November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910
On Nov. 30, 1835, the small town of Florida, Mo. witnessed the birth of its most famous son. Samuel Langhorne Clemens was welcomed into the world as the sixth child of John Marshall and Jane Lampton Clemens. Little did John and Jane know, their son Samuel would one day be known as Mark Twain – America’s most famous literary icon.
When Samuel was 12, his father died of pneumonia, and at 13, Samuel left school to become a printer’s apprentice. After two short years, he joined his brother Orion’s newspaper as a printer and editorial assistant. It was here that young Samuel found he enjoyed writing.
On a voyage to New Orleans down the Mississippi, the steamboat pilot, “Bixby”, inspired Clemens to pursue a career as a steamboat pilot, the third highest paying profession in America at the time, earning $250 per month ($155,000 today). He became a licensed river pilot in 1858.
Clemens’ pseudonym, comes from his days as a river pilot. He used different pen names before deciding on Mark Twain. He signed humorous and imaginative sketches “Josh” until 1863. Additionally, he used the pen name “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass” for a series of humorous letters. He maintained that his primary pen name, “Mark Twain”, came from his years working on Mississippi riverboats. It is a river term which means two fathoms or 12-feet when the depth of water for a boat is being sounded. “Mark twain” means that is safe to navigate.
Missouri was a slave state and considered by many to be part of the South, but it did not join the Confederacy. When the war began, Clemens and his friends formed a Confederate militia (depicted in an 1885 short story, “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed”), and joined a battle where a man was killed. Clemens found he could not bear to kill a man, and deserted. His friends joined the Confederate Army; Clemens joined his brother, Orion, who had been appointed secretary to the territorial governor of Nevada, and headed west.
Twain began to gain fame when his story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavaras County” appeared in the New York Saturday Press on November 18, 1865. Twain’s first book, “The Innocents Abroad,” was published in 1869, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in 1876, and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in 1885. He wrote 28 books and numerous short stories, letters and sketches.
He was initiated in Masonry on May 22, 1861, and raised July 10, 1861, in Polar Star Lodge #79, Missouri.
In 1909, Twain is quoted as saying:
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.Mark Twain passed away on April 21, 1910.
From “Adam’s Diary” (1904):
“…MONDAY.–This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way. It is always hanging around and following me about. I don’t like this; I am not used to company. I wish it would stay with the other animals…. Cloudy today, wind in the east; think we shall have rain…. WE? Where did I get that word– the new creature uses it.
TUESDAY.–Been examining the great waterfall. It is the finest thing on the estate, I think. The new creature calls it Niagara Falls– why, I am sure I do not know. Says it LOOKS like Niagara Falls. That is not a reason, it is mere waywardness and imbecility. I get no chance to name anything myself. The new creature names everything that comes along, before I can get in a protest. And always that same pretext is offered–it LOOKS like the thing. There is a dodo, for instance. Says the moment one looks at it one sees at a glance that it “looks like a dodo.” It will have to keep that name, no doubt. It wearies me to fret about it, and it does no good, anyway. Dodo! It looks no more like a dodo than I do.
WEDNESDAY.–Built me a shelter against the rain, but could not have it to myself in peace. The new creature intruded. When I tried to put it out it shed water out of the holes it looks with, and wiped it away with the back of its paws, and made a noise such as some of the other animals make when they are in distress. I wish it would not talk; it is always talking. That sounds like a cheap fling at the poor creature, a slur; but I do not mean it so. I have never heard the human voice before, and any new and strange sound intruding itself here upon the solemn hush of these dreaming solitudes offends my ear and seems a false note. And this new sound is so close to me; it is right at my shoulder, right at my ear, first on one side and then on the other, and I am used only to sounds that are more or less distant from me.
FRIDAY. The naming goes recklessly on, in spite of anything I can do. I had a very good name for the estate, and it was musical and pretty– GARDEN OF EDEN. Privately, I continue to call it that, but not any longer publicly. The new creature says it is all woods and rocks and scenery, and therefore has no resemblance to a garden. Says it LOOKS like a park, and does not look like anything BUT a park. Consequently, without consulting me, it has been new-named NIAGARA FALLS PARK. This is sufficiently high-handed, it seems to me. And already there is a sign up:
KEEP OFF THE GRASS
“My life is not as happy as it was…”