By Jake Greenberg / September 10, 2018

Mark Twain Letter up for Auction Reveals Key to Great Writing

The American author believed that it took life experience and tragedy to make a masterpiece.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens 1835 to 1910 known by pen name Mark Twain American humorist, satirist, writer, and lecturer From photograph taken in his old age (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
Samuel Langhorne Clemens 1835 to 1910 known by pen name Mark Twain American humorist, satirist, writer, and lecturer From photograph taken in his old age (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

A letter of advice Mark Twain sent to an aspiring writer will soon go up for auction, and it’s not exactly optimistic about the ability of young novelists, according to a story in Atlas Obscura. In his correspondence with the 21-year-old Bruce Weston Munro, of Canada, Twain expresses the belief that people generally don’t have the necessary life experience to produce great writing until middle age.

Twain wrote the five-page letter in  1881, a period between the publications of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He Told Munro, “I do not see how any but a colossal genius can write a readable prose book before he is 30 years old.” Twain continued, “Experience of life (not of books) is the only capital usable in such a book as you have attempted.”

As for those young colossal geniuses, Twain mentions the Bronte sisters and credits the incredible tragedy of their youth to their early successes in novel-writing.

The letter will be auctioned off by Bonham’s. The most a Twain letter has ever fetched is $59,700, paid in 2002.

Daily Brief

15 Things to Know Today, from RealClearLife

July 16, 2019 July 15, 2019