03 July 2009


(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
American author,
journalist, humorist

*Read more about Mark Twain and his religious skepticism at the bottom of this post.

Many quotations have been attributed to Twain that came from other sources. If you find I have wrongly attributed a quotation to Twain, please leave a comment or email me at mythoughtsarefree@gmail.com. Thank you.

• “Adam was but human ---this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake; he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.” (Pudd’nhead Wilson, 1894)

• “Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before him.” (Notebook, 1867)

• “Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” (The Mysterious Stranger)

• “All I care to know is that a man is a human being ---that is enough for me; he can’t be much worse.” (Concerning the Jews)

• “All schools, all colleges, have two great functions: to confer and to conceal valuable knowledge. The theological knowledge which they conceal cannot justly be regarded as less valuable than that which they reveal. That is, if, when a man is buying a basket of strawberries, it can profit him to know that the bottom half is rotten.” (note written November 11, 1908, Mark Twain’s Notebook)

• “Always do right; this will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” (Following the Equator, 1897)

• “Be good and you will be lonesome.” (Following the Equator, 1897)

• "The best minds will tell you that when a man has begotten a child he is morally bound to tenderly care for it, protect it from hurt, shield it from disease, clothe it, feed it, bear with its waywardness, lay no hand upon it save in kindness and for its own good, and never in any case inflict upon it a wanton cruelty. God's treatment of his earthly children, every day and every night, is the exact opposite of all that, yet those best minds warmly justify these crimes, condone them, excuse them, and indignantly refuse to regard them as crimes at all, when he commits them. Your country and mine is an interesting one, but there is nothing there that is half so interesting as the human mind."

• [The Bible] “is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.” (Letters From the Earth)

• “A Christian mother’s first duty is to soil her child’s mind, and she does not neglect it.”

• “Christianity does not convert the Hindus, because our Bible miracles are not so large as theirs.”

• “Christians are all insane.”

• “Church ain’t a circumstance to a circus.” (Tom Sawyer, A Play)

• “The Church here rests under the usual charge ---an obstructor and fighter of progress; until progress arrives, then she takes the credit.” (Mark Twain’s Notebook)

• “Dreamed all bad foreigners went to German heaven, couldn’t speak the language, and wished they'd gone to the other place.” (Mark Twain’s Notebook)

• “The English are mentioned in the Bible: ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’” (Following the Equator, Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar)

• “The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creature that cannot.” (What Is Man? 1906)

• “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” (Following the Equator, Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar)

• “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” (Pudd’nhead Wilson, 1894)

• “Get your facts first...then you can distort ’em as much as you please.” (Quoted by Rudyard Kipling in From Sea to Shining Sea)

• “Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.” (Mark Twain’s Notebook)

• “Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.” (Following the Equator, Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar)

• “Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?” (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1885)

Find more quotations here:

Mark Twain grew up in a religious society, but he was a life-long religious skeptic. His wife agreed to marry him with his promise that he would attend church and become a good Christian, but as their marriage progressed, Livy became more skeptical while Twain was unable to accept the hypocrisy of religion. Twain attended church and was a good friend of several ministers including Twichell who became his best friend, despite Twain's skepticism. He wrote often about religion and made many religious references in his works. Many of these are tongue in cheek. Many of his writings mirror previous writings on religion by Robert G Ingersoll. Twain was writing for the masses and most of his readers were Christian. His writing was his livelihood, so he (fueled by Livy's censorship) was reluctant to offend.
In his later life, he directed that some of his religious writings be published 100 years after his death. He said that only dead men can tell the absolute truth. His only surviving child Clara (1874-1962) opposed publication of these works in the 1930's. Later, she decided to publish Letters From the Earth and other writings 50 years after her father's death. She explained her change of heart by saying, "Mark Twain belonged to the world." By 1960 she believed that public opinion had become more tolerant.
Clara died a few years later at age 88. Clara's only child Nina (1910-1966) had no children. Thus there were no direct descendants of Twain's after her death.

After I wrote the above, I found the following comments on Twain's religious skepticism by writer and Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin (April 1997):
"Clemens tells us that his first schoolteacher told him that if he prayed sincerely, his prayers would be answered. When young Sam Clemens prayed and his prayers didn't get answered, doubt began to set in. Indeed, later in life he would atribute to that early experience his conviction that Christianity and all religions are 'lies and swindles.' His mother and other members of his family sampled a variety of religious denominations during his youth, perhaps giving him further reason to doubt any one sect's assertions of its superiority over another. His first trip to Europe helped hone his skepticism about the contributions the Catholic church had made to civilization (imposing cathedrals did not, in Twain's view, justify the suffering imposed in the name of religion in European history). And when he married into the Langdon family, and learned the story of his father-in-law's founding of a new church in Elmira when his old congregation refused to condemn slavery, Twain must have recalled with some confusion the sermons he had heard in church throughout his childhood asserting that slavery was a system ordained by God. "Twain was not particularly unconventional during his youth. Indeed it was not until he was in his 30s that he began writing pieces that challenged norms widely accepted by those around him."
More of Fishkin's comments on Mark Twain can be found HERE.

1 comment:

Snowbrush said...

Twain is ever a joy. I suppose you've read "The Mysterious Stranger."

The meetup link now works, and I signed onto it. Thanks so much for sharing it.

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