A Portrait of Samuel Langhorne Clemens - Better Known as Mark Twain

Mark Twain



Samuel Langhorne Clemens

Born: November 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri

Died: April 21, 1910 in Redding, Connecticut (age 74)

Pen name: Mark Twain

Occupation: Writer, lecturer

Nationality: American

Genres: Fiction, historical fiction, children's literature, non–fiction, travel literature, satire, essay, philosophical literature, social commentary, literary criticism

Notable work(s): The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn & The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Mark Twain Divider Line


Samuel Langhorne Clemens was better known by his pen name Mark Twain, an American author and humorist. Mark Twain is most noted for his novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has since been called the Great American Novel, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. He is extensively quoted. During his lifetime, Mark Twain, became friends with presidents, artists, industrialists and European royalty.

Mark Twain enjoyed immense public popularity, and his keen wit and incisive satire earned him praise from both critics and peers. American author William Faulkner called Mark Twain "the father of American literature."

Pen names:
Twain used different pen names (pseudonyms or "noms de plume") before deciding on "Mark Twain". He signed humorous and imaginative sketches "Josh" until 1863. Additionally, he used the pen name "Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass" for a series of humorous letters.

He maintained that his primary pen name came from his years working on Mississippi riverboat's, where two fathoms, a depth indicating "safe water" for the boat to float over, was measured on the sounding line. A fathom is a maritime unit of depth, equivalent to two yards (1.8 m); "twain" is an archaic term for "two". The river boatman's cry was "mark twain" or, more fully, "by the mark twain", meaning "according to the mark [on the line], [the depth is] two [fathoms]", that is, "there are 12 feet (3.7 m) of water under the boat and it is safe to pass".

Twain claimed that his famous pen name was not entirely his invention. In Life on the Mississippi, he wrote:

Captain Isaiah Sellers was not of literary turn or capacity, but he used to jot down brief paragraphs of plain practical information about the river, and sign them "MARK TWAIN," and give them to the New Orleans Picayune. They related to the stage and condition of the river, and were accurate and valuable; ... At the time that the telegraph brought the news of his death, I was on the Pacific coast. I was a fresh new journalist, and needed a nom de guerre; so I confiscated the ancient mariner's discarded one, and have done my best to make it remain what it was in his hands – a sign and symbol and warrant that whatever is found in its company may be gambled on as being the petrified truth; how I have succeeded, it would not be modest in me to say.

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Mark Twain's Family:
Mark Twain met Charles Langdon, who showed him a picture of his sister Olivia; Twain claimed to have fallen in love at first sight. They met in 1868, were engaged a year later, and married in February 1870 in Elmira, New York. She came from a "wealthy but liberal family," and through her he met abolitionists, "socialists, principled atheists and activists for women's rights and social equality", including Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass and the utopian socialist William Dean Howell's.

The couple lived in Buffalo, New York from 1869 to 1871. Twain owned a stake in the Buffalo Express, and worked as an editor and writer. Their son Langdon died of diphtheria at 19 months.

In 1871, Twain moved his family to Hartford, Connecticut, where starting in 1873 he arranged the building of a dramatic house for them, which local admirers saved from demolition in 1927 and eventually turned into a museum focused on him. There Olivia gave birth to three daughters: Susy (1872–1896), Clara (1874–1962) and Jean (1880–1909). The couple's marriage lasted 34 years, until Olivia's death in 1904.

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Later life and death:
Twain made a second tour of Europe, described in the 1880 book A Tramp Abroad. His tour included a visit to London where, in the summer of 1900, he was the guest of newspaper proprietor Hugh Gilzean–Reid at Dollis Hill House. Twain wrote of Dollis Hill that he had "never seen any place that was so satisfactorily situated, with its noble trees and stretch of country, and everything that went to make life delightful, and all within a biscuit's throw of the metropolis of the world." He returned to America in 1900, having earned enough to pay off his debts.

In 1906, Twain began his autobiography in the North American Review. Oxford University awarded him a Doctorate in Letters a year later.

Twain outlived Jean and Susy. He passed through a period of deep depression, which began in 1896 when his favorite daughter Susy died of meningitis. Olivia's death in 1904 and Jean's death on December 24, 1909 deepened his gloom.

Mark Twain Divider Line


In 1909, Twain is quoted as saying:
"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.'"

His prediction was accurate–Twain died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910 in Redding, Connecticut, one day after the comet's closest approach to Earth (see Halley's Comet, 1835 entry).

Upon hearing of Twain's death, President William Howard Taft said:
"Mark Twain gave pleasure–real intellectual enjoyment–to millions, and his works will continue to give such pleasure to millions yet to come... His humor was American, but he was nearly as much appreciated by Englishmen and people of other countries as by his own countrymen. He has made an enduring part of American literature."

Twain is buried in his wife's family plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York. His grave is marked by a 12–foot monument, placed there by his surviving daughter, Clara.


Information provided by: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



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