Author: Mark Twain

Mark Twain, photo by Mathew Brady, 1871

One of America’s most celebrated literary figures, Mark Twain (born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835–1910), used humor and satire to consider serious questions about the country and society in which he lived. Twain wrote in the latter part of the nineteenth century, a time when the so-called “robber barons”—the giants of the steel and oil industries, including Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller—were expanding their monopolies, and as the railroads and national wire services were literally forging one nation out of our many communities. Twain coined the phrase “the Gilded Age” to describe this period of American history (from the 1860s through the 1890s)—though Twain himself was a big (but not always successful) speculator in financial markets. The character of our emergent national life was much on Twain’s mind, as was the growing power of public opinion and the conformity and hypocrisy that it might cause.

A Lincoln Memorial

Mark Twain
On January 13, 1907, American novelist Mark Twain (1835–1910) delivered these short remarks at a fundraiser for the Lincoln Birthplace Farm in Kentucky.

Speech on the Fourth of July, 1872

Mark Twain

Mark Twain (born Samuel Clemens; 1835–1910), author and humorist, largely took an ironic view of the world around him, rarely missing an opportunity to poke fun at ceremony, solemnity, and moral self-satisfaction. Our sacred holidays were not immune to his wit.

The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg

Mark Twain

This story (1899) by satirist Mark Twain (born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835–1910) is a biting commentary on American civic life. In Hadleyburg, Twain offers a microcosm of America as it appeared in the latter half of the nineteenth century, a time Twain dubbed “the Gilded Age.”

The War Prayer

Mark Twain

As the soldiers go off to battle, those at home work, worry, and pray for their success and safety. Mark Twain (born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835–1910), never one to miss a chance at satire, takes aim at our nation’s wartime prayers. Twain wrote this short story in 1905 in response to the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine-American War (1899–1902), but, at the request of his family, he did not publish it. In 1916, six years after Twain’s death and shortly before the United States entered World War I, Harper’s Monthly finally published the “prayer.”

Whitewashing the Fence from Tom Sawyer

Mark Twain

In this famous selection from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), written by Mark Twain (born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835–1910), Tom, burdened with the chore to whitewash his Aunt Polly’s fence as punishment for his having played hooky from school, comes up with an ingenious way to get out of his work: He convinces his friends that it’s not tedious work but an enjoyable privilege and, indeed, an honor.