Samuel Langhorne Clemens
It is a matter of tradition that comedies and comic literature are short-lived. If this be so, one might well ask why the writings of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, retain their vitality so that they are now read more than the works of any other American author. The popular opinion of Mark Twain is that he was a humorist. He was that - quite the greatest humorist the country has yet had - but he was also much more and it is because of this "much more" that hi s books are winning an ever-increasing audience.
During the latter part of the Civil War, Clemens was a newspaper correspondent in newspaper row, Washington D.C., where he made a reputation for himself as a competent, industrious and successful newspaper man.
After the War he made an excursion in the Mediterranean on board the old Quaker City. He found that many of his shipmates were (according to his own lingo) "innocents" and the comic side of his experiences on the Quaker City appealed to him so irresistibly that he wrote a diary of the cruise which he called The New Pilgrims' Progress or Innocents Abroad. The book was so truthful, so humorous, so interestingly written that it became tremendously popular and brought its author into the limelight, but I do not believe that it was the fun in it that had everything to do with making it popular; rather it was the information that it contained which was unvarnished and fearlessly written. In 1878 I stepped into a print shop in Cairo, Egypt, and asked for a guide book. The dealer handed down a small paper covered volume which I recognized at once as an excerpt from Innocents Abroad. When I said that I wanted a guide book not a "diary" the dealer replied that it was the best selling guide book of Cairo ever printed and strictly accurate.
The story of the "Seven Sleepers" as translated from the Koran has a beautiful moral but it is prosy and not very interesting to read; but Mark Twain's version in Innocents Abroad makes it an interesting story without losing any of the moral. Such things are an indication of his transcendent literary talents. His "War Prayer" is more harrowing than any page in any of Shakespeare's tragedies and will go down the ages as a classic. For decades Dickens has had the reputation of being able to portray human nature and of describing individual characters and their idiosyncrasies as no other writer, but in my own estimation Mark Twain was quite his equal if not his superior.
Our writer was born in the little village of Florida, Missouri, in 1835. He attended the village school in that state. His father died early and left a dependent family so that Samuel, while still a mere boy, was obliged to enter the printery of the Hannibal Courier, where he remained for three years and earned for himself the dignity of assistant editor. He afterwards worked on New York, Philadelphia and Cincinnati papers and won thereby a rich and varied experience. Later on, he became a steamboat pilot and if all traditions concerning the same are to be trusted, was one of the best that ever steered a boat up and down the Mississippi River. After the Civil War broke out, he served a few weeks in the Confederate army though not with any great success or patience as one may learn from the biography by Bigelow Paine. For a time he lived in Nevada and was editor of the Virginia City Enterprise during which time he first began the use of his now famous nom de plume "Mark Twain."
He was married in 1870 to Miss Olivia Langdon, who had been one of his shipmates on board the Quaker City. After his marriage he became editor and part proprietor of the Buffalo Express and lived in Buffalo for several years. Later on, he moved to Hartford, Conn., where he continued his literary work and did occasional lecturing.
From the Grand Secretary of Missouri I have the information that Samuel L. Clemens petitioned the Polar Star Lodge No. 79, St. Louis, on December 26, 1860. He was elected to receive the degrees February 13, 1861; was initiated May 22nd, 1861; passed to the degree of Fellowcraft June 12, 1861; and raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason July 10, 1861.
- Source: The Builder - July 1923