Who is the British Mark Twain?

By which I mean:  if you’re in the United States of America, and you can find a Mark Twain quote which bolsters a point you’re trying to make, you are golden.  Because somehow Twain is seen as a sort of conduit for the wisdom of the nation, a proxy for American common sense and knowhow.  Nobody ever says “Mark Twain was full of shit.”  You’re kind of not allowed.

I asked an British friend whether there was a British equivalent of this, whether, for instance, it was George Orwell.  He said, no, in Britain, Orwell is seen as being for children, it’s not Orwell.  Then he thought for a while and said, oh, no, obviously, it’s Samuel Johnson.

Agree?  Disagree?  Other candidates?  Is there a French Mark Twain, or a Chinese one?

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14 thoughts on “Who is the British Mark Twain?

  1. Adam says:

    Oscar Wilde?

    (I’m not British :-).)

  2. Frank says:

    I feel like I constantly see pithy Victor Hugo quotes.

  3. Ø says:

    Winston Churchill gets a fair share of this, I believe. By the way, did you know that Mark Twain was friends with the brilliant and eccentric Nikola Tesla?

  4. Ø says:

    There are other American Mark Twains, too. Abraham Lincoln, for sure.

  5. Nick Addington says:

    Isn’t Twain a bit for children too? You read Huckleberry Finn and a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court around the same age as you read Animal Farm, or earlier. I mean, that’s not his only thing, but it’s not Orwell’s either…

  6. michaelkleber says:

    Careful, you might turn into Douglas Hofstadter asking questions like that. (Have you read his _Le Ton beau de Marot?_

  7. Ben Wieland says:

    It is said that Twain and Churchill are the most frequent recipients of misattribution.

  8. NDE says:

    Meanwhile this blog entry is already Google’s second-highest hit for the phrase “mark twain was full of shit”. (2nd of only 49 [or 17 without duplications], but still.)

  9. […] Who is the British Mark Twain? […]

  10. JSE says:

    A commenter on Google+ says Confucius is the Chinese Mark Twain.

  11. Tom Church says:

    And yet Mark Twain isn’t the American Confucius.

  12. Y-T says:

    Samuel Johnson thought Rousseau would fit right in stateside:

    “Rousseau, Sir, is a very bad man. I would sooner sign a sentence for his transportation, than that of any felon who has gone from the Old Bailey these many years. Yes, I should like to have him work in the plantations.”

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