On this day in 1835 the author, inventor, investor, steamboat captain, social rights advocate and adventurer Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri. Better known by his pen name Mark Twain he is still famous today for his wit, boldness and mustache. He has become an American icon and the inspiration for countless documentaries, impersonators, and works of fiction.
In his twenties Twain worked as a river boat captain along the Mississippi and in doing so made a good living. However, with the coming of the Civil War travel along the river slowed and Twain headed west with a brother. He traveled in a stage coach for weeks seeing the Rockies, Great Plains and surrounding area. Both his experience of the untamed west and the time spent on the river had an undeniable influence on his writings and his vision of and for America.
An unusually prolific author he published over 60 works between 1867 and his death in 1910. Some of the most famous include:
- Roughing It (1872)
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)
- The Prince and the Pauper (1882)
- Life on the Mississippi (1883)
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)
Twain was especially gifted in the blending of humor and social commentary into the same work creating something that was both entertaining and enlightening. He believed “against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” Always outspoken he was a staunch supporter of the abolition, emancipation, and Women’s Suffrage. Moving within the liberal circles of 19th century American Twain came into contract with other activists and philanthropists of the time including Henry H. Rogers and Helen Keller.
Mark Twain was a gifted and free-thinking American who believed in justice and honesty. Often called “the father of American literature” his pioneering interest in the American identity has undoubtedly shaped how we see ourselves today. Through some of his most famous works, such as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (December 1884), Twain explored what are today considered quintessentially American concepts such as freedom, adventure and the great outdoors.
A longtime supporter of parapsychology research, there are those who believe Twain predicted his own death. In 1909 he wrote:
I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.
On April 20, 1910 one day after Halley’s Comet brushed Earth Samuel Langhorne Clemens died in Redding, Connecticut of a heart attack.
Mark Twain Quotes:
“A man's character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.”
“A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read.”
“All generalizations are false, including this one.”
“If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.
“It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.
”Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
—Miranda Metcalf, American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library Fall intern
Image source: McClure's Magazine, June 1896, from AA/PG Library Vertical File Collection