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Selected Excerpts: 'Autobiography Of Mark Twain, Volume 1'

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1

On Watermelons As A Metaphor For Life

"I know how a prize watermelon looks when it is sunning its fat rotundity among pumpkin vines and 'simblins;' I know how to tell when its ripe without 'plugging' it; I know how inviting it looks when its cooling itself in a tub of water under the bed, waiting; I know how it looks when it lies on the table in the sheltered great floor-space between house and kitchen, and the children gathered for the sacrifice and their mouths watering; I know the crackling sound it makes when the carving knife enters its end, and I can see the split fly along in front of the blade as the knife cleaves its way to the other end; I can see the halves fall apart and display the rich red meat and the black seeds, and the heart standing up, a luxury fit for the elect; I know how a boy looks, behind a yard long slice of that melon, and I know how he feels for I have been there. I know the watermelon which has been honestly come by and I know the taste of the watermelon which has been acquired by art. Both taste good, but the experienced know which tastes best."

On Not Sweating The Small Fries

"This book is not a revenge-record. When I build a fire under a person in it, I do not do it merely because of the enjoyment I get out of seeing him fry, but because he is worth the trouble. It is then a compliment, a distinction; let him give thanks and keep quiet. I do not fry the small, the commonplace, the unworthy."

On James W. Paige, Inventor Of A Typesetting Machine In Which Twain Invested

"…the little bright-eyed, alert, smartly dressed inventor of the machine, is a most extraordinary compound of business thrift and commercial insanity; of cold calculation and jejune sentimentality; of veracity and falsehood; of fidelity and treachery; of nobility and badness; of pluck and cowardice; of wasteful liberality and pitiful stinginess; of solid sense and weltering moonshine; of towering genius and trivial ambitions; of merciful bowels and a petrified heart; of colossal vanity and -- But there the opposites stop. His vanity stands alone…"

On A Maid He Called "Wuthering Heights"

"Her talk is my circus, my menagerie, my fireworks, my spiritual refreshment. When she is at it I would rather be there than at a fire. She talks but little to me, for I understand only about half that she says, and I have had the sagacity not to betray that I understand that half…"

On His Autobiography Plan

"It is a system which is a complete and purposed jumble -- a course which begins nowhere, follows no specific route, and can never reach an end while I am alive, for the reason that if I should talk to the stenographer two hours a day for a hundred years, I should still never be able to set down a tenth part of the things which have interested me in my lifetime."

On Hartford Bliss Of The American Publishing Company

"He was a tall, lean, skinny, yellow, toothless, bald-headed, rat-eyed professional liar and scoundrel."

On Introductions

"The house, very much against his will, forced him to ascend the platform and introduce me. He stood thinking a moment and then said:

'I don't know anything about this man. At least I know only two things: one is, he hasn't been in the penitentiary, and the other is (after a pause, and almost sadly), I don't know why.'

That worked well for a while, then the newspapers printed it and took the juice out of it, and after that I gave up introductions altogether."

On Forming An Opinion

"In the matter of slavish imitation, man is the monkey's superior all the time. The average man is destitute of independence of opinion. He is not interested in contriving an opinion of his own, by study and reflection, but is only anxious to find out what his neighbor's opinion is and slavishly adopt it."

On Critics

"It is the will of God that we must have critics, and missionaries, and Congressmen, and humorists, and we must bear the burden. Meantime, I seem to have been drifting into criticism myself. But that is nothing. At the worst, criticism is nothing more than a crime, and I am not unused to that."

Excerpted from Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 by Mark Twain. Edited by Harriet E. Smith. Copyright 2010 by the Mark Twain Foundation. Excerpted by permission of University of California Press.

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