Twain quote about his father's ignorance and surprising maturation (update 1915 December)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Apr 2 05:33:30 UTC 2010

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly
stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I
was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.

This is one version of a famous joke attributed to Mark Twain that is
discussed in the ADS archives of January 2010. It is also discussed in
"The Quote Verifier" and "The Yale Book of Quotations".

This short update presents the earliest citation I could locate for a
version of the story and evidence about the veracity of Twain's
"autobiographical" stories. Twain is credited with the joke in a
periodical dated December 1915 that is fully accessible at the Hathi
Trust archive. The link posted previously was to a volume restricted
to snippet view status in the Google Books archive. The date was
uncertain, and the text was unverified.

When Google restricts access to snippet view it makes sense to check and because the same work is
occasionally available in full view. This advice is particularly
pertinent to public domain works. This is also old advice to all but
neophytes (like me). Thanks to a librarian named Dan at the University
of Michigan who directed me to the Hathi Trust archive, and thanks to
Bill Mullins who mentioned Hathi Trust several months ago.

Citation: 1915 December, The Square Deal edited by Joseph W. Bryce,
Found in the Black Chest by Fred N. Rindge, Vol. 17, Page 160, Column
2, Square Deal Press. (Hathi Trust full view)

It reminds one of something Mark Twain said to the effect that when he
was seventeen he couldn't bear to have his Father around while they
were discussing important questions but when he was twenty-five it was
wonderful how the old man had improved.
Hathi Trust Permanent Link:

The second earliest cite was found by Vic Steinbok during the earlier
discussion on the ADS list.

Citation: 1916 March, Missouri State Board of Agriculture: Monthly
Bulletin, Country Life Questions and Answers, Page 56, Vol. XIV, No.
3, State Dept. of Agriculture, Missouri.

Somthing (sic) like Mark Twain. At the age of seventeen Mark says he
thought his father the most ignorant man in all the world and just
couldn't stand him about. At the age of twenty-three he found that his
father knew a few things and he could put up with him occasionally; at
the age of twenty-seven he knew that his father was the smartest man
in all the world and he just doted on having him about. There is a bit
of psychology in this that is worthy our study.

Thanks to all the participants in the previous thread: Ron Butters,
Joel Berson, Fred Shapiro, Victor Steinbok, Ken Hirsch, and Sam
Clements. Part of the discussion concerned the fact that Twain's
father died when he was eleven, and therefore if Twain recounted the
tale he would be doing so as a constructed persona.

I have found a speech by Twain that strongly implies that both of his
parents were alive when he was fourteen. This is compatible with the
hypothesis that he sometimes presented "autobiographical" tales that
were fictionalized with respect to his father's death.

Citation: [1872 February, date given for Speech] 2006, Mark Twain
Speaking edited by Paul Fatout, University of Iowa Press.

Dinner Speech - The Aldine Dinner, St. James Hotel, New York, Early
February 1872

When I was fourteen, as I remarked before, I was living with my
parents, who were very poor and correspondingly honest. We had a youth
living with us by the name of Jim Wolfe.


The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list