Sunday, June 04, 2006

Mark Twain

January 30, 2006

"It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech." ~Mark Twain

Who was Mark Twain? Mark Twain (1835-1910) was born Samuel Clemens, but wrote mostly under the pseudonym Mark Twain. His novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the greatest in American literature, but his prolific work met with both praise and criticism during his life.

Samuel Clemens worked at a variety of jobs: typesetter, riverboat pilot, miner and newspaper reporter, and served briefly in the Confederate army during the American War Between the States. As one critic noted, Twain "didn't like human beings much, except as targets for his scorn," and provided a long list of victims of Twain's misanthropic wit. It included nearly anyone inclined toward vanities of self-promotion: arrogant public officials, inept musicians, vain women, advocates of temperance, lecturers who pretended to have known Dickens, smart-talking two-year-olds, editors, officious train conductors, lynchers, book-pirating publishers, scientists who deduced too much from too little evidence, swindlers, and seducers of women. He was an earnest defender of blacks, Native Americans, and the poor.

In his later years Twain grew depressed, but his malicious wit remained sharp. Despite playing a positive role in the lives of such luminaries as Helen Keller and Booker T. Washington, he grew more mean spirited and pessimistic after the deaths of his wife and 3 of his 4 children, and his health began to fail. He wrote in 1909, "I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it."


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