Born as Samuel (Sam) Langhorne Clemens, he later in his life started using the pseudonym Mark Twain. Clemens was born on 30 November 1835, as the fourth of five children, in the small town of Florida, Missouri, USA. When he was four years old his family moved to the port city Hannibal, Missouri, on the Mississippi River. He was only 12 when his father, who was a judge, died, and he began his apprenticeship with the printer who published the Missouri Courier. It was also the beginning on his career as an author. As early as 1852 he published several sketches in Philadelphia’s Saturday Evening Post.
In 1857, when he was 22, he apprenticed himself to a riverboat pilot, obtained his license as pilot in 1858, and worked as pilot for two and a half years. As the river traffic was very heavy, a qualified pilot was a very important operator. The experience on the boat later led to his book Life on the Mississippi. This book, his knowledge of printing and his boyhood experience in the river town of Hannibal where he grew up, all added up for him to become one of America’s greatest authors. From the material that he gathered came his most famous stories such as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. In his novels the character of Judge Carpenter is to a certain extent like his father; Aunt Polly, his mother; Sid Sawyer, his brother Henry; Huck Finn, a boy from Hannibal named Tom Blankenship; and Tom Sawyer, a combination of several boys, which included himself.
The Civil War put an end his days as a pilot as traffic on the Mississippi was suspended. He went to Nevada and became a reporter with the Virginia City newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise. Here he started using the pen name Mark Twain (It is an old river term meaning two fathoms, or 12 feet (4 meters), of water depth – safe to navigate) when he first signed a humorous travel account with that pseudonym on 3 February 1863.
In 1864 Twain moved to California, and in the following year he wrote his “Jumping Frog” story, which were published in many newspapers. His paper The Sacramento Union sent him to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) as a roving reporter, and following his return, he started lecturing. While he was on the move he made a tour of the Mediterranean area and the Holy Land, which led to his book that made him famous – The Innocents Abroad.
Samuel Clemens married Olivia Langdon in 1870, and she had a definite influence on his writing – she modified his exaggerations, which, at times, weakened his writings, and sometimes actually made it more understandable. He now began publishing a new book every few years, and the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, a highly esteemed novelist, became his friend and literary advisor. In 1871 they moved to Hartford where Twain continued to lecture in the United States and Britain. Between 1876 and 1884 he published the masterpieces – Tom Sawyer (1881) and The Prince and The Pauper (1881). Life On The Mississippi appeared in 1883 and Huckleberry Finn in 1884. He is considered the greatest humorist of 19th Century American literature.
In the 1890s his publishing firm in Hartford, Connecticut was an unsuccessful venture, and he lost a fortune promoting a typesetting machine. His business failed and he was bankrupt by 1894. He then set out on a world lecture tour (New Zealand, Australia, India, and South Africa – he acted as negotiator between President Paul Kruger and Dr. Leander Starr-Jameson just before the Anglo-Boer War) to recover his fortune. Four years later his debts were paid. In his last years he traveled and lectured much but wrote comparatively little. The loss of his wife and his second daughter darkened his later years, which is seen in his posthumously published autobiography (1924). As Twain grew older he became progressively more pessimistic, losing much of the humorous, cocky tone of his earlier years. Mark Twain died on 21 April 1910.
Mark Twain’s best-known works include:
- The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County – a collection published in 1867
- The Innocents Abroad (1869)
- Roughing It (1872)
- The Gilded Age (1873)
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)
- A Tramp Abroad (1880)
- The Prince and the Pauper (1882)
- Life on the Mississippi (1883)
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889)
- The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)
- Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896)
- Following The Equator (1897)
Published posthumously are:
- The Mysterious Stranger (1916)
- Mark Twain’s Notebook (1935)
- Autobiography (1959)