Mark Twain (real name Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was an outstanding American writer, satirist, journalist and public figure. Among his most famous works are Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Samuel Clemens was born in Florida (Missouri, USA) in the merchant’s family of John Marshal and Jane Clemens. He was the sixth child in the family.
When Mark Twain was four years old his family had to move to Hannibal, a small town situated on the Mississippi River. Precisely this town helped the writer to depict Saint-Petersburg in his famous adventurous novels. At those days Missouri was a slaveholding state and a little boy faced the slavery, which was also depicted and criticized in many of his literary works.
In March of 1847, when Twain was eleven years old, his father died of pneumonia. The next ear he started working as an assistant in the printing office. Since 1851 he dealt with typing and editing of the articles and comic essays for “Hannibal Journal”, his brother Orion’s newspaper.
Soon that newspaper was closed and brothers’ paths diverged.
At the age of 18 he moved from Hannibal and worked as a printer in different cities and towns, including New-York and St. Louis. He concerned himself with self-education, spending much time in the library, and eventually he learnt all that people learnt at ordinary school.
When Twain was 22, he moved to New Orleans. On his way there he traveled by the river ship. He happened to fall in love with shipping and he had a strong desire to become a captain of a ship. Twain learnt everything about Mississippi and finally got a ship captain certificate in 1859. His younger brother joined Samuel, but in the 21st of June, 1858 he suddenly died, when his ship exploded. Mark Twain was sure that brother’s death was his fault and this guilt stayed with him during his whole life. However, he continued working on the river until the Civil War, which put an end to the river shipping. The war made him change occupation, though Twain regretted it as long as he lived.
Samuel Clemens had to become a soldier and fight on the side of Confederation. Since his childhood Clemens used to be free, that is why he deserted in a couple of weeks and went to his brother, who lived in Nevada. The day he came, it was reported that golden and silver were found in the wild prairies of the state, so brothers became engaged in mining. At the same time Clemens wrote comic stories for “Territorial Enterprise” in the city of Virginia and in August of 1862 he was offered a position in this newspaper. Thus, Samuel Clemens had to look for a pen name. Later, he claimed that his famous pen name was taken from the terms of river navigation and “mark twain” meant the minimal depth for ship passing. That was the way Samuel Clemens drew the first breath to Mark Twain, a famous writer, whose works became recognized all over the world.
Career and Literary Works
Over a period of several years Mark Twain was wandering from one newspaper to another as a reporter and newspaper satirist. Besides, he made some money on the side by delivering interesting and comic lectures. He was an excellent orator. In the capacity of “Alta California” correspondent, he went on a cruise on the steamer “Quacker City”, during which he collected material for his first book The Innocents Abroad. It was published in 1869 and provoked some interest on the side of the reading public as it was notable for unique mixture of hearty humor and satire. Thereby, Mark Twain’s literary depute took place. Besides, in the February of 1870 Twain married the sister of his friend Olivia.
The novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today was the next successful book of Mark Twain. It was written in 1873 together with Charles Dudley Warner, who was a famous satirist of those times as well. This novel was not very good from one side, as the styles of joint authors were rather different. At the same time, it suited the taste of readers and they received it very positively (Burns 28).
Another Twain’s work saw the light in 1876 and precisely that book consolidated writer’s reputation as the greatest American writer and introduced him to the world literature. The book’s title was “Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. In fact, the writer had not to devise anything. He just remembered his childhood and his life in Hannibal. The name of the town changed into Saint-Petersburg but new town contained all the features, which were characteristic for Hannibal and many other small towns, situated on the banks of Mississippi river as well. Tom Sawyer himself resembled young Samuel Clemens, who did not like school and smoked since nine years old.
The success of the book surpassed all expectations. Reading public from all over America liked the novel, which was full of simple humor and written in simple language (Cox 47). It is true that many Americans recognized themselves in the image of Tom Sawyer.
The next book, written by Mark Twain, was also intended not to the literary critics but to the ordinary people. His novel The Prince and the Pauper which came out in 1882 showed the readers the Tudor Period of English history. In this novel exciting adventures were combined with the dream of an American to become rich.
The writer became interested in history. In the preface to his new novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court Twain wrote, “The ungentle laws and customs touched upon in this tale are historical and the episodes which are used to illustrate them are also historical” (Twain 5).
In 1884 Mark Twain was not only a prominent literary man, but also a successful businessman. He founded his own publishing office, which was headed by the husband of Twain’s niece. One of the first books, published in his own company, was Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Fishkin 38). This novel is considered to be the best work, written by Mark Twain. The writer created it as the continuation of Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but in reality this novel turned out to be more complicated and multilayer. Actually, the reason is obvious: the writer had bee writing it almost for the ten years, which were full of constant search for better literary form and deep reflection. In this book, Twain used spoken language of a small American town and in fact he was the first to use such a language in the literature. Formerly, it was allowed only in farcical plays and satires (Emerson 215).
Among other books, issued in the Mark Twain’s publishing office, was Personal Memoirs, autobiography of the eighteenth American President Ulysses S. Grant. The book became a bestseller and brought in big revenue to Samuel Clemens and his family.
The publishing office of Mark Twain worked successfully until the economic crises of 1893-1894. The writer’s business did not cope with a blow and went to pieces. As far back as 1891, he had to move to Europe in order to save some money. From time to time he came to the USA, trying to improve his economic condition. After the ruin he did not admit he was a bankrupt. Eventually he managed to come to agreement with the creditors about the postponement of debt payment. At that period Mark Twain wrote several works, among which there was the most serious of his works Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by the Sieur Louis de Conte (1896). Among other works are Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894), Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894), Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896), but none of them achieved a great success.
In 1893 Twain was introduced to the oil tycoon Henry Rogers, who was one of the presidents of the company “Standard Oil”. Rogers helped Twain to reorganize his business and they became good friends. Men spent much time together, playing poker and discussing different issues. Suddenly Rogers died in 1909 and his death shocked the writer deeply. Although Mark Twain expressed Rogers his gratitude openly, it was clear, that their friendship was mutually beneficial. Twain had a great impact on the Rogers’ hot temper, because after Rogers’ death his documents showed that “Hell Hound Rogers” turned into well-doer and patron. During friendship with Twain, Rogers supported education, organized different educational programs, especially for Afro-Americans and talented people with disabilities (Loving 64).
The fame of the writer subsided gradually. In the end of the nineteenth century publishers began to issue a collection of Mark Twain’s works, and that meant that he was considered to be a classic of the past. However, strong-willed Samuel Clemens had no intention to give in. He entered the twentieth century with a strong satire about the movers and shakers. He wrote several works, which were destined to expose untruth and injustice. These works are: To the Person Sitting in Darkness, The Unites Stated of Lyncherdom, King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule and others. Still, Mark Twain remained a classic of the easy literature.
In 1901 Yale University awarded Mark Twain an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature. The next year he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Law from Missouri University. He was very proud of these degrees. A person, who left school at the age of 12, was really flattered by such recognition (Powers 33).
In 1906 Twain provided himself with a private secretary A.B. Pane. The young man expressed his desire for writing a book about the writers’ life. However Mark Twain himself had several attempts to write an autobiography. Eventually, the writer began to dictate Pane the story of his life. In a year he was awarded one more degree by Oxford University.
At that time he had a severe disease and many of the members of the Twain’s family die one after another: he endured the death of his children and his beloved wife Olivia. Mark Twain died on the 21st of April, 1910 of stenocardia. One year before the death he said, “I came in with Halley’s comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it”.