Mark Twain – Things you may not know

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here.

According to my This Day In History calendar, today is the 159th anniversary of the day Mark Twain received his steamboat pilot’s license. So in honor of that event I thought I’d offer up some trivia and favorite quotes from the author and humorist.

As most everyone knows, Mark Twain’s real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, but did you know that as an infant, he wasn’t expected to live? He was born two months prematurely and was sickly and frail. It wasn’t until he was seven that his health turned around. He was the sixth of seven children.

His formal education ended when he was eleven. That was the year his father died and he left school to take a job as an apprentice printer at a local newspaper.

Before settling on Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens tried out several other pseudonyms, among them were Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, W. Epaminondas Adrastus Blab, Sergeant Fathom, and Rambler.

In addition to his other talents, Mark Twain was an inventor. He held 3 patents all total. He invented a garment fastener strap that he intended for use on vests and shirts. It never hit it off for that intended purpose, but it became the forerunner for bra straps that are still in use today. He also invented a trivia game. But his most successful invention (financially) was for a scrapbook with self-adhesive pages.

Mark Twain had a strong fondness for cats and wanted to have them around him at all times.

He based Huckleberry Finn on a real person. It was a boy he knew while growing up in Hannibal, MO. The boy was four years older than Clemens, and he described him as “ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had.”

In addition to numerous articles, essays and short stories, Mark Twain wrote a total of 28 books, four of which were published posthumously.

Clemens was born right after Halley’s Comet made its 1835 appearance. In 1909 he was quoted as saying “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet.”  Strangely, as he predicted, he passed away of a heart attack on April 21, 1910 the day after Halley’s Comet made its closest pass to Earth. He was 74 years old.



There are tons of great quotes attributed to Mark Twain. I’m going to focus here on some of the ones that have to do with books, reading and writing:

Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.

‘Classic’ – a book which people praise and don’t read.

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

Books are for people who wish they were somewhere else.

High and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water.

A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.

Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.

When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them?then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.

Every person is a book, each year a chapter.

The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible.

One should never use exclamation points in writing. It is like laughing at your own joke.

And one of my favorites:

Choosing not to read is like closing an open door to paradise.

So do you have a favorite Mark Twain book, bit of trivia or quote? Did any of the above surprise you?

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Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at or email her at

28 thoughts on “Mark Twain – Things you may not know”

  1. Very interesting article and I loved the quotes. I can’t tbink of one right now. Well I guess Will Rogers, “I never met a man I didn’t like.”
    Have a great spring week.

  2. Loved this! I have many Mark Twain books on my kindle and I really need to go back and read all the classics. I have a horrible memory because of MS and I’m sure it would be like reading them for the first time. Some I’ve probably never read at all. He tried a lot of hard to remember names before he chose Mark Twain its no wonder they never caught on. A quote we need more of today and I like is “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” It surprised me that he invented, yet unintentionally, bra straps.

  3. I love the quotes. I did enjoy Huckleberry Finn. My family and I visited the Mark Twain house in Hartford CT. It wa amazing.

  4. This quote fits me perfectly. “Books are for people who wish they were somewhere else.” Reading is the only way I get an escape. I liked the fact the Mark Twain was also a cat lover, just like I am.

  5. What a great post, Winnie! Thank you for sharing. I didn’t know his formal education ended when he was eleven…wow! Huck Finn is a remarkable book.

  6. I’ve always loved Mark Twain, but haven’t read as much of his work as I should have. For sheer fun, my favorite is “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” I’ve always been a sucker for a good time travel story.

  7. “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
    ? Mark Twain

  8. Winnie, loved your post. It’s hard to beat his wit. I’m sure he would have had something to say about bra straps! I came across this quote of his the other day and it made me laugh:

    Both marriage and death ought to be welcome: the one promises happiness, the other assures it.

  9. I am a big fan of Mark Twain/Samuel Clemons and I especially love his quotes about books, reading and readers. Thanks for sharing!

  10. These quotes do sound so much like the individual he was. We visited his home in Hartford, CT a few years ago. The house and museum are well worth the visit. It is by guided tour only which works well. You learn so much about the man, the family, the house, his writing, and Twain’s career. We have visited many historical houses. What struck me was how dark the interior was. It was a comfortable house and one obviously set up for a family.
    I had no idea that his finances took so many turns and how serious his financial problems were. He wrote many of his best known works while living there. Despite the difficulties and sadness in his life, his works still have a sense of humor. I don’t know if that was to hid his pain or to just reflected his outlook on life. There are so many good quotes attributed to him.
    A bonus to visiting the house is his next door neighbor – the former home of Harriet Beecher Stowe. It is also open and a museum. Her family is responsible for saving the Twain house when it was scheduled to be demolished in the late 1920’s.

    • Hi Patricia. That museum sounds like a fabulous place to visit. And I never knew about the connection to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Thanks for teaching me something today!

  11. My all time favorite Twain quote: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

    Of the ones you listed, Winnie, I especially like…
    “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words” and…

    “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.”

    Thanks for a lovely blog that I really enjoyed.

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