You May Think You Know Mark Twain
This Famous Person Game - August 2012
by Mike McLeod
Samuel Clemens was correctly identified by: Julie Kimbrell of Sylva, N.C.; Scott and Carolyn Brown of Memories Flea An'Tique Mall in Prattville, Al.; Jan Bondy-Chorney; Teresa P. Bland; Robert Bernier; Michael Jopson; Randy Chase of The Antique Chasers; Adele Fricano of Braselton, Ga.; Kathy Reineke; Ted Carlton; and Jim Pruett of Eastbrook Flea Market in Montgomery, Ala.; Lynne Fox of Abbeville, S.C., who is related to him; and Susan H. Womack of Lenoir, N.C., who wrote that his “…home in Hartford, Conn. (that is shaped like a steamboat) has lovely antique furnishings.” (See the house at www.MarkTwainhouse.org.)
Samuel Langhorne Clemens is so well known by everyone—but is he? Did you know:
He was born during an appearance of Halley’s Comet and died during its return. “I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’”1
Clemens was born on Nov. 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri. He died on April 21, 1910 of a heart attack (he smoked constantly) in Redding, Connecticut; he was granted his wish and died during the return of Halley’s Comet. .
He had red hair. Several sources report this, but all the photos of him in his younger days are in black and white, of course.
He did not complete elementary school. Yet, Yale gave him an honorary degree, and Oxford awarded him an honorary Doctor of Literature degree in 1907.
Clemens’ father John Marshall Clemens died when he was 11, and he had to end his schooling to go to work to help support his mother Jane and the family. He was the sixth of seven children, but only three siblings survived childhood. Even with only five in the family at the time of John’s death, the family was near destitute for a while.
Before becoming an author, Clemens worked as a typesetter, printer, reporter, river pilot and miner. He traveled to New York City and worked as a printer. There, he educated himself by reading in the public libraries.
Back in Missouri and while working to become a riverboat pilot (which required two years of study), Clemens encouraged his brother Henry to join him in that prestigious occupation that paid well. Henry decided to do so, but while working on a riverboat, he was killed after a boiler blew up and scorched his lungs.
Prior to that tragedy, Clemens had a dream of his brother lying in a tin coffin, which later came true, and he faulted himself for much, if not all, of his life for his brother’s death and for failing to warn him.
He served in a Missouri militia for a few weeks during the Civil War. He and about 14 other young men banded together and headed off to help protect the State of Missouri from Union troops. Clemens’ time with the Marion Rangers was fraught with more bumbling than bravery. They never engaged an enemy force during his short enlistment. One evening about sunset, a stranger road into their camp, and six of the boys fired on him, thinking he was the enemy. (They were frequently warned of approaching troops that never materialized.) Before he died, the man whispered of his wife and child; he had no identification on him.
Clemens and about half of the band lost their stomach for war after that, and they left their group—just hours before it and other militias were engaged by the army of Ulysses S. Grant. Clemens’ account of his Civil War experiences can be read at www.classicshorts.com/stories/phctf.html.
A frog brought him fame. In 1865, a few years after he was an unsuccessful miner in Nevada and California, Clemens published the short story, Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog. It was picked up by several newspapers, and it earned him nationwide notoriety. The story was later published under the titles, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.
He wrote more than 190 books, short stories and speeches. This doesn’t include all of his speeches or articles, but it shows how prolific he was as an author. Just a few of his famous books are: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Innocents Abroad and Life on the Mississippi, The Prince and the Pauper, and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been called “the great American novel.”
He did not originate the pen name of Mark Twain. A riverboat captain sent dispatches about river conditions to a New Orleans newspaper and signed them “Mark Twain.” After his death, Clemens assumed this pen name.
Early on, he actually used several pen names, including “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.”
He rubbed elbows with the famous and traveled the world. Some of his friends and acquaintances included: Charles Dickens, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Clara Barton (a neighbor in Hartford, Conn.), Sigmund Freud, Mahatma Gandhi, Booker T. Washington, Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, whom he dubbed “a miracle worker.” His title for her lives on today and will probably do so forever.
Clemens traveled across the U.S. and to Hawaii, England, Europe, the Holy Land, Australia, Canada, Ceylon, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Fiji, Australia, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and other countries.. He traveled the world twice on speaking and writing tours. The second was to pay off debts on which he had declared bankruptcy. He made poor investments, but he made good on his debts in the end.
He held three patents and was a forerunner, if not the inventor, of modern scrapbooking. Before tape was invented (masking tape in 1925 and Scotch tape in 1930), Clemens created a self-adhering scrapbook. When a page was wetted, things could be stuck to it. It sold 25,000 copies for which he made $50,000, and Clemens said that it "…was well enough for a book that did not contain a single word that critics could praise or condemn."2
His other patents were for: an "Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments," a hoped-to-be replacement for suspenders; and Mark Twain’s Memory-Builder, a challenging game where players name the year historical events happened. (See is at: gamehttp://www.twainquotes.com/MemoryGame.html).
Reported to have been bi-polar. Toward the end of his life, he endured bouts of depression and sometimes had fits of rage. His beloved wife Olivia died in 1904. The two lost a son while a toddler to diphtheria, and they had three daughters: Susy who died at 24 of spinal meningitis; Clara died in 1962; and Jean who died in 1909, the year before her father. The loss of loved ones contributed to his depression.
Rather than end on that note, I would rather have Mark Twain’s wit and wisdom be the last words you read of him in this article.
A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.
A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.
Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.
I have been complimented many times, and they always embarrass me; I always
feel that they have not said enough.
All generalizations are false, including this one.
Familiarity breeds contempt—and children.
It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native
criminal class, except Congress.
Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress.
But I repeat myself.
Golf is a good walk spoiled.
Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how
little we think of the other person.
Grief can take care if itself, but to get the full value of a joy, you must have
somebody to divide it with.
Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.
It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to
open it and remove all doubt.
It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.
Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.
The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the
The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they know
and then stop.
The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.
The trouble ain't that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain't distributed
Let us live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.
What, sir, would the people of the earth be without woman? They would be scarce,
sir, almighty scarce.
We are all alike, on the inside.
When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not.
When in doubt, tell the truth.
Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't.
Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.
A man's character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in
A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read.
A round man cannot be expected to fit in a square hole right away. He must have
time to modify his shape.
Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.
All right, then, I'll go to hell.
All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.
Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.
Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to
anything on which it is poured.
Any emotion, if it is sincere, is involuntary.
Apparently, there is nothing that cannot happen today.
Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.
“Classic.” A book which people praise and don't read.
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.
Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any
other way you can manage it.
Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.
Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.
George Washington, as a boy, was ignorant of the commonest accomplishments of
youth. He could not even lie.
Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.
He is now rising from affluence to poverty.
Honesty is the best policy—when there is money in it.
Humor is mankind's greatest blessing.
I can live for two months on a good compliment.
I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.
I don't like to commit myself about heaven and hell—you see, I have friends in
It is easier to stay out than get out.
It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.
It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.
Laws control the lesser man... Right conduct controls the greater one.
Let us not be too particular; it is better to have old secondhand diamonds than none
Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and
gradually approach eighteen.
Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.
Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it.
Man is the only animal that blushes—or needs to.
Man was made at the end of the week's work when God was tired.
My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately)
everybody drinks water.
Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will
delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.
Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.
You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
1Mark Twain, quoted in Mark Twain: A Biography by Albert Bigelow Paine,
2Ibid, chapter CXV.
3More quotes by Mark Twain can be read at www.brainyquote.com.
about more Famous People