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Great Speeches

Great Speeches

by Mark Twain

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In addition to being one of America's greatest novelists and humorists, Mark Twain (1835–1910) was a captivating public speaker. Once he became an established author with an enthusiastic following, Twain earned a substantial part of his income by conducting lecture tours. This compilation brings together a generous selection of his best speeches,


In addition to being one of America's greatest novelists and humorists, Mark Twain (1835–1910) was a captivating public speaker. Once he became an established author with an enthusiastic following, Twain earned a substantial part of his income by conducting lecture tours. This compilation brings together a generous selection of his best speeches, highlighting his legendary wit and powers of wry observation.
Twain was reputed to have possessed a modern stand-up comedian's mastery of timing and delivery and to have understood his medium completely. He preferred to give the impression that he was speaking off the cuff, but he also often handed out advance copies of his speeches to journalists to be sure that they would quote him accurately — and get the jokes right. Among these speeches are his famous 70th birthday address delivered at a gala 1905 event in his honor at New York's Delmonico's Restaurant; his classic address on "Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims," with which he entertained a meeting of Philadelphia's New England Society in 1881; and the perennial favorite, "Horrors of the German Language," delivered at the Vienna Press Club in 1897.

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Dover Publications
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Great Speeches by Mark Twain

By Bob Blaisdell

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-28888-8



Washington, D.C., January 11, 1868

After the banquet's twelfth toast ("Woman—The pride of any profession, and the jewel of ours"), Twain rose to speak to the Washington Correspondents Club.

Mr. President, I do not know why I should be singled out to receive the greatest distinction of the evening—for so the office of replying to the toast of woman has been regarded in every age. I do not know why I have received this distinction, unless it be that I am a trifle less homely than the other members of the club. But be this as it may, Mr. President, I am proud of the position, and you could not have chosen any one who would have accepted it more gladly, or labored with a heartier good-will to do the subject justice than I—because, sir, I love the sex. I love all the women, irrespective of age or color.

Human intellect cannot estimate what we owe to woman, sir. She sews on our buttons; she mends our clothes; she ropes us in at the church fairs; she confides in us; she tells us whatever she can find out about the little private affairs of the neighbors; she gives us good advice, and plenty of it; she soothes our aching brows; she bears our children—ours as a general thing. In all relations of life, sir, it is but a just and graceful tribute to woman to say of her that she is a brick.

Wheresoever you place woman, sir—in whatever position or estate—she is an ornament to the place she occupies, and a treasure to the world. [Here Mr. Clemens paused, looked inquiringly at his hearers, and remarked that the applause should come in at this point. It came in. He resumed his eulogy] Look at Cleopatra!—look at Desdemona!—look at Florence Nightingale!—look at Joan of Arc!—look at Lucretia Borgia! [Disapprobation expressed.] Well [said Mr. Clemens, scratching his head, doubtfully], suppose we let Lucretia slide. Look at Joyce Heth!—Look at Mother Eve! You need not look at her unless you want to, but [said Mr. Clemens, reflectively, after a pause] Eve was ornamental, sir—particularly before the fashions changed. I repeat, sir, look at the illustrious names of history. Look at the Widow Machree!—Look at Lucy Stone!—look at Elizabeth Cady Stanton!—Look at George Francis Train! And, sir, I say it with bowed head and deepest veneration—look at the mother of Washington! She raised a boy that could not tell a lie—could not tell a lie! But he never had any chance. It might have been different if he had belonged to the Washington Newspaper Correspondents' Club.

I repeat, sir, that in whatever position you place a woman she is an ornament to society and a treasure to the world. As a sweetheart, she has few equals and no superiors; as a cousin, she is convenient; as a wealthy grandmother with an incurable distemper, she is precious; as a wet-nurse, she has no equal among men.

What, sir, would the people of the earth be without woman? They would be scarce, sir, almighty scarce.

Then let us cherish her; let us protect her; let us give her our support, our encouragement, our sympathy, ourselves—if we get a chance.

But, jesting aside, Mr. President, woman is lovable, gracious, kind of heart, beautiful—worthy of all respect, of all esteem, of all deference. Not any here will refuse to drink her health right cordially in this bumper of wine, for each and every one has personally known, and loved, and honored the very best one of them all—his own mother.


San Francisco, July 2, 1868

Twain created a stir for his lecture by publishing in San Francisco newspapers made-up letters of protest against his lecturing. The Mercantile Library Building "was well filled with admirers," according to a reporter for the Daily Alta California newspaper. Only this excerpt survives.

Ladies and Gentlemen: If anyone in San Francisco has a just right this evening to feel gratified—more, to feel proud—it is I, who stand before you. The compliment of your attendance here I thoroughly appreciate. It is a greater compliment than I really deserve, perhaps—but for that matter I have always been rather better treated in San Francisco than I actually deserved. I am willing to say that.

I appreciate your attendance here tonight all the more because there was such a wide-spread, such a furious, such a determined opposition to my lecturing upon this occasion. Pretty much the entire community wrote petitions imploring me not to lecture—to forbear—to have compassion upon a persecuted people. I have never had such a unanimous call to—to—to leave, before. But I resisted, and am here; and I am glad that I am privileged to address a full house, instead of having to pour out this cataract of wisdom upon empty benches.

I do not exactly propose to instruct you this evening, but rather to tell you a good many things which you have known very well before, no doubt, but which may have grown dim in your memories—for the multifarious duties and annoyances of daily life are apt to drive from our minds a large part of what we learn, and that knowledge is of little use which we cannot recall. So I simply propose to refresh your memories. I trust this will be considered sufficient apology for making this lecture somewhat didactic. I don't know what didactic means, but it is a good, high-sounding word, and I wish to use it, meaning no harm whatever.

Source: The (San Francisco) Daily Alta California. July 3, 1868.


London, c. September 22, 1872

Twain in spoke to the Savage Club, where he was guest of honor.

It affords me sincere pleasure to meet this distinguished club, a club which has extended its hospitalities and its cordial welcome to so many of my countrymen. I hope you will excuse these clothes. I am going to the theater; that will explain these clothes. I have other clothes than these. Judging human nature by what I have seen of it, I suppose that the customary thing for a stranger to do when he stands here is to make a pun on the name of this club, under the impression, of course, that he is the first man that that idea has occurred to. It is a credit to our human nature, not a blemish upon it; for it shows that underlying all our depravity (and God knows and you know we are depraved enough) and all our sophistication, and untarnished by them, there is a sweet germ of innocence and simplicity still. When a stranger says to me, with a glow of inspiration in his eye, some gentle, innocuous little thing about "Twain and one flesh," and all that sort of thing, I don't try to crush that man into the earth—no. I feel like saying: "Let me take you by the hand, sir; let me embrace you; I have not heard that pun for weeks." We will deal in palpable puns. We will call parties named King "Your Majesty," and we will say to the Smiths that we think we have heard that name before somewhere. Such is human nature. We cannot alter this. It is God that made us so for some good and wise Purpose. Let us not repine. But though I may seem strange, may seem eccentric, I mean to refrain from punning upon the name of this club, though I could make a very good one if I had time to think about it—a week.

I cannot express to you what entire enjoyment I find in this first visit to this prodigious metropolis of yours. Its wonders seem to me to be limitless. I go about as in a dream—as in a realm of enchantment—where many things are rare and beautiful, and all things are strange and marvelous. Hour after hour I stand—I stand spellbound, as it were—and gaze upon the statuary in Leicester Square.

I visit the mortuary effigies of noble old Henry VIII., and Judge Jeffreys, and the preserved gorilla, and try to make up my mind which of my ancestors I admire the most. I go to that matchless Hyde Park and drive all around it, and then I start to enter it at the Marble Arch—and am induced to "change my mind." It is a great benefaction—is Hyde Park. There, in his hansom cab, the invalid can go—the poor, sad child of misfortune—and insert his nose between the railings, and breathe the pure, health-giving air of the country and of heaven. And if he is a swell invalid, who isn't obliged to depend upon parks for his country air, he can drive inside—if he owns his vehicle. I drive round and round Hyde Park, and the more I see of the edges of it the more grateful I am that the margin is extensive.

And I have been to the Zoological Gardens. What a wonderful place that is! I never have seen such a curious and interesting variety of wild animals in any garden before—except "Mabille." I never believed before there were so many different kinds of animals in the world as you can find there—and I don't believe it yet. I have been to the British Museum. I would advise you to drop in there some time when you have nothing to do—for five minutes—if you have never been there. It seems to me the noblest monument that this nation has yet erected to her greatness. I say to her, our greatness—as a nation. True, she has built other monuments, and stately ones, as well; but these she has uplifted in honor of two or three colossal demigods who have stalked across the world's stage, destroying tyrants and delivering nations, and whose prodigies will still live in the memories of men ages after their monuments shall have crumbled to dust—I refer to the Wellington and Nelson monuments, and—the Albert memorial.

The library at the British Museum I find particularly astounding. I have read there hours together, and hardly made an impression on it. I revere that library. It is the author's friend. I don't care how mean a book is, it always takes one copy. And then every day that author goes there to gaze at that book, and is encouraged to go on in the good work. And what a touching sight it is of a Saturday afternoon to see the poor, care-worn clergymen gathered together in that vast reading-room cabbaging sermons for Sunday. You will pardon my referring to these things. Everything in this monster city interests me, and I cannot keep from talking, even at the risk of being instructive.

People here seem always to express distances by parables. To a stranger it is just a little confusing to be so parabolic—so to speak. I collar a citizen, and I think I am going to get some valuable information out of him. I ask him how far it is to Birmingham, and he says it is twenty-one shillings and sixpence. Now we know that doesn't help a man who is trying to learn. I find myself downtown somewhere, and I want to get some sort of idea where I am—being usually lost when alone—and I stop a citizen and say: "How far is it to Charing Cross?" "Shilling fare in a cab," and off he goes. I suppose if I were to ask a Londoner how far it is from the sublime to the ridiculous, he would try to express it in coin.

But I am trespassing upon your time with these geological statistics and historical reflections. I will not longer keep you from your orgies. 'Tis a real pleasure for me to be here, and I thank you for it. The name of the Savage Club is associated in my mind with the kindly interest and the friendly offices which you lavished upon an old friend of mine who came among you a stranger, and you opened your English hearts to him and gave him welcome and a home—Artemus Ward. Asking that you will join me, I give you his memory.


London, July 4, 1873

At a "meeting of Americans" on Independence Day, Twain delivered an address.

Mr. Chairman and Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank you for the compliment which has just been tendered me, and to show my appreciation of it I will not afflict you with many words. It is pleasant to celebrate in this peaceful way, upon this old mother soil, the anniversary of an experiment which was born of war with this same land so long ago, and wrought out to a successful issue by the devotion of our ancestors. It has taken nearly a hundred years to bring the English and Americans into kindly and mutually appreciative relations, but I believe it has been accomplished at last. It was a great step when the two last misunderstandings were settled by arbitration instead of cannon. It is another great step when England adopts our sewing-machines without claiming the invention—as usual. It was another when they imported one of our sleeping-cars the other day. And it warmed my heart more than I can tell, yesterday, when I witnessed the spectacle of an Englishman ordering an American sherry cobbler of his own free will and accord—and not only that but with a great brain and a level head reminding the barkeeper not to forget the strawberries. With a common origin, a common language, a common literature, a common religion, and common drinks, what is longer needful to the cementing of the two nations together in a permanent bond of brotherhood?

This is an age of progress, and ours is a progressive land. A great and glorious land, too—a land which has developed a Washington, a Franklin, a William M. Tweed, a Longfellow, a Motley, a Jay Gould, a Samuel C. Pomeroy, a recent Congress which has never had its equal (in some respects), and a United States Army which conquered sixty Indians in eight months by tiring them out—which is much better than uncivilized slaughter, God knows. We have a criminal jury system which is superior to any in the world and its efficiency is only marred by the difficulty of finding twelve men every day who don't know anything and can't read. And I may observe that we have an insanity plea that would have saved Cain. I think I can say, and say with pride, that we have some legislatures that bring higher prices than any in the world.

I refer with effusion to our railway system, which contents to let us live, though it might do the opposite, being our owners. It only destroyed three thousand and seventy lives last year by collisions, and twenty-seven thousand two hundred and sixty by running over heedless and unnecessary people at crossings. The companies seriously regretted the killing of these thirty thousand people, and went so far as to pay for some of them—voluntarily, of course, for the meanest of us would not claim that we possess a court treacherous enough to enforce a law against a railway company. But, thank Heaven, the railway companies are generally disposed to do the right and kindly thing without compulsion. I know of an instance which greatly touched me at the time. After an accident the company sent home the remains of a dear distant old relative of mine in a basket, with the remark, "Please state what figure you hold him at—and return the basket." Now there couldn't be anything friendlier than that.

But I must not stand here and brag all night. However, you won't mind a body bragging a little about his country on the Fourth of July. It is a fair and legitimate time to fly the eagle. I will say only one more word of brag—and a hopeful one. It is this. We have a form of government which gives each man a fair chance and no favor. With us no individual is born with a right to look down upon his neighbor and hold him in contempt. Let such of us as are not dukes find our consolation in that. And we may find hope for the future in the fact that as unhappy as is the condition of our political morality today, England has risen up out of a far fouler since the days when Charles I ennobled courtesans and all political place was a matter of bargain and sale. There is hope for us yet.

* * *

At least the above is the speech which I was going to make, but our minister, General Schenck, presided, and after the blessing, got up and made a great, long, inconceivably dull harangue, and wound up by saying that inasmuch as speech-making did not seem to exhilarate the guests much, all further oratory would be dispensed with during the evening, and we could just sit and talk privately to our elbow- neighbors and have a good, sociable time. It is known that in consequence of that remark forty-four perfected speeches died in the womb. The depression, the gloom, the solemnity that reigned over the banquet from that time forth will be a lasting memory with many that were there. By that one thoughtless remark General Schenck lost forty-four of the best friends he had in England. More than one said that night: "And this is the sort of person that is sent to represent us in a great sister empire!"


Excerpted from Great Speeches by Mark Twain by Bob Blaisdell. Copyright © 2013 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

After the Civil War, Samuel Clemens (1835–1910) left his small town to seek work as a riverboat pilot. As Mark Twain, the Missouri native found his place in the world. Author, journalist, lecturer, wit, and sage, Twain created enduring works that have enlightened and amused readers of all ages for generations.
An English professor at the City University of New York's Kingsborough College, Bob Blaisdell is the editor of numerous Dover Thrift Editions and regularly reviews books for The San Francisco Chronicle and The Christian Science Monitor.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
November 30, 1835
Date of Death:
April 21, 1910
Place of Birth:
Florida, Missouri
Place of Death:
Redding, Connecticut

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