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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn  
1st edition book cover
Author Mark Twain
Illustrator E. W. Kemble
Cover artist TAYLOR
Country United Kingdom / United States
Language English
Series 1
Genre(s) Satirical novel
Publisher Chatto & Windus / Charles L. Webster And Company.
Publication date 1884 UK & Canada
1885 [1] United States
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 366
OCLC Number 29489461
Preceded by Life on the Mississippi
Followed by A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (often referred to as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or shortened to Huckleberry Finn or simply Huck Finn) is a novel by Mark Twain, first published in February 1885. Commonly recognized as one of the Great American Novels, the work is among the first in major American literature to be written in the vernacular, characterized by local color regionalism. It is told in the first person by Huckleberry "Huck" Finn, a friend of Tom Sawyer and narrator of two other Twain novels (Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective).

The book is noted for its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River. Satirizing a Southern antebellum society that was already out of date by the time the work was published, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an often scathing look at entrenched attitudes, particularly racism. The drifting journey of Huck and his friend Jim, a runaway slave, down the Mississippi River on their raft may be one of the most enduring images of escape and freedom in all of American literature.

The work has been popular with readers since its publication and is taken as a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It has also been the continued object of study by serious literary critics. It was criticized upon release because of its coarse language and became even more controversial in the 20th century because of its perceived use of racial stereotypes and because of its frequent use of the racial slur "nigger." [2][3]


Publication history

Twain initially conceived of the work as a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that would follow Huck Finn through adulthood. Beginning with a few pages he had removed from the earlier novel, Twain began work on a manuscript he originally titled Huckleberry Finn's Autobiography. Twain worked on the manuscript off and on for the next several years, ultimately abandoning his original plan of following Huck's development into adulthood. He appeared to have lost interest in the manuscript while it was in progress, and set it aside for several years. After making a trip down the Mississippi, Twain returned to his work on the novel. Upon completion, the novel's title closely paralleled its predecessor's: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's Comrade).[4]

Unlike The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn does not have the definite article "the" as a part of its proper title. Essayist and critic Spencer Neve states that this absence represents the "never fulfilled anticipations" of Huck's adventures—while Tom's adventures were completed (at least at the time) by the end of his novel, Huck's narrative ends with his stated intention to head West.[5]

Mark Twain composed the story in pen on notepaper between 1876 and 1883. Paul Needham, who supervised the authentication of the manuscript for Sotheby's books and manuscripts department in New York in 1991, stated, "What you see is [Clemens'] attempt to move away from pure literary writing to dialect writing". For example, Twain revised the opening line of Huck Finn three times. He initially wrote, "You will not know about me," which he changed to, "You do not know about me," before settling on the final version, "You don't know about me, without you have read a book by the name of 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'; but that ain't no matter."[6] The revisions also show how Twain reworked his material to strengthen the characters of Huck and Jim, as well as his sensitivity to the then-current debate over literacy and voting.[7]

A later version was the first typewritten manuscript delivered to a printer.[7]

Huck Finn was eventually published on December 10, 1884, in Canada and England, and on February 18, 1885, in the United States. The American publication was delayed because someone defaced an illustration on one of the plates, creating an obscene joke. Thirty-thousand copies of the book had been printed before the obscenity was discovered. A new plate was made to correct the illustration and repair the existing copies.[8]

In 1885, the Buffalo Public Library's curator, James Fraser Gluck, approached Twain to donate the manuscript to the Library. Twain sent half of the pages, believing the other half to have been lost by the printer. In 1991, the missing half turned up in a steamer trunk owned by descendants of Gluck. The Library successfully proved possession and, in 1994, opened the Mark Twain Room in its Central Library to showcase the treasure.[9]

Plot summary

Huckleberry Finn, as depicted by E. W. Kemble in the original 1884 edition of the book.

Life in St. Petersburg

The story begins in fictional St. Petersburg, Missouri, on the Mississippi River, sometime between 1835 (when the first steamboat sailed down the Mississippi[10]) and 1845. Two young boys, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, have each come into a considerable sum of money as a result of their earlier adventures (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer). Huck has been placed under the guardianship of the Widow Douglas, who, together with her sister, Miss Watson, are attempting to "sivilize [sic]" him. Huck appreciates their efforts, but finds civilized life confining. In the beginning of the story, Tom Sawyer appears briefly, helping Huck escape at night from the house, past Miss Watson's slave, Jim. They meet up with Tom Sawyer's self-proclaimed gang, who plot to carry out adventurous crimes. Life is changed by the sudden appearance of his shiftless father "Pap," an abusive parent and drunkard. Although Huck is successful in preventing his Pap from acquiring his fortune, Pap forcibly gains custody of Huck and the two move to the backwoods where Huck is kept locked inside his father's cabin. Equally dissatisfied with life with his father, Huck escapes from the cabin, elaborately fakes his own death, and sets off down the Mississippi River.

The Floating House & Huck as a Girl

While living quite with comfortably in the wilderness along the Mississippi, Huck happily encounters Miss Watson's slave Jim on an island called Jackson's Island, and Huck learns that he has also run away, after Miss Watson threatens to sell him downriver, where conditions for slaves were even harsher.

Jim is trying to make his way to Cairo, Illinois, to get to Ohio, a free state, to buy his family's freedom. At first, Huck is conflicted over whether to tell someone about Jim's running away, but they travel together, they talk in depth, and Huck begins to know more about Jim's past and his difficult life. As these talks continue, Huck begins to change his opinion about people, slavery, and life in general. This continues throughout the rest of the novel.

Huck and Jim take up in a cavern on a hill on Jackson's Island to wait out a storm. When they can, they scrounge around the river looking for food, wood, and other items. One night, they find a raft they will eventually use to travel down the Mississippi. Later, they find an entire house floating down the river and enter it to grab what they can. Entering one room, Jim finds Pap lying dead on the floor, shot in the back while apparently trying to ransack the house. He refuses to let Huck see the man's face and does not reveal that it is Pap.

To find out the latest news in the area, Huck dresses as a girl, calls himself Sarah Williams, and goes into town. He enters the house of a woman new to the area, thinking she won't recognize him. As they talk, she tells Huck there is a $300 reward for Jim, who is accused of killing Huck. She becomes suspicious of Huck's true gender, however; these suspicions are confirmed when she sees he cannot thread a needle. She cleverly tricks him into revealing he's a boy, and he manages to run off. He returns to the island, tells Jim of the manhunt, and the two load up the raft and leave the island.

The Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons

Huck and Jim's raft is swamped by a passing steamship, separating the two. Huck is given shelter by the Grangerfords, a prosperous local family. He becomes friends with Buck Grangerford, a boy about his age, and learns that the Grangerfords are engaged in a 30-year blood feud against another family, the Shepherdsons. The Grangerfords and Shepherdsons go to church. Both families bring guns to continue the feud despite the preaching at the church being on brotherly love.

The vendetta comes to a head when Buck's sister, Sophia Grangerford, elopes with Harney Shepherdson. In the resulting conflict, all of the remaining Grangerford males are shot and killed, and upon seeing Buck's corpse, Huck is too devastated to write about everything that happened. However, Huck does describe how he narrowly avoids his own death in the gunfight, later reuniting with Jim and the raft and together fleeing farther south on the Mississippi River.

The Duke and the King

Further down the river, Jim and Huck rescue two cunning grifters, who join Huck and Jim on the raft. The younger of the two swindlers, a man of about thirty, introduces himself as a son of an English duke (the Duke of Bridgewater, which the King later mispronounces as "Bilgewater") and his father's rightful successor. The older one, about seventy, then trumps the duke's claim by alleging that he is actually the Lost Dauphin, the son of Louis XVI and rightful King of France. The Duke and the King then force Jim and Huck to allow them to travel on the raft, committing a series of confidence schemes on the way south. On one occasion they arrive in a town and rent the courthouse for a night for the purpose of printing bills to advertise a play which they call the 'Royal Nonesuch'. The play turns out to be a crude affair, and this angers the townspeople who were fooled into paying to see it.

Meanwhile on the day of the play, a drunk called Boggs arrives in town and makes a nuisance of himself by going around threatening a southern gentleman by the name of Colonel Sherburn. Sherburn comes out and warns Boggs that he can continue threatening him up until exactly one o'clock. At one o'clock, Boggs continues his behaviour and Colonel Sherburn immediately shoots Boggs and kills him. Somebody in the crowd then cries out that Sherburn should be lynched and they all head up to Colonel Sherburn's gate. This is all witnessed by Huck. Sherburn emerges on the roof of his porch and faces the lynch mob with a loaded rifle. He forces them to back down after making an extended speech regarding what he believes to be the essential cowardice of "Southern justice". He criticises them for the fact that they all followed behind the suggestion of one man, and he tells them that the only lynching that's going to be done here will be in the dark by men wearing masks. (This vignette, is thought to represent Twain's own contradictory and misanthropic impulses — Huck, the outcast, essentially flees from Southern society, while Sherburn, the gentleman, confronts it, albeit in a brutal, destructive fashion.)[11], [12]

When they attempt to perform the 'Royal Nonesuch' play for the third time, the townspeople are ready. The Duke and the King are also ready and they flee the town and escape down the river on the raft with Huck. The Duke and the King's schemes reach their peak when the two grifters impersonate the brothers of Peter Wilkes, a recently deceased man of property. Using an absurd English accent, the King manages to convince most of the townspeople that he and the Duke are Wilkes's brothers recently arrived from England, and proceeds to liquidate Wilkes's estate. One man in town however suspects that they are a fraud and challenges them. This unnerves the Duke somewhat, who suggests to the King that they should now cut and run. The King reassures the Duke with the comment "Hain't we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain't that a big enough majority in any town?"

Huck is upset at the men's plan to steal the inheritance from Wilkes's daughters and actual brothers, as well as their actions in selling Wilkes's slaves and separating their families. To thwart their plans, Huck steals the money the two have acquired and hides it in Wilkes's coffin. Shortly thereafter, the two con men are exposed when two other men, Wilkes's true brothers, arrive. However, when the money is found in Wilkes's coffin, the Duke and the King are able to escape in the confusion, rejoining Huck and Jim on the raft. Upon seeing the Duke and King, Huck becomes very sad because he thought he had rid himself of the con men.

Jim's escape

After the four fugitives flee farther south on their raft, the King "captures" Jim and sells his interest in any reward while Huck is away in a nearby town. Outraged by this betrayal Huck rejects the advice of his "conscience," which continues to tell him that in helping Jim escape to freedom, he is stealing Miss Watson's property. Telling himself "All right, then, I'll go to hell!", Huck resolves to free Jim.

Huck discovers, upon arriving at the house in which Jim is being held, that the King has sold him in a bar for forty dollars. In a staggering coincidence, Jim's new owners, Mr. and Mrs. Phelps, are the Aunt and Uncle of Tom Sawyer, who is expected for a visit, and Huck is mistaken for Tom himself, and plays along, hoping to find a way to free Jim. Shortly after, Tom himself arrives, and pretending to be his own younger brother Sid, agrees to join Huck's scheme. Jim reveals the Duke and the King's involvement in the Royal Nonesuch before the two rogues are able to set their confidence game into motion. That night the Duke and King are captured by the townspeople, and are tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail.

Rather than simply sneaking Jim out of the shed where he is being held, Tom develops an elaborate plan to free him, involving secret messages, hidden tunnels, a rope ladder sent in Jim's food, and other elements from popular novels,[13] including a note to the Phelps warning them of an Indian tribe stealing their runaway slave. During the resulting pursuit, Tom is shot in the leg, and rather than complete his escape, Jim attends to him and insists that Huck find a doctor in town to treat the injury. This is the first time that Jim demands something from a white person; Huck explains this by saying "I knowed he was white on the it was all right now." Jim and Tom are then captured and brought back by the doctor.


After Jim's recapture, events quickly resolve themselves. Tom's Aunt Polly arrives and reveals Huck's and Tom's true identities. Tom announces that Jim has been free for months: Miss Watson died two months earlier and freed Jim in her will, but Tom chose not to reveal Jim's freedom so he could come up with an elaborate plan to rescue Jim. Jim tells Huck that Huck's father has been dead for some time and that Huck may return safely to St. Petersburg. In the final narrative, Huck declares that he is quite glad to be done writing his story, and despite Tom's family's plans to adopt and "sivilize" him, Huck intends to flee west to Indian Territory.

Major themes

Twain wrote a novel that embodies the search for freedom. He wrote during the post-Civil War period when there was an intense white reaction against blacks. According to some critics, Twain took aim squarely against racial prejudice, increasing segregation, lynchings, and the generally accepted belief that blacks were sub-human. He "made it clear that Jim was good, deeply loving, human, and anxious for freedom."[14] However, others have criticized the novel as racist, citing the use of the word "nigger" and Jim's Sambo-like character.[2][3]

Throughout the story, Huck is in moral conflict with the received values of the society in which he lives, and while he is unable to consciously refute those values even in his thoughts, he makes a moral choice based on his own valuation of Jim's friendship and human worth, a decision in direct opposition to the things he has been taught. Mark Twain in his lecture notes proposes that "a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience," and goes on to describe the novel as "...a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat."[15]


The publication of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn resulted in generally friendly reviews, but the novel was controversial from the outset.[16] Upon issue of the American edition in 1885 a number of libraries banned it from their stacks.[17] The early criticism focused on what was perceived as the book's crudeness. One incident was recounted in the newspaper, the Boston Transcript:

The Concord (Mass.) Public Library committee has decided to exclude Mark Twain's latest book from the library. One member of the committee says that, while he does not wish to call it immoral, he thinks it contains but little humor, and that of a very coarse type. He regards it as the veriest trash. The library and the other members of the committee entertain similar views, characterizing it as rough, coarse, and inelegant, dealing with a series of experiences not elevating, the whole book being more suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people.[17]

Twain later remarked to his editor, "Apparently, the Concord library has condemned Huck as 'trash and only suitable for the slums.' This will sell us another five thousand copies for sure!"

In this scene illustrated by E. W. Kemble, Jim thinks Huck is a ghost

Many subsequent critics, Ernest Hemingway among them, have deprecated the final chapters, claiming the book "devolves into little more than minstrel-show satire and broad comedy" after Jim is detained.[18] Hemingway declared, "All modern American literature comes from" Huck Finn, and hailed it as "the best book we've had." He cautioned, however, "If you must read it you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating."[19] (The term "Nigger Jim" never appears in the novel but after appearing in Albert Bigelow Paine's 1912 Clemens biography, continued to be used by twentieth century critics, including Leslie Fiedler, Norman Mailer, and Russell Baker.) Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Powers states in his Twain biography (Mark Twain: A Life) that "Huckleberry Finn endures as a consensus masterpiece despite these final chapters," in which Tom Sawyer leads Huck through elaborate machinations to rescue Jim.[20]

Much modern scholarship of Huckleberry Finn has focused on its treatment of race. Many Twain scholars have argued that the book, by humanizing Jim and exposing the fallacies of the racist assumptions of slavery, is an attack on racism.[21] Others have argued that the book falls short on this score, especially in its depiction of Jim.[17] According to Professor Stephen Railton of the University of Virginia, Twain was unable to fully rise above the stereotypes of black people that white readers of his era expected and enjoyed, and therefore resorted to minstrel show-style comedy to provide humor at Jim's expense, and ended up confirming rather than challenging late-19th century racist stereotypes.[22]

Because of this controversy over whether Huckleberry Finn is racist or anti-racist, and because the word "nigger" is frequently used in the novel, many have questioned the appropriateness of teaching the book in the U.S. public school system. According to the American Library Association, Huckleberry Finn was the fifth most frequently challenged book in the United States during the 1990s.[23]





  • The Further Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1983), a novel which continues Huck's adventures after he "lights out for the Territory" at the end of Twain's novel, by Greg Matthews.
  • Finn: A Novel (2007), a novel about Huck's father, Pap Finn, by Jon Clinch.
  • My Jim (2005), a novel narrated largely by Sadie, Jim's enslaved wife, by Nancy Rawles.


  • Huckleberry Finn EP (2009), comprising five songs from Kurt Weill's unfinished musical, by Duke Special


  1. ^ Facsimile of the 1st US edition
  2. ^ a b Lester, Julius. Morality and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 
  3. ^ a b Woodard, Fredrick and MacCann, Donnarae. Minstrel Shackles and Nineteenth Century "Liberality" in Huckleberry Finn. 
  4. ^ Twain, Mark (2001-10-01). "Introduction". The Annotated Huckleberry Finn. introduction and annotations by Michael Patrick Hearn. W. W. Norton & Company. xiv–xvii, xxix. ISBN 0-393-02039-8. 
  5. ^ Young, Philip (1966-12-01). Ernest Hemingway: A Reconsideration. Penn State Press. p. 212. ISBN 0-271-02092-X. 
  6. ^ Reif, Rita (1991-02-14). "First Half of 'Huck Finn,' in Twain's Hand, Is Found". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-10. 
  7. ^ a b Baker, William (1996-06-01). "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (book reviews)". Antioch Review (Antioch University) 54 (3): 363–4. 
  8. ^ Blair, Walter (1960). Mark Twain & Huck Finn. University of California Press. 
  9. ^ Reif, Rita. Antiques: How Huck Finn was rescued. New York Times, March 17, 1991
  10. ^
  11. ^ Jehlen, Myra (1995-05-26). "Banned in Concord: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Classic American Literature". in Forrest G. Robinson (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain. Cambridge University Press. pp. 107–109. ISBN 0-521-44593-0. 
  12. ^ The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, "Colonel Sherburn and Boggs" [1]
  13. ^ Victor A. Doyno (1991). Writing Huck Finn: Mark Twain's creative process. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 191. ISBN tk.  [2]
  14. ^ Leonard, James S.; Thomas A. Tenney and Thadious M. Davis (December 1992). Satire or Evasion?: Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn. Duke University Press. pp. 224.,M1. 
  15. ^ Mark Twain: Critical Assessments, Stuart Hutchinson, Ed, Routledge 1993, p. 193
  16. ^ Mailer, Norman (1984-12-09). "Huckleberry Finn, Alive at 100". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-10. 
  17. ^ a b c Leonard, James S.; Thomas A. Tenney and Thadious M. Davis (December 1992). Satire or Evasion?: Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn. Duke University Press. pp. 2.,M1. 
  18. ^ Nick, Gillespie (February 2006). "Mark Twain vs. Tom Sawyer: The bold deconstruction of a national icon". Retrieved 2008-02-07. 
  19. ^ Hemingway, Ernest (1935). Green Hills of Africa. New York: Scribners. pp. 22. 
  20. ^ Powers, Ron (2005-09-13). Mark Twain: A Life. Free Press. pp. 476–7. 
  21. ^ For example, Shelley Fisher Fishin, Lighting out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).
  22. ^ Stephen Railton, "Jim and Mark Twain: What Do Dey Stan' For?" Virginia Quarterly Review 63 (1987).
  23. ^ ALA | 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-1999
  24. ^ IMDB, Huckleberry Finn (1920)
  25. ^ IMDB, Huckleberry Finn (1931)

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Mark Twain article)

From Wikiquote

Samuel Langhorne Clemens: Mark Twain

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835April 21, 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American humorist, novelist, writer, and lecturer.


See also


  • I haven't a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices.
    • "Answers to Correspondents" (1865), reported in Early Tales & Sketches, v.2, 1864-1865, Branch and Hirst, ed. (1981).
  • Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run.
    • The Facts Concerning the Recent Resignation (1867).
  • He was ignorant of the commonest accomplishments of youth. He could not even lie.
    • From Brief Biographilas Sketch of George Washington, The celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras county, and other sketches, 1867, Mark Twain, ed. J. Paul, John Paul (of New York).
  • Tomorrow night I appear for the first time before a Boston audience — 4000 critics.
    • Letter to Pamela Clemens Moffet (November 9, 1869).
  • All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the "elect" have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so "slow," so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle — keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone in an out-of-the-way locality, the work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason.
  • A crowded police docket is the surest of all signs that trade is brisk and money plenty.
  • Barring that natural expression of villainy which we all have, the man looked honest enough.
    • A Mysterious Visit (1875).
  • This poor little one-horse town.
    • The Undertaker's Chat (1875).
  • A baby is an inestimable blessing and bother.
    • Letter to Annie Webster (September 1, 1876).
  • The funniest things are the forbidden.
    • (1879)
    • Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, Vol. 2:1877-1883 (1975).
  • We haven't all had the good fortune to be ladies; we haven't all been generals, or poets, or statesmen; but when the toast works down to the babies, we stand on common ground.
    • Answering a toast, "To the babies," at a banquet in honor of General U.S. Grant (November 14, 1879).
  • Among the three or four million cradles now rocking in the land are some which this nation would preserve for ages as sacred things, if we could know which ones they are.
    • Answering a toast, "To the babies," at a banquet in honor of General U.S. Grant (November 14, 1879).
  • We have not the reverent feeling for the rainbow that the savage has, because we know how it is made. We have lost as much as we gained by prying into that matter.
  • You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does -- but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you'll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it's the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain't so; it's the sickening grammar they use.
  • Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
    • Draft manuscript (c.1881), quoted by Albert Bigelow Paine in Mark Twain: A Biography (1912).
  • Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any.
    • Advice to Youth (5/15/1882).
The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter — it's the difference between a lightning bug and the lightning.
  • When the doctrine of allegiance to party can utterly up-end a man's moral constitution and make a temporary fool of him besides, what excuse are you going to offer for preaching it, teaching it, extending it, perpetuating it? Shall you say, the best good of the country demands allegiance to party? Shall you also say it demands that a man kick his truth and his conscience into the gutter, and become a mouthing lunatic, besides?
    • “Consistency”, (1884), paper read at the Hartford Monday Evening Club, following the Blaine-Cleveland Campaign, in The Complete Essays of Mark Twain, p. 582
  • Loyalty to petrified opinions never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world — and never will.
    • “Consistency”, (1884). This quote is engraved on Twain's bust in the National Hall of Fame.
  • He is now fast rising from affluence to poverty.
    • Henry Ward Beecher's Farm (1885).
  • He [George Washington Cable] has taught me to abhor and detest the Sabbath day and hunt up new and troublesome ways to dishonor it.
    • Letter to William Dean Howells (February 27, 1885).
  • It does look as if Massachusetts were in a fair way to embarrass me with kindnesses this year. In the first place, a Massachusetts judge has just decided in open court that a Boston publisher may sell, not only his own property in a free and unfettered way, but also may as freely sell property which does not belong to him but to me; property which he has not bought and which I have not sold. Under this ruling I am now advertising that judge's homestead for sale, and, if I make as good a sum out of it as I expect, I shall go on and sell out the rest of his property.
    • Letter of acceptance of membership to Concord Free Trade Club (March 28, 1885): Mark Twain, his life and work: a biographical sketch (1892), William Montgomery Clemens, Clemens Pub. Co.
  • The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter — it's the difference between a lightning bug and the lightning.
    • Letter to George Bainton (1888).
  • Weather is a literary specialty, and no untrained hand can turn out a good article on it.
    • The American Claimant, foreword (1892).
  • If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything.
    • Notebook, 1894
  • James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness; the report of my death was an exaggeration.
    • Remarks reported in Frank Marshall White (14 December 1910) "Mark Twain as a Newspaper Reporter" Outlook. The joke is not original to Twain, having been used by Ulysses S. Grant in 1865.
  • I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.
    • American Claimant (1892)
  • A round man cannot be expected to fit in a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape.
    • More Tramps Abroad (1897).
  • [Citing a familiar "American joke":] In Boston they ask, How much does he know? In New York, How much is he worth? In Philadelphia, Who were his parents?
  • Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.
    • Commonly quoted as: "First get your facts, then you can distort them at your leisure."
Rudyard Kipling, An Interview with Mark Twain, p. 180, From sea to sea: letters of travel, 1899, Doubleday & McClure Company. eBooks@Adelaide
  • Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments flit away and a sunny spirit takes their place.
  • I was sorry to have my name mentioned as one of the great authors, because they have a sad habit of dying off. Chaucer is dead, Spencer is dead, so is Milton, so is Shakespeare, and I’m not feeling so well myself.
    • The History of the Savage Club, speech (1899).
  • It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.
    • Following the equator: a journey around the world (1899), 2:149
    • referencing the Kumbh Mela
  • He had only one vanity; he thought he could give advice better than any other person.
    • The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, (1900)
  • [A] classic - something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.
  • The silent colossal National Lie that is the support and confederate of all the tyrannies and shams and inequalities and unfairnesses that afflict the peoples — that is the one to throw bricks and sermons at.
  • [The human race], in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon — laughter.
    • "The Chronicle of Young Satan" (1900)
    • from Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts, William M. Gibson, ed. (1969).
  • ...[H]eaven for climate, Hell for society.
    • Speech to the Acorn Society (1901)
  • also given as: Heaven for climate, Hell for companionship.
    • unsourced
  • Honesty is the best policy - when there is money in it.
    • Speech to Eastman College (1901)
  • The Blessings-of-Civilization Trust, wisely and cautiously administered, is a Daisy. There is more money in it, more territory, more sovereignty, and other kinds of emolument, than there is in any other game that is played. But Christendom has been playing it badly of late years, and must certainly suffer by it, in my opinion. She has been so eager to get every stake that appeared on the green cloth, that the People who Sit in Darkness have noticed it -- they have noticed it, and have begun to show alarm. They have become suspicious of the Blessings of Civilization.
  • Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.
    • To the Young People's Society, Greenpoint Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn (February 16, 1901)
  • To create man was a fine and original idea; but to add the sheep was a tautology.
    • St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 30, 1902
    • from Ron Powers, Mark Twain: A Life, p. 611)
  • Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is, I dunno. If the Eiffel Tower were now representing the world's age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man's share of that age; and anybody would perceive that the skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would, I dunno.
    • Was the World Made for Man?, 1903): also p.106, What is man?: and other philosophical writings, Volume 19 of Works, 1993, Mark Twain, Paul Baender, University of California Press.
  • To put it in rude, plain, unpalatable words — true patriotism, real patriotism: loyalty not to a Family and a Fiction, but a loyalty to the Nation itself!
    ..."Remember this, take this to heart, live by it, die for it if necessary: that our patriotism is medieval, outworn, obsolete; that the modern patriotism, the true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation ALL the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it." [Czar Nicholas II]
    • (1905)
    • Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays, 1891-1910 (1992) ed. Louis J. Budd
  • He is a stranger to me, but he is a most remarkable man — and I am the other one. Between us, we cover all knowledge; he knows all that can be known, and I know the rest.
    • (1906)
    • Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men and Events (1940) ed. Bernard DeVoto
  • The only reason why God created man is because he was disappointed with the monkey.
    • Autobiographical Dictation (1906)
  • A powerful agent is the right word. Whenever we come upon one of those intensely right words in a book or a newspaper the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt.
    • Essay on William Dean Howells (1906)
  • Customs do not concern themselves with right or wrong or reason. But they have to be obeyed; one reasons all around them until he is tired, but he must not transgress them, it is sternly forbidden.
    • The Gorky Incident (1906)
  • Laws are sand, customs are rock. Laws can be evaded and punishment escaped, but an openly transgressed custom brings sure punishment.
    • The Gorky Incident (1906)
  • Most writers regard truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use.
    • In full: A critic never made or killed a book or a play. The people themselves are the final judges. It is their opinion that counts. After all, the final test is truth. But the trouble is that most writers regard truth as their most valuable possession and therefore are most economical in its use.
    • Said to portrait painter Samuel Johnson Woolf, cited in Here am I (1941), Samuel Johnson Woolf, Random House.
  • It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.
    • Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men and Events (1940) ed. Bernard DeVoto
  • The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.
    • Christian Science (1907)
  • I have been complimented many times and they always embarrass me; I always feel that they have not said enough.
    • speech, September 23, 1907
  • Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.
    • Letter to an Unidentified Person (1908)
  • The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.
    • marginal note in Moncure D. Conway's Sacred Anthology
    • quoted by Albert Bigelow Paine in Mark Twain: A Biography (1912)
  • You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is.
    • Europe and Elsewhere. Corn Pone Opinions (1925)
  • We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking. And out of it we get an aggregation which we consider a boon. Its name is public opinion. It is held in reverence. Some think it the voice of God.
    • Corn-Pone Opinions (1925)
  • The lack of money is the root of all evil.
    • More Maxims of Mark (1927) edited by Merle Johnson
  • Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
    • More Maxims of Mark (1927) edited by Merle Johnson
  • Always acknowledge a fault frankly. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you opportunity to commit more.
    • More Maxims of Mark (1927) edited by Merle Johnson
  • Humor must not professedly teach, and it must not professedly preach, I but it must do both if it would live forever. By forever, I mean thirty years.
    • Mark Twain in eruption: hitherto unpublished pages about men and events, 1940, Mark Twain, Bernard Augustine De Voto, Harper & brothers. This appears to be the origin of the variant:
    • If you would have your work last forever, and by forever I mean fifty years, it must neither overtly preach nor overtly teach, but it must covertly preach and covertly teach.
    • Attributed to Twain by J. Michael Straczynski in The complete book of scriptwriting, 2002, Writer's Digest Books.
  • Jesus died to save men — a small thing for an immortal to do, & didn't save many, anyway; but if he had been damned for the race that would have been act of a size proper to a god, & would have saved the whole race. However, why should anybody want to save the human race, or damn it either? Does God want its society? Does Satan?
    • Notebook #42
  • A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.
    • Mark Twain and I by Opie Read
  • I do not take any credit to my better-balanced head because I never went crazy on Presbyterianism. We go too slow for that. You never see us ranting and shouting and tearing up the ground, You never heard of a Presbyterian going crazy on religion. Notice us, and you will see how we do. We get up of a Sunday morning and put on the best harness we have got and trip cheerfully down town; we subside into solemnity and enter the church; we stand up and duck our heads and bear down on a hymn book propped on the pew in front when the minister prays; we stand up again while our hired choir are singing, and look in the hymn book and check off the verses to see that they don't shirk any of the stanzas; we sit silent and grave while the minister is preaching, and count the waterfalls and bonnets furtively, and catch flies; we grab our hats and bonnets when the benediction is begun; when it is finished, we shove, so to speak. No frenzy, no fanaticism --no skirmishing; everything perfectly serene. You never see any of us Presbyterians getting in a sweat about religion and trying to massacre the neighbors. Let us all be content with the tried and safe old regular religions, and take no chances on wildcat.
    • "The New Wildcat Religion"
  • Thousands of geniuses live and die undiscovered — either by themselves or by others. But for the Civil War, Lincoln and Grant and Sherman and Sheridan would not have been discovered, nor have risen into notice. ... I have touched upon this matter in a small book which I wrote a generation ago and which I have not published as yet — Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven. When Stormfield arrived in heaven he ... was told that ... a shoemaker ... was the most prodigious military genius the planet had ever produced.
    • The Autobiography of Mark Twain (1959 edition, edited by Charles Neider)
  • Adam, at Eve's grave: Wheresoever she was, THERE was Eden.
    • Eve's Diary

The Innocents Abroad (1869)

  • I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week sometimes to make it up.
    • Ch. 7
  • They spell it "Vinci" and pronounce it "Vinchy". Foreigners always spell better than they pronounce.
    • Ch. 19
  • I used to worship the mighty genius of Michael Angelo — that man who was great in poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture — great in every thing he undertook. But I do not want Michael Angelo for breakfast — for luncheon — for dinner — for tea — for supper — for between meals. I like a change, occasionally.
    • Ch. 27
  • Enough, enough, enough! Say no more! Lump the whole thing! say that the Creator made Italy from designs by Michael Angelo!
    • Ch. 27
  • Guides cannot master the subtleties of the American joke.
    • Ch. 27
  • I wish Europe would let Russia annihilate Turkey a little--not much, but enough to make it difficult to find the place again without a divining-rod or a diving-bell.
    • Ch. 42
  • In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.
    • Ch. 61
  • Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.
    • Conclusion

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)

  • Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden.
    • Ch. 2
  • He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it — namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to obtain.
    • Ch. 2
  • Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and...Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.
    • Ch. 2
  • The minister gave out his text and droned along monotonously through an argument that was so prosy that many a head by and by began to nod — and yet it was an argument that dealt in limitless fire and brimstone and thinned the predestined elect down to a company so small as to be hardly worth the saving.
    • Ch. 5
  • There was no getting around the stubborn fact that taking sweetmeats was only "hooking," while taking bacon and hams and such valuables was plain simple stealing — and there was a command against that in the Bible. So they inwardly resolved that so long as they remained in the business, their piracies should not again be sullied with the crime of stealing.
    • Ch. 13
  • To promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.
    • Ch. 22
  • She makes me get up just at the same time every morning; she makes me wash, they comb me all to thunder; she won't let me sleep in the woodshed; I got to wear them blamed clothes that just smothers me, Tom; they don't seem to let any air git through 'em, somehow; and they're so rotten nice that I can't set down, nor lay down, nor roll around anywher's; I hain't slid on a cellar-door for — well, it 'pears to be years; I got to go to church and sweat and sweat — I hate them ornery sermons! I can't ketch a fly in there, I can't chaw. I got to wear shoes all Sunday. The widder eats by a bell; she goes to bed by a bell; she gits up by a bell — everything's so awful reg'lar a body can't stand it.
    • Ch. 35

New England Weather, speech to the New England Society (December 22, 1876)

  • There is a sumptuous variety about the New England weather that compels the stranger's admiration — and regret. The weather is always doing something there; always attending strictly to business; always getting up new designs and trying them on people to see how they will go. But it gets through more business in spring than in any other season. In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of twenty-four hours.
  • Probable nor'east to sou'west winds, varying to the soutard and westard and eastard and points between; high and low barometer, sweeping round from place to place; probable areas of rain, snow, hail, and drought, succeeded or preceded by earthquakes with thunder and lightning.
  • One of the brightest gems in the New England weather is the dazzling uncertainty of it.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

  • Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
    • Notice
  • You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.
    • Ch. 1
  • Jim was most ruined for a servant, because he got stuck up on account of having seen the devil and been rode by witches.
    • Ch. 2
  • We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn't ever feel like talking loud, and it warn't often that we laughed, only a little kind of a low chuckle. We had mighty good weather as a general thing, and nothing ever happened to us at all, that night, nor the next, nor the next.
    • Ch. 12
  • Pilgrim's Progress, about a man that left his family, it didn't say why. I read considerable in it now and then. The statements was interesting, but tough.
    • Ch. 17
  • There warn't anybody at the church, except maybe a hog or two, for there warn't any lock on the door, and hogs likes a puncheon floor in summer-time because it's cool. If you notice, most folks don't go to church only when they've got to; but a hog is different.
    • Ch. 18
  • We said there warn't no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.
    • Ch. 18
  • To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin.
    • Ch. 21
  • H'aint we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain't that a big enough majority in any town?
    • Ch. 26
  • I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself, "All right, then, I'll GO to hell."
    • Ch. 31

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)

  • Why, it was like reading about France and the French, before the ever memorable and blessed Revolution, which swept a thousand years of such villany away in one swift tidal-wave of blood -- one: a settlement of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by slow tortures out of that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell. There were two "Reigns of Terror," if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the "horrors" of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror -- that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.
  • The citizen who thinks he sees that the commonwealth's political clothes are worn out, and yet holds his peace and does not agitate for a new suit, is disloyal, he is a traitor. That he may be the only one who thinks he sees this decay, does not excuse him: it is his duty to agitate anyway, and it is the duty of others to vote him down if they do not see the matter as he does.
    • Ch. 13
  • My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one's country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death.
    • Ch. 13
  • The pilgrims were human beings. Otherwise they would have acted differently. They had come a long and difficult journey, and now when the journey was nearly finished, and they learned that the main thing they had come for had ceased to exist, they didn't do as horses or cats or angle-worms would probably have done — turn back and get at something profitable — no, anxious as they had before been to see the miraculous fountain, they were as much as forty times as anxious now to see the place where it had used to be. There is no accounting for human beings.
  • Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.
    • Ch. 22
  • Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.
    • Ch. 22
  • It is a mystery that is hidden from me by reason that the emergency requiring the fathoming of it hath not in my life-days occurred, and so, not having no need to know this thing, I abide barren of the knowledge.
  • You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.

How To Tell A Story (1895)

  • The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it.
  • To string incongruities and absurdities together in a wandering and sometimes purposeless way, and seem innocently unaware that they are absurdities, is the basis of the American art, if my position is correct.

Concerning the Jews (Harper's Magazine, Sept. 1899)

  • I have no race prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. All I care to know is that a man is a human being, and that is enough for me; he can't be any worse.
  • I have no special regard for Satan; but, I can at least claim that I have no prejudice against him. It may even be that I lean a little his way, on account of his not having a fair show. All religions issue bibles against him, and say the most injurious things about him, but we never hear his side. We have none but the evidence for the prosecution, and yet we have rendered the verdict. To my mind, this is irregular. It is un-English, it is un-American; it is French.
  • The Jew is not a disturber of the peace of any country. Even his enemies will concede that. He is not a loafer, he is not a sot, he is not noisy, he is not a brawler nor a rioter, he is not quarrelsome. In the statistics of crime his presence is conspicuously rare — in all countries. With murder and other crimes of violence he has but little to do: he is a stranger to the hangman. In the police court's daily long roll of "assaults" and "drunk and disorderlies" his name seldom appears ...
  • A Jewish beggar is not impossible, perhaps; such a thing may exist, but there are few men that can say they have seen that spectacle.
  • These facts are all on the credit side of the proposition that the Jew is a good and orderly citizen. Summed up, they certify that he is quiet, peaceable, industrious, unaddicted to high crimes and brutal dispositions; that his family life is commendable; that he is not a burden upon public charities; that he is not a beggar; that in benevolence he is above the reach of competition. These are the very quint-essentials of good citizenship.
  • If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvellous fight in the world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

What Is Man? (1906)

  • It may be called the Master Passion, the hunger for self-approval.
    • Ch. 6
  • The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to the other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creature that cannot.
    • Ch. 6

Letter to Mrs. F. G. Whitmore (February 7, 1907)

  • But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn't anger me.

True Citizenship at the Children's Theater 1907

  • Citizenship? We have none! In place of it we teach patriotism which Samuel Johnson said a hundred and forty or a hundred and fifty years ago was the last refuge of the scoundrel -- and I believe that he was right. I remember when I was a boy and I heard repeated time and time again the phrase, 'My country, right or wrong, my country!' How absolutely absurd is such an idea. How absolutely absurd to teach this idea to the youth of the country.

Christian Science 1907

  • When I, a thoughtful and unblessed Presbyterian, examine the Koran, I know that beyond any question every Mohammedan is insane; not in all things, but in religious matters. When a thoughtful and unblessed Mohammedan examines the Westminster Catechism, he knows that beyond any question I am spiritually insane. I cannot prove to him that he is insane, because you never can prove anything to a lunatic--for that is a part of his insanity and the evidence of it. He cannot prove to me that I am insane, for my mind has the same defect that afflicts his. All Democrats are insane, but not one of them knows it; none but the Republicans and Mugwumps know it. All the Republicans are insane, but only the Democrats and Mugwumps can perceive it. The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.

A Horse's Tale

  • Herodotus says, "Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all. The conscientious historian will correct these defects".
    • Acknowledgements
    • Twain does not quote Herodotus here, he only sums up what he believes to have been Herodotus' approach to the writing of history. Nevertheless, these are now often quoted as being the very words of Herodotus.

Albert Bigelow Paine's Mark Twain, A Biography (1912)

  • He [Mark Twain] spoke of humor, and thought it must be one of the chief attributes of God. He cited plants and animals that were distinctly humorous in form and in their characteristics. These he declared were God’s jokes.

The Mysterious Stranger (1916)

Online text
  • There has never been a just one, never an honorable one — on the part of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud little handful — as usual — will shout for the war. The pulpit will — warily and cautiously — object — at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, "It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it." Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers — as earlier — but do not dare to say so. And now the whole nation — pulpit and all — will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.
    • originally in The Chronicle of Satan (1905)
  • Only laughter can blow [a colossal humbug] to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.
  • A God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice, and invented hell — mouths mercy, and invented hell — mouths Golden Rules and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people, and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites his poor abused slave to worship him!
  • There is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a Dream, a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And You are but a Thought — a vagrant Thought, a useless Thought, a homeless Thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities.

Bible Teaching and Religious Practice (1923)

  • We began to stir against slavery. Hearts grew soft, here, there, and yonder. There was no place in the land where the seeker could not find some small budding sign of pity for the slave. No place in all the land but one—the pulpit. It yielded at last; it always does. It fought a strong and stubborn fight, and then did what it always does, joined the procession—at the tail end. Slavery fell. The slavery text remained; the practice changed, that was all.
  • During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. the Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. Who discovered that there was no such thing as a witch—the priest, the parson? No, these never discover anything. … There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.

Mark Twain's Autobiography (1924)

  • Biographies are but clothes and buttons of the man — the biography of the man himself cannot be written.
    • Vol. I, p. 2
  • Of all the creatures that were made he [man] 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...He is the only creature that inflicts pain for sport, knowing it to be pain...Also — in all the list he is the only creature that has a nasty mind.
    • Vol. II, p. 7
  • The trade of critic, in literature, music, and the drama, is the most degraded of all trades.
    • Vol. II, p. 69
  • There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. How strange it is. It is like paying out your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry.
    • p. 98
  • In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue, but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.
    • In revised edition, chapter 78, p. 401, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, 1959, Charles Neider, Harper & Row.

Mark Twain's Notebook (1935)

  • France has neither winter nor summer nor morals. Apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country.
  • God's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.
  • France has usually been governed by prostitutes.
  • The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out the conservative adopts them.
  • Familiarity breeds contempt — and children.
  • Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.
  • Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.
  • Death, the only immortal who treats us all alike, whose pity and whose peace and whose refuge are for all — the soiled and the pure, the rich and the poor, the loved and the unloved.
    • Memorandum written on his deathbed
  • In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned.
    When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.
  • Surely the test of a novel's characters is that you feel a strong interest in them and their affairs—the good to be successful, the bad to suffer failure. Well, in John Ward, you feel no divided interest, no discriminating interest—you want them all to land in hell together, and right away.
  • None but the dead have free speech.
    • p.393
  • Some men worship rank, some worship heroes, some worship power, some worship God, & over these ideals they dispute & cannot unite — but they all worship money.
    • p.343
  • Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.
    • p.346
  • Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.
    • p.381
  • Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.
    • p.393
      • Alternate (also Twain's): Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause & reflect.
  • "In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot"
    • p.413

Papers of the Adams Family

  • Against our traditions we are now entering upon an unjust and trivial war, a war against a helpless people, and for a base object — robbery. At first our citizens spoke out against this thing, by an impulse natural to their training. Today they have turned, and their voice is the other way. What caused the change? Merely a politician's trick — a high-sounding phrase, a blood-stirring phrase which turned their uncritical heads: Our Country, right or wrong! An empty phrase, a silly phrase. It was shouted by every newspaper, it was thundered from the pulpit, the Superintendent of Public Instruction placarded it in every schoolhouse in the land, the War Department inscribed it upon the flag. And every man who failed to shout it or who was silent, was proclaimed a traitor — none but those others were patriots. To be a patriot, one had to say, and keep on saying, "Our Country, right or wrong," and urge on the little war. Have you not perceived that that phrase is an insult to the nation?
    For in a republic, who is "the Country"? Is it the Government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the Government is merely a servant — merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn't. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Who, then, is "the country?" Is it the newspaper? Is it the pulpit? Is it the school-superintendent? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command, they have only their little share in the command. They are but one in the thousand; it is in the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn’t.
  • In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country; in a republic it is the common voice of the people. Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country — hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.
    Only when a republic's life is in danger should a man uphold his government when it is in the wrong. There is no other time.
    This Republic's life is not in peril. The nation has sold its honor for a phrase. It has swung itself loose from its safe anchorage and is drifting, its helm is in pirate hands.

"The Danger of Lying in Bed"

  • The Erie railroad kills 23 to 46; the other 845 railroads kill an average of one-third of a man each; and the rest of that million, amounting in the aggregate to that appalling figure of 987,631 corpses, die naturally in their beds! You will excuse me from taking any more chances on those beds. The railroads are good enough for me.

"Which was the Dream?"

  • Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child's loss of a doll and a king's loss of a crown are events of the same size.

"Taming the Bicycle"

What is Man? and Other Essays

  • The bicycle had what is called the 'wabbles', and had them very badly. In order to keep my position, a good many things were required of me, and in every instance the thing required was against nature. Against nature, but not against the laws of nature.
  • Try as you may, you don't get down as you would from a horse, you get down as you would from a house afire. You make a spectacle of yourself every time.
  • The self-taught man seldom knows anything accurately, and he does not know a tenth as much as he could have known if he had worked under teachers;
  • Before taking final leave of me, my instructor inquired concerning my physical strength, and I was able to inform him that I hadn't any.
  • I have seen it stated that no expert is quick enough to run over a dog; that a dog is always able to skip out of his way. I think that that may be true; but I think that the reason he couldn't run over the dog was because he was trying to. I did not try to run over any dog. But I ran over every dog that came along.
  • Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.

Unsourced/ Possible Fakes

Twain is one of those major iconic figures to whom many statements become attributed; unsourced attributions to him should usually be treated with some skepticism, and often a great deal of it.

Writing and speaking

  • Drawing on my fine command of language, I said nothing.
    • This quote, in both this and a slightly different form, is also attributed to Robert Benchley.
  • I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.
    • Not directly traceable to Twain. Appears on p.202, The dictionary of humorous quotations (1949), Evan Esar, Doubleday.
  • Only presidents, editors and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial "we".
    • Attributed to Twain as "only editors and people with tapeworms should say 'we' in writing" on p.247, Business Education World, Volume 24, 1944, Gregg Publ. Co., but predated by:
    • ...three orders of men, by right, speak of themselves as "we". These are editors, royal personages, and people with tapeworms.
    • "Mr Prentice", p.138, The Louisville Medical News, Volumes 15-16, 1883.


  • Never let your schooling interfere with your education.
    • Variants: Don't let your son's/boy's schooling interfere too much with his education.
    • Not directly traceable to Twain; first attributed to him in early 1900s in latter form, as in Outing: sport, adventure, travel, fiction, Volume 50, 1907, ed. Caspar Whitney, Albert Britt.
  • I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is I can't find anybody who can tell me what they want.
    • First appears in post-2000 self-help and inspirational books such as Wake Up ... Live the Life You Love: Seizing Your Success, 2002, Steven E., Lee Beard, 58 Micro LLC, 2002
  • I was born intelligent, education ruined me.
    • No known citation to Twain. Also quoted without attribution or to "a student", as in Architecture + design, Volume 21, 2004, pub. S.K. Bhayana for Media Transasia (I) Pvt. Ltd.

Government and politics

  • If voting made any difference they wouldn't let us do it.
    • No known attribution to Twain. This has also been attributed to Emma Goldman. “If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal.”
  • All you have to fear is your mother's cooking.
    • No known attribution to Twain.


  • Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
    • First attributed to Twain in 1980s, as in The 637 best things anybody ever said, (1982), Robert Byrne, Atheneum.


  • The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.
    • Also quoted as "History does not repeat itself, It rhymes" and "History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes a lot."
    • According to this notes on sourcing, Twain scholars agree that it sounds like something he would say, but they have been unable to find the actual quote in his writing.
      • Twain did write: "It is not worth while to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man's character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible." (Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men and Events (1940), ed. Bernard DeVoto.)


  • To my embarrassment, I was born in bed with a lady.


  • It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.
    • Not attributed to Twain until the 1970s, as in p.214, Christ the liberator. 1971, John R. W. Stott, Inter Varsity Press.


  • A lie can make it half way around the world before the truth has time to put its boots on.
    • Attributed to Twain as "a lie will fly around the whole world while the truth is getting its boots on", Standard player monthly, 1918, Volumes 3-4, Standard Pneumatic Action Co. An uncredited variant, "A lie will cover leagues while truth is putting on its boots", appears in The Judge, Volume 67, 1914, Judge Publishing Company. The oldest known attribution (1831) is to Fisher Ames: “falsehood proceeds from Maine to Georgia, while truth is pulling on his boots.”
    • This has also been attributed to Winston Churchill.
  • 'I once sent a telegram to 12 of my friends saying ALL IS DISCOVERED - FLEE AT ONCE. They all left town immediately.
    • (This has also been attributed to Arthur Conan Doyle, with the caveat that only one of his friends disappeared.)
  • A mine is a hole in the ground owned by a liar.
    • Alternatively, “with a liar on top”
    • Attributed to Twain in The Autobiography of John Hays Hammond (Farrar & Rinehart, 1935), p. 97, who knew Twain. Not recorded as actually having been said (Mark Twain quotations – Miner). Also attributed to contemporaries Bill Nye and Eli Perkins (A Hole in the Ground).


  • If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.
    • According to the Yale Book of Quotations, attributed to Twain in Try and Stop Me (1944), Bennett Cerf.


  • Figures don't lie, but liars figure.
    • Attributed to Twain by Yates, Department of the Interior and related agencies appropriations for 1984: hearings before a subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives, Ninety-eighth Congress, first session, Parts 9-10, 1983, U.S. G.P.O., 1983.


  • Conductor, when you receive a fare,
    Punch in the presence of the passenjare:
    A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
    A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
    A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
    Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

    Chorus: Punch, brothers, punch with care!
    Punch in the presence of the passenjare.
    • Jingle written in 1876 by Isaac Bromley and Noah Brooks of the New York Tribune. Twain quoted it in his 1876 A Literary Nightmare (a.k.a. Punch, Brothers, punch) describing the catchiness of the meme, and became mistakenly known as the author: see p.422, Mark Twain: the complete interviews (2006), Mark Twain, Gary Scharnhorst, University of Alabama Press.
  • Every generalization is false, including this one.
    • This has also been attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Winston Churchill, George Barnard Shaw and Douglas MacArthur.
  • I've never killed a man, but I've read many an obituary with a great deal of satisfaction.
  • I admire the serene assurance of those who have religious faith. It is wonderful to observe the calm confidence of a Christian with four aces.
  • I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.
    • Quoted in Dawkins, Richard (2006). "A Much Needed Gap?". The God Delusion. Bantam Press. pp. p. 354. ISBN 0-618-68000-4.  


  • Wagner's music is better than it sounds.
    • Actually by Bill Nye, possibly confused due to Twain quoting Nye in More tramps abroad, 1897.
  • Warm summer sun, shine kindly here;
    Warm southern wind, blow softly here;
    Green sod above, lie light, lie light —
    Good-night, dear heart, good-night, good-night.
  • The minority is always in the right. The majority is always in the wrong.
    • Attributed to Twain, but never sourced. Suspiciously close to "A minority may be right, and the majority is always in the wrong." — Henrik Ibsen "Enemy of the People," as well as a famous quote from Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard
  • There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
    • Often attributed to Twain, but he said it was attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and this itself is probably a misattribution: see Lies, damned lies, and statistics and Leonard H. Courtney. Twain did, however, popularize this saying in the United States. His attribution is in the following passage from Twain's Autobiography (1924), Vol. I, p. 246 (apparently written in Florence in 1904) [1]:
      • Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
  • The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.
    • Often attributed to Twain, but of unknown origin.[2] [3] [4]
    • Twain did write, in Roughing It:
      • The climate of San Francisco is mild and singularly equable. The thermometer stands at about seventy degrees the year round. It hardly changes at all. You sleep under one or two light blankets Summer and Winter, and never use a mosquito bar. Nobody ever wears Summer clothing. You wear black broadcloth--if you have it--in August and January, just the same. It is no colder, and no warmer, in the one month than the other. You do not use overcoats and you do not use fans. It is as pleasant a climate as could well be contrived, take it all around, and is doubtless the most unvarying in the whole world. The wind blows there a good deal in the summer months, but then you can go over to Oakland, if you choose--three or four miles away--it does not blow there.
  • Golf is a good walk spoiled.
    • "Twain probably never uttered [these] words," according to R. Kent Rasmussen, editor of The Quotable Mark Twain (1998)
  • I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.
    • Often misattributed to Twain, this is actually by Blaise Pascal, "Lettres provinciales", letter 16, 1657:
      • Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.
      • Translation: I have only made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.
  • Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting over.
    • It seems likely that the attribution to Twain is apocryphal. It is not listed as authentic on Twainquotes, and is not listed at all in either R. Ken Ramussen's The Quotable Mark Twain (1998) or David W. Barber's Quotable Twain (2002).
  • A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.
    • According to R. Ken Rasmussen in The Quotable Mark Twain" (1998) this is most probably not Twain's.
  • Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
    • Notes on sourcing
    • Twain did say:
      • "There is a sumptuous variety about the New England weather that compels the stranger's admiration — and regret. The weather is always doing something there ... In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours. ...
        Yes, one of the brightest gems in the New England weather is the dazzling uncertainty of it." (Speech at the dinner of New England Society in New York City, December 22, 1876))
  • Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
    • This quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, but the attribution cannot be verified. The quote should not be regarded as authentic. — Twainquotes
  • Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India.
    • Max Müller, India: What Can India Teach Us? (1883), p. 15
  • Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it.
    • Often attributed to Twain online, but unsourced. Alternate source: "The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak." — Robert Heinlein "The Man Who Sold the Moon" p.188.
  • It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.
    • Cited as an example of "What Mark Twain Didn't Say" in Mark Twain by Geoffrey C. Ward, et. al.
  • For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped to be replased either by "k" or "s", and likewise "x" would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which "c" would be retained would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform "w" spelling, so that "which" and "one" would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with "i" and Iear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all. Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez "c", "y" and "x" — bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez — tu riplais "ch", "sh", and "th" rispektivli. Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.
    • Actual Source: A letter to The Economist (16 January 1971), written by one M.J. Shields (or M.J. Yilz, by the end of the letter). The letter is quoted in full in one of Willard Espy's Words at Play books
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.
    • Commonly attributed to Twain in computer contexts and post-2000 inspirational books — the first sentence has also been attributed to Agatha Christie and Sally Berger.

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Up to date as of January 22, 2010
(Redirected to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn article)

From Wikisource

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) is commonly accounted as one of the first Great American Novels. It was also one of the first major American novels ever written in the vernacular, or common speech, being told in the first person by the eponymous Huckleberry "Huck" Finn, best friend of Tom Sawyer (hero of three other Mark Twain books). The book was first published in 1884.Excerpted from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR, Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance.


In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary "Pike County" dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.

I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.


Huckleberry Finn

Scene: The Mississippi Valley Time: Forty to fifty years ago

PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1910, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 99 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|200px|Huckleberry Finn with a rabbit. An illustration of the 1st edition.]]

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a book written by Mark Twain, published in 1884. It is a sequel to his earlier book, Tom Sawyer.



It is the story of the boy Huckleberry Finn, who already appeared in Tom Sawyer. Huck, formerly a vagabond, now lives with the Widow Douglas, who tries to teach him to be civilized and acceptable to society. Then one day Huck's father comes back, who is an alcoholic and treats Huck very badly, so Huck runs away. He meets Jim, a black slave who wants to escape to freedom, and they travel down the Mississippi River on a raft. The book tells of their adventures together.


Adventures of Huckleberry Finn received often good reviews, but the novel was controversial from the beginning.[1] When the American edition came out in 1885 some libraries banned it.[2] Today, many people feel that the book attacks racism and shows that it is bad.[3] Others criticize the book because it shows things like slavery, and uses words like "nigger".[4] They also think that, although Jim is not meant to be a bad character, he has some stereotypes of that time.[5]


  1. Mailer, Norman (1984-12-09). "Huckleberry Finn, Alive at 100". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-10. 
  2. Leonard, James S.; Thomas A. Tenney and Thadious M. Davis (December 1992). Satire or Evasion?: Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn. Duke University Press. pp. 2. ISBN 9780822311744. 
  3. Shelley Fisher Fishin, Lighting out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)
  4. Woodard, Fredrick and MacCann, Donnarae. Minstrel Shackles and Nineteenth Century "Liberality" in Huckleberry Finn.
  5. Stephen Railton, "Jim and Mark Twain: What Do Dey Stan' For?" Virginia Quarterly Review 63 (1987).

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