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



Art Young cartoon

Twain on Fifth Avenue by artist
Art Young

All men in New York insult you--there seem to be no exceptions. There are exceptions of course--have been--but they are probably dead. I am speaking of all persons there who are clothed in a little brief authority.
- Notebook #24, April - Aug. 1885

There is one thing very sure--I can't keep my temper in New York. The cars and carriages always come along and get in the way just as I want to cross a street, and if there is any thing that can make a man soar into flights of sublimity in the matter of profanity, it is that thing.
- Letter written to San Francisco Alta California, June 5, 1867

You do not swear anymore now, of course, because you can't find any words that are long enough or strong enough to fit the case. You feel degraded and ignominious and subjugated. And there and then you say that you will go away from New York and start over again; and that you will never come back to settle permanently till you have learned to swear with the utmost fluency in seventeen different languages.
- Letter written to San Francisco Alta California, June 5, 1867

I have at last, after several months' experience, made up my mind that it is a splendid desert--a domed and steepled solitude, where the stranger is lonely in the midst of a million of his race. A man walks his tedious miles through the same interminable street every day, elbowing his way through a buzzing multitude of men, yet never seeing a familiar face, and never seeing a strange one the second time. He visits a friend once--it is a day's journey--and then stays away from that time forward till that friends cools to a mere acquaintance, and finally to a stranger. So there is little sociability, and consequently, there is little cordiality. Every man seems to feel that he has got the duties of two lifetimes to accomplish in one, and so he rushes, rushes, rushes, and never has time to be companionable--never has any time at his disposal to fool away on matters which do not involve dollars and duty and business.
- Letter to San Francisco Alta California, June 5, 1867

There is something about this ceaseless buzz, and hurry, and bustle, that keeps a stranger in a state of unwholesome excitement all the time, and makes him restless and uneasy, and saps from him all capacity to enjoy anything or take a strong interest in any matter whatever--a something which impels him to try to do everything, and yet permits him to do nothing. He is a boy in a candy-shop--could choose quickly if there were but one kind of candy, but is hopelessly undetermined in the midst of a hundred kinds. A stranger feels unsatisfied, here, a good part of the time.
- Letter written to San Francisco Alta California, June 5, 1867

Young Sam in NY

Artist's illustration of young Sam Clemens in New York from
THE BOYS' LIFE OF MARK TWAIN by Albert B. Paine, 1916.

To THE EDITOR OF THE SUN - Sir: Doubtless you city people do not mind having your feelings hurt and your self-love blistered for your horse car and elevated road service train you to patience and humble-mindedness, but with us hayseed folk from the back settlements the case is different. We are so delicate, so sensitive -- well, you would never be able to imagine what it is like. An unkind speech shrivels us all up and often makes us cry. Now, the thing which happened today a New Yorker would not mind in the least; but I give you my word it almost made me want to go away and be at rest in the cold grave.

I stepped aboard a red Sixth avenue horse car -- No. 106 -- at Sixth avenue and Forty-second street at 11:45 this morning, bound down town. Of course there was no seat -- there never is: New Yorkers do not require a seat, but only permission to stand up and look meek, and be thankful for such little rags of privilege as the good horse-car company may choose to allow them. I stood in the door, behind three ladies. After a moment, the conductor, desiring to pass through and see the passengers, took me by the lappel and said to me with that winning courtesy and politeness which New Yorkers are so accustomed to: "Jesus Christ! what you want to load up the door for? Git back here out of the way!" Those ladies shrank together under the shock, just the same as I did; so I judged they were country people. This conductor was a person about 30 years old, I should say, five feet nine, with blue eyes, a small, dim, unsuccessful moustache, and the general expression of a chicken thief -- you may probably have seen him.

I urged him to modify his language, I being from the country and sensitive. He looked upon me with cold and heartless scorn, thus hurting me still more. I said I would report him, and asked him for his number. He said, in a tone which wounded me more than I can tell, "I'll give you a chew of tobacco."

Why, dear sir, if conductors were to talk to us like that out in the country we could never, never bear to ride with them, we are so sensitive. I went up to Sixth avenue and Forty-third street to report him, but there was nobody in the superintendent's office who seemed to want to converse with me. A man with "conductor" on his cap said it wouldn't be any use to try to see the President at that time of day, and intimated by his manner, not his words, that people with complaints were not popular there, any way.

So I have been obliged to come to you, you see. What I wanted to say to the President of the road was this -- and through him say it to the President of the elevated roads -- that the conductors ought to be instructed never to swear at country people except when there are no city ones to swear at, and not even then except for practice. Because the country people are sensitive. Conductors need not make any mistakes; they can easily tell us from the city people. Could you use your influence to get this small and harmless distinction made in our favor?


- from the New York Sun, November 9, 1890. Titled "An Appeal Against Injudicious Swearing" or "New York Civility" in some reprintings.

Also see "Twain's View of New York."

banner logo

Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search