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Directory of Mark Twain's maxims, quotations, and various opinions:



How stunning are the changes which age makes in a man while he sleeps!
- Letter to William Dean Howells, 22 August 1887

It was on the 10th day of May -- 1884 -- that I confessed to age by mounting spectacles for the first time, and in the same hour I renewed my youth, to outward appearance, by mounting a bicycle for the first time. The spectacles stayed on.
- Mark Twain's Speeches

I find no change of consequence in grown people, I do not miss the dead. It does not surprise me to hear that this friend or that friend died at such and such a time, because I fully expected that sort of news. But somehow I had made no calculation on the infants. It never occurred to me that infants grow up...These unexpected changes, from infancy to youth, and from youth to maturity, are by far the most startling things I meet with.
- Letter to San Francisco Alta California, 19 May 1867

You can't reach old age by another man's road. My habits protect my life but they would assassinate you.
- 70th birthday speech, 1905

Whatever a man's age, he can reduce it several years by putting a bright-colored flower in his button-hole.
- The American Claimant

Age enlarges and enriches the powers of some musical instruments -- notably those of the violin -- but it seems to set a piano's teeth on edge.
- Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion

Circle of age

Composite photo of Clemens
circa 1882 vs circa 1902
courtesy of Dave Thomson

Clemens and Laura Hawkins

Clemens and childhood sweetheart
Laura Hawkins at his home Stormfield
in Redding, CT.
Photo from the Dave Thomson collection.


Life was a fairy-tale, then, it is a tragedy now. When I was 43 and John Hay 41 he said life was a tragedy after 40, and I disputed it. Three years ago he asked me to testify again: I counted my graves, and there was nothing for me to say. I am old; I recognize it but I don't realize it. I wonder if a person ever really ceases to feel young -- I mean, for a whole day at a time.
- Letter to Mr. and Mrs. William Gordon, 24 January 1906

I am aware that I am very old now; but I am also aware that I have never been so young as I am now, in spirit, since I was fourteen and entertained Jim Wolf with the wasps. I am only able to perceive that I am old by a mental process; I am altogether unable to feel old in spirit. It is a pity, too, for my lapses from gravity must surely often be a reproach to me. When I am in the company of very young people I always feel that I am one of them, and they probably privately resent it.
- Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2 (2013), p. 266. Dictated 30 October 1906.

Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.
- quoted in Autobiography with Letters, William L. Phelps

If I had been helping the Almighty when he created man, I would have had him begin at the other end, and start human beings with old age. How much better to start old and have all the bitterness and blindness of age in the beginning!
- Mark Twain, a Biography

Life should begin with age and its privileges and accumulations, and end with youth and its capacity to splendidly enjoy such advantages.
- Letter to Edward Dimmitt, 19 July 1901

Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.
- Following the Equator

Illustration by "Dwig" from

Seventy is old enough. After that there is too much risk.
- Following the Equator

I was young and foolish then; now I am old and foolisher.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

Lord save us all from old age and broken health and a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.
- Letter to Joe Goodman, April 1891

I saw men whom thirty years had changed but slightly; but their wives had grown old. These were good women; it is very wearing to be good.
- Life on the Mississippi

When a man stands on the verge of seventy-two you know perfectly well that he never reached that place without knowing what this life is -- heartbreaking bereavement.
- "Books, Authors, and Hats," Mark Twain's Speeches

As soon as a man recognizes that he has drifted into age, he gets reminiscent. He wants to talk and talk; and not about the present or the future, but about his old times. For there is where the pathos of his life lies -- and the charm of it. The pathos of it is there because it was opulent with treasures that are gone, and the charm of it is in casting them up from the musty ledgers and remembering how rich and gracious they were.
- "Frank Fuller and My First New York Lecture," first published in 2009 in Who Is Mark Twain?

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