Do You Really Know Him?

February 27, 2010
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“Good Friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” Mark Twain viewed this as a way of life. Although everyone has his or her own idea of a good life, this is how he describes his philosophy of life. The sad fact is that many people don’t know much about his life. He achieved much more than just writing some of America’s most famous novels. In fact, he didn’t start writing books until later in his life. At the beginning of his life he wasn’t even Mark Twain, but Samuel Clemens. This may account for the fact that many people don’t know his life’s story.

Mark Twain’s birth name was Samuel Clemens. Born on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri, he was the youngest of six children born to John Marshall Clemens and Jane Lampton Clemens. Orion was Samuel’s oldest brother, and lived to be seventy-two years old. Second oldest in the family was Pamela, Samuel’s sister, lived to be seventy-seven. Henry, who only lived to be twenty years old, is Samuel’s second oldest brother. Pleasant who died even before Samuel was born only lived about a year. Margaret, the next in the family, lived to see Samuel, but for only a few years before passing away at the age of nine. Before Samuel was born, Benjamin passed away at the age of ten.

The Clemens didn’t stay in Florida, Missouri long. At four years of age, Samuel and his family moved east to Hannibal, Missouri. Samuel’s father was a judge in Hannibal. Their two-story family home was built at 206 Hill Street. As a young boy Samuel had to be kept indoors because of poor health. By age nine, he recovered and could join everyone else outside. He easily made friends with other children, and attended a private school in Hannibal. Sadly when Samuel was twelve, his father died of pneumonia. After another year, young Samuel left school to become a printer’s apprentice. When he was fifteen, he left the printer for a job at his brother Orion’s newspaper. There he was a printer and an editorial assistant. This is where Samuel discovered his love for writing. Samuel didn’t stay in one place very long. When he was seventeen, he left his brother’s newspaper for a printer’s job in St. Louis.
In St. Louis, he decided to become a riverboat pilot’s assistant. He became licensed as a riverboat pilot, or steamboat pilot, in 1858. This is where he created his pseudonym, or pen name, Mark Twain. In river terms, two fathoms or a twelve feet depth surrounding the boat meant it was safe to. So when the water depth was at twelve feet they would yell out “Mark Twain” indicating it was safe for the riverboat to proceed. Unfortunately, river trade was stopped during the Civil War in 1861. So Samuel, like many in the south, joined the Confederate army, even though the rest of his family were firm Unionists. He didn’t last long in the army, so for the next several years he worked for newspapers reporting from all over the United States.

In 1870, Samuel Clemens married Olivia Longdon. She and Samuel had four children. Dreadfully, one of them died in infancy, and two died in there twenties. Their daughter, Clara, lived to be eighty-eight years old. Clara did have a daughter named Nina. Yet woefully, she died without having any children. So, there are no living descendants of Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain.

Twain is known for authoring numerous books and stories. Mark Twain started gaining fame with his story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavaras Country. This story appeared in the New York Times Press on November 18, 1865. The very first book he wrote was The Innocents Abroad. It was published in 1869. The book was about an expedition to different places around the world and the different people there. The next book written by Mark Twain was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, published in the year 1876. After Tom Sawyer, Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1885. During his life, he penned another twenty-eight more books and numerous short stories and sketches.
On the twenty-first of April, 1910, Mark Twain died in Redding, Connecticut. When he died, President Taft gave a speech saying how marvelous Mark Twain really was.
Mark Twain gave pleasure--real intellectual enjoyment—to millions, and his works will continue to give such pleasure to millions yet to come... His humor was American, but he was nearly as much appreciated by Englishmen and people of other countries as by his
own countrymen. He has made an enduring part of American literature.

While Samuel Clemens may have died, Mark Twain lives on through the power of his books. One of his many famous books, The Prince and The Pauper is a story about two boys that look identical, and were born on the same day. One is a prince, who lives in a castle, and the other is a pauper, who could only have dreamed of what a prince’s life could be like. The two boys meet and exchange clothes to see what the others life would be like. Accidentally, a guard comes and throws the real prince out into the street, leaving the poor pauper to deal with a prince’s life and eventually becoming a king.
Some people had negative views toward Twain’s writing of The Prince and The Pauper. A few critics feel that the book was boring. This book might not be his best work, but Mark Twain wrote so many famous books that this one might easily be overlooked. This could contribute to the fact that he was praised by more people than he was criticized. Zack Hamilton found that he did not like the book, The Prince and The Pauper. He writes, “Don’t read this book”-“Waste of Time”. He had decided to read the book after hearing good reviews about it. As he read he discovered the book wasn’t very gripping. It did not hold his attention, and was very boring. When the prince, Edward Tudor, spends a short amount of time in jail, he witnesses how brutal life was in the rest of England. This is when he feels remorse and knows that something must be done. “It is within; these prison walls, in my opinion, that Twain uses the most intense satire throughout the book, socially criticizing the unjust laws and practices of the time period”. This means that Zack Hamilton thought that at this point in the book, Mark Twain was criticizing the way the laws, and prisons were of the time. It might seam to you that it is surprising that a person wouldn’t like Mark Twain. He doesn’t necessarily dislike Mark Twain; he just doesn’t like this particular book he wrote. But that doesn’t evade the fact that Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper wasn’t praised, this book, along with his other books, were exclaimed as wonderful.
The acclamation for this book comes in many different forms. E.L. Doctrow writes “Twain was enough of a genius to build his morality into his books, with humor and wit and—in the case of The Prince and the Pauper—wonderful plotting”. The plot of the boys switching clothes, and getting separated is what fascinates E.L. Doctrow. However, he wasn’t the only one to write about Mark Twain. James Osgood feels that this book was not sarcastic, or comic like his other books. Except, as James Osgood explains, the book isn’t entirely fact based. The real Edward Tudor was a few years younger than the one in the book. He was also a sickly child, who was very unhealthy, unlike the Edward in the book, who was strong and courageous. But, even though the story would most likely not happen, it is possible that it could have occurred.
Mark Twain, or Samuel Clemens as he was known when he was young, wasn’t just liked for his books, but also for his characteristics. Mark Twain is known for his humor and wit. As I had said earlier, President Taft acknowledged how he enjoyed this about Mark Twain. He had stated that Mark Twain gave pleasure and enjoyment to millions through his writings, and had an American humor that was enjoyed by Englishmen and his own countrymen. Besides the president, there were several others who contributed to praising him for his work. The Nineteenth Century Fiction writes, "Each additional volume reaffirms our faith and celebration in this splendid series." American Literature says, "Any academic who assigns another text rather than one of the . . . volumes now available in the Mark Twain Library owes the profession an apology if it can be found." The Los Angeles Times claims, "Handsome, readable and full of surprises…the American classics that come to us from the Mark Twain Library are simply superb." Cathleen Medwick from Vanity Fair states, "The Mark Twain Project of the University of California Press is reuniting Samuel Clemens's texts with the essential illustrations he commissioned for them, and the results are splendid: may the Twain never again be sundered!" Then, Michael Shelden from the London Telegraph says, "If you want to enjoy, and to understand fully, the genius of Mark Twain, the California editions are the only texts to have." Then finally, his daughter, Susy Clemens, says that The Prince and The Pauper is the best book ever written.
Mark Twain was an intelligent man whose books were loved by millions, and continue to be loved today. His stories, in my opinion, have wonderful story lines that they follow. For example, in The Prince and The Pauper, the story above, two identical boys switch places except, their lives are very different. One is a prince, and the other is a pauper. It may seem like an easy idea to come up with, but if it didn’t exist you would be troubled to think up an idea that interesting. Everyone’s opinion about him differs. Some might not like this particular book, because it is written in old English. I, however, don’t mind. Mark Twain’s books are called classics, but he had his own opinion about classics. “Classic. A book which people praise and don’t read.”
Mark Twain had several quotes. Some make you stop and think, wow, I never thought about that before, or some bring out something you know but haven’t thought about. “ A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar”. It’s quite true. It makes you think back to what you’ve done in the past. Mark Twain wasn’t the most handsome of people, and lived to be very old, but age didn’t matter. “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind it doesn’t matter”. “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened”. That quote shows a little bit of what his humor was like. Of all Mark Twain’s quotes there is one that I just couldn’t get out of my mind. “But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it the most?”. That one quote befuddled me. I was amazed at how truthful his words were, and so then I took the time to pray for the sinner, all because of Mark Twain. Mark Twain wrote numerous amounts of books, and lived a good life. He achieved a lot back then, and he accomplishes a lot today. Imagine if he didn’t exist, I wouldn’t be writing this story at all.

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