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Mark Twain
1835 - 1910

American author and humourist. Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clements, was one of the most popular authors of the nineteenth century. His work as a printer, riverboat pilot, stock speculator, and prospector, travelling all over the U.S., gave him the rich experience with people of all sorts to become a humourist. Beginning in the 1860's, first by writing letters to newspapers, then columns, and then stories, Clements' fame grew. He began earning a comfortable living as a writer and lecturer in the 1870's, and followed his popularity in travels around the world. Author of Tom Sawyer (1876), Life on the Mississippi (1873), Huckleberry Finn (1884), and numerous other novels and stories.

Let me make the superstitions of a nation and I care not who makes its laws or its songs either.

1897 - from Following the Equator
Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.

from Mark Twain, A Biography
No people in the world ever did achieve their freedom by goody-goody talk and moral suasion: it being immutable law that all revolutions that will succeed must being in blood, whatever may answer afterward.

from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that the cat has only nine lives.

It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.

1897 - from Following the Equator
To arrive at a just estimate of a renowned man's character one must judge it by the standards of his time, not ours.

A nation is only an individual multiplied.

A man's character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.

Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.

It is curious -- curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.

from Mark Twain in Eruption
The State... stands between me and my body, and tells me what kind of doctor I must employ. When my soul is sick, unlimited spiritual liberty is given me by the State. Now then, it doesn't seem logical that the State shall depart from this great policy...and take the other position in the matter of smaller consequences -- the health of the body...Whose property is my body? Probably mine...If I experiment with it, who must be answerable? I, not the State. If I choose injudiciously, does the State die? Oh, no.

1901 - from "Osteopathy"
The humorist who invented trial by jury played a colossal practical joke upon the world, but since we have the system we ought to try and respect it. A thing which is not thoroughly easy to do, when we reflect that by command of the law a criminal juror must be an intellectual vacuum, attached to a melting heart and perfectly macaronian bowels of compassion.

Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.

The mania for giving the Government power to meddle with the private affairs of cities or citizens is likely to cause endless trouble ... there is great danger that our people will lose our independence of thought and action which is the cause of much of our greatness.

It is better to deserve honours and not have them than to have them and not to deserve them.

The rain ...falls upon the just and the unjust alike; a thing which would not happen if I were superintending the rain's affairs. No, I would rain softly and sweetly on the just, but if I caught a sample of the unjust outdoors I would drown him.

from Mark Twain, A Biography
...honor is a harder master than the law.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear.

1894 - from Pudd'nhead Wilson
What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin.

Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.

1901 - from a speech to the Young People's Society in Brooklyn, New York
I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. 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.

1906 - from a column in the New York Sun
...no country can be well governed unless its citizens as a body keep religiously before their minds that they are the guardians of the law and that the law officers are only the machinery for its execution, nothing more.

from The Gilded Age
You cannot depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.

I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's.

Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won't fatten the dog.

Nov. 23, 1900 - from a speech
There are laws to protect the freedom of the press's speech, but none that are worth anything to protect the people from the press.

from "License of the Press", a speech
The principle of give and take is the principle of diplomacy - give one and take ten.

The symbol of the race ought to be a human being carrying an ax, for every human being has one concealed about him somewhere, and is always seeking the opportunity to grind it.

from Mark Twain, A Biography
It has become a sarcastic proverb that a thing must be true if you saw it in a newspaper. That is the opinion intelligent people have of that lying vehicle in a nutshell. But the trouble is that the stupid people- who constitute the grand overwhelming majority of this and all other nations- do believe and are moulded and convinced by what they get out of a newspaper, and there is where the harm lies.

from "License of the Press", a speech
Journalism is the one solitary respectable profession which honors theft (when committed in the pecuniary interest of a journal,) and admires the thief.

Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.

1908 - from a letter
Education that consists in learning things and not the meaning of them is feeding upon the husks and not the corn.

The quality of independence was almost wholly left out of the human race. The scattering exceptions to the rule only emphasize it, light it up, make it glare.

History has tried hard to teach us that we can't have good government under politicians. Now, to go and stick one at the very head of the government couldn't be wise.

Irreverence is the champion of liberty.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).

The radical of one century is the conservative of the next.

The jury system puts a ban upon intelligence and honesty, and a premium upon ignorance, stupidity and perjury. It is a shame that we must continue to use a worthless system because it was good a thousand years ago...I desire to tamper with the jury law. I wish to so alter it as to put a premium on intelligence and character, and close the jury box against idiots, blacklegs, and people who do not read newspapers.

from Roughing It
The man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.

1894 - from Pudd'nhead Wilson
In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man brave, hated, and scorned. When his cause succeeds, however, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.

It's noble to be good. It's nobler to teach others to be good, and less trouble.

The man who does not read good books is at no advantage over the man that can't read them.

To lodge all power in one party and keep it there is to insure bad government and the sure and gradual deterioration of the public morals.

There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist.

Conformity - the natural instinct to passively yield to that vague something recognized as authority.

from Corn Pone Opinions
Independence ... is loyalty to one's best self and principles, and this is often disloyalty to the general idols and fetishes.

The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creature that cannot.

My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one's country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death.

from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
We are discreet sheep; we wait to see how the drove is going, and then go with the drove. We have two opinions: one private, which we are afraid to express; and another one - the one we use - which we force ourselves to wear to please Mrs. Grundy, until habit makes us comfortable in it, and the custom of defending it presently makes us love it, adore it, and forget how pitifully we came by it. Look at it in politics.

Civilization is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessaries.

A man never reaches that dizzy height of wisdom that he can no longer be led by the nose.

It would not be possible for Noah to do in our day what he was permitted to do in his own...The inspector would come and examine the Ark, and make all sorts of objections.

The thing which has made Labor great and powerful is labor-saving machinery - and nothing else in the world could have done it. It has been labor's savior, benefactor; but Labor doesn't know it, and would ignorantly crucify it. But that is human and natural. Every great invention takes a livelihood away from 50,000 men - and within ten years creates a livelihood for half a million. But you can't make Labor appreciate that: he is laboring for himself, not the breadless half million that are issuing from his loins. They are somebody else's children; he fails to reflect that his own are among them.

Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is, I dunno. If the Eiffel Tower were now representing the world's age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man's share of that age; and anybody would perceive that that skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would, I dunno.

from The Damned Human Race
That's the difference between governments and individuals. Governments don't care, individuals do.

from A Tramp Abroad
Sacred cows make the best hamburger.

The government of my country snubs honest simplicity, but fondles artistic villainy, and I think I might have developed into a very capable pickpocket if I had remained in the public service a year or two.

from Roughing It
All schools, all colleges, have two great functions: to confer, and to conceal, valuable knowledge. The theological knowledge which they conceal cannot justly be regarded as less valuable than that which they reveal. That is, when a man is buying a basket of strawberries it can profit him to know that the bottom half of it is rotten.

Familiarity breeds contempt. How accurate that is. The reason we hold truth in such respect is because we have so little opportunity to get familiar with it.

1898 - from a notebook
Between believing a thing and thinking you know is only a small step and quickly taken.

...the liberty of the Press is called the Palladium of Freedom, which means, in these days, the liberty of being deceived, swindled, and humbugged by the Press and paying hugely for the deception.

The pitifulest thing out is a mob; that's what an army is- a mob; they don't fight with courage that's born in them, but with courage that's borrowed from their mass, and from their officers.

Honor knows no statute of limitations.

First get your facts; then you can distort them at your leisure.

We do no benevolences whose first benefit is not for ourselves.