If There Is a God, He Is a Malign Thug

Mark Twain? Clara Clemens? Justin Kaplan? Harlan Ellison? Darrell Schweitzer? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Famous author Mark Twain was grief-stricken when his daughter Susy died at age 24. The following expression of bitter despair has been ascribed to him:

If there is a God, he is a malign thug.

Oddly, no one has presented a good citation, and I have become skeptical of this attribution. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has been unable to find this precise statement in the writings, dictations, or speeches of Mark Twain. It does not appear on the Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt, 1 nor does it appear in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2 Further, it does not appear in the specialized volume “The Bible According to Mark Twain: Writings on Heaven, Eden, and the Flood” edited by Howard G. Baetzhold and Joseph B. McCullough. 3

QI conjectures that this statement was incorrectly derived from the 1966 book “Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography” by Justin Kaplan. The distinctive phrase “malign thug” occurred when Kaplan was attempting to depict the thoughts of Mark Twain. Kaplan was not directly quoting Twain. Details are given further below.

Twain’s thoughts about religion were complex, contradictory, and heterodox. He did not want some of his controversial opinions to be published until many years after his death which occurred in 1910. Yet, the 1912 book “Mark Twain: A Biography: The Personal and Literary Life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens” by Albert Bigelow Paine did contain some previously unpublished theological material written by Twain. Paine estimated that the following text was written in the early 1880s: 4

I do not believe in special providences. I believe that the universe is governed by strict and immutable laws. If one man’s family is swept away by a pestilence and another man’s spared it is only the law working: God is not interfering in that small matter, either against the one man or in favor of the other.

This conception of an aloof God-like being does not really fit the notion of a “malign thug”. Yet, Twain did use the adjectives “malign” and “malignant” when describing the Biblical deity during dictations recorded later in his life in 1906. See the passages from “The Bible According to Mark Twain” presented further below.

Below are additional selected citations.

Continue reading If There Is a God, He Is a Malign Thug


  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched February 19, 2019) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified with search)
  3. 1995, The Bible According to Mark Twain: Writings on Heaven, Eden, and the Flood, Edited by Howard G. Baetzhold and Joseph B. McCullough, (Quotation is absent), University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia. (Verified on paper)
  4. 1912, Mark Twain: A Biography: The Personal and Literary Life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens by Albert Bigelow Paine, Volume 4, Chapter 295: Mark Twain’s Religion, Quote Page 1583, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans)

Conspiracy: The Pursuance of Policies Which They Dare Not Admit in Public

Mark Twain? Ossip Gabrilowitsch? Clara Clemens? Apocryphal?

clemens11Dear Quote Investigator: I’m conducting a research check on a television script containing a definition for the term “conspiracy” credited to Mark Twain. The definition notes that the conspiring participants “dare not admit in public” the secret agreement. Are you familiar with this quotation? Is the attribution to Twain accurate?

Quote Investigator: The ascription of this conspiracy quotation to Mark Twain is incorrect. Instead, Twain’s son-in-law, a prominent musician named Ossip Gabrilowitsch, probably crafted the quotation.

In 1909 Twain’s daughter Clara Clemens married Gabrilowitsch, a concert pianist who became the director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He died in 1936, and she published a biographical work titled “My Husband, Gabrilowitsch” in 1938. Clara Clemens included an excerpt from a letter written by Gabrilowitsch who believed that local musicians in Detroit were not being evaluated and hired in an equitable manner by the Symphony Society. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Do you mean to infer that a man from New York or Boston, all things being equal, should have the preference over the Detroit man and should even receive a larger fee? Neither you nor the Board of Directors would be willing to own up to such a policy. Why, it would amount practically to a conspiracy (for a conspiracy is nothing but a secret agreement of a number of men for the pursuance of policies which they dare not admit in public).

Since the passage above was presented as text from a Gabrilowitsch letter he was the most likely author of the quotation in boldface; however, it remains conceivable that Clara Clemens added the parenthetical elaboration; thus, she was the creator of the statement. Whichever possibility was true, one may still conclude that Mark Twain was not the coiner.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Conspiracy: The Pursuance of Policies Which They Dare Not Admit in Public


  1. 1938, My Husband, Gabrilowitsch by Clara Clemens, Quote Page 147, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans; great thanks to Barbara Schmidt )