Great Quotes of Mark Twain

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Mark Twain

“I am not An American,” Samuel Langhorne Clemens once quipped. “I am THE American.” Of course, Clemens is much better-known by his pen name, Mark Twain.

Humorist, satirist and scathing social commentator, Twain occupies a special place in the pantheon of American (and world) writers. Few have come close to matching his precision in lampooning the ills of society, and none have surpassed him. Although it has been more than 100 years since his death, many of his pithy sayings are just as relevant – and equally lethal – here in the 21st century.

Though there are certainly hundreds to choose from, here is a brief collection of some of his greatest quotes. We have assembled 40 of his best. Enjoy!

  1. Total abstinence is so excellent a thing that it cannot be carried to too great an extent. In my passion for it I even carry it so far as to totally abstain from total abstinence itself.
  2. Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.
  3. The average American may not know who his grandfather was. But the American was, however, one degree better off than the average Frenchman who, as a rule, was in considerable doubt as to who his father was.
  4. Concerning the difference between man and the jackass: some observers hold that there isn’t any. But this wrongs the jackass.
  5. There has been only one Christian. They caught him and crucified him–early.
  6. There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man’s notion that he less savage than the other savages.
  7. Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.
  8. The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad. I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass.
  9. The report of my illness grew out of his (James Clemens) illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration.
  10. Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.
  11. Of the demonstrably wise there are but two: those who commit suicide, and those who keep their reasoning faculties atrophied with drink.
  12. Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.
  13. Ah, well, I am a great and sublime fool. But then I am God’s fool, and all His work must be contemplated with respect.
  14. 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.
  15. I would rather have my ignorance than another man’s knowledge, because I have so much more of it.
  16. In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made school boards.
  17. Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.
  18. Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.
  19. To be good is noble; but to show others how to be good is nobler and no trouble.
  20. 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.
  21. A banker is a man who gives you his umbrella when the sun is shining and demands it back the minute it begins to rain.
  22. Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more.
  23. 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.
  24. Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
  25. Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
  26. Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.
  27. Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.
  28. Honesty is the best policy – when there is money in it.
  29. I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying that I approved of it.
  30. I have a higher and grander standard of principle than George Washington. He could not lie; I can, but I won’t.
  31. I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.
  32. I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him.
  33. In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their language.
  34. It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress.
  35. It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
  36. Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them the rest of us could not succeed.
  37. Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.
  38. Often it does seem a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.
  39. Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
  40. We have a criminal jury system which is superior to any in the world; and its efficiency is only marred by the difficulty of finding twelve men every day who don’t know anything and can’t read.