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Mark Twain's Helpful Hints for Good Living: A Handbook for the Damned Human Race

Mark Twain's Helpful Hints for Good Living: A Handbook for the Damned Human Race

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by Mark Twain, Michael B. Frank (Editor), Victor Fischer (Editor)

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Irreverent, charming, eminently quotable, this handbook—an eccentric etiquette guide for the human race—contains sixty-nine aphorisms, anecdotes, whimsical suggestions, maxims, and cautionary tales from Mark Twain's private and published writings. It dispenses advice and reflections on family life and public manners; opinions on topics such as dress,


Irreverent, charming, eminently quotable, this handbook—an eccentric etiquette guide for the human race—contains sixty-nine aphorisms, anecdotes, whimsical suggestions, maxims, and cautionary tales from Mark Twain's private and published writings. It dispenses advice and reflections on family life and public manners; opinions on topics such as dress, health, food, and childrearing and safety; and more specialized tips, such as those for dealing with annoying salesmen and burglars. Culled from Twain's personal letters, autobiographical writings, speeches, novels, and sketches, these pieces are delightfully fresh, witty, startlingly relevant, and bursting with Twain's characteristic ebullience for life. They also remind us exactly how Mark Twain came to be the most distinctive and well-known American literary voice in the world. These texts, some of them new or out of print for decades, have been selected and meticulously prepared by the editors at the Mark Twain Project.

Product Details

University of California Press
Publication date:
Jumping Frogs: Undiscovered, Rediscovered, and Celebrated Writings of Mark Twain Series
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Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.88(d)
1150L (what's this?)

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By Mark Twain

The University of California Press

ISBN: 0-520-24245-9

Chapter One

A Christmas Wish

(published in the New York World, 1890)

To the Editor of The World:

It is my heart-warm and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us-the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage-may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss-except the inventor of the telephone. Mark Twain.

Hartford, Dec. 23.

Proposal Regarding Local Flooding

(published in the Hartford Courant, 1873)

To the Editor of the Courant:-

About noon yesterday the Rev. George H. Bigler, one of the oldest and most esteemed citizens of Farmington, left his home in that village to visit his married daughter, Mrs. Eli Sawyer, of Hartford. He came in an open two-horse wagon, and was accompanied by his wife, his youngest son, Thomas, aged 18; his grandchild, Minnie Sawyer, aged 8; and two neighbors, Simon and Ellsworth Oglethorpe, brothers, the former a lawyer and the latter formerly postmaster of Farmington. When the wagon arrived at the junction of Farmington avenue and Forest street, in this city, the guard of warning who should have been on duty there was absent from his post; the party in the wagon glanced up at the semaphoretelegraph on the top of Mr. Chamberlin's house, and strangely enough but one of its arms was visible and that was pointing directly north, signifying "No danger." So they turned into Forest street and proceeded on their way. In a little while they found themselves hopelessly entangled among the grading and gas-laying improvements, which have been going on in that street since the inauguration of the Christian Era. They shouted for help and presently made themselves heard; passers-by ran to the vicinity, and as soon as they comprehended the state of the case an alarm was sounded (it is due to Mr. Joseph W. Milligan, grocer, to say that he was the rst to get to a re alarm station and turn the key) and within a few minutes all the bells in the city were clamoring. Thousands and tens of thousands of people gathered to the scene of danger and openly sympathized with the persons in peril. They could do no more, for it would have been foolhardy in the extreme to venture into the street, the mud being at that place from thirty to ninety feet deep on a level, to say nothing of the water.

The wagon made another start, and plowed along desperately until it reached the monument (the rst one from Farmington avenue-the one erected to a street commissioner during the middle ages for promising to quit repairing the street-which he basely violated and hence the vindictiveness of the inscription on the shaft). Here, as is known, there is more water than mud; the nearest life-boat station in this part of the street is the one located in front of Mr. George Warner's (new) premises. Captain Hobson and his crew of nine men at once launched a life-boat and started on their errand, notwithstanding it was Sunday and would cause remark; but the wind was blowing a gale by this time, and as it was just the turn of the tide, every thing was against the gallant boys. The boat was swept to leeward of the monument and shivered to atoms against the marble column erected in 1598 to the memory of a Sabbath school procession which disappeared at that spot, dressed with unusual care in the best clothes they had, and were never heard of afterward. Fragments of the life-boat crew washed ashore this morning in the extreme southern end of Forest street, nearly three hundred yards from the scene of the disaster. The party in the wagon were well nigh desperate now. But when hope seemed darkest Capt. Duncan MacAllister of the canal boat George Washington arrived with a ship's compass, a chronometer fteen minutes slow, and a sack of sea-biscuit and hove them aboard the vehicle, while cheers rent the air from the surging multitude that lined the sidewalks. The Rev. Mr. Bigler and his party seemed greatly encouraged after a brief luncheon. (These crackers were from Johnson and Peterson's bakery and are acknowledged to be the best in this market.) Mr. Bigler now bore away sou-west-by-west-half-west, but his weather harness got fouled, his port check-rein fetched away, and his wagon broached to and went ashore at the base of the monument erected ve years ago to commemorate the 1868th annual alteration of the grade. Here the starboard horse began to disappear; Mr. Simon Oglethorpe at once cut away the main rigging, and the animal continued his journey to China. Within ve minutes the other horse followed him. There was a heavy sea on by this time, of mud and water mixed, and every third colossal poultice of it that rolled along made a clean breach over the wagon and left the occupants looking like the original Adam before the clay dried.

Hope now departed at once and forever, and it was heartrending to hear the castaways plead for a little drop of limpid water; they were willing to die, they were ready to die, but they wanted to wash rst. There was not a dry eye in the vicinity. The awful moment came at last; a great sea of sable mush swept the wagon from stem to stern, then the vehicle plunged once, twice, three times, and disappeared beneath the state with all its precious freight on board.

This is a sad case. I am not writing this letter in order to make a great to-do about the loss of a few unnecessary country people in Forest street, for of course that is too common a thing to excite much attention; but I have an object which makes my letter of moment.

In the first place I wish to discourage the building of monuments in Forest street. Every few years the street commissioner goes out there and deposits sixteen feet of gas pipe (on top of the ground) and straightway the propertyholders set up a majestic monument to remember it by. Every year he changes the grade and plagiarizes original chaos, and they monumentalize that. Every now and then somebody gets o soundings there and never comes back to dinner any more, and up goes another monument. The result is that what solid ground there is in that street is all occupied by monuments, now, and it makes no end of trouble. There is only one solid spot left, and I discover that a new length of gas pipe has just been dumped in the street and the ground ravaged in the vicinity, preparatory to burying that piece of tube one of these years. Now, will they not want to commemorate that bit of ocial energy? You know, yourself, that they will, and away goes the last square yard of rm soil in Forest street. If there had been fewer monuments to get shipwrecked against, the Farmington people and the life-boat crew might all be with us yet.

Secondly, I think there ought to be more lanterns standing on barrels, and more sentinels roosting on the fences along Forest street, to warn strangers.

Thirdly, I think there ought to be at least three more life-boat stations on that street, and a number of miscellaneous rafts, with provisions and literature lashed on them, distributed along here and there.

Fourthly, I think there ought to be a chart of the street made, with the soundings marked on it.

Fifthly, I think the war office ought to establish a signal station in Forest street and put in the Probabilities, "Danger signals are ordered for the lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic seaboard and Forest street, Hartford-the one at Forest street to be nailed up with fteen inch spikes and remain permanent in all weathers."

Then I shall enjoy living in this soft, retired street even more than I do now, perhaps. M. T.

Sunday, March 30.

Complaint about Unreliable Service

(an 1891 letter to the Hartford City Gas Light Company)

Hartford, Feb. 12/91.

Dear Sirs:

Some day you will move me almost to the verge of irritation by your chuckleheaded Goddamned fashion of shutting your Goddamned gas o without giving any notice to your Goddamned parishioners. Several times you have come within an ace of smothering half of this household in their beds & blowing up the other half by this idiotic, not to say criminal, custom of yours. And it has happened again to-day. Haven't you a telephone? Ys S L Clemens

Notice about a Stolen Umbrella

(published in the Hartford Courant, 1875)

TWO HUNDRED AND FIVE DOLLARS REWARD-At the great base ball match on Tuesday, while I was engaged in hurrahing, a small boy walked o with an English-made brown silk belonging to me, and forgot to bring it back. I will pay $5 for the return of that umbrella in good condition to my house on Farmington avenue. I do not want the boy (in an active state) but will pay two hundred dollars for his remains. Samuel L. Clemens.

An Appeal against Injudicious Swearing

(published in the New York Sun, 1890)

To the Editor of the Sun-Sir: Doubtless you city people do not mind having your feelings hurt and your self-love blistered, for your horse car and elevated road service train you to patience and humble-mindedness, but with us hayseed folk from the back settlements the case is different. We are so delicate, so sensitive-well, you would never be able to imagine what it is like. An unkind speech shrivels us all up and often makes us cry. Now, the thing which happened to-day a New Yorker would not mind in the least; but I give you my word it almost made me want to go away and be at rest in the cold grave.

I stepped aboard a red Sixth avenue horse car-No. 106-at Sixth avenue and Forty-second street at 11:45 this morning, bound down town. Of course there was no seat-there never is; New Yorkers do not require a seat, but only permission to stand up, and look meek, and be thankful for such little rags of privilege as the good horse-car company may choose to allow them. I stood in the door, behind three ladies. After a moment, the conductor, desiring to pass through and see the passengers, took me by the lapel and said to me with that winning courtesy and politeness which New Yorkers are so accustomed to: "Jesus Christ! what you want to load up the door for? Git back here out of the way!" Those ladies shrank together under the shock, just the same as I did; so I judged they were country people. This conductor was a person about 30 years old, I should say, five feet nine, with blue eyes, a small, dim, unsuccessful moustache, and the general expression of a chicken thief-you may probably have seen him.

I urged him to modify his language, I being from the country and sensitive. He looked upon me with cold and heartless scorn, thus hurting me still more. I said I would report him, and asked him for his number. He said, in a tone which wounded me more than I can tell, "I'll give you a chew of tobacco."

Why, dear sir, if conductors were to talk to us like that out in the country we could never, never bear to ride with them, we are so sensitive. I went up to Sixth avenue and Forty-third street to report him, but there was nobody in the superintendent's office who seemed to want to converse with me. A man with "conductor" on his cap said it wouldn't be any use to try to see the President at that time of day, and intimated, by his manner, not his words, that people with complaints were not popular there, any way.

So I have been obliged to come to you, you see. What I wanted to say to the President of the road was this-and through him say it to the President of the elevated roads-that the conductors ought to be instructed never to swear at country people except when there are no city ones to swear at, and not even then except for practice. Because the country people are sensitive. Conductors need not make any mistake; they can easily tell us from the city people. Could you use your influence to get this small and harmless distinction made in our favor? Mark Twain. Saturday, Nov. 8.

An Unwanted Magazine Subscription (1883)

Hartford, Feb. 18/83. J. W. Bouton, Esq- Dr Sir-

Draw & be damned. I subscribed for your Portfolio one year & no more. I paid for it. Since then you have thrust it upon me & persecuted me with it at your own risk & in defiance of my several protests.

You'll "draw" on me! The hell you will! Messrs. Slote & Co "refer" you to me. No!-why you can't be in earnest. If they refer you to me, of course it must be all right. Dear me, why didn't you get the peanut man on the corner to add HIS authority.

Well, what a marvelous sort of publisher you must be, sure enough! You ought to write a book, & call it "How to Combine the Methods of the Highwayman & the Publisher Successfully."

I kiss you, Sweetheart!-Goodbye, good-bye-ta-ta!-ta-ta!

Dearest, I am

Truly Yours S L Clemens

On Telephones and Swearing

(from a 1906 autobiographical dictation)

Four or five months ago, in the New York home, I learned by accident that we had been having a good deal of trouble with our telephones. The family get more or less peace and comfort out of concealing vexations from me on account of the infirmities of my temper, and it would be only by accident that I could find out that the telephones were making trouble. Upon inquiry I discovered that my tribe had been following the world's usual custom-they had applied for relief to the Telephone Company's subordinates. This is always a mistake. The only right way is to apply to the President of a corporation; your complaint receives immediate and courteous attention then. I called up the headquarters and asked the President to send some one to my house to listen to a complaint. One of the chief superintendents came-Mr. Scovel. The complaint occupied but a minute of our time. Then he sat by the bed and we smoked and chatted half an hour very pleasantly. I remarked that often and often I would dearly like to use the telephone myself, but didn't dare to do it because when the connection was imperfect I was sure to lose my temper and swear-and while I would like to do that, and would get a good deal of satisfaction out of it, I couldn't venture it because I was aware that by telephone law the Company can remove your telephone if you indulge yourself in that way.



Excerpted from MARK TWAIN'S HELPFUL HINTS FOR GOOD LIVING by Mark Twain Excerpted by permission.
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

Lin Salamo, Victor Fischer, and Michael B. Frank are editors at the Mark Twain Project of The Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley.

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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Mark Twain's Helpful Hints for Good Living: A Handbook for the Damned Human Race 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
so funny had my whole family laughing