Samuel Langhorne Clemens lifespan (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), was born in Florida, Missouri. Better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer. He was lauded as the “greatest humorist the country had produced.” Nobel laureate William Faulkner called him “the father of American literature.” His novels include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), the latter often called, “The Great American Novel.”
He was the sixth of seven children born to Jane and John Marshall Clemens, a native of Virginia. Mark Twain was a Cornish English and of Scots-Irish descent. Only three of his siblings Orion, Henry and Pamela survived childhood. His sister Margaret died when Twain was three, and his brother Benjamin died three years later. His brother Pleasant Hannibal (1828) died at three weeks of age.
When Twain was four, his family moved to Hannibal Missouri, a port town on the Mississippi River that inspired the fictional town of St. Petersburg in his book ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and the ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.’ Slavery was legal in Missouri at the time, and it became a theme in these writings. His father was an attorney and a judge, who died of pneumonia in 1847, when Twain was only 11. Thereafter, he went through a lot of struggle. Next year, Twain left school, after fifth grade, to become a printer’s apprentice. In 1851, he began working as a typesetter, contributing articles and humorous sketches to the Hannibal Journal, a newspaper that Orion his brother owned. When he was 18, he left Hannibal Journal and worked as a printer in New York City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati, joining the newly formed printers trade union. He educated himself in public libraries in the evenings, finding wider information than at a conventional school.
He served as an apprentice with a printer and then as a typesetter, contributing articles in the newspaper of his older brother Orion Clemens. Later on, a Steamboat pilot, adopted Twain, as a cub pilot, and taught him about the river between New Orleans and St. Louis. Twain studied, river Mississippi extensively, by learning its landmarks, how to navigate its currents effectively, and how to read the river and its constantly shifting channels, reefs, submerged snags, and rocks that could tear the life out, of the strongest vessel that ever floated. It was an ordeal of more than two years before he received his pilot’s license. Piloting also gave him his pen name of “Mark Twain.”
As a young pilot, Mark Twain served on the steamer. While working, he convinced his younger brother Henry to work with him, and even arranged a post of mud clerk for him on the steamboat. But on June 13, 1858, sadly the steamboat’s boiler exploded. Henry was badly injured. He succumbed to his wounds on June 21. Twain claimed to have foreseen his death in a dream a month earlier, which inspired his interest in para-psychology. He was an early member of the Society for Psychical Research. Twain was guilt-stricken and held himself responsible for the rest of his life. He continued to work on the river as a river pilot until the Civil War broke out in 1861, when traffic was curtailed along the Mississippi River. He later wrote a sketch “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed.” He then left for Nevada to work for his brother Orion, who was the Secretary of the Nevada Territory.
Twain was raised in Hannibal, Missouri. This, provided the setting for his books, ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ His humorous story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” was published in 1865, based on a story that he had heard in Angels Camp, California, where he had spent some time as a miner. The short story brought international attention and was even translated into French. Mark Twain earned a great deal of money from his writings and lectures, but he invested it, in wrong ventures and lost most of it. He invested mostly in new inventions and technology, and also lost money through his publishing house. He later filed for bankruptcy in the wake of these financial setbacks, but he eventually overcame his financial troubles with the help of a financier Henry Huttleston Rogers and paid all his creditors in full, even though his bankruptcy relieved him of having to do so.
Twain and Olivia Langdon his wife corresponded throughout in 1868. She rejected his first marriage proposal, but they were finally married in Elmira, New York in February 1870. She came from a “wealthy but liberal family.” Through her, Twain met abolitionists, socialists, principled atheists, activists for women’s rights and social equality. The couple lived in Buffalo, New York, from 1869 to 1871. He owned a stake in the Buffalo Express Newspaper and worked as an editor and writer. While they were living in Buffalo, their son Langdon died of diphtheria at the age of 19 months. Thereafter they had three daughters: Susy, Clara and Jean.
Later Twain moved his family to Hartford, Connecticut, where he arranged for a home in 1873. In the 1870s and 1880s, the family summered at Quarry Farm in Elmira, the home of Olivia’s sister, Susan Crane. In 1874, Susan got a study room built, so that Twain could have a quiet place to write. Also, Twain was a chain cigar smoker, and Susan did not want him to do so in her house.
Twain wrote many of his classic novels during these 17 years in Hartford (1874–1891) at Quarry Farm. They include. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), The Prince and the Pauper (1881), Life on the Mississippi (1883), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889).
The couple’s marriage lasted 34 years until Olivia’s death in 1904. All of Clemens family are buried in Elmira’s Woodlawn Cemetery.
Twain’s journey ended in the silver-mining town of Virginia City, Nevada, where he became a miner. But he failed as a miner and went to work at the Virginia City newspaper Territorial Enterprise, working under a friend. He first used his pen name here on February 3, 1863, when he wrote a humorous travel account titled “Letter From Carson” and signed it as, “Mark Twain”.
His experiences in the American West inspired him to write ‘Roughing It,’ which was published in 1872. Further, his experiences in Angels Camp (in Calaveras County, California) provided him material to write, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” (1865).
Mark Twain moved to San Francisco in 1864, as a journalist, and met many distinguished writers there. He may have been romantically involved with the poet Ina Coolbrith.
His first success as a writer came when his humorous tall tale “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was published on November 18, 1865, in the New York Weekly, The Saturday Press, bringing him national attention. A year later, he traveled to the Sandwich Islands (present-day Hawaii) as a reporter for newspaper ‘Sacramento Union.’ Where, his letters to the Union were popular and became the basis for his first lectures.
In 1867, a local newspaper funded his trip to the Mediterranean and into the Quaker City (Philadelphia), including a tour of Europe and the Middle East. He wrote a collection of travel letters which were later compiled as, ‘The Innocents Abroad’ (in 1869). It was on this trip that he met fellow passenger Charles Langdon, who showed him the picture of his sister Olivia, with whom Twain fell in love almost at first sight.
Upon returning to the US, Twain was offered honorary membership in Yale University’s, secret Scroll and Key society, in 1868. Twain was fascinated by science and scientific inquiry. He developed a close and lasting friendship with Nikola Tesla, and the two spent much of their time together in Tesla’s laboratory. In the process he patented three inventions—must say he was a genious.
Twain was an early proponent of fingerprinting as a forensic technique. He featured it, in his tall tale, ‘Life on the Mississipi (1883) and as a central plot element in his novel Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894).
Twain’s novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) features a time traveler from the contemporary U.S., using his knowledge of science to introduce modern technology to Arthurian England.
In 1909, Thomas Edison visited Twain at his home in Redding Connecticut and filmed him. Part of the footage was used in ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ (1909), a two-reel short film. It is, the only known, existing film footage, of Twain.
There is a Plaque in Sydney Writers Walk, commemorating, his visit to Sydney, Australia, in 1895. Twain was in great demand as a featured speaker, performing solo humorous talks similar to modern stand-up comedy. He gave paid talks to many men’s clubs, including the Authors’ Club, Beefsteak, Vagabonds, White Friars, and Monday Evening Club of Hartford.
In the late 1890s, he spoke to the Savage Club in London and was elected as its honorary member. He visited Melbourne and Sydney in 1895 as part of a world lecture tour. In 1897, he spoke at the Concordia Press Club in Vienna as a special guest, following the diplomat Charlemagne Tower Jr. He delivered a speech “The Horrors of the German Language”—in German—to the great amusement of the audience. In 1901, he was invited to speak at Princeton University’s Cliosophic Literary Society, where he was made an honorary member.
In 1881, Twain was honored at a banquet in Montreal, Canada where he made reference to securing a copyright. In 1883, he paid a brief visit to Ottawa, and he visited Toronto twice in 1884 and 1885 on a reading tour with novelist George Washington Cable, known as the “Twins of Genius” tour.
The reason for the Toronto visits was to secure Canadian and British copyrights for his upcoming book Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Publishers in Toronto had printed unauthorized editions of his books at the time, before an international copyright agreement was established in 1891. These were sold in the United States as well as in Canada, depriving him of royalties.
He estimated that Belford Brothers edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer alone had cost him ten thousand dollars. He had unsuccessfully attempted to secure the rights for The Prince and the Pauper in 1881, in conjunction with his Montreal trip. Eventually, he received legal advice to register a copyright in Canada (for both Canada and Britain) prior to publishing in the United States, which would restrain the Canadian publishers from printing a version when the American edition was published. There was a requirement that a copyright be registered to a Canadian resident. He addressed this by his short visits to the country.
LATER LIFE AND DEATH
Twain lived his later years in 14 West 10th Street in Manhattan. He passed through a period of deep depression which began in 1896 when his daughter Susy died of meningitis. Olivia’s death in 1904 and second daughter Jean’s death on December 24, 1909, deepened his gloom. As if this was not enough when on May 20, 1909, his close friend Henry Rogers too, died suddenly. In 1906, Twain began his autobiography in the North American Review (a lit magazine). In April, he heard that his friend Ina Coolbrith had lost nearly all that she owned in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and he volunteered a few autographed portrait photographs to be sold for her benefit.
Twain formed a club in 1906 for girls whom he viewed as surrogate granddaughters called the Angel Fish and Aquarium Club. A dozen or so members in the age group from 10 to 16. He exchanged letters with his “Angel Fish” girls and invited them to concerts and theatre and to play games. Twain wrote in 1908 that the club was his “life’s chief delight”. In 1907, he met Dorothy Quick (aged 11) on a transatlantic crossing, beginning “a friendship that was to last until the very day of his death”.
Oxford University awarded Twain an honorary doctorate of letters in 1907.
Twain was born two weeks after Halley’s Comet’s closest approach to earth in 1835. He said in 1909 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. Twain’s prediction was accurate; he died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910, one day after the comet’s closest approach to Earth. Twain and his wife are buried side-by-side in Elmira’s Woodlawn Cemetery.
(Part 2 about his writings in detail)
Twain began his career, writing light, humorous verses, but he became a chronicler of vanities, hypocrisies, and murderous acts of mankind. At mid-career, he combined rich humor, sturdy narrative, and social criticism in Huckleberry Finn. He was a master in rendering colloquial speech and helped to create and popularize a distinctive American literature built on American themes and language.
Many of his works have been suppressed at times for various reasons. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been repeatedly restricted in American high schools, not least for its frequent use of the word “nigger” which was in common usage in the pre-Civil War period in which the novel was set.
A complete bibliography of Twain’s works is nearly impossible to compile because of the vast number of pieces he wrote (often in obscure newspapers) and his use of several different pen names. Additionally, a large portion of his speeches and lectures have been lost or were not recorded. Thus the compilation of Twain’s works is an ongoing process. Researchers rediscovered published material as recently as 1995 and 2015.
Twain wrote for the Territorial Enterprise, a Virginia City newspaper in 1863, when he met lawyer Tom Fitch, editor of the competing newspaper Virginia Daily Union, known as the “silver-tongued orator of the Pacific”.
Twain became a writer of the Sagebrush School. He was later known as its most famous member. His first important work was “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” published in the New York Saturday Press on November 18, 1865. After a burst of popularity, the Sacramento Union, commissioned him to write letters about his travel experiences. The first journey that he took for this job was to ride the steamer Ajax on its maiden voyage to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). All the while, he was writing letters to the newspaper that were meant for publishing, and chronicling his experiences with humor. These letters proved to be the genesis of his work with the San Francisco Alta California newspaper that designated him as a traveling correspondent for a trip from San Francisco to New York City via the Panama isthmus.
On June 8, 1867, he set sail on the pleasure cruiser Quaker City for five months. This trip resulted in completion of his travel book The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims Progress, published in 1869. In 1872, he published his second piece of travel literature, ‘Roughing It’ as an account of his journey from Missouri to Nevada, his subsequent life in the American West, and his visit to Hawaii. The book lampoons American and Western society in the same manner that Innocents critiqued the various countries of Europe and the Middle East. His next work was The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, his first attempt at writing a novel. The book, written with his neighbour Charles Dudley Warner, is also his only collaboration.
Twain’s next work drew on his experiences on the Mississippi River. ‘Old Times on the Mississippi’ was a series of sketches published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1875 featuring his disillusionment with Romanticism. Old Times eventually became the starting point for Life on the Mississippi.
Twain’s next major publication was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which draws on his youth in Hannibal. Tom Sawyer was modeled on Twain as a child, with traces of schoolmates John Briggs and Will Bowen. The book also introduces Huckleberry Finn in a supporting role, based on Twain’s boyhood friend Tom Blankenship.
The Prince and the Pauper was not as well received, despite a storyline that is common in film and literature today. The book tells the story of two boys born on the same day who are physically identical, acting as a social commentary as the prince and pauper switch places. Twain had started Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (which he consistently had problems completing—that included close to failure of nerves) and had instead completed his travel book A Tramp Abroad, which describes his travels through central and southern Europe.
Twain’s next major published work was the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which confirmed him as a noteworthy American writer. Some have called it the first Great American Novel, and the book has become a must read in many schools throughout the United States. Huckleberry Finn was an offshoot from Tom Sawyer
Near the completion of Huckleberry Finn, Twain wrote ‘Life on Mississippi,’ which is said to have heavily influenced his novel on biography. The travel work recounts Twain’s memories and new experiences after a 22-year absence from the Mississippi River.
HIS LATER WRITINGS
Twain produced President Ulysses S. Grant’s Memoirs through his fledgling publishing house. He also wrote “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed” for The Century Magazine. He next focused on ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, written with the same historical fiction style as The Prince and the Pauper. A Connecticut Yankee showed the absurdities of political and social norms by setting them in the court of King Arthur. 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.
His next large-scale work was Pudd’nhead Wilson, which he wrote rapidly, as he was desperately trying to stave off bankruptcy. From November 12 to December 14, 1893, Twain wrote 60,000 words for the novel. It was first published serially in Century Magazine and, when it was finally published in book form, Pudd’nhead Wilson appeared as the main title; however, the “subtitles” make the entire title read: The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson and the Comedy of The Extraordinary Twins.
Twain’s next venture was a work of straight fiction that he called Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc and dedicated to his wife. He had long said that this was the work that he was most proud of, despite the criticism that he received for it. The book had been a dream of his since childhood, and he claimed that he had found a manuscript detailing the life of Joan of Arc when he was an adolescent. This was another piece that he was convinced would save his publishing company. His financial adviser Henry Huttleston Rogers quashed that idea and got Twain out of that business altogether, but the book was published nonetheless.
To pay the bills and keep his business projects afloat, Twain had begun to write articles and commentary furiously, with diminishing returns, but it was not enough. He filed for bankruptcy in 1894. During this time of dire financial straits, he published several literary reviews in newspapers to help make ends meet.
Twain’s wife died in 1904. After some time had passed he published some works that his wife, his de facto editor and censor throughout their married life, had looked down upon. The Mysterious Stranger is perhaps the best known, depicting various visits of Satan to earth. This particular work was not published in Twain’s lifetime. His manuscripts included three versions, written between 1897 and 1905. The so-called Hannibal, Eseldorf, and Print Shop versions.
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-chronological order. But some archivists and compilers have rearranged the biography into a more conventional form, thereby eliminating some of Twain’s humor and the flow of the book.
Twain’s works have been subjected to censorship efforts. According to Stuart (2013), “Leading these banning campaigns, generally, were religious organizations or individuals in positions of influence. In 1905, the Brooklyn Public Library banned both The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer from the children’s department because of their language.
Twain’s views became more radical as he grew older.
From 1901, soon after his return from Europe, until his death in 1910, Twain was vice-president of the American Anti-Imperialist League, which opposed the annexation of the Philippines by the United States and had “tens of thousands of members”. He wrote many political pamphlets for the organization.
During the Philippine-American War, Twain wrote a short pacifist story titled The War Prayer, which makes the point that humanism and Christianity’s preaching of love are incompatible with the conduct of war.
Twain was an adamant supporter of the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of slaves.
About India he said. “So far as I am able to judge nothing has been left undone, either by man or Nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Where every prospect pleases, and only man is vile.”
He was also a staunch supporter of women’s rights and an active campaigner for women’s suffrage.
He created a reverent portrayal of Joan of Arc, a subject over which he had obsessed for forty years, studied for a dozen years and spent two years writing about. In 1900 and again in 1908 he stated, “I like Joan of Arc, best of all my books, it is the best”.
Those who knew Twain well late in life recount that he dwelt on the subject of the afterlife, his daughter Clara saying: “Sometimes he believed death ended everything, but most of the time he felt sure of a life beyond.”
Twain was opposed to the vivisection practices (practice of performing operations on live animals) His objection was not on a scientific basis but rather an ethical one. He specifically cited the pain caused to the animal as his basis of his opposition:
He used different pen names before deciding on “Mark Twain”. He signed humorous and imaginative sketches as “Josh” until 1863. Additionally, he used the pen name “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass” for a series of humorous letters.
While Twain is often depicted wearing a white suit, modern representations suggesting that he wore them throughout his life are unfounded. Evidence suggests that Twain began wearing white suits on the lecture circuit, after the death of his wife Olivia (“Livy”) in 1904.
Posted by Kamlesh Tripathi
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GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE
(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 7 prestigious libraries of the US, including, Harvard University and Library of Congress. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in Libraries and archives of Canada and Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai)
ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY
(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi)
AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES
(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be its undying characteristic. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014)
REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD
(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)
TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN
(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his ways through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February, 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)
RHYTHM … in poems
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