The Gamblers Daughter: A Personal and Social History
Apart from family worries, the social environment was hardly idyllic.
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Missouri was a slave state, and, though the young Clemens had been reassured that chattel slavery was an institution approved by God, he nevertheless carried with him memories of cruelty and sadness that he would reflect upon in his maturity. Then there was the violence of Hannibal itself. In January Clemens watched a man die in the street after he had been shot by a local merchant; this incident provided the basis for the Boggs shooting in Huckleberry Finn.
Two years later he witnessed the drowning of one of his friends, and only a few days later, when he and some friends were fishing on Sny Island, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, they discovered the drowned and mutilated body of a fugitive slave. He lived sparingly in the Ament household but was allowed to continue his schooling and, from time to time, indulge in boyish amusements. Nevertheless, by the time Clemens was 13, his boyhood had effectively come to an end. In the oldest Clemens boy, Orion, returned from St. Louis, Mo. A year later he bought the Hannibal Journal, and Sam and his younger brother Henry worked for him.
Some of those early sketches, such as The Dandy Frightening the Squatter , appeared in Eastern newspapers and periodicals. Epaminondas Adrastus Perkins. Having acquired a trade by age 17, Clemens left Hannibal in with some degree of self-sufficiency. For almost two decades he would be an itinerant labourer, trying many occupations.
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He worked briefly as a typesetter in St. Louis in before traveling to New York City to work at a large printing shop. From there he went to Philadelphia and on to Washington , D. During his time in the East, which lasted until early , he read widely and took in the sights of these cities. He was acquiring, if not a worldly air, at least a broader perspective than that offered by his rural background.
Orion had moved briefly to Muscatine, Iowa , with their mother, where he had established the Muscatine Journal before relocating to Keokuk, Iowa, and opening a printing shop there. Sam Clemens joined his brother in Keokuk in and was a partner in the business for a little over a year, but he then moved to Cincinnati, Ohio , to work as a typesetter. Still restless and ambitious, he booked passage in on a steamboat bound for New Orleans , La. Instead, he saw a more immediate opportunity and persuaded the accomplished riverboat captain Horace Bixby to take him on as an apprentice.
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Because Bixby was an exceptional pilot and had a license to navigate the Missouri River and the upper as well as the lower Mississippi, lucrative opportunities several times took him upstream. On those occasions, Clemens was transferred to other veteran pilots and thereby learned the profession more quickly and thoroughly than he might have otherwise. The profession of riverboat pilot was, as he confessed many years later in Old Times on the Mississippi, the most congenial one he had ever followed.
He met and fell in love with Laura Wright, eight years his junior. The courtship dissolved in a misunderstanding, but she remained the remembered sweetheart of his youth. He also arranged a job for his younger brother Henry on the riverboat Pennsylvania. The boilers exploded, however, and Henry was fatally injured. Clemens was not on board when the accident occurred, but he blamed himself for the tragedy. His experience as a cub and then as a full-fledged pilot gave him a sense of discipline and direction he might never have acquired elsewhere.
Before this period his had been a directionless knockabout life; afterward he had a sense of determined possibility. He continued to write occasional pieces throughout these years and, in one satirical sketch, River Intelligence , lampooned the self-important senior pilot Isaiah Sellers, whose observations of the Mississippi were published in a New Orleans newspaper.
The Civil War severely curtailed river traffic, and, fearing that he might be impressed as a Union gunboat pilot, Clemens brought his years on the river to a halt a mere two years after he had acquired his license. He returned to Hannibal, where he joined the prosecessionist Marion Rangers, a ragtag lot of about a dozen men.
After only two uneventful weeks, during which the soldiers mostly retreated from Union troops rumoured to be in the vicinity, the group disbanded. A few of the men joined other Confederate units, and the rest, along with Clemens, scattered. Twain would recall this experience, a bit fuzzily and with some fictional embellishments, in The Private History of the Campaign That Failed In that memoir he extenuated his history as a deserter on the grounds that he was not made for soldiering.
Like the fictional Huckleberry Finn, whose narrative he was to publish in , Clemens then lit out for the territory. Clemens submitted several letters to the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, and these attracted the attention of the editor, Joseph Goodman, who offered him a salaried job as a reporter. He was again embarked on an apprenticeship, in the hearty company of a group of writers sometimes called the Sagebrush Bohemians, and again he succeeded.
The Nevada Territory was a rambunctious and violent place during the boom years of the Comstock Lode, from its discovery in to its peak production in the late s.
Nearby Virginia City was known for its gambling and dance halls, its breweries and whiskey mills, its murders, riots, and political corruption. He was often indignant and prone to expose fraud and corruption when he found them. This was a dangerous indulgence, for violent retribution was not uncommon. In February Clemens covered the legislative session in Carson City and wrote three letters for the Enterprise.
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Clemens seized it. It would be several years before this pen name would acquire the firmness of a full-fledged literary persona, however. Already he was acquiring a reputation outside the territory. Some of his articles and sketches had appeared in New York papers, and he became the Nevada correspondent for the San Francisco Morning Call. In , after challenging the editor of a rival newspaper to a duel and then fearing the legal consequences for this indiscretion, he left Virginia City for San Francisco and became a full-time reporter for the Call.
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Finding that work tiresome, he began contributing to the Golden Era and the new literary magazine the Californian, edited by Bret Harte. After he published an article expressing his fiery indignation at police corruption in San Francisco, and after a man with whom he associated was arrested in a brawl, Clemens decided it prudent to leave the city for a time.
He went to the Tuolumne foothills to do some mining. It was there that he heard the story of a jumping frog. The story was widely known, but it was new to Clemens, and he took notes for a literary representation of the tale. When the humorist Artemus Ward invited him to contribute something for a book of humorous sketches, Clemens decided to write up the story. Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog arrived too late to be included in the volume, but it was published in the New York Saturday Press in November and was subsequently reprinted throughout the country.
The next few years were important for Clemens. He continued to write for newspapers, traveling to Hawaii for the Sacramento Union and also writing for New York newspapers, but he apparently wanted to become something more than a journalist. He went on his first lecture tour, speaking mostly on the Sandwich Islands Hawaii in It was a success, and for the rest of his life, though he found touring grueling, he knew he could take to the lecture platform when he needed money.
Meanwhile, he tried, unsuccessfully, to publish a book made up of his letters from Hawaii. He had ambitions to enlarge his reputation and his audience, and the announcement of a transatlantic excursion to Europe and the Holy Land provided him with just such an opportunity.
The Alta paid the substantial fare in exchange for some 50 letters he would write concerning the trip. Eventually his account of the voyage was published as The Innocents Abroad It was a great success. The trip abroad was fortuitous in another way. He met on the boat a young man named Charlie Langdon, who invited Clemens to dine with his family in New York and introduced him to his sister Olivia; the writer fell in love with her. They were married in February A son, Langdon, was born in November , but the boy was frail and would die of diphtheria less than two years later.
Clemens came to dislike Buffalo and hoped that he and his family might move to the Nook Farm area of Hartford, Conn. In the meantime, he worked hard on a book about his experiences in the West. Roughing It was published in February and sold well. Later that year, Clemens traveled to England. Upon his return, he began work with his friend Charles Dudley Warner on a satirical novel about political and financial corruption in the United States.
The Gilded Age was remarkably well received, and a play based on the most amusing character from the novel, Colonel Sellers, also became quite popular. He also published A True Story, a moving dialect sketch told by a former slave, in the prestigious Atlantic Monthly in A second daughter, Clara, was born in June, and the Clemenses moved into their still-unfinished house in Nook Farm later the same year, counting among their neighbours Warner and the writer Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Old Times on the Mississippi appeared in the Atlantic in installments in The obscure journalist from the wilds of California and Nevada had arrived: he had settled down in a comfortable house with his family; he was known worldwide; his books sold well, and he was a popular favourite on the lecture tour; and his fortunes had steadily improved over the years.
In the process, the journalistic and satirical temperament of the writer had, at times, become retrospective. Old Times, which would later become a portion of Life on the Mississippi, described comically, but a bit ruefully too, a way of life that would never return. The continuing popularity of Tom Sawyer it sold well from its first publication, in , and has never gone out of print indicates that Twain could write a novel that appealed to young and old readers alike. Huckleberry Finn was written in fits and starts over an extended period and would not be published until The embarrassing experience may have in part prompted his removal to Europe for nearly two years.
All the while, he continued to make often ill-advised investments, the most disastrous of which was the continued financial support of an inventor, James W. Paige, who was perfecting an automatic typesetting machine. In Clemens founded his own publishing company, bearing the name of his nephew and business agent, Charles L. Webster, and embarked on a four-month lecture tour with fellow author George W.
Cable, both to raise money for the company and to promote the sales of Huckleberry Finn. Not long after that, Clemens began the first of several Tom-and-Huck sequels. None of them would rival Huckleberry Finn. What distinguishes Huckleberry Finn from the others is the moral dilemma Huck faces in aiding the runaway slave Jim while at the same time escaping from the unwanted influences of so-called civilization. That he did so in the voice and consciousness of a year-old boy, a character who shows the signs of having been trained to accept the cruel and indifferent attitudes of a slaveholding culture, gives the novel its affecting power, which can elicit genuine sympathies in readers but can also generate controversy and debate and can affront those who find the book patronizing toward African Americans, if not perhaps much worse.
If Huckleberry Finn is a great book of American literature, its greatness may lie in its continuing ability to touch a nerve in the American national consciousness that is still raw and troubling. After working closely with Ulysses S.