Pine Nuts: What they said about Mark Twain |

Pine Nuts: What they said about Mark Twain

I’ve been compiling a list of memorable things people have had to say about Mark Twain for 30 years now, and most of them are from Twain scholars, but a few might surprise you, as being from folks you might recognize …

Twain scholar Gregg Camfield contributed this luminous observation, “Humor is the wheel on the opera glass that Twain uses to focus our attention on the serious subjects at hand.”

One of the first questions asked of our newly appointed Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice back in 2005 was about our relationship with NATO…

Dr. Rice replied, “You know, I’m tempted to say about the transatlantic relationship what I think Mark Twain apparently said about Wagner’s music: ‘It’s better than it sounds.’”

The Washington Post wrote one morning, “One good way to locate an unsafe investment is to find out whether Mark Twain has been permitted to get in on the ground floor.”

“Mark Twain was America’s uncrowned king.” – Upton Sinclair

Thirty-year housekeeper Katy Leary wrote in her book, “A Lifetime with Mark Twain,” “He was one of those people that just filled the world for you. Men don’t come any better in this world than Mr. Clemens. He swore like an angel. I suppose everybody has a few private cuss words of their own to help them over the rough places. I think myself he might have made a wonderful president. He’d been an honest one anyway! But I guess honesty ain’t the main quality that is wanted in a president.”

On April 22, 1910, (the day after Sam was promoted to glory), Theodore Roosevelt wrote from Paris: “His writings form one of the chief assets of the world’s achievements, of which we have a right, as a nation, to be genuinely proud.”

Thomas Edison proclaimed, “An American loves his family. If he has any love left over for some other person, he generally selects Mark Twain.”

Ernest Hemingway told us, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn … it is the best book we’ve had. There was nothing before. There has been nothing so good since.”

And no less than William Dean Howells wrote, “Emerson, Lowell, Holmes — I knew them all and the rest of our sages, poets, seers, critics, humorists; they were like one another and like other literary men; but Clemens was sole, incomparable, the Lincoln of our literature. (It was something fearful to see him eat escalloped oysters.”)

“Mark Twain’s baton began to mute the Anglican symphony, and strike up the rhythms of American jazz.” — Ron Powers

“Blessed is the man who finds no disillusion when he is brought face to face with a revered writer. The landing of a 12-pound salmon is nothing to it.” — Rudyard Kipling

“In the end, the man is more imposing than the sum of his work.” — Justin Kaplan

These are but a few, culled from the first two pages of the nine pages of things people had to say about Mark Twain that I’ve gathered together over the years, but I see I’m fast running out of space, so I shall leave you with this reproach from Sam’s close friend Cal Higbie, “Sam, those who criticize your writing never saw you dance.”

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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