Mark Twain on How He Writes: “whirlwinds of activity which strike a body now and then and set him spinning”

As he writes a “Connecticut Yankee,” he contributes to a fund for the aid of the family of an author who had died young

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We do not recall seeing another letter of Twain with such a revelatory description of his writing

Samuel L. Clemens (known under his pen name Mark Twain) is one of the greatest of American authors, whose works exhibit a unique style combining social satire, humor, realism of place and language, memorable characters,...

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Mark Twain on How He Writes: “whirlwinds of activity which strike a body now and then and set him spinning”

As he writes a “Connecticut Yankee,” he contributes to a fund for the aid of the family of an author who had died young

We do not recall seeing another letter of Twain with such a revelatory description of his writing

Samuel L. Clemens (known under his pen name Mark Twain) is one of the greatest of American authors, whose works exhibit a unique style combining social satire, humor, realism of place and language, memorable characters, and hatred of hypocrisy and oppression. All of this was the result of his writing habits; but what were those habits?

Philip H. Welch was a well-loved humorist whose works and sketches were published frequently in Puck, Life, Harper’s Bazaar and other major magazines and newspapers of the day. In 1889 he died prematurely at age 40, leaving a wife and small children. Edward P. Clark was a newspaperman who knew Welch well, and he instituted a project to raise funds for the support of the widow and children. He wrote many notables asking for contributions, and one of those was Twain.

At the time, Twain was working hard on “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” one of his best novels. He responded to Clark generously, but as importantly for posterity, chose to include a window into how he wrote his great books. This sheds light on how he worked, and how during those periods of deep productivity, all else seemed to take a back seat.

Autograph letter signed, Hartford, May 18 1889, to Clark. “My dear sir, Enclosed please find $25. I owe you a thousand apologies for my impromptness in answering; but during the past ten days I have been in one of those whirlwinds of activity which strike a body now and then and set him spinning and do make him accomplish many things but neglect many more.” Signed S.L. Clemens. The original envelope is still present, entirely in his hand.

This is a deeply revelatory letter of one of the great writers of the past two centuries.

In December, a few months after this letter, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” was published.

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