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



...history can carry on no successful competition with news, in the matter of sharp interest. When an eye-witness sets down in narrative form some extraordinary occurrence which he has witnessed, that is news -- that is the news form, and its interest is absolutely indestructible; time can have no deteriorating effect upon that episode.
- Autobiographical dictation, 15 January 1906. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (University of California Press, 2010)

Photo of Mark Twain bas relief from the
Dave Thomson collection.

A historian who would convey the truth must lie. Often he must enlarge the truth by diameters, otherwise his reader would not be able to see it.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

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."
- Acknowledgments for A Horse's Tale

It is not worthwhile to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man's character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible.
- Autobiographical dication, 15 January 1907. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2 (University of California Press, 2013)

Republics are impermanent; in time they perish, and in most cases stay under the sod, but the overthrown Monarchy gets back in the saddle again by and by. The idea was -- in other and familiar words -- history repeats itself: whatever has been the rule in history may be depended upon to remain the rule.
- Autobiographical dictation, 16 July 1908. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 3 (University of California Press, 2015)


History requires a world of time and bitter hard work when your "education" is no further advanced than the cat's; when you are merely stuffing yourself with a mixed-up mess of empty names and random incidents and elusive dates; which no one teaches you how to interpret, and which, uninterpreted, pay you not a farthing's value for your waste of time.
- Following the Equator

The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.
- Following the Equator

Photo courtesy of Dave Thomson

One of the most admirable things about history is, that almost as a rule we get as much information out of what it does not say as we get out of what it does say. And so, one may truly and axiomatically aver this, to-wit: that history consists of two equal parts; one of these halves is statements of fact, the other half is inference, drawn from the facts. To the experienced student of history there are no difficulties about this; to him the half which is unwritten is as clearly and surely visible, by the help of scientific inference, as if it flashed and flamed in letters of fire before his eyes. When the practised eye of the simple peasant sees the half of a frog projecting above the water, he unerringly infers the half of the frog which he does not see. To the expert student in our great science, history is a frog; half of it is submerged, but he knows it is there, and he knows the shape of it.
"The Secret History of Eddypus"

The minor events of history are valuable, although not always showy and picturesque.
- "The Game" instruction sheet for Mark Twain's Memory Builder

Many public-school children seem to know only two dates--1492 and 4th of July; and as a rule they don't know what happened on either occasion.
- "The Game" instruction sheet for Mark Twain's Memory Builder


Nature, when pleased with an idea, never tires of applying it. She makes plains; she makes hills; she makes mountains; raises a conspicuous peak at wide intervals; then loftier and rarer ones, continents apart; and finally a supreme one six miles high. She uses this grading process in horses: she turns out myriads of them that are all of one common dull gait; with here and there a faster one; at enormous intervals a conspicuously faster one; and once in a half century a celebrity that does a mile in two minutes. She will repeat that horse every fifty years to the end of time.

By the Law of Periodical Repetition, everything which has happened once must happen again and again and again -- and not capriciously, but a regular periods, and each thing in its own period, not another's, and each obeying its own law. The eclipse of the sun, the occultation of Venus, the arrival and departure of the comets, the annual shower of stars -- all these things hint to us that the same Nature which orders the affairs of the earth. Let us not underrate the value of that hint.

Are there any ingenuities whereby you can discredit the law of suicide? No. It is established. If there was such and such a number in such and such a town last year, that number, substantially, will be repeated this year. That number will keep step, arbitrarily, with the increase of population, year after year. Given the population a century hence, you can determine the crop of suicides that will be harvested in that distant year.

Will this wonderful civilization of to-day perish? Yes, everything perishes. Will it rise and exist again? It will -- for nothing can happen that will not happen again. And again, and still again, forever. It took more than eight centuries to prepare this civilization -- then it suddenly began to grow, and in less than a century it is becoming a bewildering marvel. In time, it will pass away and be forgotten. Ages will elapse, then it will come again; and not incomplete, but complete; not an invention nor discovery nor any smallest detail of it missing. Again it will pass away, and after ages will rise and dazzle the world again as it dazzles it now -- perfect in all its parts once more. It is the Law of Periodical Repetition.
- "Passage from a Lecture" published in Fables of Man


Also see related topic: "How to Make History Dates Stick" available online at this site.

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