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26 March 1999
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, is perhaps the most
distinguished author of American Literature. Next to William Shakespeare, Clemens is
arguably the most prominent writer the world has ever seen.
In 1818, Jane Lampton found interest in a serious young lawyer named John
Clemens. With the Lampton family in heavy debt and Jane only 15 years of age, she soon
married John. The family moved to Gainesboro, Tennessee where Jane gave birth to
Orion Clemens. In the summer of 1827 the Clemenses relocated to Virginia where John
purchased thousands of acres of land and opened a legal advice store. The lack of
success of the store led John to drink heavily. Scared by his addiction, John
vowed never to drink again. Even though John now resisted alcohol, he faced other
addictions. His concoction of aloe, rhubarb, and a narcotic cost him most of his savings
and money soon became tight (Paine 34-35).
The family soon grew with the birth of Pamela late in 1827. Their third child,
Pleasant Hannibal, did not live past three months, due to illness. In 1830 Margaret was
born and the family moved to Pall Mall, a rural county in Tennessee. After Henry’s birth
in 1832, the value of their farmland greatly depreciated and sent the Clemenses on the
road again. Now they would stay with Jane’s sister in Florida, Missouri where she ran a
successful business with her husband. Clemens was born on November 30, 1835, in the
small remote town of Florida, Missouri. Samuel’s parents, John Marshall and Jane
Lampton Clemens never gave up on their child, who was two months premature with little
hope of survival.
This was coincidentally the same night as the return of Halley’s Comet. The
Clemenses were a superstitious family and believed that Halley’s Comet was a portent of
good fortune. Writing as Mark Twain, Samuel L. Clemens would claim that Florida,
Missouri “contained 100 people and I increased the population by one percent. It is more
than the best man in history ever did for any other town” (Hoffman 15).
1847 proved to be a horrific year for John Clemens. He ventured to Palmyra in
order to find work on the county seat. On his voyage home he found himself in a
devastating snowstorm which left him ill with pneumonia. He stayed at his friend Dr.
Grant’s house, ill and jaded, where he rested and grew weak. He died on March 24, 1847
at the age of 48 (Kaplan 112-125).
Samuel was eleven years old when his father passed away. He was of ambiguous
emotions. He had dreaded his father, yet at the same time respected him. The onus of
taking care of the family was now on Samuel and Orion’s shoulders. He attended school
and for additional cash delivered newspapers and aided storekeepers. His expertise was
with Joseph Ament, editor of the Missouri Courier, where he was an apprentice.
In the fall of 1850, Samuel’s brother Orion purchased a printing press and
expected Samuel to work on his newspaper. They began work on the Hannibal Western
Union where Orion printed all of Samuel’s essays and articles. Although the newspaper
was unprofitable, and deemed a failure by most, Orion and Samuel saw themselves as a
success. They soon changed the name to the Journal and now had the largest circulation
of any newspaper in the region. It was filled with works both original and copied from
other sources. This was acceptable in a society without copyrights. When the Journal
gained success, Orion refused to print some of Samuel’s works. He, however took his
writing elsewhere. He wrote for the Carpet-Bag and the Philadelphia American
Courier, berating his old town and the Hannibal natives. He signed each work with the
Orion left town for awhile and gave the duty of editor to Samuel. He
quickly took advantage of Orion’s absence. He wrote articles of town news and prose
poetry that revealed characteristics of the boy who would eventually transform into Mark
Twain. In these articles he would use his first of many pseudonyms, W. Epaminondas
Adrastus Blab. Orion’s return ended both Samuel’s developing humor and burning satire.
Orion decided to publish the Journal daily and it gave Samuel an opportunity to write
more material, but at the same time overworked him. When Orion deleted local news
from the newspaper, interest was lost and the rival Messenger began outselling the
Journal. This prompted Samuel to leave Orion and the Journal behind at the age of
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Mark Twain, Redding, Connecticut, American literature, Mississippi River, Sagebrush School, Orion Clemens, Fiction, Orion, Clemens, Literature, Mark Twain in popular culture, Mark Twain in Nevada
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