Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Florida (Missouri), November 30, 1835 – Redding (Connecticut), April 21, 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American writer and humorist. Twain became best known for his novels The Fates of Tom Sawyer and The Fates of Huckleberry Finn, the latter in particular often being referred to as a Great American Novel.Twain enjoyed enormous popularity with the public. With his perspicacity and razor-sharp satire, he garnered praise from critics and colleagues alike. The American writer William Faulkner called Twain “the father of American literature.” His work is quoted extensively. During his lifetime, he was friends with many high-profile figures, including presidents, scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri on November 30, 1835, the son of John Marshall Clemens (August 11, 1798 – March 24, 1847), a rural Tennessee merchant, and Jane Lampton Clemens (June 18, 1803 – October 27, 1890). He was the sixth of seven children. Only three of his siblings survived childhood. His brother Orion lived from 1825 to 1897. His brother Henry (1838-1858) was killed in an explosion on a riverboat at the age of 19. His sister Pamela lived from 1827 to 1904. His sister Margaret (1830-1839) died when Twain was three and his brother Benjamin (1832-1842) died three years later. Another brother, Pleasant (1828-1829), died when he was only six months old. The parental home was moved to the Museum of Appalachia.
When Twain was four, the family moved to Hannibal, a port city on the Mississippi River that provided the inspiration for the fictional city of St. Petersburg in The Fates of Tom Sawyer and The Fates of Huckleberry Finn. At the time, Missouri was a slave state within the Union, and the young Twain became familiar with slavery, a theme he later expanded upon in his writing.
In March 1847, when Twain was 11, his father died of pneumonia. The following year he became an apprentice at a print shop. In 1851 he began work as a typesetter, writing articles and humorous stories for the Hannibal Journal, a newspaper owned by his brother Orion. When he was 18 he left Hannibal and he then worked as a printer in New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Cincinnati. He joined the union and developed himself at night in the public libraries, where he said he gained more knowledge than he would have done in a regular school. At twenty-two he returned to Missouri. During a trip to New Orleans, downriver on the Mississippi River, the pilot of the steamboat, Horace E. Bixby, excited Twain for a job as a steamboat pilot; this was a generously paid job with a fixed salary of $250 a month.
In order to dock at the hundreds of harbors and log yards along the riverbanks, a riverboat pilot had to have an extensive knowledge of the ever-changing river. Twain studied 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of the Mississippi for more than two years before earning his pilot”s license in 1859. While doing so, he persuaded his younger brother Henry to work with him. Henry was killed on June 21, 1858, when the steamboat on which he worked, the Pennsylvania, exploded. Twain had foreseen his death a month before in a lucid dream that sparked his interest in parapsychology; he was one of the first members of the Society for Psychical Research. Twain felt guilty about his brother”s death and felt responsible for it for the rest of his life. He continued to work on the river and served as a pilot until the American Civil War broke out in 1861 and traffic across the Mississippi was restricted.
Missouri was a slave state, considered by many to be part of the South, and participated in both the Confederate and Federal governments during the Civil War. Years later, Twain wrote the short story The Private History of a Campaign That Failed, in which he claimed that he and his friends had volunteered with the Confederacy for two weeks before disbanding their company. Twain joined his brother Orion, who had been appointed secretary to James W. Nye, the territorial governor of Nevada, and set his course for the West.
Twain and his brother traveled by stagecoach for more than two weeks across the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, visiting the Mormon community in Salt Lake City along the way. These experiences inspired him to write Roughing It (It”s Helping) and provided material for The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Twain”s journey ended in the silver mining town of Virginia City, Nevada, where he became a miner. He failed as a miner but found work at a Virginia City newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise. It was there that he first signed with the name “Mark Twain.” That name appeared on February 3, 1863, under a humorous travelogue titled “LETTER FROM CARSON – re: Joe Goodman; party at Gov. Johnson”s; music” (music).
Twain then traveled to San Francisco, where he continued his work as a journalist and began lecturing. The statement about the weather in San Francisco The coldest winter I experienced in my entire life was a summer in San Francisco is (unfairly) attributed to Mark Twain. He met writers such as Bret Harte, Artemus Ward and Dan DeQuille. An assignment in Hawaii became the basis for his first lectures. In 1867, a local newspaper funded a trip to the Mediterranean. While traveling through Europe and the Middle East, he wrote a popular collection of travel letters that were collected in 1869 as The Innocents Abroad.
Marriage and children
Twain met Charles Langdon, who showed him a photograph of his sister Olivia; Twain claimed it was love at first sight. In 1868, they became acquainted. They got engaged a year later and married in February 1870 in Elmira, New York. She came from a “wealthy but liberal family,” and through her he became acquainted with advocates of the abolition of slavery, “socialists, principled atheists, and campaigners for women”s rights and social equality,” including Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and the utopian socialist William Dean Howells.
The couple lived in Buffalo, New York from 1869 to 1871. Twain had a business interest in the Buffalo Express and worked as an editor and writer. Their son Langdon died of diphtheria when he was nineteen months.In 1871 Twain moved with his family to Hartford, Connecticut, where in 1873 he began building a house for them, which would be saved from demolition by local admirers in 1927 and eventually become a museum dedicated to him. There Olivia gave birth to three daughters, Susy (1872-1896), Clara (1874-1962) and Jean (1880-1909). Their marriage lasted 34 years, until Olivia”s death in 1904.
During his years in Hartford, Twain became friends with fellow writer William Dean Howells.
Later life and death
Twain made a second trip through Europe, described in the book A Tramp Abroad (A Foreign Footpath) published in 1880, including a visit to London where, in the summer of 1900, he was a guest of newspaper owner Hugh Gilzean-Reid at Dollis Hill House. From May 6 to July 23, 1878, he made an extended visit to Heidelberg, Germany. Twain wrote of Dollis Hill that he had “never seen a place so pleasantly situated, with its venerable trees and vast estates, with everything that could make life delightful, and all within throwing distance of the world metropolis.” He returned to America in 1900, having made enough money to pay off his debts.
In 1906, Twain began his autobiography in the North American Review. A year later, Oxford University awarded him an honorary doctorate in Literature.
Twain went through a severe depression, which began in 1896 when his favorite daughter Susy died of meningitis. The death of Olivia in 1904 and the death of Jean on December 24, 1909, exacerbated his dejection. It is told that in 1909 Twain spoke the words:
I entered in 1835 together with the comet Halley. It will return next year and I expect to leave with it again. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I do not leave together with Comet Halley. No doubt the Almighty has said, “Those are a bunch of those incalculable eccentrics; they came together, they must leave together.
His prediction came true: Twain died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910, in Redding, Connecticut, one day before the comet was closest to the earth (see 1835 link to Comet Halley). When President William Howard Taft learned that Mark Twain had died, he spoke the words:
Mark Twain provided pleasure – real intellectual joy – to millions, and his work will continue to provide that pleasure to millions to come … His humor was American, but he was appreciated almost as much by Englishmen and people from other countries, as by his countrymen. He is an enduring part of American literature.
Twain is buried at his wife”s family grave in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira. His grave is marked by a four-foot tall monument placed there by Clara, the daughter who survived him. There is also a smaller headstone.
Twain began his career writing lighthearted, humorous verse, but gradually developed into a grim, almost sacrilegious chronicler of the vanities, hypocrisies, and brutalities of humanity. Midway through his career, when writing Huckleberry Finn, he managed to bring together his humor, his social criticism, and his writing talent into a balanced whole. Twain was a master at interpreting colloquial language and contributed to the creation and popularization of a distinctive, American literature, based on American themes and language. Many of Twain”s works were banned at different times and for different reasons. The Fates of Huckleberry Finn has been repeatedly restricted in American high schools, not least because of its frequent use of the word “nigger,” a common word among whites when the book was written.
It is almost impossible to compile a complete biography of his work, due to the large number of pieces Twain wrote for little-known journals and his use of multiple pseudonyms. Moreover, in all likelihood, much of his lectures and readings have been lost or simply not written down. The search for Twain”s work is thus an ongoing process; researchers have discovered unpublished work by Twain as recently as 1995.
Early journalism and travel stories
Twain”s first major piece of work, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, appeared in the New York Saturday Press on November 18, 1865. The reason it was published in it was that his story came too late to be included in a book Artemus Ward was compiling, of short stories about the American Wild West.
The popularity Twain garnered after the story was published earned him a commission from the daily newspaper the Sacramento Union to write letters about travel experiences. On his first trip, he sailed on the maiden voyage of the steamship Ajax to Hawaii, which at the time was part of the Sandwich Islands. The humorous letters he turned in proved to be a stepping stone to his work for Alta California in San Francisco. This newspaper appointed him travel correspondent for a ship voyage from San Francisco to New York via the Strait of Panama. Throughout the trip Twain wrote letters, chronicling his experiences with grotesque humor. On June 8, 1867, he boarded the pleasure yacht Quaker City for a five-month sailing trip. The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims” Progress was the result of this trip.
This book is the account of a pleasure trip. Had it been an account of a weighty scientific expedition, it would have something of that seriousness, profundity and impressive incomprehensibility which are so peculiar to books of that kind and which, moreover, make them so attractive. Nevertheless, it is not just an account of a party; it has a purpose, which is to suggest to the reader how he would probably see Europe and the East if he looked at it with his own eyes, rather than with the eyes of the people who have traveled those lands before him. I”m only pretending to show everyone how they should look at important things across the ocean – other books do that and therefore it”s not necessary, even if I could.
In 1872, Twain published a second book of travel stories, more or less a sequel to Innocents. This book, called Roughing It, is a semi-autobiographical account of Twain”s trip to Nevada and his subsequent stay in the American West. The book denounces American and Western society in the same way that the Innocents criticized various countries of Europe and the Middle East. Twain”s next work focused somewhat similarly to Roughing It on American society, albeit more focused on the day-to-day. It was entitled The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, and was not a travelogue, like his two previous books, but his first attempt at writing a novel. The book is also notable for being the only work Twain did not write alone: he co-wrote it with his neighbor Charles Dudley Warner.
Based on Twain”s personal experiences on the Mississippi, Old Times on the Mississippi, a series of short stories, was published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1875. The book portrayed Twain”s disillusionment with Romanticism.
Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn
A year later, Twain”s next major publication came out: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, for which he drew inspiration from his childhood in Hannibal. The Tom Sawyer character was formed along the lines of Twain as a child, with traits of two schoolmates, John Briggs and Will Bowen. The book also introduced, in a supporting role, the character Huckleberry Finn, based on Twain”s childhood friend Tom Blankenship.
The subsequent book, The Prince and the Pauper, was published in 1882. It did not receive a favorable reception, perhaps because of an artifice with the storyline that, while often used in film and literature today, was entirely new at the time. The novel tells the story of two English boys, a prince and a beggar, who were born on the same day and are physically identical. Twain has them switch places, creating a book that comments on society. The blame for the shortcomings of “Pauper” is usually placed on the fact that Twain had insufficient experience with English society. In addition, the book struggled because it followed the successful Tom Sawyer.
In between writing Pauper, Twain had begun work on the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He had ongoing problems completing it and also began another travelogue book, A Tramp Abroad, which follows Twain closely as he travels through Central and Southern Europe. That he did complete.
When Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was finally published in 1884, this book confirmed Twain”s reputation as a remarkable American writer. Some have called it the first Great American Novel and the book became required reading in many schools all over the United States. Huckleberry Finn was a sequel to Tom Sawyer and proved to have more serious undertones than its predecessor. The carrying idea of Huckleberry Finn is the young lad”s belief that he should do what he thinks is right, even if the majority of society does not agree with him.
Twain began work on the four hundred-page Huckleberry Finn in the summer of 1876, immediately following the publication of Tom Sawyer. While writing the book, he was also working on The Prince and the Pauper and other books. One of these was Life on the Mississippi, which expanded on the previously published Old Times. After 22 years, Twain describes his memories of the Mississippi River, supplemented by new experiences. In the book he also proclaims that “Mark Twain” was the exclamation made when the boat landed in safe water – two fathoms deep. Life on the Mississippi, which came out in 1883, is said to have been a major influence on Huckleberry Finn, the book he was actually working on.
The final fifth of Huckleberry Finn is the subject of much debate. Some argue that Twain – as the critic Leo Marx puts it – had a “nervous breakdown.” Ernest Hemingway said of Huckleberry Finn, “When you read it, you have to stop where the Negro Jim is taken away from the boys. That”s the real ending. The rest is just some chatter”.
After the publication of his major works, Twain turned more to business ventures in order to avert the growing problems he had brought on himself with his writing projects. He founded a publishing company he called Charles L. Webster & Company, after his cousin-in-law with whom he co-owned. For the fledgling publishing company, Twain chose the Memoirs of President Ulysses S. Grant. In between, he found time to write The Private History of a Campaign That Failed for The Century Magazine. This piece provided a detailed account of his two-week activities with Confederate troops during the Civil War.
Twain then engaged in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur”s Court, in which he first showed his disappointment in politics. Written in the same “historical, fictional” style as The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee showed the absurdity of political and social norms by moving them to King Arthur”s court. Twain began work on the book in December 1885, then put the writing on hold until the summer of 1887 and finally completed it in the spring of 1889. The book has been filmed at least twice (Emmett J. Flynn 1921, Tay Garnett 1949) and once made the subject of a musical (Rodgers & Hart 1927).
To pay his bills and keep his business plans going, Twain wrote articles and book reviews at a rapid pace. He notoriously ridiculed James Fenimore Cooper in an article describing Cooper”s Literary Crimes. He complained, for example, that Cooper”s The Wilddoder purports to be realistic, but has several shortcomings in that regard. He emerged as a vicious critic, not only of other writers, but also of other critics, suggesting, for example, that before extolling Cooper”s work, the highly learned gentlemen Thomas Loundsbury, Brander Matthews, and Wilkie Collins “ought to have read something of it first.”
His next large-scale work, Pudd”nhead Wilson, was first published in episodes in The Century Magazine before being released as a book. The book chronicles the racism of pre-Civil War Missouri, which included targeting ostensibly white people who bore minute traces of African ancestry, and its acceptance by wide circles, sometimes even the black population. Originally, Twain chose a story inspired by Siamese twins he had seen in Europe. Gradually, other characters took over the story. Twain then decided to take out most of the elements of the twin story. These he brought together in a separate novella: The Comedy of The Extraordinary Twins. Both novels were published in one volume in 1894. The end of the book was written at lightning speed, as Twain tried desperately to avert his bankruptcy. In the four weeks from November 12 to December 14, 1893, he wrote novel 60 000 words for this book. Critics have pointed to the hasty completion as the cause of the novel”s messy structure and frequent interruptions of the storyline. All in all, it was not enough, for in 1894 his bankruptcy was filed.
Twain”s next venture was a purely fictional story he called the Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc and dedicated to his wife. Twain had long said that this was the book he was proudest of, despite the criticism he received for it. Since childhood, the book had been a dream; he claimed that when he was a teenager, he had found a manuscript detailing the life of Joan of Arc. Twain was convinced that the book could save his publishing business. His financial advisor, Henry Huttleston Rogers, talked him out of it and got it done that Twain got out of the business altogether. Nevertheless, the book was published in 1896.
In addition to the writers mentioned above, Twain also took others to task; he would continue to do so until his death. Among them were George Eliot, Jane Austen, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Twain was the first to not merely denounce portions of a book, but instead to take down and belittle the entire work of established, popular writers. Some have noted the trend in literary criticism today to measure writers in the style of Twain. To justify his aggressive literary criticism, Twain outlines what he sees as “quality writing” in several letters and essays. In particular, he emphasizes brevity, word choice, and realism. Painfully, several of his own books were later criticized for their lack of continuity (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) and structure (Pudd”nhead Wilson).
Twain”s wife died in 1904, while the couple was staying at the Villa di Quarto, in Florence. Only after a considerable time did Twain afford to publish a few works that his wife, who had in fact been his editor and censor all his life, had looked down on. Perhaps the most famous work that his wife did not like is The Mysterious Stranger, in which Satan, also known as “No. 44,” is present in several places and lacks the moral sense of humanity. This remarkable book was not published during Twain”s lifetime. Three versions were found in his manuscripts, written between 1897 and 1905: the Hannibal version, the Eseldorf version, and the Print-Shop version. Confusion over these led to publication of a jumbled version, and it was not until the 1960s that the original versions became available.
Twain”s last work was his autobiography, which he dictated and thought would be most entertaining if he knitted it together from disjointed leaps of thought. Some archivists and compilers had a problem with that and rearranged the biography into a traditional form, destroying some of Twain”s humor and the flow of the book.
Twain made a fair amount of money from his writing, but much of it was spent on poor investments, mostly in new inventions. He was fascinated by science and scientific research. He formed an intimate and lasting friendship with Nikola Tesla, and the two spent a lot of time together in Tesla”s laboratory. His book, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur”s Court, is about a time traveler from the America of the time, who uses his scientific knowledge to introduce modern technology to King Arthur”s England. Some suggest that this makes Twain a pioneer of the science fiction genre. Among Twain”s inventions are a bed clamp for children, a new kind of steam engine, and the kaolatype (or collotype, a device for engraving printing plates). The Paige typesetting machine was a beautifully constructed mechanical marvel that delighted spectators when it worked, but it was very prone to malfunction; before it could be commercially perfected it was superseded by the Linotype typesetting machine. He did receive a patent for an improvement in adjustable and unbuttonable suspenders. Twain”s most commercially successful invention was a self-adhesive scrapbook: a dried adhesive on the pages needed only to be wet before use.
Twain also lost money on his publishing company, which initially achieved success by selling the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant but soon after went belly up, losing money on the idea that the public would be interested in the life of the Pope. Less than two hundred copies were sold.
Twain”s writings and lectures, along with the help of a new friend, enabled him to get back on his feet financially. In 1893, a 15-year friendship began with financier Henry Huttleston Rogers, a director of Standard Oil. Rogers first filed for bankruptcy for Twain. Next, Rogers had the copyright to his written work transferred to his wife, Olivia, to ensure that creditors could not claim it. Finally, Rogers assumed full responsibility over Twain”s money until all creditors were paid. Then Twain embarked on a worldwide lecture tour to pay off his creditors in full, despite the fact that there was no longer a legal obligation for him to do so.
Close friendships with some of the men profoundly influenced Twain”s life and work.
Joseph Twichell was Twain”s mentor and spiritual advisor as his sense of religious affiliation waned. For nearly forty-seven years, from 1865 to 1912, he was the beloved pastor of Hartford Asylum Hill Congregationalist Church, and he remained one of Clemens” closest friends for almost as long.
Another close friend of Twain was his fellow author and collaborator William Dean Howells. Howells”s biographers, Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson, even mention an almost Siamese connection between the two men. Howell believed strongly in Twain”s ability. In a January 1882 letter to his friend, he remarked – almost prophetically – “Sometimes I think we shall be remembered only as your friends and correspondents.” Howells”s biographers agree that the openness and intensity of the correspondence between Twain and Howells testifies to a special friendship. Professionally, they both strove for greater realism in the American literature of their day.
A third, somewhat unlikely friendship, was that between Twain and Standard Oil”s chief executive, Henry H. Rogers. While Twain owed much to Henry Rogers for saving him from financial ruin, their friendship in their later years was mutually beneficial. Twain lost three of his four children and his beloved wife, and the Rogers family became a substitute family for him. He became a loyal guest at their home in New York, their 48-room summer residence in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, and aboard their motor yacht the Kanawha.
The two men introduced each other to their acquaintances. Twain was an admirer of the remarkable deaf-blind girl Helen Keller. He first met Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan in the winter of 1894 at a party at the home of Laurence Hutton in New York. Twain introduced them to Rogers, who along with his wife paid for Keller”s education at Radcliffe College. It is Twain to whom it is attributed that he called Sullivan, Keller”s governess and companion, a miracle worker. His choice of words later became the inspiration for the title of the play and film adaptation of William Gibson”s The Miracle Worker. Twain also introduced Rogers to the journalist Ida M. Tarbell, who interviewed the industrial magnate, leading to a debunking tabloid story and indirectly to the breakup of the Standard Oil Trust. On trips aboard the Kanawha, Twain and Rogers were repeatedly accompanied by Booker T. Washington, the famous former slave, who had become a leading educator.
While the two famously elderly men were seen as drinking and playing poker, they also exchanged letters when they were not together, which was common because they both traveled extensively. Unlike Rogers” own letters, which were never revealed, Twain”s insightful letters have been published. The written exchanges between the two men portray Twain”s well-known sense of humor and, more surprisingly, Rogers” sense of geekiness, which provides a rare insight into the industrial magnate”s secret side.
In April 1907, Twain and Rogers sailed to the opening of the Jamestown Exposition in Virginia. Twain”s popularity with the public was such that many worshippers sailed in boats around the Kanawha, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Finally, when the gathering of boats around the yacht threatened safety, he felt compelled to come on deck and wave to the crowd.
Because of poor weather conditions, the motor yacht was held up for a few days before it could venture out into the Atlantic. Rogers and several others of his group returned to New York by train. Twain did not like traveling by train and chose to wait and sail back on the Kanawha. However, journalists were in the dark about his whereabouts; when he did not return to New York as planned, The New York Times suggested that he may have been “missing at sea.” When he arrived in New York safe and sound and this was brought to his attention, the humorist wrote a satirical article about the incident, in which he offered to “… make a thorough investigation of the report that I am missing at sea. If there is any basis for the report I will immediately inform the concerned public.” The incident bears resemblance to an 1897 event in which he made his famous remark “The report of my death is exaggerated” after a journalist was sent out to investigate whether he had died (in reality, his niece was seriously ill).
Later in 1907, Twain and Rogers” son, Henry Jr. returned to the Exposition in Jamestown aboard the Kanawha. The humorist served as host at the Robert Fulton Day on September 23, 1907, which celebrated the centennial of Fulton”s invention of the steamboat. Twain, who was filling in for the ailing former U.S. president, Grover Cleveland, was introduced by Rear Admiral Purnell Harrington. Twain received a five-minute standing ovation; audience members cheered and waved hats and umbrellas. Deeply moved, Twain said, “When you appeal to my head, I don”t feel it; but I do feel it when you appeal to my heart.”
In April 1909, the friends returned to Norfolk, Virginia for the banquet honoring Rogers and his just-completed Virginian Railway. Twain was the introductory speaker (one of his last public appearances) and was quoted extensively in newspapers across the country.
A month later, Twain was en-route from Connecticut to visit his friend in New York, when Rogers died suddenly on May 20, 1909. Twain arrived at Grand Central Station where he was informed of the news by his daughter. Overwhelmed with grief, he, against his habit, avoided the assembled journalists, saying only “This is terrible…I can”t talk about it.” Two days later, he served as an honorary pallbearer at the funeral in New York. However, he avoided the mourning meeting during the train ride to the burial in Fairhaven. He said “I can”t handle traveling with my friend and not talking to him.”
While his reputation as a popular writer overshadowed his contributions as a social critic, Twain held outspoken ideas on the political issues of his day; however, his girlfriend Helen Keller”s radicalism had been nullified by the passage of time. Through his wife”s family, Twain had contact with many prominent progressives. He spent the last twenty years of his life as an “outspoken anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist.” Nevertheless, he made significant investments with the goal of making a profit from them, albeit with little result.
Change of Views
Although Twain remained aloof during the Civil War, as he grew older his ideas became more radical. He recognized that his ideas changed and evolved over the course of his life. He referred to one of his favorite books in this regard:
When I had read Carlyle”s The French Revolution in 1871, I was a girondin; every time I have read it since, I have read it differently – it has influenced me and changed, slowly but surely, my life and environment… and now I put the book down once more and understand that I am a Sansculotte! – And not a colorless, characterless Sansculotte, but a Marat.
In the New York Herald of October 15, 1900, he describes his turnaround and political awakening, following the Philippine-American War, from “a red-hot imperialist.”
I wanted the American eagle to fly screaming across the Pacific… Why wouldn”t it spread its wings over the Philippines, I wondered? ….I said to myself: there is a people there who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as we are, give them a government and land for themselves, set in motion in the Pacific a miniature of the American Constitution and start a brand new republic that can take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task we had undertaken. But since then I have thought a little further and read carefully the Treaty of Paris [which ended with the Spanish-American War] and I have seen that our intention is not to liberate the people of the Philippines, but to subjugate them. We went there to conquer, not to liberate. In my opinion, it should be our pleasure and duty to free those people and let them deal with their own domestic problems in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I oppose the eagle putting its claws into any other country.
From 1901, shortly after his return from Europe, until his death in 1910, Twain was vice president of the American Anti-Imperialist League, which opposed the U.S. annexation of the Philippines and had “tens of thousands of members.” He wrote many political pamphlets for the organization. The Incident in the Philippines, published posthumously in 1924, was a response to the Moro Crater Massacre, in which six hundred Moros were massacred. Many of his neglected and previously uncollected writings on anti-imperialism did not appear in book form for the first time until 1992.
Twain was also critical of the imperialism of other countries. In Following the Equator, Twain expresses his “dislike and condemnation of every kind of imperialism.” He was highly critical of European imperialism, especially that of Cecil Rhodes, who ensured a huge expansion of the British Empire, and that of Leopold II, King of the Belgians. King Leopold”s Soliloquy (King Leopold”s Soliloquy) is a biting political satire about his private colony, the Free State of the Congo. Reports of excessive exploitation and insane abuses led to widespread international protests in the early years of the 20th century, arguably the first large-scale human rights movement. In the soliloquy, the king claimed, supposedly, that bringing Christianity to the country outweighed a little famine. Leopold”s rubber tappers were tortured, mutilated and slaughtered until the turn of the century, when the conscience of the Western world forced Brussels to put an end to it.
People say about me that in my preferences I am a revolutionary, by nature, by my education and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionaries, because there never was a revolution, if there were not oppressive and unbearable conditions to revolt against.
During the Philippine-American War, Twain wrote a pacifist story titled The War Prayer. During this struggle with himself, Twain expressed his ideas about the absurdity of slavery and how important it is to follow your own conscience before the laws of society. It was turned over to Harper”s Bazaar for publication, but on March 22, 1905, the magazine rejected the story because “it was not quite suitable for a woman”s magazine.” Eight days later Twain wrote to his friend Daniel Carter Beard, to whom he had let the story read, “I don”t think the prayer will be published during my lifetime. Only the dead may tell the truth.” Because he had an exclusive contract with Harper & Brothers, Twain could not publish The War Prayer elsewhere; it remained unpublished until 1923. It was republished as campaign material by campaigners against the Vietnam War.
Twain supported the revolutionaries in Russia against the reformists, arguing that they should get rid of the Czar by force because peaceful means would not help.
Abolition of slavery, emancipation, and anti-racism
Twain was an adamant advocate for the abolition of slavery and for emancipation, going so far as to say that “Lincoln”s Proclamation … freed not only black slaves, but whites as well.” He argued that non-whites could not get justice in the U.S. and once said, “I have seen Chinese abused and mistreated in every low and cowardly way inherent in the conception of a degenerate nature … but I have never seen a Chinese person get redress in a court of law for the injustice done to him.” He at least funded the studies of a black at Yale University”s law school and the studies of another black at a southern university to become a pastor.
Mark Twain was a staunch advocate for women”s rights and an active campaigner for women”s suffrage. His speech Votes for Women, in which he pressed for women to be granted the right to vote, is considered one of the most famous in history.
Twain”s liberal ideas about race, did not extend to his first short stories about the Original Americans. About them, Twain wrote in 1870:
His heart is a cesspool of lies, deceit, and low and devilish instincts. To him, gratitude is an unfamiliar emotion; and if you do something nice for him, it is safest to keep looking at him, or else you will get an arrow in your back as thanks. To accept a favor from him is to take on a debt, which you can never repay to his satisfaction, though you will bankrupt yourself if you try. The foam of the earth!
In contrast, Twain”s essay on “The Literary Crimes of Fenimore Cooper” offers a much friendlier view of real Indians. “No, other Indians would have noticed, but Cooper”s Indians notice nothing. Cooper thinks they are miraculous creatures when observed, but he is almost continually mistaken about his Indians. There has rarely been a sane one among them.
He wrote glowingly about the unions of the riverboat industry, in Life on the Mississippi, which was still being read in union classrooms decades later. He supported the union movement in general, but especially one of the most important, the Knights of Labor. In a speech to them he said:
Who are the exploiters? Just a few: the king, the capitalist and a handful of overseers and supervisors. Who are the exploited? Those many: the peoples of the world; the valuable people; the workers; those who make the bread that is eaten by those vain people with those weak hands.
Twain was against any kind of vivisection, not scientifically based but for ethical reasons.
“I don”t think it”s important to know whether vivisection produces results that are beneficial or not to humanity….The pain it inflicts on animals without their consent is the reason I”m hostile to it, and that to me is a sufficient justification for that hostility, without looking any further.”
Twain was critical of organized religion and certain elements of Christianity for most of his later life. In 1901 he opposed the actions of a missionary, Dr. William Scott Ament (1851-1909) in response to reports that Ament and other missionaries were demanding reparations from Chinese subjects in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. Twain”s response to learning of Ament”s methods was published in the North American Review in February 1901 under the title: To the Man Who Sits in the Dark and cites examples of imperialism in China and South Africa and the U.S. occupation of the Philippines. In a subsequent article “To My Critical Missionary” published in the The North American Review in April 1901, he continued his attack uninhibitedly, but now directed not at Ament, but at his superiors, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
For example, Twain wrote: “To believe is to believe something you know is not so,” and “If Christ were here now, there is one thing he would not be – a Christian.”
After his death, his family withheld portions of his writings, particularly those that were disrespectful of traditional religion, especially Letters from the Earth, which was only published after his daughter Clara changed her position in 1962, in response to Soviet propaganda about its withholding. The anti-religious The Mysterious Stranger (The Secret Stranger) was published in 1916, although there is some academic debate about whether Twain himself wrote the most common version of that story. Little Bessie, a story that ridicules Christianity, was first published in the collection Mark Twain”s Fables of Man. Twain”s funeral service was held at the “Old Brick,” a Presbyterian church in New York. He also contributed financially to the construction of a Presbyterian church in Nevada.
Twain was a Freemason. He was a member of the Polar Star Lodge No. 79 A.F.&A.M., founded in St. Louis. He was initiated an Apprentice Freemason on May 22, 1861, a Companion Freemason on June 12, and elevated to Master Freemason on July 10 of the same year.
His birthplace still exists in Florida (Missouri). The home of his childhood friend Laura Hawkins, who is said to have inspired his fictional character Becky Thatcher, has been preserved as the “Thatcher House.” In May 2007, the carefully restored home of Tom Blankenship, the inspiration for Huckleberry Finn, was opened to the public. The house he had built for his family in Hartford, Connecticut, where he and his wife raised their three daughters, has also been preserved and is open to visitors as the Mark Twain House.
The actor Hal Holbrook devised an oneman show called Mark Twain Tonight, which he performed regularly for 50 years. For its broadcast by CBS, he won an Emmy Award in 1967.
Like countless other influential people, Twain was honored by having an asteroid, 2362 Mark Twain, named after him.
Often in pop culture, Twain is depicted wearing a very white suit. Although there is evidence to suggest that, after Olivia”s death in 1904, Twain began wearing white suits during his lectures, current representations suggesting that he wore them throughout his life are unsubstantiated. There is no evidence that he wore a white suit before 1904; however, it eventually became his trademark, as illustrated by his eccentricity (Like that time he wore a white summer suit during a Congressional hearing in the middle of winter). McMasters” Mark Twain Encyclopedia claims that Twain did not wear a white suit for the last three years, except during a lecture at a banquet.
Clemens used several pseudonyms before choosing “Mark Twain.” Until 1863, he signed his humorous and imaginative short stories with “Josh”. In addition, he used the pseudonym “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass” for a series of humorous letters.
He said his main pseudonym stemmed from his years working on riverboats on the Mississippi, where two fathoms was a safe depth for the boats.Twain said this pseudonym was not entirely his own invention. In Life on the Mississippi, he wrote:
Captain Isaiah Sellers was not literarily inclined or gifted, but he used to scribble down short sentences with clear and practical information about the river, sign them “MARK TWAIN,” and give them to the New Orleans Picayune newspaper. They had to do with the level and condition of the river and were accurate and valuable; … At the time the telegraph brought the news of his death, I was on the Pacific coast. I was a novice new journalist and needed a pseudonym; so I picked up the old skipper”s and did my best to make that remain what it was in his hands – a sign, symbol a guarantee that, whatever is found in his company, it will live on as a petrified truth; it would not be modest of me to say that I succeeded.
Twain”s version of the story regarding his nom de plume has been questioned by his biographer George Williams III, the newspaper the Territorial Enterprise, and Paul Fatout of Purdue University, who claim that “Mark Twain” refers to the list on which was marked off what Twain regularly drank on the spur of the moment at John Pipers bar in Virginia City, Nevada.