Happy Birthday Mark Twain!
The legendary author, born Samuel Clemens, would be 182 years old today.
To celebrate, here’s a few reasons why he’s still one of the greats.
#1 He gave excellent life advice
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
#2 He could see the future
Well perhaps not, but he did make one spooky prediction that came true.
Twain was born shortly after an appearance by Halley’s Comet. Later in life, he said:
I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: “Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together”
Sure enough, he died of a heart attack in 1910 – the day after the comet returned.
In addition, when his younger brother, Henry, died in a steamboat accident in 1858, Twain claimed to have foreseen it in a dream a month earlier.
#3 He did the right thing
Due to a series of bad investments, Twain suffered financial setbacks later in life.
When the publishing firm he backed went bankrupt, Twain stepped in to ensure all creditors were fully paid – despite no legal obligation to do so.
In March 1898, the New York Times reported:
“Mark Twain has paid all the debts that led to the bankruptcy of the publishing firm with which he was connected. It is a fine example of the very chivalry of probity. Mark Twain might, if he had pleased, have confined his share of the loss to the amount of his liability under the partnership. He preferred to make good the entire loss, and to this end he had to make a fresh start in life at the age of sixty.”
#4 He loved to travel
Twain loved to travel and had many adventures from piloting a riverboat down the Mississippi to touring Europe and the Middle East.
In 1869, he wrote The Innocents Abroad, a compilation of letters he wrote while travelling.
It has since become one of the best selling travel books of all time. It also contains one of his most well-known quotes:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
#5 He was mostly self-educated
Twain’s father died when he was just 11, and he dropped out of school the following year to help support his family.
He became a printer’s apprentice, while continuing his education in his free time – spending his evenings in public libraries.
#6 He was a devoted husband
Twain and his wife, Olivia, were married 34 years and had four children – three girls and a boy who died in infancy.
They were deeply in love and he often credited her with making him a better man.
The below is a love note from Twain to Olivia, written in 1888. It reads: “I am grateful — gratefuler than ever before — that you were born, & that your love is mine & our two lives woven & welded together!”
When Livy died suddenly in 1904, Twain was distraught. The New York Times reported from the funeral:
“Mr. Clemens kneels continually by the coffin. He speaks to no one.”
#7 He was also a pretty good inventor
Twain owned the patent on three inventions:
- A history trivia game
- A self-pasting scrapbook
- Adjustable straps for clothing
#8 He knew a thing or two about writing
Twain is best known for his two major works – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – but he produced a lot more than that.
Between his journalism, travel books and notes, Twain has a massive body of work and is frequently credited as being the father of American literature.
Ernest Hemingway once declared: “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn”
#9 He supported women’s rights
Twain was an ardent supporter of women’s suffrage.
He gave a rousing speech in 1901 entitled ‘Votes for Women’, in which he said:
“I should like to see the time come when women shall help to make the laws. I should like to see that whiplash, the ballot, in the hands of women. “
#10 He had fun with his pen names
Samuel Clemens is best known as Mark Twain, but he used a lot of other pen names too – some of them showing his trademark wit and sense of humour.
His known pseudonyms included:
- Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass
- W. Epaminandos Adrastus Blab
Controversy remains over where Clemens got ‘Mark Twain’ from. Some literary historians claim Mark Twain was an actual person – a riverboat captain who also used it as an alias.
Others think Clemens took it because, in sailing jargon, ‘Mark Twain’ is a term used to describe whether water is deep enough for boat passage.