Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1, Reader's Edition

A man who goes around with a prophecy-gun ought never to get discouraged: if he will keep up his heart and fire at everything he sees, he is bound to hit something by and by.

At first my father owned slaves, but by and by he sold them, and hired others by the year from the farmers. For a girl of fifteen he paid twelve dollars a year and gave her two linsey-wolsey frocks and a pair of “stogy” shoes—cost, a modification of nothing; for a negro woman of twenty-five, as general house servant, he paid twenty-five dollars a year and gave her shoes and the aforementioned linsey-wolsey frocks; for a strong negro woman of forty, as cook, washer, etc., he paid forty dollars a year and the customary two suits of clothes; and for an able bodied man he paid from seventy-five to a hundred dollars a year and gave him two suits of jeans and two pairs of “stogy” shoes—an outfit that cost about three dollars. But times have changed.

Between 1870 and 1905 Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) tried repeatedly, and at long intervals, to write (or dictate) his autobiography, always shelving the manuscript before he had made much progress. By 1905 he had accumulated some thirty or forty of these false starts—manuscripts that were essentially experiments, drafts of episodes and chapters; many of these have survived in the Mark Twain Papers and two other libraries. To some of these manuscripts he went so far as to assign chapter numbers that placed them early or late in a narrative which he never filled in, let alone completed. None dealt with more than brief snatches of his life story.

Every man feels that his experience is unlike that of anybody else and therefore he should write it down—he finds also that everybody else has thought and felt on some points precisely as he has done, and therefore he should write it down.

He had another conspicuous characteristic, and it was the father of those which I have just spoken of. This was an intense lust for approval. He was so eager to be approved, so girlishly anxious to be approved by anybody and everybody, without discrimination, that he was commonly ready to forsake his notions, opinions and convictions at a moment’s notice in order to get the approval of any person who disagreed with them. I wish to be understood as reserving his fundamental principles all the time. He never forsook those to please anybody. Born and reared among slaves and slave-holders, he was yet an abolitionist from his boyhood to his death. He was always truthful; he was always sincere; he was always honest and honorable. But in light matters—matters of small consequence, like religion and politics and such things—he never acquired a conviction that could survive a disapproving remark from a cat.

Helen Keller was to have been present last night but she is ill in bed, and has been ill in bed during several weeks, through overwork in the interest of the blind, the deaf, and the dumb. I need not go into any particulars about Helen Keller. She is fellow to Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon, Homer, Shakspeare, and the rest of the immortals. She will be as famous a thousand years from now as she is to-day.

He said that man’s heart was the only bad heart in the animal kingdom; that man was the only animal capable of feeling malice, envy, vindictiveness, revengefulness, hatred, selfishness, the only animal that loves drunkenness, almost the only animal that could endure personal uncleanliness and a filthy habitation, the sole animal in whom was fully developed the base instinct called patriotism, the sole animal that robs, persecutes, oppresses and kills members of his own tribe, the sole animal that steals and enslaves the members of any tribe.

Human nature is all alike.

I can call back the solemn twilight and mystery of the deep woods, the earthy smells, the faint odors of the wild flowers, the sheen of rain-washed foliage, the rattling clatter of drops when the wind shook the trees, the far-off hammering of wood-peckers and the muffled drumming of wood-pheasants in the remotenesses of the forest, the snap-shot glimpses of disturbed wild creatures skurrying through the grass, — I can call it all back and make it as real as it ever was, and as blessed. I can call back the prairie, and its loneliness and peace, and a vast hawk hanging motionless in the sky, with his wings spread wide and the blue of the vault showing through the fringe of their end-feathers.

I could not really complain, because he had only given me his word of honor as security; I ought to have required of him something substantial.

I have been on the verge of being an angel all my life, but it's never happened yet.

I have had an aversion to good spelling for sixty years and more, merely for the reason that when I was a boy there was not a thing I could do creditably except spell according to the book. It was a poor and mean distinction, and I early learned to disenjoy it. I suppose that this is because the ability to spell correctly is a talent, not an acquirement. There is some dignity about an acquirement, because it is a product of your own labor. It is earned, whereas to be able to do a thing merely by the grace of God, and not by your own effort, transfers the thing to our heavenly home--where possibly it is a matter of pride and satisfaction, but it leaves you naked and bankrupt.

I have made it a rule never to smoke more than one cigar at a time. I have no other restriction as regards smoking.

I have never taken any exercise, except sleeping and resting, and I never intend to take any. Exercise is loathsome. And it cannot be any benefit when you are tired; I was always tired.

I know all about audiences, they believe everything you say, except when you are telling the truth.

I love to hear myself talk, because I get so much instruction and moral upheaval out of it.

In 1940 DeVoto published a manuscript about Joseph H. Twichell’s encounter with a profane ostler which he described as “one of the random pieces that preceded Mark’s sustained work on the Autobiography,” suggesting that it was “probably written in the 1880s and at one time formed part of a long manuscript—I cannot tell which one” (MTE, 366–72). But this anecdote was not part of any draft of the autobiography. It was written for Life on the Mississippi (1883) and removed from the manuscript before publication.

In August 1902, Olivia’s health grew alarmingly worse. Despite temporary improvements, it continued to decline, and in 1903, on the recommendation of her doctors, Clemens decided to take the family to Italy. In early November they settled into the Villa di Quarto near Florence. In addition to Clemens himself, the travelers included Olivia, Clara, and Jean. Three employees were also with them: longtime family servant Katy Leary, a nurse for Olivia, and Isabel V. Lyon, who had been hired in 1902 as Olivia’s secretary but had since assumed more general duties.

I will remark, here, that James W. Paige, the little bright-eyed, alert, smartly dressed inventor of the machine, is a most extraordinary compound of business thrift and commercial insanity; of cold calculation and jejune sentimentality; of veracity and falsehood; of fidelity and treachery; of nobility and baseness; of pluck and cowardice; of wasteful liberality and pitiful stinginess; of solid sense and weltering moonshine; of towering genius and trivial ambitions; of merciful bowels and a petrified heart; of colossal vanity and— But there the opposites stop. His vanity stands alone, sky-piercing, as sharp of outline as an Egyptian monolith. It is the only unpleasant feature in him that is not modified, softened, compensated by some converse characteristic.

John Marshall Clemens’s land purchases and the family’s subsequent sales of the land have been only partly documented from independent sources. The extant grants, deeds, and bills of sale are incomplete, but it was also the case that contradictory or inaccurate deeds often led to disputed claims. Orion Clemens referred to one cause of such conflict in a letter to his brother on 7 July 1869, alleging that “Tennessee grants the same land over and over again to different parties” (OC to SLC, 7 July 1869, CU-MARK, quoted in 3? July 1869 to OC, L3, 279 n. 1 [bottom]; for family correspondence on the subject from 1853 to 1870, see L1, L2, L3, and L4).

Look at the tyranny of party-- at what is called party allegiance, party loyalty-- a snare invented by designing men for selfish purposes-- and which turns voters into chattels, slaves, rabbits; and all the while, their masters, and they themselves are shouting rubbish about liberty, independence, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, honestly unconscious of the fantastic contradiction; and forgetting or ignoring that their fathers and the churches shouted the same blasphemies a generation earlier when they were closing thier doors against the hunted slave, beating his handful of humane defenders with Bible-texts and billies, and pocketing the insults nad licking the shoes of his Southern master.

Most of the houses were of logs—all of them, indeed, except three or four; these latter were frame ones. There were none of brick, and none of stone. There was a log church, with a puncheon floor and slab benches. A puncheon floor is made of logs whose upper surfaces have been chipped flat with the adze. The cracks between the logs were not filled; there was no carpet; consequently, if you dropped anything smaller than a peach, it was likely to go through. The church was perched upon short sections of logs, which elevated it two or three feet from the ground. Hogs slept under there, and whenever the dogs got after them during services, the minister had to wait till the disturbance was over. In winter there was always a refreshing breeze up through the puncheon floor; in summer there were fleas enough for all.

My experience of men had long ago taught me that one of the surest ways of begetting an enemy was to do some stranger an act of kindness which should lay upon him the irritating sense of an obligation.

People don't really read your books, they only say they do, to keep you from feeling bad.

The coat of arms of the human race ought to consist of a man with an axe on his shoulder proceeding toward a grindstone. Or, it ought to represent the several members of the human race holding out the hat to each other. For we are all beggars. Each in his own way. One beggar is too proud to beg for pennies but will beg a loan of dollars, knowing he can’t repay; another will not beg a loan but will beg for a postmastership; another will not do that but will beg for an introduction to “society”; one, being rich, will not beg a hod of coal of the railway company but will beg a pass; his neighbor will not beg coal, nor pass, but in social converse with a lawyer will place before him a supposititious case in the hope of getting an opinion out of him for nothing; one who would disdain to beg for any of these things will beg frankly for the presidency. None of the lot is ashamed of himself, but he despises the rest of the mendicants. Each admires his own dignity, and carefully guards it, but in his opinion the others haven’t any.

The preacher who casts a vote for conscience' sake, runs the risk of starving.

The truth is, a person's memory has no more sense that his conscience, and no appreciation whatever of values and proportions.

We met a great many other interesting people, among them Lewis Carroll, author of the immortal "Alice"--but he was only interesting to look at, for he was the silliest and shyest full-grown man I have ever met except "Uncle Remus.

We recognize that there are no trivial occurrences in life if we get the right focus on them.

Yes,” I said, “that is what I mean to say. I am not going to vote for him.” The others began to find their voices. They sang the same note. They said that when a party’s representatives choose a man, that ends it. If they choose unwisely it is a misfortune, but no loyal member of the party has any right to withhold his vote. He has a plain duty before him and he can’t shirk it. He must vote for that nominee. I said that no party held the privilege of dictating to me how I should vote. That if party loyalty was a form of patriotism, I was no patriot, and that I didn’t think I was much of a patriot anyway, for oftener than otherwise what the general body of Americans regarded as the patriotic course was not in accordance with my views; that if there was any valuable difference between being an American and a monarchist it lay in the theory that the American could decide for himself what is patriotic and what isn’t; whereas