Mark Twain: Out with the Comet
April 21 is the anniversary of Mark Twain’s death. Samuel Clemens (his real name) was 74 when he died in 1910. As a young man he spent time in San Francisco, which was where he became a newspaper reporter, was fired, and where he ultimately found his calling.
Clemens was born in 1835 in the frontier state of Missouri. His father died when he was 12, leaving the family destitute, and a year later Clemens quit school and became a printer's apprentice, setting type and assisting newspaper editors. He lived in Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio; educating himself in public libraries.
He was a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River, and in 1860 accompanied his brother to Nevada and worked briefly as a gold miner. He hated mining, gave up, and took a job as a reporter at a Virginia City newspaper, using the pen name Mark Twain, a term from his river boating days.
He moved to San Francisco in 1864 and found a job as a reporter for a newspaper called the Daily Call. He hated the job, and, after a year-and-a-half, he was fired.
Twain was devastated. He retreated to the Gold Country, lived in a cabin, and drafted an outlandish story about a frog race, but he couldn’t finish it. He moved back to San Francisco and spent time “slinking,” with no work and little to eat. Then he had a revelation: he should write humorous stories. He finished the piece about the frog, which he called The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.
He wrote a series of short stories and books that combined his imagination, writing skills, and characters from his past.
Twain married, had three daughters, and spent the rest of his life writing, traveling, speaking, and promoting his various philosophies. And he always retained a soft spot for San Francisco, where his career began.
In 1909, Twain predicted, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year and I expect to go out with it.”
He was right; he died April 21, 1910 – one day after the comet’s closest approach to Earth.