Mark Twain? Merle Johnson? Caroline Thomas Harnsberger? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Mark Twain once spoke about the number of fools in the world. He did not believe that there were too many fools, but he did suggest that lightning strikes were not ideally distributed. Would you please help me to find a citation for this quip which presents the precise phrasing employed by Twain?
Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a slim volume titled “More Maxims of Mark” containing quotations ascribed to Twain which was privately printed as a limited edition of fifty copies 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.
The Rubenstein Rare Book Library at Duke University holds copy 14 of 50, and a friend of QI’s was able to access it. The adage appears on page 13. Below is the saying together with the two preceding items. All the maxims in the work were presented in uppercase. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
TO BE GOOD IS NOBLE, BUT TO SHOW OTHERS HOW TO BE GOOD IS NOBLER, AND NO TROUBLE.
THE TIME TO BEGIN WRITING AN ARTICLE IS WHEN YOU HAVE FINISHED IT TO YOUR SATISFACTION.
THE TROUBLE AIN’T THAT THERE IS TOO MANY FOOLS, BUT THAT THE LIGHTNING AIN’T DISTRIBUTED RIGHT.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1927, More Maxims of Mark by Mark Twain, Compiled by Merle Johnson, Quote Page 13, First edition privately printed November 1927; Number 14 of 50 copies. (Verified via image; thanks to the Rubenstein Library at Duke University; special thanks to Mike) ↩