I was thirteen when my mother took me on a special trip through the midwest. She took me to two special historical homes of great midwesterners: Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois and Mark Twain’s boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri. As a kid, my mother introduced me to the stories of Tom Sawyer and like every young boy, I wanted to live the adventures just like Tom. As I grew up, I graduated to read more of his classics.
I was born in Missouri and spent my formative years there so Mark Twain has a special place in my heart. I have made it a goal to re-read The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn every couple years to be reminded of the importance of learning about people who are different than me and look at life as an eternal adventure. I read it again this past week and watched Ken Burns’ 2001 Documentary on Mark Twain so he’s fresh on my mind. Every time I read a book by ole Samuel Langhorne Clemens (his real name), I learn something new about him.
Twain possessed a wisdom and originality that was unmatched.
Based on learning about Mark Twain, here are Mark Twain’s top five secrets about life.
1. He traveled.
Early in his life, Twain recognized the power of ‘travel’, living on the Mississippi River. Early on in his writing and reporting career, he ventured out to the western United States and then Hawaii, Europe, and other places throughout the world.. This inspired him to write classics like The Innocents Abroad and Following the Equator. He was inspired by travel to write and learned more about other people by doing so.
2. He never forgot his roots.
After writing great travel classics like The Innocents Abroad, he would go back every few books to write about his life. He mastered the idea of ‘write what you know.’ His heart was all over the world but it started on the Mississippi River in Missouri. Start reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, and The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn to see.
3. He took time to get to know people who were very different than he.
Once, Twain supported a young African American to pay his way through Yale and then law school. That man was one who later mentored a young Thurgood Marshall, our first African-American on the Supreme Court. Twain used his writing style and influence to help shape post-Civil War America.
4. He failed and he failed.
Throughout his life, Twain published numerous books. Not all achieved the success of The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn but he continued to write. I work in publishing and most books fail to achieve an acceptable level of financial success. He was not immune to failure with his books but he kept writing and trying new things until the day he died.
5. He found humor, even in the dark.
Mark Twain was known as one of the first stand up comics. He dreaded speaking tours but he treated his lectures became like standup comedy. Laughter is what makes life special and he was the master of his day.
The Quotable Mark Twain
Mark Twain is one of the most quotable people to have lived on earth. Here are some of my favorite quotes from him.
“Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”
“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”
“I would rather have my ignorance than another man’s knowledge, because I have so much more of it.”
“It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either.”
“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”
“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”
“Classic: A book which people praise and don’t read.”
“The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.”
“Never argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”
“God created war so that Americans would learn geography.”
“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”
“There’s one way to find out if a man is honest: ask him; if he says yes, you know he’s crooked.”
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
Take some time this year to read a book by Mark Twain and study his great life. Enjoy his wit and be inspired by his adventures.