The Life of Mark Twain

An Essay By Lucy Anne // 8/31/2015

Ah, yes. It's been a long time since I've posted. I almost forgot how to post things. It seems foreign, and even intimidating posting such long essays on here. Thank you to anyone who reads.
Anyways, I will be posting a few excerpts from a paper I wrote this year comparing two fathers of modern literature: Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. Mark Twain's real name was Samuel Clemens, and I will be referring to his real name in these essays.
I hope you will learn some things about these authors. Perhaps these will encourage you to pick up one of these books at the library - or even re-read them! Have you ever studied these authors? What aspects of their works and lives stand out to YOU?

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Samuel Clemens, or more famously known as the great American novelist Mark Twain, stepped into the Windsor Hotel in his hometown; Hannibal, Missouri. The clerk recognized him immediately. “Mr. Clemens,” he said in excitement, “I was born close to your birthplace…and have been in the house where you were born, often.”

“I was not born often—only once,” Clemens said, “but I’m glad to see you, all the same.”[1]

Born on November 30, 1835, Samuel Langhorne Clemens was one of John and Jane Clemens’s seven children. They would never guess that one day he would be titled the “Lincoln” of American Literature. His colorful adventures as a mischievous lad, along with his travels as a riverboat pilot, journalist, and prospector would all paint and influence his novels.

Parents in the town of Hannibal, which nestled beside the western bank of the Mississippi River, knew Samuel for his mischievous behavior. Much of his rambunctious character is the inspiration of his novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Like Tom Sawyer, Clemens did not keep his rollicking at home. In fact, one of his actions resulted disastrously to the town. On one of the hills of Hannibal sat a great boulder. He, with some of his friends, decided to move it. His friends did all the digging while he sat alone at the top of the hill so he could examine the rock at a higher perspective as well as give advice on the digging. (The readers of Clemens’ novel, The Adventures in Tom Sawyer, would discover parallelism to this event and the novel’s famous white-washing scene.) Soon the rock began teetering. In one of his novels, he writes what happened next:

“I remembered how we sat down, then, and wiped the perspiration away, and waited to let a picnic party get out of the way in the road below—and then we started the boulder. It was splendid. It went crashing down the hillside, tearing up saplings, moving bushes down like grass, ripping and crushing and smashing everything in its path…It headed straight for the negro, also for a cooper-ship across the road…then, suddenly, they could hardly believe their eyes; a little way above the road the boulder struck a projection, made one mighty leap into the air, sailed clear over the negro and his mule, and landed in the soft dirt beyond the road, only a fragment striking the shop, damaging, but not wreaking it. Half buried in the ground, the great stone lay there for nearly forty years.”[2]

However, much tragedy lay behind his life of pranks. Four of his seven siblings died before reaching adulthood. Sickness and death was a constant fear in his family. When he was eleven, his father died from pneumonia. His death traumatized Clemens, and often he would sleepwalk. Clemens had become accustomed to being the center of attention. So when his mother gave birth to Henry, and he “started explosions of unprovoked rage. By day, Clemens became wild and unmanageable, except during his periods of illness”.[3] In 1839, he sleepwalked into the room of his nine year old sister Mary, who was ill. He touched his sister’s quilt. According to the Missouri superstition, his action meant death of his sister. A few days later, Margaret died. His mother believed he was clairvoyant, and at his young age, he took that to mean that he was responsible for her death. He carried the guilt of her death much through his childhood.

Clemens learned the art of storytelling as a young boy. He relished visiting his father’s slave quarters to listen to the slaves’ stories. Also, he would gather at the docks of Hannibal to listen to the steam-boatmen’s stories about their world travels. Clemens envied their attention, and desired someday to tell stories as well.

In 1851, when he was twelve, he took his first step towards his writing career. He became a printer’s apprentice for the Hannibal Journal, his brother Orion’s newspaper. Working as a typesetter and contributing many humorous articles, Clemens’ reputation as a writer blossomed.

Turning eighteen marked the start of his diverse adventures. He left Hannibal to work as a printer in St. Louis, New York City, and Philadelphia. But then, unexpectedly, his brother needed Clemens to help establish his new publishing business. Clemens willingly returned to Hannibal. After settling down, he went through a stage where he tried unsuccessfully to board a ship to Amazon to explore and collect medical plants to sell at a huge profit in America. Following this, he started training as a riverboat as a riverboat captain along the Mississippi. He learned to picture every stretch of the Mississippi river between St. Louis and New Orleans. He grew successful, and helped his younger brother Henry to get a job on the riverboat. In 1858, the ship carrying Henry exploded. The explosion threw the front part of the ship high in the air, and Henry was badly burned and blown into the river. Henry died six days later when fed an overdose of morphine. Clemens would forever blame himself for his death.

A few months later, on September 9, 1858, Clemens received his full pilot’s license just before his twenty-third birthday. He became one of the highest paid people in the West, with a salary of two hundred fifty dollars a month. In 1861, he joined Orion as assistant secretary of Nevada. After losing interest, he became a prospector. Meanwhile, he had been sending humorous sketches to Daily Territorial Enterprise, the most popular newspaper in Nevada. They offered him a job as a reporter. Clemens would exaggerate so much that stories would become totally false. He did not believe that people would believe them, but they did. During that time, petrified rock intrigued the public. So, he wrote about a petrified prospector who had been discovered, full size, thumbing his nose at the town. It created a sensation, appearing in dozens of newspapers—including one in London.

He began writing under a pen name of “Mark Twain” – the sailing lingo for measuring the depth of the water. Isiah Sellers, a boat captain, had signed his popular newspaper articles about his river experiences as “Mark Twain”. As a prank, Clemens wrote a story making fun of Sellers’ writing and signed it under Seller’s penname, Mark Twain. Sellers never wrote again. After Isiah Sellers died, Clemens remembered how he had hurt him, and in his honor chose his pen name “Mark Twain”.

On November 18, 1865, he had his first major success as a writer when his humorous tall tale, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, was published in The Saturday Press. He received national attention. The following year, Sacramento Union hired him to travel Hawaii and write them letters about his sights. His reports became popular. In 1877, he was paid to tour the Mediterranean. In return, he wrote a popular collection of letters. On his trip, he met his future brother-in-law who showed him a picture of his sister (Clemens’ future wife). Clemens claimed to have fallen in love at first sight.

Throughout 1868, Clemens and Olivia Langdon corresponded by letter. She was from a very religious family, and she was not accustomed to Clemens’ pointed remarks against Christianity. She rejected his proposal two times before she finally accepted, and they were married on February 2, 1870.

His first book, Innocents Abroad (1869), a collection of his letters about his experiences in the Mediterranean, was a disaster. It sold only four thousand copies. But American Publishing Company bought his book. In just one year, more than 100,000 copies sold at three-fifty each. Clemens received fifteen thousand dollars a month, equivalent to a year’s salary as secretary of Nevada.

1872 was a rollercoaster of emotions for Clemens. His second work, Roughing It, which was based on his experiences as assistant secretary of Nevada, sold over sixty thousand in its first four months. That year, their firstborn son died. But soon after, Olivia (often called Lizy) gave birth to Susy, their second child.

Lizy and her daughters were greatly involved in editing and reviewing Clemens’ work. He relished in teasing his wife, sometimes writing particularly bad sentences just to see if she would censor it. When she did, he and his daughters would beg her to leave it. “It was three against one and most unfair, but it was very delightful and I could not resist the temptation. Now and then we gained victory and there was much rejoicing. Then I privately struck the passage out myself. It had served its purpose.”[4]

In 1873, the Clemens arranged building a customized house in Hartford, Connecticut and moved to Europe while waiting. There Lizy gave birth to Clara, and Clemens began working on his famous The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. They stayed in Europe for over a year and a half while he wrote A Tramp Abroad and The Prince and the Pauper, and his wife gave birth to Jean.

He based his first major novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, from his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri. The novel introduced its sequel, Huckleberry Finn, in 1884. Through these novels, Clemens became a noteworthy American writer. Even Ernest Hemingway wrote, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” [5]

Clemens was an adamant supporter of the emancipation of slaves and the abolition of slavery. His views were explored in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He contended that non-whites did not receive justice in the United States, once saying "I have seen Chinamen abused and maltreated in all the mean, cowardly ways possible to the invention of a degraded nature ... but I never saw a Chinaman righted in a court of justice for wrongs thus done to him".[6] Burns writes, “One of Clemens most lasting childhood memories was of a dozen men and women chained together waiting to be shipped down river to the slave market. "They had,” Clemens said, "the saddest faces I ever saw."” [7] More than just writing against slavery, he practiced it. He paid for at least one African-American to attend Yale, and for another, a southern seminary school.

In 1880, he fell into great debt. They had to move to Europe, as it was cheaper than living in America. They never returned to the Hartford House. In1896, an immense tragedy dawned on Samuel and Lizy’s life. Their daughter Susy, who was ill, passed away. During this time, he fell into deep depression, and spent many hours alone writing to ease the pain. Two years later, he completed Following the Equator about his world lecture tours around Europe. With this, he was able to pay off all his debts, and soon it was all over the headlines. No longer bound by debt, he and and his wife returned to New York in 1900. But Lizy fell ill after living in New York City for three years. She died in Italy a year later.

Clemens once said, “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. The Almighty has said, no doubt: "Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together."[8] His prediction was correct. He died on April 21‚ 1910, a day after its appearance. One of the greatest and renowned American novelists was lost to the world.

Works Cited:

[1] Geoffrey C. Ward, Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography (New York: 2001) xii

[2] Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, (Connecticut: The American Publishing Company, 1901) p.628

[3] http://www.ny times.com/books/first/h/hoffman-twain.html Andrew Hoffman, 1997

[4] Mark Twain, Mark Twain's Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review, (Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1990) p.49

[5] “Mark Twain” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 8th March 2015, Web. 9 March 2015. http://en.w ikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Twain

[6] “Mark Twain” http://en.w ikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Twain

[7] http://www.aft. org/periodical/american-educator/fall-2002/life-shaped-mark-twains-anti-sl avery-views#sthash.5Xc6hS1E.dpuf Ken Burns, 2002

[8] http://en.wikip edia.org/wiki/Mark_Twain

[9] Mark Twain: A Literary Life p. 90

Comments

Megan, you really write

Megan, you really write awesome historical/biographical essays. Mark Twain had a life dotted with surprising amounts of sorrow - surprising given the sheer fun he put into his writings. I love the way you wrote this, it kept my attention all the way. I especially appreciated the coverage of his personal convictions and the scenes from his family life - I never knew willfully caused such familial division with poorly written paragraphs! : D

Hannah D. | Mon, 09/07/2015

"Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all." - G. K. Chesterton

I'm glad to hear that (ahem,

I'm glad to hear that (ahem, I mean read that)! Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I hope to someday take time and read your essays on Taoism. I was excited to see you write about that; my family kind of studied that as we presented about our ancient Chinese ancestors' beliefs this year.
PS As a note to your post on getting college credit, I am working on Module 6 in the CP Navigate program...

Lucy Anne | Mon, 09/07/2015

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Interesting way to start an

Interesting way to start an essay!
"Much of his rambunctious character is the inspiration of his novel" Great sentence, great use of rambunctious :)
I only had one critique:" In 1873, the Clemens arranged building a customized house in Hartford..."
It flows awkwardly and jumped out at me while I was reading. This might work better: In 1873, the Clemens arranged the building of a customised house.." Or you could play around with it. Having "arranged" and "building" together causes the reader to stumble. Well, at least I did.

I loved reading this. Very engaging. And I never knew anything about him! So it was very insightful and how interesting that he came in and out with Halley's Comet...

Maddi | Wed, 09/09/2015

Goodbye? Oh no, please. Can’t we just go back to page one and start all over again?” – Winnie The Pooh

Thanks, Maddi! Thank you for

Thanks, Maddi! Thank you for noticing awkward blunders!

Lucy Anne | Thu, 09/10/2015

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Megan, it's so exciting to

Megan, it's so exciting to hear your trying out the CollegePlus program! Navigate was a lot of fun, I love looking back over it and seeing how little goals and struggles and things like that change. What were your top favorite virtues, if I may ask? I seriously considered putting "adventure" on that list, I was delighted with the idea of a sense of adventure being a virtue. But I ended up with things like joy, perseverance, knowing God. I think that project was a neat way to consider how God wired each of us to think, how He designed us, as individuals, to carry out His plan for us.

I'd love to hear your opinion on my Taoism essays! I read over them immediately after reading your comment . . . I think I was incredibly clutter-minded in several passages . . . so if you do, try to be patient with me. : ) I want to revise them, eventually.

What kind of a presentation did your family give? I. e. is it something you wrote and could share with us here? : ) Religion is a fascinating subject to me, and I'd be really interested in your opinion/interpretations of it. Part of me also wants to learn more about how accurate Hudson Smith's interpretation of Taoism was - his book (The World's Religions) was my only source for those essays, and, well, considering that I did not agree with all of his interpretations of the Christian faith, it'd be interesting to hear what you and your family found out about the Taoist faith, and compare/contrast his work with yours.

Anyway, I hope you're having fun with CP. Again, very enjoyable essay, I'll let you know when I get to your study of Tom Sawyer.

Hannah D. | Sun, 09/13/2015

"Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all." - G. K. Chesterton

Hannah, I'm getting very

Hannah, I'm getting very enthusiastic about your comment. I would love to swap experiences about CP and our thoughts on the ancient Chinese beliefs! But maybe through email (if you're willing?).

Lucy Anne | Sun, 09/13/2015

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Just sent you an email. : )

Just sent you an email. : )

Hannah D. | Mon, 09/14/2015

"Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all." - G. K. Chesterton

Just sent you an email

Just sent you an email through your contact page : )

Hannah D. | Mon, 09/14/2015

"Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all." - G. K. Chesterton