Mark Twain, the celebrated author and humorist who brought us the classic novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, may have gone through a broke and suicidal phase, according to a rare, newly released letter.
The letter is among many writings, most of which are 150 years old, that were recently uncovered, authenticated and released to the public by Twain scholars at the University of California at Berkeley, the Washington Post reports.
A little more than a decade before he wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876 and went on to become known as America’s first modern celebrity, a 29-year-old Twain was a writer for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper of Virginia City, Nevada.
Apparently he wasn’t thrilled with the position, which required him to write a 2,000-word story every day, six days a week, and paid $100 per month, according to the Associated Press.
In a little-known letter to his brother in 1865, Twain wrote, “If I do not get out of debt in three months – pistols or poison for one – exit me.”
Although Twain was famously prone to exaggeration, Bob Hirst, editor of the Mark Twain Project at Berkeley, believes the letter should be taken literally.
“He was in the middle of an identity crisis,” Hirst tells SFGate, the sister site of the San Francisco Chronicle, where Twain did some of his writing for the Territorial Enterprise. “He was facing debt and had not embraced his talent. He was tormented by it. He was drinking too much and didn’t know what to do with himself. He thought humor was literature of a low order.”
The following year Twain moved to Hawaii, then known as the Sandwich Islands. His travelogues became the basis for his first lectures, and soon after he launched his career as a lecturer and novelist. Needless to say it all worked out for the white-suited literary superhero.