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



Truth fence
Photo courtesy of Jerome Loving
© 2010

If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything.
- Notebook, 1894

Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it.
- Following the Equator, Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar

I have not professionally dealt in truth. Many when they come to die have spent all the truth that was in them, and enter the next world as paupers. I have saved up enough to make an astonishment there.
- Mark Twain's Notebook

No real gentleman will tell the naked truth in the presence of ladies.
- "A Double-Barreled Detective Story"

Familiarity breeds contempt. How accurate that is. The reason we hold truth in such respect is because we have so little opportunity to get familiar with it.
- Notebook, 1898

Truth postcard
Postcard from the Dave Thomson collection

We are always hearing of people who are around seeking after the Truth. I have never seen a (permanent) specimen. I think he has never lived. But I have seen several entirely sincere people who thought they were (permanent) Seekers after the Truth. They sought diligently, persistently, carefully, cautiously, profoundly, with perfect honesty and nicely adjusted judgment- until they believed that without doubt or question they had found the Truth. That was the end of the search. The man spent the rest of his life hunting up shingles wherewith to protect his Truth from the weather.
- "What is Man?"

I don't mind what the opposition say of me so long as they don't tell the truth about me. But when they descend to telling the truth about me I consider that this is taking an unfair advantage.
- Speech, 1879

All of us contain Music & Truth, but most of us can't get it out.
- autograph for Stefan Czapka, (quoted in Our Famous Guest, Mark Twain in Vienna, Carl Dolmetsch)

...all through my life my facts have had a substratum of truth, and therefore they were not without value. Any person who is familiar with me knows how to strike my average, and therfore knows how to get at the jewel of any fact of mine and dig it out of its blue-clay matrix. My mother knew that art. When I was seven or eight ...a neighbor said to her, "Do you ever believe anything that that boy says?" My mother said, "He is a well spring of truth, but you can't bring up the whole well with one bucket. I know his average, therefore he never deceives me. I discount him thirty per cent for embroidery, and what is left is perfect and priceless truth, without a flaw in it anywhere."
- Mark Twain's Autobiography

Truth is stranger than fiction--to some people, but I am measurably familiar with it.
- Following the Equator, Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't.
- Following the Equator, Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar

Truth is more of a stranger than fiction.
- Notebook, 1898

When in doubt, tell the truth.
- Following the Equator, Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar

When in doubt, tell the truth. That maxim I did invent, but never expected it to be applied to me. I did say, "When you are in doubt," but when I am in doubt myself I use more sagacity.
- "When in Doubt, Tell the Truth" speech, 3/8/1906

My own luck has been curious all my literary life; I never could tell a lie that anyone would doubt, nor a truth that anybody would believe.
- Following the Equator

Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing the matter with this, except that it ain't so.
- Notebook, 1898

Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it.
- Notebook, 1902

There have been innumerable Temporary Seekers after the Truth--have you ever heard of a permanent one?
- "What is Man?"

It is not worth while to strain one's self to tell the truth to people who habitually discount everything you tell them, whether it is true or isn't.
- Autobiography of Mark Twain; also in Mark Twain in Eruption

Tell the truth or trump--but get the trick.
- Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar

But it was ever thus, all through my life: whenever I have diverged from custom and principle and uttered a truth, the rule has been that the hearer hadn't strength of mind enough to believe it.
- Autobiography of Mark Twain

An injurious truth has no merit over an injurious lie. Neither should ever be uttered. The man who speaks an injurious truth, lest his soul be not saved if he do otherwise, should reflect that that sort of a soul is not strictly worth saving.
- "On the Decay of the Art of Lying"

Homely truth is unpalatable.
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself as a liar.
- Mark Twain and I, Opie Read

Often the surest way to convey misinformation is to tell the strict truth.
- Following the Equator

I like the truth sometimes, but I don't care enough for it to hanker after it.
- Ashcroft-Lyon manuscript (related resource: Dangerous Intimacy, Karen Lystra, University of California Press, 2004)

Also see: Moral Courage


Truth postcard
Postcard from the Dave Thomson collection

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