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Mark Twain - Unparalled in Wit and Humour

Great authors and poets of the past have inspired Phyllis to read and write. They have a special place in her life.

Mark Twain, Photograph by A.F. Bradley

Mark Twain, Photograph by A.F. Bradley


The year 2010 marked the 100th anniversary since Mark Twain's death. Celebrations were held all over the country in memory of this remarkable and well-loved man. His stories, lectures, and quotes delight people even today. When it came to quick wit, humour and insight, he was unparalleled.

"We recognize that there are no trivial occurrences in life if we get the right focus on them."

— Mark Twain

Blazing Into Life

Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born November 30, 1835. He is better known by his pen name, Mark Twain. It was a momentous time, for Halley's Comet had made its appearance just two weeks earlier, an occurrence that can be seen from Earth just once every 75 to 76 years. Twain burst into our lives just as blazingly as the comet did.

Twain earned praise from peers and critics alike for his wit and satire. William Faulkner referred to Twain as "the father of American literature". Twain's stories are packed full of folklore, folk terminology and folk beliefs. He had the great ability to look at life as an observer and gather impressions from different locales.

He listened to the way people talked and their particular expressions. He took real life situations and beliefs then set forth the intricacies of it all in marvelous and endearing stories.

Halley's Comet Photo by NASA

Comet 1P/Halley as taken March 8, 1986 by W. Liller NASA, Easter Island.

Comet 1P/Halley as taken March 8, 1986 by W. Liller NASA, Easter Island.


Merriam Webster describes satire as: "a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc. : humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society, etc." Mark Twain was an expert on how to use satire in his lectures.

Even when using satire in his lectures or recitals Twain could make people laugh. He seemed to have expressed his thoughts on any subject more as wonderment, or bewilderment, rather than criticism or judgment.

Twain's explanation of how to deliver satire was in his "A Couple of Sad Experiences," and was printed in Galaxy Magazine, June 1870:

"One can deliver a satire with telling force through the insidious medium of a travesty, if he is careful not to overwhelm the satire with the extraneous interest of the travesty."

— Mark Twain

Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain - no one Does it Better

Samuel Clemens, age 15

Samuel Clemens by photographer GH Jones, 1850

Samuel Clemens by photographer GH Jones, 1850


At the age of twelve, Twain started working as an apprentice for a printer in his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. Three years later he was typesetting and wrote articles and humorous sketches for the Hannibal Journal, a newspaper owned by his brother Orion. At the age of eighteen he worked as a printer in New York City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. When he was twenty-two, Twain returned to Missouri.

His boyhood dream of being a steamboat pilot came true when Horace E. Bixby, a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi, inspired him. In 1859 he received his steamboat pilot license. He was a river pilot until 1861, when the Civil War drastically cut down traffic on the Mississippi. Twain headed west, to Nevada, and began his writing career with Roughing It, a book inspired by his westward travels on a stagecoach. He tried his hand at mining in Virginia City. When his attempt at mining failed he got a job at the Territorial Enterprise, Virginia City newspaper. This is where he first used Mark Twain as his pen name.

In 1864 Twain moved to San Francisco and wrote The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, which was his first great success. It brought national attention to him. From there it was one success after another. He quickly became world famous and well-loved.

Tom Sawyer, Joe Harper, Huck Finn, Becky Thatcher, Aunt Polly, and many other characters created by Mark Twain became memorable legends. To read one of Twain's famous books is to escape reality for a time and enter into a world of adventure and nostalgia.

Twain's Desk in Territorial Enterprise

The desk Mark Twain used when editor of the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada

The desk Mark Twain used when editor of the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada

Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, 2 of 10

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I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolute

— Mark Twain

A Connecticut Yankee

One of Twain's books is quite different from his usual nostalgic stories and is very complex in its storyline -- however, it is quite interesting.

Twain's novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, was published in 1889. The story was inspired by a dream Twain had, in which he was a medieval knight woefully burdened with the armor he was wearing.

Entering into a world of ultimate adventure is the story of an engineer in Connecticut by the name of Hank Morgan, Twain's main character in the book. After an accident of a blow to the head which knocked him unconscious, Hank had somehow transported himself into the era of King Arthur. After much confusion, fear and suspicion as to who this stranger in uncommon dress was, Hank is arrested, taken to King Arthur's court and thrown in prison, to be burned at the stake on June 21.

Now, you see, because Hank was from the future, he knew about the eclipse that would transpire on the date of his execution. Hank sends a messenger to King Arthur to say that if he is executed, he will blot out the sun. The problem is, the eclipse happened the day before his intended execution. Well, thinking quickly after that little surprise, Hank convinced everyone he made the phenomena happen just to prove what he could do if threatened. King Arthur and Hank come to an agreement and Hank is acquitted.

Arthur appoints Hank to the position of his principal minister, the second most powerful person in the kingdom. Although Hank is feared and the people are in awe of him, he still feels he does not have the recognition he should have. He even has the audacity to challenge the greatest sorcerer of all time, Merlin.

Hank gets himself, and King Arthur, into all kinds of mishaps as the story goes on. The ending is quite sad.

The book was considered an important change of work for Twain. It has been considered the foundation in time travel of science fiction.

A Connecticut Yankee

Frontispiece of Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, by Daniel Carter Beard

Frontispiece of Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, by Daniel Carter Beard

Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, 3 of 10

Leaving on the Tail of Halley's Comet

Mark Twain was born two weeks after Halley's Comet made its closest approach to Earth. Like a comet, he lit up the literature world and brightened the hearts of all who loved him and his works. On the night before Twain's death, Halley's Comet again lit up the night sky. The next night, April 21, 1910, Mark Twain left this world -- some say he left as he came into it: on the tail of Halley's Comet.

Mark Twain predicted his own death. In 1909, he said , ""I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it."

And he did.

"The Impartial Friend: Death, the only immortal who treats us all alike, whose pity and whose peace and whose refuge are for all--the soiled and the pure, the rich and the poor, the loved and the unloved."

— Mark Twain, last written statement

Twain Caricature

Twain caricatured by Spy for Vanity Fair, 1908, by Leslie Ward (1851–1922).

Twain caricatured by Spy for Vanity Fair, 1908, by Leslie Ward (1851–1922).

Books by Mark Twain

© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns


Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on September 15, 2016:

Hi Alun, so good to hear from you. I agree with you on time travel, I would love to go back and visit with Mark Twain. What great fun that would be. I think Hal Holbrook did an excellent job on those stage performances - as far as I know he used authentic lectures and quotes from Mark Twain. I agree with you on time travel, I would love to go back and visit with Mark Twain. What great fun and an honor that would be.

I also use Twain's quotes often in articles. He was just so marvelous and witty, very memorable indeed.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting, I appreciate it.

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on September 05, 2016:

I totally agree about Mark Twain and the quality of his wit and his quotability - certainly in my view unparalleled since Shakespeare. Although not a great reader of literature, I recognise absolutely his talent and he is one of the people from history I would most wish to meet should his concept of time travel ever become reality :)

Several of his quotes feature in several of my hubs, and all are memorable and wise.

I was not aware of Hal Holbrook's stage performances as Mark Twain, and I have now watched the first of these, and will watch the others as soon as time permits. The performance has a ring of authenticity about it - I wonder is it based entirely on actual writings and the spoken words of Twain, or is it merely a verbal caricature of his work? Cheers, Alun

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on April 24, 2015:

Hi agvulpes. I think Huck and Tom were the epitome of what every boy wanted to be and dreamed of doing. Thanks for stopping by to read and comment. I really appreciate it.

Peter from Australia on April 24, 2015:

As an adventurous young lad myself ? :) I loved reading about the lives and adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, even over here in Australia they were our boyhood heroes :)

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on April 16, 2015:

Yes, he was an incredible person. I sometimes feel as if he is still alive, for he is quoted so much and wrote so many stories. Thanks, Au fait for reading and commenting.

C E Clark from North Texas on April 16, 2015:

I've read several of his short stories and books. Some have made me laugh until tears ran down my cheeks -- and still I couldn't stop! I love his dry sense of humor. An incredible person.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on March 02, 2015:

Hi Peachy. Yes, he sure was. I love to watch the videos with Hal Holbrook. I always loved reading the works of Mark Twain.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on March 02, 2015:

he is a man with great words, thanks for the hub

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on January 24, 2015:

Hi Romeo. You are most welcome. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment. I really enjoyed ACYIKACourt - it is very different then most of his works. Time slip always fascinates me. Jules Verne was so ahead of his time, I think, and I really like his writings. I don't recall reading any of Ray Bradbury works, I will have to check that out. I may have read him, will have to find some titles of his to know for sure.

Thanks for releasing this into the wild for me - I so appreciate that. Big hug!

Romeos Quill from Lincolnshire, England on January 24, 2015:

A fascinating biography Phyllis of a pillar of American and world literature, and such a wit. Vaguely recall ACYIKACourt which was a first encounter with time-slip science fiction for me; Jules Verne and Ray Bradbury were pretty memorable too.and it's so uncanny how Clemens came in and went out with that famous bolide which so honoured Edmond Halley.

Enjoyed reading this one so releasing it into the wild :)

Many thanks;


Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on January 18, 2015:

You are most welcome, Michael. I love the writings of Mark Twain and often quote him. Every time I go to Virginia City I visit the Twain Museum and gaze at his old desk. He was a remarkable man. Thank you so much, Michael for your visit, comment and vote. I sure appreciate it.

Michael Higgins from Michigan on January 18, 2015:

Thank you for writing this hub, Phyllis! I always enjoy reading about Mark Twain. He had a great wit and even though his writings have several years on them now, they are still very timely. Again, great hub! Voted up!

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on November 15, 2014:

Hi Mary. Thank you so much. I think you are right - there will never be another like him. What a quick mind he had. I love watching the Holbrook videos. He is so believable as Twain. Thanks again for the visit and your nice comment.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on November 15, 2014:

I don't think the world will ever see another author like Mark Twain! Thanks for including the videos of HH doing Mark Twain. He was right on!!

I think I have read all his books.

Voted UP, etc.etc.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on November 05, 2014:

Hi poetryman. Yes, Twain was funny, definitely witty - a rare thing in today's world. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

poetryman6969 on November 05, 2014:

He was definitely funny. There seems to be little true witticism any more since much of it seems mean spirited.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on October 02, 2014:

Hi Don. You and me both love to read and write like Mark Twain. I try to keep it at a minimum, but sometimes his narrative style way of thinking just comes out in me. Hal Holbrook is fantastic as Twain. Thank you so much for the votes and share.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on October 02, 2014:

Mark Twain is one of my favorite authors and I have been accursed of writing like him. I have read a number of his books and books about him. I also like Hal Holbrook's "Mark Twain Tonight." Up votes and shared.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on September 22, 2014:

Hi Dianne. Mark Twain is very often quoted by writers. I have great fun just reading a list of his quotes. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

Dianna Mendez on September 22, 2014:

I read and re-read Tom Sawyer as a child. I admire Twain for the humour he added to our lives. There are so many of his quotes used today by writers.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on September 22, 2014:

Most pleasant greetings, Manatita. I have read the authors you mention and so enjoy their creative gifts. Emerson is one that I am studying right now - yes, he was a spiritual giant, remarkable. Longfellow - I love his Evangeline and the deep spiritual love in it -- the quiet peace and grace in which Evangeline accepts the higher power and blessings is profoundly beautiful.

Mark Twain just knew he had to catch a return ride on that comet. Such a wonderful writer and humourist he was. Thank you, Manatita for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Peace.

manatita44 on September 22, 2014:

A truly great writer. One of my favourite American writers. The others are Ray Bradbury, Emily Dickenson, Edgar Alan Poe and a few more, actually. Emerson and Jefferson were outstanding spiritual giants. Longfellow is a favourite poet.

My Teacher has said that Comets are always significant. They occur when something great has happened or is about to happen. Peace.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on September 21, 2014:

Hi Ron. I like that story. It was Twain's first historical fiction. Thank you, Ron, for stopping by and reading. Have a good day.

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on September 21, 2014:

I must admit to not having read very much of Twain's humor. The Prince and the Pauper, which I read as a child, is the novel I remember most about.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on September 21, 2014:

Thank you very much, Frank. I love reading Twain's books. Thank you for vote - I appreciate it.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on September 21, 2014:

what positive justice you carved out to the man..Mark Twain.. I must have read everything he wrote.. this was an amusing worth while hub voted awesome :)

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on September 20, 2014:

Jodah, The Wanderer, you are just getting more awesome every day ! Thank you so much for such a wonderful comment. I think I read "Was It Me or Was It Him" - I must go check on that. Thanks for the votes, visit and contribution to Twain -- he truly is unparalleled. One of my literary heroes.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on September 20, 2014:

Oh Phyllis, thank you for this hub. Marl Twain (Samuel Clemens) remains one of the world's greatest writers and wittiest characters. The list of unforgettable quotes attributed to him are incredible alone. He is one of my literary heroes and in fact I wrote a hub "Was It Me or Was It Him" based on an interview he gave regarding his brother. I mae it a hub because I thought it was a great example of his quick wit and humour but readers didn't really seem to get it unfortunately and it hasn't had many views. I love the Hal Holbrook impersonations too. Voted up.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on September 20, 2014:

Hi Jama. The first time I saw HH portray Twain, I was astounded ! Holbrook found his true calling and brought Mark Twain back to us. Bless him. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on September 20, 2014:

Phyllis, you were soooo right that nobody does Mark Twain better than Hal Holbrook! One could easliy believe HH is the reincarnation of the Great Satirist! ;D

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on September 20, 2014:

Hi Sheila. You make a good choice with emulating Mark Twain. His style is so unique and powerful. His life story is very interesting. It is sad how lonely it all ended for him, but he left us with a legacy of, not just wit and humour, but how to write a realistic fiction. Writing good dialogue and building the character so the reader knows him/her is key to a good story. Thank you, Sheila, for reading and commenting.

sheilamyers on September 20, 2014:

Of all the authors that have ever written a book, if I could choose one I'd most like to imitate if I could, it would be Mark Twain. He wrote dialogue exactly the way the characters would talk. I attempt to do that, but never come out with what I would consider the perfect product. Thanks for sharing some of his life story with us.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on September 20, 2014:

Hi Rachael. Yes, both Franklin and Twain were remarkable men. Thank you so much for stopping by to read and comment. Thank you also for the votes, that is much appreciated.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on September 20, 2014:

Hi Devika. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer were my favorites. Thanks for reading and commenting. I am glad you enjoyed it.

Rachael O'Halloran from United States on September 20, 2014:

For me, I love reading Mark Twain. To read Mark Twain is an escape into the past and a frolic into worlds we could only imagine and sometimes wished we were there.

His early life contrasted Benjamin Franklin in that they both worked for their brothers in print shops, then went out on their own traveling to similar cities. Just as there was only one Ben Franklin, there will only ever be one Mark Twain. Both of them had a 'take' on how they viewed the world and the people in it that was unparalleled with no others.

I voted this up, awesome and interesting. Well done.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 20, 2014:

I read the book ''The Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer'' and had watched the movie many times. Great work here!

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