The Author and the Frog: Mark Twain

MarryingMinda Crop to Use

Sometimes I reach for organization and plan a series of blogs, then something happens to totally knock me off course. Take my bald eagle blog of March 17. I’d fully intended to tell you about a guy with a hole in his head but couldn’t resist sharing that eagle cam. By the way, the babies are hatched and healthy if you wanna snare a quick peek

So… when I found out today is the hundred-year anniversary of Mark Twain’s death, well, duh. The American Lit teacher in me screamed out.  twain-mark-photoThe guy was born in 1835 when Halley’s Comet was making its infrequent sojourn around the universe, and the ever-witty Samuel Langhorne Clemens always said he wouldn’t leave this world until Halley’s came around again. He was right, passing away on April 21, 1910, in Hartford Connecticut.

Born in Florida, Missouri of good Virginia and Kentucky stock, the puny, determined boy survived two stronger siblings. In 1839, the family moved  to Hannibal along the Mississippi River. Today, Hannibal, where Samuel lived from age 4 to 18, is the “holy land” for Twainiacs. Some 60,000 visited Mark Twain’s Boyhood and Museum last year. As Hannibal native Pulitzer Prize-winning writer/historian Ron Powers puts it, “One of our guys made it.”

The caves, cemeteries and islands off the mighty Mississippi where he played- along with the simple clapboard homes of the Clemenses and his first sweetheart, (she inspired Tom Sawyer’s Becky Thatcher)– influenced his writings later. Mark Twain said in his autobiography, “In…Hannibal, Missouri when I was a boy, everybody was poor but didn’t  know it. And everybody was comfortable and did know it.”

When his dad died in 1847, formal schooling ended for 12-year old Samuel, and he went to work as a printer’s apprentice. Brother Orion, already a printer by trade, started up a small newspaper in the family home. Twains boyhood homeInitially a typesetter, young Sam began to write articles in his own inimitable style—usually in his brother’s absence. He often got in trouble upon Orion’s return, but his efforts helped the paper sell. Sadly, Orion never realized his brother’s potential—both of them could have been successes early on.

Although he visited New York and worked in Cincinnati in a printing-office, Sam developed the popular ambition of visiting South America. Meeting Horace Bixby,one of the greatest pilots of the time, Sam decided instead to become a pilot (captain) on one of the riverboats sailing the great Mississippi. Bixby  took on Sam as his apprentice.

The task of learning the 1,200 miles of always-changing river between St. Louis and New Orleans—even in the dark—was daunting, but within 18 months he became not only a pilot, but one of best and most careful on the river. Those who knew the writer Mark Twain later on when he was a dreamy, air-headed gent without a care for details, could hardly accept that he’d been so successful. Mississippi River near TWains home

Although Samuel joined the Confederate army as a Lieutenant, he resigned after two weeks.  His steamboat career was over due to the blockaded river, so he  journeyed to Nevada with his abolitionist brother. Orion had been appointed by President Lincoln as Secretary of the new Territory.

Clemens became a miner but not a rich one, and contributor to the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in Virginia City. In 1862, he was invited to take over as local editor, and it was at this time he came across his pen name, Mark Twain, a term from his steamboat days that means two fathoms deep. He –and fellow overland writer Bret Harte–quickly became known up and down the Pacific coast.  Both would soon acquire a world-wide fame.

Terrirtorial Enterprise

After forced to leave Carson City due to a duel, Twain set up in San Francisco for a bit. With pal Jim Gillis (apparently Jim’s brother was the indirect cause of Twain’s troubles) he went up into Calaveras County, deep in California’s gold country.  For three peaceful, California-Gold-Rush-Miners-2happy months Twain lingered here, laying the cornerstone for his future. For while he and Jim tried to find gold at Angels Camp, the groundbreaking tall tale The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County was born. The story appeared in in New York’s Saturday Press of November 18, 1865, becoming an uproarious success that annoyed, rather than gratified, its author. Twain had thought very little of the story and wondered why work he had regarded more highly had not found fuller recognition. But The Jumping Frog did not die. Papers printed it and reprinted it, and it was translated into foreign tongues.

Jumping Frog

The name of “Mark Twain” became known as the author of that tale, for which Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are forever grateful!  Since I could write forever, please find more in-depth information and a list of works in these fine links.

How about you all? Any favorite Twain works? Study him in high school? Get annoyed by the phonetically-spelled dialect in Huck Finn? What other  authors from your school days stand out?


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45 thoughts on “The Author and the Frog: Mark Twain”

  1. Great blog, Tanya. I idolize Mark Twain, such a brilliant, witty, sardonic and bitter man. I’m especially fond of the piece he wrote about Adam and Eve – can’t even remember the name of it now. But what a life!

  2. Hi Lyn, one of my Bucket List things to do is visit Hannibal. I know how you feel though…we stopped at a Russian fort in Northern California during a recent trip and found it closed…our governor has ordered state parks closed a few days a week. Bummed! I’ll probably never be at that out-of-the-way place ever again. Grrrrrrrrrrr. So nice to have you stop by today.

  3. Hi Elizabeth, I agree entirely. Not to be missed. One of my faves is pretty obscure, The Private History of a Campaign That Failed. There is so much more on Twain and his works, his bitterness at the end of his life and the loss of his wife and daughters, but the blog would have ended up several thousand words LOL. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for posting!

  4. Hi Tanya, great post and yes we did have to read some of Mark Twains works in school! I always enjoyed them! Compared to some of the other things we had to read these stories where great!

  5. Hi Elizabeth. Great post! I’ve always been a Mark Twain fan. His humor and wit has stood the test of time. He’s on my list of people I would love to have met.

    Lyn’s and Tanya’s experiences with closed tourist spots reminds me of the time my husband and I visited the California gold rush area. We checked into a hotel built during the 1850s and known for its ghosts. The clerk handed us a key to the front door, told us to lock up before we went to bed, and left. I thought it was odd until I realized we were the only guests in the hotel. Needless to say I didn’t sleep much that night.

  6. I’m a huge Mark Twain fan.
    I always think of Huckleberry Finn as a terrific example of how we do an injustice to history when we ban such a book because it uses the N word. We just have no notion of how groundbreaking it was for a black character to be fully developed, respected, important to a story back then.

    So, through the prism of revisionist history, it’s considered racist and yet for it’s time it was a huge step forward for writing black characters. Sometimes the narrow mindedness, the lack of perspective in our modern society is ridiculous.

    I still remember that book, the sense of floating down the river on a raft. The feeling of just really BEING there. Loved it.

    And Tom Sawyer showing up at the end. Making Jim dig himself out of the building he was locked in with a spoon-just to make it more of an adventure … for TOM.
    Tom Sawyer, the eternal fearless naughty boy.

  7. Hi Cheryl, yes, one of those neat little tidbits. Re: his real moniker– Samuel was a family name and Langhorne was a friend of his dad’s from Virginia.

    Thanks for stopping by! oxoxox

  8. Hi Quilt Lady, always good to see you here! I agree, some of the stuff we had to learn–and teach–were real snoozers (Don’t get me started on Red Badge of Courage and Billy Budd) but HF really was a treat to read and teach. Although… I still hear students’ whining about the phonetically-spelled dialect. “What does ‘gwine’ mean?” Read it quickly and it’ll all gel in your head…

  9. Hi Margaret, woooooooooo. That would be scary. We stayed at the Queen Mary which is supposedly haunted but didn’t have any luck LOL, and our daughter’s wedding venue has a ghost, but he’s supposedly a friendly one.

    I too would schedule Mark Twain as a guest at my imaginary literary dinner party. Thanks for posting! oxoxoxox

  10. Hi Mary, hear, hear! Huck Finn is the truest all-American book of all time, featuring original (not European) themes (e.g. self-reliance and slavery and people and dialect, plus one of the greatest settings of all–the Mississippi River. Yet to be shelved and rerided for using one of the colloquial and NOT perjorative terms of the time period is just plain stupid. (No one seems to get upset about derogatory terms for women: that’s always free speech.) Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

    Huck and Tom are terrific characters and any kid, even girls, wants to be them LOL.

    Thanks for the wonderful reaction. oxoxoxox

  11. Hi Lauri, what a play that must have been! I was Mr. Harvey in a Harvey Girls play as a Girl Scout LOL. Mom made me spats out of old socks and I slipped them over my black patent leather Christmas pumps. Thanks so much for remembering Huck and Tom today! Great guys, huh?

  12. Tanya,

    I always love it when you are doing a blog. Mark Twain is one of my favorite authors. I have a movie about him. It was sad when he died. I love all of his works.

    Have a wonderful day

    Walk in harmony,

  13. Tanya, I loved learning about Mark Twain. Wow! He was certainly a remarkable man. Another author I grew to love in school was Charlotte Bronte. I read “Jane Eyre” several times. I also liked Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” and James Fenimore Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans.” As you can guess I was an avid reader. 🙂

    Thanks for such an interesting post.

  14. Hi Tanya,
    Loved your post! Your subject today is near and dear to my heart. I was born in Hannibal and still live nearby.
    Lyn, sorry you found everything closed up when you visited. The tour through the cave was always a thrill for me. It is quite an experience, especially if you’ve never been in a cave before. I love the part in Tom Sawyer when Tom and Becky are lost in the cave.
    Mark Twain’s stories remind me of the old men I knew as a child who always had a funny or scary story to share.
    By the way, did you know Molly Brown was also from Hannibal?

  15. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were required reading when I was in school and I loved them both. In college I did a major research paper on how Sam’s boyhood infuenced his writing.

  16. Hi Melinda, always good to see you here, too. He was a great one, wasn’t he? Tom Sawyer was written more as a chidren’s novel, but Huck, definitely not. Good stuff.
    Looks to be a wonderful day outside…windy and blustery with rain probably later on. Have a good one yourself.

  17. Hi Linda, you just mentioned several of my favorites as well. I will always loathe that headmaster of Lowood School. And Wuthering Heights is a must! The atmosphere, the gloom. The tortured hero. I have read some Cooper…but confess to loving Mohicans on the big screen…Daniel Day Lewis shouting, I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far. I will find you. *Sigh*

  18. Dear Judy, the closest I have come to Twain locale is the former Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland. Oh, how we’d “haunt” those faux caves during our childhood. Now they’ve modernized it to Pirates Isle after the Johnny Depp movies. Oh well, still fun, but not the same.

    I did not know Molly Brown was from Hannibal! Thanks for that fun tidbit. I recall seeing her mansion, or one of them, in Denver during my student teaching days. Thanks for posting today!

  19. Oh, I forgot this earlier on when Cher wrote. The term mark twain indicated a device the pilot had for measuring the depth of the river. The Mississippi isn’t very deep and its slow currents shift the sandbars all the time, making a pilot’s course different each time he sails. So this device let them know the water in a particular area was deep enough for safe passage.

  20. Hi Anne, oh, yes, the prince and the pauper. Terrific. He wrote some great non-fiction too. But the characters he created just live and live, don’t they? Thanks for stopping by today.

  21. Hi Tanya – Oh boy, I loved learning about Mark Twain. Loved the trivia surrounding him too, especially how he got that name. I saw his desk and writings in Virginia City, Nevada once and it always stayed with me. Great info and blog!!

  22. Hi Charlene, oh, yes, his presence in Virginia City is so strong! Hubby took a pic of me outside the Territorial Enteprise but I forgot to search for it (the computer just got restored and nothing is as it was!) before posting the blog.

    Thanks for posting today. I just think he is so fascinating.

  23. What an incredible post, Tanya. I learned some things about this man that I didn’t know. Virginia City sure does have a history, doesn’t it? I visited it once — you’re talking of the Virginia City in Montana, right? Oh, I just looked again, Nevada. Okay. So that Virginia City I haven’t been to.

    Great post.

  24. Hi Kay, thanks. Yeah, this VC is the one in Nevada, which is still so almost perfectly preserved. I remember your book set in the Montana one. I actually learned, then, that there were two LOL. Thanks for posting. oxoxoxoxo

  25. I don’t think anyone can be considered well-read who have not read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Both are cited so often in various places in other literature. Mark Twain will live forever in the hearts pf readers.

  26. Hi Gladys, so true! Should be required reading for all Americans. We have a family friend, 20, who asked who Mark Twain was when the namesake
    sternwheeler sailed by on the faux river at Disneyland! Wow. Thanks for posting today.

  27. I remember reading the Jumping Frog story in grade school, then a couple years later my sixth grade teacher read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn out loud to us. I thought that was so cool.

  28. We went to Mark Twain’s house in Hartford, CT. a year or so ago. What a wonderful place – solid, homey, and comfortable. We are so lucky they were able to get it and much of the contents. Twain never returned to the house after his daughter died and it was sold. The new museum is really nice.
    Ken Burns did a PBS program on Mark Twain that is outstanding. There was much about him and his life that I had never heard.
    When we lived in California, we took the family up to Calaveras County and did the touristy tour about the Jumping Frog. Nice area.
    There is so much that Twain wrote that most people don’t know about. I’m going to be exploring some of his essays. I like Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

  29. Hi Pat, I recall Twain’s desolation at the loss of his daughter. I also must do more delving into his essays and nonfiction. Other than Life on the Mississippi, which I knew fairly well. Thanks so much for your observations today.

    Everyone, thanks for a great day! I appreciate your responses so much.

  30. Hi Tanya,

    I made it! I love this post, girl! SO COOL. I think the most interesting thing about Mark Twain is his birth and death coinciding with Halley’s Comet. Pretty amazing. He was such an interesting person, wasn’t he?


  31. Hi Pat, I recall Twain’s desolation at the loss of his daughter. I also must do more delving into his essays and nonfiction. Other than Life on the Mississippi, which I knew fairly well. Thanks so much for your observations today.

    Everyone, thanks for a great day! I appreciate your responses so much.

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