The Wit & Wisdom Of Mark Twain

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Arranged alphabetically by topic, from Adam to Youth, and culled from his novels, speeches, letters, and conversations, this anthology of quotes is timeless and represents the very essence of Mark Twain -- hilarious, cranky, and insightful.


The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain



It all began with Adam. He was the first man to tell a joke -- or a lie. "How lucky Adam was," Mark Twain wrote enviously in his notebook in 1867. "He knew when he said a good thing, nobody had said it before."

Adam was not alone in the Garden of Eden, however, and does not deserve all the credit; much is due to Eve, the first woman, and Satan, the first consultant.

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, ch. 2

Adam was the author of sin, and I wish he had taken out an international copyright on it.

-- Notebook, 1877

What I cannot help wishing is that Adam and Eve had been postponed, and Martin Luther and Joan of Arc put in their placethat splendid pair equipped with temperaments not made of butter, but of asbestos. By neither sugary persuasions nor by hell fire could Satan have beguiled them to eat the apple.

-- "The Turning Point of My Life,"
essay, 1910

Adam and Eve had many advantages, but the principal one was that they escaped teething.

-- Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894, ch. 4

Adam and Eve entered the world naked and unashamed -- naked and pure-minded; and no descendant of theirs has ever entered it otherwise. All have entered it naked, unashamed, and clean in mind. They have entered it modest. They had to acquire immodesty and the soiled mind; there was no other way to get it.

-- Satan, in DeVoto, Letters from the
, 1962, Letter 3

After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.

-- Adam, in "Adam's Diary," story,

Wheresoever she was, there was Eden.

-- Adam at Eve's grave, in "Adam's
Diary," story, 1893


As to the Adjective: when in doubt, strike it out.

-- Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894, ch. 11


"Thou shalt not commit adultery" is a command which makes no distinction between the following persons. They are all required to obey it: children at birth. Children in the cradle. School children. Youths and maidens. Fresh adults. Older ones. Men and women of 40. Of 50. Of 60. Of 70. Of 80. Of 90. Of 100. The command does not distribute its burden equally, and cannot. It is not hard upon the three sets of children.

-- Satan, in DeVoto, Letters from the
, 1962, Letter 8

By temperament, which is the real law of God, many men are goats and can't help committing adultery when they get a chance; whereas there are numbers of men who, by temperament, can keep their purity and let an opportunity go by if the woman lacks in attractiveness.

-- Satan, in DeVoto, Letters from the
, 1962, Letter 8


By trying, we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man's, I mean.

-- Following the Equator, 1897, vpl. 2, ch, 3

The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain. Copyright © by Alex Ayres . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain by Alex Ayres
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