My dad was given the Mark Twain autobiography for Christmas. Great big thing, about a thousand pages long, of such formidable size you could never get it on the tube or bus. It’s the kind of awesome volume which you can only read if you are a scholar, or retired. I am neither; fortunately CW Purnell is both. Happily he has pulled out some of the juiciest quotes from the first third of the book from the inestimable writer of Huckleberry Finn.
So, in page order, here they are. Thanks daddio. For all Twain fans – enjoy!
Selected quotations from Mark Twain’s Autobiography
On James W Paige, a failed businessman who cost Twain $170,000 (p102)
(He) is a most extraordinary compound of business thrift and commercial insanity; of cold calculation and jejune sentimentality; of veracity and falsehood; of fidelity and treachery; of pluck and cowardice; of wasteful liberality and pitiful stinginess; of solid sense and weltering moonshine; of towering genius and trivial ambitions; of merciful bowels and a petrified heart; of colossal vanity and – but there the opposites stop. His vanity stands alone, sky piercing as an Egyptian monolith.
On Countess Massiglia, landlady of Villa di Quarto (p241)
She is excitable, malicious, malignant, vengeful, unforgiving, selfish, stingy, avaricious, coarse, vulgar, profane, obscene, a furious blusterer on the outside and at heart a coward. Her lips are familiar with lies, deceptions, swindles and treacheries as are her nostrils with breath.
On his discussion club (p273)
The Club was founded by a great clergyman: it always had more clergymen in it than good people.
Twain’s quote from Bill Nye about Wagner (p288)
I have been told that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.
On Duelling (p294)
In those early days duelling suddenly became a fashion in the new Territory of Nevada and by 1864 everybody was anxious to have a chance in the new sport, mainly for the reason that he was not able to thoroughly respect himself so long as he had not killed or crippled somebody in a duel or been killed or crippled in one himself… I was ambitious in several ways, but I had entirely escaped the seductions of that particular craze. I had no desire to fight a duel; I had no intention of provoking one. I did not feel respectable, but I got certain amount of satisfaction out of feeling safe.
The Character of Man (p312)
… of all the creatures that were made he is the most detestable. Of the entire brood he is the only one – the solitary one – that possesses malice. That is the basest of all instincts, passions, vices – the most hateful. That one thing puts him below rats, the grubs, the trichinae. He is the only creature that inflicts pain for sport, knowing it to be pain…. All creatures kill… but of the whole list, man is the only one that kills in malice, the only one that kills for revenge.