Death of Mark Twain reaches its 100th anniversary

Sunday, April 18, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 10:00 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 19, 2010
Mark Twain died in 1910, and for the 100th anniversary of his death, his life is being remembered and honored by a number of organizations in Columbia.

Mark Twain's wit

Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

Familiarity breeds contempt — and children.

If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not.

Thuder is good, thunder is impressive, but it is lightning that does the work.

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COLUMBIA—In November 1835,  Mark Twain was born under the glow of Halley’s Comet.

As it would turn out, the comet's appearance would serve as a bookend to his life. When Twain died 74 years later in 1910, it was again shooting through the sky.

Wednesday marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Samuel Langhorne Clemens,  the man from Missouri who adopted the name Mark Twain and become a humorist, global lecturer and author of widely celebrated novels.

He once wrote to his wife, "Manifestly, dying is nothing to a really great and brave man," and most centennial events, almost in response to this quote,  have focused instead on his remarkable life.

MU invited scholars to speak at a series of lectures in March, and the State Historical Society is planning an exhibition of artist Thomas Hart Benton's illustrations for Twain's books this year.

On Tuesday, the Columbia Public Library will hold a discussion of his short stories, and the library will show the documentary, "Mark Twain Tonight," on April 28.

Twain became famous as a literary master who wrote two especially enduring books, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

During his lifetime, he achieved celebrity status. He dined with Theodore Roosevelt, met Mahatma Ghandi, Sigmund Freud and the Prince of Wales, and knew the corporate titans of his era.

He also worked with abolitionists, suffragists and scientific geniuses. All this was accomplished with a fourth-grade education, apprenticeships and evenings spent alone in a public library. (MU gave him an honorary degree in 1902.)

Born in Florida, Mo., he moved with his family at age 4 to Hannibal where his father opened a general store.

After the death of his father at age 11,Twain dropped out of school.  His first jobs were as a printer in Hannibal and several East Coast cities.

Tom Quirk, an English professor at MU and a Mark Twain scholar, said he was fascinated with fiction from the beginning. The writer's first piece of published work, when he was 16, was a magazine piece titled "The Dandy Frightening the Squatter."

Twain was also attracted to the life of adventure, such as riverboat piloting on the Mississippi River.

He and his brother, Henry, both worked on steamboats. Once, they plotted the course of action they would follow if there was an explosion — they would help the passengers rather than escape themselves.

An explosion on a steamboat eventually did kill Henry, and Twain blamed himself, saying he had foreseen the death in a dream.

After the Civil War ended Twain's days on the river, he followed his brother, Orion, to Nevada. He tried his luck at prospecting, then began a journalistic career in California, traveled to Europe and the Middle East and wrote "The Innocents Abroad."The novel later became a bestseller.

He left a body of work that includes not only influential American novels, but also essays, articles, short stories and speeches. He wrote about travel, civil rights, women's rights, pacifism, anti-imperialism, the existence of God and science fiction.

Twain could have been talking about himself when he wrote,"There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things.

"The first group is less crowded."

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