Mark Twain Biography | Twain's children
Mark Twain is one of America's truly unique and defining
personalities. His ability to tap into American culture and humor
gave him an invaluable insight in his writings and speeches.
Known for his realism, memorable characters, bluntness and hatred
of hypocrisy and oppression, Twain is definitely one of the most
recognizable figures in American history.
Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorn Clemens on Nov. 30, 1835, in
Florida, Mo. His parents John Marshall Clemens and Jane Lampton's
families were originally from Virginia, and the couple had made
four moves westward prior to Sam's birth. Sam was the couples'
sixth child and in 1839, the family moved to nearby Hannibal, Mo.
It was in this small river town that Clemens would spend his
During this crucial time in his life, Clemens developed a strong
tie to the Mississippi River, along which Hannibal is located.
Steamboats landed at the town three times a day, and these river
chariots captured Clemens' imagination as he dreamed of one day
becoming a steamboat captain.
Despite Clemens' love for the river, his first job was not on the
mighty Mississippi, but as a printer's apprentice to Joseph
Ament, who published the Missouri Courier. Clemens would take the
job in 1848, a year after his fathers death. In 1851, he began
setting type for and contributing sketches to his brother Orion's
Hannibal Journal. During the next two years, he continued at the
Journal and would take over as editor in Orion's absence. Clemens
even got a few of his sketches published in the Philadelphia
Saturday Evening Post in 1852.
Clemens left Hannibal in 1853, but would not completely cut his
ties with his hometown. While working as a printer in New York
City and Philadelphia, he had travel letters published in the
Hannibal Journal. He would return to the Midwest in 1854, at age
19, and spent the next four years living in several cities in the
One of the cities was Keokuk, Iowa, where he would reunite with
his brother Orion to work on Orion's new paper, the Keokuk
In 1857, Clemens was 21 years old and looking for new adventures.
He headed to New Orleans, where he hoped to find passage on a
ship to South America. While there, he met steamboat pilot Horace
Bixby and was able to persuade Bixby to accept him as an
apprentice for a fee of $500. Clemens would spend the next two
years as a cub pilot, and would receive his pilot's license in
Clemens' steamboat pilot career was short-lived. With the
outbreak of the Civil war in April 1861, all traffic on the river
was halted. Clemens joined a volunteer militia group called the
Marion Rangers. The group would drill for two weeks before
In the summer of 1861, Orion Clemens had been appointed by
President Abraham Lincoln as secretary of Nevada, and Orion
appointed Sam as his secretary. The two would head west together
to the Nevada Territory by stagecoach. When Clemens arrived in
Nevada he became enthralled with making his fortune by mining.
Prospectors had come from around the country to try their hand at
mining gold and silver.
Clemens traveled all around the territory trying to strike it
rich. The Comstock Lode discovery in 1858, one of the largest
metal deposits in the world, showed that there were precious
metals around, but Clemens was unable to find it. Clemens never
did strike it rich, and was forced to work in a quartz mill to
To help supplement his income, Clemens contributed humorous
letters to the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, and in 1862
he became a reporter for the paper. He was paid $25 a week and
wrote on a wide variety of topics, from the territorial
legislature to humorous pieces as well.
In 1863 he began signing his articles with the pseudonym Mark
Twain, a Mississippi River phrase meaning "two fathoms deep."
Clemens and his new name would move to San Francisco in 1864, to
apparently avoid antiduelling laws after challenging a rival
editor to fight.
Twain worked for the Call, a local paper, in San Fransico, as a
reporter and was the Pacific correspondent for the Territorial
Enterprise. Twain worked for a variety of publications over the
next few years and met American writers Artemus Ward and Bret
Harte, who would encourage and help him in his writings. In 1865
Twain rewrote a tale he had heard in the California gold
The story was "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,"
and told of a contest gone bad when one frog was filled with lead
shot so he couldn't jump. Twain's short story become a national
sensation and within months the writer was know around the
Twain stayed in San Francisco for four years. In 1866 he took a
four-month trip to Hawaii to act as a correspondent for the
Sacramento Union. He wrote a series of letters during his trip
known as the "Sandwich Islands" letters. Upon his return, Twain,
now 30, arranged his first lecture tour.
The tour lasted two months as Twain made stops in northern
California and western Nevada. It was the start of a big part of
Twain's life. For the rest of his life he would be world renowned
for his speeches and lectures.
In 1867 Twain lectured in New York City, and in the same year he
visited Europe and Palestine. Taking from his own experiences
from these trips, Twain wrote "The Innocents Abroad" (1869). The
book was a humorous look at aspects of European culture that
impressed American tourists.
The book was a great success, but a bigger personal success
awaited Twain. In 1869, he met Olivia (Livy) Langdon, the sister
of an old friend. Twain, now 33, traveled back to California for
a lecture tour and he continued to publish several sketches in a
wide verity of publications. The same year he also began to
secretly court Livy.
The two married in 1870. Livy, 25, and Twain, 35, began living in
Buffalo, New York. They stayed there briefly and then moved to
Hartford, Connecticut. The marriage marked a dramatic turn in
Twain's life. His life became more stable but still very active.
He continued to write columns for many publications and was
editor for the Buffalo Express while in New York.
In the decade to come, Twain wrote his most well-known books.
During this period in 1870, however, tragedy struck the young
couple. First Livy's father died; then her close friend died
while staying with the Clemenses; finally, their first child,
Langdon, was born premature, and lived only two years in a sickly
The situation stabilized the following year, when Twain rented a
house in Hartford's upper class Nook Farm. He published "Roughing
It", continued on lecture tours throughout the country, bought a
parcel of land in Nook Farm to build a house and visited England
for the first time. In March 1872 the Clemens family grew by one
when Susy Clemens was born.
During the next 20 years Twain's family and fame would both grow.
Twain wrote his most recognized books from his home in Hartford
or at Quarry Farm, near Elmira, New York. "Roughing It" (1872)
recounts his early adventures as a miner and journalist; "The
Gilded Age" (1874) his first non-fiction book; "The Adventures of
Tom Sawyer" (1876) celebrates boyhood in a small Mississippi
River town; "A Tramp Abroad" (1880) describes Twains adventures
through Germany and the Alps; "The Prince and the Pauper" (1882),
a children's book; "Life on the Mississippi" (1883) Twain's
recollections of his experiences as a river boat pilot and his
memories of a visit back to the area more than two decades later;
"A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" (1889) a satirical
look at feudal England.
In June 1874, Twain's second daughter, Clara, was born. His and
Livy's third and final child, Jean, was born in 1880. Twain was
now settled into his home in Hartford and as he wrote his great
novels he also continued to lecture and write sketches for area
Many of Twain's works during this period were tied to his
childhood experiences in Hannibal. "Life of the Mississippi",
"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and his most famous book "The
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (1884).
Huck Finn, the sequel to Tom Sawyer, is considered Twain's
masterpiece. The book is the story of Huck Finn, a boy who flees
his father by rafting down the Mississippi River. He is
accompanied on his journey by a runaway slave named Jim. The book
portrays many of the evils that are present in men and women, as
well as integral conflict and a sense of ethics as Huck battles
between breaking the law and helping Jim escape. The book is full
of authentic language and insight into the culture of the
pre-civil war South.
The same year that Huck Finn was published, Twain formed the firm
Charles L. Webster & Company. The company published Twain's works
and that of other writers, including American general and
president Ulysses S. Grant. The company suffered a critical blow
after a disastrous investment in an automatic typesetting
machine. Twain's company filed for bankruptcy in 1894 and left
Twain in considerable debt.
Twain's financial problems caused him to move his family to
Europe in 1891. For most of the decade, the family lived in
various countries throughout Europe, including France, Germany,
Italy and Switzerland.
Even through these tumultuous times, Twain continued to write and
lecture. He used a worldwide lecture tour and the book based on
those travels, "Following the Equator" (1897), to pay off his
debts. He also revived help from Standard Oil executive Henry
Rogers. Twain payed off all of his debt by 1898.
Before he was able to rid himself of his financial troubles, a
tragedy befell him and his family. While on the lecture tour that
payed off his debt, his oldest daughter Susy contracted
meningitis in 1896 and would die in August, in Hartford.
The death of his daughter and his business failure greatly
effected Twain. During the latter part of his life Twain would
become very pessimistic and bitter.
Twain's later works included "Pudd'nhead Wilson" (1894),
"Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc" (1896), and short stories
"The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg" (1899) and "The War Prayer"
At the turn of the century, Twain spent most of his time in New
York City lecturing and taking an active role in the city's
social scene. He received an honorary degree in 1901 from Yale
University and from the University of Missouri in 1902.
Tragedy again crept into Twain's life during 1903, when Livy
became seriously ill. She moved to Florence, Italy later that
year after being advised by her doctor to head to a warmer
climate. Twain remained in the U.S. and did not see Livy much in
the last year of her life. She died in June 1904, in Florence.
After Livy's death, Twain spent most of his time in New York
City. He continued to write and make public speeches. He was by
this time a national hero and he used his recognition to speak
out against injustice and intollerence. Clemens received another
honorary degree in 1907, this one from Oxford University.
Twain's most notable writings during the final years of his life
were "Extracts From Adam's Diary" (1904), "Eve's Diary" (1906),
"What is Man?" (1906), "Chapters From My Autobiography"
(1906/07), and "Letters From the Earth" (1909).
In his final years, Clemens lived in Redding, Conn., in a home he
called Stormfield. Clemens moved into Stormfield in 1908, his
The house would not bring Clemens luck, however. His youngest
daughter, Jean, developed epilepsy in the late 1890s, and on
Christmas Eve 1909, she died of a seizure at Stormfield. Clemens
was decimated by the passing of Jean. He grieved by writing about
her passing. "The Death of Jean" would be his last substantial
writing. The piece culminated his grief about Jean's death as
well as that of his wife, son and daughter Susy. Once completed,
Twain vowed to never write again.
Twain's health would fail him after Jean's death. In January of
1910, he went to Bermuda because of his health, but after it
appeared his health wasn't improving he returned to Stormfield
where he sank into a coma on April 21, 1910. That night his heart
failed and he died in his bed. A large funeral procession was
held in New York City two days later, and a service was at the
Presbyterian Brick Church. Samuel Clemens died at age 74 and was
buried next to his wife and children at Woodlawn Cemetery, in
At the same time of Twain's death, Halley's Comet reappeared in
the April skies. The last time the comet had appeared was in
November 1835, the time of Twain's birth. Twain often said the he
would "go out with the comet." Remarkably, his prediction came
Twain's life and works were defined by America. His experiences
from growing up in Hannibal to life in the West gave him insight
into America's conscience and allowed him to write and depict the
American experience very accurately. He was known and respected
throughout the world as a humorist during his life, and since his
death, his reputation has only grown. Today, Mark Twain is known
as a great writer as well as a humorist and American icon.
For a list of the top books on Mark Twain, click here.