Sam's Shorts

If you’ve ever wanted to dive deeper into Twain's works but haven't known where to start, Sam’s Shorts is your opportunity!

Each month, we’re bringing you a brief passage from one of his less-familiar works, including his speeches, essays, short stories, and letters, and inviting you to read, reflect, and respond. Then we’ll share what we learned from your responses, answer some of your questions, and tell you a bit more about the background and context of the piece. Your responses help us develop new programs for adults and teach Twain’s writing to students. They’ll also help us pick new shorts for you to read and enjoy!

You can also read all previous Sam’s Shorts selections with reader feedback and additional context.

Excerpt from A Family Sketch, written 1901-2

. . . Mrs. Clemens and I, and Miss Foote the governess, were in our respective degrees of efficiency and opportunity trainers of the children—conscious and intentional ones—and we were reinforced in our work by the usual and formidable multitude of unconscious and unintentional trainers, such as servants, friends, visitors, books, dogs, cats, horses, cows, accidents, travel, joys, sorrows, lies, slanders, oppositions, persuasions, good and evil beguilements, treacheries, fidelities, the tireless and everlasting impact of character-forming exterior influences which begin their strenuous assault at the cradle and only end it at the grave. Books, home, the school and the pulpit may and must do the directing—it is their limited but lofty and powerful office—but the countless outside unconscious and unintentional trainers do the real work, and over them the responsible superintendents have no considerable supervision or authority.

Conscious teaching is good and necessary, and in a hundred instances it effects its purpose, while in a hundred others it fails and the purpose, if accomplished at all, is accomplished by some other agent or influence. I suppose that in most cases changes take place in us without our being aware of it at the time, and in after life we give the credit of it—if it be of a creditable nature—to mamma, or the school or the pulpit. But I know of one case where a change was wrought in me by an outside influence—where teaching had failed,—and I was profoundly aware of the change when it happened . . .


  • We'll send you the follow-up post for this piece and link to the next editions of Sam’s Shorts. Don't worry, we won't use your email for any other purpose!

Read the full piece in A Family Sketch and Other Private Writings, available in the museum store. 

Programs at The Mark Twain House & Museum are made possible in part by support from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, Office of the Arts, and the Greater Hartford Arts Council’s United Arts Campaign and its Travelers Arts Impact Grant program with major support from The Travelers Foundation.