The Truth About Mark Twain's Children

"I did not attend his funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."

As this quote, and many more, attest, Mark Twain has truly earned his place as the "Grandfather of American Wit," as Legacy calls him. Twain, the pen name for Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was born in 1835 in Florida, Missouri (a real place, yes), and made a reputation for himself as a humorist, novelist, essayist, and overall top-tier conversationalist to invite to a party. Ernest Hemingway, as Britannica states, called him "sole, incomparable, the Lincoln of our literature," and William Faulkner called him the "father of American Literature," per Books Tell You Why.

Here's a sampling of some more of Twain's zingers:

"Honesty is the best policy — when there is money in it."

"Familiarity breeds contempt — and children."

"Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any."

Twain has been embraced as an American icon in the more than 100 years since his death in 1910. Novels such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn represent whole reams of people not otherwise seen in the pristine ranks of the literati: grifters, underhanded politicians, fraudulent aristocrats, world-wise slaves, and a whole sampling of Americana, wholesome or otherwise. Twain basically invented himself as a public figure, and both he and his irreverence infiltrated social circles, from Nikolai Tesla to abolitionists to suffragettes. Twain did have a private life, however, and it centered around his wife Olivia ("Livy") and their children.

A family life marred by tragedy

Sam (we'll call him by his real name) and Livy's marriage was, by all accounts, remarkable, and lasted until Livy's death in 1904, after which Sam simply couldn't carry on. She was the editor of his work and the holder of the rights for several of his books, to avoid money getting seized by creditors (Twain wasn't too good with money, and eventually filed for bankruptcy and moved to Europe). As cited by Smithsonian Magazine, Sam said of Livy, "Wheresoever she was, there was Eden."

This was probably a good thing, because much else of their home life was marred by tragic circumstances. They had four children in all: one son and three girls. Their son, Langdon, was born premature in 1870, and passed away after only 19 months from diphtheria, a respiratory illness. 

In 1872 the Clemens had their first daughter, Olivia Susan Clemens, named after her mother and dubbed "Susy" from a young age. Livy homeschooled the apparently precocious and witty child herself. As a teenager, Susy was prone to depression; as Mark Twain House states, she dropped out of college likely because she couldn't cope with being away from home. In 1895, Sam had to go on a worldwide speaking tour to make money to compensate for a failed investment in the Paige typesetting machine. While he and Livy were both away, Susy developed spinal meningitis and passed away before either parent could make it home. She was 24.

In the end, only one child remained

Sam and Livy's second daughter, Clara Langdon Clemens, was born two years after Susy, in 1874. By all accounts, Clara was more adventurous than her sister and tended to get into accidents. She traveled with her mother and father on Sam's world tours, and developed a reputation as a concert pianist. She wanted to make a name for herself away from her famous father, but had to be the family glue keeping everyone together, especially once Livy started experiencing health troubles.

Once she got a bit older, Clara cycled between concert tours and heading back home to help manage the household. Out of the entire family, she passed away the oldest, at 88, in southern California in 1962. Along the way, she married a Russian pianist, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, had one daughter, Nina, and spent time fundraising for her father's historical sites.

The Clemens' final child, Jane Lampton Clemens (nicknamed "Jean"), was born in 1880, and was essentially raised by both Livy and her older sister, Clara. Jean loved the outdoors, animals, and horseback riding. Another victim of tragic circumstances, Jean was diagnosed with epilepsy five months before her mother passed away, after which the family essentially crumbled bit by bit. Before then, she traveled with everyone on Sam's tours, but was constantly in and out of the hospital. In 1909, at the age of 29, she passed away from a heart attack resulting from a seizure.