22 Wise and Thoughtful Mark Twain Quotes

Mark Twain was born in Florida. Florida, Missouri. He is known for his novels and his other work as a writer. He was actually the original stand up comedian and ushered in an era of humor that would eventually make way for what is now known as the Harlem Renaissance. While some think of Huck Finn as offensive, Mark Twain was actually the one who started the Civil Rights Movement.

The Father of American Literature was known for his wit and cynicism. This collection of Mark Twain quotes showcases the man as a whole covering topics from birth to death and everything in between.

1. Mark Twain Gets It Started in Here.

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” - Mark Twain

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain

When you want to get things done, whether it’s writing a novel or launching a business, you have to get started. The only way to make those dreams come true is to get your hands a little dirty. Mark Twain struggled with poverty from the day he was born until the day he died. If you look at the way he lived, you’d never think that got him down for a second.

2. Twain Distorts the Facts.

“Get your facts first, then you can distort them.” - Mark Twain

“Get your facts first, then you can distort them.” – Mark Twain

In this day and age, we love a good statistic. Twain knew that we were obsessed with facts, and he knew that most people exploited that. He would go on to say that, “Politicians, like diapers, need to be changed frequently and for the same reason.” This series of writings was an era in his life when he introduced the American people to the notion of holding the powers-that-be accountable. It was a new thought at the time.

3. Mark Knows When to Keep Quiet.

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” - Mark Twain

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” – Mark Twain

When you get into a battle of wits with Mark Twain, you’re going to lose. Mark Twain wrote this about politicians in New York who came out against Mark Twain. At one point, they accused him of speaking poorly of them because he was considering his own political run. They were very heated and immature. Twain’s retort has been posterized for the past century or more.

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4. Mark Twain Is a Liar.

“I don’t remember my first lie; I was too young. But I do remember my second.” - Mark Twain

“I don’t remember my first lie; I was too young. But I do remember my second.” – Mark Twain

This is one of the early lines in Twain’s essay, “My First Lie and How I Got Out of It.” Mark Twain goes on to claim that his second lie was during a diaper change. In his day, cloth diapers were pinned on with a straight pin. He cried when his mother stuck him (though he was only an infant). He then began to cry, even when he wasn’t stuck with the pin, because he knew that he would get sugar on a spoon to appease his discomfort. Quite an elaborate con for a 3 month old.

5. Twain on the Importance of Memory.

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” - Mark Twain

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” – Mark Twain

The simple truth is that you should always tell the truth. Mark Twain knew how to tell some stretchers. In essays, letters, and especially his fiction, Twain paints elaborate pictures that are so comical they can’t be honest. Yet, he knew that the essence of life was honesty. It was quite the paradox that his moral character and the character he played (Mark Twain) were quite different.

6. Samuel Clemens on the Beauty of Forgiveness.

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” - Mark Twain

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” – Mark Twain

There has possibly been no better explanation of forgiveness than Twain’s definition. When we apply this same approach to our own lives, it seems foolish to hold grudges. When given the opportunity to give off a sweet fragrance, even when faced with injustice, we should always choose to act as the violet. Who knew Twain was so deep?

7. Mark Twain on Accomplishment.

“There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.” - Mark Twain

“There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.” – Mark Twain

Mark Twain undoubtedly accomplished many things. He was constantly at war with politicians and other writers. Many did not give him credit because of his many failures. He had a few failed newspapers and a failed print press. He had many other failures in his life, but he knew that his accomplishments far outweighed those shortcomings.

8. Mark Twain Does the Right Thing.

“Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” - Mark Twain

“Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” – Mark Twain

No one knew about doing the right thing more than the man who created Huck Finn. While Tom Sawyer represented the chronic underachiever, Huck was the tragic hero whose only flaw was always doing what was right. So often we watched Huck stand by doing the right thing while still facing consequences that rightly belonged to someone else. In the long run, it worked out well for him.

9. Twain Is a Polyglot.

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” - Mark Twain

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain

When you always do what’s right, that includes being kind. Especially when being kind is a hard thing to do. If you’ve ever worked customer service you know that when the pressure is on, it’s very hard to keep it together. In the end, keeping everything together and paying forward acts of kindness pays us back in immeasurable ways.

10. Mark Has a Great Imagination.

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” - Mark Twain

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

When you keep things in focus, you can see the end goal. Your dreams are right in front of you, just out of reach at the moment, but coming to fruition through perseverance down the road. If you can’t see those dreams coming true, then you are simply short-sighted in the figurative sense. Mark Twain always hatched his next big idea before his last big idea paid off.

11. Sam Forgets His Troubles and Gets Happy.

“The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.” - Mark Twain

“The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.” – Mark Twain

Quite possible the Gospel of Twain summed up in one statement, cheering others up was a way of life for Mark Twain. He was the first great author, but he was known and loved for his incredible sense of humor and especially his ability to make us laugh… even when we probably shouldn’t.

12. Mark Twain Learns a Valuable Lesson.

“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” - Mark Twain

“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” – Mark Twain

Some lessons we learn from Mark Twain are simple and obvious. If you’ve ever tried to bathe a cat, you’ll know the outcome always involves blood for one or both parties. This is also a way to think about our approach to life. Sometimes we do things the hard way rather than learning our lesson and doing things the right way.

13. Mark on Taking Time to Reflect.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” - Mark Twain

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

When I was small, my grandmother would always ask, “If so and so jumped off a bridge, would you do it?” I hated those moments because it was a way to point out that I was just a follower. Mark guides us to reflect any time we are on the side of the majority. Thus, we understand how he became such a political heretic.

14. Twain Makes Money, Money.

“The lack of money is the root of all evil.” - Mark Twain

“The lack of money is the root of all evil.” – Mark Twain

Mark Twain lost more money in his adult life than he made. He was not a frivolous spender by any means, but he was often jaded by investment opportunities. He wrote at times about his own mood changing simply because his fortunes (or fortune) had changed. We can all relate when we ponder that feeling of being just a little short one month. Seems we are a bit jumpy at the time.

15. Mark Twain on Healthy Living.

“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 rather not.” - Mark Twain

“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 rather not.” – Mark Twain

Healthy living is a real kick in the behind. As Mark Twain got older, he began to make changes in his life. He cut back on bourbon and the pipe. He started to eat healthier. This observation came as a result of those changes. It seems that as we get older, we tend to limit the freedoms we enjoy in youth.

16. Mark Twain Masters Geometry.

“A round man cannot be expected to fit in a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape.” - Mark Twain

“A round man cannot be expected to fit in a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape.” – Mark Twain

You’ve got to have a little time to change your stripes. Mark is a master of making some slimy things seem logical. Whether you are giving the benefit of the doubt, or taking this statement for the sarcastic undertone, it is a great theory on the human condition. We all have to understand that people need a little time to make the appropriate life changes.

17. Mark Is Losing his Memory.

“When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not.” - Mark Twain

“When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not.” – Mark Twain

As a child, I could come up with the most elaborate stories and recite them time and time again with every detail in its place. Now, I can’t remember what I wore yesterday and worry about walking into the workplace with a repeated outfit nearly every day. As we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, we lose touch with our twisted sense of innocence, for better or worse.

18. Twain on Aging.

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” - Mark Twain

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” – Mark Twain

The older we get, the more life changes. The reality is that time doesn’t change much for ourselves. We all stop mentally aging at about the same time. Once you are set in your stubborn ways, you only need to shift your focus and understand that age is nothing but a number. It is not a limitation.

19. Twain Still Discusses Aging.

“Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.” - Mark Twain

“Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.” – Mark Twain

Even an accomplished author like Mark Twain faced the reality of aging. We would all be happier if we could age backwards. This quote from Mark Twain inspired some small writer named F. Scott Fitzgerald to write a short story about Benjamin Button. Indeed, aging backwards would be lovely.

20. Mark Lives Life to the Fullest.

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” - Mark Twain

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” – Mark Twain

Since we can’t age backwards, we have to live life to the fullest. No one knew this better than Mark Twain. Think about what you’re holding back. If you were Mark Twain, how could you live a life that is less fearful?

21. Mark Twain on the Afterlife.

“Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.” - Mark Twain

“Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.” – Mark Twain

In the event of death, Mark Twain had conflicting views. He lived his life as a reluctant and combatant Presbyterian. He could never settle many of his disputes with the church. In his twilight years as a widower, he became cynical and often thought of death as a relief. He added that all the interesting people were in Hell, at least according to the religious pundits.

22. Mark Twain on the Paradox of Life and Death.

“Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved.” - Mark Twain

“Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved.” – Mark Twain

Over a century after his death, Mark Twain still makes us laugh. He also inspires us with his views on life and death. Rather than mourn the loss of an icon, now we are able to embrace his genius without judging him for his failures the way his contemporaries did. In the end, we should all be able to rejoice at our own funerals. That’s the Mark Twain would’ve wanted us to live.

(Read this next: 30 Famous Winston Churchill Quotes)

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