaking (1976), ed. Paul Fatout, p. 169
  • When the doctrine of allegiance to party can utterly up-end a man’s moral constitution and make a temporary fool of him besides, what excuse are you going to offer for preaching it, teaching it, extending it, perpetuating it? Shall you say, the best good of the country demands allegiance to party? Shall you also say it demands that a man kick his truth and his conscience into the gutter, and become a mouthing lunatic, besides?
    • “Consistency”, paper read at the Hartford Monday Evening Club on 5 December 1887. The Complete Essays of Mark Twain, p. 582 (First published in the 1923 edition of Mark Twain’s Speeches, ed. Albert Bigelow Paine, pp. 120-130, where it is incorrectly dated “following the Blaine-Cleveland campaign, 1884.” (See Mark Twain’s Notebooks & Journals (1979), ed. Frederick Anderson, Vol. 3, p. 41, footnote 92) Many reprints repeat Paine’s dating.)
  • Loyalty to petrified opinions never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world — and never will.
    • “Consistency” (5 December 1887). This quote is engraved on Twain’s bust in the National Hall of Fame
  • He [George Washington Cable] has taught me to abhor and detest the Sabbath day and hunt up new and troublesome ways to dishonor it.
    • Letter to William Dean Howells, 27 February 1885, in Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain’s letters: Arranged with Comment (1917), Vol. 2, p. 450
  • An experienced, industrious, ambitious, and often quite picturesque liar.
    • “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed”, The Century, Vol. 31, No. 2, December 1885[3]. Anthologized in The American Claimant, and Other Stories and Sketches (1898)
  • It does look as if Massachusetts were in a fair way to embarrass me with kindnesses this year. In the first place, a Massachusetts judge has just decided in open court that a Boston publisher may sell, not only his own property in a free and unfettered way, but also may as freely sell property which does not belong to him but to me; property which he has not bought and which I have not sold. Under this ruling I am now advertising that judge’s homestead for sale, and, if I make as good a sum out of it as I expect, I shall go on and sell out the rest of his property.
    • Letter of acceptance of membership to Concord Free Trade Club (March 28, 1885): Mark Twain, his life and work: a biographical sketch (1892), William Montgomery Clemens, Clemens Pub. Co.
  • As I slowly grow wise I briskly grow cautious.
    • “English as She Is Taught”, The Century, Vol. 33, No. 6, April 1887[4]. A slightly abridged version was reprinted as Introduction to Caroline B. Le Row, English as She Is Taught: Genuine Answers to Some Examination Questions Asked in Our Public Schools (1901)
  • A circle is a round straight line with a hole in the middle.
    • Quoting a schoolchild in “English as She Is Taught”
  • All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then Success is sure.
    • Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1887
    • Letter to Cordelia Welsh Foote (Cincinnati), 2 December 1887. Letter reprinted in Benjamin De Casseres’s When Huck Finn Went Highbrow (1934)
  • The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.
    • Letter to George Bainton, 15 October 1888, solicited for and printed in George Bainton, The Art of Authorship: Literary Reminiscences, Methods of Work, and Advice to Young Beginners (1890), pp. 87–88.
    • Twain repeated the lightning bug/lightning comparison in several contexts, and credited Josh Billings for the idea:
      • Josh Billings defined the difference between humor and wit as that between the lightning bug and the lightning.
        • Speech at the 145th annual dinner of St. Andrew’s Society, New York, 30 November 1901, Mark Twain Speaking (1976), ed. Paul Fatout, p. 424
      • Billings’ original wording was characteristically affected:
        • Don’t mistake vivacity for wit, thare iz about az mutch difference az thare iz between lightning and a lightning bug.
          • Josh Billings’ Old Farmer’s Allminax, “January 1871”. Also in Everybody’s Friend, or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor (1874), p. 304
  • Weather is a literary specialty, and no untrained hand can turn out a good article on it.
    • The American Claimant, foreword (1892)
  • I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.
    • American Claimant (1892)
  • If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.
    • Notebook entry, January or February 1894, Mark Twain’s Notebook, ed. Albert Bigelow Paine (1935), p. 240
  • James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness; the report of my death was an exaggeration.
    • From a note Twain wrote in London on May 31, 1897 to reporter Frank Marshall White: Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Lighting Out For the Territory : Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture (Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 134. (The original note is the Papers of Mark Twain, Accession #6314, etc., Clifton Waller Barrett Library, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Va., in Box 1.)
      • White subsequently reported this in “Mark Twain Amused,” New York Journal, 2 June 1897. White also recounts the incident in “Mark Twain as a Newspaper Reporter,” The Outlook, Vol. 96, 24 December 1910
    • Variant: I said – ‘Say the report is greatly exaggerated’.
      • “Chapters from My Autobiography”, The North American Review, 21 September 1906, p. 160. Mark Twain
    • Misquote: The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.
      • Note: This paraphrase or misquote may be more popular than the original.
  • A round man cannot be expected to fit in a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape.
    • More Tramps Abroad (1897)
  • [Citing a familiar “American joke”:] In Boston they ask, How much does he know? In New York, How much is he worth? In Philadelphia, Who were his parents?
    • “What Paul Bourget Thinks of Us?”, in How to Tell a Story and Other Essays (1897)
  • Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments flit away and a sunny spirit takes their place.
    • “What Paul Bourget Thinks of Us?” (1897)
  • Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.
    • As quoted in “An Interview with Mark Twain”, From Sea to Sea: Letters of Travel (1899) by Rudyard Kipling, Ch. 37, p. 180
    • Commonly paraphrased as: “First get your facts, then you can distort them at your leisure.”
  • I believe I am not interested to know whether Vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn’t. To know that the results are profitable to the race would not remove my hostility to it. The pains which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity towards it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further. It is so distinctly a matter of feeling with me, and is 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 sort of qualified satisfaction.
    • Letter to Sidney G. Trist, Editor of the Animals’ Friend Magazine, in his capacity as Secretary of the London Anti-Vivisection Society (26 May 1899), in Mark Twain’s Notebooks, ed. Carlo De Vito (Black Dog & Leventhal, 2015)
  • I was sorry to have my name mentioned as one of the great authors, because they have a sad habit of dying off. Chaucer is dead, Spencer is dead, so is Milton, so is Shakespeare, and I’m not feeling so well myself.
    • Speech to the Savage Club, 9 June 1899, in Mark Twain’s Speeches (1910), ed. William Dean Howells, pp. 277–278. (Possibly fabricated from a paraphrase in Aaron Watson, The Savage Club: a Medley of History, Anecdote, and Reminiscence (1907), pp. 126–129)
  • He had only one vanity; he thought he could give advice better than any other person.
    • “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg”, ch. I, in The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Essays (1900)
  • There is nothing in the world like a persuasive speech to fuddle the mental apparatus and upset the convictions and debauch the emotions of an audience not practised in the tricks and delusions of oratory.
    • “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg”, ch. III, in The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Essays (1900)
  • I wanted to damage every man in the place, and every woman–and not in their bodies or in their estate, but in their vanity–the place where feeble and foolish people are most vulnerable. So I disguised myself and came back and studied you. You were easy game. You had an old and lofty reputation for honesty, and naturally you were proud of it — it was your treasure of treasures, the very apple of your eye. As soon as I found out that you carefully and vigilantly kept yourselves and your children out of temptation, I knew how to proceed. Why, you simple creatures, the weakest of all weak things is a virtue which has not been tested in the fire.
    • “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg”, ch. III, in The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Essays (1900)
  • It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people [the Filipinos] free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.
    • New York Herald, October 15, 1900, quoted in A Pen Warmed Up In Hell:Mark Twain in Protest, edited by Frederick Anderson, Harper & Row, 1979
  • Definition of a classic — something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.
    • Quoting or paraphrasing a Professor Winchester in “Disappearance of Literature”, speech at the Nineteenth Century Club, New York, 20 November 1900, in Mark Twain’s Speeches (1910), ed. William Dean Howells, p. 194
  • We believe that out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.
    • Address at a meeting of the Berkeley Lyceum, New York, November 23, 1900. Quoted in Mark Twain’s Speeches (1910), ed. William Dean Howells, p. 146 (The speech is titled “Public Education Association” in that book, but also referred to elsewhere as his “I am a Boxer” speech.)
  • The silent colossal National Lie that is the support and confederate of all the tyrannies and shams and inequalities and unfairnesses that afflict the peoples — that is the one to throw bricks and sermons at.
    • “My First Lie, and How I Got Out of It”, in The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Essays (1900)
  • Your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, Money, Persuasion, Supplication, Persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug,—push it a little—crowd it a little—weaken it a little, century by century: but only Laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand.
    • “The Chronicle of Young Satan” (ca. 1897–1900, unfinished), published posthumously in Mark Twain’s Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts (1969), ed. William Merriam Gibson (pp. 165–166 in the 2005 paperback printing, ISBN 0520246950)
  • Whose property is my body? Probably mine. I so regard it. If I experiment with it, who must be answerable? I, not the State. If I choose injudiciously, does the State die? Oh no.
    • “Osteopathy” (1901), in Mark Twain’s Speeches, p. 253
  • …[H]eaven for climate, Hell for society.
    • Speech to the Acorn Society (1901)
    • also given as: “Heaven for climate, Hell for companionship.” (unsourced)
  • Honesty is the best policy — when there is money in it.
    • Speech to Eastman College (1901)
  • Now what I contend is that my body is my own, at least I have always so regarded it. If I do harm through my experimenting with it, it is I who suffer, not the state.
    • Address to the New York General Assembly (1901)
  • The Blessings-of-Civilization Trust, wisely and cautiously administered, is a Daisy. There is more money in it, more territory, more sovereignty, and other kinds of emolument, than there is in any other game that is played. But Christendom has been playing it badly of late years, and must certainly suffer by it, in my opinion. She has been so eager to get every stake that appeared on the green cloth, that the People who Sit in Darkness have noticed it — they have noticed it, and have begun to show alarm. They have become suspicious of the Blessings of Civilization.
    • To the Person Sitting in Darkness (1901)
  • Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.
    • To the Young People’s Society, Greenpoint Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn (16 February 1901)
  • To create man was a fine and original idea; but to add the sheep was a tautology.
    • St. Louis Post-Dispatch (30 May 1902); also in Mark Twain : A Life, p. 611
  • Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that “plagiarism” farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul — let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances — is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men — but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington’s battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite — that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.
    • Letter to Helen Keller, after she had been accused of plagiarism for one of her early stories (17 March 1903), published in Mark Twain’s Letters, Vol. 1 (1917) edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, p. 731
  • Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is, I dunno. If the Eiffel Tower were now representing the world’s age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man’s share of that age; and anybody would perceive that the skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would, I dunno.
    • Was the World Made for Man? (1903): also p. 106, What is man?: and other philosophical writings, Volume 19 of Works, 1993, Mark Twain, Paul Baender, University of California Press
  • To put it in rude, plain, unpalatable words — true patriotism, real patriotism: loyalty not to a Family and a Fiction, but a loyalty to the Nation itself!
    …”Remember this, take this to heart, live by it, die for it if necessary: that our patriotism is medieval, outworn, obsolete; that the modern patriotism, the true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation ALL the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it.” [Czar Nicholas II]

    • (1905)
    • Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays, 1891-1910 (1992) ed. Louis J. Budd
  • He is a stranger to me, but he is a most remarkable man — and I am the other one. Between us, we cover all knowledge; he knows all that can be known, and I know the rest.
    • Statement (1906) in Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men and Events (1940) edited by Bernard DeVoto
  • The only reason why God created man is because he was disappointed with the monkey.
    • Autobiographical Dictation (1906)
  • A powerful agent is the right word. Whenever we come upon one of those intensely right words in a book or a newspaper the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt.
    • Essay on William Dean Howells (1906)
  • Customs do not concern themselves with right or wrong or reason. But they have to be obeyed; one reasons all around them until he is tired, but he must not transgress them, it is sternly forbidden.
    • The Gorky Incident (1906)
  • Laws are sand, customs are rock. Laws can be evaded and punishment escaped, but an openly transgressed custom brings sure punishment.
    • The Gorky Incident (1906)
  • “In God We Trust.” Now then, after that legend had remained there forty years or so, unchallenged and doing no harm to anybody, the President suddenly “threw a fit” the other day, as the popular expression goes, and ordered that remark to be removed from our coinage.
    Mr. Carnegie granted that the matter was not of consequence, that a coin had just exactly the same value without the legend as with it, and he said he had no fault to find with Mr. Roosevelt’s action but only with his expressed reasons for the act. The President had ordered the suppression of that motto because a coin carried the name of God into improper places, and this was a profanation of the Holy Name. Carnegie said the name of God is used to being carried into improper places everywhere and all the time, and that he thought the President’s reasoning rather weak and poor.
    I thought the same, and said, “But that is just like the President. If you will notice, he is very much in the habit of furnishing a poor reason for his acts while there is an excellent reason staring him in the face, which he overlooks. There was a good reason for removing that motto; there was, indeed, an unassailably good reason — in the fact that the motto stated a lie. If this nation has ever trusted in God, that time has gone by; for nearly half a century almost its entire trust has been in the Republican party and the dollar–mainly the dollar. I recognize that I am only making an assertion and furnishing no proof; I am sorry, but this is a habit of mine; sorry also that I am not alone in it; everybody seems to have this disease.
    Take an instance: the removal of the motto fetched out a clamor from the pulpit; little groups and small conventions of clergymen gathered themselves together all over the country, and one of these little groups, consisting of twenty-two ministers, put up a prodigious assertion unbacked by any quoted statistics and passed it unanimously in the form of a resolution: the assertion, to wit, that this is a Christian country. Why, Carnegie, so is hell. Those clergymen know that, inasmuch as “Strait is the way and narrow is the gate, and few — few — are they that enter in thereat” has had the natural effect of making hell the only really prominent Christian community in any of the worlds; but we don’t brag of this and certainly it is not proper to brag and boast that America is a Christian country when we all know that certainly five-sixths of our population could not enter in at the narrow gate.

    • Statements (c. December 1907), in Mark Twain In Eruption : Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men And Events (1940) edited by Bernard Augustine De Voto
  • I have been complimented many times and they always embarrass me; I always feel that they have not said enough.
    • Speech (23 September 1907)
  • Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.
    • Letter to an Unidentified Person (1908)
  • When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself.
    • Is Shakespeare Dead? (1909), §11, as reprinted in Essays and Sketches of Mark Twain (1995), ed. Stuart Miller, ISBN 1566198798
  • Adam’s temperament was the first command the Deity ever issued to a human being on this planet. And it was the only command Adam would never be able to disobey. It said, “Be weak, be water, be characterless, be cheaply persuadable.” The later command, to let the fruit alone, was certain to be disobeyed. Not by Adam himself, but by his temperament — which he did not create and had no authority over.
    • “The Turning Point of my Life”, §3, Harper’s Bazar, February 1910, as reprinted in Essays and Sketches of Mark Twain (1995), ed. Stuart Miller, ISBN 1566198798
  • The easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.
    • marginal note in Moncure D. Conway’s Sacred Anthology
    • quoted by Albert Bigelow Paine in Mark Twain: A Biography (1912)
  • You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I’ll tell you what his ‘pinions is.
    • Europe and Elsewhere. Corn Pone Opinions (1925)
  • We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking. And out of it we get an aggregation which we consider a boon. Its name is public opinion. It is held in reverence. Some think it the voice of God.
    • Corn-Pone Opinions (1925)
  • Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
    • More Maxims of Mark (1927) edited by Merle Johnson
  • Always acknowledge a fault frankly. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you opportunity to commit more.
    • More Maxims of Mark (1927) edited by Merle Johnson
  • Humor must not professedly teach, and it must not professedly preach, but it must do both if it would live forever. By forever, I mean thirty years.
    • Mark Twain in eruption: hitherto unpublished pages about men and events, 1940, Mark Twain, Bernard Augustine De Voto, Harper & brothers. This appears to be the origin of the variant:
    • If you would have your work last forever, and by forever I mean fifty years, it must neither overtly preach nor overtly teach, but it must covertly preach and covertly teach.
    • Attributed to Twain by J. Michael Straczynski in The complete book of scriptwriting, 2002, Writer’s Digest Books
  • A critic never made or killed a book or a play. The people themselves are the final judges. It is their opinion that counts. After all, the final test is truth. But the trouble is that most writers regard truth as their most valuable possession and therefore are most economical in its use.
    • Said to portrait painter Samuel Johnson Woolf, cited in Here am I (1941), Samuel Johnson Woolf; this has often been abbreviated: Most writers regard truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use.
  • It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.
    • Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men and Events (1940) edited by Bernard DeVoto
  • It is not worth while to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man’s character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible.
    • Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men and Events (1940) edited by Bernard DeVoto
  • Jesus died to save men — a small thing for an immortal to do, & didn’t save many, anyway; but if he had been damned for the race that would have been act of a size proper to a god, & would have saved the whole race. However, why should anybody want to save the human race, or damn it either? Does God want its society? Does Satan?
    • Notebook #42
  • A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.
    • Mark Twain and I by Opie Read
  • I do not take any credit to my better-balanced head because I never went crazy on Presbyterianism. We go too slow for that. You never see us ranting and shouting and tearing up the ground, You never heard of a Presbyterian going crazy on religion. Notice us, and you will see how we do. We get up of a Sunday morning and put on the best harness we have got and trip cheerfully down town; we subside into solemnity and enter the church; we stand up and duck our heads and bear down on a hymn book propped on the pew in front when the minister prays; we stand up again while our hired choir are singing, and look in the hymn book and check off the verses to see that they don’t shirk any of the stanzas; we sit silent and grave while the minister is preaching, and count the waterfalls and bonnets furtively, and catch flies; we grab our hats and bonnets when the benediction is begun; when it is finished, we shove, so to speak. No frenzy, no fanaticism –no skirmishing; everything perfectly serene. You never see any of us Presbyterians getting in a sweat about religion and trying to massacre the neighbors. Let us all be content with the tried and safe old regular religions, and take no chances on wildcat.
    • “The New Wildcat Religion”
  • Thousands of geniuses live and die undiscovered — either by themselves or by others. But for the Civil War, Lincoln and Grant and Sherman and Sheridan would not have been discovered, nor have risen into notice. … I have touched upon this matter in a small book which I wrote a generation ago and which I have not published as yet — Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven. When Stormfield arrived in heaven he … was told that … a shoemaker … was the most prodigious military genius the planet had ever produced.
    • The Autobiography of Mark Twain (1959 edition, edited by Charles Neider)
  • Adam, at Eve’s grave: Wheresoever she was, THERE was Eden.
    • Eve’s Diary
  • Principles have no real force except when one is well-fed.
    • Extracts From Adam’s Diary (1906)
  • An injurious lie is an uncommendable thing; and so, also, and in the same degree, is an injurious truth—a fact that is recognized by the law of libel.
    • On the Decay of the Art of Lying
  • The highest perfection of politeness is only a beautiful edifice, built, from the base to the dome, of ungraceful and gilded forms of charitable and unselfish lying.
    • On the Decay of the Art of Lying, published in The Stolen White Elephant: Etc, Pages 220-221 (1882)
  • Compliments make me vain: & when I am vain, I am insolent & overbearing. It is a pity, too, because I love compliments. I love them even when they are not so. My child, I can live on a good compliment two weeks with nothing else to eat.
    • Letter to Gertrude Natkin, 2 March 1906

Man’s Place in the Animal World

  • Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion — several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight.

The Innocents Abroad

  • I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week sometimes to make it up.
    • Ch. 7
  • They spell it “Vinci” and pronounce it “Vinchy”. Foreigners always spell better than they pronounce.
    • Ch. 19
  • I used to worship the mighty genius of Michael Angelo — that man who was great in poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture — great in every thing he undertook. But I do not want Michael Angelo for breakfast — for luncheon — for dinner — for tea — for supper — for between meals. I like a change, occasionally.
    • Ch. 27
  • Enough, enough, enough! Say no more! Lump the whole thing! say that the Creator made Italy from designs by Michael Angelo!
    • Ch. 27
  • Guides cannot master the subtleties of the American joke.
    • Ch. 27
  • I wish Europe would let Russia annihilate Turkey a little–not much, but enough to make it difficult to find the place again without a divining-rod or a diving-bell.
    • Ch. 42
  • Virtue never has been as respectable as money.
    • Ch. 54
  • The people of those foreign countries are very, very ignorant. They looked curiously at the costumes we had brought from the wilds of America. They observed that we talked loudly at table sometimes. They noticed that we looked out for expenses and got what we conveniently could out of a franc, and wondered where in the mischief we came from. In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.
    • Ch. 61
  • Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
    • Vol. II, Conclusion

The Danger of Lying in Bed

The Galaxy, Vol. 11, No. 2, February 1871[5]
  • The Erie railroad kills 23 to 46; the other 845 railroads kill an average of one-third of a man each; and the rest of that million, amounting in the aggregate to that appalling figure of 987,631 corpses, die naturally in their beds! You will excuse me from taking any more chances on those beds. The railroads are good enough for me.

Roughing It

  • All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the “elect” have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so “slow,” so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle — keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone in an out-of-the-way locality, the work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason.
    • On the Book of Mormon, Chapter XVI, p. 127 (published 1872, American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut)
  • The best known names in the Territory of Nevada were those belonging to these long-tailed heroes of the revolver. Orators, Governors, capitalists and leaders of the legislature enjoyed a degree of fame, but it seemed local and meagre when contrasted with the fame of such men as Sam Brown, Jack Williams, Billy Mulligan, Farmer Pease, Sugarfoot Mike, Pock-Marked Jake, El Dorado Johnny, Jack McNabb, Joe McGee, Jack Harris, Six-fingered Pete, etc., etc.
    • Chapter XLVIII, p. 344” (published 1872)
  • A crowded police docket is the surest of all signs that trade is brisk and money plenty.
    • Chapter LI, p. 360” (published 1872)
  • No California gentleman or lady ever abuses or oppresses a Chinaman, under any circumstances, an explanation that seems to be much needed in the east. Only the scum of the population do it; they and their children. They, and, naturally and consistently, the policemen and politicians, likewise, for these are the dust-licking pimps and slaves of the scum, there as well as elsewhere in America.
    • As quoted in Roughing It (1872)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

  • Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden.
    • Ch. 2
  • He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it — namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to obtain.
    • Ch. 2
  • Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and…Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.
    • Ch. 2
  • The minister gave out his text and droned along monotonously through an argument that was so prosy that many a head by and by began to nod — and yet it was an argument that dealt in limitless fire and brimstone and thinned the predestined elect down to a company so small as to be hardly worth the saving.
    • Ch. 5
  • There was no getting around the stubborn fact that taking sweetmeats was only “hooking,” while taking bacon and hams and such valuables was plain simple stealing — and there was a command against that in the Bible. So they inwardly resolved that so long as they remained in the business, their piracies should not again be sullied with the crime of stealing.
    • Ch. 13
  • To promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.
    • Ch. 22
  • She makes me get up just at the same time every morning; she makes me wash, they comb me all to thunder; she won’t let me sleep in the woodshed; I got to wear them blamed clothes that just smothers me, Tom; they don’t seem to let any air git through ’em, somehow; and they’re so rotten nice that I can’t set down, nor lay down, nor roll around anywher’s; I hain’t slid on a cellar-door for — well, it ‘pears to be years; I got to go to church and sweat and sweat — I hate them ornery sermons! I can’t ketch a fly in there, I can’t chaw. I got to wear shoes all Sunday. The widder eats by a bell; she goes to bed by a bell; she gits up by a bell — everything’s so awful reg’lar a body can’t stand it.
    • Ch. 35

New England Weather, speech to the New England Society

  • There is a sumptuous variety about the New England weather that compels the stranger’s admiration — and regret. The weather is always doing something there; always attending strictly to business; always getting up new designs and trying them on people to see how they will go. But it gets through more business in spring than in any other season. In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of twenty-four hours.
  • Probable nor’east to sou’west winds, varying to the soutard and westard and eastard and points between; high and low barometer, sweeping round from place to place; probable areas of rain, snow, hail, and drought, succeeded or preceded by earthquakes with thunder and lightning.
  • One of the brightest gems in the New England weather is the dazzling uncertainty of it.

A Tramp Abroad

  • A gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.
  • We have not the reverent feeling for the rainbow that the savage has, because we know how it is made. We have lost as much as we gained by prying into that matter.
  • You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does — but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you’ll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it’s the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain’t so; it’s the sickening grammar they use.
  • Some German words are so long that they have a perspective. Observe these examples:
These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions. And they are not rare; one can open a German newspaper any time and see them marching majestically across the page,—and if he has any imagination he can see the banners and hear the music, too. They impart a martial thrill to the meekest subject. I take a great interest in these curiosities. “Whenever I come across a good one, I stuff it and put it in my museum. In this way I have made quite a valuable collection. When I get duplicates, I exchange with other collectors, and thus increase the variety of my stock. Here are some specimens which I lately bought at an auction sale of the effects of a bankrupt bric-a-brac hunter:
Of course when one of these grand mountain ranges goes stretching across the printed page, it adorns and ennobles that literary landscape,—but at the same time it is a great distress to the new student, for it blocks up his way; he cannot crawl under it, or climb over it or tunnel through it. So he resorts to the dictionary for help; but there is no help there. The dictionary must draw the line somewhere,—so it leaves this sort of words out. And it is right, because these long things are hardly legitimate words, but are rather combinations of words, and the inventor of them ought to have been killed.
  • In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has.
  • Appendix D, The Awful German Language

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

  • Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

    • Notice
  • You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.
    • Ch. 1
  • Jim was most ruined for a servant, because he got stuck up on account of having seen the devil and been rode by witches.
    • Ch. 2
  • We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn’t ever feel like talking loud, and it warn’t often that we laughed, only a little kind of a low chuckle. We had mighty good weather as a general thing, and nothing ever happened to us at all, that night, nor the next, nor the next.
    • Ch. 12
  • Pilgrim’s Progress, about a man that left his family, it didn’t say why. I read considerable in it now and then. The statements was interesting, but tough.
    • Ch. 17
  • There warn’t anybody at the church, except maybe a hog or two, for there warn’t any lock on the door, and hogs likes a puncheon floor in summer-time because it’s cool. If you notice, most folks don’t go to church only when they’ve got to; but a hog is different.
    • Ch. 18
  • We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.
    • Ch. 18
  • To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin.
    • Ch. 21
  • Everybody yelled at him, and laughed at him, and sassed him, and he sassed back, and said he’d attend to them and lay them out in their regular turns, but he couldn’t wait now, because he’d come to town to kill old Colonel Sherburn, and his motto was, “Meat first, and spoon vittles to top off on.”
    • Ch. 21
  • H’aint we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?
    • Ch. 26
  • I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself, “All right, then, I’ll GO to hell.”
    • Ch. 31
  • So there ain’t nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I’d a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn’t a tackled it and aint’t agoing to no more. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before.
    • Ch. 43

Letter to Clara Spaulding

  • There isn’t time–so brief is life–for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving–and but an instant, so to speak, for that.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

  • Why, it was like reading about France and the French, before the ever memorable and blessed Revolution, which swept a thousand years of such villany away in one swift tidal-wave of blood — one: a settlement of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by slow tortures out of that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell. There were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror — that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.
    • Ch. 13
  • My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death.  To be loyal to rags, to shout for rags, to worship rags, to die for rags—that is a loyalty of unreason, it is pure animal; it belongs to monarchy, was invented by monarchy; let monarchy keep it.  I was from Connecticut, whose Constitution declares “that all political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their benefit; and that they have at all times an undeniable and indefeasible right to alter their form of government in such a manner as they may think expedient.”
    Under that gospel, the citizen who thinks he sees that the commonwealth’s political clothes are worn out, and yet holds his peace and does not agitate for a new suit, is disloyal; he is a traitor.  That he may be the only one who thinks he sees this decay, does not excuse him; it is his duty to agitate anyway, and it is the duty of the others to vote him down if they do not see the matter as he does.
    And now here I was, in a country where a right to say how the country should be governed was restricted to six persons in each thousand of its population.  For the nine hundred and ninety-four to express dissatisfaction with the regnant system and propose to change it, would have made the whole six shudder as one man, it would have been so disloyal, so dishonorable, such putrid black treason.  So to speak, I was become a stockholder in a corporation where nine hundred and ninety-four of the members furnished all the money and did all the work, and the other six elected themselves a permanent board of direction and took all the dividends.  It seemed to me that what the nine hundred and ninety-four dupes needed was a new deal.

    • Ch. 13
  • The pilgrims were human beings. Otherwise they would have acted differently. They had come a long and difficult journey, and now when the journey was nearly finished, and they learned that the main thing they had come for had ceased to exist, they didn’t do as horses or cats or angle-worms would probably have done — turn back and get at something profitable — no, anxious as they had before been to see the miraculous fountain, they were as much as forty times as anxious now to see the place where it had used to be. There is no accounting for human beings.
    • Ch. 22
  • Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.
    • Ch. 22
  • Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.
    • Ch. 22
  • It is a mystery that is hidden from me by reason that the emergency requiring the fathoming of it hath not in my life-days occurred, and so, not having no need to know this thing, I abide barren of the knowledge.
    • Ch 25
  • You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
    • Ch. 43

How To Tell A Story

  • The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it.
  • To string incongruities and absurdities together in a wandering and sometimes purposeless way, and seem innocently unaware that they are absurdities, is the basis of the American art, if my position is correct.

Following the Equator

  • These wisdoms are for the luring of youth toward high moral altitudes. The author did not gather them from practice, but from observation. To be good is noble; but to show others how to be good is nobler and no trouble.
    • The Pudd’nhead Maxims, preface
  • She had run down and down and down, and had at last reached a point where medicines no longer had any helpful effect upon her. I said I knew I could put her upon her feet in a week. It brightened her up, it filled her with hope, and she said she would do everything I told her to do. So I said she must stop swearing and drinking, and smoking and eating for four days, and then she would be all right again. And it would have happened just so, I know it; but she said she could not stop swearing, and smoking, and drinking, because she had never done those things. So there it was. She had neglected her habits, and hadn’t any. Now that they would have come good, there were none in stock. She had nothing to fall back on. She was a sinking vessel, with no freight in her to throw overboard and lighten ship withal.
    • Ch. I
  • When in doubt, tell the truth.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. II
    • Not in the text, but added by many sources is the sentence: “It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.” Compare this line to the advice attributed to Henry Wotton (1568 – 1639) to a young diplomat “to tell the truth, and so puzzle and confound his enemies.” E.g., Vol 24, Encyclopedia Britannica of Arts, Sciences, and General Literature, page 721 (9th Ed. 1894)
  • Prosperity is the best protector of principle.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. II ; as cited in Mark Twain at your Fingertips: A Book of Quotations, ed. Caroline Thomas Hornsberger, Courier Corp. (2009), p. 385
  • It is more trouble to make a maxim than it is to do right.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. III
  • Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. V
  • Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. VII
  • It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. VIII
  • There are those who scoff at the schoolboy, calling him frivolous and shallow: Yet it was the schoolboy who said “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. XII
  • Truth is stranger than fiction — to some people, but I am measurably familiar with it.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. XV
  • Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. XV
      • Misquoted as “Why shouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense.” by Laurence J. Peter in “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time”, among many others.
  • It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. XX
  • Man will do many things to get himself loved; he will do all things to get himself envied.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. XXI
  • “Classic.” A book which people praise and don’t read.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. XXV
  • Man is the Only Animal that Blushes. Or needs to.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. XXVII
  • Nearly all black and brown skins are beautiful, but a beautiful white skin is rare.
    • Ch. XLI
  • The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d druther not.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. XLIX
  • It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.
    • referencing the Kumbh Mela, Ch. XLIX
  • This is indeed India! the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations — the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined. Even now, after the lapse of a year, the delirium of those days in Bombay has not left me, and I hope never will.
    • Ch. XXXVIII
  • By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man’s, I mean.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. XXXIX
  • Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. XLVIII
  • So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or Nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his round. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.
    • Ch. LVII
  • Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist but you have ceased to live.
    • Ch. LXII
  • Jane Austen’s books, too, are absent from this library. Just that one omission alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn’t a book in it.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. LIX
  • Often, the surest way to convey misinformation is to tell the strict truth.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. LIX
  • Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.
    • Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Ch. LXVI

Which was the Dream?

Unfinished manuscript begun in 1898. First published in Mark Twain’s “Which Was the Dream?” and Other Symbolic Writings of the Later Years, ed. John S Tuckey, 1967
  • Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child’s loss of a doll and a king’s loss of a crown are events of the same size.

Concerning the Jews

  • I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. All I care to know is that a man is a human being, and that is enough for me; he can’t be any worse.
  • I have no special regard for Satan; but, I can at least claim that I have no prejudice against him. It may even be that I lean a little his way, on account of his not having a fair show. All religions issue bibles against him, and say the most injurious things about him, but we never hear his side. We have none but the evidence for the prosecution, and yet we have rendered the verdict. To my mind, this is irregular. It is un-English, it is un-American; it is French.
  • The Jew is not a disturber of the peace of any country. Even his enemies will concede that. He is not a loafer, he is not a sot, he is not noisy, he is not a brawler nor a rioter, he is not quarrelsome. In the statistics of crime his presence is conspicuously rare — in all countries. With murder and other crimes of violence he has but little to do: he is a stranger to the hangman. In the police court’s daily long roll of “assaults” and “drunk and disorderlies” his name seldom appears …
  • A Jewish beggar is not impossible, perhaps; such a thing may exist, but there are few men that can say they have seen that spectacle.
  • These facts are all on the credit side of the proposition that the Jew is a good and orderly citizen. Summed up, they certify that he is quiet, peaceable, industrious, unaddicted to high crimes and brutal dispositions; that his family life is commendable; that he is not a burden upon public charities; that he is not a beggar; that in benevolence he is above the reach of competition. These are the very quintessentials of good citizenship.
  • The Jew has his other side. He has some discreditable ways, though he has not a monopoly of them… He has a reputation for various small forms of cheating, and for practising oppressive usury, and for burning himself out to get the insurance, and for arranging cunning contracts which leave him an exit but lock the other man in, and for smart evasions which find him safe and comfortable just within the strict letter of the law, when court and jury know very well that he has violated the spirit of it.
  • In this connection I call to mind Genesis, chapter xlvii…the pathetic story of the years of plenty and the years of famine in Egypt, and how Joseph, with that opportunity, made a corner in broken hearts, and the crusts of the poor, and human liberty–a corner whereby he took a nation’s money all away, to the last penny…then took the nation itself, buying it for bread, man by man, woman by woman, child by child, till all were slaves…and it was a disaster so crushing that its effects have not wholly disappeared from Egypt to-day… Was Joseph establishing a character for his race which would survive long in Egypt? and in time would his name come to be familiarly used to express that character–like Shylock’s? It is hardly to be doubted. Let us remember that this was centuries before the Crucifixion.
  • I wish to come down eighteen hundred years later and refer to a remark made by one of the Latin historians. Some Christians were persecuted in Rome through error, they being ‘mistaken for Jews.’ The meaning seems plain. These pagans had nothing against Christians, but they were quite ready to persecute Jews. For some reason or other they hated a Jew before they even knew what a Christian was. May I not assume, then, that the persecution of Jews is a thing which antedates Christianity and was not born of Christianity?
  • In the cotton States, after the war…the Jew came down in force, set up shop on the plantation, supplied all the negro’s wants on credit, and at the end of the season was proprietor of the negro’s share of the present crop and of part of his share of the next one. Before long, the whites detested the Jew, and it is doubtful if the negro loved him.
  • I am persuaded that in Russia, Austria, and Germany nine-tenths of the hostility to the Jew comes from the average Christian’s inability to compete successfully with the average Jew in business–in either straight business or the questionable sort.
  • Ages of restriction to the one tool which the law was not able to take from him–his brain–have made that tool singularly competent…
  • In estimating worldly values the Jew is not shallow, but deep. With precocious wisdom he found out in the morning of time that some men worship rank, some worship heroes, some worship power, some worship God, and that over these ideals they dispute and cannot unite–but that they all worship money; so he made it the end and aim of his life to get it. The cost to him has been heavy; his success has made the whole human race his enemy…
  • If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvellous fight in the world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger

  • The best of us would rather be popular than right.
    The manuscript from which this was taken was written and edited from 1902 to 1908. See: Mark Twain Project, Ed., No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger: Being an Ancient Tale Found in a Jug and Freely Translated from the Jug (University of California Press, 1982), p. 26.
    Often reported as:
    • Everybody’s private motto: It’s better to be popular than right.

The Privilege of the Grave

(Published in 2010, the author having requested it not be published until 100 years after his death.)

  • As an active privilege, [free speech] ranks with the privilege of committing murder: we may exercise it if we are willing to take the consequences. Murder is forbidden both in form and in fact; free speech is granted in form but forbidden in fact. By the common estimate both are crimes, and are held in deep odium by all civilized peoples. Murder is sometimes punished, free speech always.
  • An unpopular opinion concerning politics or religion lies concealed in the breast of every man; in many cases not only one sample, but several. The more intelligent the man, the larger the freightage of this kind of opinions he carries, and keeps to himself.
  • “[W]e consciously or unconsciously pay more attention to tuning our opinions to our neighbor’s pitch and preserving his approval than we do to examining the opinions searchingly and seeing to it that they are right and sound.

The Refuge of the Derelicts

  • He says every man is a moon and has a side which he turns toward nobody: you have to slip around behind if you want to see it.[1]

What Is Man?

  • It is just like man’s vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions.
    • Ch. 6
  • It may be called the Master Passion—the hunger for Self-Approval.
    • Ch. 6
  • The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to the other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creature that cannot.
    • Ch. 6

Letter to Mrs. F. G. Whitmore

  • But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me.

True Citizenship at the Children’s Theater

  • Citizenship? We have none! In place of it we teach patriotism which Samuel Johnson said a hundred and forty or a hundred and fifty years ago was the last refuge of the scoundrel — and I believe that he was right. I remember when I was a boy and I heard repeated time and time again the phrase, ‘My country, right or wrong, my country!’ How absolutely absurd is such an idea. How absolutely absurd to teach this idea to the youth of the country.

Christian Science

Online at

  • This last summer, when I was on my way back to Vienna from the Appetite-Cure in the mountains, I fell over a cliff in the twilight, and broke some arms and legs and one thing or another, and by good luck was found by some peasants who had lost an ass, and they carried me to the nearest habitation, which was one of those large, low, thatch-roofed farm-houses, with apartments in the garret for the family, and a cunning little porch under the deep gable decorated with boxes of bright colored flowers and cats; on the ground floor a large and light sitting-room, separated from the milch-cattle apartment by a partition; and in the front yard rose stately and fine the wealth and pride of the house, the manure-pile. That sentence is Germanic, and shows that I am acquiring that sort of mastery of the art and spirit of the language which enables a man to travel all day in one sentence without changing cars.
  • Book I, Ch. 1
  • No one doubts—certainly not I—that the mind exercises a powerful influence over the body. From the beginning of time, the sorcerer, the interpreter of dreams, the fortune-teller, the charlatan, the quack, the wild medicine-man, the educated physician, the mesmerist, and the hypnotist have made use of the client’s imagination to help them in their work. They have all recognized the potency and availability of that force. Physicians cure many patients with a bread pill; they know that where the disease is only a fancy, the patient’s confidence in the doctor will make the bread pill effective.
  • Book I, Ch. 4
  • When I was a boy a farmer’s wife who lived five miles from our village had great fame as a faith-doctor—that was what she called herself. Sufferers came to her from all around, and she laid her hand upon them and said, “Have faith—it is all that is necessary,” and they went away well of their ailments. She was not a religious woman, and pretended to no occult powers. She said that the patient’s faith in her did the work. Several times I saw her make immediate cures of severe toothaches. My mother was the patient. In Austria there is a peasant who drives a great trade in this sort of industry, and has both the high and the low for patients. He gets into prison every now and then for practising without a diploma, but his business is as brisk as ever when he gets out, for his work is unquestionably successful and keeps his reputation high. In Bavaria there is a man who performed so many great cures that he had to retire from his profession of stage-carpentering in order to meet the demand of his constantly increasing body of customers. He goes on from year to year doing his miracles, and has become very rich. He pretends to no religious helps, no supernatural aids, but thinks there is something in his make-up which inspires the confidence of his patients, and that it is this confidence which does the work, and not some mysterious power issuing from himself.
  • Ch. 4
  • Within the last quarter of a century, in America, several sects of curers have appeared under various names and have done notable things in the way of healing ailments without the use of medicines. There are the Mind Cure, the Faith Cure, the Prayer Cure, the Mental Science Cure, and the Christian-Science Cure; and apparently they all do their miracles with the same old, powerful instrument—the patient’s imagination. Differing names, but no difference in the process. But they do not give that instrument the credit; each sect claims that its way differs from the ways of the others.
They all achieve some cures, there is no question about it; and the Faith Cure and the Prayer Cure probably do no harm when they do no good, since they do not forbid the patient to help out the cure with medicines if he wants to; but the others bar medicines, and claim ability to cure every conceivable human ailment through the application of their mental forces alone. There would seem to be an element of danger here. It has the look of claiming too much, I think. Public confidence would probably be increased if less were claimed.

  • Book I, Ch. 4
  • When I, a thoughtful and unblessed Presbyterian, examine the Koran, I know that beyond any question every Mohammedan is insane; not in all things, but in religious matters. When a thoughtful and unblessed Mohammedan examines the Westminster Catechism, he knows that beyond any question I am spiritually insane. I cannot prove to him that he is insane, because you never can prove anything to a lunatic — for that is a part of his insanity and the evidence of it. He cannot prove to me that I am insane, for my mind has the same defect that afflicts his. All Democrats are insane, but not one of them knows it; none but the Republicans and Mugwumps know it. All the Republicans are insane, but only the Democrats and Mugwumps can perceive it. The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.
  • Book I, Ch. 5
  • The power which a man’s imagination has over his body to heal it or make it sick is a force which none of us is born without. The first man had it, the last one will possess it. If left to himself, a man is most likely to use only the mischievous half of the force—the half which invents imaginary ailments for him and cultivates them; and if he is one of these—very wise people, he is quite likely to scoff at the beneficent half of the force and deny its existence. And so, to heal or help that man, two imaginations are required: his own and some outsider’s. The outsider, B, must imagine that his incantations are the healing-power that is curing A, and A must imagine that this is so. I think it is not so, at all; but no matter, the cure is effected, and that is the main thing. The outsider’s work is unquestionably valuable; so valuable that it may fairly be likened to the essential work performed by the engineer when he handles the throttle and turns on the steam; the actual power is lodged exclusively in the engine, but if the engine were left alone it would never start of itself. Whether the engineer be named Jim, or Bob, or Tom, it is all one—his services are necessary, and he is entitled to such wage as he can get you to pay. Whether he be named Christian Scientist, or Mental Scientist, or Mind Curist, or King’s-Evil Expert, or Hypnotist, it is all one; he is merely the Engineer; he simply turns on the same old steam and the engine does the whole work.
  • Book I, Ch. 8

A Horse’s Tale

  • Herodotus says, “Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all. The conscientious historian will correct these defects.”
    • Acknowledgements
    • Twain does not quote Herodotus here, he only sums up what he believes to have been Herodotus’ approach to the writing of history. Nevertheless, this apocryphal statement is now often quoted as being the very words of Herodotus.

Letters from the Earth

see Wikipedia:Letters from the Earth: although Train wrote the essays in the book from 1904-1909, they were private and unpublished until 1962
  • From the time a woman is seven years old till she dies of old age, she is ready for action, and competent. As competent as the candlestick to receive the candle. But man is only briefly competent:…After fifty his performance is of poor quality; the intervals between are wide, and its satisfactions of no great quality to either party; whereas his great-grandmother is as good as new.
  • When Adam ate the apple in the Garden and learned how to multiply and replenish, the other animals learned the Art, too, by watching Adam. It was cunning of them, it was neat; for they got all that was worth having out of the apple without tasting it and afflicting themselves with the disastrous Moral Sense, the parent of all the immoralities.
  • The law of God, as quite plainly expressed in woman’s construction, is this: There shall be no limit put upon your intercourse with the other sex sexually, at any time of life.
  • Solomon, who was one of the Deity’s favorites, had a copulation cabinet composed of seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. To save his life he could not have kept two of these young creatures satisfactorily refreshed, even if he had fifteen experts to help him. Necessarily almost the entire thousand had to go hungry for years and years on a stretch. Conceive of a man hardhearted enough to look daily upon all that suffering and not be moved to mitigate it.

The Mysterious Stranger

Online text
  • There has never been a just one, never an honorable one — on the part of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud little handful — as usual — will shout for the war. The pulpit will — warily and cautiously — object — at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, “It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.” Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers — as earlier — but do not dare to say so. And now the whole nation — pulpit and all — will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.
    • originally in The Chronicle of Satan (1905)
  • Only laughter can blow [a colossal humbug] to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.
  • A God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice, and invented hell — mouths mercy, and invented hell — mouths Golden Rules and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people, and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man’s acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites his poor abused slave to worship him!
  • There is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a Dream, a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And You are but a Thought — a vagrant Thought, a useless Thought, a homeless Thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities.

Taming the Bicycle

What is Man? and Other Essays
  • The bicycle had what is called the ‘wabbles’, and had them very badly. In order to keep my position, a good many things were required of me, and in every instance the thing required was against nature. Against nature, but not against the laws of nature.
  • Try as you may, you don’t get down as you would from a horse, you get down as you would from a house afire. You make a spectacle of yourself every time.
  • The self-taught man seldom knows anything accurately, and he does not know a tenth as much as he could have known if he had worked under teachers;
  • There are those who imagine that the unlucky accidents of life—life’s “experiences”—are in some way useful to us. I wish I could find out how. I never know one of them to happen twice. They always change off and swap around and catch you on your inexperienced side.
  • Before taking final leave of me, my instructor inquired concerning my physical strength, and I was able to inform him that I hadn’t any.
  • I started out alone to seek adventures. You don’t really have to seek them—that is nothing but a phrase—they come to you.
  • I have seen it stated that no expert is quick enough to run over a dog; that a dog is always able to skip out of his way. I think that that may be true; but I think that the reason he couldn’t run over the dog was because he was trying to. I did not try to run over any dog. But I ran over every dog that came along.
  • Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.

Bible Teaching and Religious Practice

  • We began to stir against slavery. Hearts grew soft, here, there, and yonder. There was no place in the land where the seeker could not find some small budding sign of pity for the slave. No place in all the land but one—the pulpit. It yielded at last; it always does. It fought a strong and stubborn fight, and then did what it always does, joined the procession—at the tail end. Slavery fell. The slavery text remained; the practice changed, that was all.
    • Bible Teaching and Religious Practice.
  • During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. the Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. Who discovered that there was no such thing as a witch—the priest, the parson? No, these never discover anything. … There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.
    • Bible Teaching and Religious Practice.

Mark Twain’s Autobiography

  • Biographies are but clothes and buttons of the man — the biography of the man himself cannot be written.
    • Vol. I, p. 2
  • I thoroughly disapprove of duels. I consider them unwise and I know they are dangerous. Also, sinful. If a man should challenge me now I would go to that man and take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet retired spot and kill him.
    • In revised edition, Vol. I, “Friday, January 19, 1906, About Dueling.”, p. 298, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, 1959, Charles Neider, Harper & Row
  • Of all the creatures that were made he [man] is the most detestable. Of the entire brood he is the only one — the solitary one — that possesses malice. That is the basest of all instincts, passions, vices — the most hateful…He is the only creature that inflicts pain for sport, knowing it to be pain…Also — in all the list he is the only creature that has a nasty mind.
    • Vol. II, p. 7
  • The trade of critic, in literature, music, and the drama, is the most degraded of all trades.
    • Vol. II, p. 69
  • There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. How strange it is. It is like paying out your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry.
    • p. 98
  • In religion and politics, people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue, but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.
    • In revised edition, chapter 78, p. 401, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, 1959, Charles Neider, Harper & Row
  • Annihilation has no terrors for me, because I have already tried it before I was born—a hundred million years—and I have suffered more in an hour, in this life, than I remember to have suffered in the whole hundred million years put together. There was a peace, a serenity, an absence of all sense of responsibility, an absence of worry, an absence of care, grief, perplexity; and the presence of a deep content and unbroken satisfaction in that hundred million years of holiday which I look back upon with a tender longing and with a grateful desire to resume, when the opportunity comes.
    • p. 69 of Vol. II of The Complete and Authoritative Edition, 2013, University of California Press

Mark Twain’s Notebook

Mark Twain’s Notebook (1935) edited by Albert Bigelow Paine
  • France has neither winter nor summer nor morals. Apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country.
  • God’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.
  • France has usually been governed by prostitutes.
  • The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out the conservative adopts them.
  • Familiarity breeds contempt — and children.
  • Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.
  • Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.
  • Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.
  • Death, the only immortal who treats us all alike, whose pity and whose peace and whose refuge are for all — the soiled and the pure, the rich and the poor, the loved and the unloved.
    • Memorandum written on his deathbed
  • Surely the test of a novel’s characters is that you feel a strong interest in them and their affairs—the good to be successful, the bad to suffer failure. Well, in John Ward, you feel no divided interest, no discriminating interest—you want them all to land in hell together, and right away.
    • About Margaret Deland’s book John Ward, Preacher
  • Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion.
    • p. 114
  • None but the dead have free speech.
    • p. 393
  • What is the difference between a taxidermist & a tax-collector? The taxidermist only takes your skin.
    • p. 379
  • Some men worship rank, some worship heroes, some worship power, some worship God, & over these ideals they dispute & cannot unite — but they all worship money.
    • p. 343
  • You can’t depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.
    • p. 344
  • Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.
    • p. 346
  • Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.
    • p. 381
  • Geological time is not money. A pity too; for it would have abolished poverty from the earth. Let us adopt geological time, then time being money, — there will be no more poverty. We are all missionaries (propagandists of our views). Each of us disapproves of the other missionaries; in fact detests them, as a rule. I am one of the herd myself. It is noticeable that the professional always uses the one license: “Go ye into all the world,” and ignores the Golden Rule which would restrain him from entering China and one or two other countries where he is not wanted and is not welcome.
    • p. 393
  • Not a single right is indestructible: a new might can at any time abolish it, hence, man possesses not a single permanent right.
    God is Might (and He is shifty, malicious, and uncertain).

    • p. 394
  • “In God We Trust.” It is the choicest compliment that has ever been paid us, and the most gratifying to our feelings. It is simple, direct, gracefully phrased: it always sounds well — In God We Trust. I don’t believe it would sound any better if it were true. And in a measure it is true — half the nation trusts in Him. That half has decided it.
    • p. 394
  • “In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot”
    • p. 413

Papers of the Adams Family

In the posthumous Letters from the Earth: Uncensored Writings, ed. Bernard DeVoto, 1939. First published in 1962 when the author’s daughter, Clara Clemens, withdrew her objection.[6]
  • Against our traditions we are now entering upon an unjust and trivial war, a war against a helpless people, and for a base object — robbery. At first our citizens spoke out against this thing, by an impulse natural to their training. Today they have turned, and their voice is the other way. What caused the change? Merely a politician’s trick — a high-sounding phrase, a blood-stirring phrase which turned their uncritical heads: Our Country, right or wrong! An empty phrase, a silly phrase. It was shouted by every newspaper, it was thundered from the pulpit, the Superintendent of Public Instruction placarded it in every schoolhouse in the land, the War Department inscribed it upon the flag. And every man who failed to shout it or who was silent, was proclaimed a traitor — none but those others were patriots. To be a patriot, one had to say, and keep on saying, “Our Country, right or wrong,” and urge on the little war. Have you not perceived that that phrase is an insult to the nation?
    For in a republic, who is “the Country”? Is it the Government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the Government is merely a servant — merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Who, then, is “the country?” Is it the newspaper? Is it the pulpit? Is it the school-superintendent? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command, they have only their little share in the command. They are but one in the thousand; it is in the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn’t.

    • Part VI: “Two Fragments from a Suppressed Book Called ‘Glances at History’ or ‘Outlines of History’ “
  • In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country; in a republic it is the common voice of the people. Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country — hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.
    Only when a republic’s life is in danger should a man uphold his government when it is in the wrong. There is no other time.
    This Republic’s life is not in peril. The nation has sold its honor for a phrase. It has swung itself loose from its safe anchorage and is drifting, its helm is in pirate hands.

    • Part VI: “Two Fragments from a Suppressed Book Called ‘Glances at History’ or ‘Outlines of History’ “
  • The difference between a Miracle and a Fact is exactly the difference between a mermaid and a seal.
    • “Official Report to the I.I.A.S.”, p. 126

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1

Edited by Harriet Elinor Smith
  • …when you recollect something which belonged in an earlier chapter, do not go back, but jam it in where you are. Discursiveness does not hurt an autobiography in the least.
    • advice to his brother Orion, p. 8
  • You cannot lay bare your private soul and look at it. You are too much ashamed of yourself. It is too disgusting. For that reason I confine myself to drawing the portraits of others.
    • p. 16
  • …an Autobiography is the truest of all books; for while it inevitably consists mainly of extinctions of the truth, shirkings of the truth, partial revealments of the truth, with hardly an instance of plain straight truth, the remorseless truth is there, between the lines, where the author-cat is raking dust upon it which hides from the disinterested spectator neither it nor its smell…—the result being that the reader knows the author in spite of his wily diligences.
    • pp. 21–22
  • The ‘bus is English. When that is said, all is said. As a rule, any English thing is nineteen times as strong and twenty-three times as heavy as it needs to be. The ‘bus fills these requirements.
    • p. 111
  • His grammar is foolishly correct, offensively precise. It flaunts itself in the reader’s face all along, and struts and smirks and shows off, and is in a dozen ways irritating and disagreeable. To be serious, I write good grammar myself, but not in that spirit, I am thankful to say. That is to say, my grammar is of a high order, though not at the top. Nobody’s is. Perfect grammar—persistent, continuous, sustained—is the fourth dimension, so to speak: many have sought it, but none has found it.
    • p. 120
  • We have been housekeeping a fortnight, now—long enough to have learned how to pronounce the servants’ names, but not how to spell them. We shan’t ever learn to spell them; they were invented in Hungary and Poland, and on paper they look like the alphabet out on a drunk.
    • p. 121
  • ….it is not wise to keep the fire going under a slander unless you can get some large advantage out of keeping it alive. Few slanders can stand the wear of silence.
    • p. 161
  • For many years I believed that I remembered helping my grandfather drink his whisky toddy when I was six weeks old, but I do not tell about that any more, now; I am grown old, and my memory is not as active as it used to be. When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying, now, and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the latter. It is sad to go to pieces like this, but we all have to do it.
    • p. 210
  • The late Bill Nye once said “I have been told that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”
    • p. 288
  • All creatures kill—there seems to be no exception; but of the whole list, man is the only one that kills for fun; he is the only one that kills in malice, the only one that kills for revenge.
    • p. 312
  • We are always anxious to be distinguished for a talent which we do not possess than to be praised for the fifteen which we do possess.
    • upon being told he had a good head for business, p. 378
  • Persons who think there is no such thing as luck—good or bad—are entitled to their opinion, although I think they ought to be shot for it.
    • p. 380
  • [William Dean] Howells applauded, and was full of praises and endorsement, which was wise in him and judicious. If he had manifested a different spirit I would have thrown him out of the window. I like criticism, but it must be my way.
    • p. 441

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2

Edited by Benjamin Griffin and Harriet Elinor Smith
  • When grown-up persons indulge in practical jokes, the fact gauges them. They have lived narrow, obscure, and ignorant lives, and at full manhood they still retain and cherish a job lot of left-over standards and ideals that would have been discarded with their boyhood if they had then moved out into the world and a broader life.
    • p. 4
  • If she were drowning I would not look—but I would not pull her out. I would not be a party to that last and meanest unkindness, treachery to a would-be suicide. My sympathies have been with the suicides for many, many years. I am always glad when the suicide succeeds in his undertaking. I always feel a genuine pain in my heart, a genuine grief, a genuine pity, when some scoundrel stays the suicide’s hand and compels him to continue his life.
    • pp. 45–46
  • …from the beginning of my sojourn in this world there was a persistent vacancy in me where the industry ought to be. (Ought to was is better, perhaps, though the most of the authorities differ as to this.)
    • p. 46
  • Annihilation has no terrors for me, because I have already tried it before I was born—a hundred million years—and I have suffered more in an hour, in this life, than I remember to have suffered in the whole hundred million years put together. There was a peace, a serenity, an absence of all sense of responsibility, an absence of worry, an absence of care, grief, perplexity; and the presence of a deep content and unbroken satisfaction in that hundred million years of holiday which I look back upon with a tender longing and with a grateful desire to resume, when the opportunity comes.
    • p. 69
  • …I was born lazy. I am no lazier now than I was forty years ago, but that is because I reached the limit forty years ago. You can’t go beyond possibility.
    • p. 115
  • It is a pity we can’t escape from life when we are young.
    • p. 120
  • …when the human race is not grotesque it is because it is asleep and losing its opportunity.
    • p. 127
  • There has never been a Protestant boy nor a Protestant girl whose mind the Bible has not soiled.
    • p. 135
  • There isn’t anything so grotesque or so incredible that the average human being can’t believe it.
    • p. 136
  • No accident ever comes late; it always arrives precisely on time.
    • p. 239
  • …now…that I am a wise person. As for me, I wish there were some more of us in the world, for I find it lonesome.
    • p. 281
  • How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and [how] hard it is to undo that work again!
    • p. 302
      • Misquote: It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.
  • Carlyle said “a lie cannot live.” It shows that he did not know how to tell them. If I had taken out a life policy on this one the premiums would have bankrupted me ages ago.
    • p. 304
  • Brooklyn praise is half slander.
    • p. 370
  • …my sister…was an interested and zealous invalid during sixty-five years, tried all the new diseases as fast as they came out, and always enjoyed the newest one more than any that went before; my brother had accumulated forty-two brands of Christianity before he was called away.
    • p. 393
  • Whenever the human race assembles to a number exceeding four, it cannot stand free speech.
    • p. 442
  • I am always reading immoral books on the sly, and then selfishly trying to prevent other people from having the same wicked good time.
    • p. 475

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 3

Edited by Benjamin Griffin and Harriet Elinor Smith
  • She takes an undaughterful pleasure in noting that now the newspapers are beginning to concede with heartiness that she does not need the help of my name, but can make her way quite satisfactorily upon her own merits. This is insubordination, and must be crushed.
    • p. 14, of his daughter’s, Clara’s, incipient career as a concert vocalist
  • It is my hope sir, that the ass who invented the “age of consent”—any age of consent between cradle and grave—is with his progenitors in hell, and that the legislatures that are keeping the resulting law in force will follow him soon.
    • p. 50
  • A genius is not very likely to ever discover himself; neither is he very likely to be discovered by his intimates; in fact I think I may put it in stronger words and say it is impossible that a genius—at least a literary genius—can ever be discovered by his intimates; they are so close to him that he is out of focus to them and they can’t get at his proportions; they cannot perceive that there is any considerable difference between his bulk and their own. They can’t get a perspective on him, and it is only by a perspective that the difference between him and the rest of their limited circle can be perceived. St. Peter’s cannot be impressive for size to a person who has always seen it close at hand and has never been outside of Rome; it is only the stranger, approaching from far away in the Campania, who sees Rome as an indistinct and characterless blur, with the mighty cathedral standing up out of it all lonely and unfellowed in its majesty. Thousands of geniuses live and die undiscovered—either by themselves or by others. But for the Civil War, Lincoln and Grant and Sherman and Sheridan would not have been discovered, nor have risen into notice.
    • pp. 57–58
  • I had now—not for the first time, nor the thousandth—trampled upon an old and wise and stern maxim of mine, to wit: “Supposing is good, but finding out is better.”
    • p. 99
  • I sent down a circular check to the office to be cashed—a check good for its face in any part of the world, as any ordinary ass would know—but the ass who was assifying for the Queen Anne Mansions on salary didn’t know it; indeed I think that his assitude transcended any assfulness I have ever met in this world or elsewhere.
    • p. 110
  • I have not read Nietzsche or Ibsen, nor any other philosopher, and have not needed to do it, and have not desired to do it; I have gone to the fountain-head for information—that is to say, to the human race. Every man is in his own person the whole human race, with not a detail lacking. I am the whole human race without a detail lacking; I have studied the human race with diligence and strong interest all these years in my own person; in myself I find in big or little proportion every quality and every defect that is findable in the mass of the race. I knew I should not find in any philosophy a single thought which had not passed through my own head, nor a single thought which had not passed the heads of millions and millions of men before I was born; I knew I should not find a single original thought in any philosophy, and I knew I could not furnish one to the world myself, if I had five centuries to invent it in. Nietzsche published his book, and was at once pronounced crazy by the world—by a world which included tens of thousands of bright, sane men who believed exactly as Nietzsche believed, but concealed the fact, and scoffed at Nietzsche. What a coward every man is! and how surely he will find it out if he will just let other people alone and sit down and examine himself. The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in that procession but carrying a banner.
    • p. 130
  • Mr. Roosevelt is the most formidable disaster that has befallen the country since the Civil War—but the vast mass of the nation loves him, is frantically fond of him, even idolizes him. This is the simple truth. It sounds like a libel upon the intelligence of the human race, but it isn’t; there isn’t any way to libel the intelligence of the human race.
    • p. 136, of President Theodore Roosevelt
  • I think the President is clearly insane in several ways, and insanest upon war and its supreme glories. I think he longs for a big war wherein he can spectacularly perform as chief general and chief admiral, and go down in history as the only monarch of modern times that has served both offices at the same time.
    • p. 173, of Theodore Roosevelt
  • In grandchildren I am the richest man that lives to-day: for I select my grandchildren, whereas all other grandfathers have to take them as they come, good, bad, and indifferent.
    • p. 219, of his “angel-fishes”—girls between the ages of ten and sixteen whom he befriended after the death of his wife
  • …why doesn’t somebody write a tract on “How to Be a Christian and yet keep your Hands off of Other People’s Things.”
    • p. 222
  • …in October 1866 I broke out as a lecturer, and from that day to this I have always been able to gain my living without doing any work; for the writing of books and magazine matter was always play, not work. I enjoyed it; it was merely billiards to me.
    • p. 245
  • …it seems to be a law of the human constitution that those that deserve shall not have, and those that do not deserve shall get everything that is worth having. It is a sufficiently crazy arrangement, it seems to me.
    • p. 245
  • NOTICE. To the next Burglar. There is nothing but plated ware in this house, now and henceforth. You will find it in that brass thing in the dining room over in the corner by the basket of kittens. If you want the basket, put the kittens in the brass thing. Do not make a noise—it disturbs the family. You will find rubbers in the front hall, by that thing which has the umbrellas in it, chiffonier, I think they call it, or pergola, or something like that. Please close the door when you go away. Very truly yours, S.L. Clemens
    • p. 269
  • …a professor in one of the great female colleges. That odious form is common, and I submit and use it, though it offends me as much as it would to say female brickbat or female snow-storm or female geography.
    • p. 273
  • No doubt the great majority of them are in the cemetery long ago, and I suppose the rest of us will join them before long. Speaking for myself I am willing; in fact I believe I have been willing ever since I was eighteen years old; not urgent, but willing, merely willing.
    • p. 288
  • The first thing I ever noticed about Miss Lyon was her incredible laziness. Laziness was my own specialty, & I did not like this competition. Dear me, I was to find out, in the course of time, that in the matter of laziness I was a runaway train on a down grade & she a-standing still. At my very laziest I could hear myself whiz, when she was around.
    • p. 386
  • I like the truth sometimes, but I don’t care enough for it to hanker after it. And besides, I have lived with liars so long that I have lost the tune, & a fact jars upon me like a discord.
    • p. 435
  • …a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolute…
    • p. 451


  • When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant, I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.
    • Not found in Twain’s works, this was attributed to him in Reader’s Digest (September 1939): no prior attribution known. Mark Twain’s father died when Twain was eleven years old.
  • I take my only exercise acting as pallbearer at the funerals of my friends who exercised regularly.
    • Source Undetermined in Everyone’s Mark Twain (1972) compiled by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, p. 161
  • I don’t give a damn for a man who can only spell a word one way.
    • Unsourced in POP!: Create the Perfect Pitch, Title, and Tagline for Anything (2006) by Sam Horn.
  • Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.
    • Unsourced in The Philosophy of Mark Twain: The Wit and Wisdom of a Literary Genius (2014) by David Graham
  • The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.
    • This appears on the opening placard of the film The Equalizer, attributing it to Twain, but there is no evidence that Twain wrote it. A precursor is found in Taylor Hartman’s self-help book The Character Code (first published 1991), where it is not attributed to Twain: “The three most significant days in your life are: 1. The day you were born. 2. The day you find out why you were born. 3. The day you discover how to contribute the gift you were born to give” (Google Books link)
  • The lack of money is the root of all evil.
    • This appears in Twain’s posthumous The Refuge of the Derelicts (1905), but it had already been published by other writers.
    • The earliest citation found in Google Books is a 1872 article by Richard Bowker: “Our Crime Against Crimes”, in The Herald of Health, vol. 19 no. 2, New York: Wood & Holbrook, February 1872. The saying is placed within quotation marks, perhaps indicating that it was already well-known.
    • A precursor is found in an article from 1859: It is very well to repeat, parrot-like, the old axiom that “the love of gold is the root of all evil;” but it is very certain that in truth—the lack of gold is the great incentive to crime.
  • If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.
    • No known source in Twain’s works.
    • The earliest known source is a Usenet post from November 2000.


  • It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
    • Anonymous American proverb; since 1998 this has often been attributed to Mark Twain on the internet, but no contemporary evidence of him ever using it has been located.
    • Variants:
    • It is not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, but the fight in the dog that matters.
      • “Stub Ends of Thoughts” by Arthur G. Lewis, a collection of sayings, in Book of the Royal Blue Vol. 14, No. 7 (April 1911), cited as the earliest known occurrence in The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, edited by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, p. 232
    • It is not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, but the fight in the dog that wins.
      • Anonymous quote in the evening edition of the East Oregonian (20 April 1911)
    • What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight — it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
      • Dwight D. Eisenhower, declaring his particular variant on the proverbial assertion in Remarks at Republican National Committee Breakfast (31 January 1958)
  • He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
    • Aphorism 146 from Jenseits von Gut und Böse (Beyond Good and Evil) an 1886 book by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
      • Translated from: Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.
      • Source: Gutenberg-DE
      • Translation source: Hollingdale
  • Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
    • Attributed to Markus Herz by Ernst von Feuchtersleben, Zur Diätetik der Seele (1841), p. 95. First attributed to Twain in 1980s, as in The 637 best things anybody ever said, (1982), Robert Byrne, Atheneum. See talk page for more info.
  • When a child turns 12, he should be kept in a barrel and fed through the bunghole, until he reaches 16 … at which time you plug the bunghole.
    • Attributed to Twain but never sourced, this quotation should not be regarded as authentic.
  • Describing her first day back in grade school after a long absence, a teacher said, “It was like trying to hold 35 corks under water at the same time.”
    • Incorrectly attributed to Twain, this is actually a quotation from an article in The Pocono Record (18 February 1971, page 4)
  • Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.
    • Actually by Bill Nye, possibly confused due to Nye quoting Twain in More Tramps Abroad, 1897. (See also autobiography, vol. 1, p. 288.)
  • Warm summer sun, shine kindly here;
    Warm southern wind, blow softly here;
    Green sod above, lie light, lie light —
    Good-night, dear heart, good-night, good-night.

    • Epitaph for his daughter, Olivia Susan Clemens (1896), this is actually a slight adaptation of the poem “Annette” by Robert Richardson; more details are available at “The Poem on Susy Clemens’ Headstone”
  • The minority is always in the right. The majority is always in the wrong.
    • Attributed to Twain, but never sourced. Suspiciously close to “A minority may be right, and the majority is always in the wrong.” — Henrik Ibsen “Enemy of the People,” as well as a famous quote from Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard
  • There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
    • Often attributed to Twain, but he said it was attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and this itself is probably a misattribution: see Lies, damned lies, and statistics and Leonard H. Courtney. Twain did, however, popularize this saying in the United States. His attribution is in the following passage from Twain’s Autobiography (1924), Vol. I, p. 246 (apparently written in Florence in 1904) [7]:
      • Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”.
  • The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.
    • Often attributed to Twain, but of unknown origin.[8] [9] [10] This entry from Quote Investigator discusses some possible early sources.
    • Twain did write, in Roughing It:
      • The climate of San Francisco is mild and singularly equable. The thermometer stands at about seventy degrees the year round. It hardly changes at all. You sleep under one or two light blankets Summer and Winter, and never use a mosquito bar. Nobody ever wears Summer clothing. You wear black broadcloth–if you have it–in August and January, just the same. It is no colder, and no warmer, in the one month than the other. You do not use overcoats and you do not use fans. It is as pleasant a climate as could well be contrived, take it all around, and is doubtless the most unvarying in the whole world. The wind blows there a good deal in the summer months, but then you can go over to Oakland, if you choose–three or four miles away–it does not blow there.
  • Golf is a good walk spoiled.
    • “Twain probably never uttered [these] words,” according to R. Kent Rasmussen, editor of The Quotable Mark Twain (1998).
    • “To play golf is to spoil an otherwise enjoyable walk” is found in H.S. Scrivener, “Memories of Men and Meetings”, in Arthur Wallis Myers (ed.) Lawn Tennis at Home and Abroad New York:Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903, p. 47. Scrivener attributes the aphorism to “my good friends the Allens”. Reference from Quote Investigator.
  • I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.
    • Often misattributed to Twain, this is actually by Blaise Pascal, “Lettres provinciales”, letter 16, 1657:
      • Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.
      • Translation: I have only made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the opportunity to make it shorter.
  • Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting over.
    • It seems likely that the attribution to Twain is apocryphal. It is not listed as authentic on Twainquotes, and is not listed at all in either R. Ken Ramussen’s The Quotable Mark Twain (1998) or David W. Barber’s Quotable Twain (2002)
  • A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.
    • According to R. Ken Rasmussen in The Quotable Mark Twain (1998), this is most probably not Twain’s.
  • Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
    • Notes on sourcing
    • Twain did say:
“There is a sumptuous variety about the New England weather that compels the stranger’s admiration — and regret. The weather is always doing something there … In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours. …
Yes, one of the brightest gems in the New England weather is the dazzling uncertainty of it.”

  • Speech at the dinner of New England Society in New York City (22 December 1876)
  • Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
    • This quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, but the attribution cannot be verified. The quote should not be regarded as authentic. — Twainquotes
    • Actually from the 1990 book P. S. I Love You’‘ by H. Jackson Brown.
  • Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India.
    • Max Müller, India: What Can India Teach Us? (1883), p. 15
  • Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.
    • Often attributed to Twain online, but unsourced. Alternate source: “The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It’s like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can’t have steak.” — Robert Heinlein, The Man Who Sold the Moon, 1951, p. 188.
  • It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.
    • Cited as an example of “What Mark Twain Didn’t Say” in Mark Twain by Geoffrey C. Ward, et al.
  • For example, in Year 1 that useless letter “c” would be dropped to be replased either by “k” or “s”, and likewise “x” would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which “c” would be retained would be the “ch” formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform “w” spelling, so that “which” and “one” would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish “y” replasing it with “i” and Iear 4 might fiks the “g/j” anomali wonse and for all. Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez “c”, “y” and “x” — bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez — tu riplais “ch”, “sh”, and “th” rispektivli. Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.
    • Actual source: A letter to The Economist (16 January 1971), written by one M.J. Shields (or M.J. Yilz, by the end of the letter). The letter is quoted in full in one of Willard Espy’s Words at Play books. This was a modified version of a piece “Meihem in ce Klasrum”, published in the September 1946 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine.[11]
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.
    • Commonly attributed to Twain in computer contexts and post-2000 inspirational books — the first sentence has also been attributed to Agatha Christie and Sally Berger.
  • Don’t believe the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
    • Often attributed to Twain, but sourced to Robert J. Burdette, Quote Investigator
  • Politicians are like diapers: they should be changed often, and for the same reason*
    • Variant: Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason
    • Not found in Twain’s works.
    • A 1993 newspaper humor column attributes this saying to Reader’s Digest: “Picking it up from a Reader’s Digest fan, Willie, our ex-shoe shine boy, says some politicians are like diapers. They both need changed often … and for the same reason.”[2]
    • Also attributed to Reader’s Digest in Naomi Judd’s 1993 book Love Can Build a Bridge: ‘A quip I once saw in Reader’s Digest said: “Most politicians are like diapers: they should be changed often, and for the same reason!”‘.
    • Not found attributed to Twain until 2010
  • The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.
    • Not by Twain, but from Edward Abbey’s A Voice Crying In The Wilderness (1989).
  • When the rich rob the poor, it’s called business. When the poor fight back, it’s called violence.
    • By Alfred Remulla on Twiter (@alfredremulla_) September 10, 2011 citation
  • History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes
    • Origins unclear. Earliest known match in print comes from 1970, in a collection called “Neo Poems” by Canadian artist John Robert Colombo, who recalled reading it sometime in the 1960s. Twain did say “History never repeats itself, but the Kaleidoscopic combinations of the pictured present often seem to be constructed out of the broken fragments of antique legends.” in the 1874 edition of “The Gilded Age: A Tale of To-Day”. A thematic precursor, “History May Not Repeat, But It Looks Alike”, appears in a 1941 article by Chicago Tribune in Illinois. (Source: Quote Investigator)

Quotes about Twain

  • [A] hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven ‘sure fire’ literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.
    • William Faulkner, “Books and Things: American Drama: Inhibitions”, in The Missippian, March 1922
  • He [Mark Twain] spoke of humor, and thought it must be one of the chief attributes of God. He cited plants and animals that were distinctly humorous in form and in their characteristics. These he declared were God’s jokes.
    • Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain, A Biography 1912
  • All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. But it’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.
    • Ernest Hemingway in The Green Hills of Africa Chapter 1
  • From his earliest childhood young Clemens had been of an adventurous disposition. Before he was thirteen he had been extracted three times from the Mississippi and six times from Bear Creek in a substantially drowned condition, but his mother, with the high confidence in his future that never deserted her, merely remarked: “People who are born to be hanged are safe in the water.”
    • Samuel E. Moffett, “Mark Twain: a biographical sketch”, in Autobiography of Mark Twain Vol. 3 (2015), p. 656
  • I am persuaded that the future historian of America will find your works as indispensable to him as a French historian finds the political tracts of Voltaire.
    • George Bernard Shaw, letter to Mark Twain (3 July 1907), as quoted in Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s Introduction to A Historical Guide to Mark Twain (Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 3

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