Quotes by Mark Twain

Mark Twain Biography

Mark Twain ( 1835 -1910 )

Mark Twain was the pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the world famous American traveller, story teller, humourist, journalist, lecturer and novelist who acquired international fame for his travel narratives of mid-19th century America and for his adventure stories of boyhood in the Southern states, especially ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer ‘(1876) and ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ‘(1885). A gifted raconteur, dry, observant humourist and a ruthless critic of pomposity and self- aggrandisement , he became a popular public figure and one of America’s best and most beloved writers.

Born November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri, his real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Frail as a child Twain was close with his mother, sharing her sense of humour. Twain’s father, John Clemens, was a self-educated lawyer who ran a general store.

In 1839 the family moved to Hannibal, Missouri and John Clemens worked as a justice of the peace. The town of Hannibal would later inspire the fictional town of St. Petersburg, the setting for Twain’s famous novels about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

During his youth, Twain saw despair and death at first hand , sickness , epidemics, drownings, a body in his father’s office and continual violence toward slaves.

In 1847 Twain’s father died of pneumonia and shortly after, young Twain left school to become a printer’s apprentice at the ‘Missouri Courier’, a Hannibal newspaper. For the next several years Twain drifted to different cities, working as a printer in New York City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati, while educating himself in public libraries.

In 1857 Twain he booked a passage on a steamboat down the Mississippi River to New Orleans in order to travel to South America to make his fortune. But he so loved this experience, that he decided to become a Mississippi River steamboat pilot instead. Twain was apprenticed and earned his steamboat pilot’s license in1859. In particular, he enjoyed the respect and camaraderie that life on the river offered.
In 1861 Mississippi River traffic was mostly halted, due to the Civil War. This ended Twain’s career on the river so briefly he joined a small Confederate unit, the Marion Rangers, more from nostalgia for his Southern roots than from a desire to advocate slavery. In fact ,Twain was an adamant supporter of the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of slaves.

After the civil war, Twain’s brother, Orion, campaigned for Abraham Lincoln during his run for the presidency. As a reward, he was given the post of secretary to the Governor of the Nevada Territory. Twain briefly worked with his brother, then left to mine for silver, unsuccessfully, in Nevada. He then began working at the ‘Territorial Enterprise,’ a newspaper in Virginia City, Nevada. For the first time, in 1863, he used the pen name Mark Twain in letters for the ‘Enterprise’. ‘Mark Twain’ was a memory from his riverboat days – it actually means a river depth of two fathoms, safe for steamboats to navigate.
After absconding from a duel, he eventually wound up in Calaveras County, California, where he heard a tale about a jumping frog contest. This would become the basis for Twain’s 1865 story, later retitled as ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’, published in newspapers across the country and bringing Twain his first taste of celebrity.

Twain moved to San Francisco in 1864, still as a journalist and in 1867, a local newspaper funded a trip for him to visit the Mediterranean, including a tour of Europe and the Middle East on which he wrote a collection of travel letters. After an acquaintance with her brother on this trip,Twain met and fell in love with Olivia Langdon, who came from a wealthy abolitionist family. They married in 1870 and had four children though only their third daughter, Clara, outlived her parents.

In 1874 the family moved into a 25-room home in Hartford, Connecticut. In this home Twain would write ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’, ‘The Prince and the Pauper’, ‘Life on the Mississippi’, and his masterwork, ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’.

Huck was modelled after a boy he had known back in Hannibal, Tom Blankenship. Twain said, “In ‘Huckleberry Finn’ I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had.”

‘’Huckleberry Finn” has been both adored and criticized over the years. Some see it as a condemnation of slavery as seen through the eyes of a boy who was raised to accept slavery as acceptable, but it is an iconic American novel in that it promotes debate on such issues and touches people to their core.
Twain amassed a large fortune, particularly for the times, but he lost all his money by speculating on a new mechanical typesetting machine and through the failure of his publishing company. In 1891 the family closed up their home in Hartford and relocated to Europe, for financial reasons and as Twain’s wife was in poor health.

Twain was adept at turning a phrase and using homespun humour, not only in his written works, but also in the public arena, so he travelled the world in 1895, making money as a public speaker and eventually paying off his debts, even though he was not legally required to do so.

Twain grew somewhat bitter later in life, especially after losing two of his adult daughters in their twenties and his wife at the age of 58. His 1906 work, ‘Eve’s Diary’, conveyed some of his sense of loss. He also wrote essays condemning anti-Semitism, lynching and the brutality of Belgian rule in the Congo.
Mark Twain was a creative thinker and an innovator. In addition to the failed ‘Paige Compositor’, he held three patents for his own inventions and his self-pasting scrapbook was a financial success.

He also loved dogs. He once had three collies, named I Know, You Know, and Don’t Know.

Later in life , he developed a strong anti -imperialist and even revolutionary republican views which he espoused during all the various political and social changes of the times, becoming vice-president of the American Anti-Imperialist League from 1900, until his death.

In 1910, on April 21, Mark Twain died of a heart attack at his home in Redding, Connecticut. That night Halley’s Comet was visible in the sky as it was on the day he was born, 75 years before.

  • All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence and then success is sure..

    Ignorance, Self Confidence, Success

  • 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 he had learned in seven years.

    Learning, Parents, Youth

  • Education: the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.

    Education, Insecurity, Self-Consciousness

  • His profanity was so void of art that it was an element of weakness rather than strength in his conversation.

    Profanity, Swearing

  • Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.


  • A painter has so much more talent when he is dead.


  • When angry count four. When very angry, swear.

    Anger, Annoyance, Irritation

  • Never argue with an idiot because bystanders don’t know who the idiot is.


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


  • Get your facts first and then you can distort them as much as you please.

    Story telling

  • The adventures of Tom Sawyer’ was made by Mr Mark Twain and he told the truth, mainly. There were things that he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.


  • By hard, honest labour I have dug all the large words out of my vocabulary. I never write ‘metropolis’ for seven cents because I can get the same money for ‘city. I never write ‘policeman’ because I can get the same money for ’cop’.


  • I don’t give a damn for a man who can spell a word only one way.


  • Only presidents, editors and people with tapeworm have the right to use the editorial `we’.


  • By the argument of counsel it was shown that at half past ten in the morning, on the day of the murder, the defendant became insane and remained so for eleven and a half hours exactly.


  • Last week, I stated this women was the ugliest woman I had ever seen. I have since been visited by her sister, and now I wish to withdraw that statement.


  • Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely good enough.


  • Cold! If the thermometer had been an inch longer we would all have frozen to death.


  • Climate is what we expect; weather is what we get.


  • Virtue has never been as respectable as money.


  • There ain’t no way to find out why a snorer can’t hear himself snore.