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



Seal of Nevada
Seal for Territory of Nevada designed by Orion Clemens, Mark Twain's brother

... the Great Seal of the State. It had snow-capped mountains in it; and tunnels, and shafts, and pickaxes, and quartz-mills, and pack-trains, and mule-teams. These things were good; what there were of them. And it has railroads in it, and telegraphs, and stars, and suspension-bridges, and other romantic fictions foreign to sand and sage-brush. But the richest of it was the motto. It took them thirty days to decide whether it should be "Volens et Potens" (which they said meant "Able and Willing"), or "The Union Must and Shall be Preserved." Either would have been presumptuous enough, and surpassingly absurd just at present. Because we are not able and willing, thus far, to do a great deal more than locate wild-cat mining-claims and reluctantly sell them to confiding strangers at a ruinous sacrifice -- of conscience. And if it were left to us to preserve the Union, in case the balance of the country failed in the attempt, I seriously believe we couldn't do it. Possibly, we might make it mighty warm for the Confederacy if it came prowling around here, but ultimately we would have to forsake our high trust, and quit preserving the Union. I am confident of it. And I have thought the matter over a good deal, off and on, as we say in Paris. We have an animal here whose surname is the "jackass rabbit" It is three feet long, has legs like a counting-house stool, ears of monstrous length, and no tail to speak of. It is swifter than a greyhound, and as meek and harmless as an infant. I might mention, also, that it is as handsome as most infants: however, it would be foreign to the subject, and I do not know that a remark of that kind would be popular in all circles. Let it pass, then -- I will say nothing about it, though it would be a great comfort to me to do it, if people would consider the source and overlook it. Well, somebody proposed as a substitute for that pictorial Great Seal, a figure of a jackass-rabbit reposing in the shade of his native sage-brush, with the motto "Volens enough, but not so d---d Potens."
- "Doings in Nevada," New York Sunday Mercury, February 7, 1864, p. 3 (reprinted in Mark Twain of the Enterprise)

Some people are malicious enough to think that if the devil were set at liberty and told to confine himself to Nevada Territory, he would...get homesick and go back to hell again.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

[In early Nevada]:...there was but little realty to tax, and it did seem as if nobody was ever going to think of the simple salvation of inflicting a money penalty on murder.
- Roughing It
Nevada 1860s map
Map of Nevada in the 1860s from the
Dave Thomson collection

In the Mountains, New Hampshire
May 24th, 1905.

Dear Mr. Fulton:

I remember, as if it were yesterday, that when I disembarked from the overland stage in front of the Ormsby in Carson City, in August, 1861, I was not expecting to be asked to come again. I was tired, discouraged, white with alkali dust and did not know anybody; and if you had said then, "Cheer up, desolate stranger, don't be down-hearted -- pass on and come again in 1905," you cannot think how grateful I would have closed the contract. Although I was not expecting to be invited I was watching out for it, and was hurt and disappointed when you started to ask me and changed it to "How soon are you going away?" for I was an orphan at that time, and had been one so many years that I was getting sensitive about it.

But you have made it all right now, and the wound is closed. And so I thank you sincerely for the invitation; and with you, all Reno, and if I were a few years younger I would accept it, and promptly. I would go, I would let someone else do the oration, but as for me, I would talk -- just talk. I would renew my youth; and talk -- and talk -- and talk -- and have the time of my life! I would march the unforgotten and unforgettable antiques by, and name their names, and give them reverent hail and farewell as they passed: Goodwin, McCarthy, Gillis, Curry, Baldwin, Winters, Howard, Nye, Stewart, Neely Johnson, Hall, Clayton, Jones, North, Root -- any my brother, upon whom be peace! --and then the desperadoes, who made life a joy and the "slaughter house" a precious possession: Sam Brown, Farmer Pete, Bill Mayfield, Six Fingered Jack, Jack Williams and the rest of the crimson discipleship -- so on, so on. Believe me, I would start a resurrection it would do you more good to look at than the next one will, if you go on the way you are doing now.

Those were the days! -- those old ones. They will come no more. Youth will come no more. They were full to the brim with the wine of life. There have been no others like them. It chokes me up to think of t hem. Would you like me to come out there and cry? It would not become my white head.

Good-bye. I drink to you all. Have a good time and take an old man's blessing.


- letter reprinted in "Full of Humor and Pathos," Nevada State Journal, May 30, 1905


Slightly different quotes from the same letter were published in the "Flesh is Weak Says Twain," San Francisco Call, May 30, 1905:

I would renew my youth and talk and talk and talk, and have the times I used to have when I was in the dear old Sagebrush State, the time of my life.

According to the Call, Twain concluded his letter with:

The spirit is willing, but the flesh will not stand the long journey.


NOTE: Both versions of the letter differ from the one published by Albert Bigelow Paine in Mark Twain's Letters, Vol. 2, p. 772-773.

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