Our cars may not fly, but with every passing year technology does make our world more and more like the world of the Jetsons. Little Elroy reads his books on screen, and we all have handheld gadgets that facilitate our daily affairs.
Yet technology has recently allowed us a glimpse into the intriguing literary past. Anyone who has ever written a high school paper, shaped a brilliant manuscript, or simply shook his or her head at the language of certain television advertisements understands. Whittling words is a skill and an art. Mark Twain above so many others understood this, and now we can see a bit more from his standpoint.
Last week, the New York Times published notes from the personal library of Mr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens himself. These were not his forgotten stories or unfinished outlines. These were his critiques of published writing that were not up to snuff – to steal an idiom from his century.
Who were the targets of his brutal critiques? Samuel Johnson, Rudyard Kipling, and Robert Louis Stevenson were, among others.
“The English of this book is incorrect & slovenly & its diction, as a rule, barren of distinction,” Twain wrote in Lew Wallace’s 1906 autobiography, Wallace, of course, also being the author of Ben Hur.
Sometimes blunt, often brutal, and always sincere, the man the world knows as Mark Twain had a thought or two about what makes writing great. These books were examined and released in photos via the New York Times in honor of the one-hundredth anniversary of his death on April 21st.
A man of critical tastes but honorable intentions, Twain once wrote in The Prince and The Pauper, “When I am king, they shall not have bread and shelter only, but also teachings out of books, for a full belly is little worth where the mind is starved.” Twain certainly didn’t starve minds in his day, and due to this latest release, our want of worthy words has been satiated again.