Samuel Langhorne Clemens (pen name Mark Twain) was born on November 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri. Twain is considered the greatest humorist of 19th Century American literature. His novels and stories about the Mississippi River: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1894) are still popular with modern readers.
In 1839 the Clemens family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, on the Mississippi River where young Sam experienced the excitement and colorful sights of the waterfront. Like many authors of his day he had little formal education. His education came from the print shops and newspaper offices where he worked as a youth. In 1853 Clemens left Hannibal with a yearning to travel. On a trip to New Orleans he persuaded a riverboat pilot to teach him his skill. By the Spring of 1859 Clemens was a licensed riverboat pilot.
At the outbreak of the American Civil War (1861) Clemens chose not to get involved and moved to Carson City, Nevada. After an unsuccessful attempt at gold and silver mining he joined the staff of a newspaper in Virginia City, Nevada. He first wrote under the pen name, "Mark Twain" (meaning "two fathoms" in riverboat-talk) in 1863. "Twain" wrote his first popular story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County in 1865.
He continued to travel as a correspondent for various newspapers, and in 1869 his travel letters from Europe were collected into the popular book, "The Innocents Abroad." Encouraged by his success Twain married Olivia Langdon and settled down in Hartford, Connecticut to his most productive years as a writer. Between 1873 and 1889 he wrote seven novels including his Mississippi River books as well as The Prince and the Pauper (1882) and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889).
Some modern readers are offended by some of the language and content of Twain's books. One particularly sensitive example of this is the free use of the word "nigger" in "Huckleberry Finn." Twain used contemporary language in his books to bring his characters to life. This realistic prose style influenced numerous American writers. Ironically, for his time Twain was liberal on racial and many social issues. The underlying themes of "Huckleberry Finn" support a fundamental equality for people of all races.
As Twain's life and career progressed he became increasingly pessimistic, losing much of the humorous, cocky tone of his earlier years. More and more of his work expressed the gloomy view that all human motives are ultimately selfish. Even so Twain is best remembered as a humorist who used his sharp wit and comic exaggeration to attack the false pride and self-importance he saw in humanity.
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