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Twain, Mark (1835-1910)

Journalist, Lecturer, Novelist, Short Story Writer

While there is scant evidence that Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) ever visited Pfaff's bar (only one source suggests that he did [Rawson 99]), he was connected to the Pfaff's bohemians in a number of ways.

Twain was born in Missouri and lived in Hannibal (1839-1853) on the Mississippi River which provided much of the background for his most well-known works, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). After the death of his father left the family in straitened circumstances, young Clemens was apprenticed to a printer, which stimulated his interest in journalism and writing; using his skills as a printer, he traveled up the East coast and back to the Midwest. In 1857 he served an apprenticeship to a river pilot, earning his pilot's license by learning to read the river and gathering material for his later Life on the Mississippi. After the outbreak of the Civil War, Twain traveled west with his brother and tried his hand at prospecting.

By 1862 he was a reporter in Virginia City using the pseudonym "Mark Twain"--a river pilot's catchphrase measuring depth--when he met humorist lecturer Artemus Ward (Charles Farrar Browne), who encouraged him to take up his pen. Twain journeyed next to California where he met Bret Harte, into whose literary circle Pfaff's regular Adah Menken would later venture. During this period he wrote the "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" (1865), which was published in Clapp's Saturday Press. The story launched his career and led to the publication of The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches (1867) by Charles Henry Webb, a visitor to Pfaff's. In "A Private History of the 'Jumping Frog' Story" (1890), Twain states that he wrote up the story at Artemus Ward's urging for Ward's publisher Carleton who then sent it to Henry Clapp, "and Clapp put it in his Saturday Press, and it killed that paper with a suddenness that was beyond praise. At least the paper died with that issue, and none but envious people have ever tried to rob me of the honor and credit of killing it. The 'Jumping Frog' was the first piece of writing of mine that spread itself through the newspapers and brought me into public notice" (Twain 456).

While publishing his novels and essays, Twain lectured abroad and in the United States and wrote pieces for the Buffalo Express newspaper and the Galaxy. He also befriended William Dean Howells, who was repelled by the Bohemian permissiveness he found at Pfaff's. In 1894 Twain's investment in the type-setting machine and his failed publishing house led to bankruptcy, so he embarked on a lecture tour to repay his debts, which he did by 1898. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Literature by Oxford in 1907 and was at work on his autobiography (published posthumously in 1924) when he died at his home in Connecticut.