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Letter from Sherwood Anderson to John Anderson

[Spring, 1926]

Dear [John]:

It’s a problem all right. The best thing, I dare say, is first to learn something well so you can always make a living. Bob seems to be catching on at the newspaper business and has had another raise. He is getting good training by working in a smaller city. As for the scientific fields, any of them require a long schooling and intense application. If you are made for it nothing could be better. In the long run you will have to come to your own conclusion.

The arts, which probably offer a man more satisfaction, are uncertain. It is difficult to make a living.

If I had my own life to lead over I presume I would still be a writer but I am sure I would give my first attention to learning how to do things directly with my hands. Nothing quite gives the satisfaction that doing things brings.

Above all avoid taking the advice of men who have no brains and do not know what they are talking about. Most small businessmen say simply--"Look at me.” They fancy that if they have accumulated a little money and have got a position in a small circle they are competent to give advice to anyone.

Next to occupation is the building up of good taste. That is difficult, slow work. Few achieve it. It means all the difference in the world in the end.

I am constantly amazed at how little painters know about painting, writers about writing, merchants about business, manufacturers about manufacturing. Most men just drift.

There is a kind of shrewdness many men have that enables them to get money. It is the shrewdness of the fox after the chicken. A low order of mentality often goes with it.

Above all I would like you to see many kinds of men first hand. That would help you more than anything. Just how it is to be accomplished I do not know. Perhaps a way may be found.

Anyway, I’ll see you this summer. We begin to pack for the country this week.

With love,



Sherwood Anderson wrote novels, short stories, articles, plays, and poems, often trying to reveal the lives of ordinary people. In 1926, he was forty-nine years old. Thom, his second child, is seventeen.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/25 at 05:07 AM
  1. Thom has apparently asked for advice about his future, which leads Sherwood Anderson to offer his thoughts on what sort of education would be most helpful. First, one needs a way to make a living. But then, one needs to learn good taste. This is “difficult, slow work” and “few” achieve it.

    What is good taste? Why does it mean “all the difference” in the end?

    How might one build it up?

    What things might a high school student read that would provide more insight into developing good taste?

    Posted by Michael L Umphrey  on  03/24  at  01:21 AM






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