Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain):
Ages 40 to 59
by Ron Kurtus (revised 19 January 2022)
By the time he was 40 years old, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) was a popular and successful writer and lecturer. He continued to write and travel in his later years, but he also was involved in some disastrous business ventures that drove him into bankruptcy.
Questions you may have include:
- What did Twain do during his 40s?
- What type of business ventures did he enter into?
- What happened to his business ventures?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Ages 40 to 49: 1875-84
Twain traveled, wrote several books and lectured during his 40s.
When he was 40, his novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published. It was a popular book and added to his appeal as an entertaining lecturer.
In 1878-79 he took his family to Europe, where they spent their time touring the countries. It was during this period that he was joined by a friend, the Rev. Joseph H. Twichell, of Hartford, and the two made a journey. Twain then wrote the story A Tramp Abroad, based on their trip.
Twain still thought of other ways to make money. His curiosity and imagination led him to invent the suspenders, for which he received a patent on December 19, 1881.
In 1882, Twain wrote The Prince and the Pauper. He continued to give his humorous lectures around the country.
When he was 47, he wrote Life on the Mississippi.
Mark Twain, famous author
By the time he was 48 years old, he had grown tired of lecturing. After a reading tour with George W. Cable during the winter of 1884-85, he vowed he would never appear before an audience again.
Ages 50 to 59: 1885-94
Twain produced a number of books that would prove to be lasting American classics during his 50s. He also entered into business ventures that failed, driving him into bankruptcy. Although he had several patents, he also invested in inventions of others that only resulted in losing money.
In 1885, he wrote his masterpiece The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Twain also received a patent for a history trivia game.
In 1888, at age 51, he received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Yale College.
Was a moody person
Twain seemed to suffer a form of moodiness—perhaps a form of manic-depressive behavior. His moods seemed to shift from minute to minute, and his temper was known to be volcanic. Sometimes he would be melancholy, other times angry, and other times humorous and happy.
In 1889, he wrote A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
Sought more wealth
Although he was rich and successful, he still sought more wealth through investments. He started a publishing company that ultimately failed. He also invested in several inventions convinced they would make him extremely rich. One invention that he invested in—even borrowing money for it—was for the development of a new form of typesetting machine.
The unfortunate publishing venture and then the great amount of money invested in the typesetting machine were drawing heavily on the family finances. Twain could no longer afford to maintain the large house in Hartford, so he sold it. He then moved his family to Berlin, Germany.
The reason for moving to Berlin was to research a book he wanted to write, as well as the lower cost of living in Europe.
During the next three years he was distracted by the financial struggle that ended in April 1894 with the failure of Charles L. Webster & Co. in which he had invested heavily. Mark Twain now found himself bankrupt and nearly one hundred thousand dollars in debt.
Despite his legal battles, he was able to write a large portion of the book Joan of Arc. The story was published anonymously in Harper's Magazine, because he felt it would not have been received seriously had it appeared over his own name.
In his years from age 40 to 59, Mark Twain first traveled and continued to write books. He also engaged in disastrous investments and moneymaking schemes that drove him into bankruptcy.
Lessons learned from the later years of Mark Twain include:
- Don't try to make money where you don't have skill
- Don't be greedy
- Have the character to pay off your debts in full
Find your calling and be successful
Resources and references
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Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain): Ages 40 to 59