Mark Twain

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Samuel Langhorne Clemens: Mark Twain

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835April 21, 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American humorist, novelist, writer, and lecturer.

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Sourced

  • I haven't a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices.
    • "Answers to Correspondents" (1865), reported in Early Tales & Sketches, v.2, 1864-1865, Branch and Hirst, ed. (1981).
  • 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 (1867).
  • Tomorrow night I appear for the first time before a Boston audience — 4000 critics.
    • Letter to Pamela Clemens Moffet (November 9, 1869).
  • 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.
  • A crowded police docket is the surest of all signs that trade is brisk and money plenty.
  • Barring that natural expression of villainy which we all have, the man looked honest enough.
    • A Mysterious Visit (1875).
  • This poor little one-horse town.
    • The Undertaker's Chat (1875).
  • A baby is an inestimable blessing and bother.
    • Letter to Annie Webster (September 1, 1876).
  • The funniest things are the forbidden.
    • (1879)
    • Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, Vol. 2:1877-1883 (1975).
  • 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).
  • 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.
    • Answering a toast, "To the babies," at a banquet in honor of General U.S. Grant (November 14, 1879).
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any.
    • Advice to Youth (5/15/1882).
The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter — it's the difference between a lightning bug and the lightning.
  • Loyalty to petrified opinions never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world — and never will.
    • Paper delivered in Hartford (late 1884). This quote is engraved on Twain's bust in the National Hall of Fame.
  • He is now fast rising from affluence to poverty.
    • Henry Ward Beecher's Farm (1885).
  • 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 (February 27, 1885).
  • The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter — it's the difference between a lightning bug and the lightning.
    • Letter to George Bainton (1888).
  • Weather is a literary specialty, and no untrained hand can turn out a good article on it.
    • The American Claimant, foreword (1892).
  • If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything.
    • Notebook, 1894
  • The report of my death was an exaggeration.
    • variant: "The reports [or "rumours"] of my death have been greatly exaggerated."
    • According to R. Ken Rasmussen in The Quotable Mark Twain" (1998), the most authoritative version of this quote came in a note Twain wrote to a London reporter, which said: "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." This was reported by Frank Marshall White in "Mark Twain as a Newspaper Reporter" in Outlook (12/14/1910).

  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • The History of the Savage Club, speech (1899).
  • He had only one vanity; he thought he could give advice better than any other person.
    • The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, (1900)
  • [A] classic - something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.
  • 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.
  • [The human race], in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon — laughter.
    • "The Chronicle of Young Satan" (1900)
    • from Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts, William M. Gibson, ed. (1969).
  • ...[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)
  • 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.
  • Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.
    • To the Young People's Society, Greenpoint Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn (February 16, 1901)
  • To create man was a fine and original idea; but to add the sheep was a tautology.
    • St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 30, 1902
    • from Ron Powers, Mark Twain: A Life, p. 611)
  • 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.
    • (1906)
    • Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men and Events (1940) ed. 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)
  • 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) ed. Bernard DeVoto
  • The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.
    • Christian Science (1907)
  • I have been complimented many times and they always embarrass me; I always feel that they have not said enough.
    • speech, September 23, 1907
  • Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.
    • Letter to an Unidentified Person (1908)
  • 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)
  • The lack of money is the root of all evil.
    • Merle Johnson, More Maxims of Mark (1927)
  • Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
    • Merle Johnson, More Maxims of Mark (1927)
  • 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"
  • 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, Merle Johnson (1927)

The Innocents Abroad (1869)

  • 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
  • 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.
    • Conclusion

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)

  • 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 (December 22, 1876)

  • 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.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

  • 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.
    BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR.
    • 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
  • 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

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)

  • 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 others to vote him down if they do not see the matter as he does.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.

How To Tell A Story (1895)

  • 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.

Concerning the Jews (Harper's Magazine, Sept. 1899)

  • I have no race 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 quint-essentials of good citizenship.
  • 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?

What Is Man? (1906)

  • 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 (February 7, 1907)

  • 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 1907

  • 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.

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, these are now often quoted as being the very words of Herodotus.

Albert Bigelow Paine's Mark Twain, A Biography (1912)

  • 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.

The Mysterious Stranger (1916)

etext

  • 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.

Mark Twain's Autobiography (1924)

  • Biographies are but clothes and buttons of the man — the biography of the man himself cannot be written.
    • Vol. I, p. 2
  • 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

Mark Twain's Notebook (1935)

  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • None but the dead have free speech.
    • p.393
  • 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
  • Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.
    • p.346
  • Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.
    • p.393
      • Alternate (also Twain's): Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause & reflect.

Papers of the Adams Family

  • 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.
  • 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.

"The Danger of Lying in Bed"

  • 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.

"Which was the Dream?"

  • 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.

"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;
  • 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 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.

Unsourced

Twain is one of those major iconic figures to whom many statements become attributed; unsourced attributions to him should usually be treated with some skepticism, and often a great deal of it.

India

  • Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India.
  • 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.

Writing and speaking

  • Drawing on my fine command of language, I said nothing.
    • This quote, in both this and a slightly different form, is also attributed to Robert Benchley.
  • I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.
  • Most writers regard truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use.
  • The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail. The trouble with most fiction is that you want them all to land in hell, together, as quickly as possible.

Money and finance

  • I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.

Education

  • Never let your schooling interfere with your education.
  • If you would have your fiction live forever, you must neither overtly preach nor overtly teach; but you must covertly preach and covertly teach.
  • I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is I can't find anybody who can tell me what they want.

Facts

  • Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.
    • Commonly quoted as: "First get your facts, then you can distort them at your leisure."

Government and politics

  • In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination.
  • 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.
  • If voting made any difference they wouldn't let us do it.
  • All you have to fear is your mother's cooking.
  • 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?
  • He was ignorant of the commonest accomplishments of youth. He could not even lie.

Health

  • Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
  • 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.

History

  • The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.
    • Also quoted as "History does not repeat itself, It rhymes" and "History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes a lot."
    • According to this notes on sourcing, Twain scholars agree that it sounds like something he would say, but they have been unable to find the actual quote in his writing.
      • Twain did write: "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), ed. Bernard DeVoto.)

Humor

  • Humor must not professedly teach, and it must not professedly preach, but it must do both if it would live forever.

Religion

  • It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.
  • "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... When I look around me, I am often troubled to see how many people are mad."

Truth

  • A lie can make it half way around the world before the truth has time to put its boots on. (This has also been attributed to Winston Churchill.)
  • 'I once sent a telegram to 12 of my friends saying ALL IS DISCOVERED - FLEE AT ONCE. They all left town immediately.

(This has also been attributed to Arthur Conan Doyle, with the caveat that only one of his friends disappeared.)

  • Actions speak louder than words, but not nearly as often.
  • Always tell the truth. That way, you don't have to remember what you said.

Weather

Miscellaneous

  • Conductor, when you receive a fare,
    Punch in the presence of the passenjare:
    A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
    A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
    A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
    Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

    Chorus: Punch, brothers, punch with care!
    Punch in the presence of the passenjare.
    • Punch, Brothers, punch.
  • Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes time and annoys the pig.
  • A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.
  • What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so.
  • There is something worse than ignorance, and that's knowing what ain't so.
  • All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.
  • America is built on a tilt and everything loose slides to California.
  • Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
  • Every generalization is false, including this one.
    • This has also been attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Winston Churchill, George Barnard Shaw and Douglas MacArthur.
  • Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.
  • France is miserable because it is filled with Frenchmen, and Frenchmen are miserable because they live in France.
  • I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying that I approved of it.
  • I have found solace in profanity unexcelled even by prayer.
  • I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.
  • I take my only exercise acting as a pallbearer at the funerals of my friends who exercise regularly
  • It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not to deserve them.
  • It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.
  • It was wonderful to find America, but it would have been more wonderful to miss it.
  • I've never killed a man, but I've read many an obituary with a great deal of satisfaction.
  • 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.
  • Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear, and the blind can read.
  • Love your enemy, it'll scare the hell out of him.
  • The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.
  • Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.
  • Only presidents, editors and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial "we".
  • Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.
  • Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
  • I admire the serene assurance of those who have religious faith. It is wonderful to observe the calm confidence of a Christian with four aces.
  • The catfish is a plenty good enough fish for anyone.
  • The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.
  • There ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.
  • There are no dialogues, only intersecting monologues.
  • There is nothing lower than the human race except the French.
  • Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.
  • They did not know it was impossible, so they did it!
  • The trouble ain't that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain't distributed right.
  • When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.
    • Alternate version: When I was sixteen, my father was the most ignorant man in the world. By the time I reached 21, I was surprised at how much he had learned in five years.
  • If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. (Sometimes quoted as newspapers.)
  • You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
  • 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.
    • quoted by Stephen Jay Gould in Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle (1987)
  • When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
  • In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second hand, and without examination.
  • I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

Misattributed

  • Wagner's music is better than it sounds.
    • Actually a stand-up line of Bill Nye's
  • 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.
  • 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 in his use of the phrase he stated he was quoting Benjamin Disraeli, and this itself is probably a misattribution as the earliest known use of it was actually by Leonard H. Courtney. Twain did, however, popularize this saying in the United States. The attribution arises from the following passage in Twain's Autobiography (1924), Vol. I, p. 246 (apparently written in Florence in 1904) [2]:
      • I was deducing from the above that I have been slowing down steadily in these thirty-six years, but I perceive that my statistics have a defect: 3,000 words in the spring of 1868, when I was working seven or eight or nine hours at a sitting, has little or no advantage over the sitting of to-day, covering half the time and producing half the output. 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.[3] [4] [5]
    • 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)
  • Tomorrow is the yesterday of two days from now.
    • Actually by an unknown author which was started as an internet hoax because the quote was trite and obvious and sounds like something that Mark Twain would have said.
  • I'm sorry this letter is so long, but I did not have time 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, December 22, 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.
    • I've never seen that quote attributed to Twain by anyone who could be considered an authority on him — Jim Zwick
    • This quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, but the attribution cannot be verified. The quote should not be regarded as authentic. — Twainquotes
  • 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" p.188. Feel free to move this back up if you can source it.
  • 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, 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
  • 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 — the first sentence has also been attributed to Agatha Christie and Sally Berger.

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