Mark Twain

A picture of the author Mark Twain

Born November 30, 1835 in Florida, Mark Twain “came in with the comet” and as he predicted he went “out with the comet” passing away on April 21, 1910, the day after Halley’s Comet returned. His real name was Samuel Longhorne Clemens, and he took his pen name from his days as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River where the cry “mark twain” signaled the depth of water -- about 12 feet was required for the safe passage of riverboats.

Mark Twain was a talented writer, speaker and humorist whose own personality shined through his work. As his writing grew in popularity, he became a public figure and iconic American. As the young country grew in size but not in a cultural manner to the liking of the European gentry, it became fashionable to criticize "the ugly American.” Twain famously travelled abroad and disarmed his audience with his wit and humor with pronouncements like the following, “In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their language.”

Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri and would later use that location as the setting for two of his most famous works, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. He started his career as a typesetter at a newspaper, worked as a printer, then riverboat pilot and then turned to gold mining. When he failed at gold mining he turned to journalism and it was during that time that the wrote the short story that would launch his career, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County -- a story that captivated me when read out loud by one of my teachers in elementary school.

While Twain’s career as a writer enriched him, his turn as a gentleman investor did much to impoverish him. He lost a great deal of his writing profits and much of his wife’s inheritance on different investments, the costliest was his backing of a promising typesetting machine. The machine had great potential but it failed in the market due to frequent breakdowns. Twain recovered financially with the help of a benefactor from Standard Oil, Henry Huttleson Rogers. Rogers guided Twain successfully through bankruptcy and even had Twain transfer his copyrights to his wife to keep his royalties from his creditors. Further success from book sales and lectures restored his financial health and in the end all his creditors were paid.

Mark Twain is also well remembered for his witty quotations, a small sampling follows:

Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.

Good breeding consists of concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.

All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.

Man is the Only Animal that Blushes. Or needs to.

It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you: the one to slander you, and the other to get the news to you.

Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.

When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not.

Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.

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

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

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.

I was gratified to be able to answer promptly. I said I don't know.

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.

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying that I approved of 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.

Education: that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge.

By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity -- another man's I mean.

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.

Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more.

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

A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

Enjoy some illustrated Short Stories from Mark Twain; click to read.

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Million Pound Bank Note
The Mysterious Stranger
The Prince and the Pauper
The Tragedy of Pudd'Nhead Wilson
Tom Sawyer Abroad
Tom Sawyer, Detective

Short Stories

About Barbers
About Magnanimous-Incident Literature
About Play-Acting
About Smells
A Burlesque Biography
A Cure for the Blues
A Curious Experience
A Curious Pleasure Excursion
A Defence of General Funston
A Dog's Tale
Advice To Little Girls
A Entertaining Article
A Fable
A Fashion Item
A Fine Old Man
After-Dinner Speech
"After" Jenkins
A Ghost Story
A Helpless Situation
A Humane Word from Satan
A Letter from Santa Claus
A Letter to the Secretary of the Treasury
A Medieval Romance
A Memory
Amended Obituaries
Among the Fenians
Among the Spirits
A Monument to Adam
A Mysterious Visit
An Encounter With An Interviewer
A New Crime
Answers to Correspondents
A Reminiscence of the Back Settlements
A Royal Compliment
A Telephonic Conversation
A True Story, Repeated Word for Word As I Heard It
At The Appetite-Cure
Aurelia's Unfortunate Young Man
Boons of Life
Cannibalism In The Cars
Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven
Christian Science and the book of Mrs. Eddy
Concerning Chambermaids
Concerning The American Language
Concerning The Jews
Concerning Tobacco
Curing A Cold
Curious Relic For Sale
Dan Murphy
Diplomatic Pay and Clothes
Disgraceful Persecution Of A Boy
Does the Race of Man Love a Lord??
Edward Mills and George Benton: A Tale
English as She is Taught
Eve's Diary
Experience Of The McWilliamses With Membranous Croup
Extracts from Adam's Diary
First Interview With Artemus Ward
From the 'London Times' of 1904
General Washington's Negro Body-Servant
Goldsmith's Friend Abroad Again
History Repeats Itself
Honored As A Curiosity
How I Edited an Agricultural Paper
How The Author Was Sold In Newark
How to Tell a Story
Hunting The Deceitful Turkey
Information Wanted
In Memoriam - Olivia Susan Clemens
Introduction to "The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and English"
Is He Living or is He Dead?
Italian with Grammar
Italian without a Master
Jim Baker's Blue-Jay Yarn
John Chinaman In New York
Johnny Greer
Journalism In Tennessee
Legend Of Sagenfeld, In Germany
Lionizing Murderers
Mr. Bloke's Item
My Bloody Massacre
My Boyhood Dreams
My Debut as a Literary Person
My First Lie, and How I Got Out of It
My First Literary Venture
My Late Senatorial Secretaryship
My Military Campaign
My Watch
Paris Notes
"Party Cries" In Ireland
Petition Concerning Copyright
Political Economy
Portrait of King William III
Post-mortem Poetry
Punch, Brothers, Punch!
Riley-Newspaper Correspondent
Running For Governor
Some Learned Fables, For Good Old Boys And Girls
Speech At The Scottish Banquet In London
Speech On Accident Insurance
Speech On The Babies
Speech On The Weather
Switzerland, the Cradle of Liberty
The 1,000,000 Bank Note
The $30,000 Bequest
The Approaching Epidemic
The Californian's Tale
The Canvasser's Tale
The Capitoline Venus
The Captain's Story
The Carnival of Crime in Connecticut
The Case Of George Fisher
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
The Curious Dream
The Curious Republic of Gondour
The Dandy Frightening the Squatter
The Danger of Lying in Bed
The Death Of Jean
The Enemy Conquered; or, Love Triumphant
The Esquimaux Maiden's Romance
The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut
The Facts Concerning The Recent Resignation
The Facts In The Case Of The Great Beef Contract
The First Writing Machines
The Five Boons of Life
The Great Revolution In Pitcairn
The Invalid's Story
The Judge's "Spirited Woman"
The Jumping Frog
The Killing of Julius Caesar "Localized"
The Late Benjamin Franklin
The Loves Of Alonzo Fitz Clarence And Rosannah Ethelton
The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg
The McWilliamses And The Burglar Alarm
The Office Bore
The Petrified Man
The Private History of a Campaign That Failed
The Recent Great French Duel
The Science vs Luck
The Scriptural Panoramist
The Siamese Twins
The Stolen White Elephant
The Story Of The Bad Little Boy
The Story Of The Good Little Boy
The True Story
The Undertaker's Chat
The War Prayer
The Widow's Protest
The Wild Man Interviewed
To Raise Poultry
To the Above Old People
Travelling with a Reformer
Was it Heaven? Or Hell?
Wit Inspirations Of The "Two-Year-Olds"


Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences
Taming the Bicycle