Study Guide

Mark Twain Quotes

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"There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind—the humorous. I will talk mainly about that one. The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French. The humorous story depends for its effect upon the manner of the telling; the comic story and the witty story upon the matter."The humorous story is strictly a work of art—high and delicate art—and only an artist can tell it; but no art is necessary in telling the comic and the witty story; anybody can do it. The art of telling a humorous story—understand, I mean by word of mouth, not print—was created in America, and has remained at home."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; but the teller of the comic story tells you beforehand that it is one of the funniest things he has ever heard, then tells it with eager delight, and is the first person to laugh when he gets through. And sometimes, if he has had good success, he is so glad and happy that he will repeat the 'nub' of it and glance around from face to face, collecting applause, and then repeat it again. It is a pathetic thing to see."

Mark Twain, 1895 essay "How to Tell a Story"

"Carlyle said 'a lie cannot live.' It shows that he did not know how to tell them."

Mark Twain's Autobiography

"Familiarity breeds contempt—and children."

Mark Twain's notebook, 1894

"I would rather have my ignorance than another man's knowledge, because I have so much more of it."

Letter to W.D. Howells, 1875

"The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up."

Mark Twain's notebook

"The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after it, he knows too little."

Mark Twain's notebook, c. 1902-1903

"Do not put off until tomorrow what can be put off till day-after-tomorrow just as well."

More Maxims of Mark

"Total abstinence is so excellent a thing that it cannot be carried to too great an extent. In my passion for it I even carry it so far as to totally abstain from total abstinence itself."

Inscription Twain wrote in an album to Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes

"Geniuses are people who dash off weird, wild, incomprehensible poems with astonishing facility, & then go & get booming drunk & sleep in the gutter. Genius elevates a man to ineffable speres [sic] far above the vulgar world, & fills his soul with a regal contempt for the gross & sordid things of earth. It is probably on account of this that people who have genius do not pay their board, as a general thing."

Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, vol. 1, 1855-1873

"Women, go your ways! Seek not to beguile us of our imperial privileges. Content yourself with your little feminine trifles—your babies, your benevolent societies and your knitting—and let your natural bosses do the voting. Stand back—you will be wanting to go to war next. We will let you teach school as much as you want to, and we will pay you half wages for it, too, but beware! We don't want you to crowd us too much."

Letter in support of women's suffrage to St. Louis Missouri Democrat, March 1867

"There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages."

Following the Equator

"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."

Mark Twain, in the New York Tribune, 1906

"There has been only one Christian. They caught him and crucified him—early."

Mark Twain's notebook, 1898

"You can assure my Virginia friends that I will make an exhaustive investigation of this report that I have been lost at sea. If there is any foundation for the report, I will at once apprise the anxious public. I sincerely hope that there is no foundation for the report, and I also hope that judgment will be suspended until I ascertain the true state of affairs."

On false reports of his death

"The moral of it is this: If you are of any account, stay at home and make your way by faithful diligence; but if you are 'no account,' go away from home, and then you will have to work, whether you want to or not. Thus you become a blessing to your friends by ceasing to be a nuisance to them—if the people you go among suffer by the operation."

Roughing It

"Behold the fool saith, 'Put not all thine eggs in the one basket'—which is but a manner of saying, 'Scatter your money and your attention;' but the wise man saith, 'Put all your eggs in the one basket and—WATCH THAT BASKET.'"

Pudd'nHead Wilson

"Mark Twain was the first truly American writer, and all of us since are heirs…. I call him the father of American literature."

William Faulkner, 1955 interview

"All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called 'Huckleberry Finn.' . . . 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, Green Hills of Africa

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