Illustration of Mark Twain and King Edward VII
from Washington Times, June 28, 1907
reprinting the Philadelphia Inquirer
Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.
- "The Chronicle of Young Satan," Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts
Humor must not professedly teach, and it must not professedly
preach, but it must do both if it would live forever.
- Mark Twain in Eruption
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
- "How to Tell a Story"
Illustration by Hy. Mayer from The New York Times, June 30, 1907
It is not true that owing to my lack of humor I was once discharged
from a humorous publication. It's an event that could very likely happen were
I on the staff of a humorous paper--but then I'd never get into a fix like that.
I'd never undertake to be humorous by contract. If I wanted my worst enemy to
be racked I'd make him the editor of a comic paper. For me there must be contrast;
for humorous effect I must have solemn background; I'd let my contribution into
an undertaker's paper or the London Times. Set a diamond upon a pall
of black if you'd have it glisten.
- Interview titled "With Mark Twain," Sydney (Australia) Bulletin, January 4, 1896
Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of Humor itself is not
joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.
The funniest things are the forbidden.
Humor is mankind's greatest blessing.
Humorists of the 'mere' sort cannot survive. Humor is only a fragrance,
The humorous writer professes to awaken and direct your love, your pity,
your kindness--your scorn for untruth, pretension, imposture....He takes
upon himself to be the week-day preacher.
...humor cannot do credit to itself without a good background of gravity
& of earnestness. Humor unsupported rather hurts its author in the estimation
of the reader.
- Letter to Michael Simons, January 1873
Probably there is an imperceptible touch of something permanent that one feels
instinctively to adhere to true humour, whereas wit may be the mere conversational
shooting up of "smartness"--a bright feather, to be blown into space
the second after it is launched...Wit seems to be counted a very poor relation
to Humour....Humour is never artificial.
- quoted in Sydney Morning Herald, September 17, 1895, , pp. 5-6.
The true and lasting genius of humour does not drag you thus to boxes labelled
'pathos,' 'humour,' and show you all the mechanism of the inimitable puppets
that are going to perform. How I used to laugh at Simon Tapperwit, and the Wellers,
and a host more! But I can't do it now somehow; and time, it seems to me, is
the true test of humour. It must be antiseptic.
- quoted in Sydney Morning Herald, September 17, 1895, pp. 5-6.
What is it that strikes a spark of humor from a man? It is the effort to throw
off, to fight back the burden of grief that is laid on each one of us. In youth
we don't feel it, but as we grow to manhood we find the burden on our shoulders.
Humor? It is nature's effort to harmonize conditions. The further the pendulum
swings out over woe the further it is bound to swing back over mirth.
- Interview in New York World Sunday Magazine, November 26, 1905
Humor, to be comprehensible to anybody, must be built upon a foundation with
which he is familiar. If he can't see the foundation the superstructure is to
him merely a freak -- like the Flatiron building without any visible means of
support -- something that ought to be arrested.
- "A Humorist's Confession," The New York Times, November 26, 1905
American humor is different entirely to French, German, Scotch, or English
humor. And the difference lies in the mode of expression. Though it comes from
the English, American humor is distinct. As a rule when an Englishman writes
or tells a story, the 'knob' of it, as we would call it, has to be emphasized
or italicized, and exclamation points put in. Now, an American story-teller
does not do that. He is apparently unconscious of the effect of the joke.
- interview "Mark Twain: Arrival in Auckland," New Zealand Herald, November 21, 1895
I can conceive of many wild and extravagant things when my imagination is in
good repair, but I can conceive of nothing quite so wild and extravagant as
the idea of my accepting the editorship of a humorous periodical. I should regard
that as the saddest (for me) of all occupations. If I should undertake it I
should have to add to it the occupation of undertaker, to relieve it in some
degree of its cheerlessness. I could edit a serious periodical with relish and
a strong interest, but I have never cared enough about humor to qualify me to
edit it or sit in judgment upon it.
- Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2 (2013), p. 197. Dictated 30 August 1906.
English humor is hard to appreciate, though, unless you are trained to it.
The English papers, in reporting my speeches, always put 'laughter' in the wrong
- quoted in interview ""English Know a Joke, Says Mark Twain" New York Evening World, July 22, 1907, p. 2.
"MARK TWAIN IN LONDON"
San Francisco Call, July 8, 1907
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