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



...there isn't often anything in Wagner opera that one would call by such a violent name as acting; as a rule all you would see would be a couple of ...people, one of them standing, the other catching flies. Of course I do not really mean that he would be catching flies; I only mean that the usual operatic gestures which consist in reaching first one hand out into the air then the other might suggest the sport I speak of it the operator attended strictly to business...
- "The Shrine of St. Wagner"

Wagner's music is better than it sounds.
- Mark Twain's Autobiography (re-quoting humorist Edgar Wilson "Bill" Nye)

Wagner postcard
Postcard featuring Richard Wagner

I have attended operas, whenever I could not help it, for fourteen years now; I am sure I know of no agony comparable to the listening to an unfamiliar opera. I am enchanted with the airs of "Travatore" and other old operas which the hand-organ and music-box have made entirely familiar to my ear. I am carried away with delightful enthusiasm when they are sung at the opera. But, oh, how far between they are! And what long, arid, heartbreaking and headaching "between-times" of that sort of intense but incoherent noise which always so reminds me of the time the orphan asylum burned down.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

There was nothing in the present case which was an advantage over being skinned.
- A Tramp Abroad

I hate opera portrait
Photo courtesy of
Dave Thomson

One in 50 of those who attend our operas likes it already, perhaps, but I think a good many of other 49 go in order to learn to like it, and the rest in order to be able to talk knowingly about it. The latter usually hum the airs while they are being sung, so that their neighbors may perceive that they have been to operas before. The funeral of these do not occur often enough.
- A Tramp Abroad

I have witnessed and greatly enjoyed the first act of everything which Wagner created, but the effect on me has always been so powerful that one act was quite sufficient; whenever I have witnessed two acts I have gone away physically exhausted; and whenever I have ventured an entire opera the result has been the next thing to suicide.
- Mark Twain in Eruption

The banging and slamming and booming and crashing were something beyond belief. The racking and pitiliess pain of it remains stored up in my memory alongside the memory of the time that I had my teeth fixed...
- A Tramp Abroad

There is where the deep ingenuity of the operatic idea is betrayed. It deals so largely in pain that its scattered delights are prodigiously augmented by the contrasts.
- A Tramp Abroad

I have never heard enough classical music to be able to enjoy it; & the simple truth is, I detest it. Not mildly, but will all my heart. To me an opera is the very climax & cap-stone of the absurd, the fantastic the unjustifiable. I hate the very name of opera - partly because of the nights of suffering I have endured in its presence, & partly because I want to love it and can't. I suppose one naturally hates the things he wants to love & can't. In America the opera is an affectation. The seeming love for [it] is a lie. Nine out of every ten of the males are bored by it & 5 out of 10 women. Yet how they applaud, the ignorant liars! -
What a poor lot we human beings are, anyway. If base music gives me wings, why should I want any other? But I do. I want to like the higher music because the higher & better like it. But you see, I want to like it without taking the necessary trouble & giving the thing the necessary amount of time & attention. The natural suggestion is, to get into that upper tier, that dress circle, by a lie: we will pretend we like it. This lie, this pretense, gives to opera what support it has in America.
- Notebook # 15, July - August 1878

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