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  • Notes From The Frontier

Mark Twain: Sage of the 1800s

Mark Twain. He was a character. Looked a little bit like Albert Einstein with that wild white hair and big mustache. And he might have been as brilliant, but in words not physics. He also made a big difference in the world, just like his 20th-century doppelganger.

Mark Twain was born Samuel Clemens and moved with his family to Hannibal, Missouri, a port town on the Mississippi River, when he was four years old. The mighty Mississippi would be a huge inspiration in his life. As a young man, he worked as a riverboat pilot on the big river, before heading West to Nevada. He chose his nom de plume (writer’s name) from his piloting days: "mark twain" was the leadsman's cry for a measured river depth of two fathoms (12 feet), which was safe water for a steamboat. His new name would also help him navigate through a life of satirical writing, humor and politics, which could get pretty darn snarly.

He would come to be lauded as the voice of common sense in the 1800s and as “the greatest humorist American has produced” by the New York Times. The great southern writer, William Faulkner called him the “the father of American literature.” Twain would write the great American classics, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” (one of the first novels to be written on the newfangled typewriter!).

He was a staunch supporter of women rights and suffrage, of racial equality, of humanity to animals, and later in his career, a champion of Native American rights. In his later travelogue Following the Equator (1897), Twain observes that in colonized lands all over the world, "savages" have always been wronged by "whites" in the most merciless ways, such as "robbery, humiliation, and slow, slow murder, through poverty and the white man's whiskey.” He concluded: “There are many humorous things in this world; among them the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages."

Twain has been one of the most quoted humans in history. And for good reason. His sharp wit and sarcasm made the point with no dilly-dallying. Below are some of our favorite Mark Twain quotes. What are yours?


1. The trouble ain't that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain't distributed right.

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

3. The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

4. Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.

5. Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.

6. Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.

7. Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.

8. Honesty: The best of all the lost arts. 

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

10. Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul. 

11. Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.

12. Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.

13. Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

14. The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.

15. Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.

16. There are several good protections against temptation, but the surest is cowardice.

17. It is just like man's vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions.

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

19. The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.

20. We Americans... bear the ark of liberties of the world.

Other posts you might like:

-Clash of the Titans: The Cardiff Giant Hoax

-Manifest Destiny

-On the Rogue River with Zane Grey


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