Collins, Brian.  _When In Doubt, Tell the Truth and other Quotations from
Mark Twain_.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.  Pp. xvii + 142.
Cloth.  $19.95. ISBN 0-231-10498-7.


Rasmussen, R. Kent.  _The Quotable Mark Twain; His Essential Aphorisms,
Witticisms, & Concise Opinions_.  Chicago:  Contemporary Books, 1997.  Pp.
xxvi + 356.  Bibliography and index.  Cloth.  $25.00.  ISBN 0-8092-3088-7.

These books are available at discounted prices from the TwainWeb Bookstore,
and purchases from this site generate commissions that benefit the Mark
Twain Project.  Please visit <>.

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:

Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
Tarleton State University
Stephenville, TX

Copyright (c) Mark Twain Forum, 1998.  This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

Brian Collins' _When In Doubt, Tell the Truth_, released in 1997, was one
of the first Mark Twain general quote books to surface on the market since
the appearance of Alex Ayers' _Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain_ a decade
earlier.  With an attractively designed dust jacket, typeface and page
layout, Collins' volume contains 700 Twain quotations.

Collins provides an introduction to his collection in the form of an essay
outlining his perception of Twain's preoccupation with "five general
concerns:  human nature, history, the American scene, the art of the
writer, and the tradition of the maxim itself." (p. xiii).  Collins then
presents his collection of quotes -- often categorized by concepts rather
than keywords.  For example, search for his book's title "When in doubt,
tell the truth" quote -- you won't find it under the "Truth" entries.  It
is neatly tucked away in the "Honesty" category.  Looking for a Twain quote
on "ants"? -- it is best to look in the "Insects" category.  And a quote on
Wagner and his opera is found under "Culture."

Collins' collection lacks an index or any type of cross referencing and
this is one of its major weaknesses.  If the reader who is searching for a
particular Twain quote can't guess which concept some of the quotes might
have been filed under, it is next to impossible to locate them.  Although
citations are provided for each quote, the book has no bibliography and a
lack of consistency among some citations makes it difficult to tell from
which specific edition of a book some of the quotes originated.

Another weakness of Collins' collection is that several of the quotes are
referenced back to the Alex Ayres' quote book of a decade earlier.  And
Ayres provides no original citation for these quotes.  Among these
casualties are "Golf is a good walk spoiled" -- a quote which has never
been found in the Twain canon but still remains ever present in the
petrified "attributed" category.

R. Kent Rasmussen's newest entry into the realm of Twain reference books is
titled _The Quotable Mark Twain_.  It is an unprecedented collection of
more than 1,800 Twain quotes -- half of which have not appeared in any
other quote collection.  Over seven years in the making, Rasmussen has
gathered material from Twain classics as well as lesser-known Twain
writings including Twain's personal correspondence. Approximately twenty
percent of the volume contains quotes from Twain's personal letters to
friends and acquaintances.  Typical of these is the following Twain comment
on Huck Finn:  "Most honestly do I wish I could say a softening word or two
in defence of Huck's character, since you wish it but really in my opinion,
it is no better than those of Solomon, David, Satan, and the rest of the
sacred brotherhood." (Rasmussen, p. 97).

Rasmussen's volume includes Twain's comments related to famous nineteenth
century personalities -- from Prince Albert to Emile Zola; cities and
countries he visited; opinions of his own books; and even catchy new words
which often captured his attention such as "fructifying" and "neodamode."
In addition, numerous illustrations from Twain's first editions accompany
many of the quotations.  And a list of picture credits is provided for the

In _The Quotable Mark Twain_ multiple quotes pertaining to one topic are
presented in chronological order which allows the reader to detect any
shifts over time in Twain's attitudes about a particular person or subject.
For example, in a letter to his mother written in 1866, Twain wrote of
Bret Harte:  "Though I am generally placed at the head of my breed of
scribblers in this part of the country, the place belongs properly to Bret
Harte."  By 1907, he was calling Harte "An invertebrate without a country."
(Rasmussen, p. 120-1).

The uniqueness of _The Quotable Mark Twain_ can be attributed to the
editorial standards for the volume.  Quotes taken directly from dialogue
within a story or quotes which represent the voice of a character within
the story are followed by the name of the character who uttered the phrase.
Sources used and citations for each quote are from the most authoritative
sources available -- whether it be original typescripts, University of
California editions, original first editions, or other original source
material.  An introduction to the bibliography at the end of the book
guides the reader through what constitutes the most authoritative sources.

The importance of using the most authoritative source for a quote is
illustrated by comparing the following quote which originally appeared in
one of Twain's 1865 columns for the _Californian_ literary weekly titled
"Answers to Correspondents":

In Collins' _When In Doubt, Tell the Truth_ -- the quote on "Babies" reads
-- "A soiled baby, with a neglected nose, cannot be conscientiously
regarded as a thing of beauty." (Collins, p. 12).  Collins' source is a
1961 edition of _Complete Humorous Sketches and Tales_ edited by Charles

Rasmussen's "Babies" quote reads in part "A sore-faced baby with a
neglected nose cannot be conscientiously regarded as a thing of beauty..."
(Rasmussen, p. 19).  Rasmussen's source is the 1981 edition of University
of California's _Early Tales And Sketches, Vol. 2_.  The vision conjured up
in the reader's mind between a "soiled baby" and a "sore-faced baby" is
significant and underscores the importance of pin-pointing the correct
phrasing as Twain intended it -- without editorial tampering.

_The Quotable Mark Twain_, dedicated to the staff of the Mark Twain Project
in Berkeley, is accompanied by a foreword written by Shelley Fisher Fishkin
and includes an introduction by Rasmussen which examines the longevity and
enduring qualities of Twain's writings.  In his introduction Rasmussen also
discusses quotes often misattributed to Twain -- including "Golf is a good
walk spoiled."

_The Quotable Mark Twain_ has an added bonus of a chronology of Twain's
writings.  The index for _The Quotable Mark Twain_ is comprehensive and
could only be surpassed by a computerized search engine.

_When in Doubt, Tell the Truth_ and _The Quotable Mark Twain_ share at
least 295 quotes in common.  Most are the popular perennial favorites
without which no Twain quote book would be complete.  A comparison of two
quote books of such different magnitudes (700 quotes vs. 1,800 quotes) and
with such vastly different editorial standards is difficult.  Although
_When In Doubt_ comes out on the bottom of this list -- both in size and
editorial standards, the volume does contain approximately 400 quotes that
are not included in _The Quotable Mark Twain_.  It will provide good "idea
starters" for writers less familiar with Twain's writings who are simply
seeking a pithy quote with which to launch a paper or speech.

On the other hand, _The Quotable Mark Twain_ has set new editorial and
reference standards for any future Twain quote collections to come.