Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835, led one of the most exciting and adventuresome of literary lives. Raised in the river town of Hannibal, Missouri, Twain had to leave school at age twelve to seek work. He was successfully a journeyman printer, a steamboat pilot, a halfhearted Confederate soldier (for a few weeks), and a prospector, miner, a reporter in the western territories. With the publication in 1865 of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” Twain gained national attention as a frontier humorist, and with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1855), he was acknowledged by the literary establishment as one of the greatest writers America would ever produce.
In 1880 Twain began promoting and financing heavily the ill-fated Paige typesetter, an invention designed to make the printing process fully automatic. This enterprise drained his energy and funds for almost fifteen years, until it drove him to the brink of bankruptcy. Ironically at the height of his naively optimistic involvement in his technological “wonder,” he published his satirical A Connecticut Yankee in King’s Arthur’s Court (1889), as though the writer in him could see the dangers the investor in him was blind to.
Toward the end of his life, plagued by personal tragedy and financial failure, Mark Twain grew more and more pessimistic–an outlook not alleviated by his natural skepticism and sarcasm. Though his fame continued to widen. Twain spent his last years in gloom and exasperation, writing fables about “the damned human race.”