New York, April 21 -- The mere chronology of Mark Twain's life is soon told. Like most dwellers in the imagination his significance to posterity lies, not as with men of action, in how he wrought upon events, but in how events wrought upon him, for from such actions resulted his imaginative output -- one of the most considerable of his time, and as it now seems, one of the most secure.
Briefly, then, Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, in Florida, Mo., November 30, 1835.
"My parents," he writes in his own burlesque autobiography, "were neither very poor nor conspicuously honest. The earliest ancestor the Twains have any recollection of was a friend of the family by the name of Higgins."
The county chronicles have it that the elder Clemens failed in business and died, leaving his son the ample world to make his fortune in.
Accordingly, Mark Twain's acquaintance with literature began with putting words into type, not ideas into words. Educated only in public schools, he was apprenticed to a printer at 13, and worked at his trade in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and New York, until at 18 he could gratify a boyish ambition to become a cub to a Mississippi River pilot.
Both these happenings reacted profoundly in his later life. His knowledge of river life, acquired when he was a pilot, took form in "Tom Sawyer," "Huckleberry Finn," and "Life on the Mississippi," regarded abroad as his first title to fame.
It even suggested his pseudonym, for "Mark Twain" is a leadsman's cry to the pilot in shallow stages.
And his familiarity with printing turned him naturally first into newspaper work, then into creative writing, and finally into the publishing business wherein, like Sir Walter Scott, he suffered a bankruptcy disastrous to everything but his honor, and like Sir Walter again paid off with his pen debts not of his own making.
In due time Mark Twain became a full-fledged pilot. He tells the rest of it himself in a chapter of "Life on the Mississippi." "By and by the war came, commerce was suspended, my occupation was gone.
"I had to seek another livelihood, so I became a silver miner in Nevada, a gold miner in California, next a reporter in San Francisco, next a special correspondent in the Sandwich Islands; next a roving correspondent in Europe and the East; next an instructional torch-bearer on the platform, and finally I became a scribbler of books and an immovable fixture among the other rocks of New England."
This was in 1872, two years after he had married Olivia L. Langdon of Elmira, N.Y., who brought him an independent fortune. At that time his writings were in great demand, he had an assured income, his own home, and seemed independent. But in 1876 his popularity as an author and his acquaintance with the mechanics of the publishing trade -- besides being a practical printer, he had been part owner of the Buffalo Press, before his marriage -- drew him into the firm of C. L. Webster & Co., publishers.
The firm brought out the memoirs of Gen. Grant and paid his widow $350,000, but its prosperity was short lived, and it failed with liabilities of $96,000. The failure had already taken $65,000 of Mark Twain's cash, but he determined also to shoulder the debts and to pay them off undertook in 1895-96 a lecture trip around the world.
Mark Twain was an inveterate smoker and one of the most leisurely men in the world. An old pressman who was printer's devil in an office where Mark was an editorial writer tells this anecdote of his habits of work:
"One of my duties was to sweep the room where editors worked. Every day Mark would give me a nickel to get away from him. He would rather die in the dust than uncross his legs. One day he gave me a nickel to dot an "I" in his copy for him. He certainly did enjoy life, that man did."
Yet this easy going scribbler acquitted himself of a prodigious deal of work in his life and bound himself voluntarily to pay off debts that he could have discharged without hurt to his good name by passing through bankruptcy. He did not practice as he preached.
"It don't make no difference," he had Huck Finn say, "whether you do right or wrong; a person's conscience just ain't got no sense and just goes for him anyway. If I had a yaller dog that didn't know no more than a person's conscience did, I'd pizen him. It takes up more room than all the rest of a person's insides, and yet ain't no good nohow."
With Mark Twain's lecture trip around the world begins his international celebrity and his gradual rise into a figure taken in some sense to typify the American. From humorist he became the kindly, but mocking philosopher and moralist of "Pudd'nhead" Wilson. His literature output became more occasional and although written with more finesse, it was more critical and less creative. His public appearances became more frequent, his whimsical utterances gained greater currency, and a whole literature of anecdotes grew up behind him.
Yale gave him the degree of M.A., and later of LL.D. in 1901; the University of Missouri, his native State, followed with LL.D. in 1902; and in 1907 the University of Oxford with great ceremony made him Litt.D.
Indeed, serious appreciation of Mark Twain, and as an artist and not a mere jokesmith, began abroad, but his true worth has long been recognized in this country.
"Mark Twain's humor," said William Dean Howells, "will live forever. He portrays and interprets real types, not only with exquisite appreciation and sympathy, but with a force and truth of drawing that makes them permanent. He had the true humorist's tender heart and deep seriousness. Like Bret Harte, with whom he worked, like the great West that bred him, his most audacious sallies were terse and strongly grave. As a moralist, love of humanity, hatred of sham and the sense of duty formed his most ironic and debonair preachments."
Four children were born to Mark Twain, of whom two, a son and a daughter, died early. One other daughter, Jeane, who had been an invalid for life, was found dead in her bath tub last fall at her home at Redding, Ct. Her tragic death greatly saddened her father, who declined in health from that moment. A third daughter, Clara, is Mrs. Ossip Gabrilowitsch, wife of the pianist, whom she married last year.
Mark Twain's first book was "The Jumping Frog." His best known in this country possibly was "Innocents Abroad." His surest title to fame is generally believed to be "Tom Sawyer," and its companion volume, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
In all his books had a sale of more than 500,000 copies, and were translated into six languages. Others among the better known are "A Tramp Abroad," "The Prince and the Pauper," "A Yankee in King Arthur's Court," "Pudd'nhead Wilson" (dramatized), "Joan of Arc," "A Double-Barrelled Detective Story," and "Eve's Diary."
He left an unfinished autobiography, portions of which have appeared serially.