Ernest Hemingway once called Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” the best book every created in the history of American literature. Born Samuel Clemens in Florida, Missouri in 1835, Twain had a knack for spinning tales that chronicled the human experience in a way that purposely exposed mankind’s character flaws, often in a way that was truly entertaining. In addition to being a celebrated writer, the “Prince and the Pauper” author was also a well-known humorist and lecturer. Here are some facts about Mr. Twain that may be a bit surprising.
He was a ‘Preemie’ Baby and Not Expected to Live
The world almost didn’t get the chance to know Samuel Langhorne Clemens when he was born two months early on November 30, 1835. While he obviously survived, he was sickly for most of his childhood. Young Sam was one of the seven children of Jane and John Marshall Clemens. And he was one of the four of those kids to survive into adulthood and the only one to become a writer. His brother, Orion Clemens, became Secretary of the Nevada Territory.
He Went on an Around the World Speaking Tour to Pay off Debts
While a success as a writer, Twain wasn’t all that smart with his investments. His financial missteps included investing in an automatic typesetting machine and designing an elastic strap for pants that failed to take off. He also turned down an opportunity to get in on a new invention he didn’t think had much potential — the telephone. After amassing an enormous debt, he went on an extensive around the world speaking tour. His lecture tour took him to cities throughout North America, Europe, Africa, and Australia. During his visit to India, he got the idea for a (mostly) non-fiction travelogue called “Following the Equator.” By the time he wrapped up the tour in England, he was debt-free.
He Briefly Fought in the Civil War for the South
Soon after the Civil War started in 1861, a young Sam Clemens joined a pro-confederate militia group called the Marion Rangers. However, his stint with the group was short-lived. The group disbanded in less than a month when they got word that General Grant and his troops were getting closer. Having no strong convictions for either the North or South, he only joined the “cause” out of an obligation to his Southern roots. After his brief military career, Twain tried his hand at silver mining before landing a job as a reporter for a newspaper in Nevada in 1862. After trying out several pen names, he settled on “Mark Twain.”
He was Fascinated by Science and Technology
Twain’s fascination with science and technology led to a friendship with inventor Nikola Tesla. About a year before his death, he got a visit from Thomas Edison, who made what’s believed to be the only film of the author. Twain himself dabbled with inventions, creating a self-pasting scrapbook that did fairly well. His interest in technology served as the inspiration for “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” a tale of a Yankee engineer who’s transported back to medieval days. The story led to the development of the alternate history theme subsequently used in later works of fiction (think “Back to the Future Part II”). His fascination with science extended to parapsychology after he “predicted” his brother Henry’s death in a steamboat explosion after having a dream about it.
His Life and Death Had an Odd Halley’s Comet’s Connection
Twain was born shortly after the appearance of Halley’s Comet’s in 1835. As the comet’s next rendezvous with Earth approached, he stated that he “fully expected” to go out with the comet, referring to himself and the predictable space visitor as “two unaccountable freaks that came in together and must go out together.” The author’s prediction came true when he died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910, just a day after Halley’s made its closest approach to the planet. The autobiography he completed shortly before going out with the comet wasn’t published until 2010, a hundred years after his death, as per Twain’s request. Infused with humor and tales from his life purposely told out of order, it became a best-seller.
Mark Twain was such a prolific writer that all his work may not be discovered, partly because some of it was written using various pen names, including some not well-known or easily traced back to him. The celebrated author was a supporter of many causes during his lifetime, including fair treatment of African Americans and Native Americans. He also didn’t believe in experimentation that caused pain to animals, lent his support to the women’s rights movement, provided financial assistance to Helen Keller, and made a habit of wearing white out-of-season (a fashion no-no back in the day).