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"It was a curious childhood, full of weird, fantastic impressions and contradictory influences, stimulating alike to the imagination and that embryo philosophy of life which begins almost with infancy."
Paine 14) His consummate biography written in 1912, just after his death claims that Clemens spent the majority of his childhood in the company of his siblings, and the family slaves as his parents where often otherwise engaged, his father and inventor and his mother challenged by the running of such a large family with very little support.
Mark Twain did not remember ever having seen or heard his father laugh. The problem of supplying food was a somber one to John Clemens; also, he was working on a perpetualmotion machine at this period, which absorbed his spare time, and, to the inventor at least, was not a mirthful occupation. Jane Clemens was busy, too. Her sense of humor did not die, but with added cares and years her temper as well as her features became sharper, and it was just as well to be fairly out of range when she was busy with her employments.
Twain's brothers and sisters where his teachers and protectors as were the family slaves who often were the only adults the children interacted with on a daily moment by moment basis. Clearly these childhood pursuits colored the youthful expressions of his writing and also gave him a distinctly personal impression of slavery, both its fears and excitements and most importantly African-American people, which can be seen in his works as well. His brothers and sisters, all older than him included Orion, ten years older, Pamela and Margaret, eight and seven years older and Benjamin who was three years older than Tom but who was his protector
But in addition to these associations, there were the still more potent influences of that day and section, the intimate, enveloping institution of slavery, the daily companionship of the slaves. All the children of that time were fond of the negroes and confided in them. They would, in fact, have been lost without such protection and company...It was Jennie, the house-girl, and Uncle Ned, a man of all work -- apparently acquired with the improved prospects -- who were in real charge of the children and supplied them with entertainment. Wonderful entertainment it was. That was a time of visions and dreams, small gossip and superstitions. Old tales were repeated over and over, with adornments and improvements suggested by immediate events. At evening the Clemens children, big and little, gathered about the great open fireplace while Jennie and Uncle Ned told tales and hair-lifting legends.
Clemens was also marked by the unexpected death of his sister Margaret and the superstitions associated with death at the time.
There was a superstition in those days that to refer to health as good luck, rather than to ascribe it to the kindness of Providence, was to bring about a judgment. Jane Clemens one day spoke to a neighbor of their good luck in thus far having lost no member of their family. That same day, when the sisters, Pamela and Margaret, returned from school, Margaret laid her books on the table, looked in the glass at her flushed cheeks, pulled out the trundle-bed, and lay down. She was never in her right mind again.
The Clemens family moved from Florida, Missouri to Hannibal, when Sam was 4. Hannibal already had a navigable river, the Mississippi, unlike Florida on the banks of the Salt River, which had never been improved for river travel, despite government plans and promises. The family, though with a gentleman's legacy had none of the comforts associated with their class and the father as a shop owner had a difficult time providing, land he held in Tennessee was the future promise, never realized as it was never sold to meet the needs of the family and Sam was said to be the least promising of the children, having been usurped in his throne of the youngest by Henry who was a favorite. While Sam remained frail and bothersome, "He remained delicate, and developed little beyond a tendency to pranks. He was a queer, fanciful, uncommunicative child that detested indoors and would run away if not watched -- always in the direction of the river."
Paine 28) Sam also remained fragile and even sought out illness to receive attention, once running away to get in bed with a playmate who had black measles and contracted the disease, but recovered. His mother was fond of saying that he was her most worrisome child, as he walked in his sleep, wandering even while resting and often worried her past the point that her other children did.
He drives me crazy with his didoes, when he is in the house," she used to say; "and when he is out of it I am expecting every minute that some one will bring him home half dead. "He did, in fact, achieve the first of his "nine narrow escapes from drowning" about this time, and was pulled out of the river one afternoon and brought home in a limp and unpromising condition. When with mullein tea and castor-oil she had restored him to activity, she said: "I guess there wasn't much danger. People born to be hanged are safe in water."
In fact he and his brothers and sister often went with their mother to visit the family's former business partner the much beloved, Uncle Quarles and stay near Florida, in the summer to keep the boy safe. The farm visits where locked in the boy's memory as a man and the freedom that the area offered colored the imaginations and wanderings of the man and his fictions. Sam began attending school in Hannibal at about the age five, and learned to dislike it because he was frequently punished for bad behavior. His household continued to fall on hard times, despite the father's election to the Justice of the Peace position and but especially in 1840 when they had to sell Jennie, which made them all sad and in 1841-2 when Clemens lost his business to debt. And then in May Benjamin now ten died also leaving the family in sorrow. The family recovered financially with John Clemens putting more stock in his legal practice and building a home for the family. As Sam aged he was witness to many rugged situations of slavery, remembering the very human view of such events from the point-of-view of a boy of 9 or 10 really marked his writing and view of slavery in later years. (Paine 41-42) He also stowed away on a steam boat on one occasion when he was nine, though discovered quickly and returned home the adventure never left him. In 1847 Clemens' father died, leaving the family without a secure provider and with the need for the children to begin working. During this time Clemens was apprenticed to a printer and began writing for the Missouri Courier. According to his biographer his consummate interest in history and therefore writing began with the chance finding of a discarded leaf of a book about Joan of Arc, it was from this moment that Clemens became a writer and a thinker and began his prolific career as a writer and lover of words. He also continued into adulthood to have adventures that led him to travel a great deal and built his repertoire, he was once a river-boat pilot on the Mississippi but when the traffic of the river died down her moved to Virginia City and edited the Territorial Enterprise. On February 3, 1863, 'Mark Twain' was born when Clemens signed a humorous travel account with that pseudonym after discussing the pseudonym with his boss
No, I want to sign them " Mark Twain." It is an old river term, a leads-man's call, signifying two fathoms -- twelve feet. It has a richness about it; it was always a pleasant sound for a pilot to hear on a dark night; it meant safe water." (Paine 221-222) He also moved to California for a short time to work as a reporter and visited Hawaii as a correspondent for The Sacramento Union all the while writing and doing lectures to pay for his travels. He married Olivia Langdon in 1870 and continued to write and travel, and lecture. The young death at 24 of one of his daughters, Susy (1896) while he was abroad also marked his later life as did the loss of his fortune before this and the death of his wife and other daughter after. Twain died in April of 1810 and his autobiography was…[continue]
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