Who Was Mark Twain?
Mark Twain was the pen-name of the American writer Samuel Langhorne Clemens who was born on November 30, 1835 in the village of Hannibal, Missouri. He was first apprenticed to a printer and worked on newspapers in New York and Philadelphia. He became apprenticed as a steamboat pilot in 1856 and stayed with the boats until 1861 when he went to Nevada to seek a fortune in mining.
In this he was unsuccessful, but he soon obtained a job as a newspaper reporter signing his articles Mark Twain. He took the name from a phrase meaning “two fathoms deep”, which he had used to report river soundings during his steamboat career.
He referred humorously to his lack of success at mining, turning to journalism for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. His humorous story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, was published in 1865, based on a story that he heard at Angels Hotel in Angels Camp, California where he had spent some time as a miner. The short story brought international attention and was even translated into French. His wit and satire, in prose and in speech, earned praise from critics and peers, and he was a friend to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty.
The rest of his working life was devoted to writing. He produced books about travel, such as A Tramp Abroad and Roughing It, but he is best remembered for Tom Sawyer (1875) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), the latter often called “The Great American Novel” which tells of the amusing and hair-raising adventures of young boys in the 1830s. The blend of romance, horror and humor in the books has made them favorites with children and adults ever since.
Twain earned a great deal of money from his writings and lectures, but he invested in ventures that lost most of it—notably the Paige Compositor, a mechanical typesetter that failed because of its complexity and imprecision. He filed for bankruptcy in the wake of these financial setbacks, but he eventually overcame his financial troubles with the help of Henry Huttleston Rogers. He chose to pay all his pre-bankruptcy creditors in full, even after he had no legal responsibility to do so.
Mark Twain was still writing his autobiography when he died on April 21, 1910. Twain was born shortly after an appearance of Halley’s Comet, and he predicted that he would “go out with it” as well; he died the day after the comet returned. He was lauded as the “greatest humorist this country has produced”, and William Faulkner called him “the father of American literature”.