Study Guide

Mark Twain Childhood

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In November 1835, Halley's Comet streaked through the sky, delighting crowds around the world. 

Two weeks later, on November 30th, 1835, John and Jane Lampton Clemens welcomed their sixth child into the world.

No word on whether crowds around the world were delighted by some random baby being born. 

John and Jane named their son Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Three years after Samuel came into the world, his parents' seventh and final child was born, a son named Henry. 

Seven children. And to think, we get tired after particular tiring bowel movements. Hats off to Jane.

A year after that, the family moved from Florida, Missouri to Hannibal, Missouri. Hannibal served as the inspiration for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn's fictional hometown of St. Petersburg. Like Huck and Tom, young Samuel spent his days running around with a group of other local boys, engaging in all sorts of hijinks and tomfoolery.

Thanks to its place right on the bank of the Mississippi River, the small town was a frequent stop for steamship pilots and their passengers traveling up and down the river. Samuel Clemens was enamored with the steamboat pilots from an early age and hoped to join their ranks when he was older.

In 1847, Samuel's father died of pneumonia. Jane Clemens was left alone to support the family's four surviving children. Again, hats off to Jane. Sure, Mark wrote some good stories, but Jane might've been an actual superhero.

As soon as they were old enough though. the Clemens children had to work. By the age of 16, Twain had left school for a job as an apprentice to a printer in Hannibal. Within a few years, he was traveling up and down the East Coast as a freelance printer. The river, however, was always in his heart. 

Samuel returned to Missouri in 1857 to begin a two-year apprenticeship to become a steamboat pilot. He loved the work, as well as the intriguing characters he met along the river. "When I find a well-drawn character in fiction or biography I generally take a warm personal interest in him, for the reason that I have known him before—met him on the river," 

Despite the tragedy, Twain continued to work as a riverboat pilot until 1861. When the Civil War broke out, all traffic along the river was halted, putting Twain out of a job. It was time to find a new adventure.

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