Mark Twain wrote an autobiography & intentionally had it published 100 years after his death

 
 
 
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Samuel L. Clemens known by his pen name Mark Twain was born on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri. He was the sixth of seven children Jane and John Marshall Clemens had. His father worked as a storekeeper, lawyer, judge and land speculator and his mother was a homemaker. His family moved to nearby Hannibal when Samuel was 4-years-old and he spent the next 13-years of his life there.

When Samuel was 11-years-old his father died of pneumonia and started working as a printer’s apprentice to Joseph Ament, who published the Missouri Courier. His job was an opportunity for young Sam to read the news of the world while completing his work.

Samuel Clemens, age 15
Samuel Clemens, age 15

Samuel left Hannibal in 1853 and worked as a printer in New York City and Philadelphia. In 1857, 21-year-old Clemens fulfilled his childhood dream to become a steamboatman when a famous riverboat pilot took him as an apprentice and trained him in navigation. Two years later Clemens became a licensed river pilot.

In 1861 when Samuel’s brother Orion Clemens had been appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as secretary of Nevada he appointed Samuel as his secretary. There he became enthralled with making his fortune by mining. However, this occupation did not suit him and he started to write for newspapers.

Mark Twain photo portrait
Mark Twain photo portrait

He began writing for the Territorial Enterprise‚ a Virginia City‚ Nevada‚ newspaper where he adopted the pen name of “Mark Twain” – a term for 12 feet of water in steamboat slang. In 1864 Twain moved to San Francisco where he continued to write for local papers.

Mark Twain launched his literary career with the short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” published in 1865 in a New York weekly, The Saturday Press. This story brought him national attention and was printed in newspapers and magazines and within months the writer was known around the country.

Twain in 1867
Twain in 1867

In 1876, he published The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a novel about a young boy growing up along the Mississippi River. In 1881, Twain published the novel The Prince and the Pauper and later he published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) and cemented his reputation as an author of international acclaim.

He is also the author of Life on the Mississippi (1883), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), and Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894), as well as collections of short stories and essays, such as The 1,000,000 Bank-Note and Other Stories (1893), The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Essays (1900), and What Is Man? (1906).

Mark Twain in his gown (scarlet with grey sleeves and facings) for his D.Litt. degree, awarded to him by Oxford University
Mark Twain in his gown (scarlet with gray sleeves and facings) for his D.Litt. degree, awarded to him by Oxford University

In 1904 he began to dictate his autobiography and when he was done, few months before he died, he had more than five thousand pages of typescript. What is interesting is that he insisted that his sprawling memoir not be published until a century after his death, in 1910.

No one knows for sure why he made such a demand, it could be related to what he had to say about the people at that time and he probably felt that some passages were too personal or inflammatory to appear in early editions. Robert Hirst curator of the Mark Twain Papers at UC Berkeley told CBS Sunday Morning that “Mark Twain had a very tender heart. He liked to say nasty things – he’s really good at it – but he didn’t like the idea of being there when the person heard them, and was hurt by them!”

Twain in his later years
Twain in his later years

The first of three volumes of Twain’s autobiography, over 736 pages, was published by the University of California in November 2010, 100 years after his death, as Mark Twain wished. As reported by CBS Sunday Morning Robert Hirst was the curator of the Mark Twain Papers at UC Berkeley, where a small army of editors has been laboring for six years to reconstruct the autobiography just as Twain wished it to be.

A color photograph taken of Mark Twain in 1908, using the recently developed Autochrome Lumiere process
A color photograph taken of Mark Twain in 1908, using the recently developed Autochrome Lumiere process

At first, publishers thought there would not be much interest in the book but the “Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1” sold more than half a million copies.

Read another story from us: Ken Kesey, writer of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, faked his death to avoid getting arrested for marijuana possession

With the publishing of his autobiography, Mark Twain became one of the very few authors publishing new best-selling volumes in all three of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.