The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it. —Mark Twain, How to Tell a Story (1897)
At the beginning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Mark Twain presents a notice that recalls the book curses of old: “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR.” Looking at this quote today, one might think that it is meant to apply not just to his most famous work, but to his whole corpus and public persona alike. After all, Twain has been alternately canonized and deputized not just by enthusiasts of American Literature but by whole swaths of the populace, from humorists to skeptics to golf-haters, with the result being a profusion of quotations erroneously attributed to the great novelist. In honor of his 181st birthday, let’s dwell a while on some quotations that actually do belong to Mark Twain.