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Samuel Langhorne Clemens (he later took the pen name Mark Twain) was born on November 30, 1835, in the village of Florida, Missouri. His father, John Marshall Clemens, a magistrate and shopkeeper in Florida, was highly intelligent, but a strict disciplinarian. Twain's mother, Jane, was a compassionate woman with a natural sense of humor. Twain had irregular schooling, and, after his father's death in 1847, he took on a series of odd jobs, before becoming a printer's apprentice. When his brother Orion founded the Hannibal Journal, Twain went to work for him as a compositor and began writing comic pieces for the paper. At the age of seventeen he wrote a comic story, "The Dandy Frightening the Squatter," which was published in the Boston humor magazine, The Carpet-Bag.
In 1853, Twain, always restless, began traveling around America, doing odd jobs in printing, occasionally rejoining his brother, who had moved to Iowa, before setting out again. In 1857, while on assignment to write a series of humorous travel letters for the Keokuk, Iowa, Daily Post, Twain met Horace Bixby, a Mississippi River steamboat pilot, who agreed teach him the trade. Twain would later write about his experiences as an apprentice pilot in Life on the Mississippi (1883). Although Twain got much comic mileage out of his supposed laziness and ignorance in his autobiographical writing, by all accounts he was a good pilot. The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, however, which stopped North- South traffic, ended his career. In the meantime, Orion had been appointed secretary of the Nevada Territory, and, thirsty for adventure, Twain joined his brother there. While in Nevada, Twain embarked on several doomed money-making ventures, including silver speculation and gold prospecting, before becoming a writer for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise.
In 1869, Twain published The Innocents Abroad, an account of his travels in Europe and the Holy Land. In this book, Twain satirized both American tourists, who looked to the Old World with awe, and the Old World itself, with its crumbling monuments, crowded cities, dearth of natural wonders, and reliance on tradition.
On February 2, 1870, he married Olivia Langdon. Although Olivia was much more conservative than he was, they shared a full and contented life together. They had one son, who died in infancy, and three daughters.
Over the next twenty years, Twain's fame and fortune grew, both from his published works and his public lectures. In 1871 he published Roughing It, which was based on his excursion with his brother to Nevada. In 1876 he published The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which became an instant children's classic. In 1880, he published A Tramp Abroad, another travel narrative, followed the next year by The Prince and the Pauper. Like Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper was a children's adventure tale, but it contained the elements of social criticism which were later to dominate Twain's writings.