One of the most famous collections of Mark Twain
quotations and quite a nifty little advertising gimmick to boot.
Mark Twain may have been a terrific writer, but, like many of the best, fortune seldom smiled on his bank account. When in 1893 he wrote his rather odd novel The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson he found himself somewhat strapped for cash. The eighties had not been good to him, so, judging that the ninties might be similarly unforthcoming with the green stuff, he sold all the rights to the novel to Century Magazine for immediate cash. This meant of course that Twain had no control over the way in which the work was published, and that the magazine was free to promote it in any way they saw fit. And they in their infinite wisdom saw fit to add a gimmick.
When Century Magazine published the work, they did so in installments, including as a promotional gift a pocket calendar. This calendar was a play on the structure of the novel itself, which includes at the head of each chapter a couple of witty maxims, ostensibly from a calendar the protagonist has created for his own amusement. These quotes have the effect of giving the novel some structure as well as a light and frothy texture despite its somewhat heavy subject matter.
Each of the miniature calendars produced by Century Magazine included one of these quotes for each month, a brief excerpt on fingerprinting from the novel, and an advertising blurb. The gimmick was apparently relatively successful, and the Calendar saw two full printings, one with a charming portrait of Twain at the back. The maxims remain some of the more oft quoted of Twain’s witticisms, but I’m inclined to think that that is more on account of the content than the packaging.
Such was the success of Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar that Twain would go on to publish a new set of maxims, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, in his 1897 novel Following the Equator.
The following list of maxims from the first Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar is complete to the best of my knowledge and includes all the quotes featured as chapter headings in the novel, though only some of these appeared in the promotional calendar. Enjoy.
- There is no character, howsoever good and fine, but it can be destroyed by ridicule, howsoever poor and witless. Observe the ass, for instance: his character is about perfect, he is the choicest spirit among all the humbler animals, yet see what ridicule has brought him to. Instead of feeling complimented when we are called an ass, we are left in doubt.
- Tell the truth or trump -- but get the trick.
- Adam was but human -- this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.
- Whoever has lived long enough to find out what life is, knows how deep a debt of gratitude we owe to Adam, the first great benefactor of our race. He brought death into the world.
- Adam and Eve had many advantages, but the principal one was, that they escaped teething.
- There is this trouble about special providences -- namely, there is so often a doubt as to which party was intended to be the beneficiary. In the case of the children, the bears, and the prophet, the bears got more real satisfaction out of the episode than the prophet did, because they got the children.
- Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.
- Remark of Dr. Baldwin's, concerning upstarts: We don't care to eat toadstools that think they are truffles.
- Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.
- Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs at step at a time.
- One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.
- The holy passion of Friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money.
- Consider well the proportions of things. It is better to be a young June bug than an old bird of paradise.
- Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved.
- It is easy to find fault, if one has that disposition. There was once a man who, not being able to find any other fault with his coal, complained that there were too many prehistoric toads in it.
- All say, "How hard it is that we have to die" -- a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
- When angry, count four; when very angry, swear.
- There are three infallible ways of pleasing an author, and the three form a rising scale of compliment: 1 -- to tell him you have read one of his books; 2 -- to tell him you have read all of his books; 3 -- to ask him to let you read the manuscript of his forthcoming book. No. 1 admits you to his respect; No. 2 admits you to his admiration; No. 3 carries you clear into his heart.
- As to the Adjective: when in doubt, strike it out.
- Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear -- not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward, it is not a compliment to say it is brave; it is merely a loose misapplication of the word. Consider the flea! -- incomparably the bravest of all the creatures of God, if ignorance of fear were courage. Whether you are asleep or awake he will attack you, caring nothing for the fact that in bulk and strength you are to him as are the massed armies of the earth to a sucking child; he lives both day and night and all days and nights in the very lap of peril and the immediate presence of death, and yet is no more afraid than is the man who walks the streets of a city that was threatened by an earthquake ten centuries before. When we speak of Clive, Nelson, and Putnam as men who "didn't know what fear was," we ought always to add the flea -- and put him at the head of the procession.
- When I reflect upon the number of disagreeable people who I know have gone to a better world, I am moved to lead a different life.
- October. This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks in. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August, and February.
- The true Southern watermelon is a boon apart, and not to be mentioned with commoner things. It is chief of this world's luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took: we know it because she repented.
- Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits.
- Behold, the fool saith, "Put not all thine eggs in the one basket" -- which is but a manner of saying, "Scatter your money and your attention"; but the wise man saith, "Put all your eggs in the one basket and -- watch that basket!"
- If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.
- We all know about the habits of the ant, we know all about the habits of the bee, but we know nothing at all about the habits of the oyster. It seems almost certain that we have been choosing the wrong time for studying the oyster.
- Even popularity can be overdone. In Rome, along at first, you are full of regrets that Michelangelo died; but by and by, you only regret that you didn't see him do it.
- JULY 4. Statistics show that we lose more fools on this day than in all the other days of the year put together. This proves, by the number left in stock, that one Fourth of July per year is now inadequate, the country has grown so.
- Gratitude and treachery are merely the two extremities of the same procession. You have seen all of it that is worth staying for when the band and the gaudy officials have gone by.
- THANKSGIVING DAY. Let us all give humble, hearty, and sincere thanks now, but the turkeys. In the island of Fiji they do not use turkeys; they use plumbers. It does not become you and me to sneer at Fiji.
- Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.
- It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse races.
- Even the clearest and most perfect circumstantial evidence is likely to be at fault, after all, and therefore ought to be received with great caution. Take the case of any pencil, sharpened by any woman; if you have witnesses, you will find she did it with a knife; but if you take simply the aspect of the pencil, you will say she did it with her teeth.
- He is useless on top of the ground; he ought to be under it, inspiring the cabbages.
- APRIL 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.
With many thanks to the good people at http://etext.lib.virginia.edu