A retrospective: Mark Twain

‘Samuel Langhorne Clemens‘, or how most know him as, ‘Mark Twain‘, was born in 1835, in ‘Florida, Missouri‘. At the age of four he moved to ‘Hannibal, Missouri‘, which could well have heavily influenced some of his literary works. He stayed at Hannibal until he was seventeen, and chose to leave as violence and abuse of slaves was commonplace. He was frequently told that slavery was an institution approved by God, but this didn’t sit well with him, so he fulfilled his boyhood dream by becoming a steamboat pilot, which was a highly paid and respectable job, but this was a brief career, as the Civil War broke out and he became part of the Confederate Army, but his involvement was short lived and he decided to pursue a future in ‘Virginia City, Nevada‘, where he gained a job working for the local newspaper, ‘Territorial Enterprise‘ after impressing the editor with several letters he sent. He became part of the writing team that were known as the ‘Sagebrush Bohemians‘, where he found success.

“Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.” – Mark Twain

He was raised as a ‘Presbyterian‘, which came about due to his Scottish heritage, but as he experienced life in Virginia City, where gambling, drinking, violence, political unrest, and riots, he didn’t remain one for long. As he continued to develop as a writer, Samuel started to sign some of his work as Mark Twain, which would eventually become as pseudonym that everyone would know him by. In 1864 he decided it was time to move to ‘San Francisco, California‘, to try his hand at being a full-time reporter for the ‘Call‘.

“There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.” – Mark Twain

He was invited by a humorist called ‘Artemus Ward‘, to contribute towards a book he was publishing, but it was presented too late, and instead it was printed in the ‘New York Saturday Press‘, and overnight, Mark Twain attained a celebrity presence in the United States of America, with the story ‘Jim Smiley and his Jumping Frog‘. It was November 1865, and Samuel Clemens was no more. Mark Twain was born, and would become one of the world’s most renowned satirists.

“God created wars so Americans could learn geography” – Mark Twain

As he matured as a writer, his workload got dramatically more gruelling and not only did he do tours lecturing, but he was writing for several newspapers, and in 1867 he travelled across the country to set up residence in ‘New York City‘, but that was short lived as he set about a transatlantic journey to ‘Europe‘ and parts of ‘Asia‘. This was funded by the ‘San Francisco Alta California‘ (who he’d become a travel consultant for), so long as he wrote about his adventure, and this became known as ‘The Innocents Abroad‘ which was published in 1869 and was a literary success. Within the next three years upon returning to New York, he met a lady, married, moved to ‘Buffalo, New York State‘, bought into a newspaper and published another book in 1872, titled, ‘Roughing it‘, which was a semi autobiographical novel based on his experiences in the West of the United States which was written in a humorous style. The following year he published another book, ‘United States: The Gilded Age‘, with his friend, ‘Charles Dudley‘, which was political satire, and one of the characters had a play constructed about him, which had moderate success.

All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” – Ernest Hemingway

He continued working as a writer for newspapers but he began working on the book that would gain him world wide notoriety, ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer‘, which was published in 1876, which was influenced by his experiences living beside the ‘Mississippi River‘. The book is set in a fictional town of St. Petersburg, in the 1840s, and nine years later he published its sequel who’s about Tom’s friend, titled ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn‘. Both books were a huge success which were enjoyed by children and adults alike. After the second book was published in 1885, he travelled to Europe, especially ‘Germany‘ and ‘Switzerland‘, where he published another memoir titled, ‘A Tramp Abroad‘.

He continued to write into the turn of the 20th century, but he never managed to reach the scale that he accomplished with his two ‘Adventures of...’ novels. In 1904 his wife passed away and his writing became considerably more bitter, and he wrote articles displaying his contempt for several famous writers, and his last real book was his autobiography which was published by the ‘University of California‘, one hundred years after his death.

Political views

Little was it known that he was an avid supporter of the reformists in the lead up to the ‘Russian Revolution‘ as he believed that the Tsar needed removing violently as peaceful measures could never work.

“I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolute.”

With him growing up by the Mississippi, he was fully aware of the abuse, neglect, and the lack of preservation of life that the black slaves had to endure, and because of this, he was a firm supporter of ‘slavery abolition‘. He also made it very clear that white man had the privilege in America, and non-whites were treated like second class citizens, as well as the black slaves, the Chinese also got a rough deal when they were exploited when they arrived on American soil. He also included that when white man colonised anywhere in the world, the indigenous people there suffered. He was also one of the most famous people to stand up for women’s rights, and suffrage where women were just as entitled to vote as men were.

Religion

As I stated earlier, he was raised a Presbyterian, but as a young man his faith left him, and he became critical and outspoken about organised religion, and at the time America was becoming ‘antiCatholic‘ and he supported this as a vast number of pro-slavery supporters were Catholic, especially in the south. He remained very skeptical of religion throughout his life, and was the first to criticise its hypocrisy, but he remained a believer in God, despite it troubling him. In his literary works he often poked fun at religion, and it was a key focus often, especially in his Huckleberry Finn novel.

“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” – Mark Twain

“No man that has ever lived has done a thing to please God–primarily. It was done to please himself, then God next.” – Mark Twain

To trust the God of the Bible is to trust an irascible, vindictive, fierce and ever fickle and changeful master; to trust the true God is to trust a Being who has uttered no promises, but whose beneficent, exact, and changeless ordering of the machinery of His colossal universe is proof that He is at least steadfast to His purposes; whose unwritten laws, so far as the affect man, being equal and impartial, show that he is just and fair; these things, taken together, suggest that if he shall ordain us to live hereafter, he will be steadfast, just and fair toward us. We shall not need to require anything more.” – Mark Twain

God, so atrocious in the Old Testament, so attractive in the New–the Jekyl and Hyde of sacred romance.” – Mark Twain

As you can see, Mark Twain is a rare breed. He has faith, and isn’t afraid to declare it, but also understands the hypocrisy and nature of organised religion. This is a theist that I have no shame to admit I admire. He wasn’t afraid to stand out from the crowd, or rock the boat. He even said that if you always agree with the majority, then it’s time to step back and take a hard look at yourself. He died in 1910 of a heart attack, at the age of 74.

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” – Mark Twain