Samuel Langhorne Clemens

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TWAIN, Mark (1835-1910). A onetime printer and Mississippi River boat pilot, Mark Twain became one of America's greatest authors. His 'Tom Sawyer', 'Huckleberry Finn', and 'Life on the Mississippi' rank high on any list of great American books.

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on Nov. 30, 1835, in the small town of Florida, Mo. He was the fourth of five children. His father was a hard worker but a poor provider. The family moved to Hannibal, Mo., on the Mississippi, when young Clemens was 4 years old. It was in this river town that he grew up, and from it he gathered the material for his most famous stories. The character of Judge Carpenter is somewhat like his father; Aunt Polly, his mother; Sid Sawyer, his brother Henry; Huck Finn, a town boy named Tom Blankenship; and Tom Sawyer, a combination of several boys--including himself.

His father died when he was 12, and the boy was apprenticed to a printer. An apprentice works for someone in order to learn a trade. This was the first step toward his career as a writer. In 1857 he apprenticed himself to a riverboat pilot. He became a licensed pilot and spent two and a half years at his new trade. The river swarmed with traffic, and the pilot was the most important man aboard the boat. He wrote of these years in 'Life on the Mississippi'.

The Civil War ended his career as a pilot. Clemens went west to Nevada and soon became a reporter on the Virginia City newspaper. Here he began using the pen name Mark Twain. It is an old river term meaning two fathoms, or 12 feet (4 meters), of water depth.

In 1864 he went to California. The next year he wrote his 'Jumping Frog' story, which ran in many newspapers. He was sent to the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) as a roving reporter, and on his return he began lecturing. He was soon on a tour of the Mediterranean and the Holy Land. From this came 'The Innocents Abroad', which made him famous.

In 1870 he married Olivia Langdon. She modified Twain's exaggerations, sometimes weakening his writings, sometimes actually making them more readable. Twain began turning out a new book every few years.
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