Volume LVIIAugust 2010Number 3

Bro. Samuel L. Clemens - a.k.a. Mark Twain
by Glenys Waldman, Librarian, The Masonic Library and Museum of PA

One of the best-loved Americans, the iconic Bro. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was born Nov. 30, 1835, in Florida, Mo. Four years later, the family moved to nearby Hannibal. His brother, Orion (1825-1897), who had worked in his father's general store and was an apprentice at a local newspaper, soon moved to St. Louis, where he studied law under Edward Bates, who would later serve as President Abraham Lincoln's Attorney General.

After their father's death, when Samuel was 12, he was apprenticed to a printer. Orion returned to Hannibal and purchased the local newspaper, which he renamed "Hannibal Western Union." Two years later, Samuel joined Orion's newspaper and soon learned that he enjoyed writing. Unable to make a successful living as a journalist in Hannibal, Orion relocated to Iowa in 1853. Samuel moved to a printer's job in St. Louis. While there, he became a river pilot's apprentice, becoming a licensed pilot in 1858.

The river trade was brought to a standstill by the Civil War, so Samuel began working as a reporter for several newspapers. Following Abraham Lincoln's election as President in 1860, Orion was appointed territorial secretary (but he would often function as acting Governor) of the Territory of Nevada. Samuel accompanied Orion to Nevada in the summer of 1861 as his secretary, but continued newspaper work. He was city editor of the Virginia City, Nev., "Enterprise" in 1862. He even worked in mining. Soon, becoming noted as a humorist, Samuel began lecturing and writing books.

Samuel was a member of Polar Star Lodge No. 79, St. Louis, Mo. (Entered Apprentice, May 22, 1861; Fellow Craft, June 12, 1861; Master Mason, July 10, 1861). He is recorded as having visited Carson City Lodge (Nevada) in February and March of 1862.

Among Samuel's many books are "The Innocents Abroad;" "Roughing It," the story of that journey with his brother to Nevada; "Adventures of Tom Sawyer;" "The Prince and the Pauper;" "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn;" and "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court." Samuel's pseudonym, Mark Twain, comes from his days as a river pilot. It is a riverboat term meaning two fathoms, or 12 feet of water. The depth is determined with a "hand lead," consisting of a lead weight of seven to 14 pounds and a braided hemp or cotton rope, 25 fathoms long, and is used where the water is (presumed) less than 20 fathoms deep. The term "mark" refers to the marks on the rope, which are at 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 15, 17 and 20 fathoms. Thus the call, "Mark twain!" means "two fathoms," which is (at least reasonably) safe for riverboat navigation.

Mark Twain had something to say about everyone and everything: "It is the will of God that we must have critics, and missionaries, and Congressmen, and humorists, and we must bear the burden." On Brotherhood: "The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession - what there is of it."
- Mark Twain's "Notebook"

On Friendship: "When we think of friends, and call their faces out of the shadows, and their voices out of the echoes that faint along the corridors of memory, and do it without knowing why, save that we love to do it; we content ourselves that friendship is a Reality, and not a Fancy - that it is builded upon a rock, and not upon the sands that dissolve away with the ebbing tides and carry their monuments with them."
-Letter to Mary Mason Fairbanks

"The proper office of a friend is to side with you when you are in the wrong. Nearly anybody will side with you when you are in the right."
- "Notebook," 1898

On Bro. Benjamin Franklin: "If it had not been for him, with his incendiary 'Early to bed and early to rise,' and all that sort of foolishness, I wouldn't have been so harried and worried and raked out of bed at such unseemly hours when I was young. The late Franklin was well enough in his way; but it would have looked more dignified in him to have gone on making candles and letting other people get up when they wanted to."
- Letter from Mark Twain, San Francisco "Alta California," July 25, 1869

About himself: Mark Twain famously said, "I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year [1910], and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'" His prediction came true when he passed away April 21, 1910, one day after Halley's Comet was closest to Earth. In applying for a passport on May 7, 1878, Mark Twain said: "My description is as follows: Born 1835; 5 ft. 8 1/2 inches tall; weight about 145 pounds ... dark brown hair and red moustache, full face with very high ears and light gray beautiful beaming eyes and a damned good moral character."
- Letter to Bayard Taylor written May 7, 1878 (in German); reprinted and translated in "New Letters of Mark Twain," American Literature, 3/1936, p. 48

Another great author said of him: "To my mind, Mark Twain was beyond question the largest man of his time, both in the direct outcome of his work and more important still, if possible, in his indirect influence as a protesting force in an age of iron philistinism."
- [Brother] Rudyard Kipling, letter in the centennial year of Mark Twain's birth [1935]

At his death, Samuel had left strict instructions that his uncensored autobiography remain unpublished until 100 years after his death. That year - 2010 - has been reached! The University of California Press will publish Twain's autobiography as they put it, "in its entirety and exactly as he left it." Volume I is to be released Nov. 15. It is hoped that the remaining two volumes will appear within five years (cf. the "Houston Chronicle" May 25, 2010, "NY Times" and Barnes & Noble, July 10, 2010).

Let Bro. Mark Twain himself close this sketch: "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."


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