Aphorisms by Mark Twain

Jim Finnegan, proprietor of the ursprache blog and genius loci of Tramp Freighter, strikes again …

A couple weeks ago, browsing in my local library, I picked up a copy of Mark Twain Laughing (University of Tennessee Press, 1985), edited by P.M. Zall. As one would guess by the title, the book quotes many amusing stories, anecdotes, maxims, and jokes from the writings, letters and lectures of the inimitable American wit and raconteur. Last year the University of California Press published the third and final volume of the Autobiography of Mark Twain.

Where I live in Hartford, Connecticut, we have the Mark Twain House & Museum, so sometimes I feel overly familiar with ‘Twainiana’. Still, it’s always good to get reacquainted with an author you think you know well. Inevitably there are some surprises. Most of the following aphorisms quoted in the book were selected from earlier titles: Mark Twain’s Notebook (1935), edited by Albert Bigelow Paine; Following the Equator (1897); and Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar for 1894.

It is often the case that a man who can’t tell a lie thinks he is the best judge of one. [145]

These wisdoms are not for the luring of youth toward high moral altitudes. The author did not gather them from practice, but from observations. To be good is noble; but to show others how to be good is nobler and no trouble. [166]

Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it. [173]

It is easier to stay out than get out. [184]

There are several good protections against temptation, but the surest is cowardice. [203]

Prosperity is the best protector of principle. [206]

Grief can take care of itself; but to get full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with. [216]

There are no people who are quite so vulgar as the over-refined ones. [231]

Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody. [235]

The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice. [238]

The proper office of a friend is to side with you when you are in the wrong. Nearly anybody will side with you when you are in the right. [244]

Have a place for everything and keep the thing somewhere else. This is not advice, it is merely custom. [276]

All gods are better than their conduct. [303]

The human race consists of the dangerously insane and such as are not. [310]

Man was made at the end of the week’s work, when God was tired. [315]

Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform—(or pause and reflect). [378]

Let us adopt geological time, then time being money–there will be no more poverty. [379]