E'er the Twain shall meet—November 26, 2010
November 30th will mark the 175th birthday of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known to the world as Mark Twain. Born in 1835 in the small town of Florida, Missouri, Clemens worked as a newspaperman and story writer, then as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River. When the Civil War began he joined the Confederate army but left after two weeks, claiming he was exhausted from “persistent retreating.”
Twain traveled the wild West and tried his hand at prospecting for silver. He was never successful and took a job writing for the newspaper in Virginia City, Nevada, in order to make a living. He liked to make up stories and print these “tall tales,” and readers enjoyed his humor. However, those he wrote about were not always amused and he had to quit his job and leave town.
Twain began a career as a storyteller and public speaker in 1866 at a friend’s encouragement. He was very nervous before his first public show and was sure that no one would pay a dollar to hear him. When he saw the packed house, his courage returned and he was an instant hit.
His first book, “The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches,” was published in 1867. Most of his books are based on his travels and personal experiences. His memories of his childhood growing up in Hannibal, Missouri, led to “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and its sequel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which many consider to be America’s greatest novel.
Halley’s comet was streaking through the sky when Twain was born. In 1909 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.” And he was correct—the comet was visible in the sky on April 21, 1910, when he died.
You can learn more about Twain’s life in biographies found in the children’s department of the library. These include: “The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West” by Sid Fleischman, “American Boy: The Adventures of Mark Twain” by Don Brown, “Mark T-W-A-I-N! A Story About Samuel Clemens” by David R. Collins, “Mark Twain: An American Star” by Elizabeth MacLeod and “Mark Twain? What Kind of Name Is That?” by Robert Quackenbush.
Twain is also featured in a fictional story for children entitled “Alice Rose and Sam” by Kathryn Lasky. The story takes place in Virginia City, Nevada, during the Civil War. Twelve-year-old Alice Rose shares adventures with Sam Clemens, who is a reporter on her father’s newspaper, and the author deftly works actual events from Clemens’ life into this fictional account.
Visit the library and look for books by and about Mark Twain, the man known as America’s greatest humorist.