Mark Twain's ramblings took him all over the American West during the 1860s. He prospected for gold and silver, speculated on timber and mining stocks, sailed to Hawaii, and worked for a succession of small newspapers. In Roughing It, his fictionalized account of these years, tall tales abound, as do sketches of unforgettable characters: desperadoes, vigilantes, newspapermen, Mormons, and prospectors. Twain's debt to the burlesque stylings of regional humorists and his celebrated gift for accurately rendering regional speech are never more in evidence than here, but as Hamlin Hill points out in his introduction, Roughing It must also be read as Twain's renunciation of his footlose bachelorhood, his rejection of the mythic, romanticized image of the West, and his autopsy of the American dream.
Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri, in 1835, and died at Redding, Connecticut in 1910. In his person and in his pursuits he was a man of extraordinary contrasts. Although he left school at twelve when his father died, he was eventually awarded honorary degrees from Yale University, the University of Missouri, and Oxford University. His career encompassed such varied occupations as printer, Mississippi riverboat pilot, journalist, travel writer, and publisher. He made fortunes from his writing but toward the end of his life he had to resort to lecture tours to pay his debts. He was hot-tempered, profane, and sentimentaland also pessimistic, cynical, and tortured by self-doubt. His nostalgia helped produce some of his best books. He lives in American letters as a great artist, the writer whom William Dean Howells called "the Lincoln of our literature."
Editor Hamlin L. Hill, Distinguished Professor of English at Texas A&M University (retired), is the author of Mark Twain: God's Fool, editor of Roughing It, and he appears in Ken Burns' new PBS documentary Mark Twain.
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