Mark Twain’s loves and losses

Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, pursued wealth but never permanently achieved it, much like his father, who died when he was young. Later in his life a series of tragic, unexpected illnesses in his family gradually wore down his energy and emotions, leaving him despondent and broken; nevertheless he left a legacy in literature that continues to influence readers today.

Mark Twain will always be remembered first and foremost as a humorist, but he was a great deal more—a public moralist, popular entertainer, political philosopher, travel writer, and novelist.

britannica.com

But like most of us, finances and family shaped Mark Twain’s life. As we’ve seen during the viral pandemic and resulting economic collapse of 2020, blows to our financial stability and family relationships, especially illness and death, cause upheaval that we are ill prepared for and change our lives forever.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain

Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, pursued wealth but never permanently achieved it, much like his father, who died when he was young. Later in his life a series of tragic, unexpected illnesses in his family gradually wore down his energy and emotions, leaving him despondent and broken; nevertheless he left a legacy in literature that continues to influence readers today.

Twain is remembered as a great chronicler of American life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Writing grand tales about Sawyer, Finn and the mighty Mississippi River, Twain explored the American soul with wit, buoyancy and a sharp eye for truth.  

biography.com
20 years from now you will be disappointed by the things you didn't do
graphic with Mark Twain quote from Lightstock, source for stock photos and graphics, affiliate link

milestones in Mark Twain’s career and family

there are multiple affiliate links in this post, used to fund this blog and for your convenience.

1835

Samuel Clemens was born prematurely to John and Jane Clemens, and was “sickly” most of his childhood.

1847

John Clemens died of pneumonia. Samuel was 12 years old, and he soon quit school and started working to support his family.

The Innocents Abroad, published 1869

1870

Samuel married Olivia(Livy) Langdon, who was from a financially secure family. Later that year they had a son, Langdon.

1872

Langdon died of diphtheria, a throat infection. Diphtheria is now preventable by vaccination, given as the DPT-diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus-injection.

The Clemens had three more children, all girls.

  • 1972-Susy
  • 1874-Clara
  • 1880-Jean

1874-1891

While living in Hartford Connecticut, Mark Twain wrote and published some of his most famous books.

1896

Daughter Susy died of meningitis, an infection of the brain lining. Many causes of meningitis are now also preventable by vaccination. Twain was out of the country on a lecture tour, trying to recover from bankruptcy due to failed investments. He was distraught at her loss.

1904

Olivia, Samuel’s beloved wife, died after a long illness.

1909

His daughter Jean had been diagnosed of epilepsy. She died of an apparent heart attack, having suffered a seizure. Today, epilepsy can usually be controlled with medications.

1910

After years of increasing despondency and depression, Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, died of a presumed heart condition at age 74. He had outlived his wife and three of his four children.

1962

His last surviving child, Clara, died this year at 88 years old. She had married a famous Russian musician.

1966

Nina Gabrilowitsch‚ Clara’s daughter and his only grandchild‚ died at age 55. She had no children‚ so there are no direct descendants of Samuel L. Clemens.

quote from Mark Twain about the Bible
graphic with Mark Twain quote from Lightstock, source for stock photos, videos, and graphics

What Mark Twain wrote about racial relationships

Mark Twain lived through the American Civil War, which saw the official end of slavery although not the end of racial tensions and discrimination in the United States. Two of his famous works, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, portray Black characters in a manner typical for pre-Civil War society, and used terms now considered inappropriate and racist. This has prompted some to call Twain himself a racist.

We cannot… overlook the works of Twain that do address the issues of race and stereotype. Clearly, Twain used his writing to work through issues of race for himself and his society, Despite the culture surrounding him, Twain understood deeply that racism is wrong.

For Twain to have depicted in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a young hero who questioned racial inequality and an African American who was caring, compassionate, and strongly committed to his freedom was revolutionary indeed.

Why Huck Finn Belongs in Classrooms
by JOCELYN CHADWICK

Whether Twain was or was not racist is beyond the intent of this post to argue, so I suggest you consider these two quotes and follow up the sources if you want to research it further.

Mark Twain mirrored the complex racial changes of the American nineteenth century. His father owned slaves, and he grew up in a slaveholding community, , endorsed by the government and the church. His exposure to the slaves on his Uncle Quarles’s farm had a lifelong effect on him and on his work.

In his young life, he wrote some letters that show the racist attitudes he was exposed to in the pre-Civil War south, but as he matured, his racism gave way to empathy and understanding of the black experience…. culminating in antislavery novels like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Puddn’head Wilson.

… he secretly paid a black man’s tuition to Yale Law School, …. He was a friend and supporter of Frederick Douglass as well as Booker T. Washington.

Fishkin, S. (2020). Race and Ethnicity: African Americans. In J. Bird (Ed.), Mark Twain in Context (Literature in Context, pp. 192-202). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108617208.021

The Mark Twain House and Museum

In 1873 Sam (Mark) and Olivia (Livy) Clemens contracted New York architect Edward Tuckerman Potter to design a house in Hartford, Connecticut.

Construction began in August of that year‚ while Sam and Livy were abroad. Although it was not complete, the family moved into their house on September 19‚ 1874. Construction delays and the ever-increasing costs of building the home frustrated Sam.

Their home measures 11‚500 square feet‚ and has 25 rooms distributed through three floors. It displayed the latest in modern innovations for that time.

The couple spent $45‚000 building their new home‚ keeping the interior simple. The Clemens family enjoyed what the author would later call the happiest and most productive years of his life in their Hartford home.

Financial problems forced Sam and Livy to move the family to Europe in 1891. The family never lived in Hartford again. Susy’s death in 1896 made it too hard for Livy to return there‚ and they sold the property in 1903.

Fortunately, the historical value of the home was wisely recognized by The Friends of Hartford, led by Katharine Seymour Day, who purchased the house in 1929.

That April, a group called The Mark Twain Memorial and Library Commission was chartered, with the purpose of saving and restoring Mark Twain’s House on Farmington Avenue. Now the house is preserved for tours with an associated museum offering many local and virtual educational resources.

A YouTube channel called Catching Up With The Clemenses offers kids, and adults, a fun glimpse at what it was like living in the house. This episode titled Where’s the Toilet Paper? brings to mind the toilet

exploring the HEART of life in literature

I’m glad you joined me to learn a little about one of America’s famous authors. I hope you’ll read some of his books if you haven’t, or find new ones you may have missed.

The cover image for this post depicts a bridge over the Mississippi River in Missouri. Photographed by Reed Hewitt for Lightstock.com, an affiliate link. Consider them when you need a stock photo, video, graphic, or other media.

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

                              Dr. Aletha 

Don’t forget to give, then remember to forget

imagine not knowing what’s on the left side of your body. Well, that’s how generous we should be; give (as if) we don’t know what we gave.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 

When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—to call attention to their acts of charity! ….they have received all the reward they will ever get. 

But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 

Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

Matthew chapter 6, verses 1-4

Holy Bible, New Living Translation copyright 1996, 2004, 2007, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois, 60188. All rights reserved.

There are affiliate links in this post; if you make a purchase through them, you help fund this blog.

drawing of a laptop with GIVE on the screen
graphic from LIGHTSTOCL.COM, stock photos and graphics, affiliate

Stay anonymous?

Have you ever made a charitable donation online or by mail, where they asked you to check a box “make my donation anonymous”? I usually don’t, I’m ok with my name being listed as a donor.

Not that I want people to think I’m a kind, generous person, but so maybe I can encourage others to be kind and generous.

If an online donation prompts a “share to Facebook” I may do that. My motive is to set an example as well as to share needs that someone else might find appealing.

So, what about Matthew chapter 6?

The Bible scripture passage quoted above, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, seems to tell us we should give in secret, not letting anyone else know.

But Bible scholars interpret it less literally. Considering it in context of the whole sermon, they suggest it means we shouldn’t give just to impress people nor brag about what we give, not that it always has to be secretive (although sometimes it should be.)

Giving from the Left or Right

Now I don’t think Jesus was making a political statement here. Nor was he just using hyperbole-an exaggerate statement or claim not meant to be taken literally . But I do think he was using a figure of speech to make a point, although it’s not a figure of speech either.

Because not knowing one side of one’s body is a real thing.

Hemispatial neglect

People with the syndrome of hemispatial neglect experience reduced awareness of stimuli on one side of space. This may occur after damage to the brain as from a stroke or trauma.

People with hemispatial neglect are often unaware of their condition. Friends or relatives might suggest they look to their neglected side but that instruction misunderstands the problem they have with navigating the space around them… people are not aware that something is missing, so why would they seek it out?

the Guardian.com

So imagine not knowing what’s on the left side of your body. Well, that’s how generous we should be; give (as if) we don’t know what we gave. (Obviously, if we take that too literally, we might not manage our money very well, which might limit our ability to be generous; we still need to be financially prudent. )

The man who didn’t know what he had done

Every year at Christmas time a classic movie makes it’s way to network television and streaming services. Like many famous movies, the script was adapted from a book, or rather a short story titled “The Greatest Gift” .

George was a man who had a good life until things started going wrong, so many that he concluded his life had been a failure and he had never done anything right or good in his entire life. He even contemplated suicide.

That is until a mystery “person” came along and showed him how the world would have been without George’s life and good deeds. Poverty, crime,unemployment, alcohol abuse, even deaths would have occurred had it not been for George’s life. And he had no idea!

His left hand didn’t know what his right hand had done.

Of course you know I’m talking about George Bailey from the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, released in January 1947, nominated for 5 Academy Awards, and considered one of the best films ever made. But most people like it because it’s a feel good movie that can make you laugh and cry.

Each man’s life touches so many other lives .

It’s a Wonderful Life

If you’re not familiar with the story, or just want to review your favorite parts, you can follow on the public It’s a Wonderful Life Facebook Group.

Ba-humbug!

Of course, Ebenezer Scrooge of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol didn’t have George’s problem. He knew exactly what he had done to help others-nothing!

It took dying (almost) and three scary visitors to show Ebenezer how stingy his hands had been, never giving anything away, and convincing him that generosity was better than miserliness and loneliness. At the end of the story , both of his hands were busy passing out food and gifts to strangers, friends, and family.

A Christmas Carol Facebook Community
I will honor Christmas in my heart. Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens, English author –
graphic by LIGHTSTOCK.COM

George, Scrooge, and Us

Like George, all of us have done acts of service, kindness, and giving that have made someone else’s life better, whether we know it or not. And like Scrooge, we’ve all missed chances to be generous, to “go the extra mile”, and to treat others the way we want to be treated. And like both George and Scrooge, it’s never too late to cultivate a gracious heart and generous hands-right and left.

Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others.

 1 Timothy chapter 6, verse 18

I wrote more about Dickens at this link
and at this post about generosity
two women sitting on the floor with open Bibles

Living and giving lavishly

Therefore, because God is so generous to us, we’re to be lavishly generous to others.
Who has been “lavishly generous” to you?

sharing the HEART of giving

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

Thanks, Dr. Aletha