Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910),[3] well-known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. Twain is noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), which has been called “the Great American Novel“,[4] and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). He is extensively quoted.[5][6] Twain was a friend to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty.

Twain was very popular, and his keen wit and incisive satire earned praise from both critics and peers. Upon his death he was lauded as the “greatest American humorist of his age”,[7] and William Faulkner called Twain “the father of American literature“.[8]

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Biography

Early life

Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri, on November 30, 1835, to a Tennessee country merchant, John Marshall Clemens (August 11, 1798 – March 24, 1847), and Jane Lampton Clemens (June 18, 1803 – October 27, 1890).[9] John Marshall Clemens was the first of five children born to Samuel B Clemens and Pamela Goggin (1775–1844), who married on October 29, 1797 in Bedford County, Virginia.[10]

Twain was the sixth of seven children. Only three of his siblings survived childhood: his brother Orion (July 17, 1825 – December 11, 1897); Henry, who died in a riverboat explosion (July 13, 1838 – June 21, 1858); and Pamela (September 19, 1827 – August 31, 1904). His sister Margaret (May 31, 1830 – August 17, 1839) died when Twain was three years old, and his brother Benjamin (June 8, 1832 – May 12, 1842) died three years later. Another brother, Pleasant (1828–1829), died at the age of six months.[11] Twain was born two weeks after the closest approach to Earth of Halley’s Comet. On 4 December 1985, the United States Postal Service issued a stamped envelope for “Mark Twain and Halley’s Comet.” [12]

When Twain was four, his family moved to Hannibal, Missouri,[13] a port town on the Mississippi River that served as the inspiration for the fictional town of St. Petersburg in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.[14] At that time, Missouri was a slave state, and young Twain became familiar with the institution of slavery, a theme he would later explore in his writing.

In March 1847, when Twain was 11, his father died of pneumonia.[15] The next year, he became a printer’s apprentice. In 1851, he began working as a typesetter and contributor of articles and humorous sketches for the Hannibal Journal, a newspaper owned by his brother Orion. When he was 18, he left Hannibal and worked as a printer in New York City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. He joined the union and educated himself in public libraries in the evenings, finding wider sources of information than he would have at a conventional school.[16] At 22, Twain returned to Missouri.

The library of the Mark Twain House, which features hand-stenciled paneling, fireplaces from India, embossed wallpapers and an enormous hand-carved mantel that the Twains purchased in Scotland (HABS photo)

On a voyage to New Orleans down the Mississippi, the steamboat pilot, Horace E. Bixby, inspired Twain to pursue a career as a steamboat pilot; it was a richly rewarding occupation with wages set at $250 per month,[17] roughly equivalent to $72,400 a year today. A steamboat pilot needed a vast knowledge of the ever-changing river to be able to stop at the hundreds of ports and wood-lots along the river banks. Twain meticulously studied 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of the Mississippi for more than two years before he received his steamboat pilot license in 1859.

While training, Samuel convinced his younger brother Henry to work with him. Henry was killed on June 21, 1858, when the steamboat he was working on, the Pennsylvania, exploded. Twain had foreseen this death in a detailed dream a month earlier,[18] which inspired his interest in parapsychology; he was an early member of the Society for Psychical Research.[19] Twain was guilt-stricken and held himself responsible for the rest of his life. He continued to work on the river and served as a river pilot until the American Civil War broke out in 1861 and traffic along the Mississippi was curtailed.

Missouri was a slave state, considered by many to be part of the South, and was represented in both the Confederate and Federal governments during the Civil War. Years later, Twain wrote a sketch, “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed“, which claimed he and his friends had been Confederate volunteers for two weeks before disbanding their company.[20]

Travels

Twain in 1867

Twain joined his brother, Orion, who in 1861 had been appointed secretary to James W. Nye, the governor of Nevada Territory, and headed west. Twain and his brother traveled for more than two weeks on a stagecoach across the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, visiting the Mormon community in Salt Lake City along the way. These experiences inspired Roughing It, and provided material for The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Twain’s journey ended in the silver-mining town of Virginia City, Nevada, where he became a miner.[20] Twain failed as a miner and found work at a Virginia City newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise.[21] It was here that he first used his famous pen name. On February 3, 1863, he signed a humorous travel account “Letter From Carson – re: Joe Goodman; party at Gov. Johnson’s; music” with “Mark Twain”.[22]

Twain moved to San Francisco, California in 1864, where he continued working as a journalist. He met other writers, such as Bret Harte, Artemus Ward, and Dan DeQuille. The young poet Ina Coolbrith may have romanced him.[23]

His first great success as a writer came when his humorous tall tale, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, was published in the New York Saturday Press on November 18, 1865. It was an immediate hit and brought him national attention. A year later, he traveled to the Sandwich Islands (present-day Hawaii) as a reporter for the Sacramento Union. His travelogues were popular and became the basis for his first lectures.[24]

In 1867, a local newspaper funded a trip to the Mediterranean. During his tour of Europe and the Middle East, he wrote a popular collection of travel letters, which were later compiled as The Innocents Abroad in 1869. It was on this trip that he met his future brother-in-law.

Marriage and children

Charles Langdon showed a picture of his sister, Olivia, to Twain; Twain claimed to have fallen in love at first sight. The two met in 1868, were engaged a year later, and married in February 1870 in Elmira, New York.[24] She came from a “wealthy but liberal family”, and through her he met abolitionists, “socialists, principled atheists and activists for women’s rights and social equality“, including Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and the writer and utopian socialist William Dean Howells,[25] who became a longtime friend.

The couple lived in Buffalo, New York from 1869 to 1871. Twain owned a stake in the Buffalo Express newspaper, and worked as an editor and writer. Their son Langdon died of diphtheria at 19 months.

In 1871,[26] Twain moved his family to Hartford, Connecticut, where starting in 1873, he arranged the building of a home (local admirers saved it from demolition in 1927 and eventually turned it into a museum focused on him). While living there Olivia gave birth to three daughters: Susy (1872–1896), Clara (1874–1962)[27] and Jean (1880–1909). The couple’s marriage lasted 34 years, until Olivia’s death in 1904.

During his seventeen years in Hartford (1874–1891), Twain wrote many of his best-known works: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), The Prince and the Pauper (1881), Life on the Mississippi (1883), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889).

Twain made a second tour of Europe, described in the 1880 book A Tramp Abroad. His tour included a stay in Heidelberg from May 6 until July 23, 1878, and a visit to London.

Love of science and technology

Twain in the lab of Nikola Tesla, early 1894

He was fascinated with science and scientific inquiry. He developed a close and lasting friendship with Nikola Tesla, and the two spent much time together in Tesla’s laboratory.

Twain patented three inventions, including an “Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments” (to replace suspenders) and a history trivia game.[28] Most commercially successful was a self-pasting scrapbook; a dried adhesive on the pages only needed to be moistened before use.

His book A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court features a time traveler from contemporary America, using his knowledge of science to introduce modern technology to Arthurian England. This type of storyline would later become a common feature of the science fiction sub-genre, Alternate history.

He appeared as himself in The Prince and the Pauper (1905), a two-reel short film that features the “only known celluloid footage of Mark Twain”.[29]

Financial troubles

Twain made a substantial amount of money through his writing, but he squandered much of it in bad investments, mostly in new inventions, particularly the Paige typesetting machine. It was a beautifully engineered mechanical marvel that amazed viewers when it worked, but was prone to breakdowns. Twain spent $300,000 (equal to $7,518,462 today) on it between 1880 and 1894 [30], but before it could be perfected, it was made obsolete by the Linotype. He lost not only the bulk of his book profits but also a large portion of the inheritance of his wife.[31]

Twain also lost money through his publishing house, which enjoyed initial success selling the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant but went broke soon after, losing money on the idea that the general public would be interested in a biography of Pope Leo XIII. Fewer than two hundred copies were sold.[31]

Twain’s writings and lectures, combined with the help of a new friend, enabled him to recover financially.[32] In 1893, he began a 15-year-long friendship with financier Henry Huttleston Rogers, a principal of Standard Oil. Rogers first made Twain file for bankruptcy. Then Rogers had Twain transfer the copyrights on his written works to his wife, Olivia, to prevent creditors from gaining possession of them. Finally, Rogers took absolute charge of Twain’s money until all the creditors were paid.

Twain embarked on an around-the-world lecture tour in 1894[33] to pay off his creditors in full, despite the fact that he was no longer under any legal obligation to do so.[34] In mid-1900, he was the guest of newspaper proprietor Hugh Gilzean-Reid at Dollis Hill House. Twain wrote of Dollis Hill that he had “never seen any place that was so satisfactorily situated, with its noble trees and stretch of country, and everything that went to make life delightful, and all within a biscuit’s throw of the metropolis of the world”.[35] He returned to America in 1900, having earned enough to pay off his debts.

Speaking engagements

Twain was in demand as a featured speaker, and appeared before a number of men’s clubs, including the White Friars, the Vagabonds, the Authors, the Monday Evening Club of Hartford, and the Beefsteak Club. He was made an honorary member of the Bohemian Club in San Francisco. In the late 1890s, he spoke to the Savage Club in London and was elected honorary member. When told that only three men had been so honored, including the Prince of Wales, he replied “Well, it must make the Prince feel mighty fine.”[36] In 1897, Twain spoke to the Concordia Press Club in Vienna as a special guest, following diplomat Charlemagne Tower. In German, to the great amusement of the assemblage, Twain delivered the speech “Die Schrecken der deutschen Sprache” (“The Horrors of the German Language”).[37]

Later life

Mark Twain in his gown (scarlet with grey sleeves and facings) for his D.Litt. degree, awarded to him by Oxford University.

Twain passed through a period of deep depression, which began in 1896 when his daughter Susy died of meningitis. Olivia’s death in 1904 and Jean’s on December 24, 1909, deepened his gloom.[38] On May 20, 1909, his close friend Henry Rogers died suddenly.

In 1906, Twain began his autobiography in the North American Review. In April, Twain heard that his friend Ina Coolbrith had lost nearly all she owned in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and he volunteered a few autographed portrait photographs to be sold for her benefit. To further aid Coolbrith, George Wharton James visited Twain in New York and arranged for a new portrait session. Twain said four of the resulting images were the finest ones ever taken of him.[39]

Twain formed a club in 1906 for girls he viewed as surrogate granddaughters, the Angel Fish and Aquarium Club. The dozen or so members ranged in age from 10 to 16. Twain exchanged letters with his “Angel Fish” girls and invited them to concerts and the theatre and to play games. Twain wrote in 1908 that the club was his “life’s chief delight.”[40]

Oxford University awarded Twain an honorary doctorate in letters (D.Litt.) in 1907.

In 1909, Twain is quoted as saying:[41]

I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’

His prediction was accurate – Twain died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910, in Redding, Connecticut, one day after the comet’s closest approach to Earth.

Upon hearing of Twain’s death, President William Howard Taft said:[42][43]

“Mark Twain gave pleasure – real intellectual enjoyment – to millions, and his works will continue to give such pleasure to millions yet to come… His humor was American, but he was nearly as much appreciated by Englishmen and people of other countries as by his own countrymen. He has made an enduring part of American literature.”

Mark Twain headstone in Woodlawn Cemetery.

Twain’s funeral was at the “Old Brick” Presbyterian Church in New York.[44] He is buried in his wife’s family plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York. His grave is marked by a 12-foot (i.e., two fathoms, or “mark twain”) monument, placed there by his surviving daughter, Clara.[45] There is also a smaller headstone.

Writing

Overview

Twain began his career writing light, humorous verse, but evolved into a chronicler of the vanities, hypocrisies and murderous acts of mankind. At mid-career, with Huckleberry Finn, he combined rich humor, sturdy narrative and social criticism. Twain was a master at rendering colloquial speech and helped to create and popularize a distinctive American literature built on American themes and language. Many of Twain’s works have been suppressed at times for various reasons. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been repeatedly restricted in American high schools, not least for its frequent use of the word “nigger“, which was in common usage in the pre-Civil War period in which the novel was set.

A complete bibliography of his works is nearly impossible to compile because of the vast number of pieces written by Twain (often in obscure newspapers) and his use of several different pen names. Additionally, a large portion of his speeches and lectures have been lost or were not written down; thus, the collection of Twain’s works is an ongoing process. Researchers rediscovered published material by Twain as recently as 1995.[31]

Early journalism and travelogues

Cabin in which Twain wrote Jumping Frog of Calaveras, located on Jackass Hill in Tuolumne County.[46] Historical marker and interior view available.

Twain’s first important work, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County“, was first published in the New York Saturday Press on November 18, 1865. The only reason it was published there was that his story arrived too late to be included in a book Artemus Ward was compiling featuring sketches of the wild American West.

After this burst of popularity, Twain was commissioned by the Sacramento Union to write letters about his travel experiences for publication in the newspaper, his first of which was to ride the steamer Ajax in its maiden voyage to Hawaii, referred to at the time as the Sandwich Islands. These humorous letters proved the genesis to his work with the San Francisco Alta California newspaper, which designated him a traveling correspondent for a trip from San Francisco to New York City via the Panama isthmus. All the while, Twain was writing letters meant for publishing back and forth, chronicling his experiences with his burlesque humor. On June 8, 1867, Twain set sail on the pleasure cruiser Quaker City for five months. This trip resulted in The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims’ Progress.

This book is a record of a pleasure trip. If it were a record of a solemn scientific expedition it would have about it the gravity, that profundity, and that impressive incomprehensibility which are so proper to works of that kind, and withal so attractive. Yet not withstanding it is only a record of a picnic, it has a purpose, which is, to suggest to the reader how he would be likely to see Europe and the East if he looked at them with his own eyes instead of the eyes of those who traveled in those countries before him. I make small pretense of showing anyone how he ought to look at objects of interest beyond the sea – other books do that, and therefore, even if I were competent to do it, there is no need.

In 1872, Twain published a second piece of travel literature, Roughing It, as a semi-sequel to Innocents. Roughing It is a semi-autobiographical account of Twain’s journey to Nevada and his subsequent life in the American West. The book lampoons American and Western society in the same way that Innocents critiqued the various countries of Europe and the Middle East. Twain’s next work kept Roughing It’s focus on American society but focused more on the events of the day. Entitled The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, it was not a travel piece, as his previous two books had been, and it was his first attempt at writing a novel. The book is also notable because it is Twain’s only collaboration; it was written with his neighbor Charles Dudley Warner.

Twain’s next two works drew on his experiences on the Mississippi River. Old Times on the Mississippi, a series of sketches published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1875, featured Twain’s disillusionment with Romanticism. Old Times eventually became the starting point for Life on the Mississippi.

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn

Twain’s next major publication was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which drew on his youth in Hannibal. The character of Tom Sawyer was modeled on Twain as a child, with traces of two schoolmates, John Briggs and Will Bowen. The book also introduced in a supporting role the character of Huckleberry Finn, based on Twain’s boyhood friend Tom Blankenship.

The Prince and the Pauper, despite a storyline that is omnipresent in film and literature today, was not as well received. Telling the story of two boys born on the same day who are physically identical, the book acts as a social commentary as the prince and pauper switch places. Pauper was Twain’s first attempt at fiction, and blame for its shortcomings is usually put on Twain for having not been experienced enough in English society, and also on the fact that it was produced after a massive hit. In between the writing of Pauper, Twain had started Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (which he consistently had problems completing[47]) and started and completed another travel book, A Tramp Abroad, which follows Twain as he traveled through central and southern Europe.

Twain’s next major published work, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, solidified him as a noteworthy American writer. Some have called it the first Great American Novel, and the book has become required reading in many schools throughout the United States. Huckleberry Finn was an offshoot from Tom Sawyer and had a more serious tone than its predecessor. The main premise behind Huckleberry Finn is the young boy’s belief in the right thing to do even though the majority of society believes that it was wrong. Four hundred manuscript pages of Huckleberry Finn were written in mid-1876, right after the publication of Tom Sawyer. Some accounts have Twain taking seven years off after his first burst of creativity, eventually finishing the book in 1883. Other accounts have Twain working on Huckleberry Finn in tandem with The Prince and the Pauper and other works in 1880 and other years. The last fifth of Huckleberry Finn is subject to much controversy. Some say that Twain experienced, as critic Leo Marx puts it, a “failure of nerve”. Ernest Hemingway once said of Huckleberry Finn:

If you read it, you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating.

Hemingway also wrote in the same essay:

All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn..[48]

Near the completion of Huckleberry Finn, Twain wrote Life on the Mississippi, which is said to have heavily influenced the former book.[31] The work recounts Twain’s memories and new experiences after a 22-year absence from the Mississippi. In it, he also states that “Mark Twain” was the call made when the boat was in safe water – two fathoms.

Later writing

After his great work, Twain began turning to his business endeavors to keep them afloat and to stave off the increasing difficulties he had been having from his writing projects. Twain focused on President Ulysses S. Grant‘s Memoirs for his fledgling publishing company, finding time in between to write “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed” for The Century Magazine. This piece detailed his two-week stint in a Confederate militia during the Civil War. The name of his publishing company was Charles L. Webster & Company, which he owned with Charles L. Webster, his nephew by marriage.[49]

Twain in his old age

Twain next focused on A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which featured him making his first big pronouncement of disappointment with politics. Written with the same “historical fiction” style of The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee showed the absurdities of political and social norms by setting them in the court of King Arthur. The book was started in December 1885, then shelved a few months later until the summer of 1887, and eventually finished in the spring of 1889.

Twain had begun to furiously write articles and commentary with diminishing returns to pay the bills and keep his business projects afloat, but it was not enough. He filed for bankruptcy in 1894.

His next large-scale work, Pudd’nhead Wilson, was written rapidly, as Twain was desperately trying to stave off the bankruptcy. From November 12 to December 14, 1893, Twain wrote 60,000 words for the novel.[31] Critics have pointed to this rushed completion as the cause of the novel’s rough organization and constant disruption of continuous plot. There were parallels between this work and Twain’s financial failings, notably his desire to escape his current constraints and become a different person.

Like The Prince and the Pauper, this novel also contains the tale of two boys born on the same day who switch positions in life. Considering the circumstances of Twain’s birth and Halley’s Comet, and his strong belief in the paranormal, it is not surprising that these “mystic” connections recur throughout his writing.

The actual title is not clearly established. It was first published serially in Century Magazine, and when it was finally published in book form, Pudd’nhead Wilson appeared as the main title; however, the disputed “subtitles” make the entire title read: The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson and the Comedy of The Extraordinary Twins.[31]

Twain’s next venture was a work of straight fiction that he called Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc and dedicated to his wife. Twain had long said that this was the work of which he was most proud, despite the criticism he received for it. The book had been a dream of his since childhood; he claimed that he had found a manuscript detailing the life of Joan of Arc when he was an adolescent.[31] This was another piece which Twain was convinced would save his publishing company. His financial adviser, Henry Huttleston Rogers, squashed that idea and got Twain out of that business altogether, but the book was published nonetheless.

During this time of dire financial straits, Twain published several literary reviews in newspapers to help make ends meet. He famously derided James Fenimore Cooper in his article detailing Cooper’s “Literary Offenses”. He became an extremely outspoken critic not only of other authors, but also of other critics, suggesting that before praising Cooper’s work, Professors Loundsbury, Brander Matthes, and Wilkie Collins “ought to have read some of it”.[50]

Other authors to fall under Twain’s attack during this time period (beginning around 1890 until his death) were George Eliot, Jane Austen, and Robert Louis Stevenson.[51] In addition to providing a source for the “tooth and claw” style of literary criticism, Twain outlines in several letters and essays what he considers to be “quality writing”. He places particular emphasis on concision, utility of word choice, and realism (he complains that Cooper’s Deerslayer purports to be realistic but has several shortcomings). Ironically, several of his works were later criticized for lack of continuity (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) and organization (Pudd’nhead Wilson).

Twain’s wife died in 1904 while the couple were staying at the Villa di Quarto in Florence, and after an appropriate time Twain allowed himself to publish some works that his wife, a de facto editor and censor throughout his life, had looked down upon. Of these works, The Mysterious Stranger, depicting various visits of Satan to the Earth, is perhaps the best known. This particular work was not published in Twain’s lifetime. There were three versions found in his manuscripts made between 1897 and 1905: the Hannibal, Eseldorf, and Print Shop versions. Confusion between the versions led to an extensive publication of a jumbled version, and only recently have the original versions as Twain wrote them become available.

Twain’s last work was his autobiography, which he dictated and thought would be most entertaining if he went off on whims and tangents in non-sequential order. Some archivists and compilers had a problem with this and rearranged the biography into a more conventional form, thereby eliminating some of Twain’s humor and the flow of the book.

Friendship with Henry H. Rogers

While Twain credited Henry H. Rogers, a Standard Oil executive, with saving him from financial ruin, their close friendship in their later years was mutually beneficial. When Twain lost three of his four children and his beloved wife, the Rogers family increasingly became a surrogate family for him. He became a frequent guest at their townhouse in New York City, their 48-room summer home in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, and aboard their steam yacht, the Kanawha.

A late life friendship for each, Mark Twain and Henry Huttleston Rogers in 1908

The two men introduced each other to their acquaintances. Twain was an admirer of the remarkable deafblind girl Helen Keller. He first met Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan at a party in the home of Laurence Hutton in New York City in the winter of 1894. Twain introduced them to Rogers, who, with his wife, paid for Keller’s education at Radcliffe College. It was Twain who is credited with labeling Sullivan, Keller’s governess and companion, a “miracle worker”. His choice of words later became inspiration for the title of William Gibson‘s play and film adaptation, The Miracle Worker. Twain also introduced Rogers to journalist Ida M. Tarbell, who interviewed the robber baron for a muckraking expose that led indirectly to the breakup of the Standard Oil Trust. On cruises aboard the Kanawha, Twain and Rogers were joined at frequent intervals by Booker T. Washington, the famed former slave who had become a leading educator.

While the two famous old men were widely regarded as drinking and poker buddies, they also exchanged letters when apart, and this was often since each traveled a great deal. Unlike Rogers’ personal files, which have never become public, these insightful letters were published.[52] The written exchanges between the two men demonstrate Twain’s well-known sense of humor and, more surprisingly, Rogers’ sense of fun, providing a rare insight into the private side of the robber baron.

In April 1907, Twain and Rogers cruised to the opening of the Jamestown Exposition in Virginia. Twain’s public popularity was such that many fans took boats out to the Kanawha at anchor in hopes of getting a glimpse of him. As the gathering of boats around the yacht became a safety hazard, he finally obliged by coming on deck and waving to the crowds.

Because of poor weather conditions, the steam yacht was delayed for several days from venturing into the Atlantic Ocean. Rogers and some of the others in his party returned to New York by rail; Twain disliked train travel and so elected to wait and return on the Kanawha. However, reporters lost track of his whereabouts; when he failed to return to New York City as scheduled, The New York Times speculated that he might have been “lost at sea”. Upon arriving safely in New York and learning of this, the humorist wrote a satirical article about the episode, offering to “…make an exhaustive investigation of this report that I have been lost at sea. If there is any foundation for the report, I will at once apprise the anxious public”.[53] This bore similarities to an earlier event in 1897 when he made his famous remark “The report of my death was an exaggeration”, after a reporter was sent to investigate whether he had died. In fact, it was his cousin who was seriously ill.

Later that year, Twain and Rogers’s son, Henry Jr., returned to the Jamestown Exposition aboard the Kanawha. The humorist helped host Robert Fulton Day on September 23, 1907, celebrating the centennial of Fulton’s invention of the steamboat. Twain, filling in for ailing former U.S. President Grover Cleveland, introduced Rear Admiral Purnell Harrington. Twain was met with a five-minute standing ovation; members of the audience cheered and waved their hats and umbrellas. Deeply touched, Twain said, “When you appeal to my head, I don’t feel it; but when you appeal to my heart, I do feel it”.[54]

In April 1909, the two old friends returned to Norfolk, Virginia for the banquet in honor of Rogers and his newly completed Virginian Railway. Twain was the keynote speaker in one of his last public appearances, and was widely quoted in newspapers across the country.[55]

A month later, Twain was en route from Connecticut to visit his friend in New York City when Rogers died suddenly on May 20, 1909. Twain arrived at Grand Central Station to be met by his daughter with the news. Stricken with grief, he uncustomarily avoided news reporters who had gathered, saying only “This is terrible…I cannot talk about it”. Two days later, he served as an honorary pallbearer at the funeral in New York City. However, he declined to join the funeral party on the train ride for the interment at Fairhaven. He said “I cannot bear to travel with my friend and not converse”.

Political views

Although Twain remained neutral during the Civil War, his views became more radical as he grew older. He acknowledged that his views changed and developed over his life, referring to one of his favorite works:

When I finished Carlyle‘s French Revolution in 1871, I was a Girondin; every time I have read it since, I have read it differently – being influenced and changed, little by little, by life and environment … and now I lay the book down once more, and recognize that I am a Sansculotte! – And not a pale, characterless Sansculotte, but a Marat.[56]

In the New York Herald, October 15, 1900, he describes his transformation and political awakening, in the context of the Philippine-American War, from being “a red-hot imperialist”:

I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific …Why not spread its wings over the Philippines, I asked myself? … I said to myself, Here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American Constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which we had addressed ourselves. But I have thought some more, since then, and I have read carefully the treaty of Paris [which ended the Spanish-American War], and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem. It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.[57]

Anti-imperialism

From 1901, soon after his return from Europe, until his death in 1910, Twain was vice-president of the American Anti-Imperialist League,[58] which opposed the annexation of the Philippines by the United States and had “tens of thousands of members”.[25] He wrote many political pamphlets for the organization. The Incident in the Philippines, posthumously published in 1924, was in response to the Moro Crater Massacre, in which six hundred Moros were killed. Many of his neglected and previously uncollected writings on anti-imperialism appeared for the first time in book form in 1992.[59]

Twain was critical of imperialism in other countries as well. In Following the Equator, Twain expresses “hatred and condemnation of imperialism of all stripes”.[25] He was highly critical of European imperialism, notably of Cecil Rhodes, who greatly expanded the British Empire, and of Leopold II, King of the Belgians.[25] King Leopold’s Soliloquy is a stinging political satire about his private colony, the Congo Free State. Reports of outrageous exploitation and grotesque abuses led to widespread international protest in the early 1900s, arguably the first large-scale human rights movement. In the soliloquy, the King argues that bringing Christianity to the country outweighs a little starvation. Leopold’s rubber gatherers were tortured, maimed and slaughtered until the turn of the century, when the conscience of the Western world forced Brussels to call a halt.[citation needed]

Pacifism

During the Philippine-American War, Twain wrote a short pacifist story entitled The War Prayer, which makes the point that humanism and Christianity’s preaching of love are incompatible with the conduct of war. It was submitted to Harper’s Bazaar for publication, but on March 22, 1905 the magazine rejected the story as “not quite suited to a woman’s magazine“. Eight days later, Twain wrote to his friend Daniel Carter Beard, to whom he had read the story, “I don’t think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth”. Because he had an exclusive contract with Harper & Brothers, Twain could not publish The War Prayer elsewhere; it remained unpublished until 1923. It was republished as campaigning material by Vietnam War protesters.[25]

Attitude towards revolutions

I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolt.[60]

As pointed out previously, Twain acknowledged that he originally sympathized with the more moderate Girondins of the French Revolution and then shifted his sympathies to the more radical Sansculottes, indeed identifying as “a Marat“.

Twain supported the revolutionaries in Russia against the reformists, arguing that the Tsar must be got rid of, by violent means, because peaceful ones would not work.[61]

Abolition, emancipation, and anti-racism

Twain was an adamant supporter of abolition and emancipation, even going so far to say “Lincoln‘s Proclamation … not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also.”[62] He argued that non-whites did not receive justice in the United States, once saying “I have seen Chinamen abused and maltreated in all the mean, cowardly ways possible to the invention of a degraded nature….but I never saw a Chinaman righted in a court of justice for wrongs thus done to him.”[63] He paid for at least one black person to attend Yale University Law School and for another black person to attend a southern university to become a minister.[64]

Women’s rights

Mark Twain was a staunch supporter of women’s rights and an active campaigner for women’s suffrage. His “Votes for Women” speech, in which he pressed for the granting of voting rights to women, is considered one of the most famous in history.[65]

Native Americans

Twain’s liberal views on race were not shown in his early sketches of Native Americans. Of them, Twain wrote in 1870:

His heart is a cesspool of falsehood, of treachery, and of low and devilish instincts. With him, gratitude is an unknown emotion; and when one does him a kindness, it is safest to keep the face toward him, lest the reward be an arrow in the back. To accept of a favor from him is to assume a debt which you can never repay to his satisfaction, though you bankrupt yourself trying. The scum of the earth![66]

As counterpoint, Twain’s essay on “The Literary Offenses of Fenimore Cooper” offers a much kinder view of Indians.[50] “No, other Indians would have noticed these things, but Cooper’s Indians never notice anything. Cooper thinks they are marvelous creatures for noticing, but he was almost always in error about his Indians. There was seldom a sane one among them”.[67] In his later travelogue Following the Equator (1897), Twain observes that in colonized lands all over the world, “savages” have always been wronged by “whites” in the most merciless ways, such as “robbery, humiliation, and slow, slow murder, through poverty and the white man’s whiskey”; his conclusion is that “there are many humorous things in this world; among them the white man’s notion that he is less savage than the other savages”.[68]

Labor unions

He wrote glowingly about unions in the riverboating industry in Life on the Mississippi, which was read in union halls decades later.[69] He supported the labor movement in general, especially one of the most important unions, the Knights of Labor.[70] In a speech to them, he said:

Who are the oppressors? The few: the King, the capitalist, and a handful of other overseers and superintendents. Who are the oppressed? The many: the nations of the earth; the valuable personages; the workers; they that make the bread that the soft-handed and idle eat.[71]

Vivisection

Twain was opposed to vivisection of any kind, not on a scientific basis but rather an ethical one.[72]

I am not interested to know whether vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn’t. … The pain which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity toward it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further.

Religion, Belief in God, but no more belief in the Bible

Although Twain was raised as a Presbyterian, he was critical of organized religion and certain elements of Christianity through most of his later life. He wrote, for example, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so”, and “If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be – a Christian”.[73]

Twain generally avoided publishing his most “heretic” opinions on religion in his lifetime, and they are known from essays and stories that were published later. In the essay Three Statements of the Eighties in the 1880s, Twain stated that he believed in an almighty God, but not in any messages, revelations, holy scriptures such as the Bible, providence, or retribution in the afterlife. He did believe that “the goodness, the justice, and the mercy of God are manifested in His works”, but also that “the universe is governed by strict and immutable laws“, which determine “small matters” such as who dies in a pestilence.[74] In later writings in the 1890s, he was less optimistic about the goodness of God, observing that “if our Maker is all-powerful for good or evil, He is not in His right mind”. At other times, he conjectured sardonically that perhaps God had created the world with all its tortures for some purpose of His own, but was otherwise indifferent to humanity, which was too petty and insignificant to deserve His attention anyway.[75]

In 1901 Twain criticized the actions of missionary Dr. William Scott Ament (1851–1909) as a consequence of the fact that Ament and other missionaries had collected indemnities from Chinese subjects in the aftermath of the Boxer Uprising of 1900. Twain’s response to hearing of Ament’s methods was published in the North American Review in February 1901: To the Person Sitting in Darkness, and deals with examples of imperialism in China, South Africa, and with the U.S. occupation of the Philippines.[76] A subsequent article, “To My Missionary Critics” published in The North American Review in April 1901, unapologetically continues his attack, but with the focus shifted from Ament to his missionary superiors, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.[77]

After his death, Twain’s family suppressed some of his work which was especially irreverent toward conventional religion, notably Letters from the Earth, which was not published until his daughter Clara reversed her position in 1962 in response to Soviet propaganda about the withholding.[78] The anti-religious The Mysterious Stranger was published in 1916. Little Bessie, a story ridiculing Christianity, was first published in the 1972 collection Mark Twain’s Fables of Man.[79]

Despite these views, he raised money to build a Presbyterian Church in Nevada in 1864, although it has been argued that it was only by his association with his Presbyterian brother that he did that.[80]

Freemasonry

Twain was a Freemason.[81][82] He belonged to Polar Star Lodge No. 79 A.F.&A.M., based in St. Louis. He was initiated an Entered Apprentice on May 22, 1861, passed to the degree of Fellow Craft on June 12, and raised to the degree of Master Mason on July 10.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910),[3] well-known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. Twain is noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), which has been called “the Great American Novel“,[4] and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). He is extensively quoted.[5][6] Twain was a friend to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty.

Twain was very popular, and his keen wit and incisive satire earned praise from both critics and peers. Upon his death he was lauded as the “greatest American humorist of his age”,[7] and William Faulkner called Twain “the father of American literature“.[8]

// <![CDATA[// MARK TWAIN’S FAVORITE PEN

From http://www.kamakurapens.com (The site has a lot of information on the history of pens)

While it is a mistake to call these the first fountain pens, afterall there were dozens of earlier patents, the stylographic pens were the first successful selling fountain pens. Shipman, Caws, and several other early pen makers sold Stylographic pens, but the druggist from Stratford Canada, Duncan Mackinnon, is credited with being the inventor.

Mackinnon’s story is somewhat sad. After he patented this pen he started looking for someone to manufacture it for him. He made the mistake of showing the pen and leaving a sample with A.T. Cross. Cross studied the design and saw where a spring would improve the pen. He quickly patented this change and started manufacturing his own Stylographic pens. In disgust, Mackinnon contracted John Holland out of Cincinatti to manufacture these stylos for him. Mackinnon added the spring to his own design and was promptly sued by Cross for copyright infringement. Mackinnon died a few years afterwards of a heart attack.

Holland had a lot of problems with supplying the iridium for the MacKinnon contract. He first tried welding a tiny bead to the ink tube and then drilling through it. This worked but it was murder on the drill bits that broke at an alarming frequency. Then he hit on the idea of welding even smaller bits of iridium around the ring of the ink tube. The workers had to use microscopes to do this, but it saved a lot of drill bits and Holland patented the idea. But still finding enough iridium to fill this contract seemed impossible. It was then that Holland discovered a way to melt and fuse the commonly available iridium powder, something that earlier was considered due to iridiums ultra high melting point. (See my article “Iridium Kiss” in the Spring issue of the Pennant Magazine or write me for a copy)

Probably more interesting is Mark Twain’s connection with this pen. While Samuel Langhorne Clemens is widely known by pen collectors for his endorsing Wirt and Conklin pens, few people know that he loved his Mackinnon long before the other pens were ever invented. From my research I have found that a friend of Twain’s in Elmira NY(sorry I can not read the name in the letter from Mackinnon to Twain) was having a pen sent for repair to the Mackinnon Office in Brooklyn, NY, and in his letter he asked to include another Stylographic pen for Mark Twain who was presently staying at Quarry Farm in Elmira, NY. The Mackinnon Office quickly seized the opportunity to mail a stylo to Twain directly. I have letters in my possession written by Twain and to him from the Mackinnon Office, and I will publish an in depth article about Twain’s pens in the near future.

Twain was one of the very earliest authors to own one of the pre 1865 fountain pens, probably a Prince Protean fountain pen, but I have not been able to doccument this. For a while it seemed that the world had known no greater boon since the invention of printing; but these early pens were dismal failures and when it clogged and balked, or suddenly deluged his paper and spilled in his pocket, he flung it out his window. After which, Twain received his Mackinnon Stylographic pen. He wrote to his friends Dr. Brown, to William Dean Howells, and to Rev. Joseph Twichell, urging its adoption. Even in a letter to Mrs. Howells he could not forget his new possession:

“…And speaking of Howells, he ought to use the Stylographic pen, the best fountain-pen yet invented; he ought to, but of course he won’t — a blamed old sodden-headed conservative — but you see yourself what a nice, clean, uniform MS. it makes. “

And at the same time to Twichell:

” I am writing with a Stylographic pen. It takes a royal amount of cussing to make the thing go the first few days or a week, but by that time the dullest ass gets the hang of the thing, and after that no enrichments of expression are required, and said ass finds the stylographic a genuine God’s blessing. I carry one in each breeches pocket, and both loaded. I’d give you one of them if I had you where I could teach you how to use it — not otherwise. For the average ass flings the thing out of the window in disgust the second day, believing it hath no virtue, no merit of any sort; whereas the lack lieth in himself.”

It was not easy to withstand Mark Twain’s enthusiasm. Howells, Twichell, and Dr.John Brown were all presently struggling and swearing (figuratively) over their stylographic pens, trying to believe that salvation lay in their conquest. But in the midst of one letter, at last, Howells broke down, seized his old steel dip pen, and wrote savagely:

“No white man ought to use a stylographic pen, anyhow!”

Then, with the more ancient implement, continued in a calmer spirit. It was only a little later that Clemens himself wrote:

” You see I am trying a new pen. I stood the stylograph as long as I could, and then retired to the pencil. The thing I am trying now is the Wirt fountain-pen which is advertised to employ and accommodate itself to any kind of pen. So I selected an ordinary gold pen — a limber one — and had it cut and fitted to this thing. It goes very well indeed — thus far; but doubtless the devil will be in it by tomorrow. ”

Nevertheless, Twain used his Stylo well. He made revisions and additions to Tramp Abroad , and much of the original manuscript for Huck Finn was written with this pen.


A page from Chapter 2 of the “Tramp Abroad” manuscript, the start of “Baker’s Blue-Jay Yarn.” The chapter was penned with a MacKinnon Stylograph. The manuscript is part of the Bancroft collection.

Mark Twain signed Huck’s signature on the last page with his stylo

Dr. John Brown
In mid-July 1873 the Clemenses left London for Edinburgh, “fleeing thither for rest and refuge,” as Clemens later expressed it. There they met Dr. John Brown (the author of “Rab and His Friends,” a popular dog story), with whom they developed a warm friendship. Here they are pictured with Dr. Brown, who, according to Clemens, had “the face of a saint at peace with all the world.” Susy is in Clara’s lap. Twain felt a special kinship with Dr. Brown and they used each other to develop ideas for each other’s work.

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