Twain Biography


Patricia Truslow, Contributor

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twain biographyThe biography of Mark Twain centers on his inventor, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the man behind the name. It is one of the most interesting of all the American authors biographies, because not only were his literary works entertaining, so was he.

Mark Twain's biography begins when Clemens was born on November 30, 1835 in a small Missourian town named Florida, the sixth child of Jane and John Clemens, a housewife and a lawyer. The biographical information about Mark Twain speaks of an adventurous life spent along the Mississippi River as a youngster.

When Twain was four years old the family moved from Florida, Missouri to Hannibal, a major city in comparison to Twain's birthplace. John Clemens was a man who dreamed big but never succeeded; he worked as a lawyer, judge, land developer and store owner. Often, he was so destitute that the family faced starvation. According to all of Mark Twain's biographies, it was the early death of John Clemens that caused his son to venture into the working world at the young age of twelve.

The bio of Mark Twain includes a myriad of successes, failures and losses. He lived in Hannibal from the age of four until he was seventeen. The town was a busy one in the eyes of young Clemens, full of activity from the daily arrival of steamboats on the Mississippi to the appearance of minstrel shows, circuses and revivals, all of which would eventually become part of Twain's many biographies. This adventurous child turned into a man who never stopped exploring, whether in person of through the words he put on paper. Death also fills the biography of Mark Twain, from his own father to his children and wife; only one child out the four he fathered outlived him. At the age of nine, he witnessed a murder in Hannibal; at ten, he watched a slave slowly die following a beating by an overseer.

There are several biographies of Mark Twain, some written by people who actually knew the man, others by historians, researchers and dedicated readers. Many of Mark Twain's biographies have been best sellers, one of which was written by Ron Powers and published in 2005. It is said to be an all-encompassing biography that uncovers more about the man than about his works. In the following quote taken from this biography, Powers hints at why so many biographies may have been written about Mark Twain:

Mark Twain's great achievement as the man who found a voice for his country

has made him a challenge for his biographers. His words are quoted, yet he somehow

lays hidden in plain sight - a giant on the historic landscape.

Critics have said that Powers' book is probably the best biography of Mark Twain that has even been written, certainly in modern times.

The Mark Twain biography timeline proves how adventurous the man truly was. Some of the more telling sections of his timeline are:

  • 1847 Twain's father dies, leaving the family in financial hardship. Twain goes to work.
  • 1851 At fifteen, Twain quits school and becomes a painter in Hannibal
  • 1857 Twain becomes an apprentice in order to work as a river pilot. The term "mark twain," meaning the depth of the river in which a boat can safely navigate, becomes Clemens' pen name.
  • 1858 Henry Clemens, Twain's youngest brother is killed in a steamboat explosion. Twain had encouraged him to become a captain, which made Mark Twain feel responsible for his brother's death for the rest of his life.
  • 1861 Civil War begins resulting in less trade on the Mississippi River; Twain's steamboat captain career ends. He trains for the Confederate militia, but abandons the service after only two weeks.
  • 1862 Twain travels to Nevada with his brother Orion, a government employee; Twain becomes a reporter for the Daily Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada.
  • 1864 Twain moves to San Francisco, California
  • 1865 Twain publishes his first short story, "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" in the New York Saturday Press, which establishes him as a writer.
  • 1866 Twain becomes a popular lecturer and works as a reporter for Alta California, a San Francisco newspaper
  • 1869 The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain's first book is published and becomes a bestseller.
  • 1870 Twain marries Olivia "Livy" Langdon; their first child, son Langdon is born.
  • 1872 Mark Twain moves his family to Hartford, Connecticut; his daughter, Susy is born, but his son dies from diphtheria.
  • 1873 The Gilded Age, Twain's satiric book about an era of American history is published; he also invents the self-pasting scrapbook the same year.
  • 1876 One of Twain's most successful novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, is published
  • 1884 Twain, with his nephew, Charles Webster, founds an unsuccessful publishing company, which eventually ruins Twain's family finances.
  • 1885 During this one year, Twain publishes both The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, his most renowned fictional work and his first published non-fiction book.
  • 1891 Twain moves his family to Europe; he is broke and feels the living is cheaper there.
  • 1894 Pudd'nhead Wilson, Twain's last novel is published. He is bankrupted by the failure of his publishing company and turns his finances over to Henry Rogers.
  • 1904 Livy Clemens dies; Twain moves to New York City to begin writing his autobiography
  • 1906 Twain's youngest daughter moves to an institution due to severe epilepsy; his biographer, Albert Paine moves in with him to work on the book.
  • 1909 Jean, his youngest daughter drowns in the bathtub from a seizure.
  • 1910 Mark Twain dies in Redding, Connecticut; he was seventy-four years old.

Autobiography of Mark Twain Volume I

Regardless of the many biographies of Mark Twain that have been written, none was ever more popular than the Autobiography of Mark Twain Volume 1, which was published on November 15, 2010, one-hundred years after his death. Massive in length, this autobiography of Mark Twain, according to one review, rambles through seventy-four years of a life full of ups, downs, adventures and sadness. Although parts of the autobiography have appeared in print prior to this current edition, none has been so inclusive of his views about life, the history of his works in Twain's own words, and his observations of the times from war to politics. Twain did not intend for this detailed autobiography to be printed for a long time, having said 'Tomorrow I mean to dictate a chapter which will get my heirs and assigns burnt alive if they venture to print it this side of 2006 AD.' The estate of Mark Twain honored his dictum for a full century.