Category Archives: Mark Twain

The Secret of Getting Ahead Is Getting Started

Mark Twain? Agatha Christie? Sally Berger? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: To overcome procrastination one must initiate a task. Although this is straightforward advice it is an arcane approach according to the following adage:

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

The famed humorist Mark Twain and the popular mystery writer Agatha Christie have both received credit for his formula. Yet, I have not found any solid citations. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1923 a partial match occurred within a newspaper advertisement for a bank in Coshocton, Ohio which was encouraging readers to open an account and start saving money. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Half the game of getting ahead is getting started. Join today, and have a lump sum, plus a pleased feeling, early next December.

The next week the same passage appeared in an advertisement for a bank in Massillon, Ohio. 2

In 1968 an exact match appeared in the compilation “20,000 Quips and Quotes” edited by Evan Esar. No attribution was specified: 3

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

QI believes that the statement evolved over time and the earliest instances were anonymous. The attributions to Mark Twain and Agatha Christie occurred late and were not substantive.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1923 December 9, The Coshocton Tribune, (Advertisement for Commercial National Bank of Coshocton, Ohio), Quote Page 3, Column 6, Coshocton, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1923 December 15, The Evening Independent, (Advertisement for The First Savings & Loan Company in Massillon, Ohio), Quote Page 4, Column 4, Massillon, Ohio. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes by Evan Esar, Topic: Beginning, Quote Page 71, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)

If I Cannot Swear in Heaven I Shall Not Stay There

Mark Twain? Albert Bigelow Paine? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There are a set of statements attributed to the famous humorist Mark Twain about allowable behaviors in heaven:

  • If I cannot swear in heaven I shall not stay there.
  • If I cannot drink bourbon in heaven, then I shall not go.
  • If I can’t smoke cigars in heaven, I won’t stay there long.

Did Twain really make any of these remarks?

Quote Investigator: After Mark Twain’s death in 1910 Albert Bigelow Paine who was his friend became his literary executor with access to his papers and notebooks. In 1912 Paine published an important multi-volume biography of Twain.

In 1935 Paine published “Mark Twain’s Notebook” which included observations, ideas, and diary-like material from Twain’s collection of notebooks. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

If all men were rich, all men would be poor.

Let us swear while we may, for in heaven it will not be allowed.

Familiarity breeds contempt. How accurate that is. The reason we hold truth in such respect is because we have so little opportunity to get familiar with it.

If I cannot swear in heaven I shall not stay there.

Twain wrote down notions such as those above in his notebooks because he felt they might be useful later while composing a speech, essay, or story. Paine selected items from the notebooks for the 1935 publication.

QI has not yet found comments about smoking or drinking that match the template of the remark about swearing.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1935, Mark Twain’s Notebook by Mark Twain, Edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, Chapter 31: In Vienna, Quote Page 345, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified on paper)

The More I Know About People, the Better I Like Dogs

Mark Twain? Madame de Sévigné? Madame Roland? Alphonse de Lamartine? Alphonse Toussenel? Louise de la Rameé? Alfred D’Orsay? Thomas Carlyle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular expression combines disappointment with humanity together with praise for canines. Here are four versions:

  • The more I see of men, the more I like dogs.
  • The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.
  • The more I know about people, the better I like my dog.
  • The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.

These words have been attributed to Mark Twain and Alphonse Toussenel. Would you please explore the statement’s provenance?

Quote Investigator: Top quotation researcher Ralph Keyes remarked on the long history of ascriptions to a variety of famous French figures: 1

They include the inimitable letter-writer Madame de Sévigné (Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné, 1626-1696), the revolutionary writer Madame Roland (Marie-Jeanne Philipon, 1754-1793), author-politician Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869), author Alphonse Toussenel (1803-1885), and author Louise de la Rameé (1839-1908).

Yet, QI and other researchers have not yet found any published evidence in the 1600s or 1700s; hence, the linkage to Madame de Sévigné and Madame Roland is currently unsupported.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in “Tablettes Historiques et Littéraires” in 1822, and the attribution was anonymous. Passages in French are followed by English translations. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

Nous venons de recevoir le Miroir de la Somme, il contient les niaiseries suivantes: Une dame disait l’autre jour: plus je connais les hommes, mieux j’aime les chiens.

We just received the Mirror of the Somme, it contains the following nonsense: A lady said the other day: the more I know men, the better I like dogs.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 47, 48 and 283, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1822 November 13, Tablettes Historiques et Littéraires: Journal de l’industrie, des mœurs, des théâtres et des beaux arts, Supplément, Mélanges, Start Page 37, Quote Page 38, Lyons, France. (Google Books Full View) link

Recipe To Create a Publisher: Take an Idiot Man from a Lunatic Asylum . . .

Mark Twain? Frank Nelson Doubleday? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mark Twain apparently held a very low opinion of book publishers. He suggested that publishers could be created via a multigenerational combination of individuals from lunatic asylums. Could you please help me find a citation for this sentiment?

Quote Investigator: In 1897 Frank Nelson Doubleday and Samuel McClure cofounded the publishing company Doubleday & McClure. The new firm required a stable of successful authors; hence, Doubleday traveled to Europe to attempt to recruit luminaries such as Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain. He visited Twain in a hotel in Vienna, Austria, and the conversation contained comical barbs such as the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

He told me, among other things, that he had a perfect recipe for making a modern American publisher. “Take an idiot man from a lunatic asylum and marry him to an idiot woman, and the fourth generation of this connection should be a good publisher from the American point of view. I had a perfect publisher myself, as you know,” he said. “His name was Frank Bliss, and thank God, he is dead and gone to hell.”

In 1928 Frank Doubleday privately printed “A Few Indiscreet Recollections” and the text above was included. The slim volume was limited to fifty-seven copies, and the recipients were described with the phrase “Indulgent Relatives”.

Doubleday died in 1934. Many years later, in 1972 the privately printed material was released under the title “The Memoirs of a Publisher”. The 1972 edition included a footnote slyly pointing out that Twain’s lacerating description would ultimately apply to himself: 2

* Clemens himself later became a publisher.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1928 December, A Few Indiscreet Recollections by Frank Nelson Doubleday (Author not listed in pamphlet), Privately Printed, Not Published, For Indulgent Relatives, Written in 1926, Edition Limited to Fifty-Seven Copies, Quote Page 16, No publisher. (Verified with scans from Peter E. Blau)
  2. 1972, The Memoirs of a Publisher by F. N. Doubleday (Frank Nelson Doubleday), Chapter 10: Mark Twain and His Ways, Start Page 83, Quote Page 84, Doubleday & Company, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

Some People Are Troubled by the Things in the Bible They Can’t Understand. The Things That Trouble Me Are the Things I Can Understand

Mark Twain? Hugh Elmer Brown? Joseph Fort Newton? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Could you please help me to trace the following quotation credited to Mark Twain:

It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

The earliest citation I’ve seen is from the 1970s, but Twain died in 1910. Hence, I suspect that the ascription is inaccurate.

Quote Investigator: This quotation is difficult to research because it can be expressed in many different ways. At this time, QI has found no solid evidence that Mark Twain made this remark. No match was found during a search of the important “Twain Quotes” website edited by Barbara Schmidt. 1 Also, no match was found in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2

The earliest citation located by QI occurred in the “Watertown Daily Times” of Watertown, New York in 1915. The freestanding quotation appeared in a box. Emphasis added to excerpts: 3

Mark Twain.
Some people are troubled by the things in the Bible they can’t understand.
The things that trouble me are the things I can understand.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. Website:, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched September 22, 2017)
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1915 February 6, Watertown Daily Times, The Quiet Hour, (Freestanding quotation in a box), Quote Page 12, Column 6, Watertown, New York. (GenealogyBank)

Never Attempt To Teach a Pig To Sing; It Wastes Your Time and Annoys the Pig

Mark Twain? Robert Heinlein? Paul Dickson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Teaching a pig to sing is a futile task that aggravates the porcine student according to a popular saying. Luminary Mark Twain and science fiction author Robert Heinlein have received credit for this adage. Would you please determine the accurate ascription and the original context?

Quote Investigator: In 1973 Robert Heinlein published “Time Enough for Love” featuring a main character, Lazarus Long, who appeared in several other novels by the author. Long was a colorful individualist who had been genetically selected to live for centuries. He delivered the adage during a discussion of avarice and deceit. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I have never swindled a man. At most I kept quiet and let him swindle himself. This does no harm, as a fool cannot be protected from his folly. If you attempt to do so, you will not only arouse his animosity but also you will be attempting to deprive him of whatever benefit he is capable of deriving from experience. Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Thus, the context was the difficulty and pointlessness of communicating a lesson that an individual is unwilling or unready to learn.

The implausible ascription to Mark Twain occurred in recent decades and is unsupported.

A different saying with a distinct meaning is sometimes confused with this adage. QI has a separate article on this topic: Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1974 (Copyright 1973), Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long by Robert A. Heinlein, Section: Prelude II, Quote Page 31, A Berkley Medallion Book: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified with scans)

Never Wrestle with a Pig. You Both Get Dirty and the Pig Likes It

George Bernard Shaw? Mark Twain? Abraham Lincoln? Cyrus Stuart Ching? J. Frank Condon? Richard P. Calhoon? N. H. Eagle? Cale Yarborough? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular metaphorical adage warns individuals not to engage with disreputable critics. Here are two versions:

  1. Don’t wrestle with pigs. You both get filthy and the pig likes it.
  2. Never wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty and the pig enjoys it.

This saying has been credited to a triumvirate of quotation superstars: Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and George Bernard Shaw. I doubt these ascriptions because I haven’t seen any solid citations. Would you please investigate?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Twain, Lincoln, or Shaw crafted this saying. Each was given credit only many years after death.

The adage evolved in a multistep multi-decade process. An interesting precursor was in circulation by 1776. QI has a separate article about that saying: Don’t wrestle with a chimney sweep or you will get covered with grime.

In 1872 a partial match using “hog” instead of “pig” appeared within a letter by J. Frank Condon published in an Ebensburg, Pennsylvania newspaper. Condon was responding to a previous verbal fusillade. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

It has been remarked by a wise man that he who wrestles with a hog must expect to be spattered with filth, whether he is vanquished or not. This maxim I have long known and appreciated; nevertheless, there are occasions when it must be disregarded. A man may be attacked in such a way that he is compelled to flagellate his hogship, even at the risk of being contaminated by the unclean beast.

The label “maxim” and the phrase “long known” signaled that the saying was not constructed for the letter; instead, it was already in circulation. This simpler adage differed from the modern version because it did not mention the contentment of the swine.

The earliest strong match for the modern saying located by QI appeared in the January 3, 1948 issue of “The Saturday Evening Post” within a profile of Cyrus Stuart Ching who was the head of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The ellipsis is in the original text: 2

A man in the audience began heckling him with a long series of nasty and irrelevant questions. For a while Ching answered patiently. Finally he held up his big paw and waggled it gently.

“My friend,” he said, “I’m not going to answer any more of your questions. I hope you won’t take this personally, but I am reminded of something my old uncle told me, long ago, back on the farm. He said. ‘What’s the sense of wrestling with a pig? You both get all over muddy . . . and the pig likes it.'”

Ching did not claim coinage; instead, he credited an unnamed uncle who may have been relaying a pre-existing item of folk wisdom. Oddly, another later citation shows Ching crediting his grandfather. Whatever the source, Ching did help to popularize the expression.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1872 February 3, The Cambria Freeman, Communication, (Letter to the Editor from J. Frank Condon; letter date Jan 29, 1872), Quote Page 3, Column 4, Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com and Chronicling America)
  2. 1948 January 3, Saturday Evening Post, Volume 220 Number 27, The Two-Fisted Wisdom of Ching by Beverly Smith, Start Page 15, Quote Page 58, Column 1, Saturday Evening Post Society, Inc., Indianapolis Indiana. (Academic Search Premier Ebsco)

Put All Your Eggs in One Basket, and Then Watch That Basket

Mark Twain? Andrew Carnegie? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Proverbial wisdom tells us never to put all our eggs in one basket, but a humorous inversion of that advice has been ascribed to the renowned humorist Mark Twain and the business titan Andrew Carnegie. Who should receive credit?

Quote Investigator: On June 23, 1885 Andrew Carnegie addressed the students of Curry Commercial College of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He gave pungent advice to the learners which included a repudiation of the traditional adage about baskets and eggs. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The concerns which fail are those which have scattered their capital, which means that they have scattered their brains also. They have investments in this, or that, or the other, here, there and everywhere. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is all wrong. I tell you “put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket.” Look round you and take notice; men who do that do not often fail. It is easy to watch and carry the one basket. It is trying to carry too many baskets that breaks most eggs in this country. He who carries three baskets must put one on his head, which is apt to tumble and trip him up. One fault of the American business man is lack of concentration.

The text above was from a collection of speeches and essays published by Carnegie in 1902. The date and location of the speech were specified in the book. Contemporaneous news accounts also mentioned the event. For example, on August 19, 1885 “The Yonkers Statesman” of Yonkers, New York described the talk under the title “Success in Business”. The phrasing varied: “I tell you” versus “We tell you”, but the adage was identical: 2

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is all wrong. We tell you “put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket.”

Mark Twain heard about Carnegie’s remark, and he was intrigued enough to record it in one of his notebooks. Later, he employed the reversed adage as a chapter epigraph in his tale titled “Pudd’nhead Wilson”. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order including detailed citations for Twain. Continue reading


  1. 1902, The Empire of Business by Andrew Carnegie, The Road to Business Success: A Talk to Young Men, (From an address to Students of the Curry Commercial College, Pittsburg, June 23, 1885), Start Page 3, Quote page 17, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. (HathiTrust) link
  2. 1885 August 19, The Yonkers Statesman, Success in Business, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Yonkers, New York. (Old Fulton)

There Is No God, and Harriet Martineau Is His Prophet

Prophet: Harriet Martineau? William Tweed? John Tyndall? Auguste Comte? Robert G. Ingersoll? Karl Marx? Charles Darwin? Herbert Spencer? Henry George Atkinson? Paul Dirac? Felix Adler?
Critic: Mark Twain? Douglas William Jerrold? George Grote? J. P. Jacobsen? Isaac M. Wise? Wolfgang Pauli?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent physicist Paul Dirac was hostile toward religion, and sometimes he would lecture his colleagues on the topic. One fellow scientist responded with a humorous summary of Dirac’s metaphysical position:

There is no God and Dirac is His prophet.

Do you know who crafted this expression? Would you please explore its history?

Quote Investigator: Substantive evidence indicates that physicist Wolfgang Pauli coined the statement above, but this template has an extensive history, and many different names have appeared in analogous phrases in the past.

The earliest template matches located by QI referred to Harriet Martineau and Henry George Atkinson who together published a controversial work titled “Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development” in 1851. 1 Contemporaries believed that the duo was espousing atheism, and both faced tremendous criticism; in April 1851 a periodical about mesmerism printed a statement referring to Atkinson. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

A celebrated wit declares the great religious view of the book to be, There is no God, and Mr. Atkinson is his prophet.—Zoist.

In July 1851 a piece in “The Worcestershire Chronicle” of Worcestershire, England discussed an essay that analyzed the pair’s book. The following jest was aimed at Martineau: 3

Two valuable essays on “The History of Logic” and “Primitive Alphabets” are followed by one on “Materialism,” in which Miss Martineau and her tutor, “Henry George Atkinson, F.G.S.,” are treated to a little commonsense criticism. Her theory—so ably epitomised by a popular writer of the present day—”that there is no God, and that Miss Martineau is his prophet,” finds no quarter at the hands of the talented reviewer…

The “popular writer” was probably the dramatist Douglas William Jerrold as stated in a September 1851 newspaper item. Additional selected citations in chronological order appear below. Continue reading


  1. 1851, Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development by Henry George Atkinson and Harriet Martineau, Published by Josiah P. Mendum, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1851 April, The Zoist: A Journal of Cerebral Physiology & Mesmerism and Their Applications to Human Welfare, Number 33, XVII: The Fire-away Style of Philosophy briefly Examined and Illustrated by Anti-Glorioso, Footnote, Start Page 65, Quote Page 67, Hippolyte Bailliere, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1851 July 23, Worcestershire Chronicle, Literary Notices: The Church of England Quarterly Review, Quote Page 6, Column 2, Worcestershire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

It Is Wiser To Find Out Than To Suppose

Mark Twain? Merle Johnson? Apocryphal?

twain07Dear Quote Investigator: I would like to use the following adage during a presentation to a large group:

It is wiser to find out than to suppose.

I plan to credit Mark Twain, but I know that if I am wrong it will be very embarrassing because the entire point of the remark will be undermined. Would you please help me to replace a supposition with a fact? Can you find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a small compilation titled “More Maxims of Mark” containing quotations ascribed to Twain that was privately printed as a limited edition in November 1927 by Merle Johnson who was a rare book collector. Johnson published the first careful bibliography of Twain’s works in 1910 shortly after the writer’s death. Twain scholars believe that the sayings compiled by Johnson in this book are genuine.

A friend of QI’s accessed volume number 14 of 50 in the Rubenstein Rare Book Library at Duke University and verified that the adage was printed on page number 8. Below is the saying together with the two succeeding entries. All the maxims in the work were presented in uppercase. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1


Here are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1927, More Maxims of Mark by Mark Twain, Compiled by Merle Johnson, Quote Page 8, First edition privately printed November 1927; Number 14 of 50 copies. (Verified on paper; thanks to the Rubenstein Library at Duke University; special thanks to Mike)