Twain’s father was a lawyer by profession but was only mildly successful. He was, however, highly intelligent and a stern disciplinarian. Twain’s mother, a southern belle in her youth, had a natural sense of humor, was emotional, and was known to be particularly fond of animals and unfortunate human beings. Although the family was not wealthy, Twain apparently had a happy and secure childhood.
Twain’s father died when Twain was twelve years old and, for the next ten years, Twain was an apprentice printer and then a printer both in Hannibal and in New York City. Hoping to find his fortune, he conceived a wild scheme of making a fortune in South America. On a riverboat to New Orleans, he met a famous riverboat pilot who promised to teach him the trade for five hundred dollars. After completing his training, Twain piloted riverboats along the Mississippi for four years. During this time, he became familiar with the towns along the mighty River and became acquainted with the characters who would later inhabit many of his novels, especially Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.
When the Civil War began, Twain’s allegiance tended to be Southern due to his Southern heritage, and he briefly served in the Confederate militia. Twain’s brother Orion convinced him to go west on an expedition, a trip which became the subject matter of a later work, Roughing It.
Even though some of his letters and accounts of traveling had been published, Twain actually launched his literary career with the short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” published in 1865. This story brought him national attention, and Twain devoted the major portion of the rest of his life to literary endeavors. In addition to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, some of Twain’s most popular and widely read works include novels such as The Prince and the Pauper (1881), Life on the Mississippi (1883), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), and Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894), as well as collections of short stories and essays, such as The 1,000,000 Bank-Note and Other Stories (1893), The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Essays (1900), and What Is Man? (1906).
Mark Twain, one of America’s first and foremost realists and humanists, was born in 1835 during the appearance of Haley’s Comet, and he died during the next appearance of Haley’s Comet, 75 years later.