Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

[© 2018]

Explain Dominant Color Explain Auxiliary Color

The Blue in this spiritual portrait represents Mark Twain's dominant personality trait, his openness to ideas. In Extraverts, the dominant trait is directed outwardly, and spiritual portraits use a long vertical line to represent this, because it is the side of their personality that is most evident. He demonstrated this trait when he became a strident anti-imperialist later in life, when the Philippine–American War in 1899-1902 made him realize American imperialism was contrary to the American ideals of independence and self-government outlined in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

The Red in this spiritual portrait represents Mark Twain's auxiliary personality trait, his warmth, passion, and amiability. In Extraverts, the auxiliary trait is directed inwardly, and spiritual portraits use a horizontal line to represent this. He demonstrated this trait in his ability to feel and convey a range of emotions, from ironic and humorous to tragic and sad, in his writings and lectures.

Humorist and Author of Great American Novels

Mark Twain is the nom de plume of writer and humorist Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Clemens was born ....

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Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens):
The Story

Mark Twain is the nom de plume of writer and humorist Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

Clemens was born on November 30 1835, shortly after the appearance of Halley's Comet in mid-to-late-October. He is best known as the author of two great American novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876 and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1884.

Twain is the namesake of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and — along with Benjamin Franklin and George Washington — one of America's earliest international celebrities.

Nothing but a Dream

Toward the end of his life, Mark Twain worked on The Mysterious Stranger, a novel he would not finish, but that would ultimately be published post-humously in multiple versions. In it, a supernatural character named No. 44 — who is also known as Satan, and claims to be the nephew of the fallen angel — asserts that nothing exists but a useless thought:

There is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a Dream, a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And You are but a Thought — a vagrant Thought, a useless Thought, a homeless Thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities.
 — Mark Twain, from The Mysterious Stranger.

No. 44's claim is surprisingly extreme, and coming from a humorist, it sounds pretty bleak! This idea of mind-over-matter, however, is at the root of Solipsism, and is commonly known these days as the placebo effect.

Sam Clemens, having witnessed first-hand the cruel treatment of slaves and survived the death of several close family members over the years, understood this — that things are what we tell ourselves they are. He also understood the corollary of this idea, that tragedy and comedy are closely related — that humor is tragedy plus time — that it's just a matter of perspective.

Mark Twain, a Jedi Knight?

The Blue in Mark Twain's spiritual portrait represents this preference for viewing the world in terms of ideas — and even just dreams — rather than facts and other specifics. In addition to demonstrating this preference, the following quote sounds much like a lesson a Jedi Knight might teach his padawan apprentice in Star Wars:

The mind exercises a powerful influence over the body. From the beginning of time, the sorcerer, the interpreter of dreams, the fortune-teller, the charlatan, the quack, the wild medicine-man, the educated physician, the mesmerist, and the hypnotist have made use of the client's imagination to help them in their work. They have all recognized the potency and availability of that force.
 — Mark Twain, from Christian Science, Chapter IV, 1907.

Change those last two words very slightly — change that force to the Force — and this sounds just like something Yoda or Obi-Wan Kenobi might say. The fact that the Jedi's spiritual portraits, like Twain's, also contain a lot of Blue, is not a coincidence!

Moral Courage

Like the Jedi, Samuel Clemens had ideals. But unlike the Jedi, he was not interested in fighting. This doesn't mean he was a coward, though.

It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.
 — Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men and Events, edited by Bernard DeVoto, 1940.

When the Civil War began in 1861, Sam and a few friends friends joined the Confederate militia. But after just two weeks and a single glorious victory, he quit and moved west with his brother Orion.

Twenty years after the war ended, Twain wrote a short story inspired by his brief experience in the military. In it, he describes how going to war really doesn't make much sense:

All war must be just the killing of strangers against whom you feel no personal animosity; strangers whom, in other circumstances, you would help if you found them in trouble, and who would help you if you needed it.
 — Mark Twain, from The Private History of the Campaign That Failed, 1885.

Although some may say Samuel Clemens lacked the physical courage necessary to fight in America's Civil War, he had perfectly good reasons for not joining in the fray.

As Mark Twain grew older, he more than made up for any lack of physical courage by demonstrating moral courage. His moral courage is most obvious in the way he frequently spoke truth to power.

Truth to ... Congress?

Although the amount of power held by any single member of America's Congress is debatable, Mark Twain did not hesitate to publicize his low opinion of its members throughout his career, and even after his death.

In a letter to the editor of the New York Tribune dated March 10, 1873 Twain boldly declares To my mind Judas Iscariot was nothing but a low, mean, premature, Congressman. And in Following the Equator — published over twenty-five years later — Clemens shows no change of opinion:

It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.
 — Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. VIII, in Following the Equator, 1897.

One of Sam Clemens' funniest and most famous quotes about Congress — Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself. — appears in his autobiography, which was not published until 2010.

An article in the Boston Daily Globe dated May 1, 1910 quotes Clemens making light of having been invited to Parliament, but never to Congress. Although the slight made him blush, he notes the honor was not bestowed upon Washington, Jefferson or Lincoln either.

Truth to Theodore Roosevelt

Although Mark Twain admired presidents Ulysses S. Grant (Republican), Grover Cleveland (Democrat), William McKinley (R) and William Howard Taft (R), he did not care for Theodore Roosevelt (R), who was president from 1901 through 1909.

As Clemens would make clear in his essay Corn Pone Opinions (pdf), he did not put much stock in political parties. And as he made clear when speaking to reporters working for the New York Herald in 1900, apparently most — and quite possibly all — of his differences with Theodore Roosevelt stemmed from Twain being an outspoken anti-imperialist:

It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people [the Filipinos] free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.
 — Mark Twain, quoted in the New York Herald, October 15, 1900.

In the book Mark Twain: A Life (2005), author Ron Powers states that at one point Theodore Roosevelt said he would like to see the likes of Mark Twain skinned alive. [1] Twain's and TR's conflicting opinions did not, however, keep Sam Clemens from enjoying a dinner at the White House in 1905 with Theodore Roosevelt, all differences forgiven. [2]

Emotions — Hard to Handle

Mark Twain was very emotional, and had quite a temper. If a button was missing from a shirt, he would take every single shirt out of that drawer and throw them right out of the window.

It takes me a long time to lose my temper, but once lost I could not find it with a dog.
 — From Mark Twain's Notebook, 1894.

When a family member died — such as Clemens' brother Henry who was killed on June 21, 1858, on the steamboat Pennsylvania — he blamed himself. He blamed himself again years later, when his first daughter, Susy, died of meningitis in 1896, while he was on tour, working to pay off his debts.

Mark Twain was devastated when his daughter Susy died, and he sunk deeper into depression when his wife died in 1904, and then deeper still when his third daugher Jean died in 1909. Of his happy family of five, only his middle daughter Clara was still alive when Sam Clemens died on April 21, 1910, at the age of 74.

Mark Twain kept many of his most intense and darkest emotions to himself:

Sometimes my feelings are so hot that I have to take the pen and put them out on paper to keep them from setting me afire inside; then all that ink and labor are wasted because I can't print the results.
 — From Mark Twain, A Biography Volume 1, 1835-1885.

This is why some of Clemens' later works, such as The Mysterious Stranger and his Autobiography, were not published until after his death — when there was no longer any risk of damaging his own or his family's reputation.

In 1897 Twain wrote, Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.

Mark Twain, a Jedi — Not!

The Red in Samuel Clemens' spiritual portrait represents this preference for emotion over logic.

Obviously, Mark Twain was too emotional to ever be a Jedi. For one thing, losing his temper the way he did is taboo for the Jedi, because a Jedi must have patience.

Not only that, trying to train Twain in the ways of the Jedi would certainly fail:

You can't reason with your heart; it has its own laws, and thumps about things which the intellect scorns.
 — Mark Twain, from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, 1889.

Comparing Samuel Clemens' spiritual portrait to those of the Jedi on this site — Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Luke Skywalker — shows their similarities and differences.

All four of the portraits share plenty of Blue representing idealism, but Twain's has much more Red, while the Jedi's images have more Green. Thus Sam's image has more of a warm feeling, whereas the Jedi's images exude more coolness.

Words Cannot Express

In Mark Twain's autobiography he describes how words cannot express exactly who or what a person really is:

What a wee little part of a person's life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, and every day, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts, (which are but the mute articulation of his feelings), not those other things, are his history.... The mass of him is hidden — it and its volcanic fires that toss and boil, and never rest, night nor day. These are his life, and they are not written, and cannot be written.
 — From the Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, edited by Harriet Elinor Smith, et. al., 2010, page 220. [Emphasis in original.]

Samuel Clemens worked on his autobiography off and on throughout his life, but it was not published until the 2010s. It spans three volumes and, even though each volume is over 700 pages, in it Twain insists the biography of the man himself cannot be written.

Life does not consist mainly — even largely — of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one's head.
 — From Mark Twain's Autobiography, Volume 1, 1906.

Heaven, Hell, and Happiness

As a mind-over-matter idealist, Samuel Clemens knew the importance of illusions:

Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist but you have ceased to live.
 — Mark Twain, from Following the Equator, Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Ch. LIX, 1897.

And as a master at turning the negative emotions resulting from tragedy into the positive emotions he needed to fuel his comedy, Clemens was even able to make light of his own inevitable demise:

I have never seen what to me seemed an atom of proof that there is a future life. And yet — I am inclined to expect one.
 — From Mark Twain's Autobiography.

On April 20, 1910 Halley's Comet reached its perihelion — the point in its orbit where it is closest to the sun. And on April 21, 1910 Samuel Clemens died, having speculated this was somehow preordained:

I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.
 — From The Mysterious Stranger, 1908-1910.

Mark Twain lives on in the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, his recently-published autobiography, and in everyone inspired by his wit, candor, and humor. His character looms so large it seems possible he's avoided the conundrum of having to choose between heaven for the climate and hell for the society, and somehow managed to be in both.

If Sam Clemens is somehow looking down from above — or perhaps up from below — he may not be very impressed by our lingering attention, but he is surely surrounded by his beloved family. And that, no doubt, makes him as happy as a dog with two tails.

About This Portrait

This spiritual portrait is based on the following sources:

The film by Ken Burns — despite having some mistakes — is by far the most informative of these, but the others are certainly well worth watching.

The following sites were also helpful in writing this story:

The site is excellent! A curious person (raises hand) could easily spend days going through the many quotes found there! (It has ads, but they are very unobtrusive when compared to many other sites these days.)

Beware of the brainyquote page for Twain, however. Some of the quotes there are misattributed to Twain — who was fond of quoting others. (This, combined with his great fame, undoubtedly caused some misunderstanding in this regard.)

Pro tip: check the misattributed quotes section of Twain's page at wikiquote before posting a Twain quote to social networking sites!


1. Mark Twain: A Life, by Ron Powers, pages 610-611.

2. Mark Twain: A Life, by Ron Powers, page 623.