Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain): Age 60 to Death at 74
by Ron Kurtus (revised 26 December 2005)
Through most of his 60s, Mark Twain lived abroad and traveled extensively. Although he claimed to dislike the grind of public speaking, he continued to do it to pay off his debts and regain his fortune. When he was 67, his wife died. He then moved back to the United States and was able to rebound and spent his final years in comfort, receiving guests and gaining honors. He died at age 74.
Questions you may have include:
- Why did Twain live abroad?
- How did Twain pay off his debts?
- What sort of honors did he receive?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Ages 60 to 69: 1895-1904
Twain spent his 60s traveling and speaking. He lived abroad but then moved back to the U.S. after his wife died.
In 1895, when he was 60 years old, Twain decided to rebuild his fortunes by making a reading tour around the world. Although his creditors were willing to accept 50% of the liabilities, Twain felt it right to pay off the debt in full.
World reading tour
The family moved back to Elmira, while Twain traveled on his reading tour, which was a success. High prices and crowded houses prevailed everywhere. He spoke in Australia, New Zealand, India, Ceylon and South Africa. When he arrived in England, he had earned enough money to pay off his debts and make him fiscally viable again.
While he was in England, he received a cable that his daughter Susy had died. He could not reach America in time for the burial.
The family joined him in London, where they passed that winter and he worked at the story of his travels, Following the Equator. He read the proofs of the story the next summer in Switzerland.
Since he could live more economically abroad, the family spent two winters in Vienna and another winter in England.
When he returned to America, the event was celebrated. Wherever he appeared throngs turned out to welcome him and banquets were given in his honor.
The family moved to a house in Riverdale, New York, on the Hudson, where they lived for three years.
In 1901, he had received an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Yale College. He had already received an honorary Master of Arts degree from the same school in 1888.
Mark Twain in his golden years
In 1902 the University of Missouri gave him an honorary Doctor of Literature degree.
In 1903, Twain and his family moved to Florence, Italy. On June 5, 1904 his wife Olivia died. They brought her body back to the United States for a funeral.
That winter the family took up residence at 21 Fifth Avenue, New York and remained there until the completion of their mansion in Redding, Connecticut in 1908.
Ages 70 to death at 74: 1905-1910
Twain had a new home built and retired in it during his 70s. He still received guests and was given honors before his death at 74.
The death of Mrs. Clemens left Twain sad and bitter. His work--while still humorous--grew distinctly darker. This could be seen in such works as What is Man? and The Mysterious Stranger.
When he was 71, he was given an honorary doctoral degree from the venerable Oxford University. While in England to receive the degree, he was besieged by callers and well wishers. It was said to be the climax of a great career.
His home in at Stormfield in Redding, Connecticut was finally completed and he moved. His life now seemed peaceful and serene.
He spent his mornings in bed, smoking and attending to his correspondence and reading. In afternoons, he played billiards. He liked to read biographies and stories of astronomical and geological research.
On the day before Christmas 1909, Twain's daughter Jean, long subject to epileptic attacks, was seized with a convulsion while in her bath and died before assistance reached her.
At her funeral, Twain said that he never greatly envied anybody but the dead. "I always envy the dead," he repeated. This was certainly an odd statement for a person that had been so blessed in his life, but it was also a telling statement.
Samuel Clemens died of heart problems on April 21, 1910. Just as in his birth, Halley's Comet was overhead at that time. Mark Twain lives on.
Mark Twain moved to Europe, apparently because of the lower cost of living. He did a tour of public speaking engagements to pay off his debts and regain his fortune. When he was 67, his wife died. After he moved back to the United States, he was able to rebound and spent his final years in comfort, receiving guests and gaining honors. He died at age 74.
Lessons learned from the later years of Mark Twain include:
- Don't try to make money where you don't have skill
- Don't be greedy
- Have the character to pay off your debts in full
Appreciate what you have
Resources and references
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Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain): Age 60 to Death at 74