Today In History: Mark Twain Is Born
Today in 1835, celebrated author and orator Mark Twain is born in Florida, Missouri.
Twain, real name Samuel Clemens, got his first professional writing job in 1857, writing travel letters. In the midst of this project, Clemens decided to apprentice himself to a steamboat pilot. Two years later, at age 23, Clemens received his steamboat pilot’s license.
He remained a pilot for two years, during which time he developed his “Mark Twain” pen name. The name refers to the practice of using a rope to check the depth of the river. When the Civil War stopped steamboat operations, Clemens took up writing again. Now using his pen name, he authored travel letters for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise.
Twain moved to San Francisco in 1864, where he worked as a journalist. It was here that he made his first major headway into public renown, with his piece The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.
Twain continued tot ravel and write. First to Hawaii, then to California and New York. He eventually settled in Hartford, Connecticut.
Tom Sawyer was published in 1875. It is still considered a classic, but has been vastly overshadowed in prestige by the follow-up novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was published in 1885. Huckleberry Finn is still considered Twain’s masterpiece, and one of the great works of American literature.
Like many authors we now take for granted as canon, Twain struggled financially, even in the midst of his literary prestige. A series of poor investments left his nearly destitute. He climbed out of the hole by publishing more novels and by embarking on a tour of public speaking engagements. Those pieces of oration are considered by some to be history’s first instances of stand-up comedy.
Twain moved to Italy in 1903. Shortly thereafter, his wife passed away, leaving him despondent. His writing assumed a more macabre tone, until Twain died in 1910.