Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, is perhaps the mostdistinguished author of American Literature.
Next to William Shakespeare, Clemens isarguably the most prominent writer the world has ever seen.In 1818, Jane Lampton found interest in a serious young lawyer named JohnClemens. With the Lampton family in heavy debt and Jane only 15 years of age, she soonmarried John. The family moved to Gainesboro, Tennessee where Jane gave birth toOrion Clemens.
In the summer of 1827 the Clemenses relocated to Virginia where Johnpurchased thousands of acres of land and opened a legal advice store. The lack of success of the store led John to drink heavily. Scared by his addiction, John vowed never to drink again. Even though John now resisted alcohol, he faced otheraddictions. His concoction of aloe, rhubarb, and a narcotic cost him most of his savingsand money soon became tight (Paine 34-35).The family soon grew with the birth of Pamela late in 1827. Their third child,Pleasant Hannibal, did not live past three months, due to illness. In 1830 Margaret wasborn and the family moved to Pall Mall, a rural county in Tennessee.
After Henrys birthin 1832, the value of their farmland greatly depreciated and sent the Clemenses on theroad again. Now they would stay with Janes sister in Florida, Missouri where she ran asuccessful business with her husband. Clemens was born on November 30, 1835, in thesmall remote town of Florida, Missouri. Samuels parents, John Marshall and Jane Lampton Clemens never gave up on their child, who was two months premature with littleThis was coincidentally the same night as the return of Halleys Comet. TheClemenses were a superstitious family and believed that Halleys Comet was a portent ofgood fortune.
Writing as Mark Twain, Samuel L. Clemens would claim that Florida,Missouri contained 100 people and I increased the population by one percent. It is morethan the best man in history ever did for any other town (Hoffman 15).1847 proved to be a horrific year for John Clemens.
He ventured to Palmyra inorder to find work on the county seat. On his voyage home he found himself in adevastating snowstorm which left him ill with pneumonia. He stayed at his friend Dr.
Grants house, ill and jaded, where he rested and grew weak. He died on March 24, 1847Samuel was eleven years old when his father passed away. He was of ambiguousemotions. He had dreaded his father, yet at the same time respected him. The onus oftaking care of the family was now on Samuel and Orions shoulders. He attended schooland for additional cash delivered newspapers and aided storekeepers. His expertise waswith Joseph Ament, editor of the Missouri Courier, where he was an apprentice.In the fall of 1850, Samuels brother Orion purchased a printing press andexpected Samuel to work on his newspaper.
They began work on the Hannibal WesternUnion where Orion printed all of Samuels essays and articles. Although the newspaperwas unprofitable, and deemed a failure by most, Orion and Samuel saw themselves as asuccess. They soon changed the name to the Journal and now had the largest circulationof any newspaper in the region.
It was filled with works both original and copied fromother sources. This was acceptable in a society without copyrights. When the Journal gained success, Orion refused to print some of Samuels works. He, however took hiswriting elsewhere. He wrote for the Carpet-Bag and the Philadelphia American Courier, berating his old town and the Hannibal natives. He signed each work with theOrion left town for awhile and gave the duty of editor to Samuel. Hequickly took advantage of Orions absence.
He wrote articles of town news and prosepoetry that revealed characteristics of the boy who would eventually transform into MarkTwain. In these articles he would use his first of many pseudonyms, W. EpaminondasAdrastus Blab.
Orions return ended both Samuels developing humor and burning satire. Orion decided to publish the Journal daily and it gave Samuel an opportunity to writemore material, but at the same time overworked him. When Orion deleted local newsfrom the newspaper, interest was lost and the rival Messenger began outselling theJournal. This prompted Samuel to leave Orion and the Journal behind at the age ofeighteen. He had bigger aspirations and vowed never to let a place trap him again. Hisjourneys would take him to St. Louis, New York City, and then Philadelphia (HoffmanThe best position he found involved night work as a substitute typesetter at thePhiladelphia Inquirer. Clemens wrote about the sights of Philadelphia which he copiedfrom a guidebook, but altered the descriptions into a style much more mature than inprevious writings.
Clemens well-known writing style had a loose rhythm of speech and hewrote as if he were telling an unbelievable story which he expected his listeners andreaders to believe. He was a master of the tall story of the frontier and delighted hisaudience with his storytelling abilities (Lyttle 65). One can see this unique style in hisdescription of the nations capital:The public buildings of Washington are all fine specimens of architecture, andwould add greatly to the embellishment of such a city as New York- but here theyare sadly out of place looking like so many palaces in a Hottentot village. . . .Theother buildings, almost invariably, are very poor–two and three story brick houses, and strewed about in clusters; you seldom see a compact square off Pennsylvania Avenue. They look as though they might have been emptied out of a sack by some Brobdignagian gentleman, and when falling, been scattered abroadIn his time, most novels were a form of enriching entertainment.
Light reading that woulddo no harm and might even do the reader some good. They were written with anintelligent, well-behaved audience in mind, an audience that expected to read about peoplelike themselves. They were most comfortable reading the language they used in public.William Gibson belies that, Twain developed one of the great styles in the Englishlanguage because he had a firm grasp of the American vernacular(qtd. in Long 205).His letters to the Keokuk Papers in St. Louis proved to be most successful forClemens.
He signed these letters with the pseudonym Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass. Hisnarrations made the western readers feel more intelligent by laughing at the charactersidiocy. Snodgrass would continue to write letters until the editor refused to pay him.
He then decided to leave the city and travel along the Mississippi River in a steamboat. By the middle of 1857, Clemens had made five runs up and down the river, and this iswhere he first used the name, Mark Twain.On river boats, one member of the crew always stood near the forward railingmeasuring the depth of the water with a long cord which had flags spaced a fathom apart.
When the crewman saw the flags disappear he would call out “Mark One!” for one fathomand for two fathoms he called out “Mark Twain!” Two fathoms meant safe clearance forriver boats, so Clemens chose a name which not only recalled his life on the river butwhich also had a motivating meaning (Robinson). One horrific afternoon, while his brother Henry was traveling the Mississippi Riveron the Pennsylvania eight of this ships boilers exploded while Twain was on the nearby Memphis-bound A.T. Lacy. When the boilers exploded, Henry died from breathing in thescalding steam.Grief was overwhelming Twain and he seemed to be losing his mind. Hereturned to St.
Louis where his mother tried to comfort him. Gradually his depressionbegan to lift, and he returned to the river (Cox 44).Many writers of the time used pen names, especially authors of humor and satire.The first article signed with Mark Twain appeared in the Enterprise on February 3,1863, entitled The Unreliable. Within a period of weeks he was no longer Sam orClemens or that bright chap on the Enterprise, but Mark- Mark Twain. No nom deplume was ever so quickly and generally accepted as that wrote friend and biographer, Twain moved to San Francisco, California, in 1864, where he met writersArtemus Ward and Bret Harte, who encouraged him in his work.
In 1865, Twainreworked a tale he had heard in the California gold fields, and within months the authorand the story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, had become nationalWhile on a trip in Europe, one of the most important moments of Twains life occurred off the coast of Turkey. He set his gaze on Olivia Langdon, and he would neverforget the moment. Almost forty years later, Twain recalled, …she was slender andbeautiful and girlish – and she was both girl and woman. He asked for her hand inmarriage several times but to no avail.
His persistence paid off in late November 1869,when she agreed to marry him if her parents approved. Twain needed money to supporthis new wife so he spent several weeks writing his second book, The Innocents Abroad. Young novelist and editor William Deam Howells said the book contained an abundanceof pure human nature, such as rarely gets into literature…(qtd. in Lyttle 110).Following the birth of their first child, Langdon Clemens in 1870, Twain set out to writeRoughing It, a story recounting his early adventures as a miner and journalist; and TheGilded Age.
The Gilded Age was an immediate hit with the public and sold out threeprintings in the first month. Twain soon wrote perhaps the two most famous andinfluential stories in American Literature: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) andAdventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). Howells would call Tom Sawyer the best story Iever read. It will be an immense success..
. (Lyttle 137). Though some peoplecomplained that Tom and Huck were bad examples for children, most readers werefascinated by the story of their adventures in the town of St. Petersburg. Barrett Wendelof Harvard labeled Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a book which in certain moods one isdisposed for all its eccentricity to call the most admirable work of literacy as yet producedon this continent (Long 199).
Twain would write many more essays, novels, plays, andpoetry but none would reach the status that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn acclaimed. At the turn of the century, Olivia Clemens was stricken with what seemed to be aviolent heart attack. Twain wrote, She could not breathe – was likely to stifle. Also shehad severe palpitation.
She believed she was dying. I also believed it (qtd. in Kaplan 220).They moved to Florence, Italy in October 1903.
After recuperating from her heart attack,she was stricken with another. Twain never left Olivias side and was with her until herdeath. That night Twain stayed by her side caressing her hand. The next day he wrote, Iam tired and old; I wish I were with Livy (qtd. in Kaplan 236).
Twain went into a state of depression and it seemed nothing was going right. Oneof his daughters suffered a nervous breakdown and entered a sanitarium, and his other wasnearly killed in a horse and trolley accident. As several years passed, he gradually began accepting invitations to banquets and parties, but still felt lonely without Olivia. Dontpart with your illusions, he had written. When they are gone you may still exist but you have ceased to live.
Now his illusions were gone and was deeply a lonely man (qtd. inIn the spring of 1907, Twain learned that Oxford University in England wanted togive him an honorary degree and quickly took a ship to London. Four weeks of nonstopactivity followed before returning to the United States. He suffered severe heart pains onAware throughout his life that he was born when Halleys Comet was visible,Mark Twain predicted in 1909 that he would die when it returned. I came in withHalleys Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year and I expect to go out with it.
..TheAlmighty has saved me no doubt: Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; theycame in together, they must go out together. Oh! I am looking forward to that(qtd.
inHe sailed to Bermuda in the spring of 1910, planning to stay all winter in thewarmth and sunshine, but unhappiness would bring him back to Hannibal. I dont wantto die there. I am growing more and more particular about the place (qtd. in Long421).
Twains prediction came true. On the night of April 21 he set his gaze on HalleysComet, sank into a coma and died (Cox 218).Essentially no one any longer ponders the place of Mark Twain in Americanliterature, or in international literature. A pioneer in writing, William Dean Howells bestsums Mark Twain up with, There was never anybody like him; there never will beBibliography:Works CitedCox, Clinton. Mark Twain: Americas Humorist, Dreamer, Prophet.
New York:Scholastic Inc.1995 Hoffman, Andrew. Inventing Mark Twain: The lives of Samuel L. Clemens. New York:William Morrow 1997Kaplan, Justin. Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography.
New York: Simon andSchuster 1966Long, Hudson E. and J.R.
Lemaster. The New Mark Twain Handbook. New York andLondon: Garland Publishing Inc. 1985Lyttle, Richard B. Mark Twain: The Man and His Adventures. New York: MacmillanPublishing Company 1994MiningCo.
Research. Mark Twain- Home Page Online. Internet 1999Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mark Twain: A Biography. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1912Robinson Research.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens a.k.a. Mark Twain.