Mark Twain's Education


Patricia Truslow, Contributor

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mark twain educationMark Twain's education was limited in terms of formal schooling. He was forced to quit at the age of twelve due to the early death of his father, John Clemens. Young Twain's family was left in near-poverty when his father died, forcing Mark to go to work to help support the family. The few years of education that he did receive were in Hannibal, Missouri where the family resided. At the age of seventeen, Mark Twain went to work in a printing shop where his brother worked and where he was trained as a typesetter, eventually winning an award for the quality of his work.

Even without a formal education in school, Mark Twain became an educated man in many other respects. He learned many things that were never taught in school. Twain learned much about botany, the study of plants, and about history. Over his lifetime, he also learned about other cultures as he traveled the world giving lectures; he connected with and became educated in politics and government, often meeting and spending time with world leaders, such as when he dined with Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1892 while traveling in Europe.

Mark Twain was also educated in farming by his uncle. Each summer, Twain would stay at the farm during several weeks of the summer. There, Twain says, he grew up "no longer mere girl plays and swings, but sports with his older boy cousins, who went hunting with the men for partridges by day and for 'coons and 'possums by night." Mark Twain's education may not have come from books, but he did receive a powerful one nonetheless.

Some of Mark Twain's best quotes reference the world of learning. A few of them are:

  • "It is noble to teach oneself, but still nobler to teach others and less trouble."
  • "It is curious to reflect on how history repeats itself the world over. Why, I remember the same thing was done when I was a boy on the Mississippi River. There was a proposition in a township there to discontinue public schools because they were too expensive. An old farmer spoke up and said if they stopped the schools they would not save anything, because every time a school was closed a jail had to be built. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. He'll never get fat. I believe it's better to support schools than jails."
  • "There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact."
  • "I have never let my schooling interfered with my education."
  • "Education exists mainly in what we have unlearned."
  • "All schools, all colleges have two great functions: to confer, and to conceal valuable knowledge."

Even without a formal education, Mark Twain was probably one of the most educated men of all time. Not only did he write as well as those who were lettered many times over, he often captured more real information based on practical experience and tangible proof than those far more educated than he.