Samuel Langhorne Clemens

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

Mark Twain

Excerpt from "Concerning the Jews"

Published in Harper's Magazine, March 1898

A well-known writer tries to explain why prejudice against Jews exists

"I am quite sure that … I have no race prejudices, and I think I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. Indeed, I know it. I can stand any society. All that I care to know is that a man is a human being—that is enough for me."

I n 1898, Samuel Clemens (1835–1910), writing under the name Mark Twain, wrote an article in which he tried to explain the widespread prejudice against Jews, both in the United States and in Europe. Though he claimed to have no personal prejudices against any group, the attitudes expressed in his article were similar to those of many Americans. But as he demonstrated in his essay, Twain's perceptions of Jews were the very essence of prejudice, even if he kept it hidden from himself. A strong case can be made that Twain's attitudes were a reflection of the attitudes of many Americans, in his time and since: strong prejudice hidden behind a screen of self-deceiving acceptance.

Twain, who gained celebrity as the author of such American classics as The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, wrote his essay about Jews while living in Vienna, Austria. Like many European cities at the end of the nineteenth century, Vienna had a large Jewish population marked by official prejudice. In addressing the question, Twain seemed to like to think that America was different than Europe; he looked at the United States as a country in which ancient religious hatreds and prejudices had been replaced by freedom of religion and an attitude that judged every individual on his or her own merits.

The subject was highly meaningful in 1898, when the essay was written, because significant numbers of Jewish immigrants were arriving in the United States from Russia, where Jews experienced official restrictions and physical attacks against them, making life unbearable. Most of the Jewish immigrants between 1880 and 1910 were from Russia and Poland. Most were poor, unlike an earlier wave of Jewish immigration from Germany during the 1840s, which consisted of mostly middle-class and professional Jews. Many young Jewish women went to work in clothing factories where they worked under difficult conditions and for low pay. To Twain, these recent Jewish immigrants seemed almost invisible. His essay was based on his perceptions of the earlier wave of middle-class professionals from Germany.

Twain professed, in his essay, to admire Jews. They made good citizens. They seldom committed crimes. They were generous in giving to charities. He attributed the prejudice against them to jealousy on the part of other Americans who thought they could not effectively compete with Jews in business. He also assessed the failure of Jews to establish political power for themselves by acting as a group in their own self-interest.

What Twain ignored was the strong desire of many Jews in America to identify themselves as Americans, rather than as Jews in America. For Jewish immigrants, establishing political influence by acting as a group of Jews would mean continuing in their role as outsiders in European society. The idea of America as a "melting pot"—where people from different nations could come together and create a new type of individual, the American—was one that Jewish immigrants appreciated. One such Jew was Emma Lazarus (1849–1887), whose poem "The New Colossus" was later attached to the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Things to remember while reading an excerpt from "Concerning the Jews":

  • Twain painted a picture of Jews as successful businessmen, disliked by their neighbors because of their success. In fact, at the time Twain wrote his essay, many recent Jewish immigrants in the United States were extremely poor. Many clothing factories in New York City were staffed with young Jewish immigrant women who were hardly successful in business.
  • Twain refers to an incident that occurred in the Austrian Reichstrath, or Imperial Parliament, in 1897. Twain was in the gallery watching, as Hungarian and German members of Parliament engaged in fierce disagreements, resulting in one member speaking for twelve straight hours so that opposing sides could not get their points across.

Excerpt from "Concerning the Jews"

Some months ago I published a magazine article ["Stirring Times in Austria," Harper's New Monthly Magazine (March 1898)] descriptive of a remarkable scene in the Imperial Parliament in Vienna. Since then I have received from Jews in America several letters of inquiry. They were difficult letters to answer, for they were not very definite. But at last I have received a definite one. It is from a lawyer, and he really asks the questions which the other writers probably believed they were asking. By help of this text I will do the best I can to publicly answer this correspondent, and also the others—atthe same time apologizing for having failed to reply privately. The lawyer's letter reads as follows:

"I have read 'Stirring Times in Austria.' One point in particular is of vital import to not a few thousand people, including myself, being a point about which I have often wanted to address a question to some disinterested person. The show of military force in the Austrian Parliament, which precipitated the riots, was not introduced by any Jew. No Jew was a member of that body. No Jewish question was involved in the Ausgleich or in the language proposition. No Jew was insulting anybody. In short, no Jew was doing any mischief toward anybody whatsoever. In fact, the Jews were the only ones of the nineteen different races in Austria which did not have a party—they are absolutely non-participants. Yet in your article you say that in the rioting which followed, all classes of people were unanimous only on one thing, viz., in being against the Jews. Now will you kindly tell me why, in your judgment, the Jews have thus ever been, and are even now, in these days of supposed intelligence, the butt of baseless, vicious animosities ? I dare say that for centuries there has been no more quiet, undisturbing, and well-behaving citizen, as a class, than that same Jew. It seems to me that ignorance and fanaticism cannot alone account for these horrible and unjust persecutions.

Precipitated: Caused.

Ausgleich (1867): A German word meaning "compromise"; the Ausgleich of 1867 transformed the Habsburg Empire into a "dual monarchy" known as Austria-Hungary, two separate states with equal rights under a common ruler.

Viz.: Namely; an abbreviation for Latin videlicet.

Animosities: Active hate or hostility.

Fanaticism: Excessive attachment to a view or an ideal.

"Tell me, therefore, from your vantage-point of cold view, what in your mind is the cause. Can American Jews do anything to correct it either in America or abroad? Will it ever come to an end? Will a Jew be permitted to live honestly, decently, and peaceably like the rest of mankind? What has become of the Golden Rule? "

Golden Rule: In the New Testament of the Bible, the teaching that states, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

I will begin by saying that if I thought myself prejudiced against the Jew, I should hold it fairest to leave this subject to a person not crippled in that way. But I think I have no such prejudice. A few years ago a Jew observed to me that there was no uncourteous reference to his people in my books, and asked how it happened. It happened because the disposition was lacking. I am quite sure that (bar one) I have no race prejudices, and I think I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. Indeed, I know it. I can stand any society. All that I care to know is that a man is a human being—that is enough for me….

Disposition: Inclination.

Caste: Class.

Creed: Religion.

In the present paper I shall allow myself to use the word Jew as if it stood for both religion and race. It is handy; and, besides, that is what the term means to the general world.

In the above letter one notes these points:

  1. The Jew is a well-behaved citizen.
  2. Can ignorance and fanaticism alone account for his unjust treatment?
  3. Can Jews do anything to improve the situation?
  4. The Jews have no party; they are non-participants.
  5. Will the persecution ever come to an end?
  6. What has become of the Golden Rule?

Point No. 1.

We must grant proposition No. 1 for several sufficient reasons. The Jew is not a disturber of the peace of any country. Even his enemies will concede that. He is not a loafer , he is not a sot , he is not noisy, he is not a brawler nor a rioter, he is not quarrelsome. In the statistics of crime his presence is conspicuously rare—in all countries. With murder and other crimes of violence he has but little to do: he is a stranger to the hangman. In the police court's daily long roll of "assaults" and "drunk and disorderlies" his name seldom appears. That the Jewish home is a home in the truest sense is a fact which no one will dispute. The family is knitted together by the strongest affections; its members show each other every due respect; and reverence for the elders is an inviolate law of the house. The Jew is not a burden on the charities of the state nor of the city; these could cease from their functions without affecting him. When he is well enough, he works; when he is incapacitated , his own people take care of him. And not in a poor and stingy way, but with a fine and large benevolence. His race is entitled to be called the most benevolent of all the races of men. A Jewish beggar is not impossible, perhaps; such a thing may exist, but there are few men that can say they have seen that spectacle….

Loafer: Lazy person.

Sot: Drunkard.

Conspicuously: Obviously.

"Drunk and disorderlies": People arrested by police for being drunk and acting disorderly; their names were often listed in police logs published in the newspaper.

Inviolate: Pure and intact; unbroken.

Incapacitated: Sick or disabled.

Benevolence: Charity; kindness.

These facts are all on the credit side of the proposition that the Jew is a good and orderly citizen. Summed up, they certify that he is quiet, peaceable, industrious, unaddicted to high crimes and brutal dispositions; that his family life is commendable; that he is not a burden upon public charities; that he is not a beggar; that in benevolence he is above the reach of competition. These are the very quint-essentials of good citizenship. If you can add that he is as honest as the average of his neighbors—But I think that question is affirmatively answered by the fact that he is a successful business man. The basis of successful business is honesty; a business cannot thrive where the parties to it cannot trust each other. In the matter of numbers the Jew counts for little in the overwhelming populationof New York; but that his honesty counts for much is guaranteed by the fact that the immense wholesale business houses of Broadway, from the Battery to Union Square, is substantially in his hands….

Certify: Confirm.

Quint-essentials: The essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form.

The Jew has his other side. He has some discreditable ways, though he has not a monopoly of them, because he cannot get entirely rid of vexatious Christian competition. We have seen that he seldom transgresses the laws against crimes of violence. Indeed, his dealings with courts are almost restricted to matters connected with commerce. He has a reputation for various small forms of cheating, and for practising oppressive usury , and for burning himself out to get the insurance, and for arranging cunning contracts which leave him an exit but lock the other man in, and for smart evasions which find him safe and comfortable just within the strict letter of the law, when court and jury know very well that he has violated the spirit of it. He is a frequent and faithful and capable officer in the civil service, but he is charged with an unpatriotic disinclination to stand by the flag as a soldier—like the Christian Quaker.

Discreditable: Disgraceful.

Monopoly: Full and exclusive control.

Vexatious: Irritating or troubling.

Transgresses: Disobeys.

Usury: Charging high interest on loans.

Cunning: Crafty; shrewd.

Disinclination: Reluctance.

Christian Quaker: A member of the Society of Friends, a religious group that does not believe in war.

Now if you offset these discreditable features by the creditable ones summarized in a preceding paragraph beginning with the words, "These facts are all on the credit side," and strike a balance, what must the verdict be? This, I think: that, the merits and demerits being fairly weighed and measured on both sides, the Christian can claim no superiority over the Jew in the matter of good citizenship.

Yet in all countries, from the dawn of history, the Jew has been persistently and implacably hated, and with frequency persecuted.

Implacably: Unable to be changed.

Point No. 2.

"Can fanaticism alone account for this?" Years ago I used to think that it was responsible for nearly all of it, but latterly I have come to think that this was an error. Indeed, it is now my conviction that it is responsible for hardly any of it….

Latterly: Lately; recently.

When I was a boy, in the back settlements of the Mississippi Valley, where a gracious and beautiful Sunday-school simplicity and unpracticality prevailed, the "Yankee" was hated with a splendid energy. But religion had nothing to do with it. In a trade, the Yankee was held to be about five times the match of the Westerner. His shrewdness, his insight, his judgment, his knowledge, his enterprise , and his formidable cleverness in applying these forces were frankly confessed, and most competently cursed….

"Yankee": Citizen of the New England states.

Enterprise: Drive; initiative.

The Jew is being legislated out of Russia. The reason is not concealed. The movement was instituted because the Christian peasant

Legislated out: Forced out by the law.

and villager stood no chance against his commercial abilities. He was always ready to lend money on a crop, and sell vodka and other necessaries of life on credit while the crop was growing. When settlement day came he owned the crop; and next year or year after he owned the farm….

For the like reasons Spain had to banish him four hundred years ago, and Austria about a couple of centuries later.

Banish: Remove; deport.

In all the ages Christian Europe has been obliged to curtail his activities. If he entered upon a mechanical trade, the Christian had to retire from it. If he set up as a doctor, he was the best one, and he took the business. If he exploited agriculture, the other farmers had to get at something else. Since there was no way to successfully compete with him in any vocation, the law had to step in and save the Christian from the poor-house. Trade after trade was taken away from the Jew by statute till practically none was left. He was forbidden to engage in agriculture; he was forbidden to practise law; he was forbidden to practise medicine, except among Jews; hewas forbidden the handicrafts. Even the seats of learning and the schools of science had to be closed against this tremendous antagonist. Still, almost bereft of employments, he found ways to make money, even ways to get rich. Also ways to invest his takings well, for usury was not denied him. In the hard conditions suggested, the Jew without brains could not survive, and the Jew with brains had to keep them in good training and well sharpened up, or starve. Ages of restriction to the one tool which the law was not able to take from him—his brain—have made that tool singularly competent; ages of compulsory disuse of his hands have atrophied them, and he never uses them now. This history has a very, very commercial look, a most sordid and practical commercial look, the business aspect of a Chinese cheap-labor crusade. Religious prejudices may account for one part of it, but not for the other nine.

Curtail: Cut short; lessen.

Exploited: Capitalized on.

Statute: Law.

Antagonist: One who competes with another; opponent.

Bereft: Lonely; left wanting.

Compulsory: Mandatory.

Atrophied: Withered.

Sordid: Unpleasant; corrupt.

Protestants have persecuted Catholics, but they did not take their livelihoods away from them. The Catholics have persecuted the Protestants with bloody and awful bitterness, but they never closed agriculture and the handicrafts against them. Why was that? That has the candid look of genuine religious persecution, not a trade-union boycott in a religious disguise….

I am persuaded that in Russia, Austria, and Germany nine-tenths of the hostility to the Jew comes from the average Christian's inability to compete successfully with the average Jew in business—in either straight business or the questionable sort….

With most people, of a necessity, bread and meat take first rank, religion second. I am convinced that the persecution of the Jew is not due in any large degree to religious prejudice.

No, the Jew is a money-getter; and in getting his money he is a very serious obstruction to less capable neighbors who are on the same quest. I think that that is the trouble. In estimating worldly values the Jew is not shallow, but deep. With precocious wisdom he found out in the morning of time that some men worship rank, some worship heroes, some worship power, some worship God, and that over these ideals they dispute and cannot unite—but that they all worship money; so he made it the end and aim of his life to get it….

Precocious: Showing unusually early development, especially in mental abilities.

Point No. 4.

"The Jews have no party; they are non-participants."

Perhaps you have let the secret out and given yourself away. It seems hardly a credit to the race that it is able to say that; or to you,sir, that you can say it without remorse; more than you should offer it as a plea against maltreatment, injustice, and oppression. Who gives the Jew the right, who gives any race the right, to sit still, in a free country, and let somebody else look after its safety? The oppressed Jew was entitled to all pity in the former times under brutal autocracies , for he was weak and friendless, and had no way to help his case. But he has ways now, and he has had them for a century, but I do not see that he has tried to make serious use of them…. In the United States he was created free in the beginning—he did not need to help, of course. In Austria and Germany and France he has a vote, but of what considerable use is it to him? He doesn't seem to know how to apply it to the best effect. With all his splendid capacities and all his fat wealth he is to-day not politically important in any country….

Autocracies: Governments in which a single ruler has unlimited power.

Point No. 3.

"Can Jews do anything to improve the situation?"

I think so. If I may make a suggestion without seeming to be trying to teach my grandmother how to suck eggs , I will offer it. In our days we have learned the value of combination. We apply it everywhere—in railway systems, in trusts, in trade unions, in Salvation Armies, in minor politics, in major politics, in European Concerts. Whatever our strength may be, big or little, we organize it. We have found out that that is the only way to get the most out of it that is in it. We know the weakness of individual sticks, and the strength of the concentrated fagot. Suppose you try a scheme like this, for instance. In England and America put every Jew on the census-book as a Jew (in case you have not been doing that). Get up volunteer regiments composed of Jews solely, and, when the drum beats, fall in and go to the front, so as to remove the reproach that you have few Massenas among you, and that you feed on a country but don't like to fight for it. Next, in politics, organize your strength, band together, and deliver the casting vote where you can, and, where you can't, compel as good terms as possible. You huddle to yourselves already in all countries, but you huddle to no sufficient purpose, politically speaking. You do not seem to be organized, except for your charities….

How to suck eggs: An expression meaning to attempt to teach someone how to do something he or she already knows how to do.

Fagot: A bundle of sticks or twigs tied together.

Reproach: Criticism.

Massenas: A reference to André Massena (1758–1817), a French general and military hero.

Point No. 5.

"Will the persecution of the Jews ever come to an end?"

On the score of religion, I think it has already come to an end. On the score of race prejudice and trade, I have the idea that it will continue. That is, here and there in spots about the world, where abarbarous ignorance and a sort of mere animal civilization prevail; but I do not think that elsewhere the Jew need now stand in any fear of being robbed and raided. Among the high civilizations he seems to be very comfortably situated indeed, and to have more than his proportionate share of the prosperities going. It has that look in Vienna. I suppose the race prejudice cannot be removed; but he can stand that; it is no particular matter….

Point No. 6.

"What has become of the Golden Rule?"

It exists, it continues to sparkle, and is well taken care of. It is Exhibit A in the Church's assets, and we pull it out every Sunday and give it an airing. But you are not permitted to try to smuggle it into this discussion, where it is irrelevant and would not feel at home. It is strictly religious furniture, like an acolyte , or a contribution-plate, or any of those things. It has never been intruded into business; and Jewish persecution is not a religious passion, it is a business passion.

Acolyte: Trainee, especially in a church.

To conclude. If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one per cent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvellous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence , no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

Nebulous: Vague; without form or limits; like a nebula, a mass of interstellar dust or gas.

Abstruse: Difficult to understand.

Decadence: A period of decline, especially in morals.

Infirmities: Bodily weaknesses or the diseases that cause them.

What happened next …

Twain's article was widely criticized, especially on actual grounds. He had asserted that Jews were reluctant to defend their country. Readers of Harper's were eager to correct the record. When Twain's essay was later collected into a book, he printed a correction to his oversight:

"When I published the above article in Harper's Monthly, I was ignorant—like the rest of the Christian world—of the fact that the Jew had a record as a soldier. I have since seen the official statistics, and I find that he furnished soldiers and high officers to the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War. In the Civil War he was represented in the armies and navies of both the North and the South by 10 per cent of his numerical strength—the same percentage that was furnished by the Christian populations of the two sections. This large fact means more than it seems to mean; for it means that the Jew's patriotism was not merely level with the Christian's, but overpassed it."

Two decades after Twain's essay appeared, the U.S. Congress began passing a series of laws to restrict immigration from southern and eastern Europe, laws that were aimed especially at Catholic and Jewish immigrants. The laws never proclaimed prejudice against religious groups. They were based on restricting immigration from specific countries in proportion to the number of Americans whose ancestors came from these countries. This meant, in practice, that the number of immigrants from predominantly Catholic countries like Italy was sharply limited. Immigrants from Russia—which in practice meant Jews—also were sharply restricted.

Did you know …

  • In his essay, Twain assumed that Jews were unwilling to fight in the armed forces, either of the United States or of other countries. In fact, just the opposite was true. In the nineteenth century, Jews regarded fighting in the army as a sign of acceptance. On the other hand, they were not always welcomed as soldiers. In the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, later New York, Jews volunteered to stand armed guard. They were told instead they should depart, "whenever and whither it pleases them."

For More Information


Twain, Mark. The Complete Essays of Mark Twain Now Collected for the First Time. Edited by Charles Neider. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1963.


Gilman, Sander L. "Mark Twain and the Diseases of the Jews." American Literature (March 1993): p. 95.

Web sites

Levy, M. S. "A Rabbi's Reply to Mark Twain." Overland Monthly (October 1899). (accessed on February 21, 2004).

Twain, Mark. "Stirring Times in Austria." Harper's New Monthly Magazine (March 1898). (accessed on February 21, 2004).

Zwick, Jim. "Mark Twain's Vienna and 'Concerning the Jews.'" (accessed on February 21, 2004).

views updated


Pseudonym for Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Nationality: American. Born: Florida, Missouri, 30 November 1835; moved to Hannibal, Missouri, 1839. Family: Married Olivia Langdon in 1870 (died 1904); one son and three daughters. Career: Printer's apprentice and typesetter for Hannibal newspapers, 1847-50; helped brother with Hannibal Journal, 1850-52; typesetter and printer in St. Louis, New York, and Philadelphia; typesetter, Keokuk Saturday Post, Iowa, 1853-56; typesetter in Cincinnati, 1857; apprentice river pilot, on the Mississippi, 1857-58; licensed as pilot, 1859-60; went to Nevada as secretary to his brother, then on the staff of the Governor, and also worked as goldminer, 1861; staff member, Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, Nevada, 1862-64 (first used pseudonym Mark Twain, 1863); reporter, San Francisco Morning Call, 1864; correspondent, Sacramento Union, 1866, and San Francisco Alta California, 1866-69; visited Sandwich (i.e., Hawaiian) Islands, 1866; visited France, Italy, and Palestine, 1867; lecturer from 1867; editor, Express, Buffalo, New York, 1869-71; moved to Hartford, Connecticut and became associated with Charles L. Webster Publishing Company, 1884; invested in unsuccessful Paige typesetter and went bankrupt, 1894 (last debts paid, 1898). Lived mainly in Europe, 1896-1900, New York, 1900-07, and Redding, Connecticut, 1907-10. Awards: M.A.: Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 1888. Litt.D.: Yale University, 1901; Oxford University, 1907. LL.D.: University of Missouri, Columbia, 1902. Member: American Academy, 1904. Died: 21 April 1910.



The Writings (Definitive Edition), edited by Albert Bigelow Paine. 37 vols., 1922-25.

The Portable Twain, edited by Bernard De Voto. 1946.

The Complete Short Stories, edited by Charles Neider. 1957.

Selected Shorter Writings, edited by Walter Blair. 1962.

The Complete Novels, edited by Charles Neider. 2 vols., 1964.

Twain Papers, edited by Robert H. Hirst. 1967—.

Works (Iowa-California Edition), edited by John C. Gerber and others. 1972—.

Mississippi Writings (Library of America), edited by Guy A. Cardwell. 1982.

The Innocents Abroad and Roughing It (Library of America), edited by Guy A. Cardwell. 1984.

Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, and Essays (Library of America), edited by Lewis J. Budd. 2 vols., 1992.

The Science Fiction of Twain, edited by David Keterer. 1984.

Essays and Sketches of Mark Twain, edited by Stuart Miller. 1995.

The Oxford Mark Twain, edited by Shelley Fisher Fishkin. 1996.

The Unabridged Mark Twain, edited by Lawrence Teacher and Kurt Vonnegut . 1997.

Short Stories and Sketches

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other

Sketches, edited by Charles Henry Webb. 1867.

A True Story and the Recent Carnival of Crime. 1877.

Date 1601: Conversation as It Was by the Social Fireside in the Time of the Tudors. 1880; as 1601, edited by Franklin J. Meine, 1939.

The Stolen White Elephant. 1882.

Merry Tales. 1892.

The £71, 000, 00O Bank-Note and Other New Stories. 1893.

Tom Sawyer Abroad. 1894.

Tom Sawyer Abroad, Tom Sawyer, Detective, and Other Stories. 1896; as Tom Sawyer, Detective, as Told by Huck Finn, and Other Tales, 1896.

The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Essays. 1900.

A Dog's Tale. 1904.

The $30, 000 Bequest and Other Stories. 1906.

Extract from Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven. 1909; revised edition, as Report from Paradise, edited by Dixon Wecter, 1952.

The Mysterious Stranger: A Romance (novella). 1916; Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts, edited by William M. Gibson, 1969.

The Curious Republic of Gondour and Other Whimsical Sketches. 1919.

The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories. 1922.

A Boy's Adventure. 1928.

The Adventures of Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, edited by Charles Honce. 1928.

Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog, edited by Albert Bigelow Paine. 1940.

A Murder, A Mystery, and a Marriage. 1945.

The Complete Humorous Sketches and Tales, edited by Charles Neider. 1961.

Satires and Burlesques, edited by Franklin R. Rogers. 1967.

Twain's Hannibal, Huck, and Tom, edited by Walter Blair. 1969.

Twain's Quarrel with Heaven: Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven and Other Sketches, edited by Roy B. Browne. 1970.

Early Tales and Sketches, edited by Edgar M. Branch and Robert H. Hirst. 2 vols., 1979-81.

Wapping Alice. 1981.

Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer among the Indians and Other Unfinished Stories, edited by Dahlia Armon and Walter Blair, 1989.


The Innocents Abroad; or, The New Pilgrims' Progress. 1869.

The Innocents at Home. 1872.

The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, with Charles Dudley Warner.

1873; The Adventures of Colonel Sellers, Being Twain's Share of The Gilded Age, edited by Charles Neider, 1965; complete text, edited by Bryant Morey French, 1972.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. 1876.

A Tramp Abroad. 1880.

The Prince and the Pauper. 1881.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's Comrade). 1884; as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1885; edited by Sculley Bradley and others, 1977.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. 1889; as A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur, 1889; edited by Allison R. Ensor, 1982.

The American Claimant. 1892.

Pudd'nhead Wilson. 1894; augmented edition, as The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson, and The Comedy of Those Extraordinary Twins, 1894; edited by Sidney E. Berger, 1980.

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. 1896.

A Double Barrelled Detective Story. 1902.

Extracts from Adam's Diary. 1904.

Eve's Diary. 1906.

A Horse's Tale. 1907.

Simon Wheeler, Detective, edited by Franklin R. Rogers. 1963.

Twain at His Best, edited by Charles Neider. 1986.

The Diaries of Adam and Eve. 1996.


Ah Sin, with Bret Harte (produced 1877). Edited by Frederick Anderson, 1961.

Colonel Sellers as a Scientist, with William Dean Howells, from the novel The Gilded Age by Twain and Charles Dudley Warner (produced 1887). In Complete Plays of Howells, edited by Walter J. Meserve, 1960.

The Quaker City Holy Land Excursion: An Unfinished Play. 1927.


On the Poetry of Twain, with Selections from His Verse, edited by Arthur L. Scott. 1966.


Twain's (Burlesque) Autobiography and First Romance. 1871.

Memoranda: From the Galaxy. 1871.

Roughing It. 1872.

A Curious Dream and Other Sketches. 1872.

Screamers: A Gathering of Scraps of Humour, Delicious Bits, and Short Stories. 1872.

Sketches. 1874.

Sketches, New and Old. 1875.

Old Times on the Mississippi. 1876; as The Mississippi Pilot, 1877.

An Idle Excursion. 1878.

Punch, Brothers, Punch! and Other Sketches. 1878.

A Curious Experience. 1881.

Life on the Mississippi. 1883.

Facts for Twain's Memory Builder. 1891.

How to Tell a Story and Other Essays. 1897; revised edition, 1900.

Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World. 1897; as More Tramps Abroad, 1897.

Writings (Autograph Edition). 25 vols., 1899-1907.

The Pains of Lowly Life. 1900.

English as She Is Taught. 1900; revised edition, 1901.

To the Person Sitting in Darkness. 1901.

Edmund Burke on Croker, and Tammany. 1901.

My Début as a Literary Person, with Other Essays and Stories. 1903.

Twain on Vivisection. 1905(?).

King Leopold's Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule. 1905; revised edition, 1906.

Editorial Wild Oats. 1905.

What Is Man? 1906.

On Spelling. 1906.

Writings (Hillcrest Edition). 25 vols., 1906-07.

Christian Science, with Notes Containing Corrections to Date. 1907.

Is Shakespeare Dead? From My Autobiography. 1909.

Speeches, edited by F.A. Nast. 1910; revised edition, 1923.

Queen Victoria's Jubilee. 1910.

Letter to the California Pioneers. 1911.

What Is Man? and Other Essays. 1917.

Letters, edited by Albert Bigelow Paine. 2 vols., 1917.

Moments with Twain, edited by Albert Bigelow Paine. 1920.

Europe and Elsewhere. 1923.

Autobiography, edited by Albert Bigelow Paine. 2 vols., 1924.

Sketches of the Sixties by Bret Harte and Twain … from The Californian 1864-67. 1926; revised edition, 1927.

The Suppressed Chapter of "Following the Equator." 1928.

A Letter from Twain to His Publisher, Chatto and Windus. 1929.

Twain the Letter Writer, edited by Cyril Clemens. 1932.

Works. 23 vols., 1933.

The Family Twain (selections). 1935.

The Twain Omnibus, edited by Max J. Herzberg. 1935.

Representative Selections, edited by Fred L. Pattee. 1935.

Notebook, edited by Albert Bigelow Paine. 1935.

Letters from the Sandwich Islands, Written for the Sacramento Union, edited by G. Ezra Dane. 1937.

The Washoe Giant in San Francisco, Being Heretofore Uncollected Sketches, edited by Franklin Walker. 1938.

Twain's Western Years, Together with Hitherto Unreprinted Clemens Western Items, by Ivan Benson. 1938.

Letters from Honolulu Written for the Sacramento Union, edited by Thomas Nickerson. 1939.

Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages about Men and Events, edited by Bernard De Voto. 1940.

Travels with Mr. Brown, Being Heretofore Uncollected Sketches Written for the San Francisco Alta California in 1866 and 1867, edited by Franklin Walker and G. Ezra Dane. 1940.

Republican Letters, edited by Cyril Clemens. 1941.

Letters to Will Bowen, edited by Theodore Hornberger. 1941.

Letters in the Muscatine Journal, edited by Edgar M. Branch. 1942.

Washington in 1868, edited by Cyril Clemens. 1943.

Twain, Business Man, edited by Samuel Charles Webster. 1946.

The Letters of Quintus Curtius Snodgrass, edited by Ernest E.

Leisy. 1946.

Twain in Three Moods: Three New Items of Twainiana, edited by Dixon Wecter. 1948.

The Love Letters, edited by Dixon Wecter. 1949.

Twain to Mrs. Fairbanks, edited by Dixon Wecter. 1949.

Twain to Uncle Remus 1881-1885, edited by Thomas H. English. 1953.

Twins of Genius: Letters of Twain, Cable, and Others, edited by Guy A. Cardwell. 1953.

Twain of the Enterprise, edited by Henry Nash Smith and Frederick Anderson. 1957.

Traveling with the Innocents Abroad: Twain's Original Reports from Europe and the Holy Land, edited by Daniel Morley McKeithan. 1958.

The Autobiography, edited by Charles Neider. 1959.

The Art, Humor, and Humanity of Twain, edited by Minnie M. Brashear and Robert M. Rodney. 1959.

Twain and the Government, edited by Svend Petersen. 1960.

Twain-Howells Letters: The Correspondence of Samuel L. Clemens and William Dean Howells 1872-1910, edited by Henry Nash Smith and William M. Gibson. 2 vols., 1960; abridged edition, as Selected Twain-Howells Letters, 1967.

Your Personal Twain…. 1960.

Life as I Find It: Essays, Sketches, Tales, and Other Material, edited by Charles Neider. 1961.

The Travels of Twain, edited by Charles Neider. 1961.

Contributions to The Galaxy 1868-1871, edited by Bruce R. McElderry. 1961.

Twain on the Art of Writing, edited by Martin B. Fried. 1961.

Letters to Mary, edited by Lewis Leary. 1961.

The Pattern for Twain's "Roughing It": Letters from Nevada by

Samuel and Orion Clemens 1861-1862, edited by Franklin R. Rogers. 1961.

Letters from the Earth, edited by Bernard De Voto. 1962.

Twain on the Damned Human Race, edited by Janet Smith. 1962.

The Complete Essays, edited by Charles Neider. 1963.

Twain's San Francisco, edited by Bernard Taper. 1963.

The Forgotten Writings of Twain, edited by Henry Duskus. 1963.

General Grant by Matthew Arnold, with a Rejoinder by Twain (lecture), edited by John Y. Simon. 1966.

Letters from Hawaii, edited by A. Grove Day. 1966.

Which Was the Dream? and Other Symbolic Writings of the Later Years, edited by John S. Tuckey. 1967.

The Complete Travel Books, edited by Charles Neider. 1967.

Letters to His Publishers 1867-1894, edited by Hamlin Hill. 1967.

Clemens of the Call: Twain in California, edited by Edgar M. Branch. 1969.

Correspondence with Henry Huttleston Rogers 1893-1909, edited by Lewis Leary. 1969.

Man Is the Only Animal That Blushesor Needs To: The Wisdom of Twain, edited by Michael Joseph. 1970.

Fables of Man, edited by John S. Tuckey. 1972.

Everybody's Twain, edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 1972.

A Pen Warmed Up in Hell: Twain in Protest, edited by Frederick Anderson. 1972.

What Is Man? and Other Philosophical Writings, edited by Paul Baender, in Works. 1973.

The Choice Humorous Works of Twain. 1973.

Notebooks and Journals, edited by Frederick Anderson and others.


Letters from the Sandwich Islands, edited by Joan Abramson, 1975.

Twain Speaking, edited by Paul Fatout. 1976.

The Mammoth Cod, and Address to the Stomach Club. 1976.

The Comic Twain Reader, edited by Charles Neider. 1977.

Interviews with Clemens 1874-1910, edited by Louis J. Budd. 1977.

Twain Speaks for Himself, edited by Paul Fatout. 1978.

The Devil's Race-Track: Twain's Great Dark Writings: The Best from "Which Was the Dream" and "Fables of Man," edited by John S. Tuckey. 1980.

Selected Letters, edited by Charles Neider. 1982.

Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims, and Other Salutary Platform

Opinions, edited by Charles Neider. 1984.

Twain Laughing: Humorous Stories by and about Clemens, edited by P.M. Zall. 1985.

Letters (1853-1866), edited by Edgar M. Branch and others. 1987.

Letters (1867-1868), edited by Harriet Elinor Smith and Richard Bucci. 1990.

Mark Twain on Writing and Publishing, edited by Kathy Kiernan. 1994.

Letters (1872-1873), edited by Harriet Elinor Smith and Lin Salamo. 1997.

Translator, Slovenly Peter (Der Struwwelpeter). 1935.



A Bibliography of the Works of Twain by Merle Johnson, revised edition, 1935; in Bibliography of American Literature by Jacob Blanck, 1957; Twain: A Reference Guide by Thomas Asa Tenney, 1977; Twain International: A Bibliography and Interpretation of His Worldwide Popularity edited by Robert H. Rodney, 1982.

Critical Studies:

My Twain: Reminiscences and Criticisms by William Dean Howells, 1910, edited by Marilyn Austin Baldwin, 1967; Twain: A Biography by Albert Bigelow Paine, 3 vols., 1912, abridged edition, as A Short Life of Twain, 1920; The Ordeal of Twain by Van Wyck Brooks, 1920, revised edition, 1933; Twain's America, 1932, and Twain at Work, 1942, both by Bernard De Voto; Twain: The Man and His Work by Edward Wagenknecht, 1935, revised edition, 1961, 1967; Twain: Man and Legend by De Lancey Ferguson, 1943; The Literary Apprenticeship of Twain by Edgar M. Branch, 1950; Twain as a Literary Artist by Gladys Bellamy, 1950; Twain and Huck Finn by Walter Blair, 1960; Twain by Lewis Leary, 1960, and A Casebook on Twain's Wound edited by Leary, 1962; Twain and Southwestern Humor by Kenneth S. Lynn, 1960; The Innocent Eye: Childhood in Twain's Imagination by Albert E. Stone, 1961; Twain: Social Philosopher, 1962, and Our Twain: The Making of a Public Personality, 1983, both by Louis J. Budd, and Critical Essays on Twain 1867-1910, 1982, Critical Essays on Twain 1910-1980, 1983, and New Essays on Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1985, all edited by Budd; Twain: The Development of a Writer by Henry Nash Smith, 1962, and Twain: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Smith, 1963; Discussions of Twain edited by Guy A. Cardwell, 1963; Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography, 1966, and Twain and His World, 1974, both by Justin Kaplan; Twain: The Fate of Humor by James M. Cox, 1966; Twain as Critic by Sydney J. Krause, 1967; Twain: God's Fool by Hamlin Hill, 1973; Plots and Characters in the Works of Twain by Robert L. Gale, 2 vols., 1973; The Dramatic Unity of Huckleberry Finn by George C. Carrington, Jr., 1976; The Art of Twain by William M. Gibson, 1976; Twain: A Collection of Criticism edited by Dean Morgan Schmitter, 1976; Twain as a Literary Comedian by David E. E. Sloane, 1979; Twain's Last Years as a Writer by William R. Macnaughton, 1979; Critical Approaches to Twain's Short Stories edited by Elizabeth McMahan, 1981; Twain's Escape from Time: A Study of Patterns and Images by Susan K. Harris, 1982; Writing Tom Sawyer: The Adventures of a Classic by Charles A. Norton, 1983; Twain by Robert Keith Miller, 1983; The Authentic Twain: A Biography of Clemens by Everett Emerson, 1984; One Hundred Years of Huckleberry Finn edited by Robert Sattelmeyer and J. Donald Crowley, 1985; The Making of Twain by John Lauber, 1985; Huck Finn among the Critics: A Centennial Selection edited by M. Thomas Inge, 1985; On Twain: The Best from "American Literature" edited by Louis J. Budd and Edwin H. Cady, 1987; A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Twain by James D. Wilson, 1987; Twain by John C. Gerber, 1988; The Man Who Was Twain: Images and Ideologies by Guy Cardwell, 1991; Comedic Pathos: Black Humor in Twain's Fiction by Patricia M. Mandia, 1991; Mark and Livy: The Love Story of Twain and the Woman Who Almost Tamed Him by Resa Willis, 1992; Was Huck Black?: Mark Twain and African-American Voices by Shelley Fisher Fishkin, 1993; Persona and Humor in Mark Twain's Early Writings by Don Florence, 1995; Mark Twain: The Ecstasy of Humor by Louis J. Budd, 1995; The Trouble Begins at Eight: Mark Twain's Lecture Tours by Frederick William Lorch, 1995; Mark Twain on the Loose: A Comic Writer and the American Self by Bruce Michelson, 1995; The Courtship of Olivia Langdon and Mark Twain by Susan K. Harris, 1996; Dreaming Mark Twain by Bennett Kravitz, 1996; Littery Man: Mark Twain and Modern Authorship by Richard S. Lowry, 1996; Mark Twain in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1874-1891 by Jim McWilliams, 1997; Mark Twain's Ethical Realism: The Aesthetics of Race, Class, Gender by Joe B. Fulton, 1997; Inventing Mark Twain: The Lives of Samuel Langhorne Clemens by Andrew Jay Hoffman, 1997.

* * *

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, or Mark Twain, will always be best known for his masterpiece The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the book from which, Ernest Hemingway said, "all modern American literature comes." It is very unlikely, however, that Twain could have written that novel without the benefits of a decades-long apprenticeship in the writing of shorter pieces, only some of which can be properly called short stories. Included among his shorter writings are sketches, travel letters, anecdotes, burlesques, and the feature stories and reportage associated with his experiences as a newspaper journalist. Twain's genius throughout his career is most apparent in the richly rendered episode, and many of his most anthologized short pieces are excerpts from longer works such as Roughing It, The Innocents Abroad, and Life on the Mississippi. Twain himself lifted the so-called "Raft Passage" from the manuscript of Huckleberry Finn and inserted it into his Mississippi River memoir.

His first publication, "The Dandy Frightening the Squatter" (1852), is Twain's immature version of a much-told anecdote. But even with its defects it hints that Twain was gradually discovering the terms of the art of southwest frontier humor and the form of the tall tale that he would come to perfect and transform. Self-educated, Twain came to know well the tradition of American humor from its beginnings—Yankee and "Down East" as well as southwest frontier. What he seems to have possessed by nature was an ear for the cadences of vernacular speech patterns; whether by instinct or deliberate discipline and cultivation, Twain's was an aural imagination. His boyhood experiences listening to the tales of Uncle Dan'l, a slave on Twain's uncle John Quarles's farm, and his experiences as a cub-pilot and pilot on the Mississippi put him in close touch with an oral tradition of literature that would lead to Huck's opening sentence: "You don't know about me, without you have read a book by the name of 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,' but that ain't no matter." His relish of "talk" he captured first in "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" (1865), and his career was launched.

That Twain customarily began writing with virtually no well-conceived plan in mind is attested to not only by his essay "The Art of Authorship" (1890) but also by his two revisions of the Jim Smiley story and his almost eight years of composing Huckleberry Finn. In "How to Tell a Story" (1895), however, he described brilliantly many of the essential components of the American humorous story. It depends upon "the manner of its telling," not the matter. That manner is "deadpan," "the teller [doing] his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about [the story]"; its contents are ingeniously digressive and "string incongruities and absurdities together in a wandering and sometimes purposeless way." There is not more apt explication of what happens in the framed narrative of "Jim Blaine and His Grandfather's Old Ram" (1872). Like "Jumping Frog," the tale is a framed narrative that pits the decorous, correct language of the East against the vernacular vitality of the western mining camp. The old miner Blaine tries still once again to tell "the stirring story of his grandfather's old ram," but, since he "is comfortably and sociably drunk … tranquilly, serenely, symmetrically drunk," he as usual loses sight of his subject in his third sentence and appears to meander through a maze of uncontrollable memories. Along the way he describes "Old Miss Wagner," who "was considerable on the borrow, she was." The good lady we learn, in careful steps, was lacking an eye and borrowed a glass one from old Miss Jefferson, had only one leg and borrowed Miss Higgin's wooden one "when she had company and things had to be done," and was "bald as a jug" and so borrowed Miss Jacops's wig. Miss Jacops, we discover in the following sentence, "is the coffin-peddler's wife—a ratty old buzzard, he was, that used to go roosting around where people was sick." Before Blaine surrenders to sleep in mid-sentence he mentions a man named Wheeler, who "got nipped by the machinery in a carpet factory and went through in less than a quarter of a minute." All this grotesquerie and violence are embraced by an imperturbable humor and Blaine's certitude about the orderly design of the universe: "Prov'dence don't fire no blank ca'tridges, boys." Twain's persona, like Jim Smiley and the frame's narrator in "The Jumping Frog," "perceived that [he] was 'sold."' Twain would use variations on such alternative narrators and points of view repeatedly and effectively in numerous works.

Likewise light-hearted are many of his burlesques such as the companion pieces "Story of the Bad Little Boy" (1865) and "Story of the Good Little Boy" (1870), which satirize the pieties of Sunday school pamphlets and look forward to Tom Sawyer. The Snodgrass letters exploit the illiteracy of its author, the butt of a hoax, and "A True Story" (1874) shows Twain's ability to capture black dialect in the slave Aunt Rachel's tale. Others, such as "The Babies" (1879) and the notorious "Whittier Birthday Speech" (1877), exemplify Twain as raconteur, master of stand-up oral performance. "The Private History of a Campaign that Failed" (1885), a personal memoir of his very abbreviated Civil War experiences, parodies a then-popular and widespread form of narrative. Its humor vanishes at the end when the band of raw recruits fire collectively at a single rider and kill him.

"The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut" (1876), a dialogue between Twain's persona and a diminutive dwarf identified as his conscience, has a darkening, grimmer humor that looks forward to Twain's later despairing works on "the damned human race." Having banished conscience, the narrator "killed thirty-eight persons during the first two weeks," "swindled a widow and some orphans out of their last cow," and so on. The narrative is much closer to "The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg," The Mysterious Stranger, and Letters from the Earth, works in which his humor has failed him.

—J. Donald Crowley

See the essays on "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" and "The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg."

views updated

Mark Twain

BORN: November 30, 1835 • Florida, Missouri

DIED: April 21, 1910 • Redding, Connecticut

Writer; humorist

Writer Samuel Langhorne Clemens, whose pen name was Mark Twain, lived when America was changing from an agricultural nation to an industry and business giant. His musings on and insight into human nature provided readers with a glimpse into the Gilded Age—the good and the bad of it. (The Gilded Age was the period in history following the Civil War and Reconstruction [roughly the final twenty-three years of the nineteenth century], characterized by a ruthless pursuit of profit, an exterior of showiness and grandeur, and immeasurable political corruption.) Whether writing about people, politics, or current events, Twain's sharp wit and good-natured humor made his subjects interesting.

"Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest."

Even during his lifetime, Twain was a favorite among writers, journalists, and magazine cartoonists, who would quote him and draw his likeness at every opportunity. At a time when America was at once fearful of and hopeful about the future, Twain gave the country something to laugh about: itself. In the process, he became something of a folk hero.

Sam Clemens is born

Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri, on November 30, 1835. He was the sixth of seven children. The Clemens family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, when Sam was just four years old. Young Clemens grew up playing along the banks of the Mississippi River. This region would be the setting for two of his most famous novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Missouri was a new state at the time, one with a high slave population. Clemens's father owned a slave; his uncle owned a handful. Clemens spent many summers playing with children his age in the slave quarters, listening to tall tales and slave spirituals. He developed an appreciation for storytelling from his time spent with the slaves. Childhood days were also spent exploring nearby forests and swimming holes or floating down the Mississippi in makeshift rafts. It was an ideal childhood for a young, curious boy.

Clemens's father died in 1847. Eleven-year-old Clemens left school with a fifth-grade education and took a job as a printer's apprentice (student helper) at a local newspaper. His job, which required him to arrange the type for each story, allowed the boy to read news from around the world as he worked. After three years at this job, he went to work for his older brother, who owned several newspapers. Under the pseudonym (false name) S. L. C., Clemens wrote a humorous essay and published it in the Carpet-Bag, a Boston magazine.

Heads east

The Clemens brothers were not skilled businessmen, and soon their newspapers were in trouble financially. Clemens's brother managed to save part of his business, but the younger Clemens had had enough. He left Missouri and headed to New York City and Philadelphia when he was eighteen years old. There, he worked at various newspapers and began writing articles. Clemens traveled throughout the East and wrote about his observations in the form of tall tales and short stories for numerous newspapers, including those his brother still owned. Four years later, in 1857, he returned home and began a completely new career as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River. He spent the first two years as an apprentice and earned his own pilot's license in 1859.

As a riverboat pilot, Clemens came into contact with people from all backgrounds. His ability to entertain and observe simultaneously gave him endless topics for writing. During his time on the river, he sent in stories and articles to newspapers. When the Civil War (1861–65) broke out, all traffic on the Mississippi River stopped. Clemens joined a Confederate volunteer regiment called the Marion Rangers. Military life was not to his liking, however, and he quit within three weeks.

Becomes Mark Twain

Needing a way to earn a living, Clemens traveled west in July 1861 to join his brother Orion Clemens (1825–1897), who had just been appointed secretary of the Nevada Territory. Samuel Clemens had great dreams of striking it rich in Nevada's silver rush. During his stagecoach ride across the country, Clemens came across tribes of Native Americans for the first time. He also met various westerners, whose mannerisms and behavior were far different than those of the southerners he had known all his life (or the easterners he had come to know). His impressions of these people would eventually find their way into a number of his novels.

Clemens never did strike it rich, so he began writing for a Nevada newspaper called the Territorial Enterprise. For the first time, he wrote under the pseudonym (false name) Mark Twain, the professional name he would keep for the rest of his life. According to the PBS Web site American Experience: Ulysses S. Grant, it means "water that is 2 fathoms [12 feet, or 3.2 meters] deep." The Mississippi River can be dangerous for boats. The river is full of sandbars, rocks, and debris whose locations were always changing in the strong currents. Growing up along the river, and as a pilot on the river, Twain would have often heard rivermen calling out the nautical term "Mark Twain!" to let boat pilots know that the water was safe, but only just safe, for navigation.

Twain, never one to stay in one place for long, wanted a change of scenery. In 1864, he left Nevada for San Francisco, California, where he again wrote stories for local papers.

Catches his first big break

Twain published a short story titled "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" in 1865. The story was an instant hit and was published in newspapers across America. Suddenly, people knew who Mark Twain was. The story was included in a collection published in 1867 under the title The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County; and Other Sketches.

Twain was hired in 1866 by the Sacramento Union newspaper to travel to and report on the Sandwich Islands, which would eventually be known as Hawaii. Twain sent his reports home from the islands. His popularity soared so much that he began his first lecture tour upon his return to the United States. While on tour, he established himself as a fascinating stage performer.

The year 1867 found Twain in New York City. He had been hired by the Alta California, a San Francisco newspaper, to continue his travel writing. Twain signed up for a five-and-a-half-month-long steamship cruise. The steamer stopped at ports throughout Europe on its way to the Holy Land (Israel). Twain sent the paper letters full of descriptions and humorous observations. They proved so popular that they were compiled into his first best-selling book, The Innocents Abroad, in 1869.

Meets his life's love

The trip to Europe turned out to be beneficial to him in his personal life as well. On the ship, he met a man named Charles Langdon, who showed Twain a photo of his sister, Olivia. Twain fell in love with her upon sight, and the two married in 1870. After a brief stay in Buffalo, New York, the couple moved to Hartford, Connecticut, with their son in 1871. They rented a home in Nook Farm, a colony of writers and artists. The following year, Twain published a book of his frontier adventures and recollections. He called it Roughing It. That same year, daughter Susy was born. Langdon, Twain's only son, died at the age of 2 years of diphtheria (an infection of the throat resulting in high fever, breathing difficulty, and sometimes heart and brain damage).

One night at a dinner party at Nook Farm, Twain was complaining to his dinner guests that there was nothing of literary value available on the market. He was challenged to remedy that situation by writing something of merit. Together with friend Charles Dudley Warner (1829–1900), who also happened to be a publisher, he wrote The Gilded Age in 1873. The novel attacked political corruption, big business, and America's obsession with wealth. Although the novel did not sell as well as some of his others, Twain was credited with coming up with the term "Gilded Age," the name that would be given to the historic era in which he lived.

In 1874, Twain's nineteen-room mansion in Hartford was built. The author designed the house himself, and it was architecturally unlike any other house in the neighborhood. Twain had incorporated various styles and elements from buildings he had visited throughout his world travels. The $40,000 home had three floors, each with its own unique decorations and style.

Twain and his family lived in their Hartford home for seventeen years. The writer spent his happiest and most productive years there, as two more daughters were born during that time and he published his most famous novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Twain was hailed as the era's greatest humorist. Wherever he went, crowds gathered to hear him speak.

Twain wrote several other novels during those years, and all sold well. In 1884, Twain established the Charles L. Webster Company, his own publishing firm. He would now have control over his work and make sizeable profits. In 1885, he agreed to write the memoirs of former U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant (1822–85; served 1869–77). The two-volume set sold around three hundred thousand copies, giving Twain a profit of about $100,000. Grant's widow earned four times that much on royalties (percentage of the cost of each volume sold).

Loses beloved daughter and home

Twain's writing made him a great deal of money, but the author was not as wise with investments as he was with words. After years of making poor investments, Twain was near bankruptcy (the formal declaration of being unable to repay financial debt). When his publishing company failed, Twain was forced to find some way to make money. He and his family embarked on a lecture circuit that took them traveling around the world. This type of traveling literary show was known as a Chautauqua (pronounced shuh-TAW-kwuh; see box).

In 1896, Susy Clemens was visiting the family home in Hartford. At just twenty-four, she died of meningitis (an infection of the lining of the brain) there and was found in the bathtub. Unable to return to a home that could no longer bring them happiness, the Twain family never lived in Hartford again. They sold the property in 1903.

Mark Twain Said …

"The church is always trying to get people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example."

"Lie—an abomination unto the Lord and an ever present help in time of trouble."

"It is good to obey all the rules when you're young, so you'll have the strength to break them when you're old."

"It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected."

"We adore titles and heredities in our hearts and ridicule them with our mouths. That is our democratic privilege."

"In fact, the more things are forbidden, the more popular they become."

"Always obey your parents, when they are present. Most parents think they know more than you do; and you can generally make more by humoring that superstition than you can by acting on your own better judgement."

The traveling lecture series, along with the publication of a book of essays regarding the experience, restored Twain's finances, but the writer's final years were dark. During his travels, he witnessed various wars. The Spanish-American War and Philippine War, both in 1898, especially angered Twain, who viewed the U.S. government as greedy in its expansionist policy (efforts to increase the number of America's territories). From 1901 until his death, Twain publicly declared himself an anti-imperialist (one who is against territorial expansion). He even served as vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League.

Mark Twain's writing in the later years reflected his attitude toward government and his sadness over the loss of Susy. His public appearances took on the same tone, and his antigovernment writings and speeches threatened his financial situation. Some considered him a traitor to his country. Magazines began to refuse to publish his works because of his political beliefs.

The Chautauqua Movement

Along with all the other changes and reforms going on throughout the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era were educational and religious reforms. In 1874, a Methodist minister named John H. Vincent (1832–1920) partnered with an Akron, Ohio, businessman named Lewis Miller (1829–1899). Miller, who made his fortune by inventing farm machinery, happened to be the father-in-law of inventor Thomas Edison. Vincent and Miller created a series of summer courses aimed at Sunday-school teachers. These in-depth training seminars were held at Lake Chautauqua in New York and had a summer-camp atmosphere. The event quickly became well known throughout America. Soon, subjects other than religion were added. Before the turn of the century, hotels, lecture buildings, and permanent homes were built at the lake.

Not everyone who wanted to attend could afford to travel to the summer school, so smaller assemblies similar to the one at the lake were organized in various parts of the country. Usually these assemblies were held at campgrounds near a lake or a wooded area.

The Chautauqua, as the event became known, took to the road and began traveling the nation in 1904. In addition to lectures and speakers, the event expanded to include live music, theatrical shows, and even magic shows. Many famous celebrities and reformers spoke at the Chautauqua, with Mark Twain being perhaps the most famous. Twain was a gifted storyteller who fascinated his audience for hours. Even two U.S. presidents, Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt, made appearances during the early years of the event.

The railroads made it possible for middle-class folks to attend a Chautauqua, even if it was not coming to their hometown. The traveling show brought New York–style culture to even the most rural corners of America. At one point in time, one in five Americans had attended a Chautauqua.

The Chautauqua, once a traveling phenomenon of culture and entertainment, lost its appeal after World War I (1914–18), when cars, radio programs, and movies gained a place in society. Yet even in the twenty-first century, Chautauqua continues to travel on a reduced scale throughout the country.

Despite the controversy, many Mark Twain fans remained devoted to the humorist. His popularity overseas rivaled that of his appeal at home; anti-imperialist or not, he was still one of America's most popular celebrities.

The final years

By 1903, the Twains had been living in New York City for three years. Twain's wife, Livy, had never enjoyed particularly robust health, and after the tragic loss of Susy, her emotional health suffered as well. In hopes a change of climate would help her, Livy's doctor suggested the couple travel to Italy. All hopes remained unfulfilled, and she died there in the spring of 1904. Twain was devastated and returned to their home in New York City. He began dictating his memoirs that year. His autobiography remained unfinished at his death, and was published ten years later.

In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–9; see entry) invited Twain to the White House. That same year, Twain celebrated his seventieth birthday with 170 friends and fellow writers. The party, hosted by Harper's Weekly editor George Harvey (1864–1928), featured a forty-piece orchestra and fifteen formal speeches and toasts. The event was the talk of New York, and reports of it appeared in newspapers and magazines.

Twain's advancing years did little to slow him down, and he continued to immerse himself in work to keep busy. That year, he traveled the country, lecturing and performing. By this time, Twain had taken to wearing a white linen suit in public. Very few photos taken in his later years show him wearing anything else.

In 1906, Twain reluctantly agreed to let his daughter Jean be committed to an asylum. She was an epileptic (one who suffers from uncontrollable seizures caused by a brain disorder) and could no longer be cared for by loved ones. She died from a seizure in 1909. In 1908, Twain moved to what would be his final house. The estate, located in Redding, Connecticut, was named Stormfield. The following year, Twain's daughter Clara married.

Twain's health was deteriorating, and on April 21, 1910, he died of heart failure. He was seventy-four years old. His death made front-page news in newspapers across the globe. Tributes to Twain's life were published for weeks after his death, as well as examples of his humor, quotations, and other writings. As evidence of his universal appeal, many different regions claimed the great writer, raised in Hannibal, Missouri, as their own. Articles in western papers talked about his western-ness; to those in the East, he was an easterner. Twain was one of those rare writers who belonged to all of America.

Twain wrote simply about simple things, though he also had an edgy side, as demonstrated by his antigovernment slants. But he showed America its weaknesses and strengths, even as they sometimes blurred into one another. He examined not only his own life but also that of everyone else around him, whether cowboy or farmer, king or poor person, criminal or businessman. America came to depend on Twain to show them how, despite all the changes the country was going through, its people came together to form a nation. Perhaps inventor Thomas Edison (1847–1931; see entry) said it best. As reported on the PBS site American Experience: Ulysses S. Grant, Edison quipped, "An American loves his family. If he has any love left over for some other person he generally selects Mark Twain."

For More Information


Powers, Ron. Mark Twain: A Life. New York: Free Press, 2005.

Twain, Mark. The Autobiography of Mark Twain. New York: Sheldon & Company, 1924. Multiple reprints.

Twain, Mark. Mark Twain's Helpful Hints for Good Living: A Handbook for the Damned Human Race. Edited by Lin Salamo, Victor Fischer, and Michael B. Frank. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Twain, Mark. The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain. Edited by Alex Ayres. New York: Harper & Row, 1987. Reprint, New York: Perennial, 2005.

Twain, Mark, and Charles Dudley Warner. The Gilded Age. Hartford, CT: American Publishing, 1874. Reprint, New York: Modern Library, 2006.

Willis, Resa. Mark and Livy: The Love Story of Mark Twain and the Woman Who Almost Tamed Him. New York: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1992. Reprint, Routledge, 2004.


The Mark Twain House and Museum. (accessed on September 5, 2006).

PBS. Mark Twain. (accessed on September 5, 2006).

PBS. "People & Events: Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835–1910." American Experience: Ulysses S. Grant. (accessed on September 5, 2006).

"Quotations." (accessed on September 5, 2006).

Railton, Stephen. "Mark Twain in His Times." University of Virginia Library. (accessed on September 5, 2006).

views updated

Mark Twain

Mark Twain (1835-1910), American humorist and novelist, captured a world audience with stories of boyhood adventure and with commentary on man's shortcomings that is humorous even while it probes, often bitterly, the roots of human behavior.

Bred among American traditions of frontier journalism, and influenced by such cracker-box humorists as Artemus Ward and by the tradition of the tall tale, Mark Twain scored his first successes as a writer and lecturer with his straight-faced, laconic recitation of incredible comic incidents in simple, direct, colloquial language. His was an oral style, and his principal contribution is sometimes thought to be the creation of a genuinely native idiom.

Some contemporaries considered Mark Twain's language uncouth and crude when compared with the well-mannered prose of William Dean Howells or the intricately contrived expression of Henry James. Though conventionally less disciplined and less consistently successful than either, Mark Twain surpassed both in popular esteem and is remembered with them as foremost in the creation of prose fiction in the United States during the late 19th century.

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on Nov. 30, 1835, in the frontier village of Florida, Mo. He spent his boyhood in nearby Hannibal, on the bank of the Mississippi River, observing its busy life, fascinated by its romance, but chilled by the violence and bloodshed it bred. Twelve years old when his lawyer father died, he began working as an apprentice, then a compositor, with local printers, contributing occasional squibs to local newspapers. At 17 his comic sketch "The Dandy Frightening the Squatter" was published by a sportsmen's magazine in Boston.

In 1853 Clemens began wandering as a journeyman printer to St. Louis, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, settling briefly with his brother, Orion, in lowa before setting out at 22 to make his fortune, he hoped, beside the lush banks of the Amazon River in South America. Instead, traveling down the Mississippi River, he became a steamboat river pilot until the Civil War interrupted traffic.

Western Years

In 1861 Clemens traveled to Nevada, where he speculated carelessly in timber and silver mining. He settled down to newspaper work in Virginia City, until his reckless pen and redheaded temper brought him into conflict with local authorities; it seemed profitable to escape to California. Meanwhile he had adopted the pen name of Mark Twain, a riverman's term for water that was safe, but only just safe, for navigation.

In San Francisco Mark Twain came under the influence of Bret Harte. Artemus Ward encouraged Mark Twain to write The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1865), which first brought him national attention. Most of his western writing was hastily, often carelessly, done, and he later did little to preserve it.

Traveling Correspondent

In 1865 the Sacramento Union commissioned Mark Twain to report on a new excursion service to Hawaii. His accounts as published in the newspaper provided the basis for his first successful lectures and years later were collected in Letters from the Sandwich Islands (1938) and Letters from Honolulu (1939). His travel accounts were so well received that he contracted in 1866 to become a traveling correspondent for the Alta California; he would circle the globe, dispatching letters. The first step was to travel to New York by ship; his accounts were collected in Mark Twain's Travels with Mr. Brown (1940).

In June 1867 Mark Twain left New York and went to Europe and the Holy Land, sending accounts to the California paper and to Horace Greeley's New York Tribune. They were fresh and racy, alert, informed, and sidesplittingly funny. Their accent was American western humor; their traditional theme was the decay of transatlantic institutions when compared with the energetic freshness of the western life-style. Yet the humor also exposed the traveling American innocents as they haggled through native bazaars, completely innocent of their own outlandish appearance. Nor was their author exempt from ridicule, for Mark Twain usually wrote of "What fools we mortals be, " accepting his place among the erring race of man. The letters were later revised as The Innocents Abroad; or, The New Pilgrim's Progress (1869), and the book immediately made Mark Twain a popular favorite, in demand especially as a lecturer who could keep large audiences in gales of laughter.

In 1870 Twain married Olivia Langdon. After a brief residence in upstate New York as an editor and part owner of the Buffalo Express, he moved to Hartford, Conn., where he lived for 20 years; there three daughters were born, and prosperity as a writer and lecturer (in England in 1872 and 1873) seemed guaranteed. Roughing It (1872) recounted Mark Twain's travels to Nevada and reprinted some of the Sandwich Island letters. Neither it, A Tramp Abroad (1880), nor Following the Equator (1898) had popular or critical reception equal to that of The Innocents Abroad.

Famous Novelist

With Charles Dudley Warner, Mark Twain wrote The Gilded Age (1873), a quizzical satire on financial speculation and political chicanery, which introduced the character of Colonel Beriah Sellers, a backcountry squire plagued by schemes which might, but never did, bring him sudden fortune. By this time Mark Twain was famous. Anything he wrote would sell, but his imagination flagged. He collected miscellaneous writings into Sketches New and Old (1875) and tried to fit Colonel Sellers into a new book, which finally materialized years later as The American Claimant (1891).

Meanwhile Mark Twain's account of steamboating experiences for the Atlantic Monthly (1875; expanded to Life on the Mississippi, 1883) captured the beauty, glamour, and menace of the Mississippi. Boyhood memories of life beside that river were written into The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1875), which immediately attracted young and old. With more exotic and foreign settings, The Prince and the Pauper (1882) and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) attracted readers also, but The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), in which Mark Twain again returned to the river scenes he knew best, was considered vulgar by many contemporaries.

"Tom" and "Huck"

Tom Sawyer, better organized than Huckleberry Finn, is a narrative of innocent boyhood play that inadvertently discovers evil as Tom and Huck witness a murder by Injun Joe in a graveyard at midnight. The boys run away, are thought dead, but turn up at their own funeral. Tom and Huck decide to seek out the murderer, and the reward offered for his capture. It is Tom and his sweetheart who, while lost in a cave, discover the hiding place of Injun Joe. Though the townspeople unwittingly seal the murderer in the cave, they close the entrance only to keep adventuresome boys like Tom out of future trouble. In the end, it is innocent play and boyish adventuring which really triumph.

Huckleberry Finn is Mark Twain's finest creation. Huck lacks Tom's imagination; he is a simple boy with little education. One measure of his character is a proneness to deceit, which seems instinctive, a trait shared by other wild things and relating him to nature—in opposition to Tom's tradition-grounded, book-learned, imaginative deceptions. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a loosely strung series of adventures, can be viewed as the story of a quest for freedom and an escape from what society requires in exchange for success. Joined in flight by a black companion, Jim, who seeks freedom from slavery, Huck discovers that the Mississippi is peaceful (though he is found to be only partially correct) but that the world along its shores is marred by deceit, including his own, and by cruelty and murder. When the raft on which he and Jim are floating down the river is invaded by two confidence men, Huck first becomes their assistant in swindles but is finally the agent of their exposure.

Jim throughout is a frightened but faithful friend. Huck is troubled by the sin which in the world's eyes he is committing by helping a slave to escape. The thematic climax of the book occurs when Huck decides that if he must go to hell for that sin, very well then, he will go to hell. And he does, as leaving the river he enters again into the world dominated by Tom, which in its seemingly innocent deceit presents an alarming analog to adult pretense. All ends suddenly; Jim has been free all the time, and good people offer to adopt and civilize Huck. But he will have none of it: "I can't stand it, " he says. "I been there before."

Whatever its faults, Huckleberry Finn is a classic. Variously interpreted, it is often thought to suggest more than it reveals, speaking of what man has done to confuse himself about his right relation to nature. It can also be thought to treat of man's failures in dealing with his fellows and of the corruption so deeply engrained that man's only escape is in flight, perhaps even from himself. Yet it is also an apparently artless story of adventure and escape so simply and directly told that Ernest Hemingway once said that all American literature begins with this book. Its language seems the instinctual language of all men—"a joyous exorcism, " one critic has said.

Mark Twain, said H. L. Mencken, was the first important author to write "genuinely colloquial and native American." Huck, who shuns civilization, seems a symbol of simple honesty and conscience. His boy's-eye view of a world distorted by pretense and knavery anticipates the use of a young narrator by numerous important American authors, including Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, and J. D. Salinger. Yet Tom, not Huck, seems to have remained Mark Twain's favorite, giving title to Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894), Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896), and to unpublished tales later collected in Hannibal, Huck, and Tom (1969).

Unsuccessful Businessman

Mark Twain's early books were sold by subscription; they sold well, for Twain prided himself on gauging public taste. Many were not issued until subscription agents had secured enough advance orders to make them surely profitable. As a traveling lecturer, he helped sell his books, and his books helped pack his lectures. He was probably the best-known and certainly among the most prosperous writers of his generation. Unsatisfied, he reached for more. When The Prince and the Pauper did not sell as he thought it should, he established his own publishing firm, which did well for a while.

But Mark Twain was soon in serious trouble. For several years he had been supplying large sums toward the perfecting of a typesetting machine, convinced that it would make his fortune. But in 1891 he retreated with his family to Europe, where they could live more cheaply. In 1894 the publishing company went bankrupt, and the typesetter failed in competition with less complex rivals. Mark Twain was deeply in debt.

Meanwhile, in 1893, Henry Huttleston Rogers, a director of the Standard Oil Company, had assumed control of Mark Twain's financial affairs. While Mark Twain lectured around the world to pay his debts, Rogers placated creditors, invested his royalties, and arranged new publishing contracts. The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894), an awkwardly constructed story of two boys, one of them African American, switched in their cradles, is sometimes remembered as Mark Twain's second-best book, but it brought little immediate financial assistance. Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896), a ponderous paean to innocence triumphant, was so serious that Mark Twain at first would not allow his name to be associated with it. Following the Equator (1897) was dedicated to Rogers's son.

Mark Twain and his family remained in Europe, saddened by the death of one daughter and seeking help for the apparently incurable illness of another. Like his Colonel Sellers, Mark Twain looked desperately for a scheme to recoup his fortune. Rogers finally steered him out of debt and arranged a publishing contract which ensured Mark Twain and his heirs a handsome income.

Last Writings

On his return to the United States in 1900, Mark Twain rose to new heights of popularity. His publicized insistence on paying every creditor had made him something of a public hero. He was widely sought as a speaker, and he seemed proud to be the genial companion of people like the Rockefellers and Andrew Carnegie, though in private he opposed the principles for which they seemed to stand. His writings grew increasingly bitter, especially after his wife's death in 1905. The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg (1900) exposed corruption in a small, typical American town. King Leopold's Soliloquy (1905) attacked hypocrisy in treatment of inhabitants of the Congo, fulminating against what Mark Twain called "the damn'd human race." What Is Man? (1906) was a diatribe of despair. Extracts from Adam's Diary (1904) had humorously presented man as a blunderer; Eve's Diary (1906), written partly in memory of his wife, showed man saved from bungling only through the influence of a good woman. Many of his later indictments of human cupidity were, he thought, so severe that they could not be published for 100 years. But when some appeared in Letters from the Earth (1962), they seemed hardly more bitter than what had appeared before.

In 1906 Mark Twain began to dictate his autobiography to Albert B. Paine (his literary executor), recording scattered memories without chronological arrangement. Portions from it were published in periodicals later that year. Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven (1909), a burlesque Mark Twain had puttered over for years, partly disguised his pessimism with a veneer of rollicking humor as it detailed the low esteem in which man is held by celestial creatures. With the income from the excerpts of his autobiography, he built a large house in Redding, Conn., which he named Stormfield. There, after several trips to Bermuda to bolster his waning health, he died on April 21, 1910.

Mark Twain had been working over several drafts of a final bitter book, and from these Paine and his publisher "edited" The Mysterious Stranger (1916), a volume which William H. Gibson, in presenting complete texts of versions of the story in Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts (1969), designated as "an editorial fraud." As scholars work over the Mark Twain Papers at the University of California, more volumes containing unpublished writings or correspondence will appear. Few, however, can be expected to alter the esteem and affection in which Mark Twain is held. His books have been translated into most of the languages of Europe, where with Theodore Dreiser and Jack London, he is often thought among the best to express, or expose, the spirit of the American people.

Further Reading

Portions of Mark Twain's autobiography were published by Albert B. Paine, Mark Twain's Autobiography (2 vols., 1924). Parts which had earlier seemed too bitter or personal were brought together by Bernard DeVoto in Mark Twain in Eruption (1940). Charles Neider included some material not previously published in his chronologically arranged The Autobiography of Mark Twain (1959). The complete text is being prepared for publication by the editors of the Mark Twain Papers at the University of California.

Of the making of books about Mark Twain there seems to be no end. The authorized biography, Albert B. Paine, Mark Twain, A Biography: The Personal and Literary Life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (3 vols. 1912; repr. 1935), though often corrected by later writers, is still important. So are such reminiscent accounts as William Dean Howells, My Mark Twain (1910); Mary Lawton, A Lifetime with Mark Twain (1925); and Clara Clemens, My Father, Mark Twain (1931). Modern biographies are J. De Lancey Ferguson, Mark Twain, Man and Legend (1943), and Justin Kaplan, Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain (1966). Mark Twain's early years are discussed in M. M. Brashear, Mark Twain: Son of Missouri (1934), and Dixon Wecter, Sam Clemens of Hannibal (1952).

Books on specific aspects of Mark Twain's life include Ivan Benson, Mark Twain's Western Years (1938); Samuel L. Webster, Mark Twain, Business Man (1946); Edgar M. Branch, TheLiterary Apprenticeship of Mark Twain (1950); Kenneth R. Andrews, Nook Farm: Mark Twain's Hartford Circle (1950); and Louis J. Budd, Mark Twain, Social Philosopher (1962). Edward C. Wagenknecht, Mark Twain: The Man and His Work (1935; 3d ed. 1967), contains valuable bibliographical material; see also Merle Johnson, A Bibliography of the Works of Mark Twain (1935).

Van Wyck Brooks, The Ordeal of Mark Twain (1920; rev. ed. 1933), answered by Bernard DeVoto, Mark Twain's America (1932), created a controversy about Mark Twain's literary integrity; see also Lewis Leary, ed., Mark Twain's Wound (1962). Important recent critical studies include Walter Blair, Mark Twain and Huck Finn (1960); Henry Nash Smith, Mark Twain: The Development of a Writer (1962); and James M. Cox, Mark Twain: The Fate of Humor (1966). See also the introductions to different editions of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Lionel Trilling (1948) and T. S. Eliot (1950). □

views updated

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) (1835-1910)



A Missouri Boyhood . In the autumn of 1835 Americans looked up and marveled as Halleys Cometnot due to reappear for another seventy-five yearsilluminated the skies. On 30 November, as the comet passed overhead, a small-town lawyer, merchant, and real-estate developer named John Marshall Clemens welcomed a baby son into the world. John Clemens and his wife, Jane Lampton Clemens, had moved from place to place during the first twelve years of their marriage, settling in 1835 in the sleepy hamlet of Florida, Missouri. Young Samuel Langhorne Clemens joined a household that already included two older brothers, two older sisters, and a slave named Jenny. In 1839 the family moved thirty miles east to Hannibal, a bustling town of a thousand-odd residents. In this town perched on the banks of the Mississippi River, young Sam Clemens spent his childhood, absorbing the speech and spirit of antebellum life on the Mississippi.

The Young Journalist. The Clemens family suffered mixed fortunes during the future novelists boyhood. A sister died in 1839; a brother died in 1842; and John Clemens died in 1847a crushing financial blow for the family. To help support his mother and remaining siblings, Sam worked at a series of odd jobs. All the while he continued to explore the great Mississippi: swimming, fishing, and even, with friends, discovering the drowned body of a fugitive slave. In 1848 young Clemens became an apprentice at the office of the Missouri Courier. Three years later he joined the staff of his brother Orions weekly, the Western Union. Jour-nalism served as Clemenss introduction to a wider world. During the 1850s and into the 1860s he worked in various capacities for papers in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Nevada. During this same period he also worked as a riverboat pilot, a speculator, and a prospector. Clemenss early journalism anticipates his later work in many respects: it showcases his biting humor, his zest for travel, and his fondness for pseudonyms, including W. Epaminondas Adrastus Perkins, Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Josh, and finally, in 1863, Mark Twain. The Innocents Abroad, a humorous account of Clemenss 1867 travels in Europe and the Middle East, received excellent reviews when it was pub-lished in 1869 and became a best-seller. The following year the western author married an eastern heiress, I Olivia Louise (Livy) Langdon of Elmira, New York. During the 1870s and 1880s Clemens continued to craft a distinctive, multifaceted identity that combined the panache of the East with the vitalityand occasional rough edgesof the West. As Mark Twain, he became the preeminent American humorist of the late nineteenth century.

Literary Achievement. Twains early works include Roughing If (1872), a western travelogue; The Gilded Age (1873), a satiric novel written with his friend Charles Dudley Warner (1829-1900); and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), another best-seller whose mischievous protagonist has charmed generations of young readers. He went on to write A Tramp Abroad (1880), further impressions of Europe gleaned during an 1878-1879 tour of the Continent; The Prince and the Pauper (1881), a historical fable set in sixteenth-century England; and Life on the Mississippi (1883), based on Clemenss experiences as a riverboat pilot. All the while, Clemens continued to travel, to publish sketches and stories in the popular press, and to cultivate prominent literary and political friends. One close friend, William Dean Howells, offered editorial advice as Clemens labored over drafts of a new novel. This book, originally conceived in 1876 as a sequel to Tom Sawyer, had languished for years as Twain tinkered with other writing projects. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, finally published in 1884 in Great Britain and in the United States the following year, did indeed feature the scamp Tom Sawyer. But in Toms friend Huck, Twain created a character who transcended the ranks of juvenile fiction. More worldly than Tom, and yet possessed of an essential idealism, Huck Finn is the quintessential American hero.

Huck Finn, American Iconoclast. Traveling down the Mississippi toward freedom on a raft, Huck and the fugitive slave Jim encounter an array of colorful characters during their quest for freedom. In a pivotal scene, when authorities post a large reward for Jims return, Huck is forced to weigh the law against more complex standards of justice. I see Jim before me all the time, Huck reflects: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldnt seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. Although he has already drafted a letter telling Jims owner of the slaves whereabouts, Huck pauses before taking further action: I was a-trembling, because Id got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: All right, then, Eli go to hell. At this decisive momentand again at the end of the book, when he determines to light out for the territory rather than be sivilized Huck takes a stand as an American iconoclast, a self-willed outcast from proper society.

Adrift in America. The man who coined the phrase The Gilded Age found himself increasingly at odds with the acquisitive culture of late-nineteenth-century America. Throughout the 1890s Twains reputation as a literary master grew, but debtsand doubtsaccumulated. Darker overtones surface in Twains later works such as Puddnhead Wilson (1894), a novel that comments on race, law, and humbug; To the Person Sitting in Darkness, an essay denouncing American imperialism; and The Mysterious Stranger (begun in 1898, published posthumously in 1916), a meditation on the nature of evil. In an interview with The New York Times in 1905, Twain commented on the mixed blessings of literary fame: My advice to the humorist who has been a slave to his reputation is never to be discouraged. I know it is painful to make an earnest statement of a heartfelt conviction and then observe the puzzled expression of the fatuous soul who is conscientiously searching his brain to see how he can possibly have failed to get the point of the joke. But say it again and maybe hell understand you. No man need be a humorist all his life. Clemenss wife had died in the summer of 1904, and he spent his final years in restless transit from Connecticut to New York, Europe, and Bermuda. He lived to see Halleys Comet reappear in the heavens in early 1910; he died on 21 April at his home in Redding, Connecticut.


Louis J. Budd, Our Mark Twain (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983);

Justin Kaplan, Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1966).

views updated

Mark Twain

Born: November 30, 1835
Florida, Missouri
Died: April 21, 1910
Redding, Connecticut

American writer and humorist

Mark Twain, American humorist (comic writer) and novelist, captured a world audience with stories of boyhood adventure and with commentary on man's faults that is humorous even while it probes, often bitterly, the roots of human behavior.

Childhood along the Mississippi

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in the frontier village of Florida, Missouri. He spent his boyhood in nearby Hannibal, on the banks of the Mississippi River, observing its busy life, fascinated by its romance, but chilled by the violence and bloodshed it bred. Clemens was eleven years old when his lawyer father died. In order to help the family earn money, the young Clemens began working as a store clerk and a delivery boy. He also began working as an apprentice (working to learn a trade), then a compositor (a person who sets type), with local printers, contributing occasional small pieces to local newspapers. At seventeen his comic sketch "The Dandy Frightening the Squatter" was published by a sportsmen's magazine in Boston, Massachusetts.

In 1853 Clemens began wandering as a journeyman printer to St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; New York, New York; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; settling briefly with his brother, Orion, in Iowa before setting out at twenty-two years old to make his fortune, he hoped, beside the lush banks of the Amazon River in South America. Instead, traveling down the Mississippi River, he became a steamboat river pilot until the outbreak of the Civil War (186165), when Northern forces clashed with those of the South over slavery and secession (the South's desire to leave the Union).

Western years

In 1861 Clemens traveled to Nevada, where he invested carelessly in timber and silver mining. He settled down to newspaper work in Virginia City, until his reckless pen and redheaded temper brought him into conflict with local authorities; it seemed profitable to escape to California. Meanwhile he had adopted the pen name of Mark Twain, a riverman's term for water that is just safe enough for navigation.

In 1865, Twain began to write a short story, The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, which first brought him national attention. Most of his western writing was hastily, often carelessly, done and he later did little to preserve it.

Traveling correspondent

In 1865 the Sacramento Union commissioned Mark Twain to report on a new excursion service to Hawaii. His accounts as published in the newspaper provided the basis for his first successful lectures and years later were collected in Letters from the Sandwich Islands (1938) and Letters from Honolulu (1939). His travel accounts were so well received that he was contracted in 1866 to become a traveling correspondent for the Alta California; he would circle the globe, writing letters.

In 1870 Twain married Olivia Langdon. After a brief residence in upstate New York as an editor and part owner of the Buffalo Express, he moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where he lived for twenty years; there three daughters were born, and prosperity as a writer and lecturer (in England in 1872 and 1873) seemed guaranteed. Roughing It (1872) recounted Mark Twain's travels to Nevada and reprinted some of the Sandwich Island letters.

Meanwhile Mark Twain's account of steamboating experiences for the Atlantic Monthly (1875; expanded to Life on the Mississippi, 1883) captured the beauty, glamor, and danger of the Mississippi River. Boyhood memories of life beside that river were written into The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1875), which immediately attracted young and old alike. With more exotic and foreign settings, The Prince and the Pauper (1882) and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) attracted readers also, but T he Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), in which Mark Twain again returned to the river scenes he knew best, was considered unacceptable by many.

"Tom" and "Huck"

Twain's Tom Sawyer, better organized than Huckleberry Finn, is a narrative of innocent boyhood play that accidentally discovers evil as Tom and Huck witness a murder by Injun Joe in a graveyard at midnight. The boys run away, are thought dead, but turn up at their own funeral. Tom and Huck decide to seek out the murderer and the reward offered for his capture. It is Tom and his sweetheart who, while lost in a cave, discover the hiding place of Injun Joe. Though the townspeople unwittingly seal the murderer in the cave, they close the entrance only to keep adventuresome boys like Tom out of future trouble. In the end, it is innocent play and boyish adventuring which really triumph.

Huckleberry Finn is considered by many to be Mark Twain's finest creation. Huck lacks Tom's imagination; he is a simple boy with little education. One measure of his character is a proneness to deceit, which seems instinctive, a trait shared by other wild things and relating him to naturein opposition to Tom's tradition-grounded, book-learned, imaginative deceptions. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a loosely strung series of adventures, can be viewed as the story of a quest for freedom and an escape from what society requires in exchange for success. Joined in flight by a black companion, Jim, who seeks freedom from slavery, Huck discovers that the Mississippi is peaceful (though he is found to be only partially correct) but that the world along its shores is full of trickery, including his own, and by cruelty and murder. When the raft on which he and Jim are floating down the river is invaded by two criminals, Huck first becomes their assistant in swindles but is finally the agent of their exposure.

Whatever its faults, Twain's Huckleberry Finn is a classic. Variously interpreted, it is often thought to suggest more than it reveals, speaking of what man has done to confuse himself about his right relation to nature. It can also be thought of as a treatment of man's failures in dealing with his fellows and of the corruption that man's only escape is in flight, perhaps even from himself. Yet it is also an apparently artless story of adventure and escape so simply and directly told that novelist Ernest Hemingway (c.18991961) once said that all American literature begins with this book.

Last writings

After a series of unsuccessful business ventures in Europe, Twain returned to the United States in 1900. His writings grew increasingly bitter, especially after his wife's death in 1905. The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg (1900) exposed corruption in a small, typical American town. Eve's Diary (1906), written partly in memory of his wife, showed a man saved from bungling only through the influence of a good woman.

In 1906 Twain began to dictate his autobiography to Albert B. Paine, recording scattered memories without any particular order. Portions from it were published in periodicals later that year. With the income from the excerpts of his autobiography, he built a large house in Redding, Connecticut, which he named Stormfield. There, after several trips to Bermuda to improve his declining health, he died on April 21, 1910.

For More Information

Kaplan, Justin. Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966.

Krauth, Leland. Proper Mark Twain. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999.

Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mark Twain, A Biography: The Personal and Literary Life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. New York: Harper & Bros., 1912. Reprint, Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1997.

Twain, Mark. The Autobiography of Mark Twain. New York: Harper, 1959. Reprint, New York: Perennial Classics, 2000.

Ward, Geoffrey C., and Dayton Duncan. Mark Twain. New York: Knopf, 2001.

Wecter, Dixon. Sam Clemens of Hannibal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952. Reprint, New York: AMS Press, 1979.

views updated

Twain, Mark (18351910)

The essayist, novelist, and humorist Samuel Langhorne Clemens is better known by the pseudonym Mark Twain. He is most noted for authoring The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), the latter often touted as the great American novel.

Soon after Twain's birth in Florida, Missouri, his family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, which he later recast as St. Petersburg, the setting of Tom Sawyer and parts of Huckleberry Finn. Hannibal, which was important to the slave market on the Mississippi River, had a profound influence on Twain's writing, particularly his views on race, articulated most cynically in The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894). As an adult, Twain became acquainted with Mississippi steamboat life on his abridged journey to South America, where he anticipated establishing himself in the coca trade. Twain received his pilot's license in 1859, working the river until the onset of the Civil War halted river commerce. These years on the Mississippi provided Twain with a diversity of experience that greatly informed his writing, especially his Mississippi River novels, for which he is best known. After serving briefly in the Confederate Army, Twain moved to Nevada, where, as a reporter for the Territorial Enterprise, he first signed a piece as Mark Twain, a pseudonym meaning "two fathoms" for riverboat pilots, and "two drinks on credit" for Nevada citizens.

Though renowned for his witty social commentary, Twain's most lasting contribution to literature is, arguably, his children's fiction, which Twain maintained was intended for both children and adults. The somewhat nostalgic depiction of boyhood found in Twain's Tom Sawyer books has come to stand in for boyhood itself, with Tom Sawyer exemplifying the "good bad boy," an important departure from the more didactic children's fiction of the time. This departure is felt most powerfully in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain's most sensitive rendering of child consciousness. Twain's choice to narrate the novel in Huckleberry's voice was revolutionary. His Tom Sawyer sequelsTom Sawyer Abroad (1894) and Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896)were neither as intimate nor as complicated, though they were also told in Huck's voice. Twain's other novels associated with child readers, The Prince and the Pauper (1882) and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) feature adult protagonists.

Theatrical and cinematic versions of Twain's two major books are common; one of the earliest is a dramatization of Tom Sawyer authored by Twain in 1884, though never staged. Huckleberry made it to the boards in November 1902, in a production that fared well. Perhaps the most famous of the many film versions of Huckleberry Finn is the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production, released the same year as The Wizard of Oz. Featuring Mickey Rooney as Huck, this adaptation was the first to focus on the relationship between Huck and Jim, an escaped slave who accompanies Huck down the Mississippi. In 1993 Walt Disney Pictures released their film adaptation, The Adventures of Huck Finn, starring Elijah Wood. However, despite these numerous retellings, ubiquitous media representations, and nearly uniform critical acclaim, both Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer are consistently challenged and banned throughout the United States for addressing so directly issues of race and class.

See also: Children's Literature.


Budd, Louis J. 1983. Our Mark Twain. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Haupt, Clyde V. 1994. Huckleberry Finn On Film: Film and Television Adaptations of Mark Twain's Novel, 19201993. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Hill, Hamlin. 1973. Mark Twain, God's Fool. New York: Harper.

Hoffman, Andrew. 1997. Inventing Mark Twain: The Lives of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. New York: William Morrow.

Joseph T. Thomas Jr.

views updated

Mark Twain, pseud. of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835–1910, American author, b. Florida, Mo. As humorist, narrator, and social observer, Twain is unsurpassed in American literature. His novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a masterpiece of humor, characterization, and realism, has been called the first (and sometimes the best) modern American novel.

Early Life and Works

After the death of his father in 1847, young Clemens was apprenticed to a printer in Hannibal, Mo., the Mississippi River town where he spent most of his boyhood. He first began writing for his brother's newspaper there, and later he worked as a printer in several major Eastern cities. In 1857, Clemens went to New Orleans on his way to make his fortune in South America, but instead he became a Mississippi River pilot—hence his pseudonym, "Mark Twain," which was the river call for a depth of water of two fathoms. The Civil War put an end to river traffic, and in 1862 Clemens went west to Carson City, Nev., where he failed in several get-rich-quick schemes. He eventually began writing for the Virginia City Examiner and later was a newspaperman in San Francisco.

Soon the humorist "Mark Twain" emerged, a writer of tall tales and absurd anecdotes. He first won fame with the comic masterpiece "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," first published in 1865 in the New York Saturday Press and later (1867) used as the title piece for a volume of stories and sketches. When he returned from a trip to Hawaii financed by the Sacramento Union in 1866, Twain became a successful humorous lecturer. The articles he wrote on a journey to the Holy Land were published in 1869 as The Innocents Abroad. In 1870 he married Olivia Langdon of Elmira, N.Y., and settled down in Hartford, Conn., to be "respectable," although Roughing It (1872) presented anecdotes of his less genteel past on the Western frontier.

Mature Works

In Hartford, Twain wrote some of his best work: The Gilded Age (1873), a satirical novel written with Charles Dudley Warner about materialism and corruption in the 1870s; two evocations of his boyhood in Hannibal, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884); The Prince and the Pauper (1882), a novel for children that blends the simplicity of a fairy tale with realistic social criticism; and the nonfictional Life on the Mississippi (1883). He also produced a travel book, A Tramp Abroad (1880), and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), in which satirical overtones reflect a profound seriousness.

Later Life and Works

Some of Twain's later works are forced attempts at humor—The American Claimant (1892) and two sequels to Tom Sawyer. His distinctly bitter Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894) underscores his increasingly melancholy attitude. Over the years Twain had invested a great deal of money in unsuccessful printing and publishing ventures, and in 1893 he found himself deeply in debt. To recoup his losses he wearily lectured his way around the world, being funny at whatever cost, and recording his experiences in Following the Equator (1897).

His later life was shadowed by the deaths of two of his daughters and by the long illness and death in 1904 of his wife. Some critics think that the fierce pessimism of his later works derives from these tragedies. Whatever the reason, he abandoned the optimistic tone of The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896), and wrote such somber works as The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg (1899), What Is Man? (1905), The Mysterious Stranger (1916), and Letters from the Earth (1962). The strange contradiction in personality between the genial humorist and the declared misanthrope has long intrigued commentators and makes Twain a fascinating biographical subject.

Twain's Masterpiece: Huckleberry Finn

Twain's literary reputation rests most particularly on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In its hero, a resourceful, unconventional boy with an innate sense of human values, Twain created one of the most memorable characters in fiction. The narrative device of a raft carrying Huck and a runaway slave down the Mississippi enabled Twain to achieve a realistic portrait of American life in the 19th cent. Through his use of authentic vernacular speech he revolutionized the language of American fiction and exerted a great influence on many subsequent American writers. In 1990 a handwritten manuscript of the first half of the novel was discovered that includes a number of minor changes and an episode that was left out of the original published version; these passages were included in an edition published in 1996.


See his collected letters, ed. by E. M. Branch et al. (1987); his correspondence with William Dean Howells, ed. by F. Anderson et al. (1967); his notebooks, ed. by F. Anderson et al. (3 vol., 1975–80); editions of his rambling, dictated autobiography, ed. by A. B. Paine (1924, repr. 2003), by C. Neider (1959), and by H. E. Smith et al. (3 vol., 2010–); biographies by A. B. Paine (1924), J. Kaplan (1966, repr. 2003), H. Hill (1973, repr. 2010), A. Hoffman (1997), F. Kaplan (2003), R. Powers (2005), and J. Loving (2010); studies by W. D. Howells (1910), B. De Voto (1932), H. N. Smith (1967), V. W. Brooks (rev. ed. 1933, repr. 1970), W. Gibson (1976), R. Morris, Jr. (2010 and 2015), G. Scharnhorst (2010), and A. Levy (2015); F. Anderson and K. M. Sanderson, ed., Mark Twain: The Critical Heritage (1972); S. F. Fishkin, ed., The Mark Twain Anthology: Great Writers on His Life and Works (2010); H. L. Katz and the Library of Congress, Mark Twain's America (2014).

views updated

Twain, Mark (1835-1910)

Pseudonym of author Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Throughout his life, the great humorist and observer of the world around him often reflected upon the psychic and metaphysical events of which he was aware. In 1880 he wrote an article on "mental telegraphy" that related a personal experience of telepathy. He also had a vivid premonitory dream of the death of his brother Henry. Twain was an early and long-term member of the Society for Psychical Research, London.

After his death, various posthumous communications and writings were claimed. In 1917, the story Jap Herron was published in New York, purporting to come from the discarnate Mark Twain, as received by Emily Grant Hutchings and Lola V. Hays. Hutchings, the recorder of the Patience Worth material of Pearl Lenore Curran of St. Louis, was herself an author who greatly admired Mark Twain. She had a keen sense of somewhat similar humor and a strong tinge of melancholy like Mark Twain's. She had strongly wished him to communicate through her. All this furnished an ideal condition for subconscious production.

James H. Hyslop resolved the problem by interesting cross-reference experiments. The two women received the communications through the ouija board; the presence of both of them was necessary to operate it. They were brought by Hyslop to Boston. He gave each woman, at separate times, five sittings with the medium "Mrs. Chenoweth" (see Minnie M. Soule ). But he did not admit them to the séance room until "Mrs. Chenoweth," who knew nothing of them, went into trance, and he made them sit behind her where they could not be seen.

Instead of the usual family relatives, Mark Twain purported to communicate with each of them. He used many of the same expressions that came through the ouija board, mentioned incidents in his life to prove his identity, described what he was doing through the women, and revealed the password that he gave to Hyslop in a St. Louis sitting.

"The outcome of the experiments," concluded Hyslop in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (July 1917), "is that there is abundant evidence that Mark Twain is behind the work connected with his name, though the student of psychology would probably find abundant evidence that it was colored more or less by the mind through which it came." The conclusion also applied to Brent Roberts, another posthumous Mark Twain novel that the two women received.

In Hyslop's Contact with the Other World (1919), a long chapter was devoted to other evidential spirit communications from Mark Twain.


Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mark Twain. 3 vols. N.p., 1912.

views updated

Twain, Mark

American Author 18351910

Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was a great American author and humorist. His novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1894) are considered by many as among the greatest American novels, and are still popular (and sometimes controversial) books to read.

Clemens grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, which is located along the shore of the Mississippi River. He became a licensed riverboat pilot, where he learned of the riverboat term "mark twain" that crewmen called out to indicate "two fathoms." Clemens adopted the term as his pen name while beginning to incorporate the Mississippi River as a significant component of his novels.

Clemens recognized the Mississippi River as the lifeblood of the people living near it, bringing them both opportunity and misfortune. After living and working in the far West and traveling to Europe and Palestine, Clemens married and settled in Hartford, Connecticut to write. He entered into his most productive period as an author in the 1870s and 1880s. Clemens returned home to the Mississippi River and wrote one of his most remembered works, a river travelogue titled Life on the Mississippi, which recounted his experiences as a river pilot and the glory days of the steamboat trade. He said that it was his favorite of all his books.

see also Arts, Water in ; Mississippi River Basin.

Faye Anderson


Twain, Mark. Life on the Mississippi. Boston, MA: James R. Osgood and Company, 1883.

Ward, Geoffrey C., Dayton Duncan, and Ken Burns. Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography. New York: Knopf, 2001.