We recognize that there are no trivial occurrences in life if we get the right focus on them.
- From the autobiography of Mark Twain
This year marks the 100th year since Mark Twain's death. Celebrations have been held all over the country in memory of this remarkable and well-loved man. His stories, lectures, and quotes delight people even today. When it came to quick wit, humour and insight, he was unparalleled. Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born November 30, 1835. He is better known by his pen name, Mark Twain.
Twain earned praise from peers and critics alike for his wit and satire. William Faulkner referred to Twain as "the father of American literature". Twain's stories are packed full of folklore, folk terminology and folk beliefs. He had the great ability to look at life as an observer and gather impressions from different locales. He listened to the way people talked and their particular expressions. He took real life situations and beliefs then set forth the intricacies of it all in marvelous and endearing stories. Even when using satire in his lectures or recitals he could make people laugh.
Twain's explanation of how to deliver satire was in his "A Couple of Sad Experiences," and was printed in Galaxy Magazine, June 1870: One can deliver a satire with telling force through the insidious medium of a travesty, if he is careful not to overwhelm the satire with the extraneous interest of the travesty.
At the age of twelve, Twain started working as an apprentice for a printer in his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. Three years later he was typesetting and wrote articles and humorous sketches for the Hannibal Journal, a newspaper owned by his brother Orion. At the age of eighteen he worked as a printer in New York City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. When he was twenty-two, Twain returned to Missouri.
His boyhood dream of being a steamboat pilot came true when Horace E. Bixby, a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi, inspired him. In 1859 he received his steamboat pilot license. He was a river pilot until 1861, when the Civil War drastically cut down traffic on the Mississippi. Twain headed west, to Nevada, and began his writing career with Roughing It, a book inspired by his westward travels on a stagecoach. He tried his hand at mining in Virginia City. When his attempt at mining failed he got a job at the Territorial Enterprise, Virginia City's newspaper. This is where he first used Mark Twain as his pen name.
In 1864 Twain moved to San Francisco and wrote The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, which was his first great success. It brought national attention to him. From there it was one success after another. He quickly became world famous and well-loved.
Tom Sawyer, Joe Harper, Huck Finn, Becky Thatcher, Aunt Polly, and many other characters created by Mark Twain became memorable legends. To read one of Twain's famous books is to escape reality for a time and enter into a world of adventure and nostalgia.
Mark Twain was born two weeks after Halley's Comet made it's closest approach to Earth. Like a comet, he lit up the literature world and brightened the hearts of all who loved him and his works. On the night before Twain's death, Halley's Comet again lit up the night sky. The next night, April 21, 1910, Mark Twain left this world -- some say he left as he came into it: on the tail of Halley's Comet.
The Impartial Friend: Death, the only immortal who treats us all alike, whose pity and whose peace and whose refuge are for all--the soiled and the pure, the rich and the poor, the loved and the unloved.
- Mark Twain, last written statement