Twain'S Essays

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To most readers of his works in the 21st century Mark Twain is probably known as a humorist.

He is someone who, by the deft use of language, entertainingly offbeat characters and the more-than-occasional plot twist can keep us reading and laughing to the end.

William Faulkner wrote that Twain was "the first truly American writer, and all of us since are his heirs." Clemens maintained that the name "Mark Twain" came from his years on the riverboat, where two fathoms (12 ft, approximately 3.7 m) or "safe water" was measured on the sounding line, was marked by calling "mark twain".

But it is often thought that the name actually came from his wilder days in the West, where he would buy two drinks and tell the bartender to "mark twain" on his tab. In addition to Mark Twain, Clemens used the pseudonym "Sieur Louis de Conte".

That story, originally entitled "Jim Smiley and his Jumping Frog" but now better known as "The Celebrated Jumping Frog Of Calaveras County," was reprinted nationwide, and called by Atlantic Monthly editor James Russell Lowell "the finest piece of humorous literature yet produced in America." In the spring of 1866 he was commissioned by the Sacramento Union newspaper to travel to the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) to write a series of letters reporting on his journey there.

On his return to San Francisco, the success of the letters and the personal encouragement of Colonel John Mc Comb (publisher of San Francisco's Alta California newspaper) led him to try his hand at the lecture circuit, renting the Academy of Music and charging a dollar a head admission."Doors open at 7 o'clock," Twain wrote on the advertising poster."The trouble to begin at 8 o'clock." The first lecture was a wild success, and soon Twain was traveling up and down the state, lecturing and entertaining to packed houses.Sold by subscription, the book became hugely popular and put its author in a spotlight he never willingly relinquished for the rest of his life.After the success of Innocents Abroad he married Olivia Langdon in 1870 and moved to Buffalo, New York, then to Hartford, Connecticut.Once in Nevada he became a miner, hoping to strike it rich digging up silver in the Comstock Lode and staying for long periods in camp with his fellow prospectors--another mode of living that he later put to literary use.Failing as a miner, he fell into newspaper work in Virginia City for the Territorial Enterprise, where he adopted the pen name "Mark Twain" for the first time.At the time that the telegraph brought the news of his death, I was on the Pacific coast. When he was four years old, The Family moved to the river town of Hannibal, Missouri, hoping their fortunes would improve there.I was a fresh new journalist, and needed a nom de guerre; so I confiscated the ancient mariner's discarded one, and have done my best to make it remain what it was in his hands-- a sign and symbol and warrant that whatever is found in its company may be gambled on as being the petrified truth; how I have succeeded, it would not be modest in me to say. It was this town and its inhabitants that the author Mark Twain later put to such imaginative use in his most famous works, especially The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer (1876). The oldest son, Orion, soon began publishing a newspaper and Sam began contributing to it as a journeyman printer and occasional writer.But of course he was in fact far more than simply a humorist.His work, from short stories like The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County to novels like Huckleberry Finn, was as much social commentary and an attempt to right the wrongs of the world that he saw around him, as it was any attempt to make people laugh.


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