Mark Twain


(Samuel Clemens)
Samuel Clemens was born and grew up in Hannibal, Missouri.
This was the home of his later characters Tom Sawyer and
Huck Finn. In these books he incorporated such features
that really existed in Hannibal; features such as Holidays
Hill, Bear Creek and Lover's Leap. Clemens described the
residents of Hannibal as happy and content with the lives
they led in their small town. In his late teens, Clemens
left Hannibal on a riverboat to become a printer in St.
Louis. He moved up in the ranks of printing and moved to
New York and eventually to Washington D.C. 

Clemens remembered how much fun he had had on the riverboat
and how glorious it must have been to be a pilot. He soon
decided to move to New Orleans to become a pilot. On the
boat, he often heard things like 'Mark the twain, two
fathoms deep'. He liked how the words "Mark Twain" sounded
and in one of his first books, 'Life on the Mississippi'
about his four years piloting the Spread Eagle along the
twisting river, he decided to use the name Mark Twain. 

Mark Twain stopped piloting the riverboat in 1861, at the
start of the Civil War, to join the Union. He went to war
for two weeks and left immediately after being involved in
the shooting of a civilian. He said he knew retreating
better than it's inventor did. He soon decided to travel
1,700 miles from the Missouri Territory , to the Nevada
Territory. He passed through Overland City, Horseshoe City,
and many large and small cities in between. Clemens
commented that Salt Lake City was healthy. He said that the
city had one doctor who was arrested once a week for lack
of work. 

Virginia City was very lively from all of the gold and
silver found near. He commented that the saloons, courts
and prisons were busy and there was a whiskey mill every
fifteen steps. Inspired by the vein of silver as wide as a
New York City street under Virginia City, Twain decided to
go prospecting. Many people went prospecting crazy but
Twain thought it must have skipped over him. After not
finding any silver, he wrote a book called Roughing It. 

Clemens soon went to San Francisco and took a job at the
San Francisco Times. From them he got the title of "The
Most Wild Humorist of the Pacific Slope". He wanted to
travel, so he boarded a ship to Hawaii, also known as the
Sandwich Islands. From there, he traveled around the South
Pacific and eventually made his way to Egypt where he was
surprised by the large number of American tourists. He
called many of them lost tribes of America. Twain soon felt
he was in a strange world that had developed so much from
his small town of Hannibal. "My heart is in my own
century," Twain said,"but I wish the twentieth well." There
were other great phrases that he said, such as: "I was
young and foolish and now I'm old and foolish." Twain
churned out quotable phrases like a cigar churns out smoke. 

Clemens eventually bought a house on Long Island which he
named Stormfield and stayed there through his final days.
Samuel Clemens was born in 1835, the night of the Haley's
Comet. He always said that he thought he would go out with
the comet just as he came in with it. Well, he got his wish
; Clemens died in 1910 at age seventy five, the night of
the Haley's Comet. 

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida,
Missouri on November 30, 1835. His father and mother both
came from old Virginia families. His father was trained as
a lawyer; somewhat feckless and unsuccessful in business,
he moved slowly westward involving himself in land
speculation. His father died when Twain was twelve years
old, and he left school to learn the trade of printing,
which his brother had entered before him. He spent several
years as a roaming journeyman printer, working as far east
as New York City, but in 1857, he was taken on by Horace
Bixby, who trained him as a Mississippi riverboat pilot, a
trade he practiced until the Civil War. 

The War wrecked the Mississippi River traffic, so in 1862
he joined his brother, Orion, in Carson City, Nevada, where
his brother had a government job. He drifted into silver
mining and eventually back into journalism. It was in 1862
that he first adopted the pen name Mark Twain. Later, he
was in newspaper work in San Francisco, where his work as a
writer of short sketches and stories was encouraged. He was
developing a minor reputation as a humorist and lecturer in
the mid 1860's, but it was the publication of "The
Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" in 1865 that
brought country-wide attention. He had further success with
a series of comic articles about a trip to Hawaii and from
then on he was able to make a living on the lecture
circuit. It is probably fair to say that his best work was
done by the end of the 1880's.
Mark Twain's general reputation as one of the most admired,
and possibly the most beloved American writer is based upon
the work he published before 1890. He was always more than
simply a comic entertainer, he responds to human error with
quick satiric thrusts that reminds one of eighteenth
century English satirist Jonathan Swift. The Adventures of
Tom Sawyer is reasonably free from such tonal darkening,
but The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn certainly is not. In
order to appreciate fully the greatness of that novel, it
is necessary to go beyond a sense of triumph in Huck's
conversation to an outright defender Jim to an
understanding of the kind of world which threatens both the
slave and the boy. The confidence of these men, completely
insensitive to the pain they cause, may be an obvious
example of Twain's sense of evil in the world. That does
not circumscribe the way in which he suggests that human
cruelty is gratuitously omnipresent but in the center of
society. Jim's greatest enemy is a spinster woman of
scrupulous moral and religious credentials, but hates

In his early work he seemed to touch the core of late
nineteenth century popular humor, giving Americans what
they felt was the best part of their characters in stories
of good-natured, slightly skeptical, occasionally vulgar
trickery. Twain had an eye for hypocrisy, self-interest,
and pomposity, and his main characters, if sometimes less
clever than he himself was, could not be fooled for long,
even if they could be misled initially out of innocence. 

He certainly could have played it safe and been satisfied
with a minor, lucrative career as a funnyman, but he had
some things to say about human nature which could not be
satisfied in the short comic story. The Celebrated Jumping
Frog of Calaveras County Jim Smiley, an obsessive gambler,
meets his match when he bets that his trained frog, Dan'l
Webster, can outjump any other frog in a Northern
California mining area, Calaveras County. In this tale,
style is a strong element. Twain sets himself up as the
straight man who once gets started is impossible to stop.
His letter to A. Ward, which is the exterior framing device
for the story, is a complaint to the effect that Ward had
deliberately misled Twain. The style of the first paragraph
of the letter has a kind of prim formality about it, and
the facility of an educated writer barely able to suppress
his suspicion that he has been made the fool. 

Beyond its technical cleverness the popularity of the story
lay in large part in the fact that Twain refrains from
patronizing his unlettered inhabitants of Calaveras County.
Smiley may have been fooled this time, but he is usually
the victor and is likely to rebound. His proposed victim is
to be congratulated on his quickness of mind. The story's
tone, in fact, is one of generosity and good nature.


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