By Den Ardinger 32° KCCH
Mark Twain, known by many as “the father of American literature”, was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri on November 30, 1835. He was the son of John Marshall Clemens (1798-1847) and Jane Lampton (1803-1890) and had six siblings. When he was four years old, the family moved to Hannibal, Missouri on the Mississippi River and it was during his early years that the stage was set as the background for his books and stories.
He had little formal education and had to leave school after the fifth grade at the age of 12 at which time he became a printer’s apprentice. Within a few years he became a typesetter and began his budding literary career soon afterwards by writing humorous articles and short stories that were printed and widely circulated in newspapers and magazines.
He left Hannibal, Missouri when he turned 18 and worked as a printer in New York City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. He spent his free time wisely and educated himself by reading widely in public libraries.
Twain became a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River under the tutorship of Horace E. Bixby who taught him every trick he knew and every landmark on the river between New Orleans and St. Louis. It took him two years to learn the route and for the rest of his life he thought it was the best job anyone could ever have.
He was a man of many talents which varied widely and he became very interested in parapsychology after he dreamed of his younger brother Henry’s death on another steamboat in 1858 from a boiler explosion a month before it happened. He afterwards became a member of the Society for Psychical Research and then became a Freemason.
He was initiated an Entered Apprentice in Polar Star Lodge 79 on February 18, 1861. In July he was raised a Master Mason. In all of his travels and writings across the years he maintained Masonic connections. As he traveled the world he would look for connections to Freemasonry that he would later include in his writings. While traveling in Lebanon, he sent an ornamental gavel back as a gift to the Worshipful Master of Polar Star Lodge.
He married Olivia Langdon in February 1870 and he had a total of four children including Langdon, Susy, Clara, and Jean. It was during his early years of marriage that he wrote his most popular books, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876 and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1884. His novel on Huckleberry Finn has often been called “The Great American Novel”. His other popular books include The Prince and Pauper in 1881, Life on the Mississippi in 1883 and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court in 1889.
Twain was a very successful writer and made a great deal of money from his books, stories and speaking engagements as he traveled the world. Unfortunately, he invested it poorly and went bankrupt at one point. However, as time went on, he repaid all of his debts in full and paid closer attention afterwards to his accounts and investments.
In 1909, at the age of 74, he predicted his own death for the next year. He was born two weeks after Halley’s Comet made it closest approach in 1835 and predicted he would go out on it when the comet returned in 1910. True to form, he died of a heart attack in Stormfield House in Redding, Connecticut the day after Halley’s Comet made its closest approach to Earth on April 21, 1910. He is buried with his wife in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York.
Brother Samuel Clemens, more than a man…a Mason.