Mark Twain

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Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American humorist, satirist, novelist, writer, and lecturer. Although Twain was confounded by financial and business affairs, his humor and wit were keen, and he enjoyed immense public popularity. At his peak, he was probably the most popular American celebrity of his time. In 1907, crowds at the Jamestown Exposition thronged just to get a glimpse of him. He had dozens of famous friends, including William Dean Howells, Booker T. Washington, Nikola Tesla, Helen Keller, and Henry Huttleston Rogers. Fellow American author William Faulkner is credited with writing that Twain was "the first truly American writer, and all of us since are his heirs." Twain died in 1910 and is buried in Elmira, New York.

Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri, on November 30, 1835. When he was four, his family moved to Hannibal, a port town on the Mississippi River, which later served as the inspiration for the fictional town of St. Petersburg in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Missouri had been admitted as a slave state in 1821 as part of the Missouri Compromise, and from an early age Twain was exposed to the institution of slavery, a theme which Twain was to later explore in his work. Ironically enough, Twain was in fact colorblind, which fueled his witty banter in the social circles of the day. In 1847, when Twain was eleven, his father fell ill with pneumonia and died that March. As a teenager Twain worked as an apprentice printer; when he was sixteen, he began writing humorous articles and newspaper sketches. When he was eighteen, he left Hannibal, working as a printer in New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. At the age of 22, Twain returned to Missouri and worked as a riverboat pilot and earned $250 which was a "pricely amount" back then, until trade was interrupted by the American Civil War in 1861.

Missouri, although a slave state and considered by many to be part of the South, declined to join the Confederacy and remained loyal to the Union. When the war began, Clemens and his friends formed a Confederate militia (an experience he depicted in his 1885 short story, "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed"), but he saw no military action and the militia disbanded after two weeks. His friends joined the Confederate Army; Clemens joined his brother, Orion, who had been appointed secretary to the territorial governor of Nevada, and headed west. They traveled for more than two weeks on a stagecoach across the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains to the silver-mining town of Virginia City, Nevada. On the way, they visited the Mormon community in Salt Lake City. Clemens' experiences in the West contributed significantly to his formation as a writer, and became the basis of his second book, Roughing It.

Once in Nevada, Clemens became a miner, hoping to strike it rich discovering silver in the Comstock Lode. He stayed for long periods in camp with his fellow prospectors—another life experience that he later put to literary use. After failing as a miner, Clemens obtained work at a newspaper called the Daily Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. It was there he first adopted the pen name "Mark Twain".

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