Mark Twain

12512531_208455982829825_1059596082002039409_nSamuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri on November 30th, 1835. The sixth child of seven, only Sam and three of his siblings, Orion, Henry and Pamela were to survive childhood. Margaret died when Sam was three; Benjamin when Sam was six and Pleasant died aged six months, before Sam was born. His father, an attorney and judge, John Marshall Clemens, was from Virginia and his mother Jane from Kentucky. Sam was born as Haley’s comet passed close to the Earth. As an adult he stated he came in with the comet and would leave with it.

When Sam was four, the family moved to the Port Town of Hannibal, which was later to become the inspiration for St Petersburg, in his famous Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn novels. His father died when Sam was 11 and he left school a year later to begin an apprenticeship as a Printer. By aged 16 he was working for his brother Orion’s local newspaper as a typesetter, as well as contributing his own articles. At aged 18, Sam left Hannibal to travel and write, in New York, Philadelphia and St Louis.

In 1857, Sam paid Horace Bixby, a riverboat Pilot, $500 to teach him how to navigate paddle-steamers on the Mississippi between St Louis and New Orleans. During this training, Sam wrote his journals ‘Life on the Mississippi’ where he described life as a Pilot on the boats to be the dream career for any boy in the area, carrying more prestige than that of a Captain, as it was the Pilot’s job to learn every natural obstacle, and current, both above and below the waterline and be able to navigate successfully through them in the dark. For his work, he adopted the pen name Mark Twain, after the call for the safe depth for the river boats; mark twain, meaning 2 fathoms or twelve feet.

A year into his training he organised a position for his younger brother Henry to join him, as a mud clerk. Sam and Henry worked on the steamer Pennsylvania, until June 5th 1858, when Sam left after increasing clashes with one of the crew. A week later, on the 13th, the Pennsylvania suffered a boiler explosion whilst the engineer was away from his post, allegedly fraternising with female passengers. The Pennsylvania subsequently sank off Ship Island, Memphis. Two rescue vessels, the Imperial and the Diana took the passengers, dead and wounded to New Orleans and Memphis respectively. The initial death toll was 250 from 450 passengers, which climbed as others succumbed to their injuries. Henry Clemens died on June 21st from severe burns to his body and lungs. Sam blamed himself for the rest of his life for his brother’s death, stating that he had dreamed of it a month prior to the explosion. It was this event that sparked off Sam’s interest in parapsychology and psychic phenomena. Following the outbreak of the Civil war in 1861, and the restrictions placed on river traffic, Sam’s career as a river boat Pilot was prematurely ended.

After a three year stay in the Nevada area, working firstly as a miner near his brother Orion, who by now was secretary to Governor James Nye, and then as a writer, Sam was becoming more and more popular for his writing and travelled around America and to Hawaii, before being offered a funded working trip to the Mediterranean by a local newspaper in 1867. It was during the course of this trip that Sam met and befriended Charles Langdon, who showed him a photograph of his sister Olivia. For Sam it was love at first sight.

In 1870 Olivia and Sam married in Elmira, New York, and had four children, three daughters, Susy, Clara and Jean and a son Langdon who sadly died of diphtheria aged 19 months. In 1873, after moving to Hartford, Connecticut, Sam started to build a house which would later become the Mark Twain Museum. They lived here until 1891, during which time Sam made another trip to Europe, including England, and wrote several of his best -selling novels, including Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. In 1894, Sam was forced to declare bankruptcy due to several failed business investments and the failure of his Publishing house. His losses included the majority of his book profits, and a substantial portion of his wife’s inheritance. His friend and financial advisor, managed to save the copyrights for Twain’s manuscripts by signing them over to Olivia. Sam undertook a world tour shortly afterwards to pay off his creditors even though his bankruptcy terms meant such a move was unnecessary. During this time his family moved to England. It was while he was away on his tour in 1896 that Susy, his favourite daughter, died of meningitis.

By the turn of the century his daughter Jean’s health was becoming a concern; she had been diagnosed with epilepsy and Sam moved his family to Europe, then back to London seeking medical expertise, before discovering qualified physicians were available in America. In 1900 he returned to America, at which point Sam had become an ardent Anti-Imperialist due to the three months he had spent in India.
In 1904, Sam lost the love of his life. Olivia passed away after 34 years of marriage. A few years later, his close friend Henry also died, in 1909 closely followed by his daughter Jean, who died of a heart attack aged just 29. Sam was in despair. It was during his grief that he reiterated his belief that he had come in with Haley’s comet and would go out with it too. Sam’s prediction was correct, a day after the comet passed closest to the Earth, on April 21st 1910, Sam Clemens aka Mark Twain died of a heart attack at his home in Connecticut. He was buried with his entire family in the Langdon plot at Woodlawn cemetery, Elmira. Their plot containing individual grave markers is also marked by a ‘mark twain’ 12 feet tall stone monument dedicated by his surviving daughter Clara, who passed away in 1962.

His most popular and well known novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, despite getting a frosty reception from Twain’s most important critic, his wife, was later endorsed by Ernest Hemingway as the “novel from which all other American novels were born”. Even so, as a result of the period during which it was written, it has remained almost consistently since its release as a restricted book in High Schools and so on, due to its use of the word ‘nigger’, which was commonly used during Sam’s youth, as slavery hadn’t yet been abolished. Despite his earlier bankruptcy, at his death, Sam Clemens left a personal fortune of $12,000,000 in 21st Century terms.

Phoebe