The Autobiography of Mark Twain

Mark Twain was an American comic writer, literary writer, and adventure writer. He criticized social issues underlying American history such as racism, social stratification, the emergence of new territories, and access to education. He is a celebrated figure in American history whose name is symbolic of the second mark line used to measure the safe depth for riverboats.

Early Life

Samuel Clemens, known by his pen name, Mark Twain, was born on November 30, 1838, in Florida, Missouri. He was born to John Marshall Clemens of Virginia and Jane Lampton of Kentucky as the sixth born of seven children. When Mark Twain was four years old, they relocated to Hannibal, Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi River. Mark Twain’s father practiced slavery, and Mark Twain spent most of his childhood years playing in the enslaved people’s quarters. He spent a great deal of his time at the Mississippi River banks observing its busy life, amorousness, and the fierceness and mayhem it reared.


Mark Twain began schooling when Mark Twain was four and a half years old, and his first teacher was Mrs. Horr (Paine, 2016). Mark Twain adopted the virtue of prayer and prayed earnestly for everything that he desired at a young age. When Mark Twain was eleven years old, his father died, prompting him to quit school and work as a printer’s apprentice for a Hannibal journal. His responsibilities included arranging newspaper stories, an opportunity that enabled Mark Twain to read world news while gaining work experience. However, Mark twain did not receive any monetary salary for his work but instead was paid with two suits annually and board. He also worked as a compositor with local printers. The work experience landed Mark Twain in various employment opportunities, such as with Orion Clemens, his brother, St. Louis, and New York City. He earned some money enough to pay for board and accommodation. At the age of seventeen, the sportsmen magazine in Boston, Massachusetts, published Mark Twain’s comic sketch The Dandy Frightening the Squatter, followed by a remarkable journey as a journeyman printer in various states.

Young Adulthood

Mark Twain moved east to New York City and Philadelphia at the age of 18 years, where he worked on different newspapers and later returned to Mississippi valley. Twain worked for Keokuk, lowa, printing office for two years and later worked on board the swift and famous New Orleans and St. Louis boat, Pennsylvania. Twain later moved to the Territory of Nevada, where he worked for the Enterprise, a newspaper. He transferred to Carson City and reported the legislative meetings where he used his Pen name, Mark Twain, for the first time. In 1864, Mark Twain moved to San Francisco and furthered his career writing for local newspapers. Mark Twain began his journey as an author in 1867. His first book, named The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches, was published by Webb and sold at $1.25. Twain collaborated with William Swinton and formed the Syndicate, a popular feature in the world newspaper (Paine, 2016). The Sacramento Union also hired him to report on Hawaii, an opportunity that gave him exposure and made his writings so popular that Mark Twain set on his first lecture tour and established a successful stage performance after his return.

Family Life and Advanced Career

In February 1870, Mark Twain married Miss Olivia L. Langdon and relocated to Buffalo, New York. His in-laws were wealthy and liberal families, leading various liberal and progressive activists. Mark Twain’s marriage exposed him to expanded social connections where he met famous people such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and William Dean Howells, a utopian socialist. He also befriended Helen Keller and financed her education. The couple had their firstborn, Langdon Clemens, on November 7, 1870, and died before his second birthday. Their second-born Susy was born on March 19, 1872, and spent her childhood at the Quarry Farm in Elmira, New York (Paine, 2016). He later moved his family to Hartford, Connecticut and stayed there for twenty years. His stay at Hartford guaranteed his prosperity as an author and lecturer in England between 1872 and 1873. In 1872, Mark Twain published his recollections and tales from his frontier adventures in the Roughing It book. Mark Twain shifted his focus in 1873 towards social criticism where he and Charles Dudley Warner, Hartford Courant Publisher, co-authored The Gilded Age novel. The novel criticized political corruption, big corporations, and American obsessions with wealth accumulation. Mark Twain also wrote his best books titled The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

An established career in writing provided Mark Twain with a substantial income and made him famous. Unfortunately, he lost almost $300,000 in a misplaced Paige typesetting machine. He recovered the loss through the worldwide lecture tour that earned him money enough to pay off his debts. Sam and Olivia relocated their family to Europe in 1891. Mark Twain’s publishing company collapsed in 1894, forcing him to work on a worldwide lecture tour to earn income. He became friends with Henry Huttleston, a Standard Oil executive, who vowed to put Mark Twain’s financial house in order (Paine, 2016). He assigned his property and copyrights to Olivia when he declared himself bankrupt. In 1894, Mark Twain reestablished his career and financial position. In 1896, Susy Clemens, his daughter, succumbed to meningitis while visiting the Hartford home. After the tragedy, the Clemenses never went to Hartford to stay.

Mark Twain and his family toured the world from 1891 to 1900, whereby he witnessed the increasing domination of European powers, which he recounted in his book Following the Equator. After experiencing the Boer War in South Africa and the Boxer Rebellion in China, Mark Twain became angry towards imperialistic countries, and he declared himself anti-imperialist (Alexander, 2018). He became the vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League from 1901 until his death.

Dark Life

Mark Twain’s dark moments include the death of his first son, daughter Susy, and his wife, Olivia. A few years after their marriage, Mark Twain lost his first son Langdon Clemens at 22 months. Susy’s death on August 18, 1896, caused Twain real depression. On June 5, 1904, his wife passed in Florence, Italy. Mark Twain stayed in New York until 1908 and relocated to his last house, “Stormfield, “in Redding, Connecticut (Mac Donnell, 2020). His daughter Clara married in 1909, while Mark Twain’s younger daughter Jean succumbed to an epileptic seizure. Mark Twain wrote various writings, including Eve’s Diary, partly in memory of his beloved wife, Olivia. Mark Twain began dictating his autobiography to Albert Paine in 1906, where they recorded scant details about his life. He used the income earned from the autobiography to build a house in Redding, Connecticut. Mark Twain spent his last years lonely and found solace in the relationships he established, such as “Angelfish Club,” comprised of about 12 young school girls.

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Religious Perspective

Although Mark Twain used to pray during his early school days, he developed religious skepticism and challenged Christianity beliefs. His relationship with various Clergymen, such as family minister Joseph Twichell prompted him to reform into a devout Christian. He, however, denounced Christianity shortly after marrying Olivia. Most of his books criticized religious hypocrisy, mainly Letters from the Earth, published in 1962, depicting Mark Twain’s pessimism for conventional Christianity. He believed that religion mirrors human egotism, where the clergy is focused on growing fat and increasing the misery of the poor. In the Letters from the Earth, Mark Twain wrote that “Man is without any doubt the most interesting fool there is” (Rohman, 2018), suggesting that humans have been brainwashed to Christianity to believe in false messages that the clergy claimed were ordained by God. He held unorthodox views about God because God was to be blamed for human adversity, hypocrisy, and injustice.


Mark Twain traveled to Bermuda in January 1910 and suffered from severe chest pains in early April. He died on April 21, 1910, and was buried in the family cemetery in Elmira, New York.


Mark Twain left a social legacy wherein he spoke to and advocated for the Ordinary men and women in America. His great writings secured his place in the American literary culture. Mark Twain’s social critique of social issues in America is still remarkable today. His books such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are required readings in most schools today as part of young adult fiction. Generations of American writers have adopted Mark Twain’s relaxed style of writing. Mark Twain’s literary work provided insight into a rapidly evolving world’s opportunities, strengths, and weaknesses. His literature explored the American perspective of the late 19thcentury, an ideal reference of the past.


Alexander, N. G. (2018). Unclasping the Eagle’s Talons: Mark Twain, American Freethought, and the Responses to Imperialism. The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era17(3), 524-545.

Mac Donnell, K. (2020). Mark Twain’s Stormfield. Mark Twain Journal58(1), 117-132.

Paine, A. B. (2016). Mark Twain, a Biography (pp. 340-41). Anboco.

Rohman, C. (2018). Mark Twain on Moral Training: A Theory “Weak as Water”. American Literary Realism50(3), 214-223.