|Born:||November 30, 1835 |
|Died:||April 21, 1910 |
|Occupation(s):||Humorist, novelist, writer|
|Genre(s):||Historical fiction, non-fiction, satire|
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), better known by the pen name Mark Twain, was an American humorist, satirist, writer, and lecturer. Twain is most noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (amongst other works), and his numerous quotes and sayings.
It would be difficult to imagine a contemporary individual who is at once the best known author in the United States, the most popular stand-up comedian and monologist, and simultaneously the friend of presidents, artists, leading industrialists, and even European royalty. Yet in the last quarter of the 19th Century, that is who Mark Twain was. But it is not his popularity for which he is remembered. Mark Twain is today credited with being the author of the Great American Novel, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
He enjoyed immense public popularity and his keen wit and incisive satire earned him praise from both critics and peers. American author William Faulkner later called Twain "the father of American literature."
Mark Twain was born in Holts Summit, Missouri, on November 30, 1835, to Tennessee country merchant, John Marshall Clemens (August 11, 1798 - March 24, 1847), and Jane Lampton Clemens (June 18, 1803 - October 27, 1890). Twain was the sixth of John and Jane's seven children. He had three older brothers and two older sisters, though only two of these survived childhood, his brother Orion Clemens (July 17, 1825 - December 11, 1897 and sister Pamela (September 19, 1827 - August 31, 1904). His sister Margaret (May 31, 1830 - August 17, 1839) died when Twain was only four years old and his brother Benjamin (June 8, 1832 - May 12, 1842) died three years later. Another older brother, Pleasant (1828 - 1829), only lived three months before Twain was born. In addition to his older siblings, Twain had one younger brother, Henry Clemens (July 13, 1838 - June 21, 1858).  When Twain was four, his family moved to Hannibal, a port town on the Mississippi River that would serve as the inspiration for the fictional town of St. Petersburg in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. At that time, Missouri was a slave state in the union and young Twain was familiar with the institution of slavery, a theme he later explored in his writing.
Twain was colorblind, a condition that fueled his witty banter in the social circles of the day. In March of 1847 when Twain was eleven, his father died of pneumonia. He had a meager education. The following year, Twain became a printer's apprentice and in 1851 began working as a typesetter and contributor of articles and humorous sketches for the Hannibal Journal, a newspaper owned by his older brother, Orion. When he was eighteen, he left Hannibal and worked as a printer in New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. When he was 22 years old, Twain returned to Missouri. On a voyage to New Orleans down the Mississippi, the steamboat pilot, "Bixby", inspired Twain to pursue a career as a steamboat pilot, the third highest paying profession in America at the time earning $250 per month ($155,000 today), a "princely amount". Because the steamboats at the time were constructed of very dry flammable wood no lamps were allowed, making night travel a precarious endeavor. A steamboat pilot needed a vast knowledge of the ever-changing river to be able to stop at any of the hundreds of ports (to take on and discharge passengers and freight) and wood-lots along the river banks (to purchase fuel for the steam boilers). Twain meticulously studied 2000 miles of the Mississippi for more than two years until he finally received his steamboat pilot license in 1859. While training for his pilot's license, Twain convinced his younger brother Henry Clemens to work with him on the Mississippi. Tragically, Henry was killed when the steamboat he was working on exploded. Henry died on June 21, 1858. Twain was guilt stricken over his brother's death and held himself responsible for the rest of his life. Twain would continue to work on the river however and served as a river pilot until the American Civil War broke out in 1861 and traffic along the Mississippi was curtailed.
Missouri, although a slave state and considered by many to be part of the South, declined to join the Confederacy and remained loyal to the Union. When the war began, Clemens and his friends formed a Confederate militia (an experience he depicted in his 1885 short story, "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed"), and got involved in one battle where a man was killed. Mark Twain could not bear to kill a man, and deserted. His friends joined the Confederate Army; Clemens joined his brother, Orion, who had been appointed secretary to the territorial governor of Nevada, and headed west.
The Clemens brothers traveled for more than two weeks on a stagecoach across the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. On the way, they visited the Mormon community in Salt Lake City. Clemens' experiences in the West contributed significantly to his formation as a writer, and became the basis of his book Roughing It, as well as provided material for one of his earliest books, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Clemens' journey ended in the silver-mining town of Virginia City, Nevada and he became a miner, hoping to strike it rich in the Comstock Lode. He stayed for long periods in camp with his fellow prospectors—another life experience that he later put to literary use.
After failing as a miner, Clemens obtained work at a Virginia City newspaper called the Territorial Enterprise. It was there he first adopted the pen name "Mark Twain". Specifically, on February 3, 1863, he signed a humorous travel account "LETTER FROM CARSON - re: Joe Goodman; party at Gov. Johnson's; music" with this new name. He then traveled to San Francisco, California, where he continued his work as a journalist and began his career as a lecturer. During his time in San Francisco, Twain was given an assignment in Hawaii, the articles from this assignment became the basis for his first lectures. In 1867, a local newspaper supplied him with the money necessary to board a steamboat, with a party of individuals, bound for the Mediterranean.
Mark Twain’s first important work, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, was first published in the New York Saturday Press on November 18, 1865. The only reason it was published there was because his story arrived too late to be included in a book Artemus Ward was compiling featuring sketches of the wild American west.
After this small burst of popularity, Twain was commissioned by the Sacramento Union to write letters about his travel experiences for publication in the newspaper, his first of which was to accompany the steamer Ajax in its maiden voyage to Hawaii, referred to at the time as the Sandwich Islands. These humorous letters proved the genesis to his work with the San Francisco Alta California newspaper, which designated him a traveling correspondent for a trip from San Francisco to New York City via the Panama isthmus. All the while Twain was writing letters meant for publishing back and forth, chronicling his experiences with his burlesque humor. On June 8, 1867, Twain would set sail on the pleasure cruiser Quaker City for five months, which would be the foundation of his travel companion The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims' Progress .:
|“||This book is a record of a pleasure trip. If it were a record of a solemn scientific expedition it would have about it the gravity, that profundity, and that impressive incomprehensibility which are so proper to works of that kind, and withal so attractive. Yet not withstanding it is only a record of a picnic, it has a purpose, which is, to suggest to the reader how he would be likely to see Europe and the East if he looked at them with his own eyes instead of the eyes of those who traveled in those countries before him. I make small pretense of showing anyone how he ought to look at objects of interest beyond the sea – other books do that, and therefore, even if I were competent to do it, there is no need.||”|
In 1872, Twain published a second piece of travel literature, Roughing It, as a semi-sequel to Innocents. Roughing It is a semi-autobiographical account of Twain's journey to Nevada and his subsequent life in the American West. The book lampoons American and Western society in the same way that Innocents critiqued the various countries of Europe and the Middle East. Twain's next work would keep Roughing It's focus on American society, but focused more on the events of the day. Entitled, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, it was not a travel piece, as his previous two books had been, and was his first attempt at writing a novel. The book is also notable because it is Twain's only collaboration, it was written with his neighbor Charles Dudley Warner.
For his next two works, Twain would again draw from his past experiences, focusing on his experiences on the Mississippi River. Old Times on the Mississippi, a series of sketches published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1875. Generally, Old Times features Twain’s dissolution with Romanticism, or, more literally, becoming too smart about things. Old Times would eventually come the starting point for his later book Life on the Mississippi. Twain's next major publication wasThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This work drew on Twain's youth in Hannibal so that he could aptly tap into the innocence that he lost while composing Old Times. The character of Tom Sawyer was a concoction of Twain as a child along with a number of other school mates, exaggerated and aggrandized into one of the endearing characters in American literature. The book also introduced the character of Huckleberry Finn, though he is only a supporting character.
The Prince and the Pauper, despite a storyline that is omnipresent in film and literature today, was not as well received. Pauper was Twain’s first attempt at fiction and blame for its shortcomings are usually put on Twain having not been experienced enough in English society and the fact that it was produced after such a massive hit. In between the writing of Pauper, Twain had started Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (which he had consistently hit a wall in the writing process) and started and completed another travel book A Tramp Abroad. Tramp Abroad follows Twain as he travels through central and southern Europe.
Twain’s next major published work, Huckleberry Finn, solidified him as a great American writer after the production of what some call the elusive great American novel. Finn was an offshoot from Tom Sawyer and proved to have a more serious tone than its predecessor. The main premise behind Huckleberry Finn is the young boy’s belief in the right thing to do even though the majority of society believes that it was wrong. Huck’s blind eye toward the rules and mores of the age to follow what he thinks is just (the story takes place in the 1850’s where slavery is present), make this book a standard read for children in the United States. Four hundred manuscript pages of Huckleberry Finn was written in the summer of 1876, right after the publication of Tom Sawyer. Some accounts have Twain taking seven years off after his first burst of creativity, eventually finishing the book in 1883. Other accounts have Twain working on Finn in tandem with The Prince and the Pauper and other works in 1880 and other years. The last fifth of Finn is subject to much controversy. Some say that Twain experiences, as critic Leo Marx puts it, a "failure of nerve." Ernest Hemingway once said of Huckleberry Finn: “If you read it, you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating.”
Near the end of Huckleberry Finn, Twain had written Life on the Mississippi, which is said to have heavily influenced the former book. The work recounts Twain’s memories and new experiences after a 22 year absence from the Mississippi. The book is of most note because Twain introduces the real meaning of his pseudonym.
After his great work, Twain began turning to his business endeavors to keep them afloat and to stave off the increasing difficulties he had been having from his writing projects. Twain focused on the writing of President Ulysses S. Grant's Memoirs for his fledgling publishing company, finding time in between to write The Private History of a Campaign That Failed for The Century Magazine.
Twain next focused on A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, which featured him making his first big pronouncement of disappointment with politics. The tone become cynical to the point of almost being a rant against the established political system of the day (which would have been in King Arthur’s time), and eventually devolved into madness for the main character. The book was started in December 1885, then shelved a few months later until the summer of 1887, and eventually finished in the spring of 1889.
Some say that this work marked the beginning of the end for Twain as he fell into financial trouble and eschewed his humor vein. Twain had begun to furiously write articles and commentary with diminishing returns to pay the bills and keep his business intentions afloat, but it was not enough as he filed for bankruptcy in 1894. His next large scale work, The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (aka Those Extraordinary Twins), brought about Twain’s sense of irony, though it has been misconstrued. There were parallels between this work and Twain’s financial failings, notably his desire to escape his current constraints and become a different person.
Twain’s next venture was straight fiction called Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc and dedicated it to his wife. Twain had long said that this was the work he was most proud of despite the criticism he received for it. The book had been a dream of Twain’s for a very long time and he eventually thought it to be the work to save his publishing company. His financial adviser, Henry Huttleston Rogers, squashed that idea as he got Twain out of that business all together, but the book was published nonetheless.
Twain’s wife died in 1904 and after the appropriate time was allowed to publish some works that his wife, a de facto editor and censor throughout his life, had looked down upon. Of these works, The Mysterious Stranger, which pits the presence of Satan, aka “No. 44,” in various situations where the moral sense of human kind. This particular work was not published in Twain’s life, so there were three versions found in his manuscripts made between 1897 and 1905: the Hannibal version, the Eseldorf version, and the Print Shop version. Confusion between the versions led to an extensive publication of a jumbled version, and only recently have the original versions as Twain wrote them become available. The most popular part of The Mysterious Stranger features the devil’s definition of humor.
Twain’s last work was his autobiography, which he dictated and thought would be most entertaining if he went off on whims and tangents in non-sequential order. Some archivists and compilers had a problem with this and rearranged the biography into a more conventional form, thereby eliminating some of Twain’s humor and the flow of the book.
During this tour of Europe and the Middle East he wrote a collection of widely popular travel letters which would, in 1869, be compiled into his book The Innocents Abroad. Here Twain met Charles Langdon, who showed him a picture of his sister Olivia. Twain claims to have fallen in love at first sight; in 1868, Twain met her. Twain was editing a daily Buffalo, New York newspaper for a few months when the two, a year later, became engaged, then married in February 1870 in Elmira, New York. In Buffalo, Olivia gave birth to a son, Langdon, who died of diphtheria after 19 months. In 1871 Twain moved his family to West Hartford, Connecticut, the site of his established residence. There Olivia gave birth to three daughters: Susy, Clara, and Jean. While living in Hartford, Twain became good friends with fellow author William Dean Howells. Twain made a second tour of Europe, summarized and recorded in the 1880 book, A Tramp Abroad. He returned to America in 1900, having paid off his debts to his old firm. The Clemens' marriage lasted for 34 years until Olivia's death in 1904. In 1906 he began his autobiography in the North American Review. Oxford University issued him a Doctorate of Literature a year later. Twain outlived Jean and Susy. He passed through a period of deep depression, which began in 1896 when he received word on a lecture tour in England that his favorite daughter, Susy, had died of meningitis. His wife's death in 1904, and the loss of a second daughter, Jean, on December 24, 1909, deepened his gloom.
Although Twain made a substantial amount of money through his writing, he squandered much of it through bad investments, mostly through new inventions. These included the bed clamp for infants, a new type of steam engine that he had to sell for scrap, the kaolatype (a machine designed to engrave printing plates), the Paige typesetting machine (this investment was over $200,000 and, while a technical marvel, was too complex for wide commercial use), and finally, his publishing house that, while enjoying initial success by selling the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, went bust soon after.
Fortunately, Twain's writings and lectures enabled him to recover financially. , especially with the help of financier Henry Huttleston Rogers, a principal of Standard Oil with whom he developed a close friendship beginning in 1893, one that was to last another 15 years until Rogers' death in 1909. To raise Twain from the depths of poor investing, Rogers made him undertake three specific financial tasks. First, Twain filed for bankruptcy, secondly all of his copyrights to his written work were transferred to his wife, Olivia, to prevent creditors from gaining possession of them, and thirdly Rogers took absolute charge of Twain's money until all the creditors were paid. Twain then embarked on an around the world lecture tour to pay off his creditors in full, despite the fact that he was no longer under any legal obligation to do so.
Perhaps ironically, it was Twain who introduced Rogers to Ida M. Tarbell, who conducted detailed interviews with him beginning in 1902. These interviews formed the basis for work which has since become known as investigative journalism, including the publication of her negative expose of Standard Oil and the organization's business practices in a series of articles in McClure's Magazine. These were later published as a book, The History of the Standard Oil Company, which fueled negative public sentiment against the company and was a contributing factor in the US government's antitrust legal actions against the petroleum conglomerate which led to its breakup in 1911.
While Twain openly credited Rogers with saving him from financial ruin; there is also substantial evidence in their published correspondence that the close friendship in their later years was mutually beneficial. He lost 3 out of 4 of his children, and his beloved wife, Olivia Langdon, before his death in 1910. The Rogers family became Twain's surrogate family, He was a frequent guest at the Rogers townhouse in New York City, their summer home in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, and aboard the Rogers steam yacht, the Kanawha.
Their letters back and forth are so interesting and insightful that they were published verbatim in an entire book, Mark Twain's Correspondence with Henry Huttleston Rogers, 1893-1909. In the written exchanges between the two men, there are pleasant examples of Rogers' sense of fun as well as Twain's well-known sense of humor. This provides a rare insight into private side of "Hell Hound Rogers" who had a well-known public reputation as a fearsome and ruthless robber baron.
When Henry Rogers died suddenly of a stroke on the morning of May 20, 1909, Twain was already on a train en route to New York City from Connecticut to visit. Instead, he was met at Grand Central Station by his daughter with the terrible news. Stricken with grief, he uncustomarily avoided news reporters who had gathered, saying "This is terrible...I cannot talk about it." Two days later, he served as an honorary pallbearer at the Rogers funeral.
In 1909, Twain is quoted as saying:
|“||I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: "Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together."||”|
Samuel Langhorne Clemens died of angina pectoris on April 21, 1910 in Redding, Connecticut. Upon hearing of Twain's death, President Taft said:
|“||Mark Twain gave pleasure -- real intellectual enjoyment -- to millions, and his works will continue to give such pleasure to millions yet to come... His humor was American, but he was nearly as much appreciated by Englishmen and people of other countries as by his own countrymen. He has made an enduring part of American literature.||”|
Mark Twain is buried in his wife's family plot in Elmira, New York.
Clemens' birthplace is preserved in Florida, Missouri, and the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri, is one of the most popular museums because it provided the setting for much of the author's work. The home of a childhood friend is preserved as the "Thatcher House" and is said to be the inspiration for his fictional character Becky Thatcher. Clemens was awarded an honorary doctorate from Oxford, and the robes he wore to that ceremony and on many other occasions afterwards (including one daughter's wedding) are on display in the museum. Visitors to Hannibal can also tour the Mark Twain Cave and ride a riverboat on the Mississippi River. In 1874 Clemens built a family home in Hartford, Connecticut, where he and Livy raised their three daughters. That home is preserved and open to visitors as the Mark Twain House. Clemens lived in many homes in the United States and abroad.
Several schools are named after Twain. One school, Twain Elementary School in Houston, has a statue of Twain sitting on a bench.
In 1998, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts created the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The award is given out annually.
The Mark Twain Award is an award given annually to a book for children in grades four through eight by the Missouri Association of School Librarians.
Stetson University in DeLand, Florida sponsors the Mark Twain Young Authors' Workshop each summer in collaboration with the The Mark Twain Boyhood Home in Hannibal, MO. The program is open to young authors in grades 5-8.
The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Missouri sponsors the Mark Twain Creative Teaching Award. 
Clemens used different pen names before deciding on Mark Twain. He signed humorous and imaginative sketches "Josh" until 1863. He maintained that his primary pen name, "Mark Twain", came from his years working on Mississippi riverboats, where two fathoms (12 ft, approximately 3.7 m) or "safe water" was measured on the sounding line. The riverboatman's cry was "mark twain" or, more fully, "by the mark twain" ("twain" is an archaic term for two). "By the mark twain" meant "according to the mark [on the line], [the depth is] two fathoms"
Clemens claimed that his famous pen name was not entirely his invention. In Chapter 50 of Life on the Mississippi he wrote:
Captain Isaiah Sellers was not of literary turn or capacity, but he used to jot down brief paragraphs of plain practical information about the river, and sign them "MARK TWAIN," and give them to the New Orleans Picayune. They related to the stage and condition of the river, and were accurate and valuable; ... At the time that the telegraph brought the news of his death, I was on the Pacific coast. I was a fresh new journalist, and needed a nom de guerre; so I confiscated the ancient mariner's discarded one, and have done my best to make it remain what it was in his hands—a sign and symbol and warrant that whatever is found in its company may be gambled on as being the petrified truth; how I have succeeded, it would not be modest in me to say.
Beginning as a writer of light, humorous verse, Twain evolved into a grim, almost profane chronicler of the vanities, hypocrisies and murderous acts of mankind. At mid-career, with Huckleberry Finn, he combined rich humor, sturdy narrative and social criticism in a way that is almost unrivaled in world literature.
Twain was a master at rendering colloquial speech, and helped to create and popularize a distinctive American literature built on American themes and language.
Twain also had a fascination with science and scientific inquiry. He developed a close and lasting friendship with Nikola Tesla, and the two spent quite a bit of time together in Tesla's laboratory, among other places. Such fascination can be seen in Twain's book A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, which features a time traveler from the America of Twain's day, using his knowledge of science to introduce modern technology to Arthurian England. Twain also patented an improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments.
Mark Twain was opposed to vivisection of any kind, not on a scientific basis, but rather an ethical one, in which he states that no sentient being should be made to suffer for another without consent. He later commented on his views:
I am not interested to know whether vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn't. ... The pain which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity toward it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further.
From 1901 until his death in 1910, Twain was vice president of the American Anti-Imperialist League. The League opposed the annexation of the Philippines by the United States. Twain wrote Incident in the Philippines, posthumously published in 1924, in response to the Moro Crater Massacre, in which six hundred Moros were killed. Many but not all of Mark Twain's neglected and previously uncollected writings on anti-imperialism appeared for the first time in book form in 1992.
From the time of its publication there have been occasional attempts to ban Huckleberry Finn from various libraries because Twain's use of local color is offensive to some people. Although Twain was against racism and imperialism far ahead of the public sentiment of his time, those who have only superficial familiarity with his work have sometimes condemned it as racist because it accurately depicts language in common use in the 19th-century United States. Expressions that were used casually and unselfconsciously then are often perceived today as racist; today, such racial epithets are far more visible and condemned. Twain himself would probably be amused by these attempts; in 1885, when a library in Concord, Massachusetts banned the book, he wrote to his publisher, "They have expelled Huck from their library as 'trash suitable only for the slums'; that will sell 25,000 copies for us for sure."
Many of Mark Twain's works have been suppressed at times for various reasons. When an anonymous slim volume was published in 1880 entitled 1601: Conversation, as it was by the Social Fireside, in the Time of the Tudors., Twain was among those rumored to be the author. The issue was not settled until 1906, when Twain acknowledged his literary paternity of this scatological masterpiece.
At least Twain saw 1601 published during his lifetime. During the Philippine-American War, Twain wrote an anti-war article entitled The War Prayer. Through this internal struggle, Twain expresses his opinions of the absurdity of slavery and the importance of following one's personal conscience before the laws of society. It was submitted to Harper's Bazaar for publication, but on March 22, 1905, the magazine rejected the story as "not quite suited to a woman's magazine." Eight days later, Twain wrote to his friend Dan Beard, to whom he had read the story, "I don't think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth." Because he had an exclusive contract with Harper & Brothers, Mark Twain could not publish The War Prayer elsewhere; it remained unpublished until 1923.
In later years, Twain's family suppressed some of his work which was especially irreverent toward conventional religion, notably Letters from the Earth, which was not published until 1962. The anti-religious The Mysterious Stranger was published in 1916, although there is some scholarly debate as to whether Twain actually wrote the most familiar version of this story. Twain was critical of organized religion and certain elements of the Christian religion through most of the end of his life, though he never renounced Presbyterianism