Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain):
Ages 30 to 39
by Ron Kurtus (revised 19 January 2022)
Samuel Clemens (1835-1910) was popular newspaper writer, author, satirist and public speaker, who gained fame as Mark Twain. His years between the ages of 30 and 39 were highly productive. During this time he found his calling as a humorous writer and public speaker. By the time he was 39 he was wealthy and world-famous.
Questions you may have include:
- How did the persona "Mark Twain" become famous?
- How did his public speaking career start?
- Where did he live during this period?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Ages 30 to 34: 1865-74
These four years where highly productive in Mark Twain's career both as a writer and entertaining lecturer.
Artemus Ward, whom Twain had met in Virginia City, asked if he could contribute something to use in Ward's new book. Clemens sent The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County story to the publisher, but by the time it reached New York, the publisher had Ward's book ready for the press. The publisher passed the story on to the editor of the Saturday Press, who might have use for it in his paper.
Frog story a success
The story appeared in the Saturday Press of November 18, 1865 and was a great success. Other papers printed it, and it was even translated into foreign languages. The name of "Mark Twain" became known as the author of that sketch, and the two were permanently associated from the day of its publication.
It is ironic that someone with such a keen eye for original observation should achieve his fame by rewriting someone else's story.
Although the story gave him fame, it did not yield much financial return. But it did result in getting an assignment in 1866 to go to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) for the Sacramento Union to contribute a series of letters of his humorous observations. Twain spent several months there and submitted his letters, which were quite popular, adding to his fame as a humorist but not much to his pocketbook.
Mark Twain, new celebrity
Started public speaking
After he returned to California, a friend suggested he try his hand at lecturing. Twain was already known as an entertaining talker, so he started speaking on the topics of his various letters, observations and stories. Soon, he was giving lectures up and down the Coast.
(See Mark Twain's "Our Fellow Savages" Humorous Speech for an example of the types of performances he gave.)
Public speaking not only gave him the attention he craved, but it also gave him wealth. In reality, the character "Mark Twain" stood for a stand-up performer as much as for an author. His live performances not only played a major role in shaping the world's perception of him, but performing as Twain is also one of the central preoccupations of his written work, especially the fiction.
When he was 31, Twain decided to visit to his family. In January 1867, he was with his mother, who was then living with his sister, in St. Louis. A little later he lectured in Keokuk, Iowa and in Hannibal, Missouri, his old homes.
Idea for new project
Twain heard about the first great Mediterranean steamship excursion. He then solicited friends at the San Francisco Alta-California, and the publishers of that paper agreed to advance the money for his passage, on the understanding that he was to contribute frequent letters of the trip, for which they would pay him $20 apiece. It was a great contract for Twain.
He then hurried to New York to be there well before the sailing date, which was in June. In New York he met Frank Fuller, whom he had known as territorial Governor of Utah. Fuller was an admirer of Twain's work and suggested he give a lecture in order to establish his reputation on the Atlantic coast. The lecture was a success.
Wrote travel literature
The Quaker City was the steamer selected for tour. It sailed on June 8, 1867. In the five-month tour, Mark Twain contributed regularly to the Alta-California and wrote several letters for the New York Tribune. Twain write a new form of travel literature, with honest observation, along with humorous ridicule of things believed to be shams.
When he returned from the trip, publishers were ready with plans for collecting the letters in book form. The American Publishing Company proposed a book to be elaborately illustrated and sold by subscription.
Trademarked his name
Samuel Clemens wanted a lot from the career of "Mark Twain." He wanted as much money as he could get from this book and his name. Besides money, however, he sought fame, popularity, the attention of the world, all of which also depended on how widely his work would be bought and read. He was well aware of the commercial aspects of writing and was the first writer to incorporate himself as an enterprise and trademark his name.
He agreed with them as to terms, and then went back to San Francisco, to put his book together, while lecturing occasionally.
He returned to New York in August 1868, at age 32, with the manuscript of The Innocents Abroad. That winter, while his book was being published, Twain traveled and lectured throughout the East and Midwest.
Met future wife
He also spent much time in Elmira, New York. On the Quaker City he had met a young man from Elmira, who showed him a picture of his sister, Olivia Langdon, then a girl of about twenty-two. He wanted to meet her, and when he later visited Elmira, he fell in love Olivia.
When he visited the Langdon home, he would bring proofs of the Innocents Abroad, and Olivia helped edit them. She would edit all of his work from then on.
The book Innocents Abroad was published in July 1869 and was an immediate success and brought Twain the wealth he sought.
On February 2, 1870, at age 34, Samuel Clemens married Olivia Langdon, the daughter of a wealthy New York coal merchant. They settled in Hartford, Connecticut, where he continued to write travel accounts and lecture.
Gaining wealth after marriage
On his wedding-day, Twain received a check from his publishers for more than four thousand dollars, royalty accumulated during the three months preceding. The sales soon amounted to more than fifty thousand copies and had increased to very nearly one hundred thousand at the end of the first three years. It was--and still is--the best-selling travel book ever.
Mark Twain now decided to settle down. He had bought an interest in the Buffalo, New York Express and took up his residence in that city in a house, presented to the young couple by Mr. Langdon.
In November, their first child, Langdon Clemens, was born.
Ages 35 to 39: 1871-74
In these years Twain concentrated on business dealings, including patenting an invention. He went on a lecture tour and did some writing. Family life was also an important facet in his life during these years.
Clemens and his wife sold the house in Buffalo and moved to Hartford, Connecticut.
Twain with friends in 1871
Twain sold out his interest in the Express, severed his connection with the Galaxy, a magazine for which he was doing a department each month, and had written a second book for the American Publishing Company, Roughing It, published in 1872. That year, their son Langdon died. A daughter, Susy, was born shortly afterwards.
In August he made a trip alone to London, to get material for a book on England but was too much sought after to do any work. He returned in November.
He then brought Olivia and Susy with him back to England and Scotland. They returned to America in November. Twain then returned to London alone to deliver a series of lectures under the management of George Dolby, formerly managing agent for Charles Dickens. For two months Mark Twain lectured steadily to London audiences.
Twain also dabbled in inventing and patented a self-pasting scrapbook. This patent was particularly lucrative for Twain, earning him $50,000 over the years.
He returned to his family in January 1874. Twain then had a new house built in Hartford. They lived in the house seventeen years. They spent their summers in Elmira, on Quarry Farm, owned by Mrs. Clemens's sister. It was in Elmira that much of Mark Twain's literary work was done. He had a special study there, some distance from the house, where he loved to work.
The Clemens home in Hartford was often visited by literary people and distinguished foreign visitors. Among them, Rudyard Kipling, who recorded his visit in a chapter of his American Notes, came to visit. Kipling said he had come all the way from India to see Mark Twain.
Twain had a charming and witty personality that not only was appealing on stage but also in person. He made many acquaintances and friends, as well as fans of his writing.
Moneymaking schemes are continually being placed before men of means and prominence, and Mark Twain found such schemes fatally attractive. It was the entrepreneur in him, inherited from his father. Unfortunately, neither was a wise investor.
Twain did have one successful commercial venture in the publication of the Grant Memoirs, resulting in a royalty of more than $400,000 to Grant's widow--the largest royalty at that time ever paid from any single publication. It saved the Grant family from poverty. Yet even this triumph was a misfortune to Twain, for it led to scores of less profitable book ventures and poor investments.
The years from age 30 to 39 of Samuel Clemens' life were active and productive. He used keen eye for observation and his humorous wit in his writing to gain popularity and fame. His charming personality and story-telling skills allowed him to pursue a public speaking career, increasing his popularity and wealth.
A few lessons learned from the first part of the life of Samuel Clemens include:
- It is worth to keep trying until you find your niche
- Recognizing your talent and finding your calling is an achievement
- A witty personality can provide friends and contacts
- Observation and creativity can lead to greatness
Use the talents you have
Resources and references
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Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain): Ages 30 to 39