Mark Twain? Albert Bigelow Paine? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: While watching a television show recently I heard the following saying credited to Mark Twain:
The best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer somebody else up.
The writers of television series sometimes sacrifice accuracy to enable more colorful story-telling. Is this quotation really from Twain?
Quote Investigator: This quote is very close to a statement written by Mark Twain in one of his notebooks in November 1896. The first “up” is omitted, and the word “try” is included in the original quote: 1
The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer somebody else up.
After Twain died in 1910, his friend and biographer Albert Bigelow Paine became his literary executor. Paine examined a group of notebooks containing unpublished material by Twain, and he constructed a compilation of selected items. The result was published in 1935 under the title “Mark Twain’s Notebook”. The saying was printed in this posthumous work.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1948 Caroline Thomas Harnsberger published a large collection of Twain’s adages entitled “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips”, and she included the statement about cheer. 2
In 1972 Harnsberger released another collection of Twain’s sayings called “Everyone’s Mark Twain”, and again she included the quotation under investigation. 3
Quotation collector Evan Esar published “20,000 Quips & Quotes” in 1968 and included a slightly modified version of the saying containing the word “up” twice: 4
The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up. —Mark Twain
In conclusion, Mark Twain did write a version of this saying in a personal notebook in 1896, and it was published by 1935 in “Mark Twain’s Notebook”.
(Thanks to LH who noted that the saying was used in a television show recently.)
- 1935, “Mark Twain’s Notebook” by Mark Twain, Edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, Quote Page 310, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Entry: Cheerfulness, Quote Page 41, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1972, Everyone’s Mark Twain, Compiled by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Entry: Cheerfulness, Quote Page 73, A. S. Barnes and Company, South Brunswick and New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1995, 20,000 Quips & Quotes by Evan Esar, Section: Cheer, Quote Page 127, (Originally edition 1968 from Doubleday, Garden City, New York), Barnes & Noble Publishing. (Google Books Preview) ↩