She Was a Sinking Vessel with No Freight to Throw Overboard

Mark Twain? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have heard the following quote attributed to Mark Twain:

A man who doesn’t smoke is like a sinking ship with no rats to desert it.

True of false?

Quote Investigator: QI was unable to locate a close match for that quotation in the works of Mark Twain; however, QI did find an anecdote about a woman who did not smoke, drink, or swear. The woman was ill, and Twain employed a figure of speech that compared her plight to that of a sinking vessel without any freight to throw overboard. This episode was presented in the 1897 travel book “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World”, and it may have been transmuted over time to yield the questioner’s quotation.

Here is an excerpt from Twain’s book describing the medical advice he offered to the woman [FESF]:

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