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What Is Man Mark Twain Essay Concerning

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American humorist, novelist, writer, and lecturer.

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Quotes[edit]

  • I don't see no p'ints about that frog that's any better'n any other frog.
    • "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" (1865).
  • He was ignorant of the commonest accomplishments of youth. He could not even lie.
    • "Brief Biographical Sketch of George Washington", The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches (1867), ed. John Paul
    • Cited by: William E. Phipps, Mark Twain's Religion, Mercer University Press, 2003, p. 18
      Richard Locke, Critical Children: The Use of Childhood in Ten Great Novels, Columbia University Press, p. 12
  • I have seen Chinamen abused and maltreated in all the mean, cowardly ways possible to the invention of a degraded nature, but I never saw a policeman interfere in the matter and I never saw a Chinaman righted in a court of justice for wrongs thus done him.
  • Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run.
  • Tomorrow night I appear for the first time before a Boston audience — 4000 critics.
    • Letter to Pamela Clemens Moffet, 9 November 1869, in Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain's Letters: Arranged with Comment (1917), Vol. 1, p. 168
  • He is now fast rising from affluence to poverty.
  • Formerly, if you killed a man, it was possible that you were insane—but now, if you, having friends and money, kill a man, it is evidence that you are a lunatic.
  • Is not this insanity plea becoming rather common? Is it not so common that the reader confidently expects to see it offered in every criminal case that comes before the courts? [...] Really, what we want now, is not laws against crime, but a law against insanity.
  • It [the press] has scoffed at religion till it has made scoffing popular. It has defended official criminals, on party pretexts, until it has created a United States Senate whose members are incapable of determining what crime against law and the dignity of their own body is—they are so morally blind—and it has made light of dishonesty till we have as a result a Congress which contracts to work for a certain sum and then deliberately steals additional wages out of the public pocket and is pained and surprised that anybody should worry about a little thing like that.
    • "License of the Press", an address before the Monday Evening Club, Hartford (1873).
  • Benjamin Franklin did a great many notable things for his country, and made her young name to be honored in many lands as the mother of such a son. It is not the idea of this memoir to ignore that or cover it up. No; the simple idea of it is to snub those pretentious maxims of his, which he worked up with a great show of originality out of truisms that had become wearisome platitudes as early as the dispersion from Babel.
  • A baby is an inestimable blessing and bother.
    • Letter to Annie Moffett Webster (September 1, 1876).
  • The funniest things are the forbidden.
    • "Notebook 18 (February–September 1879)" in Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, Vol. 2 (1975), ed. Frederick Anderson, ISBN 0520025423, p. 304.
  • We haven't all had the good fortune to be ladies; we haven't all been generals, or poets, or statesmen; but when the toast works down to the babies, we stand on common ground.
    • Answering a toast, "To the Babies," at a banquet in honor of General U.S. Grant (November 14, 1879).
    • The Writings of Mark Twain, Vol. 20 (1899), ed. Charles Dudley Warner, p. 397
  • Among the three or four million cradles now rocking in the land are some which this nation would preserve for ages as sacred things, if we could know which ones they are.
    • "To the Babies" (November 14, 1879).
  • Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
    • Draft manuscript (c.1881), quoted by Albert Bigelow Paine in Mark Twain: A Biography (1912), p. 724.
  • Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any.
    • "Advice to Youth", speech to The Saturday Morning Club, Boston, 15 April 1882. Mark Twain Speaking (1976), ed. Paul Fatout, p. 169
  • When the doctrine of allegiance to party can utterly up-end a man's moral constitution and make a temporary fool of him besides, what excuse are you going to offer for preaching it, teaching it, extending it, perpetuating it? Shall you say, the best good of the country demands allegiance to party? Shall you also say it demands that a man kick his truth and his conscience into the gutter, and become a mouthing lunatic, besides?
    • "Consistency", paper read at the Hartford Monday Evening Club on 5 December 1887. The Complete Essays of Mark Twain, p. 582(First published in the 1923 edition of Mark Twain's Speeches, ed. Albert Bigelow Paine, pp. 120-130, where it is incorrectly dated "following the Blaine-Cleveland campaign, 1884." (See Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals (1979), ed. Frederick Anderson, Vol. 3, p. 41, footnote 92) Many reprints repeat Paine's dating.)
  • Loyalty to petrified opinions never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world — and never will.
    • "Consistency" (5 December 1887). This quote is engraved on Twain's bust in the National Hall of Fame.
  • He [George Washington Cable] has taught me to abhor and detest the Sabbath day and hunt up new and troublesome ways to dishonor it.
    • Letter to William Dean Howells, 27 February 1885, in Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain's letters: Arranged with Comment (1917), Vol. 2, p. 450
  • It does look as if Massachusetts were in a fair way to embarrass me with kindnesses this year. In the first place, a Massachusetts judge has just decided in open court that a Boston publisher may sell, not only his own property in a free and unfettered way, but also may as freely sell property which does not belong to him but to me; property which he has not bought and which I have not sold. Under this ruling I am now advertising that judge's homestead for sale, and, if I make as good a sum out of it as I expect, I shall go on and sell out the rest of his property.
    • Letter of acceptance of membership to Concord Free Trade Club (March 28, 1885): Mark Twain, his life and work: a biographical sketch (1892), William Montgomery Clemens, Clemens Pub. Co.
  • As I slowly grow wise I briskly grow cautious.
    • "English as She Is Taught", The Century, Vol. 33, No. 6, April 1887[4]. A slightly abridged version was reprinted as Introduction to Caroline B. Le Row, English as She Is Taught: Genuine Answers to Some Examination Questions Asked in Our Public Schools (1901)
  • A circle is a round straight line with a hole in the middle.
    • Quoting a schoolchild in "English as She Is Taught".
  • All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then Success is sure.
  • The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.
    • Letter to George Bainton, 15 October 1888, solicited for and printed in George Bainton, The Art of Authorship: Literary Reminiscences, Methods of Work, and Advice to Young Beginners (1890), pp. 87–88.
    • Twain repeated the lightning bug/lightning comparison in several contexts, and credited Josh Billings for the idea:
      • Josh Billings defined the difference between humor and wit as that between the lightning bug and the lightning.
        • Speech at the 145th annual dinner of St. Andrew's Society, New York, 30 November 1901, Mark Twain Speaking (1976), ed. Paul Fatout, p. 424
      • Billings' original wording was characteristically affected:
        • Don't mistake vivacity for wit, thare iz about az mutch difference az thare iz between lightning and a lightning bug.
          • Josh Billings' Old Farmer's Allminax, "January 1871". Also in Everybody's Friend, or; Josh Billing's Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor (1874), p. 304.
  • Weather is a literary specialty, and no untrained hand can turn out a good article on it.
    • The American Claimant, foreword (1892).
  • I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.
    • American Claimant (1892).
  • If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything.
    • Notebook entry, January or February 1894, Mark Twain's Notebook, ed. Albert Bigelow Paine (1935), p. 240
  • James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness; the report of my death was an exaggeration.
    • From a note Twain wrote in London on May 31, 1897 to reporter Frank Marshall White: Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Lighting Out For the Territory : Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture (Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 134. (The original note is the Papers of Mark Twain, Accession #6314, etc., Clifton Waller Barrett Library, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Va., in Box 1.)
      • White subsequently reported this in "Mark Twain Amused," New York Journal, 2 June 1897. White also recounts the incident in "Mark Twain as a Newspaper Reporter," The Outlook, Vol. 96, 24 December 1910
    • Variant: I said - 'Say the report is greatly exaggerated'.
      • "Chapters from My Autobiography", The North American Review, 21 September 1906, p. 160. Mark Twain
    • Misquote: The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.
      • Note: This paraphrase or misquote may be more popular than the original.
  • A round man cannot be expected to fit in a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape.
    • More Tramps Abroad (1897).
  • [Citing a familiar "American joke":] In Boston they ask, How much does he know? In New York, How much is he worth? In Philadelphia, Who were his parents?
  • Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments flit away and a sunny spirit takes their place.
    • "What Paul Bourget Thinks of Us?" (1897).
  • Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.
    • Commonly quoted as: "First get your facts, then you can distort them at your leisure."
Rudyard Kipling, An Interview with Mark Twain, p. 180, From sea to sea: letters of travel, 1899, Doubleday & McClure Company. eBooks@Adelaide
  • I believe I am not interested to know whether Vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn't. To know that the results are profitable to the race would not remove my hostility to it. The pains which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity towards it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further. It is so distinctly a matter of feeling with me, and is so strong and so deeply-rooted in my make and constitution, that I am sure I could not even see a vivisector vivisected with anything more than a sort of qualified satisfaction.
    • Letter to Sidney G. Trist, Editor of the Animals' Friend Magazine, in his capacity as Secretary of the London Anti-Vivisection Society (26 May 1899), in Mark Twain's Notebooks, ed. Carlo De Vito (Black Dog & Leventhal, 2015).
  • I was sorry to have my name mentioned as one of the great authors, because they have a sad habit of dying off. Chaucer is dead, Spencer is dead, so is Milton, so is Shakespeare, and I’m not feeling so well myself.
    • Speech to the Savage Club, 9 June 1899, in Mark Twain's Speeches (1910), ed. William Dean Howells, pp. 277–278. (Possibly fabricated from a paraphrase in Aaron Watson, The Savage Club: a Medley of History, Anecdote, and Reminiscence (1907), pp. 126–129).
  • He had only one vanity; he thought he could give advice better than any other person.
  • 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 practised in the tricks and delusions of oratory.
    • "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg", ch. III, in The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Essays (1900).
  • I wanted to damage every man in the place, and every woman--and not in their bodies or in their estate, but in their vanity--the place where feeble and foolish people are most vulnerable. So I disguised myself and came back and studied you. You were easy game. You had an old and lofty reputation for honesty, and naturally you were proud of it — it was your treasure of treasures, the very apple of your eye. As soon as I found out that you carefully and vigilantly kept yourselves and your children out of temptation, I knew how to proceed. Why, you simple creatures, the weakest of all weak things is a virtue which has not been tested in the fire.
    • "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg", ch. III, in The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Essays (1900).
  • It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people [the Filipinos] free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.
    • New York Herald, October 15, 1900, quoted in A Pen Warmed Up In Hell:Mark Twain in Protest, edited by Frederick Anderson, Harper & Row, 1979.
  • Definition of a classic — something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.
    • Quoting or paraphrasing a Professor Winchester in "Disappearance of Literature", speech at the Nineteenth Century Club, New York, 20 November 1900, in Mark Twain's Speeches (1910), ed. William Dean Howells, p. 194
  • The silent colossal National Lie that is the support and confederate of all the tyrannies and shams and inequalities and unfairnesses that afflict the peoples — that is the one to throw bricks and sermons at.
  • Your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, Money, Persuasion, Supplication, Persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug,—push it a little—crowd it a little—weaken it a little, century by century: but only Laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand.
    • "The Chronicle of Young Satan" (ca. 1897–1900, unfinished), published posthumously in Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts (1969), ed. William Merriam Gibson (pp. 165–166 in the 2005 paperback printing, ISBN 0520246950).
  • Whose property is my body? Probably mine. I so regard it. If I experiment with it, who must be answerable? I, not the State. If I choose injudiciously, does the State die? Oh no.
    • “Osteopathy” (1901), in Mark Twain's Speeches, p. 253.
  • ...[H]eaven for climate, Hell for society.
    • Speech to the Acorn Society (1901)
    • also given as: "Heaven for climate, Hell for companionship." (unsourced)
  • Honesty is the best policy — when there is money in it.
    • Speech to Eastman College (1901).
  • Now what I contend is that my body is my own, at least I have always so regarded it. If I do harm through my experimenting with it, it is I who suffer, not the state.
  • The Blessings-of-Civilization Trust, wisely and cautiously administered, is a Daisy. There is more money in it, more territory, more sovereignty, and other kinds of emolument, than there is in any other game that is played. But Christendom has been playing it badly of late years, and must certainly suffer by it, in my opinion. She has been so eager to get every stake that appeared on the green cloth, that the People who Sit in Darkness have noticed it -- they have noticed it, and have begun to show alarm. They have become suspicious of the Blessings of Civilization.
  • Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.
    • To the Young People's Society, Greenpoint Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn (February 16, 1901).
  • To create man was a fine and original idea; but to add the sheep was a tautology.
    • St. Louis Post-Dispatch (30 May 1902); also in Mark Twain : A Life, p. 611.
  • Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that "plagiarism" farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul — let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances — is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men — but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington's battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite — that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.
    • Letter to Helen Keller, after she had been accused of plagiarism for one of her early stories (17 March 1903), published in Mark Twain's Letters, Vol. 1 (1917) edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, p. 731.
  • Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is, I dunno. If the Eiffel Tower were now representing the world's age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man's share of that age; and anybody would perceive that the skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would, I dunno.
    • Was the World Made for Man? (1903): also p. 106, What is man?: and other philosophical writings, Volume 19 of Works, 1993, Mark Twain, Paul Baender, University of California Press.
  • To put it in rude, plain, unpalatable words — true patriotism, real patriotism: loyalty not to a Family and a Fiction, but a loyalty to the Nation itself!
    ..."Remember this, take this to heart, live by it, die for it if necessary: that our patriotism is medieval, outworn, obsolete; that the modern patriotism, the true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation ALL the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it." [Czar Nicholas II]
    • (1905)
    • Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays, 1891-1910 (1992) ed. Louis J. Budd
  • He is a stranger to me, but he is a most remarkable man — and I am the other one. Between us, we cover all knowledge; he knows all that can be known, and I know the rest.
    • Statement (1906) in Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men and Events (1940) edited by Bernard DeVoto
  • The only reason why God created man is because he was disappointed with the monkey.
    • Autobiographical Dictation (1906).
  • A powerful agent is the right word. Whenever we come upon one of those intensely right words in a book or a newspaper the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt.
    • Essay on William Dean Howells (1906).
  • Customs do not concern themselves with right or wrong or reason. But they have to be obeyed; one reasons all around them until he is tired, but he must not transgress them, it is sternly forbidden.
    • The Gorky Incident (1906).
  • Laws are sand, customs are rock. Laws can be evaded and punishment escaped, but an openly transgressed custom brings sure punishment.
    • The Gorky Incident (1906).
  • "In God We Trust." Now then, after that legend had remained there forty years or so, unchallenged and doing no harm to anybody, the President suddenly "threw a fit" the other day, as the popular expression goes, and ordered that remark to be removed from our coinage.
    Mr. Carnegie granted that the matter was not of consequence, that a coin had just exactly the same value without the legend as with it, and he said he had no fault to find with Mr. Roosevelt's action but only with his expressed reasons for the act. The President had ordered the suppression of that motto because a coin carried the name of God into improper places, and this was a profanation of the Holy Name. Carnegie said the name of God is used to being carried into improper places everywhere and all the time, and that he thought the President's reasoning rather weak and poor.
    I thought the same, and said, "But that is just like the President. If you will notice, he is very much in the habit of furnishing a poor reason for his acts while there is an excellent reason staring him in the face, which he overlooks. There was a good reason for removing that motto; there was, indeed, an unassailably good reason — in the fact that the motto stated a lie. If this nation has ever trusted in God, that time has gone by; for nearly half a century almost its entire trust has been in the Republican party and the dollar–mainly the dollar. I recognize that I am only making an assertion and furnishing no proof; I am sorry, but this is a habit of mine; sorry also that I am not alone in it; everybody seems to have this disease.
    Take an instance: the removal of the motto fetched out a clamor from the pulpit; little groups and small conventions of clergymen gathered themselves together all over the country, and one of these little groups, consisting of twenty-two ministers, put up a prodigious assertion unbacked by any quoted statistics and passed it unanimously in the form of a resolution: the assertion, to wit, that this is a Christian country. Why, Carnegie, so is hell. Those clergymen know that, inasmuch as "Strait is the way and narrow is the gate, and few — few — are they that enter in thereat" has had the natural effect of making hell the only really prominent Christian community in any of the worlds; but we don't brag of this and certainly it is not proper to brag and boast that America is a Christian country when we all know that certainly five-sixths of our population could not enter in at the narrow gate.
    • Statements (c. December 1907), in Mark Twain In Eruption : Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men And Events (1940) edited by Bernard Augustine De Voto
  • I have been complimented many times and they always embarrass me; I always feel that they have not said enough.
    • Speech (23 September 1907).
  • Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.
    • Letter to an Unidentified Person (1908).
  • When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself.
  • Adam's temperament was the first command the Deity ever issued to a human being on this planet. And it was the only command Adam would never be able to disobey. It said, "Be weak, be water, be characterless, be cheaply persuadable." The later command, to let the fruit alone, was certain to be disobeyed. Not by Adam himself, but by his temperament — which he did not create and had no authority over.
    • "The Turning Point of my Life", §3, Harper's Bazar, February 1910, as reprinted in Essays and Sketches of Mark Twain (1995), ed. Stuart Miller, ISBN 1566198798
  • The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.
    • marginal note in Moncure D. Conway's Sacred Anthology
    • quoted by Albert Bigelow Paine in Mark Twain: A Biography (1912).
  • You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is.
    • Europe and Elsewhere. Corn Pone Opinions (1925).
  • We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking. And out of it we get an aggregation which we consider a boon. Its name is public opinion. It is held in reverence. Some think it the voice of God.
    • Corn-Pone Opinions (1925).
  • Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
    • More Maxims of Mark (1927) edited by Merle Johnson
  • Always acknowledge a fault frankly. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you opportunity to commit more.
    • More Maxims of Mark (1927) edited by Merle Johnson
  • Humor must not professedly teach, and it must not professedly preach, but it must do both if it would live forever. By forever, I mean thirty years.
    • Mark Twain in eruption: hitherto unpublished pages about men and events, 1940, Mark Twain, Bernard Augustine De Voto, Harper & brothers. This appears to be the origin of the variant:
    • If you would have your work last forever, and by forever I mean fifty years, it must neither overtly preach nor overtly teach, but it must covertly preach and covertly teach.
    • Attributed to Twain by J. Michael Straczynski in The complete book of scriptwriting, 2002, Writer's Digest Books.
  • A critic never made or killed a book or a play. The people themselves are the final judges. It is their opinion that counts. After all, the final test is truth. But the trouble is that most writers regard truth as their most valuable possession and therefore are most economical in its use.
    • Said to portrait painter Samuel Johnson Woolf, cited in Here am I (1941), Samuel Johnson Woolf; this has often been abbreviated: Most writers regard truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use.
  • It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.
    • Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men and Events (1940) edited by Bernard DeVoto
  • It is not worth while to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man's character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible.
    • Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men and Events (1940) edited by Bernard DeVoto
  • Jesus died to save men — a small thing for an immortal to do, & didn't save many, anyway; but if he had been damned for the race that would have been act of a size proper to a god, & would have saved the whole race. However, why should anybody want to save the human race, or damn it either? Does God want its society? Does Satan?
  • A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.
    • Mark Twain and I by Opie Read
  • I do not take any credit to my better-balanced head because I never went crazy on Presbyterianism. We go too slow for that. You never see us ranting and shouting and tearing up the ground, You never heard of a Presbyterian going crazy on religion. Notice us, and you will see how we do. We get up of a Sunday morning and put on the best harness we have got and trip cheerfully down town; we subside into solemnity and enter the church; we stand up and duck our heads and bear down on a hymn book propped on the pew in front when the minister prays; we stand up again while our hired choir are singing, and look in the hymn book and check off the verses to see that they don't shirk any of the stanzas; we sit silent and grave while the minister is preaching, and count the waterfalls and bonnets furtively, and catch flies; we grab our hats and bonnets when the benediction is begun; when it is finished, we shove, so to speak. No frenzy, no fanaticism --no skirmishing; everything perfectly serene. You never see any of us Presbyterians getting in a sweat about religion and trying to massacre the neighbors. Let us all be content with the tried and safe old regular religions, and take no chances on wildcat.
    • "The New Wildcat Religion".
  • Thousands of geniuses live and die undiscovered — either by themselves or by others. But for the Civil War, Lincoln and Grant and Sherman and Sheridan would not have been discovered, nor have risen into notice. … I have touched upon this matter in a small book which I wrote a generation ago and which I have not published as yet — Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven. When Stormfield arrived in heaven he … was told that … a shoemaker … was the most prodigious military genius the planet had ever produced.
    • The Autobiography of Mark Twain (1959 edition, edited by Charles Neider).
  • Adam, at Eve's grave: Wheresoever she was, THERE was Eden.
  • Principles have no real force except when one is well-fed.
    • Extracts From Adam's Diary (1906)
  • The highest perfection of politeness is only a beautiful edifice, built, from the base to the dome, of ungraceful and gilded forms of charitable and unselfish lying.
  • Compliments make me vain: & when I am vain, I am insolent & overbearing. It is a pity, too, because I love compliments. I love them even when they are not so. My child, I can live on a good compliment two weeks with nothing else to eat.

"Man's Place in the Animal World" (1869)[edit]

  • Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion — several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight.

The Innocents Abroad (1869)[edit]

  • I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week sometimes to make it up.
  • They spell it "Vinci" and pronounce it "Vinchy". Foreigners always spell better than they pronounce.
  • I used to worship the mighty genius of Michael Angelo — that man who was great in poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture — great in every thing he undertook. But I do not want Michael Angelo for breakfast — for luncheon — for dinner — for tea — for supper — for between meals. I like a change, occasionally.
  • Enough, enough, enough! Say no more! Lump the whole thing! say that the Creator made Italy from designs by Michael Angelo!
  • Guides cannot master the subtleties of the American joke.
  • I wish Europe would let Russia annihilate Turkey a little--not much, but enough to make it difficult to find the place again without a divining-rod or a diving-bell.
  • Virtue never has been as respectable as money.
  • The people of those foreign countries are very, very ignorant. They looked curiously at the costumes we had brought from the wilds of America. They observed that we talked loudly at table sometimes. They noticed that we looked out for expenses and got what we conveniently could out of a franc, and wondered where in the mischief we came from. In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.
  • Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.

"The Danger of Lying in Bed" (1871)[edit]

The Galaxy, Vol. 11, No. 2, February 1871[5]
  • The Erie railroad kills 23 to 46; the other 845 railroads kill an average of one-third of a man each; and the rest of that million, amounting in the aggregate to that appalling figure of 987,631 corpses, die naturally in their beds! You will excuse me from taking any more chances on those beds. The railroads are good enough for me.

Roughing It (1872)[edit]

  • All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the "elect" have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so "slow," so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle — keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone in an out-of-the-way locality, the work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason.
  • A crowded police docket is the surest of all signs that trade is brisk and money plenty.
  • No Californiagentleman or lady ever abuses or oppresses a Chinaman, under any circumstances, an explanation that seems to be much needed in the east. Only the scum of the population do it; they and their children. They, and, naturally and consistently, the policemen and politicians, likewise, for these are the dust-licking pimps and slaves of the scum, there as well as elsewhere in America.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)[edit]

  • Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden.
  • He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it — namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to obtain.
  • Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and...Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.
  • The minister gave out his text and droned along monotonously through an argument that was so prosy that many a head by and by began to nod — and yet it was an argument that dealt in limitless fire and brimstone and thinned the predestined elect down to a company so small as to be hardly worth the saving.
  • There was no getting around the stubborn fact that taking sweetmeats was only "hooking," while taking bacon and hams and such valuables was plain simple stealing — and there was a command against that in the Bible. So they inwardly resolved that so long as they remained in the business, their piracies should not again be sullied with the crime of stealing.
  • To promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.
  • She makes me get up just at the same time every morning; she makes me wash, they comb me all to thunder; she won't let me sleep in the woodshed; I got to wear them blamed clothes that just smothers me, Tom; they don't seem to let any air git through 'em, somehow; and they're so rotten nice that I can't set down, nor lay down, nor roll around anywher's; I hain't slid on a cellar-door for — well, it 'pears to be years; I got to go to church and sweat and sweat — I hate them ornery sermons! I can't ketch a fly in there, I can't chaw. I got to wear shoes all Sunday. The widder eats by a bell; she goes to bed by a bell; she gits up by a bell — everything's so awful reg'lar a body can't stand it.

New England Weather, speech to the New England Society (December 22, 1876)[edit]

  • There is a sumptuous variety about the New England weather that compels the stranger's admiration — and regret. The weather is always doing something there; always attending strictly to business; always getting up new designs and trying them on people to see how they will go. But it gets through more business in spring than in any other season. In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of twenty-four hours.
  • Probable nor'east to sou'west winds, varying to the soutard and westard and eastard and points between; high and low barometer, sweeping round from place to place; probable areas of rain, snow, hail, and drought, succeeded or preceded by earthquakes with thunder and lightning.
  • One of the brightest gems in the New England weather is the dazzling uncertainty of it.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)[edit]

  • Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
    BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR.
  • You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.
  • Jim was most ruined for a servant, because he got stuck up on account of having seen the devil and been rode by witches.
  • We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn't ever feel like talking loud, and it warn't often that we laughed, only a little kind of a low chuckle. We had mighty good weather as a general thing, and nothing ever happened to us at all, that night, nor the next, nor the next.
  • Pilgrim's Progress, about a man that left his family, it didn't say why. I read considerable in it now and then. The statements was interesting, but tough.
  • There warn't anybody at the church, except maybe a hog or two, for there warn't any lock on the door, and hogs likes a puncheon floor in summer-time because it's cool. If you notice, most folks don't go to church only when they've got to; but a hog is different.
  • We said there warn't no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.
  • To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin.
  • Everybody yelled at him, and laughed at him, and sassed him, and he sassed back, and said he'd attend to them and lay them out in their regular turns, but he couldn't wait now, because he'd come to town to kill old Colonel Sherburn, and his motto was, "Meat first, and spoon vittles to top off on."
  • H'aint we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain't that a big enough majority in any town?
  • I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself, "All right, then, I'll GO to hell."
  • So there ain't nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn't a tackled it and aint't agoing to no more. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before.

Letter to Clara Spaulding (20 August 1886)[edit]

  • There isn’t time--so brief is life--for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving--and but an instant, so to speak, for that.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)[edit]

  • Why, it was like reading about France and the French, before the ever memorable and blessed Revolution, which swept a thousand years of such villany away in one swift tidal-wave of blood -- one: a settlement of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by slow tortures out of that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell. There were two "Reigns of Terror," if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the "horrors" of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror -- that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.
  • The citizen who thinks he sees that the commonwealth's political clothes are worn out, and yet holds his peace and does not agitate for a new suit, is disloyal, he is a traitor. That he may be the only one who thinks he sees this decay, does not excuse him: it is his duty to agitate anyway, and it is the duty of others to vote him down if they do not see the matter as he does.
  • My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one's country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death.
  • The pilgrims were human beings. Otherwise they would have acted differently. They had come a long and difficult journey, and now when the journey was nearly finished, and they learned that the main thing they had come for had ceased to exist, they didn't do as horses or cats or angle-worms would probably have done — turn back and get at something profitable — no, anxious as they had before been to see the miraculous fountain, they were as much as forty times as anxious now to see the place where it had used to be. There is no accounting for human beings.
  • Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.
  • Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.
  • It is a mystery that is hidden from me by reason that the emergency requiring the fathoming of it hath not in my life-days occurred, and so, not having no need to know this thing, I abide barren of the knowledge.
  • You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.

How To Tell A Story (1895)[edit]

  • The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it.
  • To string incongruities and absurdities together in a wandering and sometimes purposeless way, and seem innocently unaware that they are absurdities, is the basis of the American art, if my position is correct.

Following the Equator (1897)[edit]

  • These wisdoms are for the luring of youth toward high moral altitudes. The author did not gather them from practice, but from observation. To be good is noble; but to show others how to be good is nobler and no trouble.
    • The Pudd'nhead Maxims, preface
  • When in doubt, tell the truth.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. II
    • Not in the text, but added by many sources is the sentence: "It will confound your enemies and astound your friends." Compare this line to the advice attributed to Henry Wotton (1568 - 1639) to a young diplomat "to tell the truth, and so puzzle and confound his enemies." E.g., Vol 24, Encyclopedia Britannica of Arts, Sciences, and General Literature, page 721 (9th Ed. 1894).
  • Prosperity is the best protector of principle.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. II ; as cited in Mark Twain at your Fingertips: A Book of Quotations, ed. Caroline Thomas Hornsberger, Courier Corp. (2009), p. 385
  • It is more trouble to make a maxim than it is to do right.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. III
  • Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. V
  • Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. VII
  • It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. VIII
  • There are those who scoff at the schoolboy, calling him frivolous and shallow: Yet it was the schoolboy who said "Faith is believing what you know ain't so."
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. XII
  • Truth is stranger than fiction — to some people, but I am measurably familiar with it.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. XV
  • Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. XV
      • Misquoted as "Why shouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense." by Laurence J. Peter in "Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time", among many others.
  • It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. XX
  • Man will do many things to get himself loved; he will do all things to get himself envied.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. XXI
  • "Classic." A book which people praise and don't read.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. XXV
  • Man is the Only Animal that Blushes. Or needs to.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. XXVII
  • Nearly all black and brown skins are beautiful, but a beautiful white skin is rare.
  • 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.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. XLIX
  • It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.
  • By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man's, I mean.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. XXXIX
  • Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. XLVIII
  • Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist but you have ceased to live.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. LIX
  • Often, the surest way to convey misinformation is to tell the strict truth.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. LIX
  • Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.
    • Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. LXVI

"Which was the Dream?" (1898)[edit]

Unfinished manuscript begun in 1898. First published in Mark Twain's "Which Was the Dream?" and Other Symbolic Writings of the Later Years, ed. John S Tuckey, 1967
  • Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child's loss of a doll and a king's loss of a crown are events of the same size.

Concerning the Jews (Harper's Magazine, Sept. 1899)[edit]

  • I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. All I care to know is that a man is a human being, and that is enough for me; he can't be any worse.
  • I have no special regard for Satan; but, I can at least claim that I have no prejudice against him. It may even be that I lean a little his way, on account of his not having a fair show. All religions issue bibles against him, and say the most injurious things about him, but we never hear his side. We have none but the evidence for the prosecution, and yet we have rendered the verdict. To my mind, this is irregular. It is un-English, it is un-American; it is French.
  • The Jew is not a disturber of the peace of any country. Even his enemies will concede that. He is not a loafer, he is not a sot, he is not noisy, he is not a brawler nor a rioter, he is not quarrelsome. In the statistics of crime his presence is conspicuously rare — in all countries. With murder and other crimes of violence he has but little to do: he is a stranger to the hangman. In the police court's daily long roll of "assaults" and "drunk and disorderlies" his name seldom appears ...
  • A Jewish beggar is not impossible, perhaps; such a thing may exist, but there are few men that can say they have seen that spectacle.
  • These facts are all on the credit side of the proposition that the Jew is a good and orderly citizen. Summed up, they certify that he is quiet, peaceable, industrious, unaddicted to high crimes and brutal dispositions; that his family life is commendable; that he is not a burden upon public charities; that he is not a beggar; that in benevolence he is above the reach of competition. These are the very quintessentials of good citizenship.
  • The Jew has his other side. He has some discreditable ways, though he has not a monopoly of them... He has a reputation for various small forms of cheating, and for practising oppressive usury, and for burning himself out to get the insurance, and for arranging cunning contracts which leave him an exit but lock the other man in, and for smart evasions which find him safe and comfortable just within the strict letter of the law, when court and jury know very well that he has violated the spirit of it.
  • In this connection I call to mind Genesis, chapter xlvii...the pathetic story of the years of plenty and the years of famine in Egypt, and how Joseph, with that opportunity, made a corner in broken hearts, and the crusts of the poor, and human liberty--a corner whereby he took a nation's money all away, to the last penny...then took the nation itself, buying it for bread, man by man, woman by woman, child by child, till all were slaves...and it was a disaster so crushing that its effects have not wholly disappeared from Egypt to-day... Was Joseph establishing a character for his race which would survive long in Egypt? and in time would his name come to be familiarly used to express that character--like Shylock's? It is hardly to be doubted. Let us remember that this was centuries before the Crucifixion.
  • I wish to come down eighteen hundred years later and refer to a remark made by one of the Latin historians. Some Christians were persecuted in Rome through error, they being 'mistaken for Jews.' The meaning seems plain. These pagans had nothing against Christians, but they were quite ready to persecute Jews. For some reason or other they hated a Jew before they even knew what a Christian was. May I not assume, then, that the persecution of Jews is a thing which antedates Christianity and was not born of Christianity?
  • In the cotton States, after the war...the Jew came down in force, set up shop on the plantation, supplied all the negro's wants on credit, and at the end of the season was proprietor of the negro's share of the present crop and of part of his share of the next one. Before long, the whites detested the Jew, and it is doubtful if the negro loved him.
  • I am persuaded that in Russia, Austria, and Germany nine-tenths of the hostility to the Jew comes from the average Christian's inability to compete successfully with the average Jew in business--in either straight business or the questionable sort.
  • Ages of restriction to the one tool which the law was not able to take from him--his brain--have made that tool singularly competent...
  • In estimating worldly values the Jew is not shallow, but deep. With precocious wisdom he found out in the morning of time that some men worship rank, some worship heroes, some worship power, some worship God, and that over these ideals they dispute and cannot unite--but that they all worship money; so he made it the end and aim of his life to get it. The cost to him has been heavy; his success has made the whole human race his enemy...
  • If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvellous fight in the world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger (unpublished manuscript written 1902–1908)[edit]

The Refuge of the Derelicts (unpublished manuscript written 1905–1906)[edit]

  • He says every man is a moon and has a side which he turns toward nobody: you have to slip around behind if you want to see it.[1]

What Is Man? (1906)[edit]

  • It is just like man's vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions.
  • It may be called the Master Passion—the hunger for Self-Approval.
  • The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to the other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creature that cannot.

Letter to Mrs. F. G. Whitmore (February 7, 1907)[edit]

  • But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn't anger me.

True Citizenship at the Children's Theater 1907[edit]

  • Citizenship? We have none! In place of it we teach patriotism which Samuel Johnson said a hundred and forty or a hundred and fifty years ago was the last refuge of the scoundrel -- and I believe that he was right. I remember when I was a boy and I heard repeated time and time again the phrase, 'My country, right or wrong, my country!' How absolutely absurd is such an idea. How absolutely absurd to teach this idea to the youth of the country.

Christian Science (1907)[edit]

Online at gutenberg.org

  • This last summer, when I was on my way back to Vienna from the Appetite-Cure in the mountains, I fell over a cliff in the twilight, and broke some arms and legs and one thing or another, and by good luck was found by some peasants who had lost an ass, and they carried me to the nearest habitation, which was one of those large, low, thatch-roofed farm-houses, with apartments in the garret for the family, and a cunning little porch under the deep gable decorated with boxes of bright colored flowers and cats; on the ground floor a large and light sitting-room, separated from the milch-cattle apartment by a partition; and in the front yard rose stately and fine the wealth and pride of the house, the manure-pile. That sentence is Germanic, and shows that I am acquiring that sort of mastery of the art and spirit of the language which enables a man to travel all day in one sentence without changing cars.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens: Mark Twain
The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter — it's the difference between a lightning bug and the lightning.
No Californiagentleman or lady ever abuses or oppresses a Chinaman, under any circumstances, an explanation that seems to be much needed in the east. Only the scum of the population do it; they and their children. They, and, naturally and consistently, the policemen and politicians, likewise, for these are the dust-licking pimps and slaves of the scum.

This was Twain's most serious, philosophical and private book. He kept it locked in his desk, considered it to be his Bible, and spoke of it as such to friends when he read them passages. He had written it, rewritten it, was finally satisfied with it, but still chose not to release it until after his death. It appears in the form of a dialogue between an old man and a younThis was Twain's most serious, philosophical and private book. He kept it locked in his desk, considered it to be his Bible, and spoke of it as such to friends when he read them passages. He had written it, rewritten it, was finally satisfied with it, but still chose not to release it until after his death. It appears in the form of a dialogue between an old man and a young man who discuss who and what mankind really is and provides a new and different way of looking at who we are and the way we live. Anyone who thinks Twain was not a brilliant philosopher should read this book. We consider ourselves as free and autonomous people, yet this book puts forth the ideas that 1) We are nothing more than machines and originate nothing - not even a single thought; 2) All conduct arises from one motive - self-satisfaction; 3) Our temperament is completely permanent and unchangeable; and 4) Man is of course a product of heredity, and our future, being fixed, is irrevocable -- which makes life completely predetermined. If these points are true, then buying and reading this book is not in your control, but simply must be done because it was meant to be. If these points are not true you might still wish to make an independent decision to enjoy a thought-provoking book by a great and legendary writer....more

Paperback, 116 pages

Published April 25th 2007 by Book Tree (first published 1905)

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