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Reports & Essays: Biography - Literary Authors

"AND""OR"

Mark Twain
(Samuel Clemens) Samuel Clemens was born and grew up in Hannibal, Missouri. This was the home of his later characters Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. In these books he incorporated such features that really existed in Hannibal; features such as Holidays Hill, Bear Creek and Lover's Leap. Clemens described the residents of Hannibal as happy and content with the lives they led in their small town. In his late teens, Clemens left Hannibal on a riverboat to become a printer in St. Louis. He moved up in the ranks of printing and moved to New York and eventually to Washington D.C. Clemens remembered how much fun he had had on the riverboat and how glorious it must have been to be a pilot. He soon decided to move to New Orleans to become a pilot. On the boat, he often heard things like 'Mark the twain, two fathoms deep'. He liked how the words "Mark Twain" sounded and in one of his first books, 'Life on the Mississippi' about his four years piloting the Spread Eagle along the twisting river, he decided to use the name Mark Twain. Mark Twain stopped piloting the riverboat in 1861, at the start of the Civil War, to join the Union. He went to war for two weeks and left immediately after being involved in the shooting of a civilian. He said he knew retreating better than it's inventor did. He soon decided to travel 1,700 miles from the Missouri Territory , to the Nevada Territory. He passed through Overland City, Horseshoe City, and many large and small cities in between. Clemens commented that Salt Lake City was healthy. He said that the city had one doctor who was arrested once a week for lack of work. Virginia City was very lively from all of the gold and silver found near. He commented that the saloons, courts and prisons were busy and there was a whiskey mill every fifteen steps. Inspired by the vein of silver as wide as a New York City street under Virginia City, Twain decided to go prospecting. Many people went prospecting crazy but Twain thought it must have skipped over him. After not finding any silver, he wrote a book called Roughing It. Clemens soon went to San Francisco and took a job at the San Francisco Times. From them he got the title of "The Most Wild Humorist of the Pacific Slope". He wanted to travel, so he boarded a ship to Hawaii, also known as the Sandwich Islands. From there, he traveled around the South Pacific and eventually made his way to Egypt where he was surprised by the large number of American tourists. He called many of them lost tribes of America. Twain soon felt he was in a strange world that had developed so much from his small town of Hannibal. "My heart is in my own century," Twain said,"but I wish the twentieth well." There were other great phrases that he said, such as: "I was young and foolish and now I'm old and foolish." Twain churned out quotable phrases like a cigar churns out smoke. Clemens eventually bought a house on Long Island which he named Stormfield and stayed there through his final days. Samuel Clemens was born in 1835, the night of the Haley's Comet. He always said that he thought he would go out with the comet just as he came in with it. Well, he got his wish ; Clemens died in 1910 at age seventy five, the night of the Haley's Comet. Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri on November 30, 1835. His father and mother both came from old Virginia families. His father was trained as a lawyer; somewhat feckless and unsuccessful in business, he moved slowly westward involving himself in land speculation. His father died when Twain was twelve years old, and he left school to learn the trade of printing, which his brother had entered before him. He spent several years as a roaming journeyman printer, working as far east as New York City, but in 1857, he was taken on by Horace Bixby, who trained him as a Mississippi riverboat pilot, a trade he practiced until the Civil War. The War wrecked the Mississippi River traffic, so in 1862 he joined his brother, Orion, in Carson City, Nevada, where his brother had a government job. He drifted into silver mining and eventually back into journalism. It was in 1862 that he first adopted the pen name Mark Twain. Later, he was in newspaper work in San Francisco, where his work as a writer of short sketches and stories was encouraged. He was developing a minor reputation as a humorist and lecturer in the mid 1860's, but it was the publication of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" in 1865 that brought country-wide attention. He had further success with a series of comic articles about a trip to Hawaii and from then on he was able to make a living on the lecture circuit. It is probably fair to say that his best work was done by the end of the 1880's. Mark Twain's general reputation as one of the most admired, and possibly the most beloved American writer is based upon the work he published before 1890. He was always more than simply a comic entertainer, he responds to human error with quick satiric thrusts that reminds one of eighteenth century English satirist Jonathan Swift. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is reasonably free from such tonal darkening, but The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn certainly is not. In order to appreciate fully the greatness of that novel, it is necessary to go beyond a sense of triumph in Huck's conversation to an outright defender Jim to an understanding of the kind of world which threatens both the slave and the boy. The confidence of these men, completely insensitive to the pain they cause, may be an obvious example of Twain's sense of evil in the world. That does not circumscribe the way in which he suggests that human cruelty is gratuitously omnipresent but in the center of society. Jim's greatest enemy is a spinster woman of scrupulous moral and religious credentials, but hates blacks. In his early work he seemed to touch the core of late nineteenth century popular humor, giving Americans what they felt was the best part of their characters in stories of good-natured, slightly skeptical, occasionally vulgar trickery. Twain had an eye for hypocrisy, self-interest, and pomposity, and his main characters, if sometimes less clever than he himself was, could not be fooled for long, even if they could be misled initially out of innocence. He certainly could have played it safe and been satisfied with a minor, lucrative career as a funnyman, but he had some things to say about human nature which could not be satisfied in the short comic story. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Jim Smiley, an obsessive gambler, meets his match when he bets that his trained frog, Dan'l Webster, can outjump any other frog in a Northern California mining area, Calaveras County. In this tale, style is a strong element. Twain sets himself up as the straight man who once gets started is impossible to stop. His letter to A. Ward, which is the exterior framing device for the story, is a complaint to the effect that Ward had deliberately misled Twain. The style of the first paragraph of the letter has a kind of prim formality about it, and the facility of an educated writer barely able to suppress his suspicion that he has been made the fool. Beyond its technical cleverness the popularity of the story lay in large part in the fact that Twain refrains from patronizing his unlettered inhabitants of Calaveras County. Smiley may have been fooled this time, but he is usually the victor and is likely to rebound. His proposed victim is to be congratulated on his quickness of mind. The story's tone, in fact, is one of generosity and good nature.

 



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