This all started yesterday when my friend Aaron Sands posted this Mark Twain quote on his Facebook page:
”Damn these human beings; if I had invented them I would go hide my head in a bag.”
Now I’m a sucker for Mark Twain quotes and I have thousands (well, maybe hundreds) of them tucked away in my back pocket so, of course, I had to counter-post some semi-relevant Twain-isms, to wit:
“If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man but deteriorate the cat.”
And, since I was rolling, a couple of rarer but more flowery Twain quotes:
“Grief can take care of itself; but to get the full value of a joy you must have someone to divide it with.”
“Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of humour itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humour in heaven.”
“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
Because, you see, there is absolutely no human experience from birth to death and beyond that Mark Twain has not commented on — and in phrases more robust, humourous, sad, wise, stinging and sigh-inducing than anything you or I will ever string together.
Twain — Samuel Clemens in real life — was a very complicated, conflicted and sometimes downright ornery man but he was a high-performance quote machine.
When he wasn’t lighting up a cigar or pouring down a bottle of whiskey, he was writing (or saying) something memorable.
Everyone thinks of Twain as the novelist who wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and a few other widely read works of fiction.
That’s, in part, because Clemens was part of an early pseudo-cultural door-to-door salesman network (sort of like Encyclopedia Britannica later) that put Mark Twain books on every farmhouse bookshelf from Tonawanda to Topeka to Tacoma in the late 19th Century.
That calls for another quote:
“My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. Fortunately everybody drinks water.”
But the vast majority of Mark Twain’s writing was non-fiction — essays, pamphlet diatribes, journalism (he owned a Buffalo newspaper for a few years and wrote a substantial part of its content), and endless letters.
Most people don’t know that Twain earned much of his income as one of the most famous public speakers of his era. Twain visited Toronto on several occasions but, to the best of my knowledge, he made only one formal stage appearance here.
On Dec. 8, 1884, Twain appeared on a double bill with his pal, New Orleans author George W. Cable, for an evening of readings and conversation at the now-long-gone Horticultural Gardens Pavilion (in what was to become known as Allan Gardens because financier and businessman George Allan had donated the property).
The place was packed — jammed to capacity with many disappointed, shivering spectators left hanging around in the cold outside the pavilion doors.
Twain killed ‘em — he read two unpublished stories — but he also disappointed them — he didn’t read his famous Jumping Frog story or the fence-painting scene from Tom Sawyer, which everyone wanted to hear.
Of course he left ‘em laughing with his hilarious, off-the-cuff ad-libs.
That calls for another quote:
“It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”
You see, Mark Twain has a quote for every possible occasion.
He’s the guy who came up with some of the zingers that are so classic you thought Moses brought them down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments. For example:
“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
“There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”
“Golf is a good walk spoiled.”
So I thought it was time to pull out that wad of crumpled paper from my back pocket and transcribe some — just some — of the wonderful sayings for which we can thank the brilliant, diabolical, heavenly mind of Sam Clemens AKA Mark Twain.
Whenever a situation leaves you speechless, just run through this list and pick out the quote that fits the occasion.
These quotes have an organic order of their own but are not arranged in categories because — son of a gun — Twain even has a quote for this situation:
“Ideally a book (or blog list) would have no order to it, and the reader would have to discover his own.”
So dig in and enjoy…
The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it.
Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.
All generalizations are false, including this one.
Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it.
Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.
Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.
Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.
Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing wrong with this, except that it ain’t so.
You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after it, he knows too little.
When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man but deteriorate the cat.
A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.
There are times when one would like to hang the whole human race, and finish the farce.
The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in that procession but carrying a banner.
Grief can take care of itself; but to get the full value of a joy you must have someone to divide it with.
Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of humour itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humour in heaven.
The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.
Humour is mankind’s greatest blessing.
Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.
Lord save us all from a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.
Barring that natural expression of villainy which we all have, the man looked honest enough.
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear.
Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.
Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.
Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.
Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
Familiarity breeds contempt — and children.
My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.
Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.
God made the Idiot for practice, and then He made the School Board.
Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.
I can live for two months on a good compliment.
When your friends begin to flatter you on how young you look, it’s a sure sign you’re getting old.
Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.
It is better to deserve honours and not have them than to have them and not deserve them.
I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.
You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme a lot.
If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there 10 years later.
It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.
It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
The more things are forbidden, the more popular they become. (Twain wrote this long before Prohibition was introduced in the U.S.)
There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.
It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected.
We have the best government that money can buy.
It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native criminal class except Congress.
Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.
Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.
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.
For in a Republic, who is “the country”? Is it the Government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the Government is merely a servant—merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them.
Prosperity is the best protector of principle.
The lack of money is the root of all evil.
All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.
It was wonderful to find America, but it would have been more wonderful to miss it.
The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.
I don’t give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.
Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.
Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself.
The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.
Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial “we.” (Professional athletes take note)
What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself.