Samuel L. Clemens aka Mark Twain — Author, Lecturer and Humorist
Samuel was named for his grandfather Samuel Clemens and a Clemens' family friend from Virginia named Langhorne. He was born in Florida, Missouri, but grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, along the Mississippi River.
Samuel was a sickly child for the first seven years of his life.
John M. Clemens, Samuel's father, died of pneumonia on March 24, 1847. John was 49-years-old. Samuel was just 11-years-old.
His father’s early death may have caused great emotional trauma to the young Samuel.
In 1848, after his father's sudden death, the family was somewhat destitute. Samuel became a printer's apprentice for the Missouri Courier. The newspaper was owned by his older brother, Orion Clemens.
By 1851, he had been promoted to typesetter and started writing articles, including "A Gallant Fireman" for the Hannibal Journal/Hannibal Western Union.
He also worked later in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Cincinnati, Ohio. Clemens was a self-educated young man, reading material at the public libraries in the large cities.
In the spring of 1854, he traveled back to the Mississippi region, and continued reading all types of books.
In 1857 while traveling on a riverboat to New Orleans (and possibly a trip to South America) he talked with its captain. The captain agreed to train Samuel to be a riverboat pilot for the fee of $500. Samuel knew he could make good money as a boat pilot on the Mississippi River. He canceled any plans for a trip to South America and started his lessons.
Samuel traveled the 1,275 miles of the Mississippi for 18 months, learning the skills to be a pilot.
On June 13, 1858, the steamer Pennsylvania was destroyed by an explosion. Employed on the steam boat was his brother, Henry. Henry died of inhaled steam and severe burns a few days later.
Samuel had secured the job for Henry on the doomed steamer. This fact greatly distressed Samuel.
Samuel earned his license as a pilot in April 1859. It paid well ($250 a month) and he ran boats (including the City of Memphis up and down the Mississippi until the Civil War broke out in April 1861.
Missouri was a slave state before the Civil War. For just two weeks Samuel served with a Confederate unit, the Marion Rangers, before they disbanded.
In July 1861 Samuel went with his older brother, Orion, to Carson City, Nevada, where Orion became the territorial secretary. Samuel helped him for a short time as a clerk — paid $8 a day — but decided soon after, in August 1861, that he would pan for silver.
Samuel's search for silver didn't "pan out". In 1862 he went on to become a reporter for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. During his time on the river he had done little writing, mostly just descriptive letters to his family.
In 1863 he first started using the pen name ‘Mark Twain'. In the lingo of Mississippi river boat pilots, "mark twain" means "two fathoms deep."
As Mark Twain, Clemens wrote humorous articles along with local news items. Some of his stories were reprinted in other newspapers around the country.
In Carson City, Samuel met his mentor, the popular humorist Charles Farrar Browne, who used the pen name Artemus Ward. Ward recognized Clemens' talent and encouraged him to write as much as possible.
Samuel met Olivia Langdon in 1867. They were introduced by her brother, who was a friend of Samuel's. The couple's first date was to hear a reading by Charles Dickens in New York City. They married in February 1870.
Olivia contracted typhoid fever around 1872, but did recover. She always had health problems even in her youth.
Samuel and Olivia had four children, three girls and a boy, between 1870 and 1880. Their son, Langdon, died in 1872.
Mark Twain's writings became very popular during his lifetime. He earned a good deal of money through it.
His writings reflected his time along the Mississippi:
- The Gilded Age (1871)
- Old Times on the Mississippi (1874)
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)
- Life on the Mississippi (1883)
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
- Pudd'nhead Wilson (1893)
- Those Extraordinary Twins (1893)
Samuel always gave credit to his mother, Jane. He said that his sense of humor and his prompt, quaintly-spoken philosophy were her contributions to his fame.
Samuel and his family lived in Europe for four years starting in 1891 where Samuel lectured professionally. There was also a Mark Twain European lecture tour from 1895-1896.
In 1903, Olivia's doctors advised her to take up residence in the warm climate of Italy, prompting the Clemens family to move to a villa outside Florence. She died in June 1904.
There would be more challenges and tragedies in his life.
Twain's secretary, Isabel Lyon, was fired along with her new husband in 1909, on charges of embezzlement.
Twain's daughter, Jean, came to assist her father in his home in Connecticut. She died at his home on Dec. 24, 1909 of a seizure.
When Mark Twain died on April 21, 1910, he only had his one daughter, Clara and her husband, remaining of his immediate family. Clara had a daughter a few months later, named Nina.
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