The mere chronology of Mark's life is soon told. Like most dwellers in the imagination, his significance to posterity lies not, as with men of action in how he wrought upon events but rather in how events wrought upon him; for from such reactions resulted his imaginative output,--one of the most considerable of his time and, as it now seems, one of the securest.
Briefly, then, Mark Twain was born, Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Mo., on Nov. 30, 1855. "my parents," he writes, in his own Burlesque Autobiography, "were neither very poor nor conspicuously honest * * * The earliest ancestor the Twains have any record of was a friend of the family by the name of Higgins." The county chronicles have it that the elder Clemens failed in business and died, leaving his son the ample world to make his fortune in.
Accordingly, Mark Twain's acquaintance with literature began in putting words into type, not ideas into words. Educated only in the public schools, he was apprenticed to a printer at fourteen and worked at his trade in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and New York, until at eighteen he could gratify a boyish ambition to become cub to a Mississippi River pilot. Both these disparate happenings reacted profoundly on his later life. Varied and eventful as that life was, it might almost he said that only two things happened to Mark Twain--he learned the river and he learned to set type.
Twain as a Pilot
His knowledge of river life, acquired when he was a pilot, took form in Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Life on the Mississippi, regarded abroad as his surest title to fame. It even suggested his pseudonym, for "Mark Twain" is a linesman's cry to the pilot in shallow stages. And his familiarity with printing turned him naturally first into newspaper work, then into creative writing, and finally into the publishing business, wherein, like Sir Walter Scott, he suffered a bankruptcy disastrous to everything but his nonor, and like Sir Walter again, paid off by his pen debts not of his own making.
In due time Mark Twain became a full fledged pilot. He tells the rest himself, in a chapter of Life on the Mississippi.
"By and by war came, commerce was suspended, my occupation was gone.
"I had to seek another livelihood. So I became a silver miner, in Nevada; next, a gold miner, in California; next, a reporter in San Francisco; next, a special correspondent on the Sandwich Islands; next, a roving correspondent in Europe and the East; next an instrumental torchbearer on the lecture platform; and, finally, I became a scribbler of books, and an immovable fixture among the other rocks of New England."
Writings In Demand.
This was in 1872, two years after he had married Miss Olivia L. Langdon, of Elmira, N.Y., who brought him an independent fortune. At that time, his writings were in growing demand, he had an assured income, his own home, and seemed indeed a fixture. But in 1885 his popularity as an author and his acquaintance with the mechanics of the publishing trade--besides being a practical printer he had been part owner of the Buffalo Express before his marriage--drew him into the firm of C. L. Webster & Company, publishers. The firm brought out the memories of General Grant and paid his widow $350,000, but its prosperity was short lived, and it failed with liabilites of $96,000. The failure had already sucked in $65,000 of Mark Twain's cash, but he determined also to shoulder the debts, and to pay them off undertook in 1895-6 a lecture trip around the world.
Mark Twain was an inveterate smoker and one of the most leisurely men in the world. An old pressman who was once printer's devil in an office where Mark was editorial writer tells this anecdote of his habits of work. "One of my duties was to sweep the room where editors worked. Every day mark would give me a nickel to get away from him. He would rather die in the dust than uncross his legs. One day he gave me a nickel to dot an (text missing) in his copy for him. He certainly did enjoy life, that man did."
Pays Off Debts.
Yet this easy going dawdler acquitted himself of a prodigious deal of work in his life, and bound himself voluntarily to pay off debts that he could have discharged without hurt to his good name by passing through bankruptcy. He did not practice as he preached. "It don't make no difference," he had Huck Finn say, "whether you do right or wrong, a person's conscience ain't got no sense, and just goes for him anyway. If I had a yaller dog that didn't know no more than a person's conscience did, I'd poison him. It takes up more room than all the rest of a person's insides, and yet ain't no good nohow."
With Mark Twain's lecture trip around the world began his international celebrity, and his gradual rise into a figure taken in some sense to typify the American spirit. From humorist he became the kindly but mocking moralist and philosopher of Puddinhead Wilson. His literary output became more occasional and, though written with more finesse, more artificial and less creative. His public appearances grew more frequent, his whimsical utterances gained greater currency, and a whole literature of anecdotes about him grew up.
Yale gave him the degree of M. A. and later L. H. D. in 1901, the University of Missouri, his native state, followed with L. L. D. in 1902, and in 1907 the University of Oxford with great ceremony made him Litt. D.
Indeed, serious appreciation of Mark Twain as an artist and not a mere jokesmith began abroad, but his true worth has long been recognized in this country. "Mark Twain's humor," said William Dean Howells, "will live for ever. He portrays and interprets real types, not only with exquisite appreciation and sympathy, but with a force and truth of drawing that makes them permanent. He had the true humorist's tender heart and deep seriousness. Like Bret Harte, with whom he worked, like the great West that bred him, his most audacious sallies were terse and sternly grave. As a moralist, love of humanity, hatred of sham, and the sense of duty informed his most ironic and debonair preachments."
Four children were born to Mark Twain, of whom two, a son and a daughter, died early. One other daughter, Jean, who had been an invalid for life, was found dead in her bath tub last fall in her home at Redding, Connecticut. Her tragic death greatly saddened her father who declined in health from that moment. A third daughter, Clara, is Mrs. Ossip Gabrilowitch, wife of the pianist, whom she married last year.
Mark Twain's first book was the Jumping Frog. His best know in this country was possibly Innocents Abroad. His surest title to fame is generally believed to be Tom Sawyer and its companion volume, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I nall, his books had a sale of more than 500,000 copies and were translated into six languages. Others among the better know are: A Tramp Abroad, The Prince and the Pauper, A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur, Puddinhead Wilson, (dramatized), Joan of Arc, A Double barrelled Detective Story and Eve's Diary. He left an unfinished autobiography, portions of which appeared serially.
GAINED LASTING IMPRESSIONS HERE
Mr. Clemens' father, called by courtesy "judge," was a man of education and social importance as those things were estimated in the frontier in the early part of the last century. When the elder Clemens moved to Florida, five years before the birth of Samuel, he believed that the site could be made of great commercial importance in the rapidly growing western trade because the branches of the Salt river, in the fork of which the town lay, were navigable to that point from the Mississippi and could be made navigable much higher up. His failure to induce Congress or individuals to improve the river discouraged the older Clemens and in 1838 he moved to Hannibal, Mo., a flourishing town on the Mississippi about 125 miles above St. Louise. There young Clemens learned to know and love the river which has so frequently and prominently appeared in his stories.
Learned Printer's Trade
Judge Clemens built in Hannibal its first two-story house, and bought for his daughter the first plano seen in the little town. Young Sam was sent to the village school, and in vacation was not put to work, but allowed to explore the glens, cliffs, islands, caves and marshy shores of the Mississippi, explorations which disclosed mysteries and beauties he made the world familiar with in "Tom Sawyer."
At 14 years of age Samuel went into the composing room to learn the printers' trade, and he learned fast, soon becoming an expert compositor. Also in the absence of the editor he set up and smuggled into the forms some of his own writings. Before he was 16 he had worked in the compositing rooms of newpapers in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and New York.
In 1851 he returned to Hannibal, determined to become a pilot. In 1857 he was able to satisfy a master pilot of his ability to pay the $500 fee, and two years later he had a pilot's licenses, his first boat being the Alonzo Child, under Capt. De Haven.
Enlists in Army.
In 1861, he enlisted in the Confederate Army of Gen. Sterling Price, but after a few months he returned to St. Louis to join his brother Orrin, who has been appointed secretary of the Territory of Nevada, and went with his brother as his clerk Carson City.
A rush to the gold fields of the Sierra Nevada caught young Clemens, and he began inspecting. He made no discoveries of importance in mining, but he made many acquaintances with stage drivers, gamblers and "bad" men, all of whom appear in "Roughing It."
After a year of this he went to Virginia city and became one of the editors of the Enterprise, a morning newspaper. His amusing experiences here are set forth in one of his works containing "The Jumping Frog" and other sketches. Clemens soon began to sign some of his broadly humorous matter, and soon articles began to appear in the Enterprise over the name "Mark Twain," and these were widely copied by the papers of the coast.
The San Francisco Call made an offer to the writer of the Mark Twain stories and Clemens in 1885 went on the Call staff, but he remained there only six months, for the mining camp called him again. In Calaveras county, Cal., he found little gold dust, but he did find material for stories which gave him his first fame east of the Rockies, the stories in the book "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."
Goes to Sandwich Islands.
In 1866 Clemens went to the Sandwich Islands and wrote from there some sketches for the Sacramento Union, which sketches were the basis for his first lectures delivered in San Francisco after his return from Honolulu.
In the following year the stories of the "Jumping Frog" book were published and Mark Twain became know in the Eastern States as a writer of exaggerated humor. Later some newspaper editors selected Mr. Clemens to go with a party of tourists on a journey abroad and write for his employers what would now be called a "syndicate" letter. This trip resulted (1869) in the publication of "Innocents Abroad." The success of this book made Twain famous in both this country and Europe.
On his return from Europe he became editor of the Buffalo Express. He remained in Buffalo two years, marrying there Miss Olivia Langdon, whom he had met on the ocean voyage.
Mr. Clemens then went to Hartford, Conn., to live, and out of material gained in the Sierra Nevada Mountains he wrote "Roughing It." This established his reputation as a story teller and humorist. Editors and publishers on both sides of the ocean clamored for his work. Contributing frequently for magazines, he wrote in the following year colaberationg with Charles Dudley Warner, the "Gilded Fool," which was soon successfully dramatized. Next came from his pen what many American and nearly all English critics consider his best work of fiction, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" (1876.)