Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in the small town of Florida, Missouri on
30th November 1835. His birth coincided with Halley’s Comet being at its closest to the Sun and, of course, nobody knew at that time that the fifth child of John and Jane Clemens would become the brightest star in American literary history.
Missouri was a slave state and the Clemens family owned a few slaves, so in
his books concerning the plight of the slave Samuel Clemens was to speak from a position of authority. As a child he only received a brief education, as the family required him to work due to the premature
death of his father in 1847.
He started as an apprentice in a print shop but later found work on a
Mississippi steamboat. He used the pseudonym Mark Twain from the call used on a steamboat to indicate when the ship had reached a safe depth of two fathoms.
Twain always had a strong affection for the Mississippi life and this is
immortalized in his works Life on the Mississippi (1883), Huckleberry Finn (1885), and parts of Tom Sawyer (1876).
Twain then went on to work as a journalist in San Francisco and Nevada in
He had a natural flair for writing humor and wrote many such stories, which
attracted national attention.
In 1870 he married Olivia from New York State and moved to Connecticut, by
which time he was able to buy a large house from the royalties received from his early books.
He then wrote books on a regular basis, The Prince and the Pauper (1882),
The Gilded Cage and also noteworthy poems.
Despite the economic crisis during this time, his books were always very popular and his financial position was secure. Many of his books received international acclaim and today they are published in at least twenty-seven languages.
Some of his works have always been controversial and have received vigorous
criticism over the years, particularly during the 1950’s when racial bigotry was at its height in America. On various occasions his books have been banned from U.S. schools and Children’s Libraries, but
despite all of this they have remained popular with the general public at large.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was not published until 1885 although
Twain had begun much earlier.
The manuscript was picked up on several occasions by the author and then put aside again; the writing being done in fits and starts. Some say that it became a burden on Twain causing him much frustration, which may explain the disappointing end to the adventure.
Huckleberry Finn ensured Twain’s place among the literary greats and this
work has proved to be Twain’s most studied and critically acclaimed novel.
In his later years, his health failed and in 1894 he became bankrupt due to
a poor investment in a new type of automatic typesetter, which drained all of his fortune. His later years were quite sad as he lived through the deaths of his wife who became a semi-invalid before her death,
his oldest daughter who died of meningitis and another daughter who developed epilepsy. His writings at that time reflected a darker side of life due to the grief he felt from the loss of his loved ones.
He went on a lecture trip around the world in order to raise money to repay
his creditors, during this time publishing books, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer Detective, all published in 1896.
On 21st April 1910, Mark Twain died just two days after Halley’s Comet reached its closest point to the Sun.