Life on the Mississippi

Life on the Mississippi (1883) is a memoir by Mark Twain of his days as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River before the American Civil War. It is also a travel book, recounting his trip along the Mississippi River from St. Louis to New Orleans many years after the war.

Life on the Mississippi
Cover of the original U.S. edition, 1883
AuthorMark Twain
CountryUnited States and England
PublisherJames R. Osgood & Co., Boston (U.S. edition)
Chatto & Windus, London (English edition)
Publication date
Media typePrint
Pages624 [1]
Preceded byThe Prince and the Pauper 
Followed byAdventures of Huckleberry Finn 


The book begins with a brief history of the river as reported by Europeans and Americans, beginning with the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1542.[2] It continues with anecdotes of Twain's training as a steamboat pilot, as the 'cub' (apprentice) of an experienced pilot, Horace E. Bixby. He describes, with great affection, the science of navigating the ever-changing Mississippi River in a section that was first published in 1876, entitled "Old Times on the Mississippi". Although Twain was actually 21 when he began his training, he uses artistic license to make himself seem somewhat younger, referring to himself as a "fledgling" and a "boy" who "ran away from home" to seek his fortune on the river, and playing up his own callowness and naïveté.

In the second half, Twain narrates his trip many years later on a steamboat from St. Louis to New Orleans. He describes the competition from railroads, and the new, large cities, and adds his observations on greed, gullibility, tragedy, and bad architecture. He also tells some stories that are most likely tall tales.


Simultaneously published in 1883 in the United States and Great Britain, the book is the first submitted to a publisher as a typewritten manuscript.[3] Twain did not, however, use the typewriter himself. His secretary, Isabel V. Lyon, typed from Twain's manuscript.[4]

Dramatic adaptations

In 1980, the book was adapted as a TV movie for American public television, with David Knell performing as Sam Clemens (Mark Twain's real name) and Robert Lansing as Horace Bixby, the steamboat pilot who mentored him. The film used many tall tales from the book, woven into a fictional narrative.

In 2010, Life on the Mississippi was adapted as a stage musical, with book and lyrics by Douglas M. Parker and music by Denver Casado. It was produced that year in Kansas City, Missouri, and Door County, Wisconsin.

In 2013, Life on the Mississippi, a musical play by Philip W. Hall, was performed at the Workshop Theater Company in New York. It was directed by Susannah Frazer.

See also


  1. Facsimile of the original 1st edition.
  2. Twain, Mark; Clemens, Samuel L. (2000) [1883]. Life on the Mississippi. Mineola, NY: Dover. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-486-41426-3.and
    Facsimile copy of the First edition, page 26"[...] De Soto, the first white man who ever saw the Mississippi River, saw it in 1542 [...]"
  3. "The First Typewriter". Rehr, Darryl. Archived from the original on 2009-02-01. Retrieved 2009-02-16.
  4. Dobson, James E. (2017). Modernity and Autobiography in Nineteenth-Century America. Palgrave. pp. 9–11. ISBN 978-3-319-67321-9.

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