Mark Twain: Biography - Life, Family, Childhood, Education

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BIRTH
      Samuel Longhorne Clemens, more popularly known as Mark Twain in the literary world, was born on Nov. 30, 1835, in Monroe County Florida, a small town in Missouri. Samuel's father, John Clemens, was a licensed lawyer. His mother's name was Jane Clemens. Samuel was the sixth child in the Clemens family.

      Two months premature and weighing five pounds, Samuel was not a particularly healthy and chubby child. The size of his head was quite disproportionate to the rest of his body. Despite not being a very attractive lad, he had a pleasant disposition. Though he was not a very loquacious child, his charming smile, large blue eyes, and a slow way of speaking added to his charms and made him quite a favorite amongst his friends and companions. His mother, reportedly, always referred to his slow fashion of speech as "Sammy's long talk.

      Edward Wagenknecht, one of Clemens's biographers states that Clemens had inherited his mother's temperament regarding religion and fellow human beings. He explains,

"From her Mark Twain inherited many specific tastes and tendencies his love of red, his tenderness toward all animals, especially cats, his quick, impulsive emotions, his lifelong habit of protecting the outcast and unfortunate. no stray animal has ever turned away from Jane Clemens' door. At one time she was feeding nineteen cats. She kept no birds, for she could not endure thinking of any creature deprived of its freedom".

      Clemens was born when Halley's Comet made its appearance in the sky. Clemens and Jane's extended family were literate people. Nevertheless, their educated background did not prevent them from reinforcing superstitious beliefs. In an age when a scientific bent of mind was not the order of the day and Charles Darwin's theory of Evolution had not gained ground, concepts of life and death were shrouded in mystery. It was supposed that life was an outcome of a competition between angels and demons. Because of these superstitions, Clemens' survival, despite unhealthy infancy, was attributed to the child's supernatural abilities.

THE FAMILY MOVES TO HANNIBAL
      John Clemens, Samuel Clemens' father, suffered ill luck in Florida. Neither his law practice nor his efforts in business yielded dividends here. He incurred heavy business losses and was, finally, obliged to sell off his slave girl, Jeannie, surrender everything to his creditors and move to Hannibal.

      At the age of four years, Samuel Clemens' family relocated to Hannibal, Missouri. He spent the rest of his childhood there. Hannibal was a town on the west bank of the Mississippi River. It had good prospects for trade. Being a slave state, it was a lazy town but, by no means, was it a dead one. John Clemens decided to settle here with the hope of having a flourishing business. So, he opened a small general store with his older son, Orion Clemens who was, by now, a young, strong lad of fifteen years.

SAMUEL CLEMENS' CHILDHOOD
      Ever since an early age, Samuel was exposed to the institution of slavery - what was to become an important theme to be explored later, in his novels and other works. Missouri, being a slave State was full of African slaves. They formed an integral part of most households and all the children of the house had, besides their "white" friends, these slaves as companions. The children of these negro slaves were well-acquainted with the skill of casting spells, the means to cure wounds and warts, predict the future and make it rain. They knew how to read signs to forecast the weather and were well versed with how to keep evil spirits at bay. All these skills were quite fascinating for the "white" children who were fairly charmed by them.

      Clemens spent a significant part of his vacations at his maternal uncle, John Quarles' farmhouse in Florida. As a result, he came in contact with numerous slaves. He spent a major part of the day with them and, therefore, picked up their parlance, reasonably well. This familiarity with the local dialect explains the ease with which he uses it in his novels, especially The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Amongst these slaves, one Uncle Danl caught Clemen's attention. Uncle Danl, one of the slaves on Uncle Quarles' farm, was a middle-aged man whom Samuel had a special liking and respect for. Twain reveals in his "Autobiography" We had a faithful and affectionate good friend, ally and advisor, in 'Uncle Dah T, a middle-aged slave whose head was the best one in the Negro quarter, whose sympathies were wide and warm and whose heart was honest and simple and knew no guile. He has served me well these many, many years. I have not seen him for more than half a century and yet spiritually I have had this welcome company a good part of that time and have staged him in books under his name and as Jim' and carted him all around - to Hannibal, down the Mississippi on a raft and even across the desert of Sahara in a balloon'".

EDUCATION
      More than anything in the world Sam detested school. Though he won laurels in Spellings at school, academically he was not a particularly bright scholar and looked for excuses to avoid it. Long' hours and the accompanying boredom made school-going an unpleasant, experience. He got a little education until he was about eleven years old but did not learn much. His exposure to newspaper offices and prints shops that he worked at gave him more confidence. Samuel was twelve years old when his father died. Forced by financial constraints, he had to abandon his studies and look for a job, in order to support his family,

BEGINNING OF PROFESSIONAL LIFE
      At the age of thirteen, Samuel Clemens left school. He became apprenticed to a printer and worked in this profession in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and New York. He soon became the most popular person in the office and in time became chief stand-by. Eventually, he picked up a job with his brother, Orion, who had set himself up like a newspaper Publisher in Hannibal. He tried his hand at composing a few humorous pieces of writing. But, as a boy, he had always savored the dream of becoming a navigator. Abandoning his literary profession, around 1857, he became apprenticed to embark on a career as a riverboat pilot. He geared himself up for "the stupendous task of learning the twelve hundred miles of the Mississippi River between St. Louis and New Orleans of knowing it as exactly and unfailingly, even in the dark, as one knows the way to his features." This was, probably, the happiest time of his life. By the spring of 1859, he was a licensed riverboat pilot, earning a handsome sum of $250 a month.

      When the Civil War broke out in America, there was a conflict between the "Union" and the "Confederacy". Missouri, despite being a supporter of slavery and considered by many to be part of the South, declined to join the Confederacy and remained loyal to the Union. Clemens spent a few unsuccessful and dishonorable years with the Confederacy and finally, in 1861, he went to Nevada and joined his brother, Orion, who naa been appointed secretary to the territorial governor of Nevada. Orion's abolitionist views had helped him win this appointment. Clemens had ert his job as a navigator because he did not want to be mistaken by the Union as a gunboat. Moreover, the river was closed to traffic.

       Once in Nevada, Clemens tried his hands at a myriad of professions including timber and mining, hoping to strike it rich discovering gold or silver in the mining industry of the Comstock Lode. The Comstock Lode is the richest known U.S. deposit of silver ore discovered under what is now Virginia City, Nevada. This stint was another unsuccessful attempt that led Samuel Clemens to secure employment with a newspaper called the Daily Territorial Enterprise" In 1862, he progressed and became the city editor of the newspaper" This is where he started signing letters with his P'seudonym, "Mark Twain". The name "Mark Twain" meant, in the navigation terminology. "mark two fathom"...

      It was in 1865 that Mark Twain, wrote his first popular story. called "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" The story was published in The Saturday Press and widely reprinted. Subsequent to this popularity, Twain made a trip to Europe and the Holy Land on June 8, 1867. He struck a deal with a publishing company according to which he would Write memoirs of his trip and the Publishing House would publish them. These, letters about his journey to the Holy Land, made him a celebrity throughout the whole nation, almost: overnight.

      As part of his memoirs, he wrote innocents Abroad. (1869). It was a chronicle of his journey to Europe. Satirizing the local culture as well as the American tourists, it became an instant hit in the literary circle. Spurred by the success of his work, he went on to recount his unsuccessful stint as a gold digger (from 1861 to 1866) and brought out a book called Roughing It. It was mainly about mining. Rowling It was published in 1872 and it was one of Mark Twain's first actual books. This was a milestone in Mark Twain's literary career as it helped change his writing style: Besides satires and humorous pieces, he graduated to a different kind of writing.

HIS MARRIAGE
      He continued to travel widely over the next few years, giving lectures and working, as a journalist for numerous newspapers. Lecturing was a major source of income and fame throughout his life. After traveling around for a time, Samuel decided to settle down in marriage. He met his wife, Livy Langdon to whom he stayed married until she died in 1904. They got married in 1870. A life with his wife, Livy, led to stability and normalcy. It also ameliorated Twain's financial position. The $ 100,000 house that they lived in was a gift from Twain's father-in-law. On his wedding day, Twain received a four thousand-dollar check from his publisher's towards royalty for travel. book, for the previous three months. The sales grew exponentially and, by the end of three years, it became a best-seller.

      Livy, though not an extraordinarily pretty girl, was a great emotional and moral support to her husband. She hailed from extremely rich and polished family background. Twain's own family was not as refined. She helped him in his literary career by, editing and refining most of his works. They settled down in a place called Hartford in the state of, Connecticut. This period of his life was his most productive He wrote seven novels with his wife's support. Samuel Clemens fell in love with Hartford at first sight. He called it a "vision of refreshing green". The houses were "buried from sight in parks and forests of..noble trees."

      In one of his letters, Twain had written to his close friend, Mis. Fairbanks" ....my ture wife wants me to be surrounded by a, good moral & religious atmosphere (for I, shall_ unite with the church as soon as, l am located), &, so, she likes the idea, of living in Hartford. We could make more money elsewhere, but neither of us' are much fired with a mania for money-getting. That is a matter of second-rate; even third-rate importance with us"

      Clemens' blissful life at Hartford ended in the early 1890's as a result of some unwise investments and business ventures. Initially, he had started a Publishing House a venture that took off well with the Personal Memoirs of President Grant. Driven by this success, Clemens further ventured into the publishing of more celebrity books which failed to do as well. Subsequently, he made an investment in the "Paige Typesetter" - a machine that, he anticipated, would modernize the printing industry. This failure forced, him to leave his Hartford home and extravagance. The family moved to Europe where, they believed that they could live with lesser expenses. This is where an exhaustive world lecture tour paid off his debts and restored some of his wealth.

HONORS AND AWARDS
      He received an Honorary M.A. in 1888; a Litt.D. in 1901, both from Yale University. He is also the recipient of LL.D. from the University of Missouri, having received the award in 1902.D.Litt., Oxford University, 1907.

      On June 27, 1907, Twain received a university, degree in the Sheldonian Theatre of the University of Oxford, the scene of many notable gatherings. The New York Times states, ".....but the great ovation was reserved for Mark Twain, who was the lion of the occasion. Everyone rose when he was escorted up the aisle and he was applauded for a quarter of an hour. When Dr. Ingram Bywater, Regius Professor of Greek presented the American humorist to the convocation, the students started a fire of chaff about his books and their heroes, mixed with frequent questions, such as "Where is your white suit?" Mark Twain said afterward that he wanted to reply, but was determined to observe the etiquette, which demands that recipients of degrees be silent"

WIFE'S DEATH
      With Livy's death in 1904, Twain became heartbroken. The inherent sorrow in his letters after this period is often attributed to this as well as the loss of his two daughters. Left alone and dejected in his old age, his writings started having a tinge of pessimism that becomes very evident in his autobiography published in 1924 (posthumously).

END OF LIFE
      Samuel Langhorne Clemens died in 1910 at the age of seventy-five. It is remarkable that he lived as long as he did, for he followed a very unrestrained life; he was a hard drinker and a chain smoker. The year before he died, he suffered a heart attack. Twain is said to have believed that, having come into this world with Halley's comet, he would go out with it too. He was proven right when, on his death, the comet, once again, flashed through the sky.

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