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Mark Twain | Sachindu Perera

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ශ්‍රී LankaNZ is a free distributed Sri Lankan Community Newspaper that aims to reach a Sri Lankan population of over 18,000 all over New Zealand. The demand for entertainment in literacy media itself gave birth to ශ්‍රී LankaNZ

“The thing for you is a burial permit. You only have to speak, and I will see that you get it”

Mark Twain

Mark Twain was an American author who wrote many famous books such as “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, and its sequel, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”.

When Twain was born 2 months premature, he spent the first 10 years of his life in a sickly condition. For this reason, he was always coddled, so Mark would sometimes test his mother’s boundaries by being prone to committing domestic crimes. Later when he asked his mother when she was in her 80’s whether or not he would make it, she simply replied: “No, afraid you would.”

Now a little bit about Mark Twain’s name. Most people know that Mark Twain is a pen name and that his real name is Samuel Clemens. What you might not know though is that “Mark Twain” is actually a boating term that he picked up while riding on steamboats around Missouri. The “mark twain” is where the water is determined to be 12 feet above a lead and safe enough for the steamboat to sail through. Samuel Clemens eventually received his steamboat pilot license on April 9, 1859.

Also, most of his family ended up dying at a very early age. Out of his 6 siblings, only 3 made it to childhood. Those 3 being Orion Clemens (The first and only Secretary of the Nevada Territory), Pamela Clemens (1827–1904), and Henry Clemens who died at the age of 20 after Sam invited him to work on the steamboat ‘Pennsylvania’. It was 13th June 1858, the boiler of the steamboat exploded. Unfortunately, Mark Twain’s younger brother ‘Henry’ was severely injured and died a few days later because of this accident. Twain felt guilty and held himself responsible for the rest of his life. He also claimed that he foresaw his brother’s death in his dream a month earlier. And this incident intrigued him about parapsychology.

Orion Clemens, Mark’s brother, became secretary to Gov. James Warren Nye in 1861, Twain joined him when he moved to the west. The brothers travelled more than two weeks on a stagecoach across the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. Twain’s journey ended in the silver-mining town of Virginia City, Nevada, where he became a miner. However, he failed as a miner and went to work at the Virginia City newspaper Territorial Enterprise. This was when he first used his pen name here on February 3, 1863. His writing first became well known when he wrote “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”. In 1867, a local newspaper funded his trip to the Mediterranean aboard the Quaker City. It was on this trip that he met fellow passenger Charles Langdon, who showed him a picture of his sister Olivia. Twain later claimed to have fallen in love at first sight.

He was also a man of quite short temper. He wrote several angry letters. Once, he wrote to a man that had angered him: “The thing for you is a burial permit. You only have to speak, and I will see that you get it. On another occasion he wrote to an editor about a proof-reader’s attempts to “improve my spelling and punctuation.” He ordered: “Set the matter according to my copy hereafter and see that the proof-reader retains his suggestions in the mush of his decayed brain”. Writing these letters made Mark feel better. Although luckily, they never did any harm as his wife secretly lifted them out of the mail.

Another interesting fact about him is that Twain was born two weeks after Halley’s Comet’s closest approach in 1835. He said in 1909 I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: “Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together”. Surprisingly, Twain’s prediction was eerily accurate; he died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910, in Stormfield, one day after the comet’s closest approach to Earth.

Mark Twain was hailed as “the greatest humourist the United States has produced” and William Faulkner called him “the father of American literature.”  Some of his books include: “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County ” which was published in 1865, based on a story that he heard at Angels Hotel in Angels Camp, California, where he had spent some time as a miner. The short story brought international attention and was even translated into French.

Personally, I feel that his writing helped record the time that he was writing in, providing the same function as a history book. His writing shows the many cultures that lived in the time, and how they were treated by others. Like, in Tom Sawyer it shows how black people were treated at that time, and also the way of life. In a nutshell, Mark Twain was a great writer and was important for us to be able to understand how life was in the 1800’s.

By Sachindu Perera

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