chapter  2
13 Pages

Mark Twain

Mark Twain was ‘born,in 1863 when his creator, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was already twenty-eight years old. He first used his pseu­ donym as the author of a humorous travel letter he contributed to a Nevada newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise. In masking his true ident­ ity, he was following an established custom exemplified by a multi­ tude of comic journalists including Artemus Ward and Josh Billings in America and even Charles Dickens in England, who, unlike Twain, abandoned ‘Boz’ when it began to restrict the scope of his literary ambitions. At this point in his life Mark Twain can hardly be said to have had any real ambition as a writer, having drifted into journalism after a varied career as a river-boat pilot, a soldier, and latterly, a prospector in the years following the California gold rush and the discovery of the Comstock silver lode in Nevada. It was only when his short story ‘The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,brought him recognition from a wider public that he began to appreciate the poten­ tial of his talent. Even after this, though, and indeed throughout his life, Twain was always liable to be tempted away from his vocation by the promise of easy money and exciting new ventures. He saw himself as an inventor and a patron of America’s rapidly developing technology. He interested himself in every aspect of publishing, amassing a fortune by developing his own sales through a subscription scheme, only to lose it by his involvement with the Paige typesetting machine. In an age of professional public lecturers, William Dean Howells said that Twain was the finest performer he had ever seen. He had a great need to project himself to the public, and when he was not doing so in print, had to do so in person. It was said that at the height of his career he was probably the most famous man in the world, a role he relished and lived up to, both in his flamboyant style and in his ready pronouncements on almost any topical issue.