"It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt."
"When in doubt, tell the truth."
"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
One of America's greatest storytellers, Samuel Clemens had something witty and wise to say on just about every topic. Gathered from his classic novels, diary entries, newspaper articles, and correspondence, this collection of wry quips and quotes reflects his keen observations on animals, critics, doctors, laughter, politics, youth, and other topics. Arranged alphabetically — "Abroad to Ax," for example, along with "Madness to Mystery" and "Uncle to Utah" — the subjects are also conveniently indexed and cross-referenced by topic.
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About the Author
Introduced to Mark Twain's writings as a child, Caroline Thomas Harnsberger began a lifelong interest in the author that led to a close friendship with his daughter, Clara. When Harnsberger proceeded to organize Twain's best quotes from his body of work, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips was the splendid result.
Date of Birth:November 30, 1835
Date of Death:April 21, 1910
Place of Birth:Florida, Missouri
Place of Death:Redding, Connecticut
Read an Excerpt
Mark Twain at Your Fingertips
A Book of Quotations
By MARK TWAIN, Caroline Thomas Harnsberger
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
[See ASS, FORGETFULNESS, OPINION]
To go abroad has something of the same sense that death brings. I am no longer of ye—what ye say of me is now of no consequence —but of how much consequence when I am with ye and of ye. I know you will refrain from saying harsh things because they can't hurt me, since I am out of reach and cannot hear them. This is why we say no harsh things of the dead.
Going abroad we let up on the weight and wear and responsibility of housekeeping—we go and board with somebody, who is suffering it but it troubles us not ... to go abroad is the true rest—you cease wholly to keep house, then, both national and domestic.
P. 131—Mark Twain's Notebook [1935 ed.]
I am not able to conceive of such a thing as the thing which we call an accident—that is to say, an event without a cause. Each event has its own place in the eternal chain of circumstances, and whether it be big or little it will infallibly cause the next event, whether the next event be the breaking of a child's toy or the destruction of a throne ... But I like that word "accident," although it is, in my belief, absolutely destitute of meaning. I like it because it is short and handy and because it answers so well and so conveniently, and so briefly, in designating happenings which we should otherwise have to describe as odd, curious, interesting, and so on ...
P. 386—Mark Twain in Eruption [1940 ed.]
One million of us ... die annually. Out of this million ten or twelve thousand are stabbed, shot, drowned, hanged, poisoned, or meet a similarly violent death in some other popular way ... The Erie Railroad kills from 23 to 46; the other 845 railroads kill an average of one-third of a man each; and the rest of that million, amounting in the aggregate to the appalling figure of nine hundred and eighty-seven thousand six hundred and thirty-one corpses, die naturally in their beds!
You will excuse me from taking any more chances on those beds. The railroads are good enough for me.
P. 260—The $30,000 Bequest, Etc., "The Danger of Lying in Bed"
Name the greatest of all the inventors. Accident.
P. 374—Mark Twain's Notebook [1935 ed.]
When we do not know a person—and also when we do—we have to judge his size by the size and nature of his achievements, as compared with the achievements of others in his special line of business—there is no other way.
P. 102—Christian Science, Chapt. I, Book II
There is some dignity about an acquirement, because it is a product of your own labor. It is wages earned, whereas to be able to do a thing merely by the grace of God, and not by your own effort, transfers the distinction to our heavenly home—where possibly it is a matter of pride and satisfaction, but it leaves you naked and bankrupt.
P. 257—Mark Twain's Autobiography [1924 ed.], Vol. II
[See COPYRIGHT, EDEN, GARDEN OF, FORBID, NAME, TEMPERAMENT, TOMB]
Adam and Eve had many advantages, but the principal one was, that they escaped teething.
P. 38—Pudd'nhead Wilson, Chapt. IV, "Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar"
It was not that Adam ate the apple for the apple's sake, but because it was forbidden. It would have been better for us—oh infinitely better for us—if the serpent, had been forbidden.
P. 275—Mark Twain's Notebook [1935 ed.]
Whoever has lived long enough to find out what life is, knows how deep a debt of gratitude we owe to Adam, the first benefactor of our race. He brought death into the world.
P. 30—Pudd'nhead Wilson, Chapt. III, "Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar"
What a good thing Adam had—when he said a good thing he knew nobody had said it before.
P. 67—Mark Twain's Notebook [1935 ed.]
Let us be grateful to Adam our benefactor. He cut us out of the "blessing" of idleness, and won for us the "curse" of labor.
P. 320—Following the Equator, Chapt. XXXIII, Vol. I, "Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar"
By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man's, I mean.
P. 35—Following the Equator, Chapt. III, Vol. II, "Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar"
[See CUSTOM, EGG, MARRIAGE, WALL STREET]
[Letter, Hartford, Conn., Jan. 16, 1881]: How can I advise another man wisely, out of such a capital as a life filled with mistakes? Advise him how to avoid the like? No—for opportunities to make the same mistakes do not happen to any two men. Your own experiences may possibly teach you, but another man's can't. I do not know anything for a person to do but just peg along, doing the things that offer, and regretting them the next day. It is my way and everybody's.
P. 12—Mark Twain, His Life and Work —Will Clemens
[An admonition for the general betterment of the race's condition]: Diligently train your ideals upward and still upward toward a summit where you will find your chiefest pleasure in conduct which, while contenting you, will be sure to confer benefits upon your neighbor and the community.
P. 54—What Is Man? and Other Essays [1917 ed.], Chapt. IV
You mustn't volunteer advice to a slave-driver unless you want to damage the cause you are arguing for.
P. 322—A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Chapt. XXXV
He had only one vanity, he thought he could give advice better than any other person.
P. 21—The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, Etc., Chapt. I
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.
P. 339—Roughing It, Chapt. XXXVIII, Vol. II
[Always obey your parents—when they are present.
Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any.
Get up with the lark.
Begin the practice of the art of lying, early.
Never handle firearms carelessly.
Read good books, "Innocents Abroad," etc.]
Build your character thoughtfully and painstakingly upon these precepts, and by and by, when you have got it built, you will be surprised and gratified to see how nicely and sharply it resembles everybody else's.
P. 104—Mark Twain's Speeches [1923 ed.], "Advice to Youth"
[Advice for a proper frame of mind for undergoing a surgical operation]: Console yourself with the reflection that you are giving the doctor pleasure, and that he is getting paid for it.
P. 115—Mark Twain —Henderson
Praise is well, compliment is well, but affection—that is the last and final and most precious reward that any man can win, whether by character or achievement ...
P. 343—Mark Twain's Speeches [1923 ed.], "Books, Authors and Hats"
[See ASS, BIRTHDAY, DISAPPOINTMENT, IGNORANCE, METHUSELAH, YOUTH]
Neither a man nor a boy ever thinks the age he has is exactly the best one—he puts the right age a few years older or a few years younger than he is.
P. 246—The Mysterious Stranger, Etc. [1922 ed.], "Extract from Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven"
Whatever a man's age may be, he can reduce it several years by putting a bright-colored flower in his buttonhole.
P. 174—The American Claimant, Etc., Chapt. XX
Age enlarges and enriches the powers of some musical instruments—notably those of the violin—but it seems to set a piano's teeth on edge. P. 290—Tom Sawyer Abroad, Etc., "Rambling
Notes of an Idle Excursion"
At that time I thought old age valuable, I do not know why. All young people think it, I believe, they being ignorant and full of superstitions. P. 13—Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc,
Chapt. XXIX, Book II, Vol. II
Age has taught me charity of speech.
P. 253—Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Chapt. XVI, Book III, Vol. II
Seventy is old enough. After that there is too much risk.
P. 295—Following the Equator, Chapt. XXIX, Vol. I
We can't reach old age by another man's road. My habits protect my life, but they would assassinate you.
P. 431—Mark Twain's Speeches [1910 ed.], "Seventieth Birthday"
I was young and foolish then; now I am old and foolisher.
P. 1086—Mark Twain, a Biography, Vol. II—Paine
Lord save us all from old age and broken health and a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.
P. 546—Mark Twain's Letters [1917 ed.], Vol. II
I saw men whom thirty years had changed but slightly; but their wives had grown old. These were good women; it is very wearing to be good.
P. 407—Life on the Mississippi, Chapt. LV
... age is not determined by years, but by trouble and by infirmities of mind and body.
P. 79—Mark Twain's Speeches [1923 ed.], "Unconscious Plagiarism"
Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.
P. 965—Autobiography with Letters —William L. Phelps
But I am seventy; seventy, and would nestle in the chimney corner, and smoke my pipe, and read my book, and take my rest, wishing you well in all affection, and that when you in your turn shall arrive at pier No. 70 you may step aboard your waiting ship with a reconciled spirit, and lay your course toward the sinking sun with a contented heart.
P. 262—Mark Twain's Speeches [1923 ed.], "Seventieth Birthday"
If I had been helping the Almighty when he created man, I would have had him begin at the other end, and start human beings with old age. How much better to start old and have all the bitterness and blindness of age in the beginning!
P. 1440—Mark Twain, a Biography, Vol. III—Paine
Life should begin with age and its privileges and accumulations, and end with youth and its capacity to splendidly enjoy such advantages. P. 709—Mark Twain's Letters [1917 ed.], Vol. II
I myself am a simplified speller. I belong to that unhappy guild that is patiently and hopefully trying to reform our drunken old alphabet by reducing his whiskey.
P. 262—What Is Man? and Other Essays [1917 ed.], "A Simplified Alphabet"
Well, sir, his head-lights were bugged out like tompions; and his mouth stood that wide open that you could have laid a ham in it without him noticing it.
P. 261—Tom Sawyer Abroad, Etc., "Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion"
R. did not answer. Her faculties were caked, she had not yet found her voice.
P. 239—Pudd'nhead Wilson, "Those Extraordinary Twins"
[See ARMY, ENGLAND, FOURTH OF JULY, GIRL, HOME, HUMOR, ICE-STORM, INVENTION, LAW, MONEY, MOTTO, POLITENESS, POLITICS, STOVE, WASHINGTON, D.C.]
[An Englishman is] a person who does things because they have been done before. [An American is] a person who does things because they haven't been done before.
P. 169—Mark Twain's Notebook [1935 ed.]
Just in this one matter lies the main charm of life in Europe—comfort. In America, we hurry—which is well; but when the day's work is done, we go on thinking of losses and gains, we plan for the morrow, we even carry our business cares to bed with us ... we burn up our energies with these excitements, and either die early or drop into a lean and mean old age at a time of life which they call a man's prime in Europe ... What a robust people, what a nation of thinkers we might be, if we would only lay ourselves on the shelf occasionally and renew our edges!
P. 241—The Innocents Abroad, Chapt. XIX, Vol. I
... there is only one thing that can be called by the wide name "American." That is the national devotion to ice-water.
P. 154—Literary Essays, "What Paul Bourget Thinks of Us"
[See PRIDE, RELIGION]
I was never able to persuade myself to call a gibbet by its right name when accounting for other ancestors of mine, but always spoke of it as the "platform"—puerilely intimating that they were out lecturing when it happened.
P. 105—Christian Science, Chapt. I, Book II
[In Heidelberg castle]: There are many aged portraits ... I bought a couple ... I bought them to start a portrait gallery of my ancestors with. I paid a dollar and a half for the duke and two and a half for the princess. One can lay in ancestors at even cheaper rates than these, in Europe, if he will mouse among old picture shops and look out for chances.
P. 283—A Tramp Abroad, Appendix B, Vol. II
"Well, General, I suppose life can never get entirely dull to an American, because whenever he can't strike up any other way to put in his time he can always get away with a few years trying to find out who his grandfather was!"
... I was back at him as quick as a flash: "Right, Your Excellency! But I reckon a Frenchman's got his little stand-by for a dull time, too; because when all other interests fail he can turn in and see if he can't find out who his father was!"
P. 163—Literary Essays, "What Paul Bourget Thinks of Us"
The walls were hung with pious pictures ... pictures historically commemorative of curative miracles which had been achieved by the waters when nobody was looking. That is, nobody but angels; they are always on deck when there is a miracle to the fore—so as to get put in the picture, perhaps. Angels are as fond of that as a fire company; look at the old masters.
P. 185—A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Chapt. XXII
When angry, count four; when very angry, swear.
P. 89—Pudd'nhead Wilson, Chapt. X, "Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar"
Her eyes blazed up, and she jumped for him like a wild-cat, and when she was done with him she was rags and he wasn't anything but an allegory.
P. 167—The Mysterious Stranger, Etc. [1922 ed.], "A Horse's Tale"
[See BRUTALITY, CAMEL, CAT, CONGRESSMAN, DOG, FLEA, HORSE, MAN, MONKEY, MULE]
It is just like man's vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions.
P. 84—What Is Man? and Other Essays [1917 ed.], Chapt. VI
No brute ever does a cruel thing—that is the monopoly of those with the moral sense. When a brute inflicts pain he does it innocently.
P. 50—The Mysterious Stranger, Etc. [1922 ed.], Chapt. IV
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