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Mark Twain

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Samuel Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri in 1835. The Clemens family consisted of two brothers, a sister, and the family-owned slave, Jenny, whose vivid storytelling was a formative influence on the young Sam. As he was growing up, his parents explained their perspective on the nature of things in the established South, about the slave-owning tradition, and about �rough western justice.’ Reflections of the pre-war southern upbringing are seen in many of Twain’s writings, and although his images are quite peaceful, one cannot ignore the constant historical reminders of some of America’s more unacceptable social realities(Lewis 1). Clemens married Olivia Langdon and had four children: Langdon, Olivia Susan, Clara, Jean Lampton(2).

Sam Clemens first discovered his literary talents through an apprenticeship at a local printing shop. He was exposed to countless books and became an avid reader. For him, a career in journalism was more than natural, but it was not until the marriage of his sister that Sam was inspired to real action. Bound by train, he left Hannibal for New York City. Shortly thereafter he found himself in Philadelphia, working in the publishing and journalism fields. Eventually he relocated to Cincinnati, with the intention of saving enough money to explore the Amazon by way of New Orleans. His method of travel was to be the fateful steamboat, and while contemplating his future, he discovered his deep internal connection with the Mississippi river. Suddenly, he knew he had to learn how to pilot steamboats, and the urge proved stronger than anything he had known before(3).

Some years later after he had begun his writing career , Sam realized he needed a pen name for the more comedic and fantastic columns he was writing. This was especially necessary since he had been dispatched to Carson City to report the activities of the Nevada legislature. He searched his memory for the proper association and remembered those halcyon river days. As his pen name, he chose a bit of the lingo, relating to the periodic measurement of the distance between the bottom of the steamboat and the riverbed. When the leadsman detected a depth of only twelve feet, he would sound the alert: “By the maaa-ark, twain!” While working in Carson City he met his mentor, the popular humorist Artemus Ward, who recognized Clemens’s talent and encouraged him to write “as much as possible.” Mark Twain did precisely that. Clemens married, and his finely tuned abilities earned him international renown as a writer, lecturer and traveler. Along the way he composed some the best-loved and most widely known literature of the 19th century America. As the chancellor of Oxford University told an aged Clemens in 1907: “Most amiable and charming sir, you shake the sides of the whole world with your merriment.”

Mark Twain spent the remaining three years completing his official autobiography, concluding with the death of his beloved wife. Four months later, on the evening of April 10, 1910, he flipped through a book and bade his doctor goodbye when he drifted into eternal slumber(4).

Twain’s role in the Civil War was brief, but it affected Twain very much. Mark Twain enlisted in the Confederate army but quit after only two weeks. In search of a new career, Mark headed west in July of 1861, at the invitation of his brother, Orion, who had just been appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory. Lured by the infectious hope of striking it rich in Nevada’s silver rush, Sam traveled across the open frontier from Missouri to Nevada by stagecoach. Along the journey Mark encountered Native American tribes from the first time as well as a variety of unique characters, mishaps and disappointments. These events would find a way into his short stories and books(“Samuel Clemens” 2).

The South after the Civil War never really accepted Twain’s writing styles and views. Mark Twain was viewed as a Southern humorist gone over, not just a deserter, a dissenter, but a literary scalawag, a Southern writer in Unionist discourse and narrative. To enter the cultural debate over the remembrance and meaning of the Civil War, to ponder the responsibility of the South for the Civil War, Mark Twain had bravely came forward and admitted he had no right to speak about such matters(Schmitz, Bloom 91). He had spent the Civil War in Nevada as a sometime employee of the federal government, most of the time advancing his career as a comic journalist. As early as 1877, in the Putman Phalanx Dinner Speech delivered in Hartford, Mark Twain had begun to address, humorously, at once the painful issue of his desertion and the present problem of his right to speak about the Civil War(92).

I did not assemble at the hotel parlors today to be received by a committee as a mere civilian guest; no, I assembled at the headquarters of the Putnam Phalanx, and insisted upon my right to be escorted to this place as one of the military guests. For I, too, am a soldier! I am inured to war. I have a military history(94).

As late as 1954, the New South was still warily regarding Mark Twain. “Mark Twain had been out of touch with Southern life so long that like many Northern travelers and historians, he had come to look for some simple formula which would explain the many differences between the two sections(93).”

The deeper layers of Mark Twain’s personality expressed themselves, his presence was notably masculine. To genteel society he brought free drinking and smoking; to morality he added humor; to sentiment, burlesque; to seriousness, play. While occupying New



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