The Life Of Mark Twain


Patricia Truslow, Contributor

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The life of Mark Twain began as Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri on November 30, 1835. He was born the sixth child of seven to John Marshall and Jane Lampton Clemens. No one in his family would have imagined that one day the small, mischievous boy named Sam would become the most famous literary icon in American history. The life of Mark Twain, though, really didn't begin until the lad was four years old and his family moved to Hannibal, Missouri along the banks of the Mississippi River.

Hannibal was a port city, full of steamboat traffic that arrived day and night from New Orleans and St. Louis. Much of Mark Twain's life was spent either in participating in this navigational industry or writing about it. From his The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and onward to many of his tales and short stories, the Mississippi River was practically a character in his works. The stories borne of that life experience on the river banks marked Twain's literary productions.

Mark Twain's personal life

Mark Twain's personal life was marked by accomplishment and loss. His major accomplishments were anchored in writing, having published over thirty books, in excess of one-hundred fifty short stories, as well as plays and poems. Movies and films from the silent era to the popular animation age have used his works to illustrate life and the wonders of being a free child exploring the world. Too, many social issues have surfaced with discussion, often being presented metaphorically as with The Gilded Age wherein Twain takes a stab at the politics and social conditions of his day.

Twain's personal life was also marked with great personal loss. His only son, Langdon Clemens died when he was only nineteen months old. His beloved daughter Susy, with whom Twain was exceptionally close after losing Langdon, fell ill and died of spinal meningitis at the age of twenty-four while her parents and sister were on a world tour; Twain would never recover from the loss of his muse, saying, "Joy, sorrow, anger, remorse, storm, sunshine, rain, darkness - they were all there: They came in a moment, & they were gone as quickly." Twain's wife of thirty-four years, Livy, died in 1904, followed by his youngest daughter, Jean in 1909, shortly before his own death. Mark Twain had also lost his father when the child was only twelve, making it necessary for Twain to leave school and work to help keep the family financially afloat. Interspersed with these familial deaths was the loss of friends and acquaintances, many of whom had helped shaped the life of Mark Twain.

Mark Twain's later life, between 1906 and 1910, were spent at his last home, Stormfield, in Redding, Connecticut. While he had many friends with whom he spent a good deal of social time, Twain had bouts with depression, particularly after the death of his youngest daughter, Jean. Mark Twain played around with writing, but he never completed his last work, The Mysterious Stranger, though he did complete his autobiography, which he demanded not be published until he had been dead for a hundred years, which it wasn't.

Mark Twain jokes

Mark Twain was a humorist as a writer and a witty man as a person. Ever one to have a comical statement about sometimes not so funny situations, Twain's jokes are often quoted in modern times. While there are hundreds of them preserved today in his archived papers and in other sources, a few of his best ones are:

  • "When I was fourteen years old, I was amazed at how unintelligent my father was. By the time I turned twenty-one, I was astounded how much he had learned in the last seven years.
  • "Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt."
  • "I haven't a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices."
  • "Denial ain't just a river in Egypt."
  • "Be careful about reading health books. You might die of a misprint."
  • "Sacred cows make the best hamburger."

Mark Twain died on April 21, 1910, but his legend and literature never have.