Mark Twain is one name that almost everyone who has studied English at school knows. There is at least one story by Mark Twain present in every English school curriculum by default, and the most popular choices are Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
Twain, born Samuel Clemmins first started writing by contributing towards his brother’s newspaper, by giving in other occasional article or two. Twain gained national attention after the publication of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” a humorous story that he wrote during his brief stint as a reporter. He then discovered that he had a great talent in writing, and that was what he began to do. Twain was also known as a speaker, putting his wit and satire to good use.
Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain
1. Total abstinence is so excellent a thing that it cannot be carried to too great an extent. In my passion for it I even carry it so far as to totally abstain from total abstinence itself.
2. There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man’s notion that he less savage than the other savages.
3. Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.
4. The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad. I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass.
5. Of the demonstrably wise there are but two: those who commit suicide, and those who keep their reasoning faculties atrophied with drink.
6. Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born to John Marshall Clemens and Jane Lampton Clemens, on November 12, 1835, in Florida, Missouri. He was the sixth child in the family, of a total of seven. HIs first traveling occurred at the age of four, when his family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, which would later become the setting for Twain’s main characters, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
Twain’s father died in 1847, when Mark was just eleven, of pneumonia. Twain then became a printer’s apprentice. Then, when he was 18, Twain left Hannibal for New York. After a brief stint there, he moved to Philadelphia, then to St Louis and finally to Cincinnati. He used to educate himself by going to the public libraries at all the places he worked at, during the evenings. He finally returned to Missouri at age 22.
Mark Twain: Further Reading
Autobiography of Mark Twain
The Bible According to Mark Twain
The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain
Mark Twain’s Helpful Hints for Good Living: A Handbook for the Damned Human Race
Roughing It by Mark Twain
Twain began his travels with his elder brother Orion, who was an aspiring politician, in the early 1860s. Judging by the misadventures they had, they could have benefited from travel insurance, but it wasn’t available at that time. Twain and Orion traveled across the Rocky Mountains and The Great Plains, and finally ended at Nevada, where Twain tried his hand at mining. Having fared unsuccessfully at mining, he dropped it and started work for a local newspaper. It was here that he first used his pen name, Mark Twain, which is how he is known by, today. The name was a term used by Riverboats to measure the depth of the rivers. Twain had worked on the riverboats of Missouri when he was a youngster.
Twain then moved to San Francisco in 1864, where he published his first story in the Saturday Press, a weekly. It brought him national attention, and resulted in his traveling to Europe and the Middle East, funded by a local newspaper. He wrote a collection of travel letters while on these trips.
Twain returned to the US after his trips and then settled down. He continued writing stories and speaking to the public. He died on April 21, 1910 in Redding, Connecticut. Mark Twain has become a tradition, with many of his works being taught at schools worldwide and thus making him perhaps the most famous American writer in history.
This is an excerpt from my book “Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost is the Point” . It’s available as an ebook for kindle or ebook readers. Over the next several months we will be exploring some of these amazing vagabond characters from the past (and present).