Samuel Clemens “Mark Twain”


“I am a border ruffian from the State of Missouri. I am a Connecticut Yankee by adoption. In me you have Missouri morals, Connecticut culture; this, gentlemen, is the combination which makes the perfect man.”
—Mark Twain

“Familiarity Breeds Contempt—and children.”
—Mark Twain

“Hannibal has had a hard time of it ever since I can recollect, and I was ‘raised’ there. First, it had me for a citizen, but I was too young then to really hurt the place.”
—Mark Twain

Mark Twain is one of the most famous literary names in American history and Samuel Clemens’s penname is synonymous with river life in Missouri. He was one of the greatest thinkers, humorists, and writers this country has ever seen and was one of the biggest celebrities of his day. His stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn have stood the test of time and still entertain readers a century after his death.

Location of Hannibal in MissouriTHE EARLY YEARS

Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri, on November 30, 1835. He was raised in the river town of Hannibal, where he developed a deeplove and respect for the Mississippi River.  His father was a speculator, a profession that forced the family to deal with dramatic reversals in fortune on a constant basis. The worst of all came when John Clemens died when Samuel was only ten, leaving the family with a pile of debt. This forced the young Clemens prematurely into the workforce where he held jobs as an apprentice for a printer and as a newspaperman. Despite his ability and success as a young writer, he had to put that career on hold to follow his true love, the Mississippi River.


Clemens loved being on the river and quickly earned his riverboat pilot’s license where he worked until the outbreak of the Civil War. Clemens then headed off to the Nevada Territory and landed a job as an editor at a local newspaper in Virginia City. It was there that he took the name of Mark Twain at age twenty-seven, setting the stage for literary stardom.


After his early brush with success at the newspaper, Twain took more time to travel, moving around until he met and married Olivia Langdon in 1870. The couple moved to Buffalo, New York, and eventually to Connecticut where his newfound fame and wealth as a writer allowed him to build a lavish home where he and his family would spend the next twenty years. He continued working as a writer, while also winning over live audiences with his increasingly popular public speeches. He soon was spending a great deal of time traveling and lecturing both in America and in Europe. But between 1876 and 1885, he reached his highest level of success with the release of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, Life on the Mississippi, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Soon after that career pinnacle, the mistakes of his father and other childhood tragedies began to surface in his own life. He lost much of his wealth in bad business deals and financial speculation, which forced the family to vacate the home that he loved and move to smaller dwellings in Europe. Soon thereafter came a threefold tragedy: His oldest daughter died while Twain was on a sixteen-month worldwide speaking tour, his youngest daughter was found to have an incurable illness, and his wife began to suffer health problems as well.

The stress of his lost fortune, along with the family tragedies were beginning to take a toll on him. Clemens moved back and forth between America and Europe during the ensuing years, vowing to pay back all of his debts. He continued writing and gaving speeches until his death in 1910. Despite his reversal in fortune later in life, Americans will forever remember him as one of our country’s pride and joys, while Missourians will always remember him as one of our own.


*Mark Twain is river talk for “Two Fathoms Deep.”

*Clemens wrote under the name Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass at the Keokuk Post.

*He received an honorary doctorate from Oxford University.



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