Samuel Langhorne Clemens known as Mark Twain 1835-1910 One of the greatest American writers: humorist, essayist, novelist and adventurer

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Samuel Langhorne Clemens known as Mark Twain 1835-1910

One of the greatest American writers: humorist, essayist, novelist and adventurer

Early Years Along the River

  • Born November 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri
  • Parents John M. and Jane L. Clemens
  • 6th of 7 children

Early Years Along the River

  • Moved to Hannibal, Missouri in 1839 near the Mississippi River
  • His father and uncle owned slaves;
  • Sam spent summers playing in the slave quarters on his uncle’s farm.
  • Grew up playing and exploring along the river
  • Makeshift rafts, playing in the woods and caves, watching steamboats, enjoying the swimming holes

Early Years Along the River

  • Father died in 1847 when Sam was 12, forcing him to quit school at 5th grade and start working.

Career in Journalism

  • 1847 Sam worked as a printer’s apprentice for the Hannibal Courier.
  • 1850 worked for his older brother Orion as a reporter and a printer at the Hannibal Journal.
  • He ran the paper if his brother was away.
  • 1851 “A Gallant Fireman” Sam’s short humorous account of a grocery fire is published.

Writing and Traveling

  • Continued working for newspapers in New York City and Philadelphia
  • Traveled and lectured
  • In 1857 he returned home to be an apprentice riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River
  • Brother Henry died in riverboat accident


  • 1859 earned his steamboat pilot’s license and worked steadily as a river pilot between New Orleans and St. Louis.

Civil War 1861-1865

  • 1861 Mississippi River closed due to the Civil War.
  • Sam’s piloting career ends.
  • He joined a volunteer group of Confederate “irregulars” for a few weeks;
  • Then headed West in search of a new career in prospecting.

Out West

  • Brother Orion was Secretary of Nevada Territory
  • Sam traveled by stage coach from Missouri to Nevada in hopes of getting rich in silver prospecting
  • Encountered Native American tribes for the first time, as well as a variety of unique characters and mishaps

Big Break

  • 1863 Began writing for the Territorial Enterprise in Nevada.
  • Published “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” -- a retelling of a tall tale he picked up from the miners.

“Mark Twain”

  • In 1863, Sam adopted his pen name “Mark Twain”
  • An important part of being a riverboat pilot is knowing the waters -- depths, snags, mud, reefs. To “mark twain” is to sound the depths and deem them safe to passage.
  • Means two fathoms, or twelve feet -- safe water for the steamship.

More than anything, Mark Twain loved the river.

Writing and Traveling

  • He traveled to many cities and wrote for for numerous publications. While traveling he met abolitionist writers Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe, as well as British writer Charles Dickens.
  • He also traveled extensively in Europe, Hawaii and the Holy Land.
  • He published Innocents Abroad about his travels 1869.

Attitude on Slavery

  • Twain wrote that when he was a child he “had no aversion to slavery” and was “not aware that there was anything wrong about it,” which is just like his character, Huck.
  • An abolitionist was considered “low-down,” as Huck would call it, and young Sam would never have wanted to be insulted by that name.

Transformation of Conscience

  • By 1876, however, he questioned the racism he grew up with.
  • He later learned that his own father, John Marshall Clemens, had served on a jury that sent “slave-stealers” to the state penitentiary.
  • At the same time, his father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, had been funding “slave-stealers’” activities.


  • Published an anti-lynching editorial in the Buffalo Express.
  • Influenced by Frederick Douglass, Paul Laurence Dunbar and other writings by former slaves.
  • Wrote an editorial against the persecution of the Chinese in San Francisco “Disgraceful Persecution of a Boy
  • Ambition
  • Illustration from “Life on the Mississippi”

Huckleberry Finn 1884

  • He wrote the first 11 chapters of Huck Finn in one summer in 1876. He then struggled and spent many years writing the rest.
  • He wrote other works during that time, including Life on the Mississippi published in1883
  • Huck Finn was published in 1884.

Huckleberry Finn 1884

  • "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”
  • - Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa

Attitude on Racism

  • By the time he finished Huck Finn, Sam not only believed that slavery was wrong, but also that whites owed some sort of back pay.
  • He wrote a letter to the Dean of the Yale Law School in 1885
  • He paid the expenses of Warner McGuinn, one of the first black law students at Yale.
  • “We have ground the manhood out of them. The shame is ours, not theirs, and we should pay for it.” — Mark Twain wrote to Dean Wayland 1885

Famous Mark Twain Quotes

  • “Of all the creatures that were made he [man] is the most detestable.”
  • “Whenever I feel the urge to exercise I lie down until it goes away.”
  • “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.”

Famous Mark Twain Quotes

  • “Familiarity breeds contempt -- and children.”
  • “The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
  • “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Marriage and Family

  • On one of his trips to Europe and the Holy Land, Sam met Charles Langdon
  • Charles showed him a picture of his sister.
  • Sam and Olivia’s first date was to a reading by Charles Dickens in New York.
  • Sam married Olivia (Livy) Langdon in 1870. They settled in Buffalo, NY where he worked as a partner and writer for the Buffalo Express.

Olivia Langdon Clemens

Olivia Clemens 1845-1904

  • Olivia was the daughter of an affluent New York family.
  • Her father was an abolitionist.
  • She had poor health, suffering from tuberculosis of the spine between the ages of 14-20, and affecting her life.
  • Her inheritance, along with Sam’s earnings from his writing and lectures, allowed them somewhat of a lavish lifestyle.

Marriage and Family

  • Their first child, Langdon Clemens was born in Buffalo 1870.
  • Sam moved his family back to Connecticut to be closer to his publisher (1871).
  • 1873 Langdon died of diphtheria.
  • Mark Twain with two friends in 1871.

Marriage and Family

  • 1873 daughter Suzy was born.
  • 1874 daughter Clara was born.
  • 1880 daughter Jean was born.


  • The family lived in Hartford, CT
  • During these years, Sam completed some of his most famous works:
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1876
  • The Prince and the Pauper, 1881
  • Life on the Mississippi, 1883
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1884
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, 1889

Telephones and Typewriters

  • Mark Twain claimed to be the first in his town to own a telephone.
  • He also is credited with being the first to submit a typewritten manuscript to a publisher.
  • The first commercial typewriter was mounted on a sewing machine stand and typed in all capitals.

Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn

  • It is believed that while Mark Twain was writing Tom Sawyer, he wasn’t sure whether or not he was writing for children or adults.
  • With Huck Finn, it was clear -- he wrote for adults, but the narrator was an innocent child who had seen a lot of pain, death and suffering.
  • He modeled both boys after himself and boys he knew when he was growing up.
  • Tom Sawyer
  • and
  • Huck Finn

Bad Investments

  • Although he enjoyed some financial success during those years, he also made a bad investments, primarily in a new kind of typesetting machine, which eventually brought him to bankruptcy.

Europe and Tragedy

  • 1891 Sam and Livy moved their family to Europe in 1891 in order to economize and pay back debt
  • 1894 Publishing company failed and Sam embarked on a European Lecture Tour to earn money
  • 1896 Suzy (24 years old) died of meningitis while on a visit to Hartford

More Travels

  • 1891-1900 Clemens's traveled the world.
  • He saw lots of war, cruelty and Imperialistic countries exploiting weaker ones.
  • He was angry at what he saw.
  • He wrote Following the Equator

Returning to America

  • His finances were restored
  • 1900 returned to America
  • Vice President of the Anti-Imperialist League
  • Writings turned dark as Mark Twain questioned the greed and cruelty of the human race

More Tragedy

  • Daughter Suzy died of meningitis 1896
  • Livy, who was an invalid in the last years of her life, died in 1904
  • Jean, his youngest daughter, and many say “favorite” daugther, died in an epileptic seizure in 1909


  • At the age of 21, she accompanied her father on an around-the-world lecture tour 1895-96.
  • The following year, the family moved to Vienna so Clara could study piano. There, she met her future husband, classical Russian pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch.


  • She gave up piano for singing and performed in theaters in New York.
  • She moved with her family back to New York in 1900, but continued her long-distance romance.


  • She cared for her mother in her final years.
  • Had a nervous breakdown after her mother’s death and spent a year in sanitarium.


  • 1909 Clara and Ossip resumed their relationship and were married that year.
  • He died of cancer in 1939.
  • They had one daughter, Sam Clemen’s only heir, Nina.


  • Nina lived on a trust fund her mother set up for her and was supported by royalties from her grandfather’s writings.
  • Nina tried to make it as a photographer, but failed, and died of an drug overdose in L.A. in 1966 when she was 55 years old.
  • “I know now what the soldier feels when a bullet crashes through his heart.”
  • — Mark Twain after his daughter Jean’s death in 1909.

The End

  • “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835…. I expect to go out with it.”
  • Mark Twain died in 1910.


  • Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. (1995) PBS’s Huck Finn Teacher’s Guide.
  • MacDonnell, Kevin. (2005) Collecting Mark Twain: A History and Three New Paths. Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America.
  • Merriman C.D. (2006) Mark Twain.
  • The Mark Twain House (2004). Mark Twain: The Man.

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