Black and white photograph of a young Mark Twain with dark hair.

Mark Twain

(1835 - 1910)

Samuel Clemens signed his first newspaper article “Mark Twain” in 1863, publishing two years later “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,” which brought him national recognition. Around the same time he observed that he had a “‘call’ to literature of a low order—i.e., humorous.” After giving his first organized lecture in 1866, Twain continued the lucrative practice of reading, speaking, and performing for audiences for thirty years while also publishing, among other works, Innocents Abroad in 1869, Tom Sawyer in 1876, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1885.

All Writing

Miscellany

In 1903, Mark Twain comforted Helen Keller, who had been accused of plagiarizing her story “The Frost King,” telling her in a letter, “All ideas are secondhand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources.” He took a harder line on his own intellectual property, however, campaigning so vigorously for stringent copyright laws that the American Bar Association later recognized him for his efforts.

Miscellany

“I have been bullyragged all day by the builder, by his foreman, by the architect, by the tapestry devil who is to upholster the furniture, by the idiot who is putting down the carpets, by the scoundrel who is setting up the billiard table (and has left the balls in New York),” Mark Twain wrote to his mother-in-law in 1874 about work on his Hartford home. “And I a man who loathes details with all his heart!” 

There are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate: when he can’t afford it, and when he can.

—Mark Twain, 1897

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.

—Mark Twain, 1894

Voices In Time

1905 | New York

War Prayer

Mark Twain describes the lunacy of war.More

In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.

—Mark Twain, 1897

A crowded police court docket is the surest sign that trade is brisk and money plenty.

—Mark Twain, 1872

Voices In Time

1883 | Hannibal

Homecoming

Mark Twain returns to his roots.More

There ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.

—Mark Twain, 1894

Voices In Time

1883 | New Orleans

Boat Race

Mark Twain watches the steamboats whistle by.More

Voices In Time

1903 | New York City

Grinding the Axe

For Mark Twain, everyone is a beggar in their own way.More

Voices In Time

1865 | San Francisco

Forecast

Mark Twain predicts the weather for the apocalypse.More

Miscellany

Cornbread, hot biscuits, wheat bread, and fried chicken were among the foods that Mark Twain said couldn’t be cooked north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Miscellany

Mark Twain was born on November 30, 1835—two weeks after the perihelion of Halley’s Comet. “I came in with Halley’s Comet,” Mark Twain commented in 1909. “It is coming again next year. The Almighty has said, no doubt, ‘Now there are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’” He died on April 21, 1910—one day after the comet had once again reached its perihelion. 

Familiarity breeds contempt—and children.

—Mark Twain, c. 1900

France has neither winter, summer, nor morals—apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country.

—Mark Twain, 1879

Miscellany

“That 150 lawyers should do business together ought not to be expected,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1821, in his autobiography, referring to the inefficiency of Congress. Woodrow Wilson judged the House of Representatives in his doctoral thesis, published in 1885 as his first book, “a disintegrate mass of jarring elements.” Mark Twain wrote, twelve years later, “It can probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”

There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy’s life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure.

—Mark Twain, 1876

Voices In Time

1870 | Boston

Schadenfreude

Mark Twain witnesses a lecture gone terribly wrong. More

Issues Contributed