Samuel Clemens: The Man Behind Mark Twain

Video essay by Lit Tips

Who was Samuel Clemens?

Through his quick wit and timeless satires, Clemens captured the idiosyncrasies of everyday American folk. He was known by pen names such as Josh and Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, but none more notable than Mark Twain. His iconic protagonists Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn appeal to the heart and soul of the American zeitgeist, especially during a time of significant change and turmoil between class and race. But, who was the man behind the great American novel?

Young Samuel Clemens
Young Samuel Clemens
Samuel Clemens as a boy

Sowing the seeds for Clemen’s later work

As a boy, Clemens and his friends dreamt of working as steamboatmen on the Mississippi. Later as a young man, he would become a cub pilot, learning the river between New Orleans and St. Louis. Twain’s vast knowledge of the Mississippi, which included its landmarks and how to read the river’s shifting channels, reefs, and submerged snags, later informed Huck and Jim’s adventure.

Steamboat captain on Mississippi
Steamboat captain on Mississippi
Samuel Clemen’s younger brother Henry
Samuel Clemen’s younger brother Henry
Samuel Clemen’s brother Henry

The rise of Mark Twain

Twain launched his career as a celebrated writer with his short story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Twain learned of the tall tale from an Angels Hotel bartender when he was passing through Angels Camp, California. The rest of his exploits in the West would inspire Roughing It, the prequel for his travel book The Innocents Abroad, which followed his time aboard the Quaker City in 1867 as he traveled the Mediterranean, while also touring Europe and the Middle East. On his travels, he met the brother of his future wife, Charles Langdon. When Charles showed Twain a photo of his sister, Olivia, he later claimed to have “fallen in love at first sight.”

Mark Twain thinking
Mark Twain thinking

Samuel Clemens — the innovator

Twain was also inspired by science and the possibilities it promised. His friendship with Nikola Tesla placed him regularly in the genius’s laboratory. Twain went on to patent three of his inventions, which came in the form of an improvement for suspenders, a history trivia game, and a self-pasting scrapbook — of which, only 25,000 were ever sold.

Mark Twain writes at his desk
Mark Twain writes at his desk

Going out with Halley’s Comet

Twain’s prediction for his death would come to pass when Halley’s Comet closely approached the Earth in 1910. The day after, on April 21, 1910, he died of a heart attack at 74 years old.

Old Mark Twain
Old Mark Twain

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