Mark Twain: The Great American Novelist (1963 biography)



Halley's Comet with its star like head and great luminous tail sweeps across the heavens on its long voyage beyond the farthest planet I came in with a comet he said and I shall go out with the comet one of America's greatest humorists wrote these prophetic lines his name is Mark Twain this is his biography I'm Mike Wallace this is biography our story Mark Twain Mark Twain gave the world rich warm-hearted laughter when he described the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn but Twain's books were also laced with cynicism and at times he was downright insulting to his fellow man yet even in his least rollicking moods there are moments of humor and sympathy for Mark Twain had an understanding of life given to few men Mark Twain rests quietly in the porch of his lonely house an old man watching the dawn of the 20th century his world has changed his time is gone yet he feels a sense of relief the title of world's greatest humorous has been a heavy burden there have been times in his life when he wished there were no Mark Twain only a Sam Clemens Samuel Langhorne Clemens arrives prematurely on November 30th 1835 as if to be on hand for the appearance of Halley's Comet over the town of Florida in Monroe County Missouri Sam's father is a lawyer a dreamer and a promoter of failures his son will never see or hear him laugh of mixed English and Irish stock the Clemens women take pride in their pre-revolutionary heritage when Sam is 4 the family moves to Hannibal on the Mississippi and when he's big enough he's sent to a private school the charges twenty-five cents per week per pupil Sam hates school and risking the inevitable birching he often plays hooky the most important things he learns and not picked up in school but from life in hannibal from the frontiers men with their hard-headed logic and rough humor from the pioneers of an expanding America passing through on their way west he learns from the fantasy world of the traveling circuses with their clowns K animals and brass bands but bright canvas colors which attract the country folk from miles around and from the fields around Hannibal he learns the difference in taste of a watermelon honestly come by and one acquired by art he learns what freedom and independence are like from the prairie Hawk hanging motionless in the sky he thrills two stories told by firelight and he learns the power of a tale well told young Sam Clemens comes to know ugly things two slaves chained for transportation to the markets he sees men killed in brutal waterfront brawl and the boy is troubled by the sight of death and man's inhumanity to man but Sam's sharpest impressions come from the great Mississippi rolling its mile-wide tide along shining in the Sun with its giant trading scowls piled with goods from places with far-off names Memphis Natchez and New Orleans the Mississippi with its secret islands places of mystery and adventure for boys like Sam Clemens the godlike River planet and he dreams that one day he too will pilot a steamboat black smoke tumbling from its tall stacks big stern-wheel beating the water flight a wild dream for a barefoot boy in Hannibal Missouri but boyhood for Sam Clemens ends at 14 when his father dies leaving the family too poor for the luxury of Sam's 25 cent a week education until his older brother or Ryan buys the Hannibal journey and hires Sam as an apprentice printer the paper is for him a poor boys college two years later his first story of the dandy frightening this quarter appears in the carpetbag a Boston magazine armed with this success he feels he is ready to leave Hannibal he makes a promise to his mother I do solemnly swear he says that I will not throw a card or drink a drop of liquor while I am gone then the 18 year old sam sets out to see the world Sam let's for years slip on while he sizes up his fellow man in all sorts of places in April 1857 he boards the Paul Jones for New Orleans the first leg of a journey to Brazil to have a look at the Amazon jungles but once onboard his boyhood ambition to be a river pilot is reawakened Sam forgets the Amazon and spends the next three days convincing the votes pilot Horace Bixby that he needs an assistant nixb agrees to teach Sam the ways of the Mississippi from New Orleans to st. Louis all 1,300 miles order in time Sam Clemens becomes master of almost 2,000 tons of floating Rococo splendor driven by the power of live steam were Sam these are his best days he sees the river in all its moves he pilots his boat around rocks and skims dangerously over the sandbars and when the water is safe again beneath the bow he hears the lensman call Mark Twain Mark Twain goes the chant and the deckhands relax in the Sun Mart plane and the stern whale increases its feet again Sam uses his newfound bronzer as a river palette to get a job for his younger brother Henry on another boat the Pennsylvania but Henry is killed when the Pennsylvania's boiler explodes and Sam is heartbroken he feels he is responsible for his brother's death 1861 the Civil War brings a new kind of disaster to the river and end Sam piloting career at the age of 25 he gives up the Mississippi and the boyhood dream that came true for the sleepy town of Hannibal in the half northern half southern state of Missouri the Civil War is a confusing affair the town folks spend much of their time trying to choose a side the Clemens boys Sam and his older brother Orion are deadlocked Sam is for the south Orion is a Yankee the argument continues until they reach a compromise Orion persuades Sam to go west with him for the new territory of Nevada on August 19 1861 the dusty Clemens brothers arrive in Carson City Nevada gold and silver mining are Nevada's industries drinking and murder it's recreations Sam never amounts to much as a minor partly because of his reawakening interest in writing then in the summer of 1862 he walks 130 miles to Virginia City a town which has grown wealthy with the discovery of the fabulous Comstock silver lo Sam Clemens goes directly to a newspaper called the territorial enterprise my name is Sam Clemens he says quietly and I've come to write to your paper Sam brings the enterprise of vigorous style and a fresh point of view he Lampoon's and satirizes pork-barrel politics and everything else the territory takes seriously and he soon earns some formidable enemies hoping to throw indignant and possibly violent readers off the track Sam begins to sign his humorous articles by a new name Mark Twain but the climate in Virginia City is too hot even for Mark Twain and so Sam drifts to San Francisco and takes a job with the morning call the call refuses some of his articles concerning local police brutality but Sam sends his acid humor off to the devil-may-care Enterprise in Nevada this results in a quick sellout of all copies of the enterprise as soon as they arrive in San Francisco Sam's passion for justice makes him popular with everyone but the police during the winter of 1864 he tries mining again at Angel's camp in the Sierra Foothills instead of gold he finds material for a story he will call the Jumping Frog of Calaveras County the appearance of the jumping frog in a Saturday press sets New York in an uproar Sam's way of life changes dramatically he will never again be Sam Clemens of Hannibal Missouri but rather Mark Twain the wild humorist of the West now his writings are much in demand but instead of accepting the comfortable authors at home Marc's restlessness makes him take an unusual assignment he sets out to do a series of travel articles about Europe and the Holy Land aboard the ship Quaker City bound for the Holy Land Mark Twain falls deeply in love for the first time in all his 32 years unfortunately the young lady Olivia Langdon is not on board but 3,000 miles away in Elmira New York for the moment she is only an ivory miniature carried in her brother's pocket but from the day his friend Charles Langdon shows in the miniature Olivia will never be out of Marc's thoughts for the next five months mark sends colorful and humorous articles back to Anne eagerly waiting America he makes his stop in Paris of delightfully vivid experience for his readers while he pokes fun at himself as a wide-eyed tourist he describes Europe has old and slightly man Mark Twain comes home a national celebrity and he wastes no time in laying siege to the Langdon mansion just 22 genteel delicate Olivia is intrigued but frightened by this wild man who claims to have fallen in love with her picture her father admires mark but bringing this volatile personality into the family is another matter mr. Langdon asks for references mark writes to his old pals in Nevada for recommendations brilliant has a great future they all agree but would make the worst husband on record despite this health mark wins out and on February 2nd 1870 Olivia Langdon becomes mrs. Samuel Langhorne Clemens soon after his first book innocents abroad is published Mark Twain is acclaimed the greatest humorist of the age his success with innocence abroad is followed by even more acclaim for roughing it the story of his life in the West and by the Gilded Age the satire and burlesque of the era of President Grant now within a few brief years Sam Clemens the Pioneer boy from Hannibal is the famous respected and wealthy Mark Twain his new home in Hartford Connecticut has 19 Romans the balcony like a riverboat wheelhouse the porch like a river boats deck three girls Clara Jean and Susie are born to the trains Susy is his favorite but he loves them all with a quiet devotion then in the 1870s two imaginary boys are born at the Twain house they are named Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn with Tom and Huck Mark Twain takes his readers back to the Mississippi to a time that is forever summer [Applause] we're small boys will always stand on the riverbank to catch first sight of steamboats with new white paint and polished brass and the hay in the field smells rich and ready for the wagon back to the quiet southern town but we'll never know more evil than it needs to make it exciting Mark Twain's three books The Adventures of Tom Sawyer life on the Mississippi and the immortal Huckleberry Finn are the beginning of a remarkable outpouring of short stories articles and novels among them the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and the prince and the pauper by 1890 marks prestige is immense he is listened to and quoted by queens of emperors London and Vienna traffic is stopped to let him pass mark is admired by renowned authors like Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson he meets and makes a friend of young Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw calls Mark Twain by far the greatest American writer but at the peak of his fame and good fortune the earth begins to tremble beneath Mark Twain his business ventures failed to show a profit and then become a growing drain on his savings mark realizes that he is dangerously overextended himself and for the next year he works desperately to avoid financial disaster but it is too late in 1895 ill almost 60 now Mark and his wife Livi leave for a world lecture tour to pay off his creditors the exhausting trip ends in London where their daughters Susie and Jean are to join them while Mark writes a book of his travels but the children do not come across the Atlantic Susie his favorite dies of meningitis now levy declines into invalidism the Mark Twain begins to feel that the gods have turned against him his new book following the equator is the work of a man dazed by sorrow the wild humorist of the West is all but lost his human he seeks relief and work but he finds it hard to concentrate I read the morning paper he says well knowing I shall find in it the usual depravities baseness hypocrisy and cruelties that make up civilization causing me to plead for the damnation of the human race because of Libby's failing health mark takes the family to the warm hills of Italy but at their little villa near Florence in June of nineteen four Livy dies at quarter past 9:00 this evening mark writes she that was the life of my life past to the relief and peace of death I am tired and old I wish I will with Libya except for one last trip to England to receive an honorary degree from Oxford Mark Twain will never travel again Mark Twain's last two years has spent at his new home in Redding Connecticut with his daughter Jean here despite recurring heart pains he smokes as many as 20 cigars a day restlessly plays billiards until far into the night then on Christmas Day of nineteen nine Gene Kranz dies of an epileptic convulsion well he says with tragic resignation to a friend I suppose you have heard of this final disaster 1910 a lonely Mark Twain watches the close of the first decade of the 20th century he feels that he has been made to outlive almost everything he has ever loved but his fighting spirit remains unbroken and his power with words has not deserted him he expresses his answer to the questions of life and death in his final work the mysterious stranger there is no God no human race no heaven no hell it is all a dream a grotesque and foolish dream man is but a thought a useless thought a homeless thoughts wandering forlorn among the empty eternity but these words written by a Mark Twain bitter and disillusioned by tragedy are overlooked and all but forgotten by a world that will be forever grateful for the laughter and warmth of his vintage years then on April 20 of 1910 seventy-four years and five months since it passed over the Clements Cabin in Monroe County Missouri Halley's Comet appears with its great luminous tails sweeping across the night heavens on its long voyage beyond the farthest planet I came in with a comet said Sam Clemens and I shall go out with the comet the next day Mark Twain is dead in almost every language in almost every library throughout the world there is a row of books written by Sam Clemens these books still hold the same special delights they did for readers almost a century ago they endure because like their Creator they are a unique combination of fantasy and truth pessimism and hope they express the unmistakable spirit of the man called Mark Twain Mike Wallace for biography

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