Mark Twain

A guest post by Lydia Tyndall.

Mark Twain is one of America’s most well-known authors, and he is from right here in Missouri.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who would later adopt the pen name Mark Twain, was born on November 30, 1835 in a two room house in Florida, Missouri. Halley’s comet streaked across the sky on the same night he was born.

In 1839 Sam’s family moved to the nearby town of Hannibal, Missouri. Young Sam always was a bit of a trouble maker. He often tried to skip school, and he would sneak away with his friends.

When Sam was eleven his father died. To help out his family, Sam dropped out of school and became an apprentice at a newspaper office. Over the next several years, Sam moved around the country working and writing for many newspaper offices as he went.  His humorous stories were popular with readers, but he often twisted the truth or just made things up entirely.

After a while Sam decided to become a steamboat pilot. Steamboats, a relatively new invention, allowed for fast and dependable river travel. After training Sam earned his pilot’s certificate in 1859.

When on the river it was important that the water was deep enough for the steamboat to travel over. To determine the depth, one of the crew members called a leadsman would lower a weighted rope with a knot every six feet into the river. If two of the knots were submerged he would shout “Mark Twain!” which meant safe water.

In the spring of 1861, the Civil War broke out across America. It was no longer safe for steamboats on the river.

Over the next few years, Sam traveled out west to Nevada. While there as he continued to develop his writing career, Sam discovered that he had found his calling. On February 3, 1863 Sam chose his pen name, Mark Twain.

The beginning of 1865 found Mark prospecting for gold on the outskirts of San Francisco. While sitting around a camp stove he heard a tale about a jumping frog. He wrote his own version of the tale called Jim Smiley And His Jumping Frogand sent it to an editor. The story was published by newspapers around the country, and it was a huge success. Before two years had passed, Mark had published his first book which was called The Celebrated Jumping Frog Of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches.

Mark became famous, and a newspaper asked him to travel to The Sandwich Islands, now called Hawaii, to report. When he returned home Mark began traveling around the country giving lectures about his trip. These were extremely popular and made a large amount of money. In June of 1867 Mark set off on another trip, this time to Europe and the Middle East. This inspired his second book, The Innocents Abroad. On the trip a fellow traveler showed Mark a picture of his sister, Olivia Langdon, or Livy for short. When Mark returned he met Livy, and they were married on February, 2 1870. Together they had three daughters.

In the summers of 1874 and 1875, Mark wrote what would become his most famous work. The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, inspired by Mark’s own childhood, told humorous tales about a boy named Tom Sawyer. It was an instant success with both children and adults.

In 1884 Mark published a sequel to The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer. It was called The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. Huck Finn, a character in Tom Sawyer, is a rough and uneducated boy. He joins Jim, an escaped slave, and together they float down the Mississippi river. Mark also used the book to point out the problems of slavery and to show the humanity of the slaves. Because of this, Huckleberry Finn was a controversial work disliked by many critics and even banned by a library in Massachusetts.

Mark had started his own company called Charles L. Webster & Company to publish Huckleberry Finn. The company also published several books by other authors, most notably the autobiography of Ulysses S. Grant. The company made Mark a great deal of money, although a few years later it went bankrupt, leaving Mark with a large amount of debt.

In 1896 Mark published a novel called Personal Recollections Of Joan Of Arc, a serious novel which he considered his favorite and best work.

On April 21, 1910 Mark died as Halley’s comet blazed across the sky. His works are still read today.

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