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Mark Twain

Adventures in Wanderlust

Originally Twain was able to continue school while his older brother Orion helped the family by working as a printer at a newspaper and his sister Pamela worked as a piano teacher. Eventually, Twain was apprenticed to Joseph Ament, the owner of a print shop and publisher of the newspaper, the Hannibal Courier. After sufficiently learning the printing business, he went to work for his brother Orion in 1851, who now owned his own printing company and newspaper, the Hannibal Journal. Along with typesetting, his brother gave him the opportunity to write about local events and community news. Twain’s use of the pen and humorous approach to his reporting made him a popular writer in the town. It was only the fact that his brother continued to fail to pay him a wage that made his decide in 1853 to move along and find work elsewhere. He would gradually make a circle around the east end of the United States, looking and finding work, then moving on to another city. First he moved to St. Louis, where he worked for the Evening News, then on to New York City where he worked at a print shop. Continuing on, he went to Philadelphia and worked as a sub at the Inquirer, then as a Public Ledger in Washington, D.C., where he did a good deal of sight-seeing. Eventually his wanderlust made him return to Hannibal where he decided he wanted to see the Mississippi and become a riverboat captain. He trained for a time and eventually was given his own riverboat to commandeer. His brother, Henry, would follow along with him, working as clerk on the boat. In a tragedy that would shape his life, the two brothers were separated at one point on two different boats and Henry’s experienced an explosion that took many lives and severely injured him. Twain heard about the explosion and quickly rushed to his brother’s bedside in Memphis, Tennessee, where Henry died a few days later from the burns he incurred. Twain blamed himself for allowing his brother to travel apart from him and the resultant accident. The Mississippi River had now temporarily lost some of its allure, and Twain briefly enlisted in a group of local soldiers who were fighting for the South in the Civil War. But Twain could not muster enough interest in the Southern cause to fight, and along with his brother Orion, moved to the Nevada Territory to start a newspaper. Twain would turn to gold and silver mining in order to make more of a profit, but his mining attempts proved to be fruitless. In 1862 he went to Virginia City and went to work for the Territorial Enterprise. It was on February 3, 1863 where the world first saw the name of Mark Twain attached to a piece of writing. Clemens got the idea for the name from a measurement used on riverboats to define a safe depth for passage. A mark twain meant the water was two fathoms deep and was safe enough for the riverboats to pass through. In 1864, his popularity at the newspaper inspired him to move to the up-and-coming city of San Francisco and become a professional writer. He went to work for the newspaper The Morning Call, but Twain was never without adventure in his life. He got into a barroom brawl at one point and was forced into temporary exile from San Francisco until the incident had been forgotten. He also became known for his controversial viewpoints on certain current issues. He freely wrote about what he perceived as injustices and the inhumane treatment being inflicted on the Chinese who were now settling in the area because of the job possibilities. Also he had no fear of reporting corruption that he saw being perpetrated within the San Francisco police department. Because of his controversial stands on these and other issues, Twain felt somewhat like a pariah within the city, losing some of his income and having to watch his back when traversing the thoroughfares. Eventually, though, he got an assignment in 1866 to be a newspaper correspondent to the Hawaiian territory. This opportune assignment would lift Twain to new heights. He enjoyed his experience there, referring to Hawaii as “the only supremely delightful place on Earth.” His effusive descriptions and detailed account of the islands made his writings popular enough to spark interest in a lecture tour for him. He was concerned that he would fail in drawing enough of an audience to sustain such a proposal. He would be wrong. The audiences showing up for his lectures were enormous and spontaneous in their support of him. The success of his lectures propelled him on to a tour of the Holy Land as his next assignment. While it was a commonality that tourists from America went to foreign lands to experience an universe that could not be achieved in the own land, Twain went with the ideal that he was from the ideal of the universe and that he wanted to see how other countries managed to make do without what America had. His successful return to the States in 1867 followed an enormously rewarding trip that provided him with enormous insight into aspects of the world and the face of a woman that he would adore until death put them apart.


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