Mark Twain

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Mark Twain’s first article in Harper’s was misattributed to Mark Swain. The story, “Forty-three Days in an Open Boat” (December 1866), is an account of the Hornet, a clipper ship that caught fire in the ocean, leaving its crew adrift. Twain referred to it as the “first magazine article I ever published,” though he had published numerous pieces in other periodicals and newspapers under such names as Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass; W. Epaminondas Adrastus Blab; Rambler; Grumbler; and Peter Pencilcase’s Son, John Snooks.

Twain was born thirty-one years earlier, and two months premature, as Samuel Langhorne Clemens, in Florida, Missouri. “When I first saw him I could see no promise in him,” his mother said. The Clemenses moved several miles upstate, to the Missouri River-side Hannibal, when he was four; the town would later inspire the fictional St. Petersburg of his two most famous works, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885).

Harper’s serialized Twain’s novels Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (printed under the name “Sieur Louis de Conte”) and Tom Sawyer, Detective in May and August 1895, respectively; they were published whole the following year by Harper & Brothers, which founded Harper’s and later acquired the rights to, among other Twain works, the earlier Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894), and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), which William Dean Howells, writing for Harper’s, provided with one of its few positive reviews.

Harper’s published many of Twain’s most revered stories and articles, among them “Mental Telegraphy,” “A Majestic Literary Fossil,” “A Petition to the Queen of England,” “Was it Heaven? Or Hell?,” and several additions to his “Unpublished chapters from the autobiography of Mark Twain,” including “My Debut as a Literary Person,” about the publication of “Forty-three Days” in Harper’s.

Twain was a Freemason and a member of the Society for Psychical Research and Yale University’s secret society Scroll and Key. He received an honorary degree from Oxford University and, according to the New York Times, was “Suggested for the Honor” of the 1907 Nobel Prize in Literature. Public schools, an U.S. Army installation in Germany, a bridge, a comet, and at least three awards are named after him.

From the Archive — From the May 2014 issue

Humor

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Readings — From the October 2010 issue

The burglary at Stormfield

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Readings — From the December 2009 issue

Sitting in darkness

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The quarrel in the strong-box

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