Samuel Langhorne Clemens was
born in Florida, Missouri, on Nov. 30, 1835, the sixth child of John
and Jane Clemens.
Several years later, in 1839, the family moved to nearby Hannibal, where Clemens
spent his boyhood years.
During his youth, Clemens had a strong tie to the
Mississippi River, along which his town was located. Steamboats landed at the
prosperous town three times a day, and Clemens' boyhood dream was to become a
steamboatman on the river.
Clemens' newspaper career began while still a boy
in Hannibal. In 1848, a year after his father's death, he was apprentice to
printer Joseph Ament, who published the Missouri Courier. By the age of 16, in
1851, Sam was working for his brother Orion's
Hannibal Western Union, for which he wrote his first published sketches and
worked as a printer. Over the next two years, he continued at the Western Union,
occasionally taking stints as editor in Orion's absence. In 1852, Sam published
several sketches in Philadelphia's Saturday Evening Post.
Clemens left Hannibal in 1853, at age 18, and
worked as a printer in New York City and Philadelphia over the next year. During
his trip east, he published travel letters in the Hannibal
Journal. Upon returning to the Midwest in 1854, Clemens lived in several
cities on the Mississippi; the most prominent of these was Keokuk, Iowa, where
his brother Orion founded the Keokuk Journal.
By 1857, a 21-year-old Clemens was in New
Orleans, seeking a berth on a ship going to South America, when he met steamboat
pilot Horace Bixby. He persuaded Bixby to accept him as an apprentice and teach
him the Mississippi for a fee of $500. After living on the river for two years
as a cub pilot, Sam received his pilot's license in 1859, at the age of 23.
With the start of the War for Southern
Independence, in April 1861, river traffic on the Mississippi was suspended, and
Clemens' steamboat pilot career came to an end. He joined a volunteer militia
group called the Marion Rangers, which drilled for two weeks before disbanding.
By the summer of 1861, Sam accompanied Orion to the Nevada Territory by
stagecoach; Orion had been appointed by President Lincoln as secretary of the
new Territory, and Sam was to be his secretary.
In 1861, the Nevada Territory was being inundated
with gold and silver prospectors, inspired by the 1858 discovery of the Comstock
Lode, one of the largest metal deposits in the world. Almost immediately upon
reaching Nevada, Clemens became involved with mining, travelling to some of the
most promising prospecting regions, including Humboldt, Esmeralda, and Aurora.
Clemens never did strike it rich, and was forced to work in a quartz mill to
Clemens had been sporadically contributing
humorous letters to the Virginia
City Territorial Enterprise, the territory's most well-known newspaper,
and, by September 1862, was accepted a job to be a reporter for the paper, at
$25 a week. Clemens covered the territorial legislature, local news items, and
contributed humorous pieces. During his stint at the Enterprise, the 27-year-old
Clemens was greatly influenced by Joseph Goodman, the paper's founder, and Dan
De Quille, a star writer; both men would be friends of Clemens for years to
After 17 months, Clemens left the Enterprise for
San Francisco, apparently to avoid antiduelling laws after challenging a rival
editor to fight. Arriving in San Francisco in 1864, Clemens went to work for the
local paper, as a full-time reporter, and then was the Pacific correspondent for
the Territorial Enterprise.
Clemens was based in San Francisco for the next
four years, writing for Golden Era, the Californian,
and other publications. He was a central figure in the literary scene of the
city, which included Bret
Harte, C.H. Webb, and others. In 1866, he took a four-month trip to
Hawaii as a correspondent for the Sacramento Union. Upon returning to San
Francisco, a 30-year-old Clemens capitalized on the success of his
"Sandwich Islands" letters by organizing a lecture on the topic. The
success of this venture prompted him to arrange his first lecture tour, a
two-month swing through northern California and western Nevada. For the
remainder of his life, Clemens was to be one of the most loved and coveted
speakers in the United States.
Clemens left California at the end of 1866, and
headed to New York City. Shortly after arriving there, he arranged to be a
correspondent for the San
Francisco Alta California aboard the Quaker City, which was departing
for a voyage to Europe, Russia, and the Middle East. Before departing on the
trip, Clemens arranged to publish his first book, The
Celebrated Jumping Frog Of Calaveras County, And Other Sketches, a
collection of published stories from his Western days. He also performed his
Sandwich Island lecture at the Cooper Union, New York's largest hall, and took a
lecture tour through the Missouri and Iowa, including a return stop in Hannibal.
Through his lecture tours and his popular letters from the Quaker City, the
31-year-old Clemens was becoming quite a well-known celebrity.
Upon returning to New York, Clemens accepted a
position as secretary to Senator William M. Stewart, in Washington, D.C. He was
asked by Elisha Bliss, of the American
Publishing Co., to write a book about his Quaker City experiences, which
would become The
Innocents Abroad, released in July 1869. Also, shortly after returning
to New York, Clemens met Olivia
(Livy) Langdon, the older sister of Jervis, a friend from the Quaker
The following year, 1868, was a busy one for Sam.
He travelled back to California and Nevada on a lecture tour, finished Innocents
in San Francisco, published several sketches in various publications, and began
courting Livy. By the end of the year, Sam, now 33, became secretly engaged with
Livy to be married. Over the next two years, Clemens travelled extensively on
lecture tours around the East and Midwest, published his book, bought an
interest in the Buffalo
Express, and wrote numerous sketches.
With his marriage in 1870 to the 25-year-old Livy,
Clemens' life took a dramatic turn toward stabilization and normalcy. The couple
settled down in Buffalo, N.Y., in a house bought by Livy's father, and Sam
worked on the Express as editor. He also wrote a monthly column for the Galaxy,
a New York literary magazine. Besides all of this activity, Clemens contracted
to write Roughing It,
an account of his experiences in Nevada and California. During this period in
1870, however, tragedy struck the young couple. First Livy's father died; then
her close friend died while staying with the Clemenses; finally, their first
child, Langdon, was born premature, and lived only two years in a sickly state.
The situation stabilized the following year, when
Sam rented a house in Hartford, Conn.'s, upper class Nook Farm. He published
Roughing It, continued on lecture tours throughout the country, bought a parcel
of land in Nook Farm on which to build a house, and visited England for the
first time. In March 1872, Susy
Clemens is born.
On a return trip to England with his family in
1873, the 38-year-old Clemens, by this time a substantial literary celebrity,
met such notables as Ivan Turgenev, Robert Browning, Anthony Trollope, and Lewis
Carroll. He also published The Gilded Age, with Charles Dudley Warner, his first
fictional book. By June 1874, Sam and Olivia's second daughter, Clara,
was born. Their third and final child, Jean,
was born in 1880.
Now settled into his own home in Hartford,
Clemens devoted himself to writing novels and sketches, and performing the
occasional lecture. It was the period of Clemens' greatest literary output.
At this time, Sam began tapping into his youthful
experiences in Hannibal as material for some of the most famous novels in his
catalogue — The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer, published in 1876; Life
On The Mississippi, 1883; and Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn, 1885. The family spent a year and a half in Europe,
in 1878/79, in order for Sam to collect material for a travel book, which
resulted in 1880's A
Tramp Abroad. A year later, The
Prince And The Pauper was released. This was Clemens' first attempt at
writing historical fiction with a serious theme, a marked departure from the
humorous books of his earlier career. Another classic historical novel, although
more satirical, was A
Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court, released in 1889.
Although now a settled family man, Clemens
managed to partake in several lecture tours around North America in 1884/85.
Dissatisfied with most of his publishers, Clemens founded his own publishing
company in 1884, called Charles
L. Webster & Company. The firm was in existence for 10 years, and
was an early success after the publication of Ulysses S. Grant's memoirs in
1886, and reissues of Twain's earlier books. From 1887 on, however, the company
faced difficulties and suffered setbacks, finally closing its doors in 1894 due
During the 1880s and early 90s, Clemens became
heavily involved with investing in the Paige
compositor, an automatic typesetting machine. He poured great amounts of
money in the machine, and even founded a company in 1886 to manufacture and
distribute it. The advent of the linotype machine, however, sent the Paige
compositor to its doom.
After the second model of the machine failed a
test run at the Chicago Herald in 1894, where 32 linotypes were running
smoothly, the machine was scrapped. Clemens contributed to the bankruptcy of his
publishing company when he shifted funds from that firm into the compositor.
By the early 1890s, Clemens' financial situation
was in poor shape as a result of these failures, and the cost of living an
extravagant social lifestyle at the house in Hartford. In order to stave off
personal bankruptcy, Sam closed down the Hartford house in 1891, and took the
family to live in Europe. Throughout most of the decade, the Clemens family
lived at various addresses in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.
Regardless of his financial situation, though,
Clemens still managed to finish numerous novels and sketches; the most prominent
of these were The American Claimant (1892), Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894), Pudd'nhead
Wilson (1894), Personal
Recollections of Joan Of Arc (1895), and "The Man That Corrupted
Hadleyburg" (1898). In 1895/96, Clemens and family undertook an
around-the-world lecture tour, which also provided him with material for his
final travel book, Following
The Equator (1897). Tragedy struck during the tour, however, when eldest
daughter Susy died in Hartford in 1896, a tragic blow to the family.
By 1898, Clemens had managed to pay off all of
his creditors, a feat that elevated him to heroic status in the eyes of the
public. Providing invaluable financial assistance during this time of financial
hardship was Standard Oil executive Henry
In 1900 and 1901, Clemens lived in New York City
(14 West 10th St.) and in Riverdale, N.Y., just outside the city. He lectured
extensively during this period, and took an active role in New York's social
scene. Yale University presented him with an honorary degree in 1901, and the
University of Missouri did likewise in 1902. Shortly after buying a house in
Tarrytown, N.Y., Livy became seriously ill and spent long periods of isolation
in Maine, before being advised to seek the warmer climate of Florence, Italy, in
late 1903. Sam and Livy were apart for most of the time leading up to her death
in Florence in June 1904.
Clemens spent the years following Livy's death
primarily in New York City. After selling the Tarrytown house in 1904, he lived
at 21 Fifth Ave. until 1908, primarily writing and making public appearances. In
1905, Clemens dined at the White House with Theodore Roosevelt, and a gala 70th
birthday banquet was held at Delmonico's in New York. In 1907, Clemens received
an honorary degree from Oxford University.
Twain's more significant writings during the
first decade of the 20th century included: "A Double-Barrelled Detective
Story" (1902), "Was It Heaven? or Hell?" (1902), Extracts
From Adam's Diary (1904), Eve's
Diary (1906), What Is Man? (1906), Chapters From My Autobiography
From Captain Stormfield's Visit To Heaven (1908), and Letters
From The Earth (1909).
By 1908, Clemens moved into his final home, a
residence in Redding, Conn., which he called Stormfield. During the final years
of his life, Clemens organized the Angelfish Club, an informal organization of
schoolage girls, called Angelfish, whom he kept in correspondence with and
invited to stay with him. Declaring himself the admiral of the club, Clemens set
the rules for admittance: sincerity, good disposition, schoolgirl age, and
intelligence. The billiard room of Stormfield was the offical headquarters, and
various other parts of the house were given fish-related names. Sam also set the
rule that any Angelfish who went three months without writing to him would be
suspended. Although this setup might appear inappropriate, Clemens' relationship
with the girls appears to have been fully platonic.
In December 1909, Clemens' youngest daughter,
Jean, died at Stormfield. Immediately after this tragedy, Twain wrote "The
Death Of Jean", the last substantial writing he completed. The piece
recalled the sudden tragedy of the death, and his feelings regarding the loss of
his other family members. Following its completion, Clemens vowed never to write
Clemens' health rapidly deteriorated after Jean's
death. In January 1910, he went to Bermuda for his health, but sensed that he
wasn't to live long. On April 21, 1910, Clemens sank into a coma at Stormfield.
At sunset, his heart failed and he died in his bed. He was 74 years old. On
April 23, a large funeral procession was held in New York City, and a service
was held at the Presbyterian Brick Church. Clemens was buried alongside his wife
and children at Woodlawn Cemetary, in Elmira, N.Y.
In November 1835, at the time of Clemens' birth,
Halley's Comet made an appearance in the night sky. Strikingly, the comet's next
appearance came during April 1910, the period of Clemens' death. Throughout his
life, Clemens said that he would "go out with the comet," knowing the
75-year span between the comet's appearances. His prediction was amazingly
Mark Twain works as a journalist and writes stories, primarily for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, Virginia City, Nevada. Stories include: Curing A Cold, The Killing of Julius Caesar 'Localized,' and Lucretia Smith's Soldier.
Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog in New York's Saturday Press.
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches; Twain's first book.
Innocents Abroad. Stories: Journalism in Tennessee, A Day at Niagara.
Stories for the New York monthly Galaxy and Buffalo Express include: A Medieval Romance, Political Economy, and How I Edited An Agricultural Paper Once.
The Gilded Age; with Charles Dudley Warner.
Sketches, New and Old; Old Times on the Mississippi presented in installments in the Atlantic Monthly.
A True Story and the Recent Carnival of Crime.
A Tramp Abroad; 1601.
The Stolen White Elephant.
Huckleberry Finn; The Private History of a Campaign That Failed.
Merry Tales; An American Claimant.
The 1,000,000 Bank Note.
Tom Sawyer Abroad; Pudd'nhead Wilson.
How to Tell a Story and Other Essays; Following the Equator.
The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Essays.
A Double-Barrelled Detective Story.
Extracts From Adam's Diary; A Dog's Tale.
King Leopold's Soliloquy.
The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories; Eve's Diary; What Is Man?; Chapters From My Autobiography.
Christian Science; A Horse's Tale.
Is Shakespeare Dead?; Extract From Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven.
Letters From The Earth (written in 1909).