Putting Words in Mark Twain's Mouth

By Carl M. Cannon - December 10, 2012

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So, too, is it with right quotes.

Here is the Huffington Post list:

1. “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” [Not Twain; Robert Jones Burdette.]

2. “I have a higher and grander standard of principle than George Washington. He could not lie; I can, but I won’t.” [True]

3. “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn’t matter.” [Not Twain; Satchel Paige]

4. “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” [This is Twain, but slightly garbled.]

5. “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.” [True]

6. “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” [Not Twain; Maurice Switzer.]

7. “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.” [Not Twain. Source unknown, but earliest documented usage, according to famed quote verifier Ralph Keyes, is the Dec. 31, 1914, edition of a South Carolina newspaper.]

8. “Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” [Probably Twain; found in “More Maxims of Mark,” a 1927 collection of quotes considered mostly reliable.]

9. “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” [Not Twain; this is a variation on an old joke -- told by W.C. Fields, among others -- about drinking. It was first applied to smoking, and to Twain, by the Journal of the American Medical Association and Reader’s Digest in the 1940s.]

10. “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” [True]

11. “In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.” [True]

12. “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.” [Not Twain; Oscar Wilde said something close to this, but variations of this sentiment predate Twain by centuries. The “Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs” traces similar lines to the 14th century.]

13. “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” [Not Twain. Earliest known source is 19th century essayist Grant Allen.]

14. “After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.” [True]

15. “Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it.” [No source for this adage, which sounds nothing like Twain.]

16. “Classic -- a book which people praise and don’t read.” [True]

17. “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.” [No known source for this peculiar idea linking it to Twain or anyone else.]

18. “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you're inclined to write ‘very,’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” [Not Twain. This was said by famed Kansas newspaper editor William Allen White.]

19. “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're misinformed.” [Not Twain; no known source.]

20. “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” [Probably true.]

21. “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” [Unknown source; nothing tying it to Twain.]

22. “Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.” [Not Twain; source unknown.]

23. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” [Not Twain -- and this line has no known source -- but as “Mark Twain in Eruption” points out, he did say: “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.”]

24. “A clear conscience is the sure sign of a bad memory.” [Not Twain; no known source, and nearly the opposite of his expressed sentiments.]

25. “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” [Not Twain; “Yale Book of Quotations” traces it back long before Twain was born to French mathematician Blaise Pascal, who expressed this sentiment in 1657, and to John Locke (1690) and Benjamin Franklin (1750). It’s a reflective observation, but it’s not Mark Twain’s.]

26. “Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” [True]

27. “There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.” [True] 

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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