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MY FAVORITE TWAIN PASSAGES AND QUOTES
1) From Innocents Abroad, a very funny bit about getting a shave in France. I hate shaving, so I appreciated it quite a bit. Related to this one is this other hilarious barber-related sketch which I agree with Twain applies to all generations of barber-going men.
2) Also from Innocents Abroad, a pretty funny description of freaks on one of his visits to Constantinople.
3) Here's some amusing thoughts on camels, from Innocents Abroad.
4) See Money for Nothing Essay endnotes for included Twain quote related to the paradoxical work/reward ratio.
5) A short quote from Innocents Abroad, I believe the conclusion, that I think is a well put thought on the wonders one experiences in travels:
Truly, "seeing is believing" -- and many a man lives a long life through, thinking he believes certain universally received and well established things, and yet never suspects that if he were confronted by those things once, he would discover that he did not really believe them before, but only thought he believed them.
6) Upon his failure to quit the smoking habit, from Roughing It:
At last I lit the pipe, and no human being can feel meaner and baser than I did then. I was ashamed of being in my own pitiful company.
7) Twain's first impression of Lake Tahoe, from Roughing It:
We tramped a long time on level ground, and then toiled laboriously up a mountain about a thousand miles high and looked over. No lake there. We descended on the other side, crossed the valley and toiled up another mountain three or four thousand miles high, apparently, and looked over again. No lake yet. We sat down tired and perspiring, and hired a couple of Chinamen to curse those people who had beguiled us. Thus refreshed, we presently resumed the march with renewed vigor and determination. We plodded on, two or three hours longer, and at last the Lake burst upon us -- a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft full three thousand feet higher still! It was a vast oval, and one would have to use up eighty or a hundred good miles in traveling around it. As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.
8) Continuing on regarding the high esteem Twain had for the healing powers of Lake Tahoe, with his usual humorous exaggeration:
It is always very cold on that lake shore in the night, but we had plenty of blankets and were warm enough. We never moved a muscle all night, but waked at early dawn in the original positions, and got up at once, thoroughly refreshed, free from soreness, and brim full of friskiness. There is no end of wholesome medicine in such an experience. That morning we could have whipped ten such people as we were the day before -- sick ones at any rate. But the world is slow, and people will go to "water cures" and "movement cures" and to foreign lands for health. Three months of camp life on Lake Tahoe would restore an Egyptian mummy to his pristine vigor, and give him an appetite like an alligator. I do not mean the oldest and driest mummies, of course, but the fresher ones. The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn't it be? -- it is the same the angels breathe. I think that hardly any amount of fatigue can be gathered together that a man cannot sleep off in one night on the sand by its side. Not under a roof, but under the sky; it seldom or never rains there in the summer time. I know a man who went there to die. But he made a failure of it. He was a skeleton when he came, and could barely stand. He had no appetite, and did nothing but read tracts and reflect on the future. Three months later he was sleeping out of doors regularly, eating all he could hold, three times a day, and chasing game over mountains three thousand feet high for recreation. And he was a skeleton no longer, but weighed part of a ton. This is no fancy sketch, but the truth. His disease was consumption. I confidently commend his experience to other skeletons.
More Twain on Lake Tahoe, from Roughing It, chapter 23:
9) From Yankee, I love this passage describing a good old Middle Ages feast; reminds me a bit of Las Vegas Buffets:
After this music, the priest who stood behind the royal table said a noble long grace in ostensible Latin. Then the battalion of waiters broke away from their posts, and darted, rushed, flew, fetched and carried, and the mighty feeding began; no words anywhere, but absorbing attention to business. The rows of chops opened and shut in vast unison, and the sound of it was like to the muffled burr of subterranean machinery.
The havoc continued an hour and a half, and unimaginable was the destruction of substantials. Of the chief feature of the feast -- the huge wild boar that lay stretched out so portly and imposing at the start -- nothing was left but the semblance of a hoop-skirt; and he was but the type and symbol of what had happened to all the other dishes.
10) Again from Yankee, a quote that reminds me of the soul-depleted corporate drones that I have encountered at various sad jobs and a mentality I hope to resist:
To wit, that this dreadful matter brought from these downtrodden people no outburst of rage against these oppressors. They had been heritors and subjects of cruelty and outrage so long that nothing could have startled them but a kindness. Yes, here was a curious revelation, indeed, of the depth to which this people had been sunk in slavery. Their entire being was reduced to a monotonous dead level of patience, resignation, dumb uncomplaining acceptance of whatever might befall them in this life. Their very imagination was dead. When you can say that of a man, he has struck bottom, I reckon; there is no lower deep for him.
11) From Roughing It, an interesting passage that demonstrates that the dot-com bubble and partial stock analysts touting "sure" winners is simply history repeated. Twain was a reporter and mine owners favored him and others with gifts to get a good writeup in the paper about their discovery:
So the thousand wild cat shafts burrowed deeper and deeper into the earth day by day, and all men were beside themselves with hope and happiness. How they labored, prophesied, exulted! Surely nothing like it was ever seen before since the world began. Every one of these wild cat mines -- not mines, but holes in the ground over imaginary mines -- was incorporated and had handsomely engraved "stock" and the stock was salable, too. It was bought and sold with a feverish avidity in the boards every day. You could go up on the mountain side, scratch around and find a ledge (there was no lack of them), put up a "notice" with a grandiloquent name in it, start a shaft, get your stock printed, and with nothing whatever to prove that your mine was worth a straw, you could put your stock on the market and sell out for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. To make money, and make it fast, was as easy as it was to eat your dinner.
Every man owned "feet" in fifty different wild cat mines and considered his fortune made. Think of a city with not one solitary poor man in it! One would suppose that when month after month went by and still not a wild cat mine [by wild cat I mean, in general terms, any claim not located on the mother vein, i.e., the "Comstock") yielded a ton of rock worth crushing, the people would begin to wonder if they were not putting too much faith in their prospective riches; but there was not a thought of such a thing. They burrowed away, bought and sold, and were happy.
There was nothing in the shape of a mining claim that was not salable. We received presents of "feet" every day. If we needed a hundred dollars or so, we sold some; if not, we hoarded it away, satisfied that it would ultimately be worth a thousand dollars a foot. I had a trunk about half full of "stock." When a claim made a stir in the market and went up to a high figure, I searched through my pile to see if I had any of its stock -- and generally found it.
12) Twain's visit to Hawaii, also detailed in Roughing It, offers several great lines to enjoy.
13) From Life on the Mississippi, thoughts on aging which really resonated with me as I increase in age to a point where I am experiencing the same thing Twain did when returning to his hometown for the first time in several years:
Of course I suffered some surprises, along at first, before I had become adjusted to the changed state of things. I met young ladies who did not seem to have changed at all; but they turned out to be the daughters of the young ladies I had in mind -- sometimes their grand-daughters. When you are told that a stranger of fifty is a grandmother, there is nothing surprising about it; but if, on the contrary, she is a person whom you knew as a little girl, it seems impossible. You say to yourself, 'How can a little girl be a grandmother.' It takes some little time to accept and realize the fact that while you have been growing old, your friends have not been standing still, in that matter.
14) I've often noted how oftentimes when people become really serious about a hobby or profession, the simple joy they use to experience in the activity leaves and it just becomes an obsession to complete the activity in the most efficient manner. Twain sees this in himself as he achieves expert status as a riverboat pilot:
I stood like one bewitched. I drank it in, in a speechless rapture. The world was new to me, and I had never seen anything like this at home. But as I have said, a day came when I began to cease from noting the glories and the charms which the moon and the sun and the twilight wrought upon the river's face; another day came when I ceased altogether to note them. Then, if that sunset scene had been repeated, I should have looked upon it without rapture, and should have commented upon it, inwardly, after this fashion: This sun means that we are going to have wind to-morrow; that floating log means that the river is rising, small thanks to it; that slanting mark on the water refers to a bluff reef which is going to kill somebody's steamboat one of these nights, if it keeps on stretching out like that; those tumbling 'boils' show a dissolving bar and a changing channel there; the lines and circles in the slick water over yonder are a warning that that troublesome place is shoaling up dangerously; that silver streak in the shadow of the forest is the 'break' from a new snag, and he has located himself in the very best place he could have found to fish for steamboats; that tall dead tree, with a single living branch, is not going to last long, and then how is a body ever going to get through this blind place at night without the friendly old landmark.No, the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river. All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat.
Since those days, I have pitied doctors from my heart. What does the lovely flush in a beauty's cheek mean to a doctor but a 'break' that ripples above some deadly disease. Are not all her visible charms sown thick with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay? Does he ever see her beauty at all, or doesn't he simply view her professionally, and comment upon her unwholesome condition all to himself? And doesn't he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade?
15) An amusing passage from the later years of his writing when he traveled the globe in Following the Equator as Twain sees a dachshund for the first time.
16) Again from the above text, Twain wearing pyjamas (Enlish/Indian spelling) for the first time.
17) His description of the utter contentment of being aboard the ship sailing through the Indian Ocean makes me wish I could have been there. From Ch. 62 of above text.
18) Also in Chaper 62, a fairly progressive view (at the time, especially) of Twain musing on Man's level of importance in nature:
It is strange and fine—Nature's lavish generosities to her creatures. At least to all of them except man. For those that fly she has provided a home that is nobly spacious—a home which is forty miles deep and envelops the whole globe, and has not an obstruction in it. For those that swim she has provided a more than imperial domain—a domain which is miles deep and covers four-fifths of the globe. But as for man, she has cut him off with the mere odds and ends of the creation. She has given him the thin skin, the meagre skin which is stretched over the remaining one-fifth—the naked bones stick up through it in most places. On the one-half of this domain he can raise snow, ice, sand, rocks, and nothing else. So the valuable part of his inheritance really consists of but a single fifth of the family estate; and out of it he has to grub hard to get enough to keep him alive and provide kings and soldiers and powder to extend the blessings of civilization with. Yet man, in his simplicity and complacency and inability to cipher, thinks Nature regards him as the important member of the family—in fact, her favorite. Surely, it must occur to even his dull head, sometimes, that she has a curious way of showing it.
19) Great description of scum in this report on the conditions of the court room in San Francisco from 1866. It also introduced me to the word "guttersnipe" which I vow to use soon in a conversation.
20) From his Autobiography Vol. 2 (Jan 28, 1907 dictation), I just loved his style of derision for this corrupt senator being honored at a dinner he was attending. My favorite sentence is highlighted, but I'm included a couple paragraphs as it's a great indication of Twain's plan to delay the release of his autobiography for 100 years so he could feel comfortable flaying this aparent scumbag:
passage that struck me from the above text also near the end of the
volume. Here he talks about a topic I have thought a lot of over
the years, that being people's nature and whether you really can be mad
at people for acting a certain distasteful way when in fact a lot of
how people act is predetermined by their "programming" not necessary
from God, but just the structure of their genes. He's talking about has
former friend's daughter's demise and ascribes it to the fact that her
father was kind of a sleaze.
A great site for more Twain quotes and much more, www.twainquotes.com
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