Young Mark Twain


Patricia Truslow, Contributor

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Samuel Langhorne Clemens, born on November 30, 1835, began life as a typical boy, but when the family moved from small-town Florida, Missouri to Hannibal, Missouri when Sam was only four, a childhood of adventure and great imagination started. Many of the literary works of this man, who became Mark Twain some twenty years later, were based on Mark Twain's early life.

Mark Twain's childhood was spent running around with a group of boys who engaged in mischief and tomfoolery befitting the environment of activity in which they lived. Living on the Mississippi River introduced young Twain to steamships as they were constantly traveling up and down the busy river. Early on, Twain decided that he would become a pilot of one of the enormous ships he grew to love.

Twain's father died when the boy was only twelve, leaving the family in financial distress. He and his other brothers had to begin work at an early age just to provide the basic necessities for the family. By the age of sixteen, Twain had quit school to work full time as a printing apprentice in Hannibal, but within a few years, he was traveling the East Coast as a freelance printer. Although printing is the initial reason Twain became so interested in writing, the river stayed in his heart. He returned to Missouri in 1857 to become a steamboat pilot apprentice, a short-lived occupation that would form the basis for many of his later bestselling novels, and the source of his famous pen name, Mark Twain, meaning "twelve feet or two fathoms" deep in reference to the water level appropriate to carry a ship.

Although Mark Twain never received any formal education as it is known today, he was tutored at home by his mother and occasionally attended a school in Hannibal. Nonetheless, Twain educated himself through reading in the local libraries wherever he lived, and by learning from others.

Most of what is known about Mark Twain's childhood and early life comes from things he has written. In his Autobiography of Mark Twain Volume I, he writes, "...a boy's life is not all comedy; much of the tragic enters into it." Twain witnessed death at an early age through the murder of a man on the streets and the killing of a slave by an overseer, both of which occurred before he was ten years old, in addition to the death of his own father.

In the same account of his life, Twain observes himself from his mother's perspective: "My mother had a good deal of trouble with me but I think she enjoyed it." As is witnessed through the adventures and misadventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Fin, as well as others, Twain's young life was filled with entertainment. He shares with the reader that his childhood was also full of pranks, embarrassments and even sibling rivalry.

Young Mark Twain's family did not have financial wealth or even a strong family bond due to his father's often shunning ways, but Twain always found a way of having fun and overcoming obstacles that might have depressed other young men.