Mark Twain, the Master
by lyle e davis
Those of us who fancy ourselves writers need to pause now and then and pick up and read a story or two by the Master, Mark Twain.
It makes one rather humble right smartly.
Samuel Clemens, more commonly known by his pen name of Mark Twain, had it all. This often curmudgeonly man was a storyteller. He could pull a laugh out of you one minute and rip a tear or two out of your eyes the next. He had a knack of capturing the local dialect, of turning a phrase just so, of writing descriptive pieces that transported you right into the middle of wherever it was he wanted you to be at the time. Much of what he had to say has endured down through the years and has become part of our everyday language. Other comments he’s made are less well known but still tickle the funny bone. One such phrase that brought a chuckle from me:
“Doctor Meredith moved to Hannibal and was our family physician there and saved my life several times. Still, he was a good man and meant well.”
Most of us have read “Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” Still others have read “Roughing It,” “Innocents Abroad,” and a number of other short stories of Twain’s. Those of us who haven’t are missing a real reading treat. The man is as alive, funny, brilliant, witty and wise as he was when he was tickling America a hundred years ago. Those of us who scribble words to put bread on the table would do well to read him again and again and yet again, to get a feel for the power of words written down in just the right order, just the right manner, and with the application of dialect, accents, wisdom and folly. Chances are we still wouldn’t get it just quite right. Mark Twain did. He endures through today.
I’ve culled some of his more well known phrases that I suspect will amuse you a bit. This brilliant man was born and resided in Missouri during his impressionable teens, in the little riverbank town of Hannibal. He was a journeyman printer for eight years, was a Mississippi River pilot for four, a prospector in Nevada, a newspaper reporter in Virginia City, Nevada, and then broke upon the American literary scene with a piece called, “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”
For the next forty five years he penned books, stories, travelogues and observations. He was in huge demand as a lecturer. He was a master story teller and writer. Seldom did he write more than a paragraph without a beautiful and humorous anecdote, phrase, or tall tale. And so, we present you with a gift. A small collection of the brilliant sayings, comments and observations of Samuel Langhorne Clemens.
You and I know him better as ‘Mark Twain.’
Senator: Person who makes laws in Washington when not doing time. Some of us cannot be optimists, but all of us can be bigamists.
Always acknowledge a fault frankly. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you opportunity to commit more.
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.
Do good when you can, and charge when you think they will stand it.
Do not put off till tomorrow what can be put off till day-after-tomorrow just as well.
God's noblest work? Man. Who found it out? Man.
Golden rule: Made of hard metal so it could stand severe wear, it not being known at that time that butter would answer.
Honesty was the best policy.
Honesty: The best of all the lost arts.
Heroine: Girl who is perfectly charming to live with, in a book.
Have a place for everything and keep the thing somewhere else. This is not advice, it is custom.
It is best to read the weather forecast before we pray for rain.
It is a solemn thought: Dead, the noblest man's meat is inferior to pork.
If we had less statesmanship we could get along with fewer battleships.
It is not best to use our morals weekdays, it gets them out of repair for Sunday.
It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected.
It is the foreign element that commits our crimes. There is no native criminal class except Congress.
Nothing is made in vain, but the fly came near it.
If this nation has ever trusted in God, that time has gone by; for nearly a half century almost its entire trust has been in the Republican party and the dollar -- mainly the dollar.
Adam and Eve had many advantages, but the principal one was, that they escaped teething.
When angry, count four; when very angry, swear.
Let us swear while we may, for in heaven it won’t be allowed.
Familiarity breeds contempt -- and children.
Training is everything; cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.
I have to acknowledge here that I am a bit perturbed with that old rascal, Mark Twain.
I had never read “Roughing It.” Had heard about it. Had read The Adventures of Tom Saywer and read Huckleberry Finn, several times I believe. But I had never read, “Roughing It.” This is an account of Mark Twain and his journey west via stage coach (I also learned why they called ‘em stage coaches. It’s because the coaches would move across the nation in stages. Twenty two miles and there was a stage station. They’d change horses and then complete the next “stage” of the trip. Thus “stage coaches.” It’s a hilarious account . . . and informative. Educational. Not only in pioneer travel but also the conditions of the times . . . you learn a bit about silver mining, about gold mining, about swindles . . . and you certainly learn about storytelling and the magnificent use of the English language. And sometimes “Injun.”
Why am I perturbed with him? Because he has kept me up the last three nights, reading “Roughing It,” when I should have been working on this week’s paper! Now I have to play catchup. And it’s all his fault!
The world suffered a great loss in 1910. Mark Twain died. His facile pen and brilliant mind faded into darkness; only his works remain.
His love of using dialect, of doing a caricature of the rich and famous, as well as the more mundane, his use of dialogue . . . are all still there for the taking. Check any library, book store, or garage sale and seek out the works of Mark Twain. You’re in for a treat!