One of the most prolific and beloved authors of all time, Mark Twain was an astute observer of the world around him with an uncanny ability to make light of even some of the darkest realities. Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835, he grew up along the banks of the Mississippi River. His early adventures would become the basis for his two most famous works: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn – which have been essentials to every library for the past 150 years.
Twain left school after fifth grade to become a printer’s apprentice, where he would eventually work as a typesetter and contributor of articles and satirical sketches for the Hannibal Journal. Once he turned 18, he joined the International Typographical Union – working as a printer all over the United States – and spent his evenings devouring books from local libraries.
He remained a journalist for most of his life, contributing travel, editorial, and humorous pieces to newspapers and journals all over the country. However, his first success came with the publication of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” published in The Saturday Press in 1865. He wrote prolifically for the next 10 years, before his acclaimed success transformed into fame with the publications of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in the late 1870s.
Here are some of his most keen insights into the human condition:
1. The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.
2. Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions.
3. Perseverance is a principle that should be commendable in those who have judgment to govern it.
4. Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.
5. The secret to getting ahead is getting started.
6. The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.
7. 20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.
8. Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
9. Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.
10. The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
11. Always do what is right. It will gratify half of mankind and astound the other.
12. Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
13. Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.
14. The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they know and then stop.
15. The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.
Despite the obvious fame of his literary career, Twain spent a large portion of his life suffering from deep financial crisis. Yet, even in light of the challenges he faced during his lifetime, Twain will forever remain one of the most loved American authors of all time.