Mark Twain

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, popularly known as Mark Twain, was born November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri, and spent his childhood in nearby Hannibal. Twain is best known for the novels set in his boyhood world beside the Mississippi River, The Adventures of Tom SawyerExternal (1876) and his masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnExternal (1884).

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn From the Book by Mark Twain. Everett Henry, Illustrator. Cleveland: Harris-Intertype, 1959. Language of the Land: Journeys Into Literary America. Geography & Map Division.
Bird’s eye view of the city of Hannibal, Marion Co., Missouri 1869. Drawn by Albert Ruger, 1869. Panoramic Maps. Geography & Map Division

As a young man, Clemens worked as a typesetter for his brother Orion’s newspaper before following his dream of navigating the Mississippi on paddle wheel steamboats. He piloted boats for three years until the outbreak of the Civil War stopped river traffic in 1861.

Clemens wrote for the Virginia City, Nevada, newspaper Territorial Enterprise in 1862, adopting the pseudonym Mark Twain. Two years later he moved to San Francisco where his writing gained further popularity and he developed the humorous style now famous throughout the world. In 1866 he went to Hawaii as a reporter for the Sacramento Union.

Clemens joined his brother in Nevada where Orion had been appointed secretary of the territory. Roughing It, first published in 1872, is Clemens’ account of his journey. In the Prefatory, Clemens describes his writing style:

Yes, take it all around, there is quite a good deal of information in the book. I regret this very much; but really it could not be helped: information appears to stew out of me naturally, like the precious ottar of roses out of the otter. Sometimes it has seemed to me that I would give worlds if I could retain my facts; but it cannot be. The more I calk up the sources, and the tighter I get, the more I leak wisdom. Therefore, I can only claim indulgence at the hands of the reader, not justification.

Prefatory. In Roughing It, by Mark Twain. Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Company (1891). “California As I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

“Envious Contemplations.” [Illustration] In Roughing It, by Mark Twain. Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Company, 1891. Chapter 1, p. 20. “California As I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

While in the West, Clemens stayed briefly at the California boarding house of uprooted Missourian Mrs. Lee Summers Whipple-Haslam. In her book, Early Days in California, she recalls that her mother engaged Clemens in extended conversation:

As usual with Missourians, they imparted numerous and various details of ancient forefathers, and, after lengthy discussion, decided that according to all the rules and laws of Missouri, they were cousins.

Later, when other boarders, thinking Clemens “wonderful,” asked if there were others like him in Missouri, she replied “no” and explained that “he was a Missouri freak that had broken loose from his hitching post.”

Letter from Mark Twain to Gardiner Greene Hubbard, December 27, 1890. Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers at the Library of Congress. Manuscript Division

The Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers features a letter from Mark Twain to Gardiner G. Hubbard, “The Father-in-law of the Telephone,” dated December 27, 1890. In his familiar satirical style, Twain complains to Bell’s father-in-law of the poor telephone service at his home in Hartford, Connecticut. He objects that there is no night service and that he is regularly cut off while practicing his cursing. In fact, Twain enjoyed and made use of new inventions. For example, he was the first author to submit a typewritten manuscript to his publisher.

Learn More