Mark Twain On Deception

“[W]hen a person cannot deceive himself the chances are against his being able to deceive other people.” – Mark Twain, February 14, 1906, dictation, Autobiography of Mark Twain, I, 357
I’ve added this to the list of Mark Twain quotations that display more or less randomly on the top of the right hand column of Abnormal Interests’ home page.

3 thoughts on “Mark Twain On Deception”

  1. Glen,
    I need to look into it but it is possible that Twain actually knew or knew of Buddhist and Confucian works well enough to have been more or less channeling something he read, not quoting not even thinking of Buddhist and Confucian ideas but just working under their influence.
    I can’t see that he ever had anything in his personal library that might have informed this thought but I don’t think anyone knows for sure everything he read. He had extremely broad interests. He headed a rather early (Apr. 1867) letter to Charles Stoddard with a Chinese epigram “Confucius” with simulated Chinese characters. In this letter, Twain was responding to an autograph album that Stoddard had sent him a couple of day earlier. It’s not completely clear to me what the epigram is about unless it is a spoof “autograph” of Confucius. The whole letter is a bit of an expended but extremely literate joke. Twain also remarks on Buddha and Buddhism a least once in Following the Equator, nothing too profound. He was deeply interested in American policy toward China. He knew and admired Anson Burlingame. He also owned a book on Korea that I think also dealt with current issues. In his early life, he had contact with and interest in the Chinese populations in Nevada and California, a subject he dealt with in a few newspaper essays and in Roughing It. But from his almost exclusive emphasis on ancestor worship, it’s not clear how well he understood the whole of their beliefs.
    All the same, it would be interesting to know how much he knew of Confucian or Buddhist thought by 1906. My guess is that it was more than we might think.

  2. Judging by what little I know of Twain’s character, he questioned everything with his brutally sharp perception. Questioning is the first step to shedding illusions but this search for truth is no more unique to Buddhists than to Plato… in principle.
    But as you say, events of his lifetime suggest something different. Thanks for sharing these facts on his abnormally interesting life. ;o) I notice that in general he lived in a time when fervour for Eastern studies was rising. So I find it unlikely that he, clearly being a learned man, would have failed to read something on eastern philosophy during his busy life.

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