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



The best minds will tell you that when a man has begotten a child he is morally bound to tenderly care for it, protect it from hurt, shield it from disease, clothe it, feed it, bear with its waywardness, lay no hand upon it save in kindness and for its own good, and never in any case inflict upon it a wanton cruelty. God's treatment of his earthly children, every day and every night, is the exact opposite of all that, yet those best minds warmly justify these crimes, condone them, excuse them, and indignantly refuse to regard them as crimes at all, when he commits them. Your country and mine is an interesting one, but there is nothing there that is half so interesting as the human mind.
- Letters from the Earth

AI image created by Barbara Schmidt

We have to keep our God placated with prayers, and even then we are never sure of him -- how much higher and finer is the Indian's God......Our illogical God is all-powerful in name, but impotent in fact; the Great Spirit is not all-powerful, but does the very best he can for his injun and does it free of charge.
- Marginalia written in copy of Richard Irving Dodge's Our Wild Indians

AI image created by Barbara Schmidt

All gods quote
All gods are better than their reputation.
- inscription dated December 23, 1902
written in first edition of A Double-Barrelled Detective Story.
The book is in the Kevin Mac Donnell collection.

I am plenty safe enough in his hands; I am not in any danger from that kind of a Diety. The one that I want to keep out of the reach of, is the caricature of him which one finds in the Bible. We (that one and I) could never respect each other, never get along together. I have met his superior a hundred times-- in fact I amount to that myself.
- Letter to Olivia Clemens, 17 July 1889

The gods offer no rewards for intellect. There was never one yet that showed any interest in it...
- Mark Twain's Notebook

Man proposes, but God blocks the game.
- Letter to Jean Clemens, 19 June 1908

No man that has ever lived has done a thing to please God--primarily. It was done to please himself, then God next.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

Dwig illustration
Illustration by "Dwig" from the
Dave Thomson collection

If God is what people say there can be no one in the universe so unhappy as He; for He sees unceasingly myriads of His creatures suffering unspeakable miseries--and besides this foresees how they are going to suffer during the remainder of their lives. One might as well say, "As unhappy as God."
- Notebook #24, April - Aug. 1885

God puts something good and loveable in every man His hands create.
- "American Vandal" speech, 1868

... I am built so, being made merely in the image of God, but not otherwise resembling him enough to be mistaken by anybody but a very near-sighted person.
- Undated letter to Pamel Moffett, quoted in The Love Letters of Mark Twain

...a God who could make good children as easily a bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice, and invented hell--mouths mercy, and invented hell--mouths Golden Rules and foregiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people, and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites his poor abused slave to worship him!
- No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger

There are many scapegoats for our sins, but the most popular one is Providence.
- Notebook, 1898

(Satan) hasn't a single salaried helper; the Opposition employ a million.
- Mark Twain's Notebook (1935)

Some years ago on the gold coins we used to trust in God. It think it was in 1863 that some genious suggested that it be put on the gold and silver coins which circulated among the rich. They didn't put it on the nickels and coppers because they didn't think the poor folks had any trust in God....If I remember rightly, the President required or ordered the romoval of that sentence from the coins. Well, I didn't see that the statement ought to remain there. It wasn't true. But I think it would better read, "Within certain judicious limitations we trust in God, and if there isn't enough room on the coin for this, why enlarge the coin.
- Speech, 14 May 1908

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.
- Mark Twain in Eruption

More than once I have been humiliated by my resemblance to God the father; He is always longing for the love of His children and trying to get it on the cheapest and laziest terms He can invent.
- letter to Clara Clemens, quoted in My Husband Gabrilowitsch)

Now I can only pray that there may be a God -- and a heaven -- or something better.
- Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (2010) (quote attributed to Susy Clemens)

...the swindle of life and the treachery of a God that can create disease and misery and crime--create things that men would be condemned for creating--that men would be ashamed to create.
- quoted in Isabel Lyon's Journal, 2 February 1906

God pours out love upon all with a lavish hand -- but He reserves vengeance for His very own.
- Mark Twain's Notebook

If I were to construct a God I would furnish Him with some way and qualities and characteristics which the Present lacks. He would not stoop to ask for any man's compliments, praises, flatteries; and He would be far above exacting them. I would have Him as self-respecting as the better sort of man in these regards.
He would not be a merchant, a trader. He would not buy these things. He would not sell, or offer to sell, temporary benefits of the joys of eternity for the product called worship. I would have Him as dignified as the better sort of man in this regard.
He would value no love but the love born of kindnesses conferred; not that born of benevolences contracted for. Repentance in a man's heart for a wrong done would cancel and annul that sin; and no verbal prayers for forgiveness be required or desired or expected of that man.
In His Bible there would be no Unforgiveable Sin. He would recognize in Himself the Author and Inventor of Sin and Author and Inventor of the Vehicle and Appliances for its commission; and would place the whole responsibility where it would of right belong: upon Himself, the only Sinner.
He would not be a jealous God--a trait so small that even men despise it in each other.
He would not boast.
He would keep private Hs admirations of Himself; He would regard self-praise as unbecoming the dignity of his position.
He would not have the spirit of vengeance in His heart. Then it would not issue from His lips.
There would not be any hell--except the one we live in from the cradle to the grave.
There would not be any heaven--the kind described in the world's Bibles.
He would spend some of His eternities in trying to forgive Himself for making man unhappy when he could have made him happy with the same effort and he would spend the rest of them in studying astronomy.
- Mark Twain's Notebook

The suns and planets that form the constellations of the billion billion solar systems and go pouring, a tossing flood of shining globes, through the viewless arteries of space are the blood corpuscles in the veins of God; and the nations are the microbes that swarm and wiggle and brag in each, and to think God can tell them apart at that distance has nothing better to do than try. This--the entertainment of an eternity. Who so poor in his ambitions as to consent to be God on those terms. Blasphemy? No, it is not blasphemy. If God is as vast as that, he is above blasphemy; if He is as little as that, He is beneath it.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

To trust the God of the Bible is to trust an irascible, vindictive, fierce and ever fickle and changeful master; to trust the true God is to trust a Being who has uttered no promises, but whose beneficent, exact, and changeless ordering of the machinery of His colossal universe is proof that He is at least steadfast to His purposes; whose unwritten laws, so far as the affect man, being equal and impartial, show that he is just and fair; these things, taken together, suggest that if he shall ordain us to live hereafter, he will be steadfast, just and fair toward us. We shall not need to require anything more.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

It is the will of God that we must have critics and missionaries and congressmen and humorists, and we must bear the burden
- Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 (2010)

We grant God the possession of all the qualities of mind except the one that keeps the others healthy; that watches over their dignity; that focuses their vision true--humor.
- Notebook, 1902

Leaving out the gamblers, the burglars, and the plumbers, perhaps we do put our trust in God after a fashion. But, after all, it is an overstatement.
If the cholera or black plague should come to these shores, perhaps the bulk of the nation would pray to be delivered from it, but the rest would put their trust in The Health Board...
- "Education and Citizenship," speech 14 May 1908

God's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.
- Notebook, 1898

What God lacks is convictions- stability of character. He ought to be a Presbyterian or a Catholic or something- not try to be everything.
- Notebook, 1898

None of us can be as great as God, but any of us can be as good.
- Mark Twain's Notebook, 1902-1903

All gods are better than their conduct.
- Mark Twain's Notebook, 1902-1903

God, so atrocious in the Old Testament, so attractive in the New--the Jekyl and Hyde of sacred romance.
- Notebook, 1904

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