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



Life Magazine cover
Albert Levering's illustration of Mark Twain
for LIFE magazine 1905.

From the Dave Thomson collection.
Meantime I have made more than 40 sea voyages & numerous land trips, & have gone clear around the globe once. This seems a hard fate. No, not seems--it was a hard fate. I made all those journeys because I could not help myself--made them with rebellion in my heart, & bitterness. Human life is maliciously planned with one principal object in view: to make you do all the different kinds of things you particularly don't want to do.
- Notes added in April 1909 to Letter to William Dean Howells of 17 November 1878

Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.
- Notebook, 1898

Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.
- The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson and the Comedy of the Extraordinary Twins

It is the epitome of life. The first half of life consists of the capacity to enjoy without the chance; the last half consists of the chance without the capacity.
-Letter to Edward Dimmit, 19 July 1901

It is human life. We are blown upon the world; we float buoyantly upon the summer air a little while, complacently showing off our grace of form and our dainty iridescent colors; then we vanish with a little puff, leaving nothing behind but a memory--and sometimes not even that. I suppose that at those solemn times when we wake in the deeps of the night and reflect, there is not one of us who is not willing to confess that he is really only a soap-bubble, and as little worth the making.
- Mark Twain's Own Autobiography (North American Review, 3 May 1907)
Clemens and daughters blow bubbles
"He blew bubbles for the children."

Such is life, and the trail of the serpent is over us all.
- The Innocents Abroad

We recognize that there are no trivial occurrences in life if we get the right focus on them.
- Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (University of California Press, 2010)

And this is what our life consists of -- a procession of episodes and experiences which seem large when they happen, but which diminish to trivialities as soon as we get a perspective upon them. Upon these terms a diary ought to be a curious record, for in it all the events ought to be large, and all of the same size -- with the result that by and by the recorded events should still be nearly all of one size, and that size lamentably shrunken in bulk.
- Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 3 (University of California Press, 2015)

Each person is born to one possession which outvalues all his others- his last breath.
- Following the Equator, Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar

Don't put too much faith in the passing stranger. This life is full of uncertainties, and every episode in life, figuratively speaking is just a frog. You want to watch every exigency as you would a frog, and don't you ever bet a cent on it until you know whether it is loaded or not.
- Morals Lecture, 15 July 1895

Oh Death where is thy sting! It has none. But life has.
- Notebook, 1894

He had arrived at that point where presently the illusions would cease and he would have entered upon the realities of life, and God help the man that has arrived at that point.
- Jack Van Nostrand speech, 22 December 1905

Only he who has seen better days and lives to see better days again knows their full value.
- Notebook, 1902

There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.
- "The Refuge of the Derelicts" - 1905

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries of life disappear and life stands explained.
- Notebook, 1898

There has never been an intelligent person of the age of sixty who would consent to live his life over again. His or anyone else's.
- Letters from the Earth

Obscurity and a competence. That is the life that is best worth living.
- Mark Twain's Notebook

Life: we laugh and laugh, then cry and cry, then feebler laugh, then die.
- Notebook, 1898; also More Maxims of Mark, Johnson, 1927

Life is at best a dream and at worst a nightmare from which you cannot escape.
- Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts

What is human life? The first third a good time; the rest remembering about it.
- More Maxims of Mark, Johnson, 1927

...the events of life are mainly small events -- they only seem large when we are close to them. By and by they settle down and we see that one doesn't show above another. They are all about one general low altitude, and inconsequential.
- Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (University of California Press, 2010)

... life does not consist mainly -- or even largely -- of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one's head.
- Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (University of California Press, 2010)

It is not likely that any complete life has ever been lived which was not a failure in the secret judgment of the person who lived it. It is not likely that there has ever been a civilized person 65 years old who would consent to live his life over again.
- Mark Twain's Notebook, 1902-1903

But such is human life. Here today and gone tomorrow. A dream -- a shadow -- a ripple on the water -- a thing for invisible gods to sport with for a season and then toss idly by -- idly by. It is rough.
- "Closed Out" sketch, included in San Francisco letter to Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, 1/28/1866

Life was not a valuable gift, but death was. Life was a fever-dream made up of joys embittered by sorrows, pleasure poisoned by pain; a dream that was a nightmare-confusion of spasmodic and fleeting delights, ecstasies, exultations, happinesses, interspersed with long-drawn miseries, griefs, perils, horrors, disappointments, defeats,humiliations, and despairs--the heaviest curse devisable by divine ingenuity; but death was sweet, death was gentle, death was kind; death healed the bruised spirit and the broken heart, and gave them rest and forgetfulness; death was man's best friend; when man could endure life no longer, death came and set him free.
- Letters from the Earth

Oh, this human life, this earthy life, this weary life! It is so groveling, and so mean; its ambitions are so paltry, its prides so trivial, its vanities so childish; and the glories that it values and applauds -- lord, how empty!
- No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger

Poor old Methuselah, how did he manage to stand it so long?
- Letter to William D. Howells, 9 February 1879

Life is purgatory at all times, & a swindle & a crime -- yesterday it was hell.
- Letter to William D. Howells, 24 September 1902

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