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He said, “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." This great American author did die in 1910 with the next visit of Haley’s Comet, and though he is better known by his pen name, his characters are a symbol of American humor and ingenuity. He was first author to type a manuscript on a new invention called “the typewriter”. In a moment, we’ll become better acquainted with the writer of what has been called “The Great American Novel”--

Today on Biography

Samuel Langehorne Clemens is better known as Mark Twain, a pen name which also takes its meaning from measurements of river depth. Calling out “by the Mark Twain” on a riverboat means the sounding rope is out two fathoms, or twain. This meant there was 12 feet of water in the river. Wherever he came up with the name, Samuel Clemens produced some of the most memorable characters in American Literature in books like “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” – a book some call the Great American Novel. Working in his youth as a printer’s apprentice after his father’s death, he later worked as a printer in several major U.S. cities. He said, “Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.” In a related vein, he said, “When in doubt, tell the truth” and “If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything.”

He then spent two years learning the intricacies of the Mississippi to qualify as a steamboat pilot. He once remarked, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” He convinced his brother to come and work on the river with him.

Clemens had an unusual dream two weeks before the death of his brother Henry, foreseeing how his brother would die in an explosion while working on a steamboat. After the Civil War began, travel on the Mississippi was significantly less, and Samuel Clemens then joined his brother on a trip to Nevada, where Orion Clemens was to serve as secretary to the governor of the Nevada territory. Mark Twain documents his many adventures through the west and his other travels, first becoming known for his short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

A very successful writer, Twain was notorious for investing in new inventions and spending all of his earnings. He once said, “I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.”

After a world tour giving lectures, Samuel Clemens returned to the United States in 1900 with his debts paid. He was a promoter of the abolition of slavery, and spoke in favor of granting the right to vote to women.

Famous for his wit, he once said of the government, “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

He also quipped, “Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any.”

He also once said, “The only reason why God created man is because he was disappointed with the monkey.”

Samuel Clemens helped us laugh about the problems of the world, and as he once said, “Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand.”

When one of his cousins died, reports circulated that Samuel Clemens was dead. He replied, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Once hearing himself praised in an introduction he said, “I was sorry to have my name mentioned as one of the great authors, because they have a sad habit of dying off. Chaucer is dead, Spencer is dead, so is Milton, so is Shakespeare, and I’m not feeling so well myself.”

Ernest Hemingway once said of Mark Twain, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Mark Twain’s prediction that he would go out with Haley’s Comet was prescient. He died one day after the comet made its closest approach. Upon hearing of Twain's death, President William Howard Taft said, "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."

Samuel Clemens once contemplated his choice of final destinations and concluded, “..[H]eaven for climate, Hell for society.”


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Mark Twain

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