Happy birthday, Mark Twain! Mark Twain, opens a new window was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in Missouri. His mother Jane loved telling stories to her children and become the breadwinner in 1847 when John, her husband, died unexpectedly. When Samuel was a boy, he used to watch steamboats up and down the Mississippi River, opens a new window, spent time at the library and also saw much violence: he watched a man murder a rancher and saw a slave die after his overseer struck him with a piece of iron. At 12 years old, Samuel become an apprentice printer; his family needed the money and schooling was no longer an option. At 21, Samuel began learning how to pilot a boat on the Mississippi, but that dream was cut short by the beginning of the American Civil War (1861-1865), opens a new window, and he joined the Confederate Army, but only for a few weeks as his volunteer unit disbanded. Twain hopped on a stagecoach to go to Nevada and California, prospected for gold and silver, but he did not strike it rich. He found a job as a reporter in 1862 and adopted the pen name Mark Twain, steamboat slang for 12 feet of water. In 1867, he went on a five-month cruise of the Mediterranean, and his sketches of his travels became The Innocents Abroad, a bestseller.
In 1876, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published. In 1884, its sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published, and in between the two,Twain also wrote The Prince and the Pauper, opens a new window (1881) and Life on the Mississippi, opens a new window (1883). Although a successful novelist, Twain also began accruing debt, so much so that he undertook a worldwide lecture tour in 1895–1896 to pay off his debts. Huckleberry Finn went on to be translated into over 75 languages. Ernest Hemingway said, in 1935, that, "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called 'Huckleberry Finn.'"
His personal life suffered greatly. He and his wife Livy lost a son before his second birthday, a daughter died at 24 of spinal meningitis, another daughter died of a heart attack at 29, and Twain had a distant relationship with his only surviving daughter. His wife Olivia, who helped Twain edit his books, died in 1904 in Italy, where they had moved for her health. Twain began suffering from memory loss, experienced bouts of rage and paranoia and died at the age of 74 on April 21, 1910, in Connecticut.
- Stream Ken Burns' PBS two-part series Mark Twain on Kanopy, opens a new window
- Stream Huckleberry Finn—Free Spirit of America, opens a new window from the Great Courses on Kanopy, opens a new window