top of page

The Wit of Mark Twain

Mark Twain (1835 – 1910), whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was an American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer, most famous for his novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885).

Raised in Hannibal, Missouri (which later provided the setting for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn) Twain served an apprenticeship with a printer and then worked as a typesetter, but later became a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River before heading west to join his brother in Nevada. His humorous story 'The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County' was published in 1865, and brought him international attention. His wit and satire, in prose and in speech, earned praise from critics and peers, and he became known to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty.

Though he made a great deal of money from his writings and lectures, he lost it through poor investments and eventually filed for bankruptcy. With the help of Henry Huttleston Rogers he recovered financially and chose to pay all his pre-bankruptcy creditors in full, though he had no legal responsibility to do so.

Lauded as the greatest humorist America has produced, William Faulkner called Twain 'the father of American literature’.

Here is a selection of quotes from his work:

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

'If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.'

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

'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.’

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

'Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination.'

'The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.'

'What would men be without women? Scarce, sir...mighty scarce.'

'Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.'

'′Classic′ - a book which people praise and don't read.'

'Books are for people who wish they were somewhere else.'

'I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.'

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

'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.'

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

'Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.'

'Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it.'

'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.'

'Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.'

'In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.'

'Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves 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.'

'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.'

'Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.'

'But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?'

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

'I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.'

'I did not attend his funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.'

'God created war so that Americans would learn geography.’

'Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.’

Join the Inner Circle Writers' Group on Facebook

The Inner Circle Writers' Group is all about fiction: what it is all about, how it works, helping you to write and publish it. You can keep up to date with live contributions from members, upload your own fiction, enter competitions and so on:
Tag Cloud
bottom of page