Mark Twain quote about his father's surprising maturation (antedating attrib circa 1915) (req paper verification)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 8 10:35:24 UTC 2010

A famous quote attributed to Mark Twain entertainingly describes the
evolving relationship between a father and a son.

Citation: 1989, Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations‎ by Robert
Andrews, Columbia University Press.

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.
Mark Twain (1835-1910) American author

This quote is discussed in "The Quote Verifier" and "The Yale Book of
Quotations". Both references reject the attribution to Mark Twain.

Ralph Keyes in QV comments:  Reader's Digest attributed this thought
to Mark Twain in 1937, without giving a source. Twain's own father
died when he was eleven. When the Library of Congress asked Twain
scholars whether the author had ever said this, none could confirm
that he did. Its true source remains a mystery. Verdict: Author
undetermined; not Twain.

Fred Shapiro in YBQ comments: Attributed in Reader's Digest, Sept.
1937. The attribution to Twain is obviously spurious because Twain's
father died when the future writer was eleven years old."

I think I have found some earlier citations for variants of this
quotation. These earlier references change the age of the young son
and other details, but the observation is still attributed to Twain.
Of course, this does not show that the Twain crafted the quip, but it
does indicate that the essence of the quote was in circulation before
Reader's Digest boosted its visibility. The cites below also move the
creation date closer to the time when Twain was alive, 1910.

If someone reading this post is willing to verify one of the cites
below on paper that would be wonderful. The libraries listed in
WorldCat are not nearby, and the bibliographical data in Google Books
is unreliable. If someone is able to discover an earlier citation that
would be excellent. Thanks for any help. The quote is discussed
neither in the ADS list archive nor at Barry Popik's website.

Citation: Circa 1916, The Square Deal, Volumes 17-18, ‎Page 160,
Citizens' Industrial Association of America. (Google Books provides a
snippet view only for this work. Verification on paper is required.)

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.

Citation: Circa 1924, Proceedings of the Regular Meeting of the
National Association of Deans of Women, Department of Superintendence,
National Education Association, Page 40, National Association of Women
Deans and Counselors. (Google Books provides a snippet view only for
this work. Verification on paper is required.)

Mark Twain once said that when he was seventeen years old he could
hardly stand it to be with his father because his father was so
ignorant; when he was twenty he noticed that now and then his father
said a sensible thing; and when he was twenty-five he was amazed to
discover how much his father had improved in the last eight years.

Google Books apparently contains another copy of the document with
somewhat different bibliographical data.

Citation: Circa 1924, Proceedings of the Annual Meeting, Volumes
42-45‎, Page 40, National Association for Women Deans, Administrators
& Counselors, National Association of Dental Examiners?? (Google Books
provides a snippet view only for this work. Verification on paper is

Google Books also contains another document with this version of the quote.

Garson O'Toole

The American Dialect Society -

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