American humorist, writer, and lecturer who won a worldwide audience for his stories of youthful adventures, especially Sawyer, Tom (1876), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and Finn, Huckleberry (1884).
Clemens grew up in Hannibal, Mo., on the west bank of the Mississippi. At the age of 13 he became a full-time apprentice to a local printer. When his older brother Orion established the Hannibal Journal, Samuel became a compositor for that paper.
After working for a time as an itinerant printer, he rejoined Orion in Keokuk, Iowa, until the fall of 1856. He then began another period of wandering with a commission to write some comic travel letters for the Keokuk Daily Post. Only five letters appeared, for on the way down the Mississippi, Clemens signed on as an apprentice to a steamboat pilot. For almost four years he plied the Mississippi. After 1859 he was a licensed pilot in his own right, but two years later the Civil War put an end to the steamboat traffic.
In 1861 Clemens joined Orion in a trip to the Nevada Territory. Samuel became a writer for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise,
and there, on Feb. 3, 1863, "Mark Twain" was born when Clemens signed a humorous travel account with that pseudonym. The name was a riverman's term for water "two fathoms deep" and thus just barely safe for navigation. In 1864 Twain left Nevada for California. While at a mining camp Twain heard the story he would make famous as Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, The , which was an immediate success.
In 1866 Twain visited Hawaii as a correspondent for The Sacramento Union, publishing letters on his trip and later giving popular lectures. He then set out on a world tour for California's largest paper, the Alta California. The letters that he wrote during the next five months for the Alta California and for Horace Greeley's New York Tribune caught the public fancy and, when revised for publication in 1869 as Innocents Abroad, The, established Twain as a popular favorite. Twain married in 1870 and moved with his wife to Hartford, Conn., in 1871.
In 1872 he published Roughing It, a chronicle of an overland stagecoach journey and of Twain's adventures in the Pacific islands. Meanwhile, he collaborated with his neighbor Charles Dudley Warner on The Gilded Age (1873), a satire on financial and political malfeasance that gave a name to the expansive post-Civil War era.
Twain continued to lecture with great success in the United States and, in 1872 and 1873, in England. In 1876 he published Tom Sawyer , a narrative of youthful escapades, followed in 1880 by A Tramp Abroad, in 1881 by Prince and the Pauper, The, and in 1883 by the autobiographical Life on the Mississippi. Twain's next novel, Huckleberry Finn, is generally considered his finest and one of the masterpieces of American fiction. In 1889 he published Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur'sCourt, A, in which a commonsensical Yankee is transported back in time to medieval Britain.
Various unsuccessful financial speculations, including his own publishing firm, left Twain bankrupt; however, the returns from Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894), Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1895), a lecture tour around the world, and Following the Equator (1897), in which he described the tour, made him solvent again. Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,The was published with other stories and sketches in 1900.
In the fall of 1903 Twain and his family settled near Florence, Italy. His wife died six months later, and he expressed his grief, his loneliness, and his pessimism about the human character in several late works, including Letters from the Earth.