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Mark Twain

“In the 1870s and ’80s, the Twain family spent their summers at Quarry Farm in New York, about two hundred miles west of their Hartford, Connecticut, home. Twain found those summers the most productive time for his literary work, especially after 1874, when the farm owners built him a small private study on the property. That same summer, Twain began writing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. His routine was simple: he would go to the study in the morning after a hearty breakfast and stay there until dinner at about 5:00. Since he skipped lunch, and since his family would not venture near the study—they would blow a horn if they needed him—he could usually work uninterruptedly for several hours. ‘On hot days,’ he wrote to a friend, ‘I spread the study wide open, anchor my papers down with brickbats, and write in the midst of the hurricane, clothed in the same thin linen we make shirts of.’

After dinner, Twain would read his day’s work to the assembled family. He liked to have an audience, and his evening performances almost always won their approval. On Sundays, Twain skipped work to relax with his wife and children, read, and daydream in some shady spot on the farm. Whether or not he was working, he smoked cigars constantly. One of his closest friends, the writer William Dean Howells, recalled that after a visit from Twain, ‘the whole house had to be aired, for he smoked all over it from breakfast to bedtime.’ Howells also records Twain’s difficulties getting to sleep at night:

In those days he was troubled with sleeplessness, or, rather, with reluctant sleepiness, and he had various specifics for promoting it. At first it had been champagne just before going to bed, and we provided that, but later he appeared from Boston with four bottles of lager-beer under his arms; lager-beer, he said now, was the only thing to make you go to sleep, and we provided that. Still later, on a visit I paid him at Hartford, I learned that hot Scotch was the only soporific worth considering, and Scotch whiskey duly found its place on our sideboard. One day, very long afterward, I asked him if he were still taking hot Scotch to make him sleep. He said he was not taking anything. For a while he had found going to bed on the bath-room floor a soporific; then one night he went to rest in his own bed at ten o’clock, and he had gone promptly to sleep without anything. He had done the like with the like effect ever since. Of course, it amused him; there were few experiences of life, grave or gay, which did not amuse him, even when they wronged him.”


From the section devoted to Mark Twain, one of the finest Americans to ever breathe, from Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.