Samuel Clemens 18351910

George M. Baker (lifedates unknown)
Albumen silver print, 1869

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Boston photographer George M. Baker completed this group portrait in 1869. It shows the writer Samuel Clemens (“Mark Twain”) standing between David Ross Locke (“Petroleum V. Nasby”) on the left and Henry Wheeler Shaw (“Josh Billings”), two humorists who accompanied Clemens on a national lecture tour that year.

Having published the satire The Innocents Abroad earlier that summer, the thirty-four-year-old Clemens was beginning to emerge as the preeminent American author of his generation. Until 1869 he had spent most of his life in the West. Growing up alongside the Mississippi River and then settling in Nevada and California during the Civil War, Clemens pursued various professions—river pilot, prospector, and journalist—before adopting his pen name and dedicating himself to a writing career. Although he would settle permanently in the Northeast at the end of this tour, it was in the West that he found his unique literary voice and many of the subjects of his later novels.