And Now You Know More: The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain: Part I


By Thomas Best

A few weeks ago, my wife and I made a day trip to one of our favorite Midwestern cities.  Home to some fascinating steamboat history, delicious chocolate shops, mysterious caves, and of course, Mark Twain, this city is—as you likely know—the city of Hannibal, Missouri.

We were there for the late winter Chocolate Fest.  However, as I went into several shops, instead of buying more fudge, I was more interested in obtaining some literature from America’s greatest humorist and observant supporter and critic of the American character and legacy.  Indeed, who cannot rest along the banks of the Mississippi River at Hannibal and not fall in love with Twain? 

I bought two books that day.  The first, “The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain,” edited by Alex Ayres, the one-time editor of the famous Harvard Lampoon, is a short book which I think I once owned years ago, but likely lost it when I loaned it out.  The book is divided alphabetically into topics which Twain famously commented on within his writings, letters, and lectures.  It would be difficult to mention more than a few of these humorous and satirical given the time I have today, but I will choose a few for this segment, and then finish up with a few more next week.  So here goes. 

Some comments of worthy merit are the stuff of eloquent brevity.  Who remembers, during the later stages of his life when it was rumored that he was at death’s doorstep?  Interviewed by an interested reporter, Twain replied to speculations about his ill health and death this way: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” 

Another one of Twain’s brief commentaries which I love is allegedly something he said to Abraham Lincoln.  “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”  No doubt, Lincoln, took this to heart given his proclivity for waiting to speak on a topic until his judgment had thoughtfully organized. 

In this category of short statements, take this one also to heart: “Let us not be too particular.  It’s better to have old second-hand diamonds than none at all.”  A wise consideration when we might believe only the best will do.

Finally, ponder this thought: “We are all beggars, each in his own way.”  Twain, as he so often did, caused his contemporaries—and those of us today—to understand that we all share certain traits and habits which might seem unique to some folks and not others. 

Next week, I will continue with some other pithy and thoughtful quotes from Mark Twain. 

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