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Mark Twain 1835-1910

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Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain

1835-1910

Samuel Clemens was born on November 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri, the sixth of seven children. At the age of four, Sam and his family moved to the small frontier town of Hannibal, Missouri on the banks of the Mississippi River. Missouri, at the time, was a fairly new state (it had gained statehood in 1820) and comprised part of the country's western border. It was also a slave state. Sam's father owned one slave and his uncle owned several. In fact, it was on his uncle's farm that Sam spent many boyhood summers playing in the slave quarters, listening to tall tales and the slave spirituals that he would enjoy throughout his life.

In 1847, when Sam was 11, his father died. Shortly thereafter he left school, having completed the fifth grade, to work as a printer's apprentice for a local newspaper. His job was to arrange the type for each of the newspaper's stories, allowing Sam to read the news of the world while completing his work.

At 18, Sam headed east to New York City and Philadelphia where he worked on several different newspapers and found some success at writing articles. By 1857, he had returned home to embark on a new career as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, however, all traffic along the river came to a halt, as did Sam's pilot career. Inspired by the times, Sam joined a volunteer Confederate unit called the Marion Rangers, but he quit after just two weeks.

In search of a new career, Sam 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 Sam encountered Native American tribes for 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, particularly Roughing It.

After failing as a silver prospector, Sam began writing for the Territorial Enterprise, a Virginia City, Nevada newspaper where he used, for the first time, his pen name, Mark Twain. Wanting a change by 1864, Sam headed for San Francisco where he continued to write for local papers.

In 1865, Sam's first "big break" came with the publication of his short story, "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" in papers across the country. A year later, Sam was hired by the Sacramento Union to visit and report on the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii). His writings were so popular that, upon his return, he embarked upon his first lecture tour, which established him as a successful stage performer.

Hired by the Alta California to continue his travel writing from the east, Sam arrived in New York City in 1867. He quickly signed up for a steamship tour of Europe and the Holy Land. His travel letters, full of vivid descriptions and tongue-in-cheek observations, met with such audience approval that they were later reworked into his first book, The Innocents Abroad in 1869. It was also on this trip that Clemens met his future brother-in-law, Charles Langdon. Langdon reportedly showed Sam a picture of his sister, Olivia, and Sam fell in love at first sight.

After courting for two years, Sam Clemens and Olivia (Livy) Langdon were married in 1870. They settled in Buffalo, New York where Sam had become a partner, editor and writer for the daily newspaper the Buffalo Express. While living in Buffalo, their first child, Langdon Clemens was born.

In an effort to be closer to his publisher, Sam moved his family to Hartford, Connecticut in 1871. For the first few years the Clemenses rented a house in the heart of Nook Farm, a residential area that was home to numerous writers, publishers and other prominent figures. In 1872, Sam's recollections and tall tales from his frontier adventures were published in his book, Roughing It. That same year the Clemenses' first daughter Susy was born, but their son, Langdon, died at the age of two from diphtheria.

In 1873, Sam's focus turned toward social criticism. He and Hartford Courant publisher Charles Dudley Warner co-wrote The Gilded Age, a novel that attacked political corruption, big business and the American obsession with getting rich that seemed to dominate the era. Ironically, a year after its publication, the Clemenses' elaborate, $40,000. 19-room house on Farmington Avenue was completed.

For the next 17 years (1874-1891), Sam, Livy and their three daughters (Clara was born in 1874 and Jean in 1880) lived in the Hartford home. During those years Sam completed some of his most famous works. Novels such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Life on the Mississippi (1883) captured both his Missouri memories and depictions of the American scene. Yet, his social commentary continued. The Prince and the Pauper (1881) explored class relations as does A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) which, going a step further, criticized oppression in general while examining the period's technology explosion. And, in perhaps his most famous work, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) Clemens satirized the institution of slavery and railed against the failures of Reconstruction and the continued poor

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