Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Twain gave America the prototypical initiation novel, but his humor and nostalgia for the past increasingly gave way to his pessimism about man’s technological “progress.”
Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri. The ancestors of his mother, née Jane Lampton, and his father, John Marshall Clemens, were mostly English and Irish and had lived in Virginia and Kentucky. While both sides of his family claimed distinguished English ancestors, those aristocratic ties were never clearly identified, and the Clemens family was hardly affluent when Samuel was born. Nevertheless, Samuel’s father was a cultivated, educated man (he had studied law) who was determined to be successful financially. Consequently, because there appeared to be more opportunity, in 1839 the elder Clemens moved his family to Hannibal, located on the banks of the Mississippi. Unfortunately, John’s financial dreams did not materialize, and he died in 1847, when Samuel was eleven. Partly by default and partly because of her personality, Jane Clemens became a central influence in Samuel’s life. In fact, the similarities between his mother and Olivia Langdon, his wife, were so pronounced that one could speculate that his mother’s influence subconsciously affected his choice of a wife.
Shortly after his father’s death, Samuel, probably for financial reasons, was apprenticed to a local printer, and his newspaper career was launched. In 1850, he went to work for his older brother, Orion, on the Hannibal Western Union, and until 1857, he worked as a typesetter for various newspapers. During this period, he also wrote sketches and published his first story. His newspaper career was fortuitously interrupted in 1857, when he learned to be a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi. Those experiences formed the basis for his Life on the Mississippi (1883) and also deepened the influence that the Mississippi had on the body of his work. In 1862, he first used the pen name “Mark Twain,” taken from the river boatmen’s cry to indicate two fathoms of safe water. When the outbreak of the Civil War brought his piloting career to an end, Twain served briefly with some Confederate “irregulars,” but he gladly accepted Orion’s offer to accompany him to Nevada, where Orion served as “secretary” to that territory.
During his Nevada years, Twain unsuccessfully prospected for gold and silver and successfully returned to the newspaper world, writing for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, where he developed, partly through emulating humorist Artemus Ward, his lecturing persona. In 1864, he moved to San Francisco, where he continued his newspaper work on the Morning Call and also contributed work to the Californian, a literary magazine. Among his California works was “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” a short story that catapulted him to national prominence and established him as a spokesman for the vanishing American frontier. After a trip to Hawaii, about which he wrote and lectured, he left California in 1866 and went East to New York City.
Twain’s decision to go east was a significant one. Despite his “frontier” humor and Southern speech, he became an Easterner who looked nostalgically to the South for his literary landscape and to the West for his values. In effect, Twain was split between the progressive, materialistic East of the future and the reactionary, individualistic Southwest of the past. Even Twain’s appearance seemed a contradiction: A handsome man given to elegant clothes (white suits became his trademark in his later years), he was also a cigar-smoker and whiskey-drinker who never became “genteel” in manner. Far from subscribing to the notion of “art for art’s sake,” he made writing his business and was ambitious both financially and socially. In fact, it was the split between art and business that produced works that appear inconsistent, contradictory, and careless. The pressure to make money did cause him to produce inferior work, as Twain himself acknowledged.
Shortly after moving to New York, Twain met Henry Ward Beecher, a prominent preacher and brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). When he learned that Beecher’s congregation was planning a Mediterranean steamboat excursion to Europe and the Holy Land, he persuaded the Alta California to finance his trip in exchange for providing the newspaper with travel letters, which were popular at the time. The revised travel accounts eventually became The Innocents Abroad (1869), a book that enabled him to abandon his newspaper work and to devote his full attention to writing. The trip was also significant because it resulted in his marriage, in 1870, to Olivia Langdon, whose brother had met Twain on the voyage and had showed the author Olivia’s picture. During their thirty-three years of marriage, Olivia was the ideal wife and confidante, but she also served as an unofficial “editor” whose moral views tempered Twain’s writing.
After his marriage, Twain embarked on what was to become a typical divided course of action: He began to write Roughing It (1872), and he acquired part ownership of the Buffalo Express, the first of a series of unsuccessful business ventures. Another pattern was also established during the early years of the marriage: depression caused by sickness and death. Olivia’s father died in 1870; Olivia herself was sick and gave birth prematurely to their first child, Langdon, who died in 1872. Despite these setbacks, Twain moved his family to Hartford, Connecticut, where he built an impressive...
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Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in the village of Florida, Missouri. Although his early life was spent in Missouri, Clemens left home as a young man and traveled around the United States, often picking up temporary printing jobs or other odd jobs to fund his adventures.
Travel remained a big part of Clemens' s life and he experienced many of the different types of travel available to people in the nineteenth century. From working as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi, Clemens moved out west, traveling by stagecoach. It was in the west that he began to publish his own writing, including his first book, a collection of humorous tales, in 1867. In fact, Clemens's frontier-style humor became a trademark in many of his future publications. "The Invalid's Story''—which is believed to have been written in 1877, and which was first published as part of ‘‘Some Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion'' in the story collection, The Stolen White Elephant, Etc.... (1882)—is a good example. Even though the story takes place in the Midwest, it exhibits the same raucous humor that Clemens first introduced in his western stories.
‘‘The Invalid's Story’’ also featured another form of travel that Clemens had experienced. Train travel was the dominant form of travel in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Throughout his life, Clemens and his family were plagued by sickness. His firstborn son was exposed to the elements and died of diphtheria, much like the narrator in Clemens' s story, who eventually dies from typhoid fever—as a result of being out in the elements.
Clemens (as the more commonly known Twain) wrote hundreds of works during his lifetime. Some of his most famous writings include the novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. His autobiographical and travel books include The Innocents Abroad; or, the New Pilgrims' Progress, Roughing It, Old Times on the Mississippi, and Following the Equator. His stories include ‘‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches," "1601," and ‘‘The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, and Other Stories and Essays.’’ In 2001, one of Clemens's manuscripts, entitled A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage, was published by the Atlantic Monthly.
Clemens died in his home near Redding, Connecticut, on April 21,1910, leaving behind a legacy as one of America's most important writers, a distinction that has only increased with time.
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Twain showed that literary art of international reputation could be made from the simplicities of rural American life and that the comic representation of that life did not necessarily have to patronize the actions and ideas of simple people trying to lead decent lives in a country still physically and intellectually unformed. He made Americans proud of his celebration of childhood innocence and childhood character and aware of the physical beauty and the psychological greatness of its midwestern landscape. He also showed that a comic writer need not eschew serious ideas and that the imagination of a writer of adventure literature could be used to consider serious human themes.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
After his education was cut short by the death of a stern father who had more ambition than success, at the age of eleven Mark Twain was apprenticed to a newspaper office, which, except for the money earned from four years of piloting on the Mississippi, supplied most of his income until 1868. Then, he quickly won eminence as a lecturer and author before his marriage to wealthy Olivia Langdon in 1870 led to a memorably comfortable and active family life which included three daughters. Although always looking to his writing for income, he increasingly devoted energy to business affairs and investments until his publishing house declared bankruptcy in 1894. After his world lecture tour of 1895-1896, he became one of the most admired...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri, in 1835. He first used the pen name Mark Twain, taken from the leadsman’s cry for two fathoms of water, in 1862. Twain’s father was a Virginia lawyer, and the family was of poor but respectable southern stock. In 1839, the family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, the Mississippi River town that provided the source material and background of some of Twain’s best-known fiction. After his father died in 1847, Twain left school to become an apprentice in the printing shop of his brother, Orion. From 1853 to 1856, Twain worked as a journeyman printer in St. Louis, New York, Philadelphia, Keokuk, and Cincinnati.
Between 1857 and 1860, Twain acquired much of...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri. Four years later, his family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, the fictionalized St. Petersburg of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Dawson’s Landing of The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894). As a youth, Twain learned the printer’s trade, but in 1857 he fulfilled his boyhood dream of becoming a steamboat pilot, which he describes in “Old Times on the Mississippi” (1876) and Life on the Mississippi (1883). After the Civil War (1861-1865) ended commercial steamboat traffic on the Lower Mississippi River, he spent the next five years (1861-1866) as a miner and journalist in California and the Nevada Territory, an...
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Biography (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Mark Twain’s most famous work, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, has been banned in classrooms and libraries since its first year of American publication, 1885. At the prodding of Louisa May Alcott, the public library of Concord, Massachusetts, banned the book, charging that it was unsuitable for impressionable young people. Such criticism died down until the racially charged environment of the 1960’s, when African Americans began calling the novel “racist trash.” Attempts to ban the book achieved prominent attention as in 1989, when a black administrator of an intermediate school named after Mark Twain in Fairfax, Virginia, pushed to ban the book.
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Mark Twain is both the greatest humorist American literature has produced and one of its most important novelists. Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the son of John Marshall and Jane Lampton Clemens, in the small town of Florida, Missouri, he spent his boyhood in nearby Hannibal on the banks of the Mississippi River, a setting that would figure prominently in many of his best works. His father died before he turned twelve, and he quit school and went to work as a printer’s apprentice a few years later. While working on his older brother’s newspaper, he began writing humorous sketches. In 1852, he published his first piece in the East, “The Dandy Frightening the Squatter,” which appeared in a Boston magazine. A year later, he...
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The son of John Marshall Clemens, a judge, and Jane Lampton Clemens in Hannibal, Missouri, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910) adopted the pseudonym Mark Twain when he began to write professionally. Before beginning his literary career, Clemens held diverse jobs, ranging from riverboat pilot and occasional gold-miner to journeyman printer and journalist. He spent much of his early adulthood traveling up and down the Mississippi River by steamboat and throughout the western frontier with his brother Orion, who became Nevada's secretary of territory in 1861.
Clemens' s earliest works include a series of letters published in regional newspapers that reported the risk and adventure of life on the frontier. Sensing America's appetite for "news," especially the sensational kind, Clemens often peppered his reports with outlandish hoaxes and tall tales, which often caused controversy as readers assumed they were true. A headline Clemens wrote in 1853 for his brother's Hannibal newspaper, Journal, evinces his penchant for irony, comedy, and good-natured satire: ‘‘Terrible Accident! 500 Men Killed and Missing!’’ He explains in the subsequent article, ‘‘We had set the above head up, expecting (of course) to use it, but as the accident hasn't yet happened, we'll say 'To be continued.'’’ Clemens first signed his pen name in 1863 to his ‘‘Carson City Letters’’ series that appeared in Virginia City's Territorial Enterprise. In 1865, Clemens as Twain published ‘‘Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,’’ his first short story.
Astounding for both its quantity and quality, Twain's work is best known for its humorous rendering of human imperfection. While his early novels, short stories, essays and public lectures poke fun at human fallibility with delight and good nature, his later writings assume a moralistic tone, including such works such as What is Man? (1898), the collected fragments that were to make up The Mysterious Stranger (1916), and ‘‘The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg’’ (1899). Critics detect an underlying "deterministic'' philosophy in his later works. Determinism asserts that humans refuse to accept their inherently sinful nature, which inevitably leads to a moral fall. Pointing to the edifying benefits of sin, some critics read stories like ‘‘The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg’’ as an expostulation of ‘‘the fortunate fall’’ myth. Scholars often attribute Twain's gloomy outlook at the time to personal troubles. Recently bankrupted by investments in the failed Paige typesetting machine, Twain lost his daughter Susy to meningitis in 1896, while he was in Europe on a lecture tour to satisfy his creditor's demands. Critics also sense optimism in his later moralistic writings. Similar in this respect to his earlier works, he notes in his Autobiography that solid morals always inform worthy and lasting humor. Otherwise, humor is merely "decoration’’ and "fragrance." Twain writes: ‘‘Humor must not professedly teach, and it must not professedly preach, but it must do both if it would last forever.’’
Biography (Short Stories for Students)
Mark Twain Biography (The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County: Literary Touchstone Classic)
Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was born in Hannibal, Missouri, on November 30, 1835. He had two brothers and a sister. A slave named Jenny worked for the family, and it is thought that her storytelling had a strong influence on the young Twain. He traveled extensively, working in various jobs, including a stint on a newspaper and one as a riverboat pilot. He supposedly took his pseudonym from the way a river's depth was measured: a piece of line with knots at three-foot intervals was dropped into the river, and when the rope hit bottom, the depth was called out to the pilot. Therefore, “Mark Twain” or “two knots” literally means “six feet.”
In 1864, Twain left for San Francisco where he worked as a reporter. After a trip to Hawaii for The Sacramento Union, he began giving lectures. Later, in 1869, he wrote The Innocents Abroad based on his experiences traveling in France and Italy. The book was immensely popular, and Twain's sharp, humorous barbs set him apart from most other writers of the time.
Twain married Olivia Langdon in 1870, and between 1876 and 1884, he wrote Tom Sawyer, The Prince and The Pauper, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain also became a very popular lecturer, drawing huge crowds to hear him read his own works.
Family tragedies, including the death of his beloved daughter, and a series of bad financial investments left him bitter and depressed in his old age. His later writings, most of which were published posthumously, reflect his disappointment at what he saw were grave weaknesses and flaws in human nature.
Mark Twain died in 1910; his death, like his birth, coincided with the appearance of Halley's Comet.
Today, he is thought of as both a fine humorist with an uncanny ear for speech and the first truly modern American novelist, adept at pointing out hypocrisy and the inconsistencies in human nature.
dingy - A small boat
Best known as Mark Twain Samuel Clemens was born 30 November 1835 and raised in Hannibal, Missouri. There he absorbed many of the influences that would inform his most lasting contributions to American literature. During his youth, he delighted in the rowdy play of boys on the river and became exposed to the institution of slavery. He began to work as a typesetter for a number of Hannibal newspapers at the age of twelve. In the late 1850s, he became a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River. This job taught him the dangers of navigating the river at night and gave him a firsthand understanding of the river's beauty and perils. These would later be depicted in the books Life on the Mississippi and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
After a brief stint as a soldier in the Confederate militia, Clemens went out west, where he worked as a reporter for various newspapers. He contributed both factual reportage and outlandish, burlesque tales. This dual emphasis would characterize his entire career as a journalist. During this phase of his career, in 1863, he adopted the pseudonym Mark Twain, taken from the riverboat slang that means water is at least two fathoms (twelve feet) deep and thus easily travelled. His second book, The Innocents Abroad (1869), a collection of satirical travel letters the author wrote from Europe, was an outstanding success, selling almost seventy thousand copies in its first year. On the heels of this triumph, Clemens married Olivia Langdon and moved to the East, where he lived for the rest of his life. In the East, Clemens had to confront the attitudes of the eastern upper class, a group to which he felt he never belonged. Nevertheless, he did win influential friends, most significantly William Dean Howells, editor of the Atlantic Monthly.
Clemens's first two novels. The Gilded Age (1873), written with Charles Dudley Warner, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), a children's book based on his boisterous childhood in Hannibal, won Clemens widespread recognition. Shortly afterwards, he began to compose a sequel to Tom's story, an autobiography of Tom's friend, Huck Finn. He worked sporadically on the book over the next seven years, publishing more travel books and novels in the meantime. When it was finally published, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was an immediate success, although it was also condemned as inappropriate for children. The book draws on Clemens's childhood in Hannibal, including his memories of the generosity of whites who aided runaway slaves, in addition to the punishments they endured when caught. In fact, in 1841, his father had served on the jury that convicted three whites for aiding the escape of five slaves.
In the 1890s, Clemens's extensive financial speculations caught up with him, and he went bankrupt in the depression of 1893-94. With an eye to paying back his many debts, he wrote a number of works, including continuing adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. He spent his final decade dictating his autobiography, which appeared in 1924. Clemens died on 21 April 1910.
Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in the village of Florida, Missouri. When his father died in 1847, Clemens— who was only twelve years old at the time—was sent to be a printer's apprentice. While his early life was spent in Missouri, Clemens left home as a young man and was a traveler for the rest of his life, often taking on odd jobs, submitting various writings for publication, and assuming other odd jobs to fund his adventures.
After working as a riverboat pilot and spending some time in the South, where he was a Confederate soldier for two weeks, Clemens moved to the developing American West. He first gained popularity in small towns as a journalist using the pseudonym Mark Twain a nautical term from his riverboat pilot days. He later became known as a travel writer, humorist, and lecturer.
Clemens married Olivia Langdon in 1870. They had four children together: Langdon, who died as an infant; Susy, who died from meningitis in her twenties; Jean, who died from heart failure in her twenties; and Clara, their only surviving daughter.
An optimistic and enterprising man, Clemens used the small fortune from his literary success to make several bad investments, including starting his own publishing company, which sent him into debt in his late fifties. Clemens worked off his debts through a new lecture tour and then spent his final years traveling with his family and dictating much of The Autobiography of Mark Twain, the first version of which was not published until after his death.
Clemens left specific instructions for the release of all of his autobiographical writings, the next major installment of which is due to be published in 2006 by the University of California Press. He considered some of his writings so controversial that they are not to be published until 2406.
Clemens wrote hundreds of works during his lifetime under the pseudonym Mark Twain. Some of his most famous writings include novels such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court; autobiographical and travel books such as The Innocents Abroad, or the New Pilgrims' Progress, Roughing It, Old Times on the Mississippi, and Following the Equator; and short stories such as ‘‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," "1601," and ‘‘The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg.’’ He also wrote numerous essays, speeches, and other short nonfiction works, many of which have been anthologized or reproduced in collections. In 2001, one of Clemens' s unpublished manuscripts entitled A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage was published by the Atlantic Monthly.
Clemens died from heart disease in his home near Redding, Connecticut, on April 21, 1910. He left behind a legacy as one of America's most important writers, a distinction that has only increased with time.
Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835 in Florida, Missouri. He spent much of his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri, a town located on the Mississippi River. He never finished school and instead became an apprentice to a printer at the age of 12. In the 1850s, he worked as a boat pilot and later briefly served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. During this time he submitted his first journalism pieces, using the pseudonym Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass. He then traveled west and found work as a miner and a reporter. It was at this time that he first began to publish work under the name Mark Twain and establish himself as a sketch-writer and humorist. "Mark Twain" was a reference to his riverboat days; it was a term that the men who worked on the boats used to indicate the depth of the water.
Twain's first sketch to win widespread acclaim was the 1865 short story,"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," which first appeared in the The New York Saturday Press. It later appeared as the title story in his first collection, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketchesin 1867. At the time this book was published, Twain began traveling abroad and often sent his satirical and humorous observations home for publication in American journals. Many of these pieces were later collected and published in 1869 as The Innocents Abroad; or, The New Pilgrim's Progress. Around this time, Twain also wrote pieces for the Sacramento Union newspaper, often employing the letter-writing and reporting techniques he used in "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."
Incorporating memories of his boyhood and life on the Mississippi, Twain published his children's book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876. Twain published the sequel to this American classic of American boyhood, the critically acclaimed and equally popular The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in 1884. Like much of his work, Huck Finn made use of vernacular language and dialect, and emphasized the inherent injustice of American society. In the late 1800s, Twain suffered various financial and personal losses, and his satirical wit and often pessimistic outlook became overwhelmingly apparent in such classics as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Pudd'nhead Wilson, and "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg." When Twain died in Redding, Connecticut, in 1910, he was—as he continues to be—revered as one of the United States's greatest and most popular authors.
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
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. In 1839, the family reached Hannibal, Missouri, a small town on the Mississippi River upriver from St. Louis, and it was there that Twain spent his early childhood and developed his love of the great river.
His father died when Twain was twelve years old, and Twain left school to learn the trade of printing, which his brother had...
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IntroductionMark Twain himself was Twain’s first successful work of fiction. Born in 1835 as Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Twain worked as a river boat captain on the Mississippi while a young man. When the pilots called out the depth of the river, “mark twain” meant that the river was two fathoms deep. A master of vernacular English, Twain eventually traveled all over America (and beyond), paying attention to how people really spoke and what really entertained them. He published poetry, jokes, tall tales, nonfiction, and, of course, some of the greatest novels in American history. His characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn seem to capture the meaning of boyhood, America, and life on the wild Mississippi River.
- Twain grew up in Missouri, a slave state. However, when the Civil War broke out, Missouri didn’t join the Confederacy, so Twain and some friends formed a militia to fight on the Confederate side. This lasted until the first battle. When a man was killed, Twain deserted.
- Twain was a successful lecturer, generating money and fame via speaking tours throughout the United States and Europe.
- When Twain disliked you, you knew it. His essay “Fennimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” does an entertainingly malicious job of taking apart the author of Last of the Mohicans.
- Twain made lots of money, but he lost most of it. He was as bad at investing as he was good at writing, and he eventually had to declare bankruptcy.
- Ernest Hemingway once said, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”