When Sam Clemens was 13, he left school and became a printer’s apprentice.
This image, a daguerreotype, was made in late 1850, right around his 15th birthday. The next year, he would start work at his brother Orion’s newspaper, the Hannibal Courier.
No mustache. No thought of a white suit. A smooth face with what might be freckles (his hair would have been red), the narrowed right eye adding an air of skepticism, as it would in his later portraits. (The photo is reversed – more on that in a minute.)
And if one is hesitant to seem fanciful by saying the boy’s eyes are windows into a clever and original mind, the literal proof is at the bottom of the image, where his hands clutch printer’s letters spelling out his own name: “SAM.”
He’s holding a compositor’s stick in which he has “set the letters in reverse so that they would read correctly when the daguerreotype produced a mirror image,” explains the Steamboat Times, which also says the hat is a printer’s cap.
Though his “splendid shock of red hair” is white in our collective consciousness, he was not only a redhead himself but surrounded all his life by red hair (his mother, his daughter), as well as cats, and so may be uniquely qualified to observe, as he did, that
“While the rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats.”
The photo comes from Thisismarktwain.com, a web site built by the University of California Press in advance of its release of the unexpurgated version of his autobiography — he didn’t want it to be published until 100 years after his death, which came in 1910. So it’s time! The first volume will come out Nov. 15.