Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835, Mark Twain is best known for his novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He was a humorist whose wit and satire are lauded by many.
Twain was the second-youngest of seven children in Florida, Missouri, he was one of four to survive childhood. When he was four his family moved to Hannibal in Missouri, which inspired St. Petersburg in his aforementioned novels. Death marked his family, with his father dying when he was eleven. He quit school to become a printer’s apprentice the year after, and he later studied the Mississippi River in his efforts to become a steamboat pilot. It was piloting that gave him his pen name – “mark twain” was the call given by a leadsman for two fathoms depth of water, safe water for the steamboat.
He was a prolific writer who wrote tall tales (stories with unbelievable elements but written as though they are factual), travelogues, biographical accounts, novels, articles, speeches, lectures, and more. A complete bibliography of his works is said to be near-impossible given his profusion of work.
His first success in writing came from The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County in 1865 while working as a journalist. His love of science and technology is often featured in his writing, such as time travel in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and fingerprinting forensics in both Pudd’nhead Wilson and a tall tale in Life on the Mississippi. He even patented three inventions of his own, including a self-pasting scrapbook.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was Twain’s first novel, inspired by his childhood, with Tom Sawyer based on memories of himself and his friends, and Huckleberry Finn, Tom’s friend, based on another friend. The success of the novel led to sequels, beginning with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn published in 1884. Two lesser-known novels followed in the 1890s with Tom Sawyer Abroad (set in Africa) and Tom Sawyer, Detective (in which Tom attempts to solve a murder). He wrote many more works, often to avoid bankruptcy.
Halley’s Comet preceded his birth in 1835 by two weeks, and he predicted in 1909 that he would die the next day with the comet’s return. He was correct; Mark Twain suffered a fatal heart attack on April 21, 1910, a day after Halley’s Comet’s closest approach to Earth. Only one of his four children survived him.
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