Directory of Mark Twain's maxims, quotations, and various opinions:



M. de Lamester's new French dictionary just issued in Paris defines virtue as: "A woman who has only one lover and don't steal."
- quoted in A Bibliography of Mark Twain, Merle Johnson

AI image created by R. Kent Rasmussen

Twain at the can can
Illustration from first edition of

That is the Can-can. The idea of it is to dance as wildly, as noisily, as furiously as you can; expose yourself as much as possible if you are a woman; and kick as high as you can, no matter which sex you belong to. There is no word of exaggeration in this. Any of the staid, respectable, aged people who were there that night can testify to the truth of that statement. There were a good many such people present. I suppose French morality is not of that strait-laced description which is shocked at trifles.
- The Innocents Abroad

A French married lady cannot enter even a menagerie without bringing the purity of that menagerie under suspicion.
- Mark Twain's Notebooks and Journals, Notebook #19, July 1880-January 1882

The objects of which Paris folks are fond--literature, art, medicine and adultery.
- - speech at the Stanley Club in Paris, ca. April 1879

France has neither winter nor summer nor morals--apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country.
- Mark Twain's Notebook

I like to look at a Russian or a German or an Italian--I even like to look at a Frenchman if I ever have the luck to catch him engaged in anything that ain't delicate.
- Extract from Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven

France has usually been governed by prostitutes.
- Notebook #18, Feb.- Sept. 1879

A Frenchman's home is where another man's wife is.
- Notebook #18, Feb.- Sept. 1879

It has always been a marvel to me -- that French language; it has always been a puzzle to me. How beautiful that language is! How expressive it seems to be! How full of grace it is! And when it comes from lips like those [of Sarah Bernhardt], how eloquent and how limpid it is! And, oh, I am always deceived--I always think I am going to understand it.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

19th century French poster

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.
- The Innocents Abroad

There is nothing lower than the human race except the French.
- quoted by Carl Dolmetsch, Our Famous Guest

It is human to like to be praised; one can even notice it in the French.
- "What Paul Bourget Thinks of Us"

In certain public indecencies the difference between a dog & a Frenchman is not perceptible.
- Notebook #17, October 1878 - February 1879

It appears that at last census that every man in France over 16 years of age & under 116, has at least 1 wife to whom he has never been married. French novels, talk, drama & newspaper bring daily & overwhelming proofs that the most of the married ladies have paramours. This makes a good deal of what we call crime, and the French call sociability.
- Notebook #18, Feb.- Sept. 1879

French are the connecting link between man & the monkey.
- Notebook #18, Feb.- Sept. 1879

Trivial Americans go to Paris when they die.
- Notebook #18, Feb.- Sept. 1879

It is the language for lying compliment, for illicit love & for the conveying of exquisitely nice shades of meaning in bright graceful & trivial conversations--the conveying, especially of double-meanings, a decent & indecent one so blended as--nudity thinly veiled, but gauzily & lovelily.
- Notebook #18, Feb.- Sept. 1879

...anywhere is better than Paris. Paris the cold, Paris the drizzly, Paris the rainy, Paris the damnable. More than a hundred years ago somebody asked Quin, "Did you ever see such a winter in all your life before?" "Yes," said he, "Last summer." I judge he spent his summer in Paris. Let us change the proverb; Let us say all bad Americans go to Paris when they die. No, let us not say it for this adds a new horror to Immortality.
- letter to Lucius Fairchild, 28 April 1880, reprinted in Mark Twain, The Letter Writer

An isolated & helpless young girl is perfectly safe from insult by a Frenchman, if he is dead.
- Notebook #20, Jan. 1882 - Feb. 1883

A dead Frenchman has many good qualities, many things to recommend him; many attractions--even innocencies. Why cannot we have more of these?
- Notebook #20, Jan. 1882 - Feb. 1883

By the last census it appears that every Frenchman over 16 years old and under 116 has at least one wife to whom he has not been married. This occasions a good deal of what we call crime and the French call sociability.
- "The Grand Prix," published in Who Is Mark Twain?


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