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
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milestones in Mark Twain’s career and family

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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
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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.

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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

How Lilies of the Field challenged the fallacy of racism

That actor went on to have one of the most successful acting careers in history, winning numerous more awards, but more importantly appearing in productions that explored issues of race, discrimination, human rights, and justice.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (In the Old Testament, Solomon was a King, who was the richest man in the world at that time.)

 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 

 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 6, ESV

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

“Lilies of the Field”

Although his acting ability had already won critical acclaim, a young actor made movie history in 1963 in a film based on this Bible text. In Lilies of the Field , he portrayed an itinerant handyman who meets a group of German-speaking nuns living in rural Arizona. After performing a small repair on a roof for them, he naturally asks to be paid. To which the Mother Superior replies,

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

That actor went on to have one of the most successful acting careers in history, winning numerous more awards, but more importantly appearing in productions that explored issues of race, discrimination, human rights, and justice.

Sidney Poitier, now 93 years old, won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Lilies of the Field. He was the first black man to win the best actor award, and the second black person to win any Academy award. ( Hattie McDaniel won Best Supporting Actress for her role in 1939’s Gone with the Wind, making her the first black person to be nominated for and receive an Oscar. In June 2020 HBO planned to add “historical context” to the streaming version of the movie.)

He went on to win the Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama, the first Black person to win in that in that award program. He later won the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award in 1982.

In a post on the website The New Lyceum, Joey Barretta wrote this about the actor.

Sidney Poitier was the first black actor to win the Best Actor Oscar in 1964, the same year that the Civil Rights Act was passed and a year prior to the Voting Rights Act. He rose to be a star at a time in which racism was common and his career began before segregation was abolished. This man is a true hero, albeit one who played some compelling fictional characters setting an example for the fallacy that is racism. By portraying decent men, he set an example of excellence in character that even the prejudiced whites of his day could not ignore.

J. Baretta, March 5, 2018

Some of Mr. Poitier’s other works which delved into social issues include

  • Cry, the Beloved Country-based on the novel about apartheid in South Africa
  • To Sir, With Love-social and racial tensions in an inner city school
  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner – interracial marriage
  • A Patch of Blue and The Defiant Ones -interracial friendships
  • In the Heat of the Night and They Call Me Mister Tibbs!– racial bias among law enforcement professionals
  • Separate but Equal– portrayal of Thurgood Marshall, future Supreme Court Justice
  • Mandela and deKlerk-portrayal of Nelson Mandela, future President of South Africa
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from story to novel to movie

The movie was based on a 1962 novel, The Lilies of the Field , by William Edmund Barrett. He in turn used the true story of the Sisters of Walburga as his inspiration.

Why not read a post I wrote about another novel that used this Bible verse. Here’s an excerpt-

In The Narrow Corner, W. Somerset Maugham tells a story about Dr. Saunders, an English physician who lives and practices in China. He is quite in demand among wealthy Chinese; we never learn exactly why he left England but the author hints that he was more highly regarded in the Far East than he had been in Britain. 

Dr. Saunders is summoned away from his home  to a South Pacific island to attend to a wealthy man who requests his medical care. He boards a small ship with a salty captain and a young man who keeps his reason for travelling a guarded secret.

What was supposed to be a pleasant and uneventful trip to a tropical island, turned into an uncomfortable and shocking adventure when they meet four people whose lives proved more complicated that they initially appeared.  Dr. Saunders and his travelling companions soon find themselves sucked into their intrigue. 

continue reading at

books lined up with titles of classic novels

The Narrow Corner- a classic novel

In The Narrow Corner, Maugham tells a story about Dr. Saunders, an English physician who lives and practices in China. He is quite in demand among wealthy Chinese; we never learn exactly why he left England but the author hints that he was more highly regarded in the Far East than he had been in Britain. 

exploring the HEART of life through literature and media

I’ll hope you’ll watch Lilies of the Field if you’ve never seen it before. And also watch some of Mr. Poitier’s other films, which I think you will find add revealing context to the social justice issues our country is confronting and correcting in the 21st century. Check out this article for some suggestions .

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