Satirist Samuel Langhorne Clemmons (1835-1910) drew his inspiration from growing up along the Mississippi River in Hannibal, Missouri.
He created his two beloved characters, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, using vivid images from his childhood days. His pen name, Mark Twain, also comes from the river, a boating term for two fathoms.
"All modern American literature comes from one book, Huckleberry Finn," praised writer Ernest Hemingway.
Clemmons' writing celebrated free speech. "It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them," he once said with signature humor and sarcasm.
Twain lived in a simple clapboard home with its famous white-washed fence until the age of 17 when he sailed away from the "safe harbor" of Hannibal. He worked as a printer, gold prospector, riverboat pilot, and newspaper reporter before publishing his first major work of fiction, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches (1865).
At the time, this tall-tale was hailed by Boston critic James Russell Lowell as "the finest piece of humorous literature yet produced in America." A 1866 newspaper assignment in Hawaii further established Clemmons' popularity as a writer and lecturer.
Clemmons clearly understood that his role as a satirist was to stand apart from the crazy world he lampooned. His witticisms continue to inspire contemplation... and a smile: "Whenever you find you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect," he recommended.
Still sound advice, 100 years later.
More Mark TWAIN Quotations
When in doubt, humor is the high road.