Continuing the sub-series on Mark Twain (1835-1910), author of Extracts from Adam’s Diary…
During his lifetime Twain was a recognized humorist, lecturer, and author. His best-known works include Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, Life on the Mississippi, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
He wrote as well many pieces for newspapers big and small under a variety of pen names and gave many speeches, so his complete works are still being discovered and collected.
His philosophy on speeches is represented by these quotes:
“It is my custom to keep on talking until I get the audience cowed.”
“Eloquence is the essential thing in a speech, not information.”
“There is nothing in the world like a persuasive speech to fuddle the mental apparatus and upset the convictions and debauch the emotions of an audience not practiced in the tricks and delusions of oratory.”
Twain’s first big success as a writer was The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, published in 1865 in the New York Saturday Press. The humorous story featured a frog owned by a man named Smiley who would bet on anything. Twain later told the story of how the man’s name had been changed from Greeley to Smiley:
“He was a real character, and his name was Greeley. The way he got the name of Smiley was this — I wrote the story for the New York Saturday Gazette, a perishing weekly so-called literary newspaper — a home of poverty; it was the last number — the jumping frog killed it. They had not enough “G’s”, so they changed Greeley’s name to “Smiley.” That’s a fact.”
Twain was also a literary critic, severely criticizing authors like George Eliot, Jane Austen, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe, and James Fenimore Cooper. For example, of Austen and Poe he said:
“Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.”
“To me his [Edgar Allan Poe’s] prose is unreadable–like Jane Austin’s [sic]. No there is a difference. I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane’s. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”
On proper writing Mark Twain said,
“To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself…Anybody can have ideas–the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.” (Letter to Emeline Beach, 10 Feb 1868)
One of his most famous ad libs was the 1897 quip, “The report of my death was an exaggeration,” to a reporter sent to investigate his supposed serious illness and death.
Ten years later the New York Times speculated he had been lost at sea on a yachting excursion. Upon his safe return to New York, he wrote a New York Times piece offering to “make an exhaustive investigation of this report that I have been lost at sea. If there is any foundation for the report, I will at once apprise the anxious public.”
The New York Times obituary called him the “greatest American humorist of his age”. William Faulkner called him “the father of American literature”. Ernest Hemingway said, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
Commenting on Twain’s death, President William Howard Taft said:
“Mark Twain gave pleasure – real intellectual enjoyment – to millions, and his works will continue to give such pleasure to millions yet to come. His humor was American, but he was nearly as much appreciated by Englishmen and people of other countries as by his own countrymen. He has made an enduring part of American literature.”
Robert Underwood Johnson in Remembered Yesterdays said:
“After all was said about Mark Twain there is no explanation of his career. That a man coming from humble and unliterary surroundings and with the training of a Mississippi River pilot could have risen even by the most gradual stages to his preeminence as a world figure has no parallel in literary history. At his death, not even excepting Roosevelt, he was the best-known living American, bearing the highest collegiate honors America and England could bestow and having made a deep and lasting impression in every civilized country. He did this in spite of his violent prejudices, by the very force of his sincerity and by a comprehension of human nature which was much deeper than the unique and delightful form of humor in which it was clothed. He was moreover, greatly beloved in all English-speaking lands.”
Here is a sampling of Mark Twain quotes to provide a taste of his wit and thought:
“Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
“In the real world, the right thing never happens in the right place and the right time. It is the job of journalists and historians to make it appear that it has.”
“The trouble ain’t that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain’t distributed right.”
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”
The next post, 14. Adam’s Diary – Mark Twain VI, will explore Twain’s views of Christianity.
Read the prequels in this series on Adam’s Diary:
1. Adam’s Diary – A New Creature
2. Adam’s Diary – Naming the Animals
3. Adam’s Diary – Garden of Eden
4. Adam’s Diary – “We”
5. Adam’s Diary – Sunday
6. Adam’s Diary – Eve
7. Adam’s Diary – Niagara Falls
8. Adam’s Diary – Escape
9. Adam’s Diary – Mark Twain I
10. Adam’s Diary – Mark Twain II
11. Adam’s Diary – Mark Twain III
12. Adam’s Diary – Mark Twain IV
Read the sequel:
14. Adam’s Diary – Mark Twain VI
©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
Monday May 10, 2010 A.D.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.