How Samuel Langhorne Clemens became Mark Twain. The Biography of a Famous Author

Presentation / Essay (Pre-University) 2002 4 Pages



Mark Twain

(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

Kay Adenstedt

H American Lit Period 1


Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri, on Nov. 30, 1835, as the sixth child of John and Jane Clemens. Four years later the family moved in a little town nearby Hannibal, where young Clemens spent his boyhood years.

During his youth, Cleme ns grew up on the Mississippi River. Steamboats landed at the port of Hannibal several times a day, and his boyhood dream rose to become a steamboatman on the river he loved so desperately.

His love and his experiences at and with the river should later become a heritage and a major content of his literature. Samuel Clemens said, "When I find a well-drawn character in fiction or biography I generally take a warm personal interest in him, for the reason that I have known him before--met him on the river." (Twain, Mississippi).

Since 1838, one year after his father's death he started to work. His first jobs were helping newspaper printers or helping out his brother, who was in charge of Orion's Hannibal Western Union. Occasionally, Sam wrote sketches and got them published in the newspapers he worked for.

Clemens left Hannibal, at age 18, and worked as printer in New York City and Philadelphia. The cities in the east were the center of American Literature and allowed Clemens to get new contacts in another part of the country. He published his gathered experiences and thoughts about the east in the Hannibal Journal. So, people in the mid west got more informed about the "other Americans".

By 1859, a 23-year-old Clemens reached the goal he had long dreamed of. In New Orleans, Missouri he received the pilot license for the steamboat. Then he spent two years as pilot, until the Civil War halted steamboat traffic. During this time, however, he adopted the pseudonym "Mark Twain". The connection between his life and his writings, once again can be proved here as well. The fictitious name is a term that means that a river is the minimum depth for a safe navigation. When Clemens returned to writing in 1861, after unhappy months as a volunteer soldier in the Confederate army, he began working for the Virginia Enterprise.

After writing a humorous travel letter signed by "Mark Twain" for the paper, he continued using the pen name for nearly 50 years.

After more than two years of work for a Virginia paper, he discovered the never seen before west coast. Arriving in San Francisco in 1864, Clemens went to work for the Call, a local paper. He worked as full- time reporter and as Pacific correspondent. Twain, was known for his excellent work and became the central figure in the literary scene of San Francisco. There, Sam became friends with Bret Harte, who he met among other American writers on the west coast.

In 1866, he took a four months trip to Hawaii as correspondent for the Sacramento Union.

"This is the most magnificent, balmy atmosphere in the world--ought to take dead men out of grave." (Mark Twain, Mark Twain in Hawaii). Clemens just loved the Islands. In his time there, he earned a lot of money, which gave him the chance to travel through the far west of America more further.

Traveling is probably the cornerstone for Mark Twains open minding and his enormous knowledge about people and cultures. These can be proofed in every single book he wrote. The next years he traveled from the west to the east and from east to west. He worked as correspondent for papers on several places in the country and gathered experiences until he finally wrote his first published book "The Celebrated Jumping Frog Of Calaveras County". This book also includes stories from the west coast, from Hawaii and impressions from his time in Hannibal.

"The Innocent Abroad" was released in July 1869; it contains material about Quaker City where many European travelers arrived. This book was an instant bestseller. Now, he was soon convinced that could succeed as a writer without the hard life as journalism. Shortly after a return to New York, Clemens met Olivia Langdon, the older sister of a friend he worked with. They married finally 1870. Mark Twain's life took a dramatic turn toward stabilization and no rmalcy. The couple settled in Hartford, Connecticut, where, as a sign of his prosperity, Sam built a huge, "totally odd" house. They enjoyed a prosperous and happy life together. Nevertheless they were among the most important members of the polite Eastern Society.

The next following Hartford years, Twain used mainly for being together with his wife. In 1872, Susy Clemens was born and two years later the family grew bigger with the birth of Clara Clemens. Now, the family was full of life and love.

Family luck and prosperity let the Clemens live very comfortable. They traveled to Europe and visited several countries from north to south of the "old continent". These positive foreign influences gave Twain creativity to write a couple of his well-known books. Among them are "Tom Sawyer" (1875), "A Tramp Abroad" (1880), and "The life on the Mississippi" (1883). In the year of his 50th birthday Webster & Co. published "Huckleberry Finn", which is considered Twain's masterpiece. It gained international reputation and was bestseller in many countries.

Huckleberry, a boy, learns about human nature's evil side as well as its kind side. As a result of his close friendship with a black man who is escaping slavery, Huck also must confront the conflict between individua l intuition about what is right and the prevailing views of society on the subject.

Twain introduced a new style of writing with the vernacular style. As first American writer he succeeded in Europe and made American Authors a bit more independent and self-confident. Now, Europeans showed more respect and attention dor the literature across the ocean. By the early 1890s, however, his financial situation was in poor shape as a result of failures in investing in automatic typesetting machines, and the cost of living an extravagant lifestyle. In order to save him and the family for bankruptcy he sold the house in Hartford in 1891, and took the family to live in Europe. Throughout the decade, the Clemens family lived at various addresses in France, Germany and Italy.

Twain, who was used to traveling and a prosperous life got help for his financial situation from Standard Oil executive, Henry Rogers. This financial aid must have been enormous, because Clemens could afford several temporary returns to America. As well, he and his family, traveled through the entire world. They've been to all continents and visited many Islands, such as several pacific islands, New Zealand, Fiji and others.

It is amazing that, in spite of their not very comfortable situation they traveled through the entire world. The good reputation in many foreign countries and the brightness of Mark Twain should have supported this luck in the 1890s.

His wife died in Florence in 1904. The death influenced Twain's life massively. Then, he decided to go back to America. In 1905 he dines with Theodore Roosevelt in the White House and in the same year he celebrates his 70th birthday.

The last life years he enjoyed as a famous American, who was invited to many national festivals and federal buffets. As typical for Twain, he still frequently changed his home. So he lived in several major cities along the east coast in the last years alive. After he lived a couple of months in New York City he was invited to Oxford University in England. This should remain his last trip to Europe. He received the honorary degree of Oxford for his life work and the published Christian Science. The older Twain became very much involved in social and political issues.

His life, however, was going to an end. In December 1909 his youngest daughter, Jean, died at Stormfield. Immediately, after her death, Twain wrote "The Death Of Jean", the last substantial writing he completed. Clemens vowed never to write again. Sam's health rapidly deteriorated after Jean's death. In January 1910, he went to Bermuda for his health, but sensed he wasn't going to live long. On April 21, 1910, Mark Twain sank into coma. He was 74 years old. On April 23, a large funeral procession was held in New York City, and service was held at the Presbyterian Brick Church. Clemens, an important person in American Literature was buried alongside his wife and children at Woodlawn Cemetery, in Elmira, N.Y.


Thomson, Dave. "Mark Twain Quotations, Newspaper Collections, & Related Resources." April 09, 1997. http://www.twainquotes.com (21 Jan. `02)

Rasmussen, R. Kent. The Quotable Mark Twain. Los Angeles: Rasmussen, 1998

A&E Television Networks. 2000. http://www.biography.com (19 Jan. '02)

Holt, Rinehart, Winston. Adventures in American Literature. Inc.: New York, 1996, pp. 387- 390


File size
335 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
Real Centro Universitario Maria Cristina
Twain Mark



Title: How Samuel Langhorne Clemens became Mark Twain. The Biography of a Famous Author