The New Student's Reference Work/Clemens, Samuel Langhorne

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Clemens (klĕm′enz), Samuel Langhorne (Mark Twain), was born at Florida, Mo., Nov. 30, 1835. He was first a printer, and afterward a pilot on the Mississippi River. One of the commonest sounds heard on a Mississippi steamboat in shallow water is the call of the man sounding the depth of the water — “Mark Twain,” meaning mark two fathoms; and when Clemens wanted a pseudonym, he took this familiar call. After spending some time in the silver mines of Nevada, he became a journalist in San Francisco. He became widely known as a humorist through his first book, Innocents Abroad which he brought out in 1869. Tom Sawyer, perhaps his most popular work, was published in 1876. Other of his works are A Tramp Abroad (1880); The Prince and the Pauper (1882); Life on the Mississippi (1883); Huckelberry Finn (1885); Pudd'n-head Wilson (1895); Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894); Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896); Following the Equator (1897); The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg (1900); Christian Science (1903); How to Tell a Story (1904); and Editorial Wild Oats (1905).

Through the failure, in 1894, of the publishing house of Charles L. Webster & Co., of which he was the founder, Mr. Clemens was left deeply in debt. To retrieve his fortune he entered upon a lecturing tour, which extended around the world and furnished material for Following the Equator. On the completion of this tour he resided for a time in Vienna. He returned to America in 1900, and actively resumed literary work. In 1907 he visited England, where he was most heartily received, and was honored with the degree of D.C.L. from the University of Oxford. Mark Twain's humor is simple and direct, never strained, and has been described as “a sort of good-natured satire in which the reader may see his own absurdities reflected.” He died April 21, 1910.