Mark Twain’s Autobiography

Apparently Mark Twain’s Autobiography is flying off the shelves these days. Confused? Puzzled by the fact that he has been dead for such a long time and wondering whats up? Well, its like this … the beloved creator of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and some of the most frequently misquoted catchphrases in the English language left behind 5,000 unedited pages of memoirs when he died in 1910, together with handwritten notes saying that he did not want them to hit bookshops for at least a century. So now here we are 100 years later and its time to publish … time for a new generation in a new age to be finally introduced to his wit and charm.

“He had doubts about God, and in the autobiography, he questions the imperial mission of the US in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. He’s also critical of [Theodore] Roosevelt, and takes the view that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. Twain also disliked sending Christian missionaries to Africa. He said they had enough business to be getting on with at home: with lynching going on in the South, he thought they should try to convert the heathens down there.”

Parts have already been in print, but there is much here that has never been seen before, so it should be no surprise to discover that it has become a smash hit. Initially when the publishers found themselves with this half-a-million word doorstop, they planned a modest 7,500 copy run and never imagined that it would become such a success, yet it has ended up on the best-seller lists and has already been back to the presses six times to meet demand.

So, if you have not yet been introduced to Twain, there here are a few of my favorite quotes … these should hopefully give you an insight into his mind and thoughts …

  • A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.
  • A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.
  • All generalizations are false, including this one.
  • All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.
  • Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.
  • Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
  • Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.
  • I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.
  • 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 is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
  • My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water.
  • Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.
  • Part of the secret of a success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.
  • The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.
  • There are lies, damned lies and statistics.
  • There is no distinctly American criminal class – except Congress.
  • Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.
  • We have the best government that money can buy.
  • If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.
  • Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.
  • A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining and wants it back the minute it begins to rain.
  • I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.

I’m sure you must of recognized some of those quotes, but I bet it was a surprise to discover they were his. Ah, but why am I blogging about him? Well basically because he was in many ways a skeptics skeptic. Not sure about that? OK, try these quotes …

  • There is no other life; life itself is only a vision and a dream for nothing exists but space and you. If there was an all-powerful God, he would have made all good, and no bad.” Mark Twain in Eruption
  • Our Bible reveals to us the character of our god with minute and remorseless exactness… It is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere. It makes Nero an angel of light and leading by contrast” Reflections on Religion, 1906
  • Man is a marvelous curiosity … he thinks he is the Creator’s pet … he even believes the Creator loves him; has a passion for him; sits up nights to admire him; yes and watch over him and keep him out of trouble. He prays to him and thinks He listens. Isn’t it a quaint idea.” Letters from the Earth
  • Mr. Clemens was once asked whether he feared death. He said that he did not, in view of the fact that he had been dead for billions and billions of years before he was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.
  • “[The Bible] has noble poetry in it… and some good morals and a wealth of obscenity, and upwards of a thousand lies.
  • In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.” Autobiography of Mark Twain by Samuel Clemens

So there you have it then … a flavor of the man himself. If I have now motivated you to go hunt down and read some of his writings, then go to it and enjoy. You will quickly discover that even though it was all written a long time ago, much of it is still very much in tune 100 years later.

2 thoughts on “Mark Twain’s Autobiography”

  1. Do you know the context of these quotes – where or when they appeared? i am wondering about the one on smoking and also the one “Part of the secret of a success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.” thanks!!


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