"A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval."
– Mark Twain


About Mark Twain

Samuel Clemens, the iconic American humorist and writer, is better known by his pen name Mark Twain. He was born in 1835 in Missouri. He worked at several jobs, including steamboat pilot and miner. He wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, and other successful novels. His writing captured a very American vernacular and flavor, and helped create a distinctive American literature. He died in 1910.

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."
– Annie Dillard


About Annie Dillard

American author Annie Dillard rose to fame with her first book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which weaves theology and meditations on nature into an account of a year spent in the country recovering from pneumonia. Writing the book so fully absorbed her that she forgot everything else; she lost 30 pounds and all her plants died. She was born in Pittsburgh in 1945. She married her college writing teacher but later divorced him. She remarried and lives in Connecticut.
"To realize one's nature perfectly — that is what each of us is here for."
– Oscar Wilde


About Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, the clever, colorful Anglo-Irish writer, is best known for the play The Importance of Being Earnest and the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. He was born in Dublin in 1854 but left when his lady love became engaged to Bram Stoker. He was a leading member of the aesthetic movement and embraced its doctrine, "Art for art's sake." Though married with two children, Wilde was known to have affairs with younger men and was jailed in 1895 for "gross indecency." He died in 1900.

"Laughter is the closest distance between two people."
– Victor Borge


About Victor Borge

Danish pianist Victor Borge was affectionately known as the Clown Prince of Denmark. Born as Børge Rosenbaum in 1909 to musician parents, he began playing piano at age three. After a stint as a classical pianist, he began combining music and jokes. His anti-Nazi jokes landed him on Hitler's enemies list. In 1942, he was named Best New Radio Performer by the American press. His Comedy in Music show on Broadway was the longest running one-man show in the 1950's. He died in 2000.

"Always behave like a duck — keep calm and unruffled on the surface but paddle like the devil underneath."
– Jacob Braude


About Jacob Braude

American judge and author Jacob Braude was a fount of humorous and inspirational stories and quotations, which he used to regale the courtroom in Cook County, Illinois, where he presided for more that 35 years. His books of sayings, including Speaker's Encyclopedia of Humor and Braude's Treasury of Wit and Humor, have been mined by toastmasters and lecturers for decades. He was born in 1896 and died in 1970.

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
– Thomas A. Edison


About Thomas A. Edison

Thomas Edison, the American inventor who made his early fortune with the stock ticker and the phonograph record, is credited with inventing the light bulb — although he simply improved upon the original idea by making the bulb burn longer. Edison was born in 1847 in Ohio. He was a dreamer in school; his teacher called him "addled," and his mother taught him at home. He used the money from his inventions to set up a lab with a number of employees; he held a record 1,093 patents in his name. He died in 1931.

"There isn't any virtue where there has never been any temptation."
– Margaret Deland


About Margaret Deland

American author Margaret Deland is best known for her novel, John Ward, Preacher, and for her stories about the fictional small town of Old Chester. She was born in 1857 in Pennsylvania. She and her husband took up the cause of unwed mothers, sheltering more than 60 women in a four-year period. During World War I, she did relief work in France, receiving the Legion of Honor. She wrote 25 books and was one of the first women elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. She died in 1945.

"Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones."
– Phillips Brooks


About Phillips Brooks

Phillips Brooks, the American clergyman now mostly known for writing the words to the Christmas song, "O Little Town of Bethlehem," was one of the most influential ministers of his time, with his sermons reprinted in major newspapers. He delivered the eulogy at Abraham Lincoln's funeral. Born in Boston in 1835, he spent most of his life there as overseer of Harvard University, rector of Trinity Church, and bishop of Massachusetts. He died in 1893, and the day of his funeral was declared an official day of mourning.
"I do believe it is possible to create, even without ever writing a word or painting a picture, by simply molding one's inner life. And that too is a deed." – Etty Hillesum

 About Etty Hillesum Etty Hillesum, less famous than her contemporary, Anne Frank, lived a short life of great courage. She was born in 1914 in the Netherlands to a Dutch father and a Russian mother. She studied law, Slavic languages, and psychology. Hungry for knowledge, she cut down on food in order to buy books. She went voluntarily to the Westerbork camp to help fellow Jews interned by the Nazis. Her letters detail her experiences; her more meditative diary focuses on issues of faith. She died at Auschwitz in 1943.
"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading."

– Lao Tzu About Lao Tzu The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu is believed to have lived in the 4th century B.C. Little is known about him, but it is likely that he wrote the Tao te Ching, the foundation of Taoist philosophy, and engaged Confucius in debate, honing both men's belief systems. His name means either "old master" or the "old child," and one legend says he was born with white hair after spending 80 years in his mother's womb
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"When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. And that is my religion."

– Abraham Lincoln About Abraham Lincoln Abraham Lincoln, the American president remembered as Honest Abe, is renowned for his strong leadership during the Civil War and for ending slavery in the United States. He was born in a Kentucky cabin in 1809. He taught himself law and passed the Illinois bar in 1837, the same year he first spoke out against slavery. The Southern states seceded in response to his election to the presidency in 1860. Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, mere days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to end the war
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"The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still voice within."

– Mahatma Gandhi About Mahatma Gandhi Mohandas Gandhi, known by the honorific title Mahatma ("great souled"), embodied the power of nonviolent protest to achieve great change. He was born in India in 1869 and awoke to discrimination while practicing law in South Africa. He brought the struggle for equality back to India, rousing the population to demand self-rule from the British. He was profoundly religious, spending one day a week in complete silence; he was also a devout vegetarian. He was assassinated in 1948
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"Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step; only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find the right road."

– Dag Hammarskjöld About Dag Hammarskjöld Dag Hammarskjöld, a Noble Peace Prize winner, was a diplomat who strengthened the United Nations' peacekeeping mission. Born in Sweden in 1905, he followed his father's footsteps into national government, where he coined the term "planned economy" before becoming a delegate to the U.N. and a two-time secretary-general. He negotiated the release of Americans captured by the Chinese in the Korean War, worked to resolve the Suez Canal crisis, and was on a mission to the Congo when his plane crashed in 1961, killing all aboard
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"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face."

– Eleanor Roosevelt About Eleanor Roosevelt Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was a powerful political figure in her own right, crusading tirelessly for humanist causes. She was born in New York in 1884 and was orphaned young. After Franklin was struck by polio, she acted as his eyes and ears. She was central to the creation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she considered her crowning achievement, and wrote numerous essays, including a long-running column called "My Day." She died in 1962
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"What we hope ever to do with ease we may learn first to do with diligence."

– Samuel Johnson About Samuel Johnson Samuel Johnson, the sharp-witted British essayist, wrote the first English language dictionary; his definitions still form the backbone of current dictionaries. He was born in Staffordshire in 1709. Johnson married a widow 20 years his senior and lived in poverty before achieving success with his essays when he was in his forties. Later in life, he befriended the young James Boswell, whose Life of Johnson became the quintessential English biography. Johnson died in 1784
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