He was named Samuel Langhorne Clemens at his birth on November 30, 1835. He became Mark Twain in February 1863, when he chose that odd but now familiar and resonant phrase as his pen name.
Sam was gradually discovering that a segment of the community was not getting what a just society should provide. But it was a slow awakening, not to be realized in any articulated overview until he was an adult, though his later intellectual awareness of slavery as an evil institution had its seeds in his sympathy for the black people of his Hannibal world.
The writer therefore spent his earliest years not on the Mississippi exactly, but on the banks of the Salt River, or at least close by it at the Quarles farm. Although he lived in Hannibal during most of the year after 1839, when his father moved the family there to improve his business prospects, form 1843 to 1846 young Sam spent summers with his aunt and uncle - on a farm that he later moved to the "Creation State" of Arkansas as part of the setting for "Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer, Detective."
John M. Clemens's death left the family in poor financial condition and contributed to Sam's having to go to work at an early age. Around this same time, Clemens became an apprentice in the printing office of Joseph Ament, the owner of the Hannibal Courier. He also did printing work for his brother Orion's Hannibal newspapers, in which he published some of his earliest writings.
In June 1853, when Clemens was not yet 18, he left Hannibal with the idea of visiting the World's Fair being held in New York City. His first stop, however, was Saint Louis, Missouri, where he lived with Pamela's family for two months while earning his first real wages doing printing work. From there he went to the East Coast and spent several months working as a journeyman printer in New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.
Mark Twain achieved his first great literary success, and it was enormous, with the publication in 1869 of The Innocents Abroad, a travel book that, in effect, upended the genre. Previous to its appearance travel writers had typically offered serious instruction through a mixture of weight objective descriptions and earnest subjective impressions. Far from innocent of instructive intent, Innocents Abroad was, nevertheless, blithesome and satiric.
The South's watershed year of 1861 was momentous for Clemens, who accompanied his brother Orion to the Far West. Subsequently, Clemens moved east to Buffalo and then settled in the New England climate of Nook Farm in Hartford, Conn. His family, too, moved northward—to Fredonia, N.Y., and to Keokuk, Iowa. These shifts resulted in a hybridization, reflected in his literature, of the traditions and atmosphere of the South, the extravagance and energies of the West, the taboos and commerce of the East.
This homeland had been a place of grief and disappointment for Twain. In Memphis he had knelt helpless and agonized while his brother Henry died from scalding burns suffered when the steamboat Pennsylvania blew up in 1858. Twain also knew firsthand the uncouth, ruffian character of river-town idlers; he portrayed their cruelties in a backward Arkansas town in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
In New York, probably on 27 December 1867, he met Olivia Langdon, whose brother, Charles, had been among his Quaker City shipmates, and passed a few days there with her and her family. While he may have been attracted to her at the time, he hardly seems to have been smitten, and he was not even to see her again until August of 1868, when the comic phase dramatically ended with his profession of love for her.
"Mark Twain" (meaning "Mark number two") was a Mississippi River term: the second mark on the line that measured depth signified two fathoms, or twelve feet—safe depth for the steamboat.