Mark Twain Biography, Quotes, and Facts
Published August 2, 2019. Updated November 10, 2020.
Who is Mark Twain?
You are likely familiar with the name but you might be wondering “who was Mark Twain?” It was the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a famous American writer, humorist, lecturer, and journalist. Clemens was raised in Hannibal, Missouri, the town that inspired the setting in some of his most popular works such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens left Hannibal when he was 18 to work in New York City and Philadelphia. Though he had written many articles and had worked at a number of newspapers, Clemens returned to Missouri in 1857 to work as a riverboat pilot. His writing often reflects his time spent in Missouri, and many of his works include themes such as place and regionalism. His experience as a riverboat pilot even gave him his famous pen name, as the phrase “mark twain” actually came from a saying that was called out by sailors when the river depth was considered “steamboat safe.” Twain’s experience of living and working in Missouri informed his writing often, and is one of the hallmarks many books by Mark Twain. Check out some more themes in his work below!
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Mark Twain facts
- Where was Mark Twain born?: He was born in Florida, Missouri.
- When was Mark Twain born?: He was born on November 30, 1835.
- How many siblings did he have? He was the sixth of seven children.
- Was he married? Yes! He was married to Olivia Langdon Clemens.
- Did he have children? Yes! He had four children: Langdon Clemens, Olivia Susan Clemens, Clara Langdon Clemens, and Jane Lampton Clemens. Here’s more info on one of the house they grew up in.
- What is the real name of Mark Twain? Samuel Langhorne Clemens
- When did Mark Twain die?: He died April 21, 1910.
- Where is he buried? He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York.
Mark Twain quotes and themes
Twain was a strong advocate of people maintaining their individuality and being able to stand up for what’s right, even if it isn’t what’s popular. He notably criticized government and encouraged free-thinking. Oftentimes, Twain produced satirical writing that exemplified his skepticism of government and mainstream thinking. For a sampling of his quotes about justice, see below:
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).” – Notebook, 1904
“…the true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation ALL the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it.” – “The Czar’s Soliloquy”
“Always do right; this will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” – Note to the Young People’s Society, Greenpoint Presbyterian Church, 1901
“The weakest of all weak things is a virtue that has not been tested in the fire.”
“It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.”
Twain was an excellent observationalist. He commented on the way that humans interact, the way we process our emotions, and what it means to be a person. While Twain is oftentimes remembered for writing about life in America that is region-specific, many of his remarks about humanity transcend time and place. For quotes from Mark Twain regarding human nature, see below:
“A human being has a natural desire to have more of a good thing than he needs.” – Following the Equator
“But we are all that way: when we know a thing we have only scorn for other people who don’t happen to know it.” – Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
“Only he who has seen better days and lives to see better days knows their full value.” – Notebook, 1902
“When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries of life disappear and life stands explained.” – Notebook, 1989
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” – Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar
“To be good is noble, but to teach others how to be good is nobler – and less trouble.” – Doctor Van Dyke speech, 1906
As you can see, there are many Mark Twain quotes about life, but there are also a few famous Mark Twain death quotes as well. Twain spoke about death as candidly and fearlessly as he did about life. In fact, he even made an insightful prophecy regarding his own death that ended up coming true. For that quote and others, see below!
“I came in with Halley’s Comet. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it.” This Mark Twain quote rang true, as he died the next year, in April 1910, right around an appearance of Halley’s Comet.
“Death is the starlit strip between the companionship of yesterday and the reunion of tomorrow.” – on monument for Twain & Ossip Gabrilowitsch
“It has never been my way to bother much about things which you can’t cure.” – A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Quotes by Mark Twain about truth
“A man’s private thought can never be a lie; what he thinks, to him is the truth, always.” – Letter to Louis Pendleton, 4 August 1888
“Honesty: the best of all the lost arts.” – Notebook, 1902
“When in doubt, tell the truth.” – Following the Equator, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar
“Plain question and plain answer make the shortest road out of most perplexities.” – Life on the Mississippi
“Supposing is good, but finding out is better.”
“Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it.” – Notebook, 1902
“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”
Mark Twain quotes: Love
“That is the way that we are made: we don’t reason where we feel; we just feel.” – A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
“All emotion is involuntary when genuine.” – “Cooper’s Prose Style,” Letters from the Earth
Mark Twain quotes: Funny
“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” – “The Chronicle of Young Satan,” Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts
“Humor is the good-natured side of the truth.”
“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” – in From Sea to Shining Sea, quoted by Rudyard Kipling
“Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.” – Following the Equator “Comedy keeps the heart sweet.” – “About Play-Acting”
“Do not put off until tomorrow what can be put off till day-after-tomorrow just as well.” – More Maxims of Mark, Johnson, 1927
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Quotes on success
“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.” – Notebook, 1887
“A successful book is not made of what is in it, but of what is left out of it.” – Letter to Henry H. Rogers, 26-28 April 1897
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” – in Morally We Roll Along, by Gary MacLaren (1938)
“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but Cabbage with a College Education.” – The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson and the Comedy of the Extraordinary Twins
“Prosperity is the best protector of principle.” – Following the Equator
Quotes from Following the Equator
Here are some famous Mark Twain quotes from his short story, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.”
“Classic: a book which people praise and don’t read.”
“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d druther not.”
“Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.”
“Be careless in your dress if you must, but keep a tidy soul.”
“Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.”
“It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart; the one to slander you and the other to get the news to you.”
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“There is no unhappiness like the misery of sighting work (and work) again after a cheerful, careless voyage.” – Letter to Will Bowen, Mark Twain Travel Quote
“Do not offer a compliment and ask a favor at the same time. A compliment that is charged for is not valuable.” – Notebook, 1902 – 1903
“The compliment that helps us on our way is not the one that is shut up in the mind, but the one that is spoken out.”
“Necessity is the mother of taking chances.” – Roughing It
“A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes.”
“You can’t depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.”
“The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.”
“Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
“Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which, before their union, were not perceived to have any relation.” – Notebook, 1885
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Twain had a diverse writing career, finding success across multiple styles and genres of writing. The Adventures of Mark Huckleberry Finn is arguably one of the most popular American works of fiction and a direct sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This novel takes place on the Mississippi River and is told in first person by its narrator, Huckleberry “Huck” Finn. This coming-of-age tale follows Huck on multiple adventures as his worldview deepens and he must contemplate questions he’s never had to confront before. For Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn was a character that helped solidify his status in the American literary canon. His other famous novels include The Innocents Abroad, Roughing It, The Gilded Age, A Tramp Abroad, The Prince and the Pauper, Life on the Mississippi, and The Diaries of Adam and Eve.
While Mark Twain novels have perpetuated his popularity, Mark Twain short stories are what initially launched it. His story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” was published in 1865 and established Twain’s reputation as a notable comic talent, which is still commemorated today with a prize in his name, given by The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. Some notable recipients of this award most recently include Dave Chappelle, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and David Letterman. Twain’s work was also celebrated and remembered in the claymation film, The Adventures of Mark Twain. This film features scenes from various popular works by Twain, and includes a depiction of Twain himself spending time with some of his most famous characters. Click here to read more about his career.
You may be wondering, “is there a Mark Twain autobiography where I can find more information about Twain’s life?” and yes, there surely is, but one of the interesting things about his various works is that many of them already have autobiographical elements. In addition to the parallel with his characters of living life on the Mississippi River, Twain has used his real life travels as inspiration for his writing. Two of Twain’s popular pieces of writing, Roughing It and “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” are based on time Twain spent traveling. In Roughing It, Twain draws on his time spent in the American West to write a travel book about the people and places he came across, while “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” is influenced from Twain’s travels to California.
On top of his well-known career as a prose writer, Mark Twain poems have a reputation that is lesser-known but still regarded highly. Though Twain was rumored to have “detested poetry,” Twain had over 100 recorded poems written throughout his lifetime! In his poems, he utilized elements such as his iconic satirical voice and adopting different personas to inspire his verse.
By the time he passed away, he had written dozens of works including novels, short story collections, poems, articles, and more. If you need more of the best Mark Twain quotes or facts to add to your paper, we’ve got you covered!
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Check out our bibliography of Mark Twain sources below!
“Biography.” Mark Twain House, marktwainhouse.org/about/mark-twain/biography/.
“Frequently Asked Questions.” The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, www.marktwainmuseum.org/frequently-asked-questions/.
“Major Works.” Mark Twain House, marktwainhouse.org/about/mark-twain/major-works/.
“Mark Twain Prize for Humor | The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.” The Kennedy Center, www.kennedy-center.org/pages/specialevents/marktwain.
“Mark Twain Quotations, Newspaper Collections, & Related Resources.” Mark Twain Quotations, www.twainquotes.com/index.html.
“Mark Twain.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 June 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Twain.
“Our Story.” Mark Twain Dinette, marktwaindinette.com/ourstory.
Popova, Maria. “On Loves, Lunacies, and Losses: The Little-Known Poetry of Mark Twain.” Brain Pickings, 18 Sept. 2015, www.brainpickings.org/2013/04/08/mark-twain-poetry/.
Quirk, Thomas V. “Mark Twain.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 17 Apr. 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/Mark-Twain.
“The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985 Film).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Feb. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventures_of_Mark_Twain_(1985_film).
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