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



Portrait by Bradley
Photo courtesy of Dave Thomson

Peace by persuasion has a pleasant sound, but I think we should not be able to work it. We should have to tame the human race first, and history seems to show that that cannot be done.
- Letter to William T. Stead, 1/9/1899

Speech at the Twentieth Century club in Boston, Nov. 4, 1905.
Reported in Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 5, 1905, p. l.
"Mark Twain Talks Peace."

Boston. Nov. 4.--Mark Twain was the star attraction to-day at the Twentieth Century Club's weekly debate. Dr. Benjamin F. Trueblood, secretary of the American Peace Society, and Mr. and Mrs. Edwin D. Mead, famous peace advocates, who had just returned from Europe, were the other guests of the club. Mrs. Mead and Dr. Trueblood spoke first.

Mark Twain's introduction was greeted with a great chorus of applause, in which he heartily joined, and when quiet was restored Mr. Clemens said:

"I thank you for this applause. It is the more welcome because I suppose it is a token of forgiveness for what I did some thirty feet back there, when I was applauding myself. Your president, it seems, spoke my name, and I didn't hear it. Everybody else seemed to be clapping their hands, and as I thought it was the right thing, I joined in. Of course, that was a wrong thing, but I am always committing some such mistake. But the only thing I'm sorry for is that I got caught. I have got over all those feelings of delicacy which are supposed to belong to good society, and now I don't care for anything so long as I keep out of jail.

"Most everybody gets into the habit of applauding when they see others at it, and, for one, I can't resist. Besides, I get so used to compliments that I can't sleep nights unless I get about so much butter every day.

"I am different from those other people who have been speaking. This problem of universal peace used to be one of the uppermost things in my mind. I used to study over it. No, I will not say that I really studied; I thought about it--how to get universal peace. It bothered me, but I kept growing nearer and nearer to a solution, and at last I came to it.

"But the very day I thought I had solved it I was summoned to the presence of an emperor. The first thing he asked me was what I was doing nowadays. I told him I had been working out a problem--the problem of universal peace--and that I had solved it, that I had found the only way--there was no other.

"Then he wanted to know how I was going to bring it about, and I told him: 'I am going to get a chemist--a real genius--and get him to extract all the oxygen out of the atmosphere for eight minutes. Then we will have universal peace, and it will be permanent.'

"I took my goods to the wrong market. Emperors don't want peace, permanent or temporary, on any such basis. They don't want any race suicide. What they want is people, and then more people. I was pretty coolly received by this emperor, and so was my proposition. And so I let it go. Every time I think I have found a solution of the difficulties some one comes along and upsets it.

"And that reminds me: Four years ago China bought two German missionaries. She paid $100,000 apiece for them, although they were not very active at the time. But there are several hundred missionaries in China, and I'd be glad to sell 'em all at the same price. I don't believe we have got down to where we want to thrust our civilization on innocent people.

"In 1892 there were eleven missionaries in China, and in that year they had a catch of 3,200 converts. Judson Smith called it 'a harvest. There were 82,000 pagans being born every day in China, and we were converting them at the rate of 2 1/2 a day. So it would take quite a while to get everybody converted.

"These young people who have been talking before I began still have an interest in the human race. But in my case the clock may strike seventy years any minute. I am so near it that I don't feel that kind of interest.

"Let's see about this interest in the human race. Every one who has it wants to know how anything done will affect 'me.' The human race exists in his own person. He is wise, while no others are wise, and therefore are of no use on this globe.

"But I have got where I can look upon the human race from a dispassionate attitude. I am so near out of it that there is no use in my trying to solve its problems.

"Nothing can be accomplished except through statesmanship! Great and noble profession! A mass of foolishness! The statesmanship of now is to build ships--ship for ship for each and every nation, until we have 250,000 warships for each nation. Then we must still go on until finally we will be all ships.

"No, I am not able to find a solution of this problem. But I hope these young people--with nothing else to do--will keep on, for it will never be done by anybody who has anything else to do."


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