Happy Birthday, Mark Twain!
Today, we celebrate the birth, life, and career of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain. The beloved author was born in Florida, Missouri on November 30, 1835. His family relocated to Hannibal, MO when Twain was about 4 years old. He was mischievous, often getting into trouble in school, much like the Tom Sawyer character he would later bring to life.
Twain reflected that he never once remembers hearing his father laugh. His mother, however, was a jovial character who made up stories to entertain and delight the Clemens children.
Known for his keen sense of humor and his wisdom, it’s hard to believe that Twain only attended school until the age of twelve, when his father’s unexpected death forced him to find a job to help out his mother and siblings. The very quotable Twain once quipped: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
When he was 21, Twain landed his dream job; he piloted a steamboat on the Mississippi River! He loved this exciting, lucrative job. Unfortunately, this thrilling career was cut short by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. He fought for a short time on the Confederate side.
Twain’s first major success came in 1865, with the publication of a short story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (also published with the alternate title, Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog). A trip to the Mediterranean inspired his first book, The Innocents Abroad. His most famous tomes, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were published a decade later. The classic childhood tales have remained not only popular, but perpetually controversial, with Huckleberry Finn being one of the most banned books of all time, due to its excessive use of the “N Word.” Twain has been accused of racism more than once. While it is true that his father and his uncle owned slaves, Twain was appalled by the atrocities he witnessed. As a young boy, he saw a slave murdered at the hands of his owner for not doing his job well enough.
Twain married Olivia Langdon in 1870. Their first child, a son named Langdon Clemens, was born prematurely later that year. He died before his second birthday. A daughter, Susy, who was allegedly Twain’s favorite child, was born two years later. He was devastated when she died at the young age of 24, from meningitis. Daughter Clara was born in 1874; she and her father reportedly had a difficult relationship. She was the only one of Mark Twain’s children to live to old age. Another daughter, Jean, was epileptic, and died before her 30th birthday.
In the 1870s, Mark Twain moved the family to Hartford, Connecticut, where he commissioned architect Edward Potter to construct their dream home. Olivia, or “Livy,” as she was called, provided many sketches detailing what she had in mind. The Mark Twain House still stands today, in all of its awe-inspiring glory, and operates as a museum honoring the author’s colorful life.
The shrewd author suspected that the appeal of his stories– and even his own fame– would far outlive him. He specified in his will that his memoirs must not be published until at least 100 years after he died. When he passed away in 1910, he left behind 5,000 pages of handwritten journals and notes! In 2012, The Autobiography of Mark Twain was published in three volumes.
The author is buried in Elmira, New York, his wife’s birthplace. The author summered there, and it’s where he wrote Tom Sawyer and other works.