In Our Lovely Deseret: Mark Twain and Winston Churchill: When great men meet

Published: Monday, Dec. 9 2013 8:53 a.m. MST

Anything can happen when two great men meet.

On one ordinary day, Nov. 30, two of the brightest, most distinct spirits to enter this sphere were born: Mark Twain in 1835 and Winston Spencer Churchill in 1874. Both were influential in the affairs of men. Both had power to touch, inspire the heart and to alter the perceptions and behavior of those around them.

Both men were individualists, one of a kind. Diverse as were their gifts, both had great hearts.

Mark Twain, or Samuel Langhorne Clemens as he was christened, was raised in the river town of Hannibal, Missouri. His life was all about adventure. At a young age, he trained as a printer’s apprentice, learning typesetting and writing articles for the newspaper run by his older brother, Orion. At age 18, he set out on his own, working as a printer for papers in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and New York, getting the first taste of seeing his stories in print.

Twain’s enchantment with the Mississippi River led him to the arduous task of training for that all-romantic role as river boat pilot. The romance was tied to a discipline that required over two years of intense study — study of 2,000 miles of that great river and her literally hundreds of ports — before he earned the coveted pilot’s license in 1859. He lived and worked on the river until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

Here, too, he obtained the name he was to go by for the rest of his life. The cry raised of "Mark Twain" meant that the river at that point was two fathoms deep.

When Orion was appointed secretary to Gov. James W. Nye of Nevada in 1861, Twain joined him, and his experiments with mining in Virginia City and other rough-and-ready experiences sparked a multitude of new adventures that itched their way into his pen.

Winston Churchill, son of Lord Randolph Churchill and the famous American beauty, Jennie Jerome, chafed at the restraints of education and custom. Once released, he took just as eagerly as Twain to adventure and to the reproduction of his adventures in print. Traveling as a reporter in India, Egypt and South Africa, Churchill was involved in many hot engagements until he was captured and imprisoned in Pretoria. He staged a bold escape from his jail and traveled over 300 miles alone to safety — making him at once a national hero.

His political career — brilliant, bold and brave, as all things about him were — gave full rein to Churchill’s power with words. His war speeches stand as some of the most splendid phrases and sentiments in the English language.

Both Churchill and Twain lost their fathers. Twain's father, an attorney and judge, died when his son was 11; Lord Randolph Churchill when his son was 21.

Both men wed the one love of their lives: Olivia Langdon and Mark Twain married in Elmira, N.Y., in 1870; Clementine Hozier and Churchill married in 1908.

What happens when two such men — each powerful and unique in his own right — meet?

It was the evening of Dec. 12, 1900, in the Grand Ballroom of New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Churchill, a 26-year-old hero with several published books already to his credit, had come to tell of his adventures during the Boer War. Twain, now a seasoned 65, introduced him. After cleverly conversing about the politics of the day, the American icon said:

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