Praised as "the greatest humorist this country (the US) has ever produced", Mark Twain truly was a national treasure. Best known for his works The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the latter often being called the "Great American Novel", Twain's wit and satire remains unparalleled even today - over an entire century after his death. In celebration of our author of the month, we've written a brief history on the times and talents of Twain to show our appreciation for all this American great has left for us.
Born in Missouri, Florida, on November 30th, Mark Twain (born Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was moved to Hannibal, Missouri when he was only four years old - a location which would later prove to be influential for his iconic Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn novels. Pursuing his literary streak from an early age, he left school in the fifth grade to become a printer's apprentice. He continued to pursue similar work throughout his younger and teenage years, working as a typesetter for the newspaper Hannibal Journal, before later working as a printer in New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati from the age of 18. Impressively, during his early working life, he educated himself in public libraries, where he found a wider scope of information than that which was typically taught in schools.
Outside of the literary world however, Twain and his comrades all shared another ambition; to become a steamboatman. A steamboat pilot, Horace E. Bixby, took Twain on as a cub pilot, teaching him how to navigate the river between New Orleans and St. Louis. It was then that Twain gained the pen name he is now known by worldwide, as mark twain was a common term used for a leadsman on the river. Yet working as a pilot on the river also earned this future writer a great deal of grief; he convinced his younger brother Henry to join him, even arranging a position for him, only for Henry to die in a boiler explosion whilst working on a steamboat. Despite the guilt he felt, Twain continued his position until the American Civil War broke out in 1861.
Being a young man when the Civil War began, Twain was a forward thinking and compassionate individual. Despite very briefly joining a Confederate unit, he was very much against the act of slavery and supported its abolition. Being born in a time when slavery was legal, the subject went on to become a recurring theme in some of his written works.
Twain moved around a great deal during his earlier live, continuing to travel the US whilst working a variety of positions, including serving as a writer's assistant and also a journalist. It was on February 3rd, 1963, that he first used the pen name of Mark Twain, instead of his birth name, on a humorous travel account entitled "Letter From Carson - re: Joe Goodman; party at Gov. Johnson's; music". Almost three years later he achieved his first example of success as a writer with The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, a humorous tale published in The Saturday Press on November 18, 1865 which brought him to national attention.
Some time later, a local newspaper funded Twain's trip to the Mediterranean, which included touring Europe and the Middle East. He wrote a collection of travel letters, later published in a book entitled The Innocent Abroad, and came to meet a fellow passenger by the name of Charles Langdon. Upon seeing a picture of Charles' sister, Twain supposedly fell in love with her immediately - and, as fate would have it, they were later married.
Once he was settled with a family in Hartford, Connecticut, Twain devoted much of his time to writing the works which he is now so well known for. During his seventeen years in this location, he wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), The Prince and the Pauper (1881), Life on the Mississippi (1883), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). It is a number of these titles which have cemented his name in history, forming his legacy as one of the true greats of American literature.
Twain's life was not without difficulty and tragedy, including financial issues and the loss of family both in his earlier life and later on. As well as many poor investments, the loss of his daughter and his wife took a great toll on him (as would, of course, be expected) - and this humorist entered a period of deep depression. Nonetheless, these hardships did not take away from the wonderful spirit he naturally had. A number of his good deeds during his later years are still remembered, which include selling portraits to help a struggling friend despite his own financial struggles, and forming a girls club for young girls he viewed as "surrogate granddaughters" whom he invited to concerts and the theatre.
Twain passed away at the age of 74, yet even his passing was a reflection of his wonderful mind. He was born two weeks after the appearance of Halley's Comet, and he predicted he would "go out" with it too - and, as chance would have it, he died the day after the next appearance of the comet almost three quarters of a century later.
And so, in the end, it would seem that even death could not take this sharp and witty mind by surprise. Here's to Mark Twain; may the stories you wrote bring a smile to the faces and a laugh to the lips of many generations yet to come.