"Part III." from the letters and reports of Anne Mansfield Sullivan (ca.1867-1936), edited by John Albert Macy.
The Writing of the Book
IT is fitting that Miss Keller's "Story of My Life" should appear at this time. What is remarkable in her career is already accomplished, and whatever she may do in the future will be but a relatively slight addition to the success which distinguishes her now. That success has just been assured for it is her work at Radcliffe during the last two years which has shown that she can carry her education as far as if she were studying under normal conditions. Whatever doubts Miss Keller herself may have had are now at rest.
Several passages of her autobiography, as it appeared in serial form, have been made the subject of a grave editorial in a Boston newspaper, in which the writer regretted Miss Keller's apparent disillusionment in regard to the value of her college life. He quoted the passages in which she explains that college is not the "universal Athens" she had hoped to find, and cited the cases of other remarkable persons whose college life had proved disappointing. But it is to be remembered that Miss Keller has written many things in her autobiography for the fun of writing them, and the disillusion, which the writer of the editorial took seriously, is in great part humorous. Miss Keller does not suppose her views to be of great importance, and when she utters her opinions on important matters she takes it for granted that her reader will receive them as the opinions of a junior in college, not of one who writes with the wisdom of maturity. For instance, it surprised her that some people were annoyed at what she said about the Bible, and she was amused that they did not see, what was plain enough, that she had been obliged to read the whole Bible in a course in English literature, not as a religious duty put upon her by her teacher or her parents.
I ought to apologize to the reader and to Miss Keller for presuming to say what her subject matter is worth, but one more explanation is necessary. In her account of her early education Miss Keller is not giving a scientifically accurate record of her life, nor even of the important events. She cannot know in detail how she was taught, and her memory of her childhood is in some cases an idealized memory of what she has learned later from her teacher and others. She is less able to recall events of fifteen years ago than most of us are to recollect our childhood. That is why her teacher's records may be found to differ in some particulars from Miss Keller's account.
The way in which Miss Keller wrote her story shows, as nothing else can show, the difficulties she had to overcome. When we write, we can go back over our work, shuffle the pages, interline, and rearrange, see how the paragraphs look in proof, and so construct the whole work before the eye, as an architect constructs his plans. When Miss Keller puts her work in typewritten form, she cannot refer to it again unless some one reads it to her by means of the manual alphabet.
This difficulty is in part obviated by the use of her braille machine, which makes a manuscript that she can read; but as her work must be put ultimately in typewritten form, and as a braille machine is somewhat cumbersome, she has got into the habit of writing directly on her typewriter. She depends so little on her braille manuscipt, that, when she began to write her story more than a year ago and had put in braille a hundred pages of material and notes, she made the mistake of destroying these notes before she had finished her manuscript. Thus she composed much of her story on the typewriter, and in constructing it as a whole depended on her memory to guide her in putting together the deteched episodes, which Miss Sullivan read over to her.
Last July, when she had finished under great pressure of work her final chapter, she set to work to rewrite the whole story. Her good friend, Mr. William Wade, had a complete braille copy made for her from the magazine proofs. Then for the first time she had her whole manuscript under her finger at once. She saw imperfections in the arrangement of paragraphs and the repetition of phrases. She saw, too, that her story properly fell into short chapters, and redivided it.
Partly from temperament, partly from the conditions of her work, she has written rather a series of brilliant passages than a unified narrative; in point of fact, several paragraphs of her story are short themes written in her English courses, and the small unit sometimes shows its original limits.
In rewriting the story, Miss Keller made corrections on separate pages on her braille machine. Long corrections she wrote out on her typewriter, with catch-words to indicate where they belonged. Then she read from her braille copy the entire story, making corrections as she read, which were taken down on the manuscript that went to the printer. During this revision she discussed questions of subject matter and phrasing. She sat running her finger over the braille manuscript, stopping now and then to refer to the braille notes on which she had indicated her corrections, all the time reading aloud to verify the manuscript.
She listened to criticism just as any author listens to his friends or his
editor. Miss Sullivan, who is an excellent critic, made suggestions at many points
in the course of composition and revision. One newspaper suggested that Miss
Keller had been led into writing the book and had been influenced to put certain
things into it by zealous friends. As a matter of fact, most of the advice she has
received and heeded has led to excisions rather than to additions. The book is
Miss Keller's and is final proof of her independent power.
MARK TWAIN has said that the two most interesting characters of the nineteenth century are Napoleon and Helen Keller. The admiration with which the world has regarded her is more than justified by what she has done. No one can tell any great truth about her which has not already been written, and all that I can do is to give a few more facts about Miss Keller's work and add a little to what is known of her personality.
Miss Keller is tall and strongly built, and has always had good health. She seems to be more nervous than she really us, because she expresses more with her hands than do most English-speaking people. One reason for this habit of gesture is that her hands have been so long her instruments of communication that they have taken to themselves the quick shiftings of the eye, and express some of the things that we say in a glance. All deaf people naturally gesticulate. Indeed, at one time it was believed that the best way for them to communicate was through systematized gestures, the sign language invented by the Abbé de l'Epée.
When Miss Keller speaks, her face is animated and expresses all the modes of her thought–the expressions that make the features eloquent and give speech half its meaning. On the other hand she does not know another's expression. When she is talking with an intimate friend, however, her hand goes quickly to her friend's face to see, as she says, "the twist of the mouth." In this way she is able to get the meaning of those half sentences which we complete unconsciously from the tone of the voice or the twinkle of the eye.
Her memory of people is remarkable. She remembers the grasp of fingers she has held before, all the characteristic tightening of the muscles that makes one person's handshake different from that of another.
The trait most characteristic, perhaps, of Miss Keller (and also of Miss Sullivan) is humour. Skill in the use of words and her habit of playing with them make her ready with mots and epigrams.
Some one asked her if she liked to study.
"Yes," she replied, "But I like to play also, and I feel sometimes if I were a music box with all the play shut up inside me."
When she met Dr. Furness, the Shakespearean scholar, he warned her not to let the college professors tell her too many assumed facts about the life of Shakespeare; all we know, he said, is that Shakespeare was baptized, married, and died.
"Well," she replied, "he seems to have done all the essential things."
Once a friend who was learning the manual alphabet kept making "g," which is like the hand of a sign-post, for "h," which is made with two fingers extended. Finally Miss Keller told him to "fire both barrels."
Mr. Joseph Jefferson was once explaining to Miss Keller what the bumps on her head meant.
"That," he said, "is your prize-fighting bump."
"I never fight," she replied, "except against difficulties."
Miss Keller's humour is that deeper kind of humour which is courage.
Thirteen years ago she made up her mind to learn to speak, and she gave her teacher no rest until she was allowed to take lessons, although wise people, even Miss Sullivan, the wisest of them all, regarded it as an experiment unlikely to succeed and almost sure to make her unhappy. It was this same perseverance that made her go to college. After she had passed her examinations and received her certificate of admission, she was advised by the Dean of Radcliffe and others not to go on. She accordingly delayed a year. But she was not satisfied until she had carried out her purpose and entered college.
Her life has been a series of attempts to do whatever other people do, and to do it as well. Her success has been complete, for in trying to be like other people she has come most fully to be herself. Her unwillingness to be beaten has developed her courage. Where another can go, she can go. Her respect for physical bravery is like Stevenson's–the boy's contempt for the fellow who cries, with a touch of young bravado in it. She takes tramps in the woods, plunging through the underbrush, where she is scratched and bruised; yet you could not get her to admit that she is hurt, and you certainly could not persuade her to stay at home next time.
So when people try experiments with her, she displays sportsmanlike determination to win in any test, however unreasonable, that one may wish to put her to.
If she does not know the answer to a question, she guesses with mischievous assurance. Ask her the colour of your coat (no blind person can tell colour), she will feel it and say "black." If it happens to be blue, and you tell her so triumphantly, she is likely to answer, "Thank you. I am glad you know. Why did you ask me?"
Her whimsical and adventuresome spirit puts her so much on her mettle that she makes rather a poor subject for the psychological experimenter. Moreover, Miss Sullivan does not see why Miss Keller should be subjected to the investigation of the scientist, and has not herself made many experiments. When a psychologist asked her if Miss Keller spelled on her fingers in her sleep, Miss Sullivan replied that she did not think it worth while to sit up and watch, such matters were of so little consequence.
Miss Keller likes to be part of the company. If any one whom she is touching laughs at a joke, she laughs, too, just as if she had heard it. If others are aglow with music, a responding glow, caught sympathetically, shines in her face. Indeed, she feels the movements of Miss Sullivan so minutely that she responds to her moods, and so she seems to know what is going on, even though the conversation has not been spelled to her for some time. In the same way her response to music is in part sympathetic, although she enjoys it for its own sake.
Music probably can mean little to her but beat and pulsation. She cannot sing and she cannot play the piano, although, as some early experiments show, she could learn mechanically to beat out a tune on the keys. Her enjoyment of music, however, is very genuine, for she has a tactile recognition of sound when the waves of air beat against her. Part of her experience of the rhythm of music comes, no doubt, from the vibration of solid objects which she is touching: the floor, or, what is more evident, the case of the piano, on which her hand rests. But she seems to feel the pulsation of the air itself. When the organ was played for her in St. Bartholomew's *, the whole building shook with the great pedal notes, but that does not altogether account for what she felt and enjoyed. The vibration of the air as the organ notes swelled made her sway in answer. Sometimes she puts her hand on a singer's throat to feel the muscular thrill and contraction, and from this she gets genuine pleasure. No one knows, however, just what her sensations are. It is amusing to read in one of the magazines of 1895 that Miss Keller "has a just and intelligent appreciation of different composers, from having literally felt their music, Schumann being her favourite." If she knows the difference between Schumann and Beethoven, it is because she has read it, and if she has read it, she remembers it and can tell any one who asks her.
Miss Keller's effort to reach out and meet other people on their own intellectual ground has kept her informed of daily affairs. When her education became more systematic and she was busy with books, it would have been very easy for Miss Sullivan to let her draw into herself, if she had been so inclinded. But every one who has met her has given his best ideas to her and she has taken them. If, in the course of a conversation, the friend next to her has ceased for some moments to spell into her hand, the question comes inevitably, "What are you talking about?" Thus she picks up the fragments of the daily intercourse of normal people, so that her detailed information is singularly full and accurate. She is a good talker on the little occasional affairs of life.
Much of her knowledge comes to her directly. When she is out walking she often stops suddenly, attracted by the odour of a bit of shrubbery. She reaches out and touches the leaves, and the world of growing things is hers, as truly as it is ours, to enjoy while she holds the leaves in her fingers and smells the blossoms, and to remember when the walk is done.
When she is in a new place, especially an interesting place like Niagara, whoever accompanies her–usually, of course, Miss Sullivan–is kept busy giving her an idea of visible details. Miss Sullivan, who knows her pupil's mind, selects from the passing landscape essential elements, which give a certain clearness to Miss Keller's imagined view of an outer world that to our eyes is confused and overloaded with particulars. If her companion does not give her enough details, Miss Keller asks questions until she has completed the view to her satisfaction.
She does not see with her eyes, but through the inner faculty to serve which eyes were given to us. When she returns from a walk and tells some one about it, her descriptions are accurate and vivid. A comparative experience drawn from written descriptions and from her teacher's words has kept her free from errors in her use of terms of sound and vision. True, her view of life is highly coloured and full of poetic exaggeration; the universe, as she sees it, is no doubt a little better than it really is. But her knowledge of it is not so incomplete as one might suppose. Occasionally she astonishes you by ignorance of some fact which no one happens to have told her; for instance, she did not know, until her first plunge into the sea, that it is salt. Many of the detached invidents and facts of our daily life pass around and over her unobserved; but she has enough detailed acquaintance with the world to keep her view of it from being essentially defective.
Most that she knows at first hand comes from her sense of touch. This sense is not, however, so finely developed as in some other blind people. Laura Bridgman could tell minute shades of difference in the size of thread, and make beautiful lace. Miss Keller used to knit and crochet, but she has had better things to do. With her varied powers and accomplishments, her sense of touch has not been used enough to develop it very far beyond normal acuteness. A friend tried Miss Keller one day with several coins. She was slower than he expected her to be in identifying them by their relative weight and size. But it should be said she almost never handles money–one of the many sordid and petty details of life, by the way, which she has been spared.
She recognizes the subject and general intention of a statuette six inches high. Anything shallower than a half-inch bas-relief is a blank to her, so far as it expresses an idea of beauty. Large statues, of which she can feel the sweep of line with her whole hand, she knows in their higher esthetic value. She suggests herself that she can know them better than we do, because she can get the true dimensions and appreciate more immediately the solid nature of a sculptured figure. When she was at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boson, she stood on a step-ladder and let both hands play over the statues. When she felt a bas-relief of dancing girls she asked, "Where are the singers?" When she found them she said, "One is silent." The lips of the singer were closed.
It is, however, in her daily life that one can best measure the delicacy of her senses and her manual skill. She seems to have very little sense of direction. She gropes her way without much certainty in rooms where she is quite familiar. Most blind people are aided by the sense of sound, so that a fair comparison is hard to make, except with other deaf-blind persons. Her dexterity is not notable either in comparison with the normal person, whose movements are guided by the eye, or, I am told, with other blind people. She has practised no single constructive craft which would call for the use of her hands. When she was twelve, her friend Mr. Albert H. Munsell, the artist, let her experiment with a wax tablet and a stylus. He says that she did pretty well and managed to make, after models, some conventional designs of the outlines of leaves and rosettes. The only thing she does which requires skill with the hands is her work on the typewriter. Although she has used the typewriter since she was eleven years old, she is rather careful than rapid. She writes with fair speed and absolute sureness. Her manuscripts seldom contain typographical errors when she hands them to Miss Sullivan to read. Her typewriter has no special attachments. She keeps the relative position of the keys by an occasional touch of the little finger on the outer edge of the board.
Miss Keller's reading of the manual alphabet by her sense of touch seems to cause some perplexity. Even people who know her fairly well have written in the magazines about Miss Sullivan's "mysterious telegraphic communications" with her pupil. The manual alphabet is that in use among all educated deaf people. Most dictionaries contain an engraving of the manual letters. The deaf person with sight looks at the fingers of his companion, but it is also possible to feel them. Miss Keller puts her fingers lightly over the hand of one who is talking to her and gets the words as rapidly as they can be spelled. As she explains, she is not conscious of the single letters or of separate words. Miss Sullivan and others who live constantly with the deaf can spell very rapidly–fast enough to get a slow lecture, not fast enough to get very word of a rapid speaker.
Anybody can learn the manual letters in a few minutes, use them slowly in a day, and in thirty days of constant use talk to Miss Keller or any other deaf person without realizing what his fingers are doing. If more people knew this, and the friends and relatives of deaf children learned the manual alphabet at once the deaf all over the world would be happier and better educated.
Miss Keller reads by means of embossed print or the various kinds of braille. The ordinary embossed book is made with roman letters, both small letters and capitals. These letters are of simple, square, angular design. The small letters are about three-sixteenths of an inch high, and are raised from the page the thickness of the thumbnail. The books are large, about the size of a volume of an encyclopedia. Green's "Short History of the English People" is in six large volumes. The books are not heavy, because the leaves with the raised type do not lie close. The time that one of Miss Keller's friends realizes most strongly that she is blind is when he comes on her suddenly in the dark and hears the rustle of her fingers across the page.
The most convenient print for the blind is braille, which has several variations, too many, indeed–English, American, New York Point. Miss Keller reads them all. Most educated blind people know several, but it would save trouble if, as Miss Keller suggests, English braille were universally adopted. The facsimile on page xv gives an idea of how the raised dots look. Each character (either a letter or a special braille contraction) is a combination made by varying the place and number points in six possible positions. Miss Keller has a braille writer on which she keeps notes and writes letters to her blind friends. There are six keys, and by pressing different combinations at a stroke (as one plays a chord on the piano) the operator makes a character at a time in a sheet of thick paper, and can write about half as rapidly as on a typewriter. Braille is especially useful in making single manuscript copies of books.
Books for the blind are very limited in number. They cost a great deal to publish and they have not a large enough sale to make them profitable to the publisher, but there are several institutions with special funds to pay for embossed books. Miss Keller is more fortunate than most blind people in the kindness of her friends who have books made especially for her, and in the willingness of gentlemen, like Mr. E. E. Allen of the Pennsylvania Institute for the Instruction of the Blind, to print, as he has on several occasions, editions of books that she has needed.
Miss Keller does not as a rule read very fast, but she reads deliberately, not so much because she feels the words less quickly than we see them, as because it is one of her habits of mind to do things thoroughly and well. When a passage interests her, or she needs to remember it for some future use, she flutters it off swiftly on the fingers of her right hand. Sometimes this finger-play is unconscious. Miss Keller talks to herself absent-mindedly in the manual alphabet. When she is walking up or down the hall or along the veranda, her hands go flying along beside her like a confusion of birds' wings.
Photograph by Marshall, 1902
READING RAISED PRINT
There is, I am told, tactile memory as well as visual and aural memory. Miss Sullivan says that both she and Miss Keller remember "in their fingers" what they have said. For Miss Keller to spell a sentence in the manual alphabet impresses it on her mind just as we learn a thing from having heard it many times and can call back the memory of its sound.
Like every deaf or blind person, Miss Keller depends on her sense of smell to an unusual degree. When she was a little girl she smelled everything and knew where she was, what neighbour's house she was passing, by the distinctive odours. As her intellect grew she became less dependent on this sense. To what extent she now identifies objects by their odour is hard to determine. The sense of smell has fallen into disrepute, and a deaf person is reluctant to speak of it. Miss Keller's acute sense of smell may account, however, in some part for that recognition of persons and things which it has been customary to attribute to a special sense, or to an unusual development of the power that we all seem to have of telling when some one is near.
The question of a special "sixth sense," such as people have ascribed to Miss Keller, is a delicate one. This much is certain, she cannot have any sense that other people may not have, and the existence of a special sense is not evident to her or to any one who knows her. Miss Keller is distinctly not a singular proof of occult and mysterious theories, and any attempt to explain her in that way fails to reckon with her normality. She is no more mysterious and complex than any other person. All that she is, all she has done, can be explained directly, except such things in every human being as never can be explained. She does not, it would seem, prove the existence of spirit without matter, or of innate ideas, or of immortality, or anything else that any other human being does not prove. Philosophers have tried to find out what was her conception of abstract ideas before she learned language. If she had any conception, there is no way of discovering it now; for she cannot remember, and obviously there was no record at the time. She had no conception of God before she heard the word "God," as her comments very clearly show.*
Her sense of time is excellent, but whether it would have developed as a special faculty, cannot be known, for she has had a watch since she was seven years old.
Miss Keller has two watches, which have been given her. They are, I think, the only ones of their kind in America. The watch has on the back cover a flat gold indicator which can be pushed freely around from left to right until, by means of a pin inside the case, it locks with the hour hand and takes a corresponding position. The point of this gold indicator bends over the edge of the case, round which are set eleven raised points–the stem forms the twelfth. Thus the watch, an ordinary watch with a white dial for the person who sees, becomes for a blind person by this special attachment in effect one with a single raised hour hand and raised figures. Though there is less than half an inch between the points–a space which represents sixty minutes–Miss Keller tells the time almost exactly. It should be said that any double-case watch with the crystal removed serves well enough for a blind person whose touch is sufficiently delicate to feel the position of the hands and not disturb or injure them.
The finer traits of Miss Keller's character are so well known that one needs not say much about them. Good sense, good humour, and imagination keep her scheme of things sane and beautiful. No attempt is made by those around her either to preserve or to break her illusions. When she was a little girl, a good many unwise and tactless things that were said for her benefit were not repeated to her, thanks to the wise watchfulness of Miss Sullivan. Now that she has grown up, nobody thinks of being less frank with her than with any other intelligent young woman. What her good friend, Charles Dudley Warner, wrote about her in Harper's Magazine in 1896 was true then, and it remains true now:
"I believe she is the purest-minded human being ever in existence...The world to her is what her own mind is. She has not even learned that exhibition on which so many pride themselves, of 'righteous indignation.'
"Some time ago, when a policeman shot dead her dog, a dearly loved daily companion, she found in her forgiving heart no condemnation for the man; she only said, 'If he had only known what a good dog she was, he wouldn't have shot her.' It was said of old time, 'Lord forgive them, they know not what they do!'
"Of course the question will arise whether, if Helen Keller had not been guarded from the knowledge of evil, she would have been what she is to-day.... Her mind has neither been made effeminate by the weak and silly literature, nor has it been vitiated by that which is suggestive of baseness. In consequence her mind is not only vigorous, but it is pure. She is in love with noble things, with noble thoughts, and with the characters of noble men and women."
She still has a childlike aversion to tragedies. Her imagination is so vital that she falls completely under the illusion of a story, and lives in its world. Miss Sullivan writes in a letter of 1891:
"Yesterday I read to her the story of 'Macbeth,' as told by Charles and Mary Lamb. She was very greatly excited by it, and said: 'It is terrible! It makes me tremble!' After thinking a little while, she added, 'I think Shakespeare made it very terrible so that people would see how fearful it is to do wrong.' "
Of the real world she knows more of the good and less of the evil than most people seem to know. Her teacher does not harass her with the little unhappy things; but of the important difficulties they have been through, Miss Keller was fully informed, took her share of the suffering, and put her mind to the problems. She is logical and tolerant, most trustful of a world that has treated her kindly.
Once when some one asked her to define "love," she replied, "Why, bless you, that is easy; it is what everybody feels for everybody else."
"Toleration," she said once, when she was visiting her friend Mrs. Laurence Hutton, "is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle."
She has a large, generous sympathy and absolute fairness of temper. So far as she is noticeably different from other people she is less bound by convention. She has the courage of her metaphors and lets them take her skyward when we poor self-conscious folk would think them rather too bookish for ordinary conversation. She always says exactly what she thinks, without fear of the plain truth; yet no one is more tactful and adroit than she in turning an unpleasant truth so that it will do the least possible hurt to the feelings of others. Not all the attention that has been paid her since she was a child has made her take herself too seriously. Sometimes she gets started on a very solemn preachment. Then her teacher calls her an incorrigible little sermonizer, and she laughs at herself. Often, however, her sober ideas are not to be laughed at, for her earnestness carries her listeners with her. There is never the least false sententiousness in what she says. She means everything so thoroughly that her very quotations, her echoes from what she has read, are in truth original.
Her logic and her sympathy are in excellent balance. Her sympathy is of the swift and ministering sort which, fortunately, she has found so often in other people. And her sympathies go further and shape her opinions on political and national movements. She was intensely pro-Boer and wrote a strong argument in favour of Boer independence. When she was told of the surrender of the brave little people, her face clouded and she was silent a few minutes. Then she asked clear, penetrating questions about the terms of the surrender, and began to discuss them.
Both Mr. Gilman and Mr. Keith, the teachers who prepared her for college, were struck by her power of constructive reasoning; and she was excellent in pure mathematics, though she seems never to have enjoyed it much. Some of the best of her writing, apart from her fanciful and imaginative work, is her exposition in examinations and technical themes, and in some letters which she found it necessary to write to clear up misunderstandings, and which are models of close thinking enforced with sweet vehemence.
She is an optimist and an idealist.
"I hope," she writes in a letter, "that L— isn't too practical, for if she is, I'm afraid she'll miss a great deal of pleasure."
In the diary that she kept at the Wright-Humason School in New York, she wrote on October 18, 1894, "I find that I have four things to learn in my school life here, and indeed, in life–to think clearly without hurry or confusion, to love everybody sincerely, to act in everything with the highest motives, and to trust in dear God unhesitatingly."
IT is now sixty-five years since Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe knew that he had made his way through Laura Bridgman's fingers to her intelligence. The names of Laura Bridgman and Helen Keller will always be linked together, and it is necessary to understand what Dr. Howe did for his pupil before one comes to an account of Miss Sullivan's work. For Dr. Howe is the great pioneer on whose work that of Miss Sullivan and other teachers of the deaf-blind immediately depends.
Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe was born in Boston, November 10, 1801, and died in Boston, January 9, 1876. He was a great philanthropist, interested especially in the education of all defectives, the feeble-minded, the blind, and the deaf. Far in advance of his time he advocated many public measures for the relief of the poor and the diseased, for which he was laughed at then, but which have since been put into practice. As head of the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, he heard of Laura Bridgman and had her brought to the Institution on October 4, 1837.
Laura Bridgman was born at Hanover, New Hampshire, December 21, 1829; so she was almost eight years old when Dr. Howe began his experiments with her. At the age of twenty-six months scarlet fever left her without sight or hearing. She also lost her sense of smell and taste. Dr. Howe was an experimental scientist and had in him the spirit of New England transcendentalism with its large faith and large charities. Science and faith together led him to try to make his way into the soul which he believed was born in Laura Bridgman as in every other human being. His plan was to teach Laura by means of raised types. He pasted raised labels on objects and made her fit the labels to the objects and objects to the labels. When she had learned in this way to associate raised words with things, in much the same manner, he says, as a dog learns tricks, he began to resolve the words into their letter elements and to teach her to put together "k-e-y," "c-a-p." His success convinced him that language can be conveyed through type to the mind of the blind-deaf child, who, before education, is in the state of the baby who has not learned to prattle; indeed, is in a much worse state, for the brain has grown in years without natural nourishment.
After Laura's education had progressed for two months with the use only of raised letters, Dr. Howe sent one of his teachers to learn the manual alphabet from a deaf-mute. She taught it to Laura, and from that time on the manual alphabet was the means of communicating with her.
After the first year or two, Dr. Howe did not teach Laura Bridgman himself, but gave her over to other teachers, who under his direction carried on the work of teaching her language.*
Too much cannot be said in praise of Dr. Howe's work. As an investigator he kept always the scientist's attitude. He never forgot to keep his records of Laura Bridgman in the fashion of one who works in a laboratory. The result is, his records of her are systematic and careful. From a scientific standpoint it is unfortunate that it was impossible to keep such a complete record of Helen Keller's development. This in itself is a great comment on the difference between Laura Bridgman and Helen Keller. Laura always remained an object of curious study. Helen Keller became so rapidly a distinctive personality that she kept her teacher in a breathless race to meet the needs of her pupil, with no time or strength to make a scientific study.
In some ways this is unfortunate. Miss Sullivan knew at the beginning that Helen Keller would be more interesting and successful than Laura Bridgman, and she expresses in one of her letters the need of keeping notes. But neither temperament nor training allowed her to make her pupil the object of any experiment or observation which did not help in the child's development. As soon as a thing was done, a definite goal passed, the teacher did not always look back and describe the way she had come. The explanation of the fact was unimportant compared to the fact itself and the need of hurrying on. There are two other reasons why Miss Sullivan's records are incomplete. It has always been a severe tax on her eyes to write, and she was early discouraged from publishing data by the inaccurate use made of what she at first supplied.
When she first wrote from Tuscumbia to Mr. Michael Anagnos, Dr. Howe's son-in-law and his successor as Director of the Perkins Institution, about her work with her pupil, the Boston papers began at once to publish exaggerated accounts of Helen Keller. Miss Sullivan protested. In a letter dated April 10, 1887, only five weeks after she went to Helen Keller, she wrote to a friend:
"— sent me a Boston Herald containing a stupid article about Helen. How perfectly absurd to say that Helen is 'already talking fluently!' Why one might just as well say that a two-year-old child converses fluently when he says 'apple give,' or 'baby walk go.' I suppose if you include his screaming, crowing, whimpering, grunting, squalling, with occasional kicks, in his conversation, it might be regarded as fluent–even eloquent. Then it is amusing to read of the elaborate preparation I underwent to fit me for the great task my friends entrusted to me. I am sorry that preparation didn't include spelling, it would have saved me such a lot of trouble."
On March 4, 1888, she writes in a letter:
"Indeed, I am heartily glad that I don't know all that is being said and written about Helen and myself. I assure you I know quite enough. Nearly every mail brings some absurd statement, printed or written. The truth is not wonderful enough to suit the newspapers; so they enlarge upon it and invent ridiculous embellishments. One paper has Helen demonstrating problems in geometry by means of her playing blocks. I expect to hear next that she has written a treatise on the origin and future of the planets!"
In December 1887, appeared the first report of the Director of the Perkins Institution, which deals with Helen Keller. For this report, Miss Sullivan prepared, in reluctant compliance with the request of Mr. Anagnos, an account of her work. This with the extracts from her letters, scattered through the report, is the first valid source of information about Helen Keller. Of this report Miss Sullivan wrote in a letter dated October 30, 1887:
"Have you seen the paper I wrote for the 'report'? Mr. Anagnos was delighted with it. He says Helen's progress has been 'a triumphal march from the beginning,' and he has many flattering things to say about her teacher. I think he is inclined to exaggerate; at all events, his language is too glowing, and simple facts are set forth in such a manner that they bewilder one. Doubtless the work of the past few months does seem like a triumphal march to him; but then people seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant success is achieved."
As Mr. Anagnos was the head of a great institution, what he said had much more effect than the facts in Miss Sullivan's account on which he based his statements. The newspapers caught Mr. Anagnos's spirit and exaggerated a hundred-fold. In a year after she first went to Helen Keller, Miss Sullivan found herself and her pupil the centre of a stupendous fiction. Then the educators all over the world said their say and for the most part did not help matters. There grew up a mass of controversial matter which it is amusing to read now. Teachers of the deaf proved a priori that what Miss Sullivan had done could not be, and some discredit was reflected on her statements, because they were surrounded by the vague eloquence of Mr. Anagnos. Thus the story of Helen Keller, incredible when told with moderation, had the misfortune to be heralded by exaggerated announcements, and naturally met either an ignorant credulity or an incredulous hostility.
In November 1888, another report of the Perkins Institution appeared with a second paper by Miss Sullivan, and then nothing official was published until November, 1891, when Mr. Anagnos issued the last Perkins Institution report containing anything about Helen Keller. For this report Miss Sullivan wrote the fullest and largest account she has ever written; and in this report appeared the "Frost King," which is discussed fully in a later chapter. Then the controversy waxed fiercer than ever.
Finding that other people seemed to know so much more about Helen Keller than she did, Miss Sullivan kept silent and has been silent for ten years, except for her paper in the first Volta Bureau Souvenir of Helen Keller * and the paper which, at Dr. Bell's request, she prepared in 1894 for the meeting at Chautauqua of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf. When Dr. Bell and others tell her, what is certainly true from an impersonal point of view, that she owes it to the cause of education to write what she knows, she answers very properly that she owes all her time and all her energies to her pupil.
Although Miss Sullivan is still rather amused than distressed when some one, even one of her friends, makes mistakes in published articles about her and Miss Keller, still she sees that Miss Keller's book should include all the information that the teacher could at present furnish. So she consented to the publication of extracts from letters which she wrote during the first year of her work with her pupil. These letters were written to Mrs. Sophia C. Hopkins, the only person to whom Miss Sullivan ever wrote freely. Mrs. Hopkins has been a matron at the Perkins Institution for twenty years, and during the time that Miss Sullivan was a pupil there she was like a mother to her. In these letters we have an almost weekly record of Miss Sullivan's work. Some of the details she had forgotten, as she grew more and more to generalize. Many people have thought that any attempt to find the principles of her method would be nothing but a later theory superimposed on Miss Sullivan's work. But it is evident that in these letters she was making a clear analysis of what she was doing. She was her own critic, and in spite of her later declaration, made with her modest carelessness, that she followed no particular method, she was very clearly learning from her task and phrasing at the time principles of education of unique value not only in the teaching of the deaf but in the teaching of all children. The extracts from her letters and reports form an important contribution to pedagogy, and more than justify the opinion of Dr. Daniel C. Gilman, who wrote in 1893, when he was President of Johns Hopkins University:
"I have just read...your most interesting account of the various steps you have taken in the education of your wonderful pupil, and I hope you will allow me to express my admiration for the wisdom that has guided your methods and the affection which has inspired your labours."
Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan was born at Springfield, Massachusetts. Very early in her life she became almost totally blind, and she entered the Perkins Institution October 7, 1880, when she was fourteen years old. Later her sight was partially restored.
Mr. Anagnos says in his report of 1887: "She was obliged to begin her education at the lowest and most elementary point; but she showed from the very start that she had in herself the force and capacity which insure success.... She has finally reached the goal for which she strove so bravely. The golden words that Dr. Howe uttered and the example that he left passed into her thoughts and heart and helped her on the road to usefulness; and now she stands by his side as his worthy successor in one of the most cherished branches of his work.... Miss Sullivan's talents are of the highest order."
In 1886 she graduated from the Perkins Institution. When Captain Keller applied to the director for a teacher, Mr. Anagnos recommended her. The only time she had to prepare herself for the work with her pupil was from August, 1886, when Captain Keller wrote, to February, 1887. During this time she read Dr. Howe's reports. She was further aided by the fact that during the six years of her school life she had lived in the house with Laura Bridgman. It was Dr. Howe who, by his work with Laura Bridgman, made Miss Sullivan's work possible: but it was Miss Sullivan who discovered the way to teach language to the deaf-blind.
It must be remembered that Miss Sullivan had to solve her problems unaided by previous experience or the assistance of any other teacher. During the first year of her work with Helen Keller, in which she taught her pupil language, they were in Tuscumbia; and when they came North and visited the Perkins Institution, Helen Keller was never a regular student there or subject to the discipline of the Institution. The impression that Miss Sullivan educated Helen Keller "under the direction of Mr. Anagnos" is erroneous. In the three years during which at various times Miss Keller and Miss Sullivan were guests of the Perkins Institution, the teachers there did not help Miss Sullivan, and Mr. Anagnos did not even use the manual alphabet with facility as a means of communication. Mr. Anagnos wrote in the report of the Perkins Institution, dated November, 27, 1888: "At my urgent request, Helen, accompanied by her mother and her teacher, came to the North in the last week of May, and spent several months with us as our guests.... We gladly allowed her to use freely our library of embossed books, our collection of stuffed animals, seashells, models of flowers and plants, and the rest of our apparatus for instructing the blind through the sense of touch. I do not doubt that she derived from them much pleasure and not a little profit. But whether Helen stays at home or makes visits in other parts of the country, her education is always under the immediate direction and exclusive control of her teacher. No one interferes with Miss Sullivan's plans, or shares in her tasks. She has been allowed entire freedom in the choice of means and methods for carrying on her great work; and, as we can judge by the results, she has made a most judicious and discreet use of this privilege. What the little pupil has thus far accomplished is widely known, and her wonderful attainments command general admiration; but only those who are familiar with the particulars of the grand achievement know that the credit is largely due to the intelligence, wisdom, sagacity, unremitting perseverance and unbending will of the instructress, who rescued the child from the depths of everlasting night and stillness, and watched over the different phases of her mental and moral development with maternal solicitude and enthusiastic devotion."
Here follow in order Miss Sullivan's letters and the most important passages from the reports. I have omitted from each succeeding report what has already been explained and does not need to be repeated. For the ease of the reader I have, with Miss Sullivan's consent, made the extracts run together continuously and supplied words of connection and the resulting necessary changes in syntax, and Miss Sullivan has made slight changes in the phrasing of her reports and also of her letters, which were carelessly written. I have also italicized a few important passages. Some of her opinions Miss Sullivan would like to enlarge and revise. That remains for her to do at another time. At present we have here the fullest record that has been published. The first letter is dated March 6, 1887, three days after her arrival in Tuscumbia.
...It was 6:30 when I reached Tuscumbia. I found Mrs. Keller and Mr. James Keller waiting for me. They said somebody had met every train for two days. The drive from the station to the house, a distance of one mile, was very lovely and restful. I was surprised to find Mrs. Keller a very young-looking woman, not much older than myself, I should think. Captain Keller met us in the yard and gave me a cheery welcome and a hearty handshake. My first question was, "Where is Helen?" I tried with all my might to control the eagerness that made me tremble so that I could hardly walk. As we approached the house I saw a child standing in the doorway, and Captain Keller said, "There she is. She has known all day that some one was expected, and she has been wild ever since her mother went to the station for you." I had scarcely put my foot on the steps, when she rushed toward me with such force that she would have thrown me backward if Captain Keller had not been behind me. She felt my face and dress and my bag, which she took out of my hand and tried to open. It did not open easily, and she felt carefully to see if there was a keyhole. Finding that there was, she turned to me, making the sign of turning a key and pointing to the bag. Her mother interfered at this point and showed Helen by signs that she must not touch the bag. Her face flushed, and when her mother attempted to take the bag from her, she grew very angry. I attracted her attention by showing her my watch and letting her hold it in her hand. Instantly the tempest subsided, and we went upstairs together. Here I opened the bag, and she went through it eagerly, probably expecting to find something to eat. Friends had probably brought her candy in their bags, and she expected to find some in mine. I made her understand, by pointing to a trunk in the hall and to myself and nodding my head, that I had a trunk, and then made the sign that she had used for eating, and nodded again. She understood in a flash and ran downstairs to tell her mother, by means of emphatic signs, that there was some candy in a trunk for her. She returned in a few minutes and helped me put away my things. It was too comical to see her put on my bonnet and cock her head first to one side, then the other, and look in the mirror, just as if she could see. Somehow I had expected to see a pale, delicate child–I suppose I got the idea from Dr. Howe's description of Laura Bridgman when she came to the Institution. But there's nothing pale or delicate about Helen. She is large, strong, and ruddy, and as unrestrained in her movements as a young colt. She has none of those nervous habits that are so noticeable and so distressing in blind children. Her body is well formed and vigorous, and Mrs. Keller says she has not been ill a day since the illness that deprived her of her sight and hearing. She has a fine head, and it is set on her shoulders just right. Her face is hard to describe. It is intelligent, but lacks mobility, or soul, or something. Her mouth is large and finely shaped. You see at a glance that she is blind. One eye is larger than the other, and protrudes noticeably. She rarely smiles, indeed, I have seen her smile only once or twice since I came. She is unresponsive and even impatient of caresses from any one except her mother. She is very quick-tempered and wilful, and nobody, except her brother James, has attempted to control her. The greatest problem I shall have to solve is how to discipline and control her without breaking her spirit. I shall go rather slowly at first and try to win her love. I shall not attempt to conquer her by force alone; but I shall insist on reasonable obedience from the start. One thing that impresses everybody is Helen's tireless activity. She is never still a moment. She is here, there, and everywhere. Her hands are in everything; but nothing holds her attention for long. Dear child, her restless spirit gropes in the dark. Her untaught, unsatisfied hands destroy whatever they touch because they do not know what else to do with things.
She helped me unpack my trunk when it came, and was delighted when she found the doll the little girls sent her. I thought it a good opportunity to teach her her first word. I spelled "d-o-l-l" slowly in her hand and pointed to the doll and nodded my head, which seems to be her sign for possession. Whenever anybody gives her anything, she points to it, then to herself, and nods her head. She looked puzzled and felt my hand, and I repeated the letters. She imitated them very well and pointed to the doll. Then I took the doll, meaning to give it back to her when she had made the letters; but she thought I meant to take it from her, and in an instant she was in a temper, and tried to seize the doll. I shook my head and tried to form the letters with her fingers; but she got more and more angry. I forced her into a chair and held her there until I was nearly exhausted. Then it occurred to me that it was useless to continue the struggle–I must do something to turn the current of her thoughts. I let her go, but refused to give up the doll. I went downstairs and got some cake (she is very fond of sweets). I showed Helen the cake and spelled "c-a-k-e" in her hand, holding the cake toward her. Of course she wanted it and tried to take it; but I spelled the word again and patted her hand. She made the letters rapidly, and I gave her the cake, which she ate in a great hurry, thinking, I suppose, that I might take it from her. Then I showed her the doll and spelled the word again, holding the doll toward her as I held the cake. She made the letters "d-o-l" and I made the other "l" and gave her the doll. She ran downstairs with it and could not be induced to return to my room all day.
Yesterday I gave her a sewing-card to do. I made the first row of vertical lines and let her feel it and notice that there were several rows of little holes. She began to work delightedly and finished the card in a few minutes, and did it very neatly indeed. I thought I would try another word; so I spelled "c-a-r-d." She made the "c-a," then stopped and thought, and making the sign for eating and pointing downward she pushed me toward the door, meaning that I must go downstairs for some cake. The two letters "c-a," you see, had reminded her of Friday's "lesson"–not that she had any idea that cake was the name of the thing, but it was simply a matter of association, I suppose. I finished the word "c-a-k-e" and obeyed her command. She was delighted. Then I spelled "d-o-l-l" and began to hunt for it. She follows with her hands every motion you make, and she knew that I was looking for the doll. She pointed down, meaning that the doll was downstairs. I made the signs that she had used when she wished me to go for the cake, and pushed her toward the door. She started forward, then hesitated a moment, evidently debating within herself whether she would go or not. She decided to send me instead. I shook my head and spelled "d-o-l-l" more emphatically, and opened the door for her; but she obstinately refused to obey. She had not finished the cake she was eating, and I took it away, indicating that if she brought the doll I would give her back the cake. She stood perfectly still for one long moment, her face crimson; then her desire for the cake triumphed, and she ran downstairs and brought the doll, and of course I gave her the cake, but could not persuade her to enter the room again.
She was very troublesome when I began to write this morning. She kept coming up behind me and putting her hand on the paper and into the ink-bottle. These blots are her handiwork. Finally I remembered the kindergarten beads, and set her to work stringing them. First I put on two wooden beads and one glass bead, then made her feel of the string and the two boxes of beads. She nodded and began at once to fill the string with wooden beads. I shook my head and took them all off and made her feel of the two wooden beads and the one glass bead. She examined them thoughtfully and began again. This time she put on the glass bead first and the two wooden ones next. I took them off and showed her that the two wooden ones must go on first, then the glass bead. She had no further trouble and filled the string quickly, too quickly, in fact. She tied the ends together when she had finished the string, and put the beads round her neck. I did not make the knot large enough in the next string, and the beads came off as fast as she put them on; but she solved the difficulty herself by putting the string through a bead and tying it. I thought this very clever. She amused herself with the beads until dinner-time, bringing the strings to me now and then for my approval.
My eyes are very much inflamed. I know this letter is very carelessly written. I had a lot to say, and couldn't stop to think how to express things neatly. Please do not show my letter to any one. If you want to, you may read it to my friends.
MONDAY, P. M.
I had a battle royal with Helen this morning. Although I try very hard not to force issues, I find it very difficult to avoid them.
Helen's table manners are appalling. She puts her hands in our plates and helps herself, and when the dishes are passed, she grabs them and takes out whatever she wants. This morning I would not let her put her hand in my plate. She persisted, and a contest of wills followed. Naturally the family was much disturbed, and left the room. I locked the dining-room door, and proceeded to eat my breakfast, though the food almost choked me. Helen was lying on the floor, kicking and screaming and trying to pull my chair from under me. She kept this up for half an hour, then she got up to see what I was doing. I let her see that I was eating, but did not let her put her hand in the plate. She pinched me, and I slapped her every time she did it. Then she went all round the table to see who was there, and finding no one but me, she seemed bewildered. After a few minutes she came back to her place and began to eat her breakfast with her fingers. I gave her a spoon, which she threw on the floor. I forced her out of the chair and made her pick it up. Finally I succeeded in getting her back in her chair again, and held the spoon in her hand, compelling her to take up the food with it and put it in her mouth. In a few minutes she yielded and finished her breakfast peaceably. Then we had another tussle over folding her napkin. When she had finished, she threw it on the floor and ran toward the door. Finding it locked, she began to kick and scream all over again. It was another hour before I succeeded in getting her napkin folded. Then I let her out in the warm sunshine and went up to my room and threw myself on the bed exhausted. I had a good cry and felt better. I suppose I shall have many such battles with the little woman before she learns the only two essential things I can teach her, obedience and love.
Good-by, dear. Don't worry; I'll do my best and leave the rest to whatever power manages that which we cannot. I like Mrs. Keller very much.
TUSCUMBIA, ALABAMA, March 11,1887.
Since I wrote you, Helen and I have gone to live all by ourselves in a little garden-house about a quarter of a mile from her home, only a short distance from Ivy Green, the Keller homestead. I very soon made up my mind that I could do nothing with Helen in the midst of the family, who have always allowed her to do exactly as she pleased. She has tyrannized over everybody, her mother, her father, the servants, the little darkies who play with her, and nobody had ever seriously disputed her will, except occasionally her brother James, until I came; and like all tyrants she holds tenaciously to her divine right to do as she pleases. If she ever failed to get what she wanted, it was because of her inability to make the vassals of her household understand what it was. Every thwarted desire was the signal for a passionate outburst, and as she grew older and stronger, these tempests became more violent. As I began to teach her, I was beset by many difficulties. She wouldn't yield a point without contesting it to the bitter end. I couldn't coax her or compromise with her. To get her to do the simplest thing, such as combing her hair or washing her hands or buttoning her boots, it was necessary to use force, and, of course, a distressing scene followed. The family naturally felt inclined to interfere, especially her father, who cannot bear to see her cry. So they were all willing to give in for the sake of peace. Besides, her past experiences and associations were all against me. I saw clearly that it was useless to try to teach her language or anything else until she learned to obey me. I have thought about it a great deal, and the more I think, the more certain I am that obedience is the gateway through which knowledge, yes, and love, too, enter the mind of the child. As I wrote you, I meant to go slowly at first. I had an idea that I could win the love and confidence of my little pupil by the same means that I should use if she could see and hear. But I soon found that I was cut off from all the usual approaches to the child's heart. She accepted everything I did for her as a matter of course, and refused to be caressed, and there was no way of appealing to her affection or sympathy or childish love of approbation. She would or she wouldn't, and there was an end of it. Thus it is, we study, plan and prepare ourselves for a task, and when the hour for action arrives, we find that the system we have followed with such labour and pride does not fit the occasion; and then there's nothing for us to do but rely on something within us, some innate capacity for knowing and doing, which we did not know we possessed until the hour of our great need brought it to light.
I had a good, frank talk with Mrs. Keller, and explained to her how difficult it was going to be to do anything with Helen under the existing circumstances. I told her that in my opinion the child ought to be separated from the family for a few weeks at least–that she must learn to depend on and obey me before I could make any headway. After a long time Mrs. Keller said that she would think the matter over and see what Captain Keller thought of sending Helen away with me. Captain Keller fell in with the scheme most readily and suggested that the little garden-house at the "old place" be got ready for us. He said that Helen might recognize the place, as she had often been there; but she would have no idea of her surroundings, and they could come every day to see that all was going well, with the understanding, of course, that she was to know nothing of their visits. I hurried the preparations for our departure as much as possible, and here we are.
The little house is a genuine bit of paradise. It consists of one large square room with a great fireplace, a spacious bay-window, and a small room where our servant, a little negro boy, sleeps. There is a piazza in front, covered with vines that grow so luxuriantly that you have to part them to see the garden beyond. Our meals are brought from the house, and we usually eat on the piazza. The little negro boy takes care of the fire when we need one; so I can give my whole attention to Helen.
She was greatly excited at first, and kicked and screamed herself into a sort of stupor; but when supper was brought she ate heartily and seemed brighter, although she refused to let me touch her. She devoted herself to her dolls the first evening, and when it was bedtime she undressed very quietly; but when she felt me get into bed with her, she jumped out on the other side, and nothing that I could do would induce her to get in again. But I was afraid she would take cold, and I insisted that she must go to bed. We had a terrific tussle, I can tell you. The struggle lasted for nearly two hours. I never saw such strength and endurance in a child. But fortunately for us both, I am a little stronger, and quite as obstinate when I set out. I finally succeeded in getting her on the bed and covered her up, and she lay curled up as near the edge of the bed as possible.
The next morning she was very docile, but evidently homesick. She kept going to the door, as if she expected some one, and every now and then she would touch her cheek, which is her sign for her mother, and shake her head sadly. She played with her dolls more than usual, and would have nothing to do with me. It is amusing and pathetic to see Helen with her dolls. I don't think she has any special tenderness for them–I have never seen her caress them; but she dresses and undresses them many times during the day and handles them exactly as she has seen her mother and the nurse handle her baby sister.
This morning Nancy, her favourite doll, seemed to have some difficulty about swallowing the milk that was being administered to her in large spoonfuls; for Helen suddenly put down the cup and began to slap her on the back and turn her over on her knees, trotting her gently and patting her softly all the time. This lasted for several minutes; then this mood passed, and Nancy was thrown ruthlessly on the floor and pushed to one side, while a large, pink-cheeked, fuzzy-haired member of the family received the little mother's undivided attention.
Helen knows several words now, but has no idea how to use them, or that everything has a name. I think, however, she will learn quickly enough by and by. As I have said before, she is wonderfully bright and active and as quick as lightning in her movements.
March 13, 1887.
You will be glad to hear that my experiment is working out finely. I have not had any trouble at all with Helen, either yesterday or to-day. She has learned three new words, and when I give her the objects, the names of which she has learned, she spells them unhesitatingly; but she seems glad when the lesson is over.
We had a good frolic this morning out in the garden. Helen evidently knew where she was as soon as she touched the boxwood hedges and made many signs which I did not understand. No doubt they were signs for the different members of the family at Ivy Green.
I have just heard something that surprised me very much. It seems that Mr. Anagnos had heard of Helen before he received Captain Keller's letter last summer. Mr. Wilson, a teacher at Florence, and a friend of the Keller's, studied at Harvard the summer before and went to the Perkins Institution to learn if anything could be done for his friend's child. He saw a gentleman whom he presumed to be the director, and told him about Helen. He says the gentleman was not particularly interested, but said he would see if anything could be done. Doesn't it seem strange that Mr. Anagnos never referred to this interview?
March 20, 1887.
My heart is singing for joy this morning. A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil's mind, and behold, all things are changed!
The wild little creature of two weeks ago has been transformed into a gentle child. She is sitting by me as I write, her face serene and happy, crocheting a long red chain of Scotch wool. She learned the stitch this week, and is very proud of the achievement. When she succeeded in making a chain that would reach across the room, she patted herself on the arm and put the first work of her hands lovingly against her cheek. She lets me kiss her now, and when she is in a particularly gentle mood, she will sit in my lap for a minute or two; but she does not return my caresses. The great step–the step that counts–has been taken. The little savage has learned her first lesson in obedience, and finds the yoke easy. It now remains my pleasant task to direct and mould the beautiful intelligence that is beginning to stir in the child-soul. Already people remark the change in Helen. Her father looks in at us morning and evening as he goes to and from his office, and sees her contentedly stringing her beads or making horizontal lines on her sewing-card, and exclaims, "How quiet she is!" When I came, her movements were so insistent that one always felt there was something unnatural and almost weird about her. I have noticed also that she eats much less, a fact which troubles her father so much that he is anxious to get her home. He says she is homesick. I don't agree with him; but I suppose we shall have to leave our little bower very soon.
Helen has learned several nouns this week. "M-u-g" and "m-i-l-k," have given her more trouble than other words. When she spells "milk," she points to the mug, and when she spells "mug," she makes the sign for pouring or drinking, which shows that she has confused the words. She has no idea yet that everything has a name.
Yesterday I had the little negro boy come in when Helen was having her lesson, and learn the letters, too. This pleased her very much and stimulated her ambition to excel Percy. She was delighted if he made a mistake, and made him form the letter over several times. When he succeeded in forming it to suit her, she patted him on his woolly head so vigorously that I thought some of his slips were intentional.
One day this week Captain Keller brought Belle, a setter of which he is very proud, to see us. He wondered if Helen would recognize her old playmate. Helen was giving Nancy a bath, and didn't notice the dog at first. She usually feels the softest step and throws out her arms to ascertain if any one is near her. Belle didn't seem very anxious to attract her attention. I imagine she has been rather roughly handled sometimes by her little mistress. The dog hadn't been in the room more than half a minute, however, before Helen began to sniff, and dumped the doll into the wash-bowl and felt about the room. She stumbled upon Belle, who was crouching near the window where Captain Keller was standing. It was evident that she recognized the dog; for she put her arms round her neck and squeezed her. Then Helen sat down by her and began to manipulate her claws. We couldn't think for a second what she was doing; but when we saw her make the letters "d-o-l-l" on her own fingers, we knew that she was trying to teach Belle to spell.
March 28, 1887.
Helen and I came home yesterday. I am sorry they wouldn't let us stay another week; but I think I have made the most I could of the opportunities that were mine the past two weeks, and I don't expect that I shall have any serious trouble with Helen in the future. The back of the greatest obstacle in the path of progress is broken. I think "no" and "yes," conveyed by a shake or nod of my head, have become facts as apparent to her as hot and cold or as the difference between pain and pleasure. And I don't intend that the lesson she has learned at the cost of so much pain and trouble shall be unlearned. I shall stand between her and the over-indulgence of her parents. I have told Captain and Mrs. Keller that they must not interfere with me in any way. I have done my best to make them see the terrible injustice to Helen of allowing her to have her way in everything, and I have pointed out that the processes of teaching the child that everything cannot be as he wills it, are apt to be painful both to him and to his teacher. They have promised to let me have a free hand and help me as much as possible. The improvement they cannot help seeing in their child has given them more confidence in me. Of course, it is hard for them. I realize that it hurts to see their afflicted little child punished and made to do things against her will. Only a few hours after my talk with Captain and Mrs. Keller (and they had agreed to everything), Helen took a notion that she wouldn't use her napkin at table. I think she wanted to see what would happen. I attempted several times to put the napkin round her neck; but each time she tore it off and threw it on the floor and finally began to kick the table. I took her plate away and started to take her out of the room. Her father objected and said that no child of his should be deprived of his food on any account.
Helen didn't come up to my room after supper, and I didn't see her again until breakfast-time. She was at her place when I came down. She had put the napkin under her chin, instead of pinning it at the back, as was her custom. She called my attention to the new arrangement, and when I did not object she seemed pleased and patted herself. When she left the dining-room, she took my hand and patted it. I wondered if she was trying to "make up." I thought I would try the effect of a little belated discipline. I went back to the dining-room and got a napkin. When Helen came upstairs for her lesson, I arranged the objects on the table as usual, except that the cake, which I always give her in bits as a reward when she spells a word quickly and correctly, was not there. She noticed this at once and made the sign for it. I showed her the napkin and pinned it round her neck, then tore it off and threw it on the floor and shook my head. I repeated this performance several times. I think she understood perfectly well; for she slapped her hand two or three times and shook her head. We began the lesson as usual. I gave her an object, and she spelled the name (she knows twelve now). After spelling half the words, she stopped suddenly, as if a thought had flashed into her mind, and felt for the napkin. She pinned it round her neck and made the sign for cake (it didn't occur to her to spell the word, you see). I took this for a promise that if I gave her some cake she would be a good girl. I gave her a larger piece than usual, and she chuckled and patted herself.
April 3, 1887.
We almost live in the garden, where everything is growing and blooming and glowing. After breakfast we go out and watch the men at work. Helen loves to dig and play in the dirt like any other child. This morning she planted her doll and showed me that she expected her to grow as tall as I. You must see that she is very bright, but you have no idea how cunning she is.
At ten we come in and string beads for a few minutes. She can make a great many combinations now, and often invents new ones herself. Then I let her decide whether she will sew or knit or crochet. She learned to knit very quickly, and is making a wash-cloth for her mother. Last week she made her doll an apron, and it was done as well as any child of her age could do it. But I am always glad when this work is over for the day. Sewing and crocheting are inventions of the devil, I think. I'd rather break stones on the king's highway than hem a handkerchief. At eleven we have gymnastics. She knows all the free-hand movements and the "Anvil Chorus" with the dumb-bells. Her father says he is going to fit up a gymnasium for her in the pump-house; but we both like a good romp better than set exercises. The hour from twelve to one is devoted to the learning of new words. But you mustn't think this is the only time I spell to Helen; for I spell in her hand everything we do all day long, although she has no idea as yet what the spelling means. After dinner I rest for an hour, and Helen plays with her dolls or frolics in the yard with the little darkies, who were her constant companions before I came. Later I join them, and we make the rounds of the outhouses. We visit the horses and mules in their stalls and hunt for eggs and feed the turkeys. Often, when the weather is fine, we drive from four to six, or go to see her aunt at Ivy Green or her cousins in the town. Helen's instincts are decidedly social; she likes to have people about her and to visit her friends, partly, I think, because they always have things she likes to eat. After supper we go to my room and do all sorts of things until eight, when I undress the little woman and put her to bed. She sleeps with me now. Mrs. Keller wanted to get a nurse for her; but I concluded I'd rather be her nurse than look after a stupid, lazy negress. Besides, I like to have Helen depend on me for everything, and I find it much easier to teach her things at odd moments than at set times.
On March 31st I found Helen knew eighteen nouns and three verbs. Here is a list of the words. Those with a cross after them are words she asked for herself: Doll, mug, pin, key, dog, hat, cup, box, water, milk, candy, eye (x), finger (x), toe (x), head (x), cake, baby, mother, sit, stand, walk. On April 1st she learned the nouns knife, fork, spoon, saucer, tea, papa; bed, and the verb run.
April 5, 1887.
I must write you a line this morning because something very important has happened. Helen has taken the second great step in her education. She has learned that everything has a name, and that the manual alphabet is the key to everything she wants to know.
In a previous letter I think I wrote you that "mug" and "milk" had given Helen more trouble than all the rest. She confused the nouns with the verb "drink." She didn't know the word for "drink," but went through the pantomime of drinking whenever she spelled "mug" or "milk." This morning, while she was washing, she wanted to know the name for "water." When she wants to know the name of anything, she points to it and pats my hand. I spelled "w-a-t-e-r" and thought no more about it until after breakfast. Then it occurred to me that with the help of this new word I might succeed in straightening out the "mug-milk" difficulty. We went out to the pump-house, and I made Helen hold her mug under the spout while I pumped. As the cold water gushed forth, filling the mug, I spelled "w-a-t-e-r" in Helen's free hand. The word coming so close upon the sensation of cold water rushing over her hand seemed to startle her. She dropped the mug and stood as one transfixed. A new light came into her face. She spelled "water" several times. Then she dropped on the ground and asked for its name and pointed to the pump and the trellis, and suddenly turning round she asked for my name. I spelled "Teacher." Just then the nurse brought Helen's little sister into the pump-house, and Helen spelled "baby" and pointed to the nurse. All the way back to the house she was highly excited, and learned the name of every object she touched, so that in a few hours she had added thirty new words to her vocabulary. Here are some of them: Door, open, shut, give, go, come, and a great many more.
P. S.–I didn't finish my letter in time to get it posted last night; so I shall add a line. Helen got up this morning like a radiant fairy. She has flitted from object to object, asking the name of everything and kissing me for very gladness. Last night when I got in bed, she stole into my arms of her own accord and kissed me for the first timer, and I thought my heart would burst, so full was it of joy.
April 10, 1887.
I see an improvement in Helen day to day, almost from hour to hour. Everything must have a name now. Wherever we go, she asks eagerly for the names of things she has not learned at home. She is anxious for her friends to spell, and eager to teach the letters to every one she meets. She drops the signs and pantomime she used before, as soon as she has words to supply their place, and the acquirement of a new word affords her the liveliest pleasure. And we notice that her face grows more expressive each day.
I have decided not to try to have regular lessons for the present. I am going to treat Helen exactly like a two-year-old child. It occurred to me the other day that it is absurd to require a child to come to a certain place at a certain time and recite certain lessons, when he has not yet acquired a working vocabulary. I sent Helen away and sat down to think. I asked myself, "How does a normal child learn language? " The answer was simple, "By imitation." The child comes into the world with the ability to learn, and he learns of himself, provided he is supplied with sufficient outward stimulus. He sees people do things, and he tries to do them. He hears others speak, and he tries to speak. But long before he utters his first word, he understands what is said to him. I have been observing Helen's little cousin lately. She is about fifteen months old, and already understands a great deal. In response to questions she points out prettily her nose, mouth, eye, chin, cheek, ear. If I say, "Where is baby's other ear?" she points it out correctly. If I hand her a flower, and say, "Give it to mamma," she takes it to her mother. If I say, "Where is the little rogue?" she hides behind her mother's chair, or covers her face with her hands and peeps out at me with an expression of genuine roguishness. She obeys many commands like these: "Come," "Kiss," "Go to papa," "Shut the door," "Give me the biscuit." But I have not heard her try to say any of these words, although they have been repeated hundreds of times in her hearing, and it is perfectly evident that she understands them. These observations have given me a clue to the method to be followed in teaching Helen language. I shall talk into her hand as we talk into the baby's ears. I shall assume that she has the normal child's capacity of assimilation and imitation. I shall use complete sentences in talking to her, and fill out the meaning with gestures and her descriptive signs when necessity requires it; but I shall not try to keep her mind fixed on any one thing. I shall do all I can to interest and stimulate it, and wait for results.
April 24, 1887.
The new scheme works splendidly. Helen knows the meaning of more than a hundred words now, and learns new ones daily without the slightest suspicion that she is performing a most difficult feat. She learns because she can't help it, just as the bird learns to fly. But don't imagine that she "talks fluently." Like her baby cousin, she expresses whole sentences by single words. "Milk," with a gesture means, "Give me more milk." "Mother," accompanied by an inquiring look, means, "Where is mother?" "Go" means, "I want to go out." But when I spell into her hand, "Give me some bread," she hands me the bread, or if I say, "Get your hat and we will go to walk," she obeys instantly. The two words, "hat" and "walk" would have the same effect; but the whole sentence, repeated many times during the day, must in time impress itself upon the brain, and by and by she will use it herself.
We play a little game which I find most useful in developing the intellect, and which incidentally answers the purpose of a language lesson. It is an adaptation of hide-the-thimble. I hide something, a ball or a spool, and we hunt for it. When we first played this game two or three days ago, she showed no ingenuity at all in finding the object. She looked in places where it would have been impossible to put the ball or the spool. For instance, when I hid the ball, she looked under her writing-board. Again, when I hid the spool, she looked for it in a little box not more than an inch long; and she very soon gave up the search. Now I can keep her interest in the game for an hour or longer, and she shows much more intelligence, and often great ingenuity in the search. This morning I hid a cracker. She looked everywhere she could think of without success, and was evidently in despair when suddenly a thought struck her, and she came running to me and made me open my mouth very wide, while she gave it a thorough investigation. Finding no trace of the cracker there, she pointed to my stomach and spelled "eat," meaning, "Did you eat it?"
Friday we went down town and met a gentleman who gave Helen some candy, which she ate, except one small piece which she put in her apron pocket. When we reached home, she found her mother, and of her own accord said, "Give baby candy." Mrs. Keller spelled, "No–baby eat–no." Helen went to the cradle and felt of Mildred's mouth and pointed to her own teeth. Mrs. Keller spelled "teeth." Helen shook her head and spelled "Baby teeth–no, baby eat–no," meaning of course, "Baby cannot eat because she has no teeth."
May 8, 1887.
No, I don't want any more kindergarten materials. I used my little stock of beads, cards and straws at first because I didn't know what else to do; but the need for them is past, for the present at any rate.
I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of colored paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of, before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.
Helen is learning adjectives and adverbs as easily as she learned nouns. The idea always precedes the word. She had signs for small and large long before I came to her. If she wanted a small object and was given a large one, she would shake her head and take up a tiny bit of the skin of one hand between the thumb and finger of the other. If she wanted to indicate something large, she spread the fingers of both hands as wide as she could, and brought them together, as if to clasp a big ball. The other day I substituted the words small and large for these signs, and she at once adopted the words and discarded the signs. I can now tell her to bring me a large book or a small plate, to go upstairs slowly, to run fast and to walk quickly. This morning she used the conjunction and for the first time. I told her to shut the door, and she added, "and lock."
She came tearing upstairs a few minutes ago in a state of great excitement. I couldn't make out at first what it was all about. She kept spelling "dog–baby" and pointing to her five fingers one after another, and sucking them. My first thought was, one of the dogs has hurt Mildred; but Helen's beaming face set my fears at rest. Nothing would do but I must go somewhere with her to see something. She led the way to the pump-house, and there in the corner was one of the setters with five dear little pups! I taught her the word "puppy" and drew her hand over them all, while they sucked, and spelled "puppies." She was much interested in the feeding process, and spelled "mother-dog" and "baby" several times. Helen noticed that the puppies' eyes were closed, and she said, "Eyes–shut. Sleep–no," meaning, "The eyes are shut, but the puppies are not asleep." She screamed with glee when the little things squealed and squirmed in their efforts to get back to their mother, and spelled, "Baby–eat large." I suppose her idea was "Baby eats much." She pointed to each puppy, one after another, and to her five fingers, and I taught her the word five. Then she held up one finger and said "baby." I knew she was thinking of Mildred, and I spelled, "One baby and five puppies." After she had played with them a little while, the thought occurred to her that the puppies must have special names, like people, and she asked for the name of each pup. I told her to ask her father, and she said, "No–mother." She evidently thought mothers were more likely to know about babies of all sorts. She noticed that one of the puppies was much smaller than the others, and she spelled "small," making the sign at the same time, and I said "very small." She evidently understood that very was the name of the new thing that had come into her head; for all the way back to the house she used the word very correctly. One stone was "small," another was "very small." When she touched her little sister, she said: "Baby–small. Puppy–very small." Soon after, she began to vary her steps from large to small, and little mincing steps were "very small." She is going through the house now, applying the new words to all kinds of objects.
Since I have abandoned the idea of regular lessons, I find that Helen learns much faster. I am convinced that the time spent by the teacher in digging out of the child what she has put into him, for the sake of satisfying herself that it has taken root, is so much time thrown away. It's much better, I think, to assume that the child is doing his part, and that the seed you have sown will bear fruit in due time. It's only fair to the child, anyhow, and it saves you much unnecessary trouble.
May 16, 1887.
We have begun to take long walks every morning, immediately after breakfast. The weather is fine, and the air is full of the scent of strawberries. Our objective point is Keller's Landing, on the Tennessee, about two miles distant. We never know how we get there, or where we are at a given moment; but that only adds to our enjoyment, especially when everything is new and strange. Indeed, I feel as if I had never seen anything until now, Helen finds so much to ask about along the way. We chase butterflies, and sometimes catch one. Then we sit down under a tree, or in the shade of a bush, and talk about it. Afterwards, if it has survived the lesson, we let it go; but usually its life and beauty are sacrificed on the altar of learning, though in another sense it lives forever; for has it not been transformed into living thoughts? It is wonderful how words generate ideas! Every new word Helen learns seems to carry with it necessity for many more. Her mind grows through its ceaseless activity.
Keller's Landing was used during the war to land troops, but has long since gone to pieces, and is overgrown with moss and weeds. The solitude of the place sets one dreaming. Near the landing there is a beautiful little spring, which Helen calls "squirrel-cup," because I told her the squirrels came there to drink. She has felt dead squirrels and rabbits and other wild animals, and is anxious to see a "walk-squirrel," which interpreted, means, I think, a "live squirrel." We go home about dinner-time usually, and Helen is eager to tell her mother everything she has seen. This desire to repeat what has been told her shows a marked advance in the development of her intellect, and is an invaluable stimulus to the acquisition of language. I ask all her friends to encourage her to tell them of her doings, and to manifest as much curiosity and pleasure in her little adventures as they possibly can. This gratifies the child's love of approbation and keeps up her interest in things. This is the basis of real intercourse. She makes many mistakes, of course, twists words and phrases, puts the cart before the horse, and gets herself into hopeless tangles of nouns and verbs; but so does the hearing child. I am sure these difficulties will take care of themselves. The impulse to tell is the important thing. I supply a word here and there, sometimes a sentence, and suggest something which she has omitted or forgotten. Thus her vocabulary grows apace, and the new words germinate and bring forth new ideas; and they are the stuff out of which heaven and earth are made.
May 22, 1887.
My work grows more absorbing and interesting every day. Helen is a wonderful child, so spontaneous and eager to learn. She knows about 300 words now and a great many common idioms, and it is not three months yet since she learned her first word. It is a rare privilege to watch the birth, growth, and first feeble struggles of a living mind; this privilege is mine; and moreover, it is given me to rouse and guide this bright intelligence.
If only I were better fitted for the great task! I feel every day more and more inadequate. My mind is full of ideas; but I cannot get them into working shape. You see, my mind is undisciplined, full of skips and jumps, and here and there a lot of things huddled together in dark corners. How I long to put it in order! Oh, if only there were some one to help me! I need a teacher quite as much as Helen. I know that the education of this child will be the distinguishing event of my life, if I have the brains and perseverance to accomplish it. I have made up my mind about one thing: Helen must learn to use books–indeed, we must both learn to use them, and that reminds me–will you please ask Mr. Anagnos to get me Perez's and Sully's Psychologies? I think I shall find them helpful.
We have reading lessons every day. Usually we take one of the little "Readers" up in a big tree near the house and spend an hour or two finding the words Helen already knows. We make a sort of game of it and try to see who can find the words most quickly, Helen with her fingers, or I with my eyes, and she learns as many new words as I can explain with the help of those she knows. When her fingers light upon words she knows, she fairly screams with pleasure and hugs and kisses me for joy, especially if she thinks she has me beaten. It would astonish you to see how many words she learns in an hour in the pleasant manner. Afterward I put the new words into little sentences in the frame, and sometimes it is possible to tell a little story about a bee or a cat or a little boy in this way. I can now tell her to go upstairs or down, out of doors or into the house, lock or unlock a door, take or bring objects, sit, stand, walk, run, lie, creep, roll, or climb. She is delighted with action-words; so it is no trouble at all to teach her verbs. She is always ready for a lesson, and the eagerness with which she absorbs ideas is very delightful. She is as triumphant over the conquest of a sentence as a general who has captured the enemy's stronghold.
One of Helen's old habits, that is strongest and hardest to correct, is a tendency to break things. If she finds anything in her way, she flings it on the floor, no matter what it is: a glass, a pitcher or even a lamp. She has a great many dolls, and every one of them has been broken in a fit of temper or ennui. The other day a friend brought her a new doll from Memphis, and I thought I would see if I could make Helen understand that she must not break it. I made her go through the motion of knocking the doll's head on the table and spelled to her: "No, no, Helen is naughty. Teacher is sad," and let her feel the grieved expression on my face. Then I made her caress the doll and kiss the hurt spot and hold it gently in her arms, and I spelled to her, "Good Helen, teacher is happy," and let her feel the smile on my face. She went through these motions several times, mimicking every movement, then she stood very still for a moment with a troubled look on her face, which suddenly cleared, and she spelled, "Good Helen," and wreathed her face in a very large, artificial smile. Then she carried the doll upstairs and put it on the top shelf of the wardrobe, and she has not touched it since.
Please give my kind regards to Mr. Anagnos and let him see my letter, if you think best. I hear there is a deaf and blind child being educated at the Baltimore Institution.
June 2, 1887.
The weather is scorching. We need rain badly. We are all troubled about Helen. She is very nervous and excitable. She is restless at night and has no appetite. It is hard to know what to do with her. The doctor says her mind is too active; but how are we to keep her from thinking? She begins to spell the minute she wakes up in the morning, and continues all day long. If I refuse to talk to her, she spells into her own hand, and apparently carries on the liveliest conversation with herself.
I gave her my braille slate to play with, thinking that the mechanical pricking of holes in the paper would amuse her and rest her mind. But what was my astonishment when I found that the little witch was writing letters! I had no idea she knew what a letter was. She has often gone with me to the post-office to mail letters, and I suppose I have repeated to her things I wrote to you. She knew, too, that I sometimes write "letters to blind girls" on the slate; but I didn't suppose that she had any clear idea what a letter was. One day she brought me a sheet that she had punched full of holes, and wanted to put it in an envelope and take it to the post-office. She said, "Frank–letter." I asked her what she had written to Frank. She replied, "Much words. Puppy motherdog–five. Baby–cry. Hot. Helen walk–no. Sunfire–bad. Frank–come. Helen–kiss Frank. Strawberries–very good."
Helen is almost as eager to read as she is to talk. I find she grasps the import of whole sentences, catching from the context the meaning of words she doesn't know; and her eager questions indicate the outward reaching of her mind and its unusual powers.
The other night when I went to bed, I found Helen sound asleep with a big book clasped tightly in her arms. She had evidently been reading, and fallen asleep. When I asked her about it in the morning, she said, "Book–cry," and completed her meaning by shaking and other signs of fear. I taught her the word afraid, and she said: "Helen is not afraid. Book is afraid. Book will sleep with girl." I told her that the book wasn't afraid, and must sleep in its case, and that "girl" mustn't read in bed. She looked very roguish, and apparently understood that I saw through her ruse.
I am glad Mr. Anagnos thinks so highly of me as a teacher. But "genius" and "originality" are words we should not use lightly. If, indeed, they apply to me even remotely, I do not see that I deserve any laudation on that account.
And right here I want to say something which is for your ears alone. Something within me tells me that I shall succeed beyond my dreams. Were it not for some circumstances that make such an idea highly improbable, even absurd, I should think Helen's education would surpass in interest and wonder Dr. Howe's achievement. I know that she has remarkable powers, and I believe that I shall be able to develop and mold them. I cannot tell how I know these things. I had no idea a short time ago how to go to work; I was feeling about in the dark; but somehow I know now, and I know that I know. I cannot explain it; but when difficulties arise, I am not perplexed or doubtful. I know how to meet them; I seem to divine Helen's peculiar needs. It is wonderful.
Already people are taking a deep interest in Helen. No one can see her without being impressed. She is no ordinary child, and people's interest in her education will be no ordinary interest. Therefore let us be exceedingly careful what we say and write about her. I shall write freely to you and tell you everything, on one condition: It is this: you must promise never to show my letters to any one. My beautiful Helen shall not be transformed into a prodigy if I can help it.
June 5, 1887.
The heat makes Helen languid and quiet. Indeed, the Tophetic weather has reduced us all to a semi-liquid state. Yesterday Helen took off her clothes and sat in her skin all the afternoon. When the sun got round to the window where she was sitting with her book, she got up impatiently and shut the window. But when the sun came in just the same, she came over to me with a grieved look and spelled emphatically: "Sun is bad boy. Sun must go to bed."
She is the dearest, cutest little thing now, and so loving! One day, when I wanted her to bring me some water, she said: "Legs very tired. Legs cry much."
She is much interested in some little chickens that are pecking their way into the world this morning. I let her hold a shell in her hand, and feel the chicken "chip, chip." Her astonishment, when she felt the tiny creature inside, cannot be put in a letter. The hen was very gentle, and made no objection to our investigations. Besides the chickens, we have several other additions to the family–two calves, a colt, and a penful of funny little pigs. You would be amused to see me hold a squealing pig in my arms, while Helen feels it all over, and asks countless questions–questions not easy to answer either. After seeing the chicken come out of the egg, she asked: "Did baby pig grow in egg? Where are many shells?"
Helen's head measures twenty and one-half inches, and mine measures twenty-one and one-half inches. You see, I'm only one inch ahead!
June 12, 1887.
The weather continues hot. Helen is about the same–pale and thin; but you mustn't think she is really ill. I am sure the heat, and not the natural, beautiful activity of her mind, is responsible for her condition. Of course, I shall not overtax her brain. We are bothered a good deal by people who assume the responsibility of the world when God is neglectful. They tell us that Helen is "overdoing," that her mind is too active (these very people thought she had no mind at all a few months ago!) and suggest many absurd and impossible remedies. But so far nobody seems to have thought of chloroforming her, which is, I think, the only effective way of stopping the natural exercise of her faculties. It's queer how ready people always are with advice in any real or imaginary emergency, and no matter how many times experience has shown them to be wrong, they continue to set forth their opinions, as if they had received them from the Almighty!
I am teaching Helen the square-hand letters as a sort of diversion. It gives her something to do, and keeps her quiet, which I think is desirable while this enervating weather lasts. She has a perfect mania for counting. She has counted everything in the house, and is now busy counting the words in her primer. I hope it will not occur to her to count the hairs of her head. If she could see and hear, I suppose she would get rid of her superfluous energy in ways which would not, perhaps, tax her brain so much, although I suspect that the ordinary child takes his play pretty seriously. The little fellow who whirls his "New York Flyer" round the nursery, making "horseshoe curves" undreamed of by less imaginative engineers, is concentrating his whole soul on his toy locomotive.
She just came to say, with a worried expression, "Girl–not count very large (many) words." I said, "No, go and play with Nancy." This suggestion didn't please her, however; for she replied, "No. Nancy is very sick." I asked what was the matter, and she said, "Much (many) teeth do make Nancy sick." (Mildred is teething.)
I happened to tell her the other day that the vine on the fence was a "creeper." She was greatly amused, and began at once to find analogies between her movements and those of the plants. They run, creep, hop and skip, bend, fall, climb, and swing; but she tells me roguishly that she is "walk-plant."
Helen held some worsted for me last night while I wound it. Afterward she began to swing round and round, spelling to herself all the time, "Wind fast, wind slow," and apparently enjoying her conceit very much.
June 15, 1887.
We had a glorious thunder-tempest last night, and it's much cooler to-day. We all feel refreshed, as if we'd had a shower-bath. Helen's as lively as a cricket. She wanted to know if men were shooting in the sky when she felt the thunder, and if the trees and flowers drank all the rain.
June 19, 1887*
My little pupil continues to manifest the same eagerness to learn as at first. Her every waking moment is spent in the endeavor to satisfy her innate desire for knowledge, and her mind works so incessantly that we have feared for her health. But her appetite, which left her a few weeks ago, has returned, and her sleep seems more quiet and natural. She will be seven years old the twenty-seventh of this month. Her height is four feet one inch, and her head measures twenty and one-half inches in circumference, the line being drawn round the head so as to pass over the prominences of the parietal and frontal bones. Above this line the head rises one and one-fourth inches.
During our walks she keeps up a continual spelling, and delights to accompany it with actions such as skipping, hopping, jumping, running, walking fast, walking slow, and the like. When she drops stitches she says, "Helen wrong, teacher will cry." If she wants water she says, "Give Helen drink water." She knows four hundred words besides numerous proper nouns. In one lesson I taught her these words: bedstead, mattress, sheet, blanket, comforter, spread, pillow. The next day I found that she remembered all but spread. The same day she had learned, at different times, the words: house, weed, dust, swing, molasses, fast, slow, maple-sugar and counter, and she had not forgotten one of these last. This will give you an idea of the retentive memory she possesses. She can count to thirty very quickly, and can write seven of the square-hand letters and the words which can be made with them. She seems to understand about writing letters, and is impatient to "write Frank letter." She enjoys punching holes in paper with the stiletto, and I supposed it was because she could examine the result of her work; but we watched her one day, and I was much surprised to find that she imagined she was writing a letter. She would spell "Eva" (a cousin of whom she is very fond) with one hand, then make believe to write it; then spell, "sick in bed," and write that. She kept this up for nearly an hour. She was (or imagined she was) putting on paper the things which had interested her. When she had finished the letter she carried it to her mother and spelled, "Frank letter," and gave it to her brother to take to the post-office. She had been with me to take letters to the post-office.
She recognizes instantly a person whom she has once met, and spells the name. Unlike Laura Bridgman, she is fond of gentlemen, and we notice that she makes friends with a gentleman sooner than with a lady.
She is always ready to share whatever she has with those about her, often keeping but very little for herself. She is very fond of dress and of all kinds of finery, and is very unhappy when she finds a hole in anything she is wearing. She will insist on having her hair put in curl papers when she is so sleepy she can scarcely stand. She discovered a hole in her boot the other morning, and after breakfast, she went to her father and spelled, "Helen new boot Simpson (her brother) buggy store man." One can easily see her meaning.
July 3, 1887.
There was a great rumpus downstairs this morning. I heard Helen screaming, and ran down to see what was the matter. I found her in a terrible passion. I had hoped this would never happen again. She has been so gentle and obedient the past two months, I thought love had subdued the lion; but it seems he was only sleeping. At all events, there she was, tearing and scratching and biting Viney like some wild thing. It seems Viney had attempted to take a glass, which Helen was filling with stones, fearing that she would break it. Helen resisted, and Viney tried to force it out of her hand, and I suspect that she slapped the child, or did something which caused this unusual outburst of temper. When I took her hand she was trembling violently, and began to cry. I asked what was the matter, and she spelled: "Viney–bad," and began to slap and kick her with renewed violence. I held her hands firmly until she became more calm.
Later Helen came to my room, looking very sad, and wanted to kiss me. I said, "I cannot kiss naughty girl." She spelled, "Helen is good, Viney is bad." I said: "You struck Viney and kicked her and hurt her. You were very naughty, and I cannot kiss naughty girl." She stood very still for a moment, and it was evident from her face, which was flushed and troubled, that a struggle was going on in her mind. Then she said: "Helen did (does) not love teacher. Helen do love mother. Mother will whip Viney." I told her that she had better not talk about it any more, but think. She knew that I was much troubled, and would have liked to stay near me; but I thought it best for her to sit by herself. At the dinner-table she was greatly disturbed because I didn't eat, and suggested that "Cook make tea for teacher." But I told her that my heart was sad, and I didn't feel like eating. She began to cry and sob and clung to me.
She was very much excited when we went upstairs; so I tried to interest her in a curious insect called a stick-bug. It's the queerest thing I ever saw–a little bundle of fagots fastened together in the middle. I wouldn't believe it was alive until I saw it move. Even then it looked more like a mechanical toy than a living creature. But the poor little girl couldn't fix her attention. Her heart was full of trouble, and she wanted to talk about it. She said: "Can bug know about naughty girl? Is bug very happy?" Then, putting her arms round my neck, she said: "I am (will be) good to-morrow. Helen is (will be) good all days." I said, "Will you tell Viney you are very sorry you scratched and kicked her?" She smiled and answered, "Viney (can) not spell words." "I will tell Viney you are very sorry," I said. "Will you go with me and find Viney?" She was very willing to go, and let Viney kiss her, though she didn't return the caress. She has been unusually affectionate since, and it seems to me there is a sweetness–a soul-beauty in her face which I have not seen before.
July 31, 1887.
Helen's pencil-writing is excellent, as you will see from the enclosed letter, which she wrote for her own amusement. I am teaching her the braille alphabet, and she is delighted to be able to make words herself that she can feel.
She has now reached the question stage of her development. It is "what?" "why?" "when?" especially "why?" all day long, and as her intelligence grows her inquiries become more insistent. I remember how unbearable I used to find the inquisitiveness of my friends' children; but I know now that these questions indicate the child's growing interest in the cause of things. The "why?" is the door through which he enters the world of reason and reflection. "How does carpenter know to build house?" "Who put chickens in eggs?" "Why is Viney black?" "Flies bite–why?" "Can flies know not to bite?" "Why did father kill sheep?" Of course she asks many questions that are not as intelligent as these. Her mind isn't more logical than the minds of ordinary children. On the whole, her questions are analogous to those that a bright three-year-old child asks; but her desire for knowledge is so earnest, the questions are never tedious, though they draw heavily upon my meager store of information, and tax my ingenuity to the utmost.
I had a letter from Laura Bridgmen last Sunday. Please give her my love, and tell her Helen sends her a kiss. I read the letter at the supper-table, and Mrs. Keller exclaimed: "Why, Miss Annie, Helen writes almost as well as that now!" It is true.
August 21, 1887.
We had a beautiful time in Huntsville. Everybody there was delighted with Helen, and showered her with gifts and kisses. The first evening she learned the names of all the people in the hotel, about twenty, I think. The next morning we were astonished to find that she remembered all of them, and recognized every one she had met the night before. She taught the young people the alphabet, and several of them learned to talk with her. One of the girls taught her to dance the polka, and a little boy showed her his rabbits and spelled their names for her. She was delighted, and showed her pleasure by hugging and kissing the little fellow, which embarrassed him very much.
We had Helen's picture taken with a fuzzy, red-eyed little poodle, who got himself into my lady's good graces by tricks and cunning devices known only to dogs with an instinct for getting what they want.
She has talked incessantly since her return about what she did in Huntsville, and we notice a very decided improvement in her ability to use language. Curiously enough, a drive we took to the top of Monte Sano, a beautiful mountain not far from Huntsville, seems to have impressed her more than anything else, except the wonderful poodle. She remembers all that I told her about it, and in telling her mother repeated the very words and phrases I had used in describing it to her. In conclusion she asked her mother if she should like to see "very high mountain and beautiful cloudcaps." I hadn't used this expression. I said, "The clouds touch the mountain softly, like beautiful flowers." You see, I had to use words and images with which she was familiar through the sense of touch. But it hardly seems possible that any mere words should convey to one who has never seen a mountain the faintest idea of its grandeur; and I don't see how any one is ever to know what impression she did receive, or the cause of her pleasure in what was told her about it. All that we do know certainly is that she has a good memory and imagination and the faculty of association.
August 28, 1887.
I do wish things would stop being born! "New puppies," "new calves" and "new babies" keep Helen's interest in the why and wherefore of things at white heat. The arrival of a new baby at Ivy Green the other day was the occasion of a fresh outburst of questions about the origin of babies and live things in general. "Where did Leila get new baby? How did doctor know where to find baby? Did Leila tell doctor to get very small new baby? Where did doctor find Guy and Prince?" (puppies) "Why is Elizabeth Evelyn's sister?" etc., etc. These questions were sometimes asked under circumstances which rendered them embarrassing, and I made up my mind that something must be done. If it was natural for Helen to ask such questions, it was my duty to answer them. It's a great mistake, I think, to put children off with falsehoods and nonsense, when their growing powers of observation and discrimination excite in them a desire to know about things. From the beginning, I have made it a practice to answer all Helen's questions to the best of my ability in a way intelligible to her, and at the same time truthfully. "Why should I treat these questions differently?" I asked myself. I decided that there was no reason, except my deplorable ignorance of the great facts that underlie our physical existence. It was no doubt because of this ignorance that I rushed in where more experienced angels fear to tread. There isn't a living soul in this part of the world to whom I can go for advice in this, or indeed, in any other educational difficulty. The only thing for me to do in a perplexity is to go ahead, and learn by making mistakes. But in this case I don't think I made a mistake. I took Helen and my Botany, "How Plants Grow," up in the tree, where we often go to read and study, and I told her in simple words the story of plant-life. I reminded her of the corn, beans and watermelon-seed she had planted in the spring, and told her that the tall corn in the garden, and the beans and watermelon vines had grown from those seeds. I explained how the earth keeps the seeds warm and moist, until the little leaves are strong enough to push themselves out into the light and air where they can breathe and grow and bloom and make more seeds, from which other baby-plants shall grow. I drew an analogy between plant and animal-life, and told her that seeds are eggs as truly as hens' eggs and birds' eggs–that the mother hen keeps her eggs warm and dry until the little chicks come out. I made her understand that all life comes from an egg. The mother bird lays her eggs in a nest and keeps them warm until the birdlings are hatched. The mother fish lays her eggs where she knows they will be moist and safe, until it is time for the little fish to come out. I told her that she could call the egg the cradle of life. Then I told her that other animals like the dog and cow, and human beings, do not lay their eggs, but nourish their young in their own bodies. I had no difficulty in making it clear to her that if plants and animals didn't produce offspring after their kind, they would cease to exist, and everything in the world would soon die. But the function of sex I passed over as lightly as possible. I did, however, try to give her the idea that love is the great continuer of life. The subject was difficult, and my knowledge inadequate; but I am glad I didn't shirk my responsibility; for, stumbling, hesitating, and incomplete as my explanation was, it touched deep responsive chords in the soul of my little pupil, and the readiness with which she comprehended the great facts of physical life confirmed me in the opinion that the child has dormant within him, when he comes into the world, all the experiences of the race. These experiences are like photographic negatives, until language develops them and brings out the memory-images.
September 4, 1887.
Helen had a letter this morning from her uncle, Doctor Keller. He invited her to come to see him at Hot Springs. The name Hot Springs interested her, and she asked many questions about it. She knows about cold springs. There are several near Tuscumbia; one very large one from which the town got its name. "Tuscumbia" is the Indian for "Great Spring." But she was surprised that hot water should come out of the ground. She wanted to know who made the fire under the ground, and if it was like the fire in stoves, and if it burned the roots of plants and trees.
She was much pleased with the letter, and after she had asked all the questions she could think of, she took it to her mother, who was sewing in the hall, and read it to her. It was amusing to see her hold it before her eyes and spell the sentences out on her fingers, just as I had done. Afterward she tried to read it to Belle (the dog) and Mildred. Mrs. Keller and I watched the nursery comedy from the door. Belle was sleepy, and Mildred inattentive. Helen looked very serious, and, once or twice, when Mildred tried to take the letter, she put her hand away impatiently. Finally Belle got up, shook herself, and was about to walk away, when Helen caught her by the neck and forced her to lie down again. In the meantime Mildred had got the letter and crept away with it. Helen felt on the floor for it, but not finding it there, she evidently suspected Mildred; for she made the little sound which is her "baby call." Then she got up and stood very still, as if listening with her feet for Mildred's "thump, thump." When she had located the sound, she went quickly toward the little culprit and found her chewing the precious letter! This was too much for Helen. She snatched the letter and slapped the little hands soundly. Mrs. Keller took the baby in her arms, and when we had succeeded in pacifying her, I asked Helen, "What did you do to baby?" She looked troubled, and hesitated a moment before answering. Then she said: "Wrong girl did eat letter. Helen did slap very wrong girl." I told her that Mildred was very small, and didn't know that it was wrong to put the letter in her mouth.
"I did tell baby, no, no, much (many) times," was Helen's reply.
I said, "Mildred doesn't understand your fingers, and we must be very gentle with her."
She shook her head.
"Baby–not think. Helen will give baby pretty letter," and with that she ran upstairs and brought down a neatly folded sheet of braille, on which she had written some words, and gave it to Mildred, saying, "Baby can eat all words."
September 18, 1887.
I do not wonder you were surprised to hear that I was going to write something for the report. I do not know myself how it happened, except that I got tired of saying "no" and Captain Keller urged me to do it. He agreed with Mr. Anagnos that it was my duty to give others the benefit of my experience. Besides, they said Helen's wonderful deliverance might be a boon to other afflicted children.
When I sit down to write, my thoughts freeze, and when I get them on paper they look like wooden soldiers all in a row, and if a live one happens along, I put him in a strait-jacket. It's easy enough, however, to say Helen is wonderful, because she really is. I kept a record of everything she said last week, and I found that she knows six hundred words. This does not mean, however, that she always uses them correctly. Sometimes her sentences are like Chinese puzzles; but they are the kind of puzzles children make when they try to express their half-formed ideas by means of arbitrary language. She has the true language-impulse, and shows great fertility of resource in making the words at her command convey her meaning.
Lately she been much interested in colour. She found the word "brown" in her primer and wanted to know its meaning. I told her that her hair was brown, and she asked, "Is brown very pretty?" After we had been all over the house, and I had told her the colour of everything she touched, she suggested that we go the hen-houses and barns; but I told her she must wait until another day because I was very tired. We sat in the hammock; but there was no rest for the weary there. Helen was eager to know "more colour." I wonder if she has any vague idea of colour–any reminiscent impression of light and sound. It seems as if a child who could and hear until her nineteenth month must retain some of her first impressions, though ever so faintly. Helen talks a great deal about things that she cannot know of through the sense of touch. She asks many questions about the sky, day and night, the ocean and mountains. She likes to have me tell her what I see in pictures.
But I seem to have lost the thread of my discourse. "What colour is think?" was one of the restful questions she asked, as we swung to and fro in the hammock. I told her that when we are happy our thoughts are bright, and when we are naughty they are sad. Quick as a flash she said, "My think is white, Viney's think is black." You see, she had an idea that the colour of our thoughts matched that of our skin. I couldn't help laughing, for at that very moment Viney was shouting at the top of her voice:
"I long to sit on dem jasper walls
And see dem sinners stumble and fall!"
October 3, 1887.
My account for the report is finished and sent off. I have two copies, and will send you one; but you mustn't show it to anybody. It's Mr. Anagnos's property until it is published.
"I suppose the little girls enjoyed Helen's letter.* She wrote it out of her own head, as the children say.
She talks a great deal about what she will do when she goes to Boston. She asked the other day, "Who made all things and Boston?" She says Mildred will not go there because "Baby does cry all days."
October 25, 1887.
Helen wrote another letter † to the little girls yesterday, and her father sent it to Mr. Anagnos. Ask him to let you see it. She has begun to use pronouns of her own accord. This morning I happened to say, "Helen will go upstairs." She laughed and said, "Teacher is wrong. You will go upstairs." This is another great forward step. Thus it always is. Yesterday's perplexities are strangely simple to-day, and to-day's difficulties become to-morrow's pastime.
The rapid development of Helen's mind is beautiful to watch. I doubt if any teacher ever had a work of such absorbing interest. There must have been one lucky star in the heavens at my birth, and I am just beginning to feel its beneficent influence.
I had two letters from Mr. Anagnos last week. He is more grateful for my report than the English idiom will express. Now he wants a picture "of darling Helen and her illustrious teacher, to grace the pages of the forthcoming annual report."
OCTOBER, 1887. ‡
You have probably read, ere this, Helen's second letter to the little girls. I am aware that the progress she has made between the writing of the two letters must seem incredible. Only those who are with her daily can realize the rapid advancement which she is making in the acquisition of language. You will see from her letter that she uses many pronouns correctly. She rarely misuses or omits one in conversation. Her passion for writing letters and putting her thoughts upon paper grows more intense. She now tells stories in which the imagination plays an important part. She is also beginning to realize that she is not like other children. The other day she asked, "What do my eyes do?" I told her that I could see things with my eyes, and that she could see them with her fingers. After thinking a moment she said, "My eyes are bad!" then she changed it into "My eyes are sick!"
Miss Sullivan's first report, which was published in the official report of the Perkins Institution for the 1887, is a short summary of what is fully recorded in the letters. Here follows the last part, beginning with the great day, April 5th, when Helen learned water.
In her reports Miss Sullivan speaks of "lessons" as if they came in regular order. This is the effect of putting it all in a summary. "Lesson" is too formal for the continuous daily work.
One day I took her to the cistern. As the water gushed from the pump I spelled "w-a-t-e-r." Instantly she tapped my hand for a repetition, and then made the word herself with a radiant face. Just then the nurse came into the cistern-house bringing her little sister. I put Helen's hand on the baby and formed the letters "b-a-b-y" which she repeated without help and the light of a new intelligence in her face.
On our way back to the house everything she touched had to be named for her, and repetition was seldom necessary. Neither the length of the word nor the combination of letters seems to make any difference to the child. Indeed, she remembers heliotrope and chrysanthemum more readily than she does shorter names. At the end of August she knew 625 words.
This lesson was followed by one on words indicative of place-relations. Her dress was put in a trunk, and then on it, and these prepositions were spelled for her. Very soon she learned the difference on and in, though it was some time before she could use these words in sentences of her own. Whenever it was possible she was made the actor in the lesson, and was delighted to stand on the chair, and to be put into the wardrobe. In connection with this lesson she learned the names of the members of the family and the word is. "Helen is in wardrobe," "Mildred is in crib," "Box is on table," "Papa is on bed," are specimens of sentences constructed by her during the latter part of April.
Next came a lesson on words expressive of positive quality. For the first lesson I had two balls, one made in worsted, large and soft, the other a bullet. She perceived the difference in size at once. Taking the bullet she made her habitual sign for small –that is, by pinching a little bit of the skin of her hand. Then she took the other ball and made her sign for large by spreading both hands over it. I substituted the adjectives large and small for those signs. Then her attention was called to the hardness of the one ball and the softness of the other, and she learned soft and hard. A few minutes afterward she felt of her little sister's head and said to her mother, "Mildred's head is small and hard." Next I tried to teach her the meaning of fast and slow. She helped me wind some worsted one day, first rapidly and afterward slowly. I then said to her with the finger alphabet, "wind fast," or "wind slow," holding her hands and showing her how to do as I wished. The next day, while exercising, she spelled to me, "Helen wind fast," and began to walk rapidly. Then she said, "Helen wind slow," again suiting the action to the words.
I now thought it time to teach her to read printed words. A slip on which was printed, in raised letters, the word box was placed on the object; and the same experiment was tried with a great many articles, but she did not immediately comprehend that the label-name represented the thing. Then I took an alphabet sheet and put her finger on the letter A, at the same time making A with my fingers. She moved her finger from one printed character to another as I formed each letter on my fingers. She learned all the letters, both capital and small, in one day. Next I turned to the first page of the primer and made her touch the word cat, spelling it on my fingers at the same time. Instantly she caught the idea, and asked me to find dog and many other words. Indeed, she was much displeased because I could not find her name in the book. Just then I had no sentences in raised letters which she could understand; but she would sit for hours feeling each word in her book. When she touched one with which she was familiar, a peculiarly sweet expression lighted her face, and we saw her countenance growing sweeter and more earnest every day. About this time I sent a list of the words she knew to Mr. Anagnos, and he very kindly had them printed for her. Her mother and I cut up several sheets of printed words so that she could arrange them into sentences. This delighted her more than anything she had yet done; and the practice thus obtained prepared the way for the writing lessons. There was no difficulty in making her understand how to write the same sentences with pencil and paper which she made every day with the slips, and she very soon perceived that she need not confine herself to phrases already learned, but could communicate any thought that was passing through her mind. I put one of the writing boards used by the blind between the folds of the paper on the table and allowed her to examine an alphabet of the square letters, such as she was to make. I then guided her hand to form the sentence, "Cat does drink milk." When she finished it she was overjoyed. She carried it to her mother, who spelled it to her.
Day after day she moved her pencil in the same tracks along the grooved paper, never for a moment expressing the least impatience or sense of fatigue.
As she had now learned to express her ideas on paper, I next taught her the braille system. She learned it gladly when she discovered that she could herself read what she had written; and this still affords her constant pleasure. For a whole evening she will sit at the table writing whatever comes into her busy brain; and I seldom find any difficulty in reading what she has written.
Her progress in arithmetic has been equally remarkable. She can add and subtract with great rapidity up to the sum of one hundred; and she knows the multiplication tables as far as the fives. She was working recently with the number forty, when I said to her, "Make twos." She replied immediately, "Twenty two's make forty." Later I said, "make fifteen threes and count." I wished her to make the groups of threes and supposed she would then have to count them in order to know what number fifteen threes would make. But instantly she spelled the answer: "Fifteen threes make forty-five."
On being told that she was white and that one of the servants was black, she concluded that all who occupied a similar menial position were of the same hue; and whenever I asked her the colour of a servant she would say "black." When asked the colour of some one whose occupation she did not know she seemed bewildered, and finally said "blue."
She has never been told anything about death or the burial of the body, and yet on entering the cemetery for the first time in her life, with her mother and me, to look at some flowers, she laid her hand on our eyes and repeatedly spelled "cry-cry." Her eyes actually filled with tears. The flowers did not seem to give her pleasure, and she was very quiet while we stayed there.
On another occasion while walking with me she seemed conscious of the presence of her brother, although we were distant from him. She spelled his name repeatedly and started in the direction in which he was coming.
When walking or riding she often gives the names of the people we meet almost as soon as we recognize them.
The letters take up the account again.
November 13, 1887.
We took Helen to the circus, and had "the time of our lives"! The circus people were much interested in Helen, and did everything they could to make her first circus a memorable event. They let her feel the animals whenever it was safe. She fed the elephants, and was allowed to climb up on the back of the largest, and sit in the lap of the "Oriental Princess," while the elephant marched majestically around the ring. She felt some young lions. They were as gentle as kittens; but I told her they would get wild and fierce as they grew older. She said to the keeper, "I will take the baby lions home and teach them to be mild." The keeper of the bears made one big black fellow stand on his hind legs and hold out his great paw to us, which Helen shook politely. She was greatly delighted with the monkeys and kept her hand on the star performer while he went through his tricks, and laughed heartily when he took off his hat to the audience. One cute little fellow stole her hair-ribbon, and another tried to snatch the flowers out of her hat. I don't know who had the best time, the monkeys, Helen or the spectators. One of the leopards licked her hands, and the man in charge of the giraffes lifted her up in his arms so that she could feel their ears and see how tall they were. She also felt a Greek chariot, and the charioteer would have liked to take her round the ring; but she was afraid of "many swift horses." The riders and clowns and rope-walkers were all glad to let the little blind girl feel their costumes and follow their motions whenever it was possible, and she kissed them all, to show her gratitude. Some of them cried, and the wild man of Borneo shrank from her sweet little face in terror. She has talked about nothing but the circus ever since. In order to answer her questions, I have been obliged to read a great deal about animals. At present I feel like a jungle on wheels!
December 12, 1887.
I find it hard to realize that Christmas is almost here, in spite of the fact that Helen talks about nothing else. Do you remember what a happy time we had last Christmas?
Helen has learned to tell the time at last, and her father is going to give her a watch for Christmas.
Helen is as eager to have stories told her as any hearing child I ever knew. She has made me repeat the story of little Red Riding Hood so often that I believe I could say it backward. She likes stories that make her cry–I think we all do, it's so nice to feel sad when you've nothing particular to be sad about. I am teaching her little rhymes and verses, too. They fix beautiful thoughts in her memory. I think, too, that they quicken all the child's faculties, because they stimulate the imagination. Of course I don't try to explain everything. If I did, there would be no opportunity for the play of fancy. Too much explanation directs the child's attention to words and sentences, so that he fails to get the thought as a whole. I do not think any one can read, or talk for that matter, until he forgets words and sentences in the technical sense.
January 1, 1888.
It is a great thing to feel that you are of some use in the world, that you are necessary to somebody. Helen's dependence on me for almost everything makes me strong and glad.
Christmas week was a very busy one here, too. Helen is invited to all the children's entertainments, and I take her to as many as I can. I want her to know children and to be with them as much as possible. Several little girls have learned to spell on their fingers and are very proud of the accomplishment. One little chap, about seven, was persuaded to learn the letters, and he spelled his name for Helen. She was delighted and showed her joy by hugging and kissing him, much to his embarrassment.
Saturday the school-children had their tree, and I took Helen. It was the first Christmas tree she had ever seen, and she was puzzled, and asked many questions. "Who made tree grow in house? Why? Who put many things on tree?" She objected to its miscellaneous fruits and began to remove them, evidently thinking they were all meant for her. It was not difficult, however, to make her understand that there was a present for each child, and to her great delight she was permitted to hand the gifts to the children. There were several presents for herself. She placed them in a chair, resisting all temptation to look at them until every child had received his gifts. One little girl had fewer presents than the rest, and Helen insisted on sharing gifts with her. It was very sweet to see the children's eager interest in Helen, and their readiness to give her pleasure. The exercises began at nine, and it was one o'clock before we could leave. My fingers and head ached; but Helen was as fresh and full of spirit as when we left home.
After dinner it began to snow, and we had a good frolic and an interesting lesson about the snow. Sunday morning the ground was covered, and Helen and the cook's children and I played snowball. By noon the snow was all gone. It was the first snow I had seen here, and it made me a little homesick. The Christmas season has furnished many lessons, and added scores of new words to Helen's vocabulary.
For weeks we did nothing but talk and read and tell each other stories about Christmas. Of course I do not try to explain all the new words, nor does Helen fully understand the little stories I tell her; but constant repetition fixes the words and phrases in the mind, and little by little the meaning will come to her. I see no sense in "faking" conversation for the sake of teaching language. It's stupid and deadening to pupil and teacher. Talk should be natural and have for its object an exchange of ideas. If there is nothing in the child's mind to communicate, it hardly seems worth while to require him to write on the blackboard, or spell on his fingers, cut and dried sentences about "the cat," "the bird," "a dog." I have tried from the beginning to talk naturally to Helen and to teach her to tell me only things that interest her and ask questions only for the sake of finding out what she wants to know. When I see that she is eager to tell me something, but is hampered because she does not know the words, I supply them and the necessary idioms, and we get along finely. The child's eagerness and interest carry her over many obstacles that would be our undoing if we stopped to define and explain everything. What would happen, do you think, if some one should try to measure our intelligence by our ability to define the commonest words we use? I fear me, if I were put to such a test, I should be consigned to the primary class in a school for the feeble-minded.
It was touching and beautiful to see Helen enjoy her first Christmas. Of course, she hung her stocking–two of them, lest Santa Claus should forget one, and she lay awake for a long time and got up two or three times to see if anything had happened. When I told her that Santa Claus would not come until she was asleep, she shut her eyes and said, "He will think girl is asleep." She was awake the first thing in the morning, and ran to the fireplace for stocking; and when she found that Santa Claus had filled both stockings, she danced about for a minute, then grew very quiet, and came to ask me if I thought Santa Claus had made a mistake, and thought there were two little girls, and would come back for the gifts when he discovered his mistake. The ring you sent her was in the toe of the stocking, and when I told her you gave it to Santa Claus for her, she said, "I do love Mrs. Hopkins." She had a trunk and clothes for Nancy, and her comment was, "Now Nancy will go to party." When she saw the braille slate and paper, she said, "I will write many letters, and I will thank Santa Claus very much." It was evident that every one, especially Captain and Mrs. Keller, was deeply moved at the thought of the difference between this bright Christmas and the last, when their little girl had no conscious part in the Christmas festivities. As we came downstairs, Mrs. Keller said to me with tears in her eyes, "Miss Annie, I thank God every day of my life for sending you to us; but I never realized until this morning what a blessing you have been to us." Captain Keller took my hand, but could not speak. But his silence was more eloquent than words. My heart, too, was full of gratitude and solemn joy.
The other day Helen came across the word grandfather in a little story and asked her mother, "Where is grandfather?" meaning her grandfather. Mrs. Keller replied, "He is dead." "Did father shoot him?" Helen asked, and added, "I will eat grandfather for dinner." So far, her only knowledge of death is in connection with things to eat. She knows that her father shoots partridges and deer and other game.
This morning she asked me the meaning of "carpenter," and the question furnished the text for the day's lesson. After talking about the various things that carpenters make, she asked me, "Did carpenter make me?" and before I could answer, she spelled quickly, "No, no, photographer made me in Sheffield."
One of the greatest iron furnaces has been started in Sheffield, and we went over the other evening to see them make a "run." Helen felt the heat and asked, "Did the sun fall?"
January 9, 1888.
The report came last night. I appreciate the kind things Mr. Anagnos has said about Helen and me; but his extravagant way of saying them rubs me the wrong way. The simple facts would be so much more convincing! Why, for instance, does he take the trouble to ascribe motives to me that I never dreamed of? You know, and he knows, and I know, that my motive in coming here was not in any sense philanthropic. How ridiculous it is to say I had drunk so copiously of the noble spirit of Dr. Howe that I was fired with the desire to rescue from darkness and obscurity the little Alabamian! I came here simply because circumstances made it necessary for me to earn my living, and I seized upon the first opportunity that offered itself, although I did not suspect, nor did he, that I had any special fitness for the work.
January 26, 1888.
I suppose you got Helen's letter. The little rascal has taken it into her head not to write with a pencil. I wanted her to write to her Uncle Frank this morning, but she objected. She said: "Pencil is very tired in head. I will write Uncle Frank braille letter." I said, "But Uncle Frank cannot read braille." "I will teach him," she said. I explained that Uncle Frank was old, and couldn't learn braille easily. In a flash she answered, "I think Uncle Frank is much (too) old to read very small letters." Finally I persuaded her to write a few lines; but she broke her pencil six times before she finished it. I said to her, "You are a naughty girl." "No," she replied, "pencil is very weak." I think her objection to pencil-writing is readily accounted for by the fact that she has been asked to write so many specimens for friends and strangers. You know how the children at the Institution detest it. It is irksome because the process is so slow, and they cannot read what they have written or correct their mistakes.
Helen is more and more interested in colour. When I told her that Mildred's eyes were blue, she asked, "Are they like wee skies?" A little while after I had told her that a carnation that had been given to her was red, she puckered up her mouth and said, "Lips are like one pink." I told her they were tulips; but of course she didn't understand the word-play. I can't believe that the colour-impressions she received during the year and a half she could see and hear are entirely lost. Everything we have seen and heard is in the mind somewhere. It may be too vague and confused to be recognizable, but it is there all the same, like the landscape we lose in the deepening twilight.
February 10, 1888.
We got home last night. We had a splendid time in Memphis, but I didn't rest much. It was nothing but excitement from first to last–drives, luncheons, receptions, and all that they involve when you have an eager, tireless child like Helen on your hands. She talked incessantly. I don't know what I should have done, had some of the young people not learned to talk with her. They relieved me as much as possible. But even then I can never have a quiet half hour to myself. It is always: "Oh, Miss Sullivan, please come and tell us what Helen means," or "Miss Sullivan, won't you please explain this to Helen? We can't make her understand." I believe half the white population of Memphis called on us. Helen was petted and caressed enough to spoil an angel; but I do not think it is possible to spoil her, she is too unconscious of herself, and too loving.
The stores in Memphis are very good, and I managed to spend all the money that I had with me. One day Helen said, "I must buy Nancy a very pretty hat." I said, "Very well, we will go shopping this afternoon." She had a silver dollar and a dime. When we reached the shop, I asked her how much she would pay for Nancy's hat. She answered promptly, "I will pay ten cents." "What will you do with the dollar?" I asked. "I will buy some good candy to take to Tuscumbia," was her reply.
We visited the Stock Exchange and a steamboat. Helen was greatly interested in the boat, and insisted on being shown every inch of it from the engine to the flag on the flagstaff. I was gratified to read what the Nation had to say about Helen last week.
Captain Keller has had two interesting letters since the publication of the "Report," one from Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, and the other from Dr. Edward Everett Hale. Dr. Hale claims kinship with Helen, and seems very proud of his little cousin. Dr. Bell writes that Helen's progress is without parallel in the education of the deaf, or something like that, and he says many nice things about her teacher.
March 5, 1888.
I did not have a chance to finish my letter yesterday. Miss Ev. came up to help me make a list of words Helen has learned. We have got as far as P, and there are 900 words to her credit. I had Helen begin a journal * March 1st. I don't know how long she will keep it up. It's rather stupid business, I think. Just now she finds it great fun. She seems to like to tell all she knows. This is what Helen wrote Sunday:
"I got up, washed my face and hands, combed my hair, picked three dew violets for Teacher and ate my breakfast. After breakfast I played with dolls short. Nancy was cross. Cross is cry and kick. I read in my book about large, fierce animals. Fierce is much cross and strong and very hungry. I do not love fierce animals. I wrote letter to Uncle James. He lives in Hotsprings. He is doctor. Doctor makes sick girl well. I do not like sick. Then I ate my dinner. I like much icecream very much. After dinner father went to Birmingham on train far away. I had letter from Robert. He loves me. He said Dear Helen, Robert was glad to get a letter from dear, sweet little Helen. I will come to see you when the sun shines. Mrs. Newsum is Robert's wife. Robert is her husband. Robert and I will run and jump and hop and dance and swing and talk about birds and flowers and trees and grass and Jumbo and Pearl will go with us. Teacher will say, We are silly. She is funny. Funny makes us laugh. Natalie is a good girl and does not cry. Mildred does cry. She will be a nice girl in many days and run and play with me. Mrs. Graves is making short dresses for Natalie. Mr. Mayo went to Duckhill and brought home many sweet flowers. Mr. Mayo and Mr. Farris and Mr. Graves love me and Teacher. I am going to Memphis to see them soon, and they will hug and kiss me. Thornton goes to school and gets his face dirty. Boy must be very careful. After supper I played romp with Teacher in bed. She buried me under the pillows and then I grew very slow like tree out of ground. Now I will go to bed.
We are just back from church. Captain Keller said at breakfast this morning that he wished I would take Helen to church. The Presbytery would be there in a body, and he wanted the ministers to see Helen. The Sunday-school was in session when we arrived, and I wish you could have seen the sensation Helen's entrance caused. The children were so pleased to see her at Sunday-school, they paid no attention to their teachers, but rushed out of their seats and surrounded us. She kissed them all, boys and girls, willing or unwilling. She seemed to think at first that the children all belonged to the visiting ministers; but soon she recognized some little friends among them, and I told her the ministers didn't bring their children with them. She looked disappointed and said, "I'll send them many kisses." One of the ministers wished me to ask Helen, "What do ministers do?" She said, "They read and talk loud to people to be good." He put her answer down in his note book. When it was time for the church service to begin, she was in such a state of excitement that I thought it best to take her away; but Captain Keller said, "No, she will be all right." So there was nothing to do but stay. It was impossible to keep Helen quiet. She hugged and kissed me, and the quiet-looking divine who sat on the other side of her. He gave her his watch to play with; but that didn't keep her still. She wanted to show it to the little boy in the seat behind us. When the communion service began, she smelt the wine, and sniffed so loud that every one in the church could hear. When the wine was passed to our neighbour, he was obliged to stand up to prevent her taking it away from him. I never was so glad to get out of a place as I was to leave that church! I tried to hurry Helen out-of-doors, but she kept her arm extended, and every coat-tail she touched must needs turn round and give an account of the children he left at home, and receive kisses according to their number. Everybody laughed at her antics, and you would have thought they were leaving a place of amusement rather than a church. Captain Keller invited some of the ministers to dinner. Helen was irrepressible. She described in the most animated pantomime, supplemented by spelling, what she was going to do in Brewster. Finally she got up from the table and went through the motion of picking seaweed and shells, and splashing in the water, holding up her skirts higher than was proper under the circumstances. Then she threw herself on the floor and began to swim so energetically that some of us thought we should be kicked out of our chairs! Her motions are often more expressive than any words, and she is as graceful as a nymph.
I wonder if the days seem as interminable to you as they do to me. We talk and plan and dream about nothing but Boston, Boston, Boston. I think Mrs. Keller has definitely decided to go with us, but she will not stay all summer.
Do you realize that this is the last letter I shall write to you for a long, long time? The next word that you receive from me will be in a yellow envelope, and it will tell you when we shall reach Boston. I am too happy to write letters; but I must tell you about our visit to Cincinnati.
We spent a delightful week with the "doctors." Dr. Keller met us in Memphis. Almost every one on the train was a physician, and Dr. Keller seemed to know them all. When we reached Cincinnati, we found the place full of doctors. There were several prominent Boston physicians among them. We stayed at the Burnet House. Everybody was delighted with Helen. All the learned men marveled at her intelligence and gaiety. There is something about her that attracts people. I think it is her joyous interest in everything and everybody.
Wherever she went she was the centre of interest. She was delighted with the orchestra at the hotel, and whenever the music began she danced round the room, hugging and kissing every one she happened to touch. Her happiness impressed all; nobody seemed to pity her. One gentleman said to Dr. Keller, "I have lived long and seen many happy faces; but I have never seen such a radiant face as this child's before to-night." Another said, "Damn me! but I'd give everything I own in the world to have that little girl always near me." But I haven't time to write all the pleasant things people said–they would make a very large book, and the kind things they did for us would fill another volume. Dr. Keller distributed the extracts from the report that Mr. Anagnos sent me, and he could have disposed of a thousand if he had had them. Do you remember Dr. Garcelon, who was Governor of Maine several years ago? He took us to drive one afternoon, and wanted to give Helen a doll; but she said: "I do not like too many children. Nancy is sick, and Adeline is cross, and Ida is very bad." We laughed until we cried, she was so serious about it. "What would you like, then?" asked the Doctor. "Some beautiful gloves to talk with," she answered. The Doctor was puzzled. He had never heard of "talking-gloves"; but I explained that she had seen a glove on which the alphabet was printed, and evidently thought they could be bought. I told him he could buy some gloves if he wished, and that I would have the alphabet stamped on them.
We lunched with Mr. Thayer (your former pastor) and his wife. He asked me how I had taught Helen adjectives and the names of abstract ideas like goodness and happiness. These same questions had been asked me a hundred times by the learned doctors. It seems strange that people should marvel at what is really so simple. Why, it is as easy to teach the name of an idea, if it is clearly formulated in the child's mind, as to teach the name of an object. It would indeed be a herculean task to teach the words if the ideas did not already exist in the child's mind. If his experiences and observations hadn't led him to the concepts, small, large, good, bad, sweet, sour, he would have nothing to attach the word-tags to.
I, little ignorant I, found myself explaining to the wise men of the East and the West such simple things as these: If you give a child something sweet, and he wags his tongue and smacks his lips and looks pleased, he has a very definite sensation; and if, every time he has this experience, he hears the word sweet, or has it spelled into his hand, he will quickly adopt this arbitrary sign for his sensation. Likewise, if you put a bit of lemon on his tongue, he puckers up his lips and tries to spit it out; and after he has had this experience a few times, if you offer him a lemon, he shuts his mouth and makes faces, clearly indicating that he remembers the unpleasant sensation. You label it sour, and he adopts your symbol. If you had called these sensations respectively black and white, he would have adopted them as readily; but he would mean by black and white the same things that he means by sweet and sour. In the same way the child learns from many experiences to differentiate his feelings, and we name them for him–good, bad, gentle, rough, happy, sad. It is not the word, but the capacity to experience the sensation that counts in his education.
This extract from one of Miss Sullivan's letters is added because it contains interesting casual opinions stimulated by observing the methods of others.
We visited a little school for the deaf. We were very kindly received, and Helen enjoyed meeting the children. Two of the teachers knew the manual alphabet, and talked to her without an interpreter. They were astonished at her command of language. Not a child in the school, they said, had anything like Helen's facility of expression, and some of them had been under instruction for two or three years. I was incredulous at first; but after I had watched the children at work for a couple of hours, I knew that what I had been told was true, and I wasn't surprised. In one room some little tots were standing before the blackboard, painfully constructing "simple sentences." A little girl had written; "I have a new dress. It is a pretty dress. My mamma made my pretty new dress. I love mamma." A curly-headed little boy was writing: "I have a large ball. I like to kick my large ball." When we entered the room, the children's attention was riveted on Helen. One of them pulled me by the sleeve and said, "Girl is blind." The teacher was writing on the blackboard: "The girl's name is Helen. She is deaf. She cannot see. We are very sorry." I said: "Why do you write those sentences on the board? Wouldn't the children understand if you talked to them about Helen?" The teacher said something about getting the correct construction, and continued to construct an exercise out of Helen. I asked her if the little girl who had written about the new dress was particularly pleased with her dress. "No," she replied, "I think not; but children learn better if they write about things that concern them personally." It seemed all so mechanical and difficult, my heart ached for the poor little children. Nobody thinks of making a hearing child say, "I have a pretty new dress," at the beginning. These children were older in years, it is true, than the baby who lisps, "Papa kiss baby–pretty," and fills out her meaning by pointing to her new dress; but their ability to understand and use language was no greater.
There was the same difficulty throughout the school. In every classroom I saw sentences on the blackboard, which evidently had been written to illustrate some grammatical rule, or for the purpose of using words that had previously been taught in the same, or in some other connection. This sort of thing may be necessary in some stages of education; but it isn't the way to acquire language. Nothing, I think, crushes the child's impulse to talk naturally more effectually than these blackboard exercises. The schoolroom is not the place to teach any young child language, least of all the deaf child. He must be kept as unconscious as the hearing child of the fact that he is learning words, and he should be allowed to prattle on his fingers, or with his pencil, in monosyllables if he chooses, until such time as his growing intelligence demands the sentence. Language should not be associated in his mind with endless hours in school, with puzzling questions in grammar, or with anything that is an enemy to joy. But I must not get into the habit of criticizing other people's methods too severely. I may be as far from the straight road as they.
Miss Sullivan's second report brings the account down to October 1st, 1888.
During the past year Helen has enjoyed excellent health. Her eyes and ears have been examined by specialists, and it is their opinion that she cannot have the slightest perception of either light or sound.
It is impossible to tell exactly to what extent the senses of smell and taste aid her in gaining information respecting physical qualities; but, according to eminent authority, these senses do exert a great influence on the mental and moral development. Dugald Stewart says, "Some of the most significant words relating to the human mind are borrowed from the sense of smell; and the conspicuous place which its sensations occupy in the poetical language of all nations shows how easily and naturally they ally themselves with the refined operations of the fancy and the moral emotions of the heart." Helen certainly derives great pleasure from the exercise of these senses. On entering a greenhouse her countenance becomes radiant, and she will tell the names of flowers with which she is familiar, by the sense of smell alone. Her recollections of the sensations of smell are very vivid. She enjoys in anticipation the scent of a rose or a violet; and if she is promised a bouquet of these flowers, a peculiarly happy expression lights her face, indicating that in imagination she perceives their fragrance, and that it is pleasant to her. It frequently happens that the perfume of a flower or the flavour of a fruit recalls to her mind some happy event in home life, or a delightful birthday party.
Her sense of touch has sensibly increased during the year, and has gained in acuteness and delicacy. Indeed, her whole body is so finely organized that she seems to use it as a medium for bringing herself into closer relations with her fellow creatures. She is able not only to distinguish with great accuracy the different undulations of the air and the vibrations of the floor made by various sounds and motions, and to recognize her friends and acquaintances the instant she touches their hands or clothing, but she also perceives the state of mind of those around her. It is impossible for any one with whom Helen is conversing to be particularly happy or sad, and withhold the knowledge of this fact from her.
She observes the slightest emphasis placed upon a word in conversation, and she discovers meaning in every change of position, and in the varied play of the muscles of the hand. She responds quickly to the gentle pressure of affection, the pat of approval, the jerk of impatience, the firm motion of command, and to the many other variations of the almost infinite language of the feelings; and she has become so expert in interpreting this unconscious language of the emotions that she is often able to divine our very thoughts.
In my account of Helen last year,* I mentioned several instances where she seemed to have called into use an inexplicable mental faculty; but it now seems to me, after carefully considering the matter, that this power may be explained by her perfect familiarity with the muscular variations of those with whom she comes into contact, caused by their emotions. She has been forced to depend largely upon this muscular sense as a means of ascertaining the mental condition of those about her. She has learned to connect certain movements of the body with anger, others with joy, and others still with sorrow. One day, while she was out walking with her mother and Mr. Anagnos, a boy threw a torpedo, which startled Mrs. Keller. Helen felt the change in her mother's movements instantly, and asked, "What are we afraid of?" On one occasion, while walking on the Common with her, I saw a police officer taking a man to the station-house. The agitation which I felt evidently produced a perceptible physical change; for Helen asked excitedly, "What do you see?"
A striking illustration of this strange power was recently shown while her ears were being examined by the aurists in Cincinnati. Several experiments were tried, to determine positively whether or not she had any perception of sound. All present were astonished when she appeared not only to hear a whistle, but also an ordinary tone of voice. She would turn her head, smile, and act as though she had heard what was said. I was then standing beside her, holding her hand. Thinking that she was receiving impressions from me, I put her hands upon the table, and withdrew to the opposite side of the room. The aurists then tried their experiments with quite different results. Helen remained motionless through them all, not once showing the least sign that she realized what was going on. At my suggestion, one of the gentlemen took her hand, and the tests were repeated. This time her countenance changed whenever she was spoken to, but there was not such a decided lighting up of the features as when I had held her hand.
In the account of Helen last year it was stated that she knew nothing about death, or the burial of the body; yet on entering a cemetery for the first time in her life, she showed signs of emotion–her eyes actually filling with tears.
A circumstance equally remarkable occurred last summer; but, before relating it, I will mention what she now knows with regard to death. Even before I knew her, she had handled a dead chicken, or bird, or some other small animal. Some time after the visit to the cemetery before referred to, Helen became interested in a horse that had met with an accident by which one of his legs had been badly injured, and she went daily with me to visit him. The wounded leg soon became so much worse that the horse was suspended from a beam. The animal groaned with pain, and Helen, perceiving his groans, was filled with pity. At last it became necessary to kill him, and, when Helen next asked to go and see him, I told her that he was dead. This was the first time that she had heard the word. I then explained that he had been shot to relieve him from suffering, and that he was now buried –put into the ground. I am inclined to believe that the idea of his having been intentionally shot did not make much impression upon her; but I think she did realize the fact that life was extinct in the horse as in the dead birds she had touched, and also that he had been put into the ground. Since this occurrence, I have used the word dead whenever occasion required, but with no further explanation of its meaning.
While making a visit at Brewster, Massachusetts, she one day accompanied my friend and me through the graveyard. She examined one stone after another, and seemed pleased when she could decipher a name. She smelt of the flowers, but showed no desire to pluck them; and, when I gathered a few for her, she refused to have them pinned on her dress. When her attention was drawn to a marble slab inscribed with the name FLORENCE in relief, she dropped upon the ground as though looking for something, then turned to me with a face full of trouble, and asked, "Where is poor little Florence?" I evaded the question, but she persisted. Turning to my friend, she asked, "Did you cry loud for poor little Florence?" Then she added: "I think she is very dead. Who put her in big hole?" As she continued to ask these distressing questions, we left the cemetery. Florence was the daughter of my friend, and was a young lady at the time of her death; but Helen had been told nothing about her, nor did she even know that my friend had had a daughter. Helen had been given a bed and carriage for her dolls, which she had received and used like any other gift. On her return to the house after her visit to the cemetery, she ran to the closet where these toys were kept, and carried them to my friend, saying, "They are poor little Florence's." This was true, although we were at a loss to understand how she guessed it. A letter written to her mother in the course of the following week gave an account of her impression in her own words:
"I put my little babies to sleep in Florence's little bed, and I take them to ride in her carriage. Poor little Florence is dead. She was very sick and died. Mrs. H. did cry loud for her dear little child. She got in the ground, and she is very dirty, and she is cold. Florence was very lovely like Sadie, and Mrs. H. kissed her and hugged her much. Florence is very sad in big hole. Doctor gave her medicine to make her well, but poor Florence did not get well. When she was very sick she tossed and moaned in bed. Mrs. H. will go to see her soon."
Notwithstanding the activity of Helen's mind, she is a very natural child. She is fond of fun and frolic, and loves dearly to be with other children. She is never fretful or irritable, and I have never seen her impatient with her playmates because they failed to understand her. She will play for hours together with children who cannot understand a single word she spells, and it is pathetic to watch the eager gestures and excited pantomime through which her ideas and emotions find expression. Occasionally some little boy or girl will try to learn the manual alphabet. Then it is beautiful to observe with what patience, sweetness, and perseverance Helen endeavours to bring the unruly fingers of her little friend into proper position.
One day, while Helen was wearing a little jacket of which she was very proud, her mother said: "There is a poor little girl who has no cloak to keep her warm. Will you give her yours?" Helen began to pull off the jacket, saying, "I must give it to a poor little strange girl."
She is very fond of children younger than herself, and a baby invariably calls forth all the motherly instincts of her nature. She will handle the baby as tenderly as the most careful nurse could desire. It is pleasant, too, to note her thoughtfulness for little children, and her readiness to yield to their whims.
She has a very sociable disposition, and delights in the companionship of those who can follow the rapid motions of her fingers; but if left alone she will amuse herself for hours at a time with her knitting or sewing.
She reads a great deal. She bends over her book with a look of intense interest, and as the forefinger of her left hand runs along the line, she spells out the words with the other hand; but often her motions are so rapid as to be unintelligible even to those accustomed to reading the swift and varied movements of her fingers.
Every shade of feeling finds expression through her mobile features. Her behaviour is easy and natural, and it is charming because of its frankness and evident sincerity. Her heart is too full of unselfishness and affection to allow a dream of fear or unkindness. She does not realize that one can be anything but kind-hearted and tender. She is not conscious of any reason why she should be awkward; consequently, her movements are free and graceful.
She is very fond of all the living things at home, and she will not have them unkindly treated. When she is riding in the carriage she will not allow the driver to use the whip, because, she says, "poor horses will cry." One morning she was greatly distressed by finding that one of the dogs had a block fastened to her collar. We explained that it was done to keep Pearl from running away. Helen expressed a great deal of sympathy, and at every opportunity during the day she would find Pearl and carry the burden from place to place.
Her father wrote to her last summer that the birds and bees were eating all his grapes. At first she was very indignant, and said the little creatures were "very wrong"; but she seemed pleased when I explained to her that the birds and bees were hungry, and did not know that it was selfish to eat all the fruit. In a letter written soon afterward she says:
"I am very sorry that bumblebees and hornets and birds and large flies and worms are eating all of my father's delicious grapes. They like juicy fruit to eat as well as people, and they are hungry. They are not very wrong to eat too many grapes because they do not know much."
She continues to make rapid progress in the acquisition of language as her experiences increase. While these were few and elementary, her vocabulary was necessarily limited; but, as she learns more of the world about her, her judgment grows more accurate, her reasoning powers grow stronger, more active and subtle, and the language by which she expresses this intellectual activity gains in fluency and logic.
When traveling she drinks in thought and language. Sitting beside her in the car, I describe what I see from the window–hills and valleys and the rivers; cottonfields and gardens in which strawberries, peaches, pears, melons, and vegetables are growing; herds of cows and horses feeding in broad meadows, and flocks of sheep on the hillside; the cities with their churches and schools, hotels and warehouses, and the occupations of the busy people. While I am communicating these things, Helen manifests intense interest; and, in default of words, she indicates by gestures and pantomime her desire to learn more of her surroundings and of the great forces which are operating everywhere. In this way, she learns countless new expressions without any apparent effort.
From the day when Helen first grasped the idea that all objects have names, and that these can be communicated by certain movements of the fingers, I have talked to her exactly as I should have done had she been able to hear, with only this exception, that I have addressed the words to her fingers instead of to her ears. Naturally, there was at first a strong tendency on her part to use only the important words in a sentence. She would say: "Helen milk." I got the milk to show her that she had used the correct word; but I did not let her drink it until she had, with my assistance, made a complete sentence, as "Give Helen some milk to drink." In these early lessons I encouraged her in the use of different forms of expression for conveying the same idea. If she was eating some candy, I said: "Will Helen please give teacher some candy?" or, "Teacher would like to eat some of Helen's candy," emphasizing the 's. She very soon perceived that the same idea could be expressed in a great many ways. In two or three months after I began to teach her she would say: "Helen wants to go to bed" or, "Helen is sleepy, and Helen will go to bed."
I am constantly asked the question, "How did you teach her the meaning of words expressive of intellectual and moral qualities?" I believe it was more through association and repetition than through any explanation of mine. This is especially true of her earlier lessons, when her knowledge of language was so slight as to make explanation impossible.
I have always made it a practice to use the words descriptive of emotions, of intellectual or moral qualities and actions, in connection with the circumstance which required these words. Soon after I became her teacher Helen broke her new doll, of which she was very fond. She began to cry. I said to her, "Teacher is sorry." After a few repetitions she came to associate the word with the feeling.
The word happy she learned in the same way; also, right, wrong, good, bad, and other adjectives. The word love she learned as other children do–by its association with caresses.
One day I asked her a simple question in a combination of numbers, which I was sure she knew. She answered at random. I checked her, and she stood still, the expression of her face plainly showing that she was trying to think. I touched her forehead, and spelled "t-h-i-n-k." The word, thus connected with the act, seemed to impress itself on her mind much as if I had placed her hand upon an object and then spelled its name. Since that time she has always used the word think.
At a later period I began to use such words as perhaps, suppose, expect, forget, remember. If Helen asked, "Where is mother now?" I replied: "I do not know. Perhaps she is with Leila."
She is always anxious to learn the names of people we meet in the horse-cars or elsewhere, and to know where they are going, and what they will do. Conversations of this kind are frequent:
HELEN. What is little boy's name?
TEACHER. I do not know, for he is a little stranger; but perhaps his name is Jack.
HELEN. Where is he going?
TEACHER. He may be going to the Common to have fun with other boys.
HELEN. What will he play?
TEACHER. I suppose he will play ball.
HELEN. What are boys doing now?
TEACHER. Perhaps they are expecting Jack, and are waiting for him.
After the words have become familiar to her, she uses them in composition.
September 26, .
"This morning teacher and I sat by the window and we saw a little boy walking on the sidewalk. It was raining very hard and he had a very large umbrella to keep off the rain-drops.
"I do not know how old he was but think he may have been six years old. Perhaps his name was Joe. I do not know where he was going because he was a little strange boy. But perhaps his mother sent him to a store to buy something for dinner. He had a bag in one hand. I suppose he was going to take it to his mother."
In teaching her the use of language, I have not confined myself to any particular theory or system. I have observed the spontaneous movements of my pupil's mind, and have tried to follow the suggestions thus given to me.
Owing to the nervousness of Helen's temperament, every precaution has been taken to avoid unduly exciting her already very active brain. The greater part of the year has been spent in travel and in visits to different places, and her lessons have been those suggested by the various scenes and experiences through which she has passed. She continues to manifest the same eagerness to learn as at first. It is never necessary to urge her to study. Indeed, I am often obliged to coax her to leave an example or a composition.
While not confining myself to any special system of instruction, I have tried to add to her general information and intelligence, to enlarge her acquaintance with things around her, and to bring her into easy and natural relations with people. I have encouraged her to keep a diary, from which the following selection has been made:
"March 22nd, 1888.
"Mr. Anagnos came to see me Thursday. I was glad to hug and kiss him. He takes care of sixty little blind girls and seventy little blind boys. I do love them. Little blind girls sent me a pretty work-basket. I found scissors and thread, and needle-book with many needles in it, and crochet hook and emery, and thimble, and box, and yard measure and buttons, and pin-cushion. I will write little blind girls a letter to thank them. I will make pretty clothes for Nancy and Adeline and Allie. I will go to Cincinnati in May and buy another child. Then I will have four children. New baby's name is Harry. Mr. Wilson and Mr. Mitchell came to see us Sunday. Mr. Anagnos went to Louisville Monday to see little blind children. Mother went to Huntsville. I slept with father, and Mildred slept with teacher. I did learn about calm. It does mean quiet and happy. Uncle Morrie sent me pretty stories. I read about birds. The quail lays fifteen or twenty eggs and they are white. She makes her nest on the ground. The blue-bird makes her nest in a hollow tree and her eggs are blue. The robin's eggs are green. I learned a song about spring. March, April, May are spring.
Now melts the snow.
The warm winds blow
The waters flow
And robin dear,
Is come to show
That Spring is here.
"James killed snipes for breakfast. Little chickens did get very cold and die. I am sorry. Teacher and I went to ride on Tennessee River, in a boat. I saw Mr. Wilson and James row with oars. Boat did glide swiftly and I put hand in water and felt it flowing.
"I caught fish with hook and line and pole. We climbed high hill and teacher fell and hurt her head. I ate very small fish for supper. I did read about cow and calf. The cow loves to eat grass as well as girl does bread and butter and milk. Little calf does run and leap in field. She likes to skip and play, for she is happy when the sun is bright and warm. Little boy did love his calf. And he did say, I will kiss you, little calf, and he put his arms around calf's neck and kissed her. The calf licked good boy's face with long rough tongue. Calf must not open mouth much to kiss. I am tired, and teacher does not want me to write more."
In the autumn she went to a circus. While we were standing before his cage the lion roared, and Helen felt the vibration of the air so distinctly that she was able to reproduce the noise quite accurately.
I tried to describe to her the appearance of a camel; but, as we were not allowed to touch the animal, I feared that she did not get a correct idea of its shape. A few days afterward, however, hearing a commotion in the schoolroom, I went in and found Helen on all fours with a pillow so strapped upon her back as to leave a hollow in the middle, thus making a hump on either side. Between these humps she had placed her doll, which she was giving a ride around the room. I watched her for some time as she moved about, trying to take long strides in order to carry out the idea I had given her of a camel's gait. When I asked her what she was doing, she replied, "I am a very funny camel."
During the next two years neither Mr. Anagnos, who was in Europe for a year, nor Miss Sullivan wrote anything about Helen Keller for publication. In 1892 appeared the Perkins Institution report for 1891, containing a full account of Helen Keller, including many of her letters, exercises, and compositions. As some of the letters and the story of the "Frost King" are published here, there is no need of printing any more samples of Helen Keller's writing during the third, fourth and fifth years of her education. It was the first two years that counted. From Miss Sullivan's part of this report I give her most important comments and such biographical matter as does not appear elsewhere in the present volume.
These extracts Mr. Anagnos took from Miss Sullivan's notes and memoranda.
One day, while her pony and her donkey were standing side by side, Helen went from one to the other, examining them closely. At last she paused with her hand upon Neddy's head, and addressed him thus: "Yes, dear Neddy, it is true that you are not as beautiful as Black Beauty. Your body is not so handsomely formed, and there is no proud look in your face, and your neck does not arch. Besides, your long ears make you look a little funny. Of course, you cannot help it, and I love you just as well as if you were the most beautiful creature in the world."
Helen has been greatly interested in the story of "Black Beauty." To show how quickly she perceives and associates ideas, I will give an instance which all who have read the book will be able to appreciate. I was reading the following paragraph to her:
"The horse was an old, worn-out chestnut, with an ill-kept coat, and bones that showed plainly through it; the knees knuckled over, and the forelegs were very unsteady. I had been eating some hay, and the wind rolled a little lock of it that way, and the poor creature put out her long, thin neck and picked it up, and then turned round and looked about for more. There was a hopeless look in the dull eye that I could not help noticing, and then, as I was thinking where I had seen that horse before, she looked full at me and said, 'Black Beauty, is that you?'"
At this point Helen pressed my hand to stop me. She was sobbing convulsively. "It was poor Ginger," was all she could say at first. Later, when she was able to talk about it, she said: "Poor Ginger! The words made a distinct picture in my mind. I could see the way Ginger looked; all her beauty gone, her beautiful arched neck drooping, all the spirit gone out of her flashing eyes, all the playfulness gone out of her manner. Oh, how terrible it was! I never knew before that there could be such a change in anything. There were a very few spots of sunshine in poor Ginger's life, and the sadnesses were so many!" After a moment she added, mournfully, "I fear some people's lives are just like Ginger's."
This morning Helen was reading for the first time Bryant's poem, "Oh, mother of a mighty race!" I said to her, "Tell me, when you have read the poem through, who you think the mother is." When she came to the line, "There's freedom at thy gates, and rest," she exclaimed: "It means America! The gate, I suppose, is New York City, and Freedom is the great statue of Liberty." After she had read "The Battlefield," by the same author, I asked her which verse she thought was the most beautiful. She replied, "I like this verse best:
'Truth crushed to earth shall rise again;
The eternal years of God are hers;
But Error, wounded, writhes with pain,
And dies among his worshippers.'"
She is at once transported into the midst of the events of a story. She rejoices when justice wins, she is sad when virtue lies low, and her face glows with admiration and reverence when heroic deeds are described. She even enters into the spirit of battle; she says, "I think it is right for men to fight against wrongs and tyrants."
Here begins Miss Sullivan's connected account in the report of 1891:
During the past three years Helen has continued to make rapid progress in the acquisition of language. She has one advantage over ordinary children, that nothing from without distracts her attention from her studies.
But this advantage involves a corresponding disadvantage; the danger of unduly severe mental application. Her mind is so constituted that she is in a state of feverish unrest while conscious that there is something that she does not comprehend. I have never known her to be willing to leave a lesson when she felt that there was anything in it which she did not understand. If I suggest her leaving a problem in arithmetic until the next day, she answers, "I think it will make my mind stronger to do it now."
A few evenings ago we were discussing the tariff. Helen wanted me to tell her about it. I said: "No. You cannot understand it yet." She was quiet for a moment, and then asked, with spirit: "How do you know that I cannot understand? I have a good mind! You must remember, dear teacher, that Greek parents were very particular with their children, and they used to let them listen to wise words, and I think they understood some of them." I have found it best not to tell her that she cannot understand, because she is almost certain to become excited.
Not long ago I tried to show her how to build a tower with her blocks. As the design was somewhat complicated, the slightest jar made the structure fall. After a time I became discouraged, and told her I was afraid she could not make it stand, but that I would build it for her; but she did not approve of this plan. She was determined to build the tower herself; and for nearly three hours she worked away, patiently gathering up the blocks whenever they fell, and beginning over again, until at last her perseverance was crowned with success. The tower stood complete in every part.
Until October, 1899, I had not deemed it best to confine Helen to any regular and systematic course of study. For the first two years of her intellectual life she was like a child in a strange country, where everything was new and perplexing; and, until she gained a knowledge of language, it was not possible to give her a definite course of instruction.
Moreover, Helen's inquisitiveness was so great during these years that it would have interfered with her progress in the acquisition of language, if a consideration of the questions which were constantly occurring to her had been deferred until the completion of a lesson. In all probability she would have forgotten the question, and a good opportunity to explain something of real interest to her would have been lost. Therefore it has always seemed best to me to teach anything whenever my pupil needed to know it, whether it had any bearing on the projected lesson or not; her inquiries have often led us far away from the subject under immediate consideration.
Since October, 1889, her work has been more regular and has included arithmetic, geography, zoölogy, botany and reading.
She has made considerable progress in the study of arithmetic. She readily explains the processes of multiplication, addition, subtraction, and division, and seems to understand the operations. She has nearly finished Colburn's mental arithmetic, her last work being in improper fractions. She has also done some good work in written arithmetic. Her mind works so rapidly, that it often happens, that when I give her an example she will give me the correct answer before I have time to write out the question. She pays little attention to the language used in stating a problem, and seldom stops to ask the meaning of unknown words or phrases until she is ready to explain her work. Once, when a question puzzled her very much, I suggested that we take a walk and then perhaps she would understand it. She shook her head decidedly, and said: "My enemies would think I was running away. I must stay and conquer them now," and she did.
The intellectual improvement which Helen has made in the past two years is shown more clearly in her greater command of language and in her ability to recognize nicer shades of meaning in the use of words, than in any other branch of her education.
Not a day passes that she does not learn many new words, nor are these merely the names of tangible and sensible objects. For instance, she one day wished to know the meaning of the following words: Phenomenon, comprise, energy, reproduction, extraordinary, perpetual and mystery. Some of these words have successive steps of meaning, beginning with what is simple and leading on to what is abstract. It would have been a hopeless task to make Helen comprehend the more abstruse meanings of the word mystery, but she understood readily that it signified something hidden or concealed, and when she makes greater progress she will grasp its more abstruse meaning as easily as she now does the simpler signification. In investigating any subject there must occur at the beginning words and phrases which cannot be adequately understood until the pupil has made considerable advancement; yet I have thought it best to go on giving my pupil simple definitions, thinking that, although these may be somewhat vague and provisional, they will come to one another's assistance, and that what is obscure to-day will be plain to-morrow.
I regard my pupil as a free and active being, whose own spontaneous impulses must be my surest guide. I have always talked to Helen exactly as I would talk to a seeing and hearing child, and I have insisted that other people should do the same. Whenever any one asks me if she will understand this or that word I always reply: "Never mind whether she understands each separate word of a sentence or not. She will guess the meanings of the new words from their connection with others which are already intelligible to her."
In selecting books for Helen to read, I have never chosen them with reference to her deafness and blindness. She always reads such books as seeing and hearing children of her age read and enjoy. Of course, in the beginning it was necessary that the things described should be familiar and interesting, and the English pure and simple. I remember distinctly when she first attempted to read a little story. She had learned the printed letters, and for some time had amused herself by making simple sentences, using slips on which the words were printed in raised letters; but these sentences had no special relation to one another. One morning we caught a mouse, and it occurred to me, with a live mouse and a live cat to stimulate her interest, that I might arrange some sentences in such a way as to form a little story, and thus give her a new conception of the use of language. So I put the following sentences in the frame, and gave it to Helen: "The cat is on the box. A mouse is in the box. The cat can see the mouse. The cat would like to eat the mouse. Do not let the cat get the mouse. The cat can have some milk, and the mouse can have some cake." The word the she did not know, and of course she wished it explained. At that stage of her advancement it would have been impossible to explain its use, and so I did not try, but moved her finger on to the next word, which she recognized with a bright smile. Then, as I put her hand upon puss sitting on the box, she made a little exclamation of surprise, and the rest of the sentence became perfectly clear to her. When she had read the words of the second sentence, I showed her that there really was a mouse in the box. She then moved her finger to the next line with an expression of eager interest. "The cat can see the mouse." Here I made the cat look at the mouse, and let Helen feel the cat. The expression of the little girl's countenance showed that she was perplexed. I called her attention to the following line, and, although she knew only the three words, cat, eat, and mouse, she caught the idea. She pulled the cat away and put her on the floor, at the same time covering the box with the frame. When she read, "Do not let the cat get the mouse!" she recognized the negation in the sentence, and seemed to know that the cat must not get the mouse. Get and let were new words. She was familiar with the words of the last sentence, and was delighted when allowed to act them out. By signs she made me understand that she wished another story, and I gave her a book containing very short stories, written in the most elementary style. She ran her fingers along the lines, finding the words she knew and guessing at the meaning of others, in a way that would convince the most conservative of educators that a little deaf child, if given the opportunity, will learn to read as easily and naturally as ordinary children.
I am convinced that Helen's use of English is due largely to her familiarity with books. She often reads for two or three hours in succession, and then lays aside her book reluctantly. One day as we left the library I noticed that she appeared more serious than usual, and I asked the cause. "I am thinking how much wiser we always are when we leave here than we are when we come," was her reply.
When asked why she loved books so much, she once replied: "Because they tell me so much that is interesting about things I cannot see, and they are never tired or troubled like people. They tell me over and over what I want to know."
While reading from Dickens's "Child's History of England," we came to the sentence, "Still the spirit of the Britons was not broken." I asked what she thought that meant. She replied, "I think it means that the brave Britons were not discouraged because the Romans had won so many battles, and they wished all the more to drive them away." It would not have been possible for her to define the words in the sentence; and yet she had caught the author's meaning, and was able to give it in her own words. The next lines are still more idiomatic, "When Suetonius left the country, they fell upon his troops and retook the island of Anglesea." Here is her interpretation of the sentence: "It means that when the Roman general had gone away, the Britons began to fight again; and because the Roman soldiers had no general to tell them what to do, they were overcome by the Britons and lost the island they had captured."
She prefers intellectual to manual occupations, and is not so fond of fancy work as many of the blind children are; yet she is eager to join them in whatever they are doing. She has learned to use the Caligraph typewriter, and writes very correctly, but not rapidly as yet, having had less than a month's practice.
More than two years ago a cousin taught her the telegraph alphabet by making the dots and dashes on the back of her hand with his finger. Whenever she meets any one who is familiar with this system, she is delighted to use it in conversation. I have found it a convenient medium of communication with Helen when she is at some distance from me, for it enables me to talk with her by tapping upon the floor with my foot. She feels the vibrations and understands what is said to her.
It was hoped that one so peculiarly endowed by nature as Helen, would, if left entirely to her own resources, throw some light upon such psychological questions as were not exhaustively investigated by Dr. Howe; but their hopes were not to be realized. In the case of Helen, as in that of Laura Bridgman, disappointment was inevitable. It is impossible to isolate a child in the midst of society, so that he shall not be influenced by the beliefs of those with whom he associates. In Helen's case such an end could not have been attained without depriving her of that intercourse with others, which is essential to her nature.
It must have been evident to those who watched the rapid unfolding of Helen's faculties that it would not be possible to keep her inquisitive spirit for any length of time from reaching out toward the unfathomable mysteries of life. But great care has been taken not to lead her thoughts prematurely to the consideration of subjects which perplex and confuse all minds. Children ask profound questions, but they often receive shallow answers, or, to speak more correctly, they are quieted by such answers.
"Where did I come from?" and "Where shall I go when I die?" were questions Helen asked when she was eight years old. But the explanations which she was able to understand at that time did not satisfy, although they forced her to remain silent, until her mind should begin to put forth its higher powers, and generalize from innumerable impressions and ideas which streamed in upon it from books and from her daily experiences. Her mind sought for the cause of things.
As her observation of phenomena became more extensive and her vocabulary richer and more subtle, enabling her to express her own conceptions and ideas clearly, and also to comprehend the thoughts and experiences of others, she became acquainted with the limit of human creative power, and perceived that some power, not human, must have created the earth, the sun , and the thousand natural objects with which she was perfectly familiar.
Finally she one day demanded a name for the power, the existence of which she had already conceived in her own mind.
Through Charles Kingsley's "Greek Heroes" she had become familiar with the beautiful stories of the Greek gods and goddesses, and she must have met with the words God, heaven, soul, and a great many similar expressions in books.
She never asked the meaning of such words, nor made any comment when they occurred; and until February, 1889, no one had ever spoken to her of God. At that time, a dear relative who was also an earnest Christian, tried to tell her about God but, as this lady did not use words suited to the comprehension of the child, they made little impression upon Helen's mind. When I subsequently talked with her she said: "I have something very funny to tell you. A. says God made me and every one out of sand; but it must be a joke. I am made of flesh and blood and bone, am I not?" Here she examined her arm with evident satisfaction, laughing heartily to herself. After a moment she went on: "A. says God is everywhere, and that He is all love; but I do not think a person can be made out of love. Love is only something in our hearts. A. said another very comical thing. She says He (meaning God) is my dear father. It made me laugh quite hard, for I know my father is Arthur Keller."
I explained to her that she was not yet able to understand what had been told her, and so easily led her to see that it would be better not to talk about such things until she was wiser.
She had met with the expression Mother Nature in the course of her reading, and for a long time she was in the habit of ascribing to Mother Nature whatever she felt to be beyond the powers of man to accomplish. She would say, when speaking of the growth of a plant "Mother Nature sends the sunshine and the rain to make the trees and the grass and the flowers grow." The following extract from my notes will show what were her ideas at this time:
Helen seemed a little serious after supper., and Mrs. H. asked her of what she was thinking. "I am thinking how very busy dear Mother Nature is in the springtime," she replied. When asked why, she answered: "Because she has so many children to take care of. She is the mother of everything; the flowers and trees and winds."
"How does Mother Nature take care of the flowers?" I asked. "She sends the sunshine and rain to make them grow," Helen replied; and after a moment she added, "I think the sunshine is Nature's warm smile, and the raindrops are her tears."
Later she said: "I do not know if Mother Nature made me. I think my mother got me from heaven, but I do not know where that place is. I know that the daisies and pansies come from seeds which have been put in the ground; but children do not grow out of the ground, I am sure. I have never seen a plant-child! But I cannot imagine who made Mother Nature, can you? I love the beautiful spring, because the budding trees and the blossoming flowers and the tender green leaves fill my heart with joy. I must go now to see my garden. The daisies and the pansies will think I have forgotten them."
After May, 1890, it was evident to me that she had reached a point where it was impossible to keep from her the religious beliefs held by those with whom she was in daily contact. She almost overwhelmed me with inquiries which were the natural outgrowth of her quickened intelligence.
Early in May she wrote on her tablet the following list of questions:
"I wish to write about things I do not understand. Who made the earth and the seas, and everything? What makes the sun hot? Where was I before I came to mother? I know that plants grow from seeds which are in the ground, but I am sure people do not grow that way. I never saw a child-plant. Little birds and chickens come out of eggs. I have seen them. What was the egg before it was an egg? Why does not the earth fall, it is so very large and heavy? Tell me something that Father Nature does. May I read the book called the Bible? Please tell your little pupil many things when you have much time."
Can any one doubt after reading these questions that the child who was capable of asking them was also capable of understanding at least their elementary answers? She could not, of course, have grasped such abstractions as a complete answer to her questions would involve; but one's whole life is nothing more than a continual advance in the comprehension of the meaning and scope of such ideas.
Throughout Helen's education I have invariably assumed that she can understand whatever it is desirable for her to know. Unless there had been in Helen's mind some such intellectual process as the questions indicate, any explanation of them would have been unintelligible to her. Without that degree of mental development and activity which perceives the necessity of superhuman creative power, no explanation of natural phenomena is possible.
After she had succeeded in formulating the ideas which had been slowly growing in her mind, they seemed suddenly to absorb all her thoughts, and she became impatient to have everything explained. As we were passing a large globe a short time after she had written the questions, she stopped before it and asked, "Who made the real world?" I replied, "No one knows how the earth, the sun, and all the worlds which we call stars came to be; but I will tell you how wise men have tried to account for their origin, and to interpret the great and mysterious forces of nature."
She knew that the Greeks had many gods to whom they ascribed various powers, because they believed that the sun, the lightning, and a hundred other natural forces, were independent and superhuman powers. But after a great deal of thought and study, I told her, men came to believe that all forces were manifestations of one power, and to that power they gave the name God.
She was very still for a few minutes, evidently thinking earnestly. She then asked, "Who made God?" I was compelled to evade her question, for I could not explain to her the mystery of a self-existent being. Indeed, many of her eager questions would have puzzled a far wiser person than I am. Here are some of them: "What did God make the new worlds out of?" "Where did He get the soil, and the water, and the seeds, and the first animals?" "Where is God?" "Did you ever see God?" I told her that God was everywhere, and that she must not think of Him as a person, but as the life, the mind, the soul of everything. She interrupted me: "Everything does not have a life. The rocks have not life, and they cannot think." It is often necessary to remind her that there are infinitely many things that the wisest people in the world cannot explain.
No creed or dogma has been taught to Helen, nor has any effort been made to force religious beliefs upon her attention. Being fully aware of my own incompetence to give her any adequate explanation of the mysteries which underlie the names of God, soul, and immortality, I have always felt obliged, by a sense of duty to my pupil, to say as little as possible about spiritual matters. The Rt. Rev. Phillip Brooks * has explained to her in a beautiful way the fatherhood of God.
She has not as yet been allowed to read the Bible, because I do not see how she can do so at present without getting a very erroneous conception of the attributes of God. I have already told her in simple language of the beautiful and helpful life of Jesus, and of His cruel death. The narrative affected her greatly when first she listened to it.
When she referred to our conversation again, it was to ask, "Why did not Jesus go away, so that His enemies could not find him?" She thought the miracles of Jesus very strange. When told that Jesus walked on the sea to meet His disciples, she said, decidedly, "It does not mean walked, it means swam." When told of the instance in which Jesus raised the dead, she was much perplexed, saying, "I did not know life could come back into the dead body!"
One day she said sadly: "I am blind and deaf. That is why I cannot see God." I taught her the word invisible, and told her we could not see God with our eyes, because He was a spirit; but that when our hearts were full of goodness and gentleness, then we saw Him because then we were more like Him.
At another time she asked, "What is a soul?" "No one know what the soul is like," I replied; "but we know that it is not the body, and it is that part of us which thinks and loves and hopes, and which Christian people believe will live on after the body is dead." I then asked her, "Can you think of your soul as separate from your body?" "Oh, yes!" she replied, "because last hour I was thinking very hard of Mr. Anagnos, and then my mind,"–then changing the word–"my soul was in Athens, but my body was here in the study." At this moment another thought seemed to flash through her mind, and she added, "But Mr. Anagnos did not speak to my soul." I explained to her that the soul, too, is invisible, or in other words, that it is without apparent form. "But if I write what my soul thinks," she said, "then it will be visible, and the words will be its body."
A long time ago Helen said to me, "I would like to live sixteen hundred years." When asked if she would not like to live always in a beautiful country called heaven, her first question was, "Where is heaven?" I was obliged to confess that I did not know, but suggested that it might be on one of the stars. A moment after she said, "Will you please go first and tell me all about it?" and then she added, "Tuscumbia is a very beautiful little town." It was more than a year before she alluded to the subject again, and when she did return to it, her questions were numerous and persistent. She asked: "Where is heaven, and what is it like? Why cannot we know as much about heaven as we do about foreign countries?" I told her in very simple language that there may be many places called heaven, but that essentially it was a condition–the fulfilment of the heart's desire, the satisfaction of its wants; and that heaven existed wherever right was acknowledged, believed in, and loved.
She shrinks from the thought of death with evident dismay. Recently, on being shown a deer which had been killed by her brother, she was greatly distressed and asked sorrowfully. "Why must everything die, even the fleet-footed deer?" At another time she asked, "Do you not think we would be very much happier always, if we did not have to die?" I said, "No; because, if there were no death, our world would soon be so crowded with living creatures that it would be impossible to any of them to life comfortably." "But," said Helen, quickly, "I think God could make some more worlds as well as He made this one."
When friends have told her of the great happiness which awaits her in another life, she instantly asked: "How do you know, if you have not been dead?"
The literal sense in which she sometimes takes common words and idioms shows how necessary it is that we should make sure that she receives their correct meaning. When told recently that Hungarians were born musicians, she asked in surprise, "Do they sing when they are born?" When her friend added that some of the pupils he had seen in Budapest had more than one hundred tunes in their heads, she said, laughing, "I think their heads must be very noisy." She sees the ridiculous quickly, and, instead of being seriously troubled by metaphorical language, she is often amused at her own too literal conception of its meaning.
Having been told that the soul was without form, she was much perplexed at David's words, "He leadeth my soul." "Has it feet? Can it walk? Is it blind?" she asked; for in her mind the idea of being led was associated with blindness.
Of all the subjects which perplex and trouble Helen, none distresses her so much as the knowledge of the existence of evil, and of the suffering which results from it. For a long time it was possible to keep this knowledge from her; and it will always be comparatively easy to prevent her from coming in personal contact with vice and wickedness. The fact that sin exists, and that great misery results from it, dawned gradually upon her mind as she understood more and more clearly the lives and experiences of those around her. The necessity of laws and penalties had to be explained to her. She found it very hard to reconcile the presence of evil in the world with the idea of God which had been presented to her mind.
One day she asked. "Does God take care of us all the time?" She was answered in the affirmative. "Then why did He let little sister fall this morning, and hurt her head so badly?" Another time she was asking about the power and goodness of God. She had been told of a terrible storm at sea, in which several lives were lost, and she asked, "Why did not God save the people if He can do all things?"
Surrounded by loving friends and the gentlest influences, as Helen had always been, she has, from the earliest stage of her intellectual enlightenment, willingly done right. She knows with unerring instinct what is right, and does it joyously. She does not think of one wrong act as harmless, of another as of no consequence, and of another as not intended. To her pure soul all evil is equally unlovely.
These passages from the paper Miss Sullivan prepared for the meeting at Chautauqua, in July, 1894, of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, contain her latest written account of her methods.
You must not imagine that as soon as Helen grasped the idea that everything had a name she at once became mistress of the treasury of the English language, or that "her mental faculties emerged, full armed, from their then living tomb, as Pallas Athene from the head of Zeus," as one of her enthusiastic admirers would have us believe. At first, the words, phrases and sentences which she used in expressing her thoughts were all reproductions of what we had used in conversation with her, and which her memory had unconsciously retained. And indeed, this is true of the language of all children. Their language is the memory of the language they hear spoken in their homes. Countless repetition of the conversation of daily life has impressed certain words and phrases upon their memories, and when they come to talk themselves, memory supplies the words they lisp. Likewise, the language of educated people is the memory of the language of books.
Language grows out of life, out of its need and experiences. At first my little pupil's mind was all but vacant. She had been living in a world she could not realize. Language and knowledge are indissolubly connected; they are interdependent. Good work in language presupposes and depends on a real knowledge of things. As soon as Helen grasped the idea that everything had a name, and that by means of the manual alphabet these names could be transmitted from one to another, I proceeded to awaken her further interest in the objects whose names she learned to spell with such evident joy. I never taught language for the PURPOSE of teaching it; but invariably used language as a medium for the communication of thought; thus the learning of language was coincident with the acquisition of knowledge. In order to use language intelligently, one must have something to talk about, and having something to talk about is the result of having had experiences; no amount of language training will enable our little children to use language with ease and fluency unless they have something clearly in their minds which they wish to communicate, or unless we succeed in awakening in them a desire to know what is in the minds of others.
At first I did not attempt to confine my pupil to any system. I always tried to find out what interested her most, and made that the starting-point for the new lesson, whether it had any bearing on the lesson I had planned to teach or not. During the first two years of her intellectual life, I required Helen to write very little. In order to write one must have something to write about, and having something to write about requires some mental preparation. The memory must be stored with ideas and the mind must be enriched with knowledge before writing becomes a natural and pleasurable effort. Too often, I think, children are required to write before they have anything to say. Teach them to think and read and talk without self-repression, and they will write because they cannot help it.
Helen acquired language by practice and habit rather than by study of rules and definitions. Grammar with its puzzling army of classifications, nomenclatures, and paradigms, was wholly discarded in her education. She learned language by being brought in contact with the living language itself; she was made to deal with it in everyday conversation, and in her books, and to turn it over in a variety of ways until she was able to use it correctly. No doubt I talked much more with my fingers, and more constantly than I should have done with my mouth; for had she possessed the use of sight and hearing, she would have been less dependent on me for entertainment and instruction.
I believe every child has hidden away somewhere in his being noble capacities which may be quickened and developed if we go about it in the right way; but we shall never properly develop the higher natures of our little ones while we continue to fill their minds with the so-called rudiments. Mathematics will never make them loving, nor will the accurate knowledge of the size and shape of the world help them to appreciate its beauties. Let us lead them during the first years to find their greatest pleasure in Nature. Let them run in the fields, learn about animals, and observe real things. Children will educate themselves under right conditions. They require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction.
I think much of the fluency with which Helen uses language is due to the fact that nearly every impression which she receives comes through the medium of language. But after due allowance has been made for Helen's natural aptitude for acquiring language, and for the advantage resulting from her peculiar environment, I think that we shall still find that the constant companionship of good books has been of supreme importance in her education. It may be true, as some maintain, that language cannot express to us much beyond what we have lived and experienced; but I have always observed that children manifest the greatest delight in the lofty, poetic language which we are too ready to think beyond their comprehension. "This is all you will understand," said a teacher to a class of little children, closing the book which she had been reading to them. "Oh, please read us the rest, even if we won't understand it," they pleaded, delighted with the rhythm, and the beauty which they felt, even though they could not have explained it. It is not necessary that a child should understand every word in a book before he can read with pleasure and profit. Indeed, only such explanations should be given as are really essential. Helen drank in language which she at first could not understand, and it remained in her mind until needed, when it fitted itself naturally and easily into her conversation and compositions. Indeed, it is maintained by some that she reads too much, that a great deal of originative force is dissipated in the enjoyment of books; that when she might see and say things for herself, she sees them only through the eyes of others, and says them in their language; but I am convinced that original composition without the preparation of much reading is an impossibility. Helen has had the best and purest models in language constantly presented to her, and her conversation and her writing are unconscious reproductions of what she had read. Reading, I think should be kept independent of the regular school exercises. Children should be encouraged to read for the pure delight of it. The attitude of the child toward his books should be that of unconscious receptivity. The great works of the imagination ought to become part of his life, as they were once of the very substance of the men who wrote them. It is true, the more sensitive and imaginative the mind is that receives the thought-pictures and images of literature, the more nicely the finest lines are reproduced. Helen has the vitality of feeling, the freshness and eagerness of interest, and the spiritual insight of the artistic temperament, and naturally she had a more active and intense joy in life, simply as life, and in nature, books, and people than less gifted mortals. Her mind is so filled with the beautiful thoughts and ideals of the great poets that nothing seems commonplace to her; for her imagination colours all life with its own rich hues.
There has been much discussion of such of Miss Sullivan's statements and explanations as have been published before. Too much has been written by people who do not know the problems of the deaf at first hand, and I do not care to add much to it. Miss Keller's education, however, is so fundamentally a question of language teaching that it rather includes the problems of the deaf than limits itself to the deaf alone. Teachers can draw their own conclusions. For the majority of readers, who will not approach Miss Keller's life from the educator's point of view, I will summarize a few principal things in Miss Sullivan's methods.
Miss Sullivan has begun where Dr. Howe left off. He invented the instrument, the physical means of working, but the teaching of language is quite another thing from the mechanical means by which language may be taught. By experiment, by studying other children, Miss Sullivan came upon the practical way of teaching language by the natural method. It was for this "natural method" that Dr. Howe was groping, but he never got to this idea, that a deaf child should not be taught each word separately by definition, but should be given language by endless repetition of language which it does not understand. And this is Miss Sullivan's great discovery. All day long in their play-time and work-time Miss Sullivan kept spelling into her pupil's hand, and by that Helen Keller absorbed words, just as the child in the cradle absorbs words by hearing thousands of them before he uses one and by associating the words with the occasion of their utterance. Thus he learns that words name things and actions and feelings. Now, that is the first principle in Miss Sullivan's method, one that had practical results, and one which, so far as I can discover, had never been put in practice in the education of a deaf child, not to say a deaf-blind child, until Miss Sullivan tried it with Helen Keller. And the principle had never been formulated clearly until Miss Sullivan wrote her letters.
The second principle in her method (the numerical order is, of course, arbitrary) is never to talk to the child about things distasteful or wearisome to him. In the first deaf school Miss Sullivan ever visited, the teacher was busy at the blackboard telling the children by written words something they did not want to know, while they were crowding round their visitor with wide-awake curiosity, showing there were a thousand things they did want to know. Why not, says Miss Sullivan, make a language lesson out of what they were interested in? *
Akin to this idea of talking to the child about what interests him, is the principle never to silence a child who asks questions, but to answer the questions as truly as possible; for, says Miss Sullivan, the question is the door to the child's mind. Miss Sullivan never needlessly belittled her ideas or expressions to suit the supposed state of the child's intelligence. She urged every one to speak to Helen naturally, to give her full sentences and intelligent ideas, never minding whether Helen understood or not. Thus Miss Sullivan knew what so many people do not understand, that after the first rudimentary definitions of hat, cup, go, sit, the unit of language, as the child learns it, is the sentence, which is also the unit of language in our adult experience. We do not take in a sentence word by word, but as a whole. It is the proposition, something predicated about something, that conveys an idea. True, single words do suggest and express ideas; the child may say simply "mamma" when he means "Where is mamma?" but he learns the expression of the ideas that relate to mamma–he learns language–by hearing complete sentences. And though Miss Sullivan did not force grammatical completeness upon the first finger-lispings of her pupil, yet when she herself repeated Helen's sentence, "mamma milk," she filled out the construction, completed the child's ellipsis and said, "Mamma will bring Helen some milk."
Thus Miss Sullivan was working out a natural method, which is so simple, so lacking in artificial system, that her method seems rather to be a destruction of method. It is doubtful if we should have heard of Helen Keller if Miss Sullivan had not been where there were other children. By watching them, she learned to treat her pupil as nearly as possible like an ordinary child.
The manual alphabet was not the only means of presenting words to Helen Keller's fingers. Books supplemented, perhaps equaled in importance, the manual alphabet, as a means of teaching language. Helen sat poring over them before she could read, not at first for the story, but to find words she knew; and the definition of new words which is implied in their context, in their position with reference to words known, added to Helen's vocabulary. Books are the storehouse of language, and any child, whether deaf or not, if he has his attention attracted in any way to printed pages, must learn. He learns not by reading what he understands, but by reading and remembering words he does not understand. And though perhaps few children will have as much precocious interest in books as Helen Keller, yet the natural curiosity of every healthy child may be turned to printed pages, especially if the teacher is clever and plays a word game as Miss Sullivan did. Helen Keller is supposed to have a special aptitude for languages. It is true rather that she has a special aptitude for thinking, and her leaning toward language is due to the fact that language to her meant life. It was not a special subject, like geography or arithmetic, but her way to outward things.
When at the age of fourteen she had had but a few lessons in German, she read over the words of "Wilhelm Tell" and managed to get the story. Of grammar she knew nothing and she cared nothing for it. She got the language from the language itself, and this is, next to hearing the language spoken, the way for any one to get a foreign tongue, more vital and, in the end, easier than our schoolroom method of beginning with the grammar. In the same way she played with Latin, learning not only from the lessons her first Latin teacher gave her, but from going over and over the words of a text, a game she played by herself.
Mr. John D. Wright, one of her teachers at the Wright-Humason School, says in a letter to me:
"Often I found her, when she had a little leisure, sitting in her favourite corner, in a chair whose arms supported the big volume prepared for the blind, and passing her finger slowly over the lines of Moliere's 'Le Medecin Malgré Lui,' chuckling to herself at the comical situations and humorous lines. At that time her actual working vocabulary in French was very small, but by using her judgment, as we laughingly called the mental process, she could guess at the meanings of the words and put the sense together much as a child puzzles out a sliced object. The result was that in a few weeks she and I spent a most hilarious hour one evening while she poured out to me the whole story, dwelling with great gusto on its humour and sparkling wit. It was not a lesson, but only one of her recreations."
So Helen Keller's aptitude for language is her whole mental aptitude, turned to language because of its extraordinary value to her.
There have been many discussions of the question whether Helen Keller's achievements are due to her natural ability or to the method by which she was taught.
It is true that a teacher with ten times Miss Sullivan's genius could not have made a pupil so remarkable as Helen Keller out of a child born dull and mentally deficient. But it is also true that, with ten times her native genius, Helen Keller could not have grown to what she is, if she had not been excellently taught from the very start, and especially at the start. And the fact remains that she was taught by a method of teaching language to the deaf, the essential principles of which are clearly expressed in Miss Sullivan's letters, written while she was discovering the method and putting it successfully into practice. And it can be applied by any teacher to any healthy deaf child, and in the broadest interpretation of the principles, can be applied to the teaching of language of all kinds to all children.
In the many discussions of this question writers seem to throw us from one horn to another of a dilemma–either a born genius in Helen Keller, or a perfect method in the teacher. Both things may be true at once, and there is another truth which makes the dilemma imperfect. Miss Sullivan is a person of extraordinary power. Her method might not succeed so completely in the hands of any one else. Miss Sullivan's vigorous, original mind has lent much of its vitality to her pupil. If Miss Keller is fond of language and not interested especially in mathematics, it is not surprising to find Miss Sullivan's interests very similar. And this does not mean that Miss Keller is unduly dependent on her teacher. It is told of her that, as a child of eight, when some one tried to interfere with her, she sat sober a few moments, and, when asked what was the trouble, answered, "I am preparing to assert my independence." Such an aggressive personality cannot grow up in mere dependence even under the guidance of a will like Miss Sullivan's. But Miss Sullivan by her "natural aptitude" has done for her pupil much that is not capable of analysis and reduction to principle; she has given the inspiration which is in all close friendship, and which rather develops than limits the powers of either person. Moreover, if Miss Keller is a "marvel of sweetness and goodness," if she has a love "of all things good and beautiful," this implies something about the teacher who has lived with her for sixteen years.
There is, then, a good deal that Miss Sullivan has done for Miss Keller which no other teacher can do in just the same way for any one else. To have another Helen Keller there must be another Miss Sullivan. To have another well-educated deaf and blind child, there need only be another teacher, living under favourable conditions, among plenty of external interests, unseparated from her pupil, allowed to have a free hand, and using as many as she need of the principles which Miss Sullivan has saved her the trouble of finding out for herself, modifying and adding as she finds it necessary; and there must be a pupil in good health, of good native powers, young enough not to have grown beyond recovery in ignorance. Any deaf child or deaf and blind child in good health can be taught. And the one to do it is the parent or the special teacher, not the school. I know that this idea will be vigorously combated by those who conduct schools for the deaf. To be sure, the deaf school is the only thing possible for children educated by the State. But it is evident that precisely what the deaf child needs to be taught is what other children learn before they go to school at all. When Miss Sullivan went out in the barnyard and picked up a little chicken and talked to Helen about it, she was giving a kind of instruction impossible inside four walls, and impossible with more than one pupil at a time.
Surely Dr. Howe is wrong when he says, "A teacher cannot be a child." That is just what the teacher of the deaf child must be, a child ready to play and romp, and interested in all childish things.
The temptation to discuss, solely in the light of Helen Keller, the whole matter of educating the deaf is a dangerous one, and one which I have not taken particular care to avoid, because my opinions are of no authority and I have merely tried to suggest problems and reinforce some of the main ideas expressed by Miss Sullivan, who is an authority. It is a question whether Helen Keller's success has not led teachers to expect too much of other children, and I know of deaf-blind children who are dragged along by their teachers and friends, and become the subjects of glowing reports, which are pathetically untrue, because one sees behind the reports how the children are tugged at to bring them somewhere near the exaggerated things that are said about them.
Let me sum up a few of the elements that made Helen Keller what she is. In the first place she had nineteen months' experience of sight and sound. This meant some mental development. She had inherited vigour of body and mind. She expressed ideas in signs before she learned language. Mrs. Keller writes me that before her illness Helen made signs for everything, and her mother thought this habit the cause of her slowness in learning to speak. After the illness, when they were dependent on signs, Helen's tendency to gesture developed. How far she could receive communications is hard to determine, but she knew much that was going on around her. She recognized that others used their lips; she "saw" her father reading a paper and when he laid it down she sat in his chair and held the paper before her face. Her early rages were an unhappy expression of the natural force of character which instruction was to turn into trained and organized power.
It was, then, to a good subject that Miss Sullivan brought her devotion and intelligence, and fearless willingness to experiment. Miss Sullivan's methods were so good that even without the practical result, any one would recognize the truth of the teacher's ideas. Miss Sullivan has in a additional vigorous personality. And finally all the conditions were good for that first nature school, in which the teacher and pupil played together, exploring together and educating themselves, pupil and teacher inseparable.
Miss Keller's later education is easy to understand and needs no further explanation than she has given. Those interested may get on application to the Volta Bureau, Washington, D.C., the reports of the teachers who prepared her for college, Mr. Arthur Gilman of the Cambridge School for Young Ladies, and Mr. Merton S. Keith.
THE two persons who have written authoritatively about Miss Keller's speech and the way she learned it are Miss Sarah Fuller,* of the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston, Massachusetts, who gave her the first lessons, and Miss Sullivan, who, by her unremitting discipline, carried on the success of these first lessons.
Before I quote from Miss Sullivan's account, let me try to give some impression of what Miss Keller's speech and voice qualities are at present.
Her voice is low and pleasant to listen to. Her speech lacks variety and modulation; it runs in a sing-song when she is reading aloud; and when she speaks with fair degree of loudness, it hovers about two or three middle tones. Her voice has an aspirate quality; there seems always to be too much breath for the amount of tone. Some of her notes are musical and charming. When she is telling a child's story, or one with pathos in it, her voice runs into pretty slurs from one tone to another. This is like the effect of the slow dwelling on long words, not quite well managed, that one notices in a child who is telling a solemn story.
The principal thing that is lacking is sentence accent and variety in the inflection of phrases. Miss Keller pronounces each word as a foreigner does when he is still labouring with the elements of a sentence, or as children sometimes read in school when they have to pick out each word.
She speaks French and German. Her friend, Mr. John Hitz, whose native tongue is German, says that her pronunciation is excellent. Another friend, who is as familiar with French as with English, finds her French much more intelligible than her English. When she speaks English she distributes her emphasis as in French and so does not put sufficient stress on accented syllables. She says for example, "pro'-vo'-ca'-tion," "in'-di'-vi'-du'-al," with ever so little difference between the value of the syllables, and a good deal of inconsistency in the pronunciation of the same word one day and the next. It would, I think, be hard to make her feel just how to pronounce dictionary without her erring either toward dictionayry or diction'ry, and, of course the word is neither one nor the other. For no system of marks in a lexicon can tell one how to pronounce a word. The only way is to hear it, especially in a language like English which is so full of unspellable, suppressed vowels and quasi-vowels.
Miss Keller's vowels are not firm. Her awful is nearly awfil. The wavering is caused by the absence of accent on ful, for she pronounces full correctly.
She sometimes mispronounces as she reads aloud and comes on a word which she happens never to have uttered, though she may have written it many times. This difficulty and some others may be corrected when she and Miss Sullivan have more time. Since 1894, they have been so much in their books that they have neglected everything that was not necessary to the immediate task of passing the school years successfully. Miss Keller will never be able, I believe, to speak loud without destroying the pleasant quality and the distinctness of her words, but she can do much to make her speech clearer.
When she was at the Wright-Humason School in New York, Dr. Humason tried to improve her voice, not only her word pronunciation, but the voice itself, and gave her lessons in tone and vocal exercises.
It is hard to say whether or not Miss Keller's speech is easy to understand. Some understand her readily; others do not. Her friends grow accustomed to her speech and forget that it is different from that of any one else. Children seldom have any difficulty in understanding her; which suggests that her deliberate, measured speech is like theirs, before they come to the adult trick of running all the words of a phrase into one movement of the breath. I am told that Miss Keller speaks better than most other deaf people.
Miss Keller has told how she learned to speak.* Miss Sullivan's account in her address at Chautauqua, in July, 1894, at the meeting of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, is substantially like Miss Keller's in points of fact.
MISS SULLIVAN'S ACCOUNT OF MISS KELLER'S SPEECH
IT was three years from the time when Helen began to communicate by means of the manual alphabet that she received her first lesson in the more natural and universal medium of human intercourse–oral language. She had become very proficient in the use of the manual alphabet, which was her only means of communication with the outside world; through it she had acquired a vocabulary which enabled her to converse freely, read intelligently, and write with comparative ease and correctness. Nevertheless, the impulse to utter audible sounds was strong within her, and the constant efforts which I made to repress this instinctive tendency, which I feared in time would become unpleasant, were of no avail. I made no effort to teach her to speak, because I regarded her inability to watch the lips of others as an insurmountable obstacle. But she gradually became conscious that her way of communicating was different from that used by those around her, and one day her thoughts found expression. "How do the blind girls know what to say with their mouths? Why do you not teach me to talk like them? Do deaf children ever learn to speak?" I explained to her that some deaf children were taught to speak, but that they could see their teacher's mouths, and that that was a very great assistance to them. But she interrupted me to say she was very sure she could feel my mouth very well. Soon after this conversation, a lady came to see her and told her about the deaf and blind Norwegian child, Ragnhild Kaata, who had been taught to speak and understand what her teacher said to her by touching his lips with her fingers. She at once resolved to learn to speak, and from that day to this she has never wavered in that resolution. She began immediately to make sounds which she called speaking, and I saw the necessity of correct instruction, since her heart was set upon learning to talk; and, feeling my own incompetence to teach her, never having given the subject of articulation serious study, I went with my pupil, for advice and assistance, to Miss Sarah Fuller. Miss Fuller was delighted with Helen's earnestness and enthusiasm, and at once began to teach her. In a few lessons she learned nearly all of the English sounds, and in less than a month she was able to articulate a great many words distinctly. From the first she was not content to be drilled in single sounds, but was impatient to pronounce words and sentences. The length of the word or the difficulty of the arrangement of the elements never seemed to discourage her. But, with all her eagerness and intelligence, learning to speak taxed her powers to the utmost. But there was satisfaction in seeing from day to day the evidence of growing mastery and the possibility of final success. And Helen's success has been more complete and inspiring than any of her friends expected, and the child's delight in being able to utter her thoughts in living and distinct speech is shared by all who witness her pleasure when strangers tell her that they understand her.
I have been asked a great many times whether I think Helen will ever speak naturally; that is, as other people speak. I am hardly prepared to decide that question, or even give an opinion regarding it. I believe that I have hardly begun yet to know what is possible. Teachers of the deaf often express surprise that Helen's speech is so good when she has not received any regular instruction in speech since the first few lessons given her by Miss Fuller. I can only say in reply, "This is due to habitual imitation and practice! practice! practice!" Nature has determined how the child shall learn to speak, and all we can do is to aid him in the simplest, easiest way possible, by encouraging him to observe and imitate the vibrations in the voice.
Some further details appear in an earlier, more detailed account, which Miss Sullivan wrote for the Perkins Institution Report of 1891.
I knew that Laura Bridgman had shown the same intuitive desire to produce sounds, and had even learned to pronounce a few simple words, which she took great delight in using, and I did not doubt that Helen could accomplish as much as this. I thought, however, that the advantage she would derive would not repay her for the time and labour that such an experiment would cost.
Moreover, the absence of hearing renders the voice monotonous and often very disagreeable; and such speech is generally unintelligible except to those familiar with the speaker.
The acquiring of speech by untaught deaf children is always slow and often painful. Too much stress, it seems to me, is often laid upon the importance of teaching a deaf child to articulate–a process which may be detrimental to the pupil's intellectual development. In the very nature of things, articulation is an unsatisfactory means of education; while the use of the manual alphabet quickens and invigorates mental activity, since through it the deaf child is brought into close contact with the English language, and the highest and most abstract ideas may be conveyed to the mind readily and accurately. Helen's case proved it to be also an invaluable aid in acquiring articulation. She was already perfectly familiar with words and the construction of sentences, and had only mechanical difficulties to overcome. Moreover, she knew what a pleasure speech would be to her, and this definite knowledge of what she was striving for gave her the delight of anticipation which made drudgery easy. The untaught deaf child who is made to articulate does not know what the goal is, and his lessons in speech are for a long time tedious and meaningless.
Before describing the process of teaching Helen to speak, it may be well to state briefly to what extent she had used the vocal organs before she began to receive regular instruction in articulation. When she was stricken down with the illness which resulted in her loss of sight and hearing, at the age of nineteen months, she was learning to talk. The unmeaning babblings of the infant were becoming day by day conscious and voluntary signs of what she felt and thought. But the disease checked her progress in the acquisition of oral language, and, when her physical strength returned, it was found that she had ceased to speak intelligibly because she could no longer hear a sound. She continued to exercise her vocal organs mechanically, as ordinary children do. Her cries and laughter and the tones of her voice as she pronounced many word elements were perfectly natural, but the child evidently attached no significance to them, and with one exception they were produced not with any intention of communicating with those around her, but from the sheer necessity of exercising her innate, organic, and hereditary faculty of expression. She always attached a meaning to the word water, which was one of the first sounds her baby lips learned to form, and it was the only word which she continued to articulate after she lost her hearing. Her pronunciation of this gradually became indistinct, and when I first knew her it was nothing more than a peculiar noise. Nevertheless, it was the only sign she ever made for water, and not until she had learned to spell the word with her fingers did she forget the spoken symbol. The word water, and the gesture which corresponds to the word good-by, seem to have been all that the child remembered of the natural and acquired signs with which she had been familiar before her illness.
As she became acquainted with her surroundings through the sense of feeling (I use the word in the broadest sense, as including all tactile impressions), she felt more and more the pressing necessity of communicating with those around her. Her little hands felt every object and observed every movement of the persons about her, and she was quick to imitate these movements. She was thus able to express her more imperative needs and many of her thoughts.
At the time when I became her teacher, she had made for herself upward of sixty signs, all of which were intuitive and were readily understood by those who knew her. The only signs which I think she may have invented were her signs for small and large.* Whenever she wished for anything very much she would gesticulate in a very expressive manner. Failing to made herself understood, she would become violent. In the years of her mental imprisonment she depended entirely upon signs, and she did not work out for herself any sort of articulate language capable of expressing ideas. It seems, however, that while she was still suffering from severe pain, she notices the movements of her mother's lips.
When she was not occupied, she wandered restlessly about the house, making strange though rarely unpleasant sounds. I have seen her rock her doll, making a continuous, monotonous sound, keeping one hand on her throat, while the fingers of the other hand noted the movements of her lips. This was an imitation of her mother's crooning to the baby. Occasionally she broke out in a merry laugh, and then she would reach out and touch the mouth of any one who happened to be near her, to see if he were laughing also. If she detected no smile, she gesticulated excitedly, trying to convey her thought, but if she failed to make her companion laugh, she sat still for a few moments, with a troubled and disappointed expression. She was pleased with anything which made a noise. She liked to feel the cat purr; and if by chance she felt a dog in the act of barking, she showed great pleasure. She always like to stand by the piano when some one was playing and singing. She kept one hand on the piano, and she stood in this position as long as any one would sing to her; and afterward she would make a continuous sound which she called singing. The only words she had learned to pronounce with any degree of distinctness previous to March, 1890, were papa, mamma, baby, sister. These words she had caught without instruction from the lips of friends. It will be seen that they contain three vowel and six consonant elements, and these formed the foundation for her first real lesson in speaking.
At the end of the first lesson she was able to pronounce distinctly the following sounds: a, ä, â, e [e macron], i [i cup], ô, c soft like s and hard like k, g hard, h, l, n, m, t, p, s, u, k, f and d. Hard consonants were, and indeed still are, very difficult for her to pronounce in connection with one another in the same word; she often suppresses the one and changes the other, and sometimes she replaces both by an analogous sound with soft aspiration. The confusion between l and r was very noticeable in her speech at first. She would repeatedly use one for the other. The great difficulty in the pronunciation of the r made it one of the last elements which she mastered. The ch, sh and soft g also gave her much trouble, and she does not yet enunciate then clearly. *
When she had been talking for less than a week, she met her friend, Mr. Rodocanachi, and immediately began to struggle with the pronunciation of his name, nor would she give it up until she was able to articulate the word distinctly. Her interest never diminished for a moment, and, in her eagerness to overcome the difficulties which beset her on all sides, she taxed her powers to the utmost, and learned in eleven lessons all of the separate elements of speech.
Enough appears in the accounts by Miss Keller's teacher to show the process by which she reads the lips with her fingers, the process by which she was taught to speak, and by which, of course, she can listen to conversation now. In reading the lips she is not so quick or as accurate as some reports declare. It is a clumsy and unsatisfactory way of receiving communication, useless when Miss Sullivan or some one else who knows the manual alphabet is present to give Miss Keller the spoken words of others. Indeed, when some friend is trying to speak to Miss Keller, and the attempt is not proving successful, Miss Sullivan usually helps by spelling the lost words into Miss Keller's hand.
President Roosevelt had little difficulty last spring in making Miss Keller understand him, and especially requested Miss Sullivan not to spell into her hand. She got every word, for the President's speech is notably distinct. Other people say that they have no success in making Miss Keller "hear" them.
A few friends to who she is accustomed, like Mrs. A. C. Pratt, and Mr. J. E. Chamberlin, can pass a whole day with her and tell her everything without the manual alphabet. The ability to read lips helps Miss Keller in getting corrections of her pronunciation from Miss Sullivan and others, just as it was the means of her learning to speak at all, but it is rather an accomplishment than a necessity.
It must be remembered that speech contributed in no way to her fundamental education, though without the ability to speak she could hardly have gone to higher schools and to college. But she knows better than any one else what value speech has had for her. The following is her address at the fifth meeting of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, at Mt. Airy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 8, 1896:
ADDRESS OF HELEN KELLER AT MT. AIRY
IF you knew all the joy I feel at being able to speak to you to-day, I think you would have some idea of the value of speech to the deaf, and you would understand why I want every little deaf child in all this great world to have an opportunity to learn to speak. I know that much has been said and written on this subject, and that there is a wide difference of opinion among teachers of the deaf in regard to oral instruction. It seems very strange to me that there should be this difference of opinion; I cannot understand how any one interested in our education can fail to appreciate the satisfaction we feel in being able to express our thoughts in living words. Why, I use speech constantly, and I cannot begin to tell you how much pleasure it gives me to do so. Of course I know that it is not always easy for strangers to understand me, but it will be by and by; and in the meantime I have the unspeakable happiness of knowing that my family and friends rejoice in my ability to speak. My little sister and baby brother love to have me tell them stories in the long summer evenings when I am at home; and my mother and teacher often ask me to read to them from my favorite books. I also discuss the political situation with my dear father, and we decide the most perplexing questions quite as satisfactorily to ourselves as if I could see and hear. So you see what a blessing speech is to me. It brings me into closer and tenderer relationship with those I love, and makes it possible for me to enjoy the sweet companionship of a great many persons from whom I should be entirely cut off if I could not talk.
I can remember the time before I learned to speak, and how I used to struggle to express my thoughts by means of the
manual alphabet–how my thoughts used to beat against my finger tips like little birds striving to gain their freedom, until one
day Miss Fuller opened wide the prison-door and let them escape. I wonder if she remembers how eagerly and gladly they
spread their wings and flew away. Of course, it was not easy at first to fly. The speech-wings were weak and broken, and had
lost all the grace and beauty that had once been theirs; indeed, nothing was left save the impulse to fly, but that was
something. One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar. But, nevertheless, it seemed to me sometimes
that I could never use my speech-wings as God intended I should use them; there were so many difficulties along the way; so
many discouragements; but I kept on trying, knowing that patience and perseverance would win in the end. And while I
worked, I built the most beautiful air-castles, and dreamed dreams, the pleasantest of which was of the time when I should
talk like other people, and the thought of the pleasure it would give my mother to hear my voice once more, sweetened every
effort and made every failure an incentive to try harder next time. So I want to say to those who are trying to learn to speak
and those who are teaching them: Be of good cheer. Do not think of to-day's failures; but of the success that may come to-morrow. You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere, and you will find a joy in
overcoming obstacles–a delight in climbing rugged paths, which you would perhaps never know if you did not sometime
slip backward–if the road was always smooth and pleasant. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful
is ever lost. Sometime, somewhere, somehow we shall find that which we seek. We shall speak, yes, and sing, too, as God
intended we should speak and sing.
NO one can have read Miss Keller's autobiography without feeling that she writes unusually fine English. Any teacher of composition knows that he can bring his pupils to the point of writing without errors in syntax or in the choice of words. It is just this accuracy which Miss Keller's early education fixes as the point to which any healthy child can be brought, and which the analysis of that education accounts for. Those who try to make her an exception, not to be explained by any such analysis of her early education, fortify their position by an appeal to the remarkable excellence of her use of language even when she was a child.
This appeal is to a certain degree valid; for, indeed, those additional harmonies of language and beauties of thought which make style are the gifts of the gods. No teacher could have made Helen Keller sensitive to the beauties of language and to the finer interplay of thought which demands expression in melodious word groupings.
At the same time the inborn gift of style can be starved or stimulated. No innate genius can invent fine language. The stuff of which good style is made must be given to the mind from without and given skilfully. A child of the muses cannot write fine English unless fine English has been its nourishment. In this, as in all other things, Miss Sullivan has been the wise teacher. If she had not had taste and an enthusiasm for good English, Helen Keller might have been brought up on the "Juvenile Literature," which belittles the language under pretence of being simply phrased for children; as if a child's book could not, like "Treasure Island" or "Robinson Crusoe" or the "Jungle Book," be in good style.
If Miss Sullivan wrote fine English, the beauty of Helen Keller's style would, in part, be explicable at once. But the extracts from Miss Sullivan's letters and from her reports, although they are clear and accurate, have not the beauty which distinguishes Miss Keller's English. Her service as a teacher of English is not to be measured by her own skill in composition. The reason why she read to her pupil so many good books is due, in some measure , to the fact that she had so recently recovered her eyesight. When she became Helen Keller's teacher she was just awakening to the good things that are in books, from which she had been shut out during her years of blindness.
In Captain Keller's library she found excellent books, Lamb's "Tales from Shakespeare," and better still, Montaigne. After the first year or so of elementary work, she met her pupil on equal terms, and they read and enjoyed good books together.
Besides the selection of good books, there is one other cause for Miss Keller's excellence in writing, for which Miss Sullivan deserves unlimited credit. That is her tireless and unrelenting discipline, which is evident in all her work. She never allowed her pupil to send off letters which contained offenses against taste, but made her write them over until they were not only correct, but charming and well phrased.
Any one who has tried to write knows what Miss Keller owes to the endless practice which Miss Sullivan demanded of her. Let a teacher with a liking for good style insist on a child's writing a paragraph over and over again until it is more than correct, and he will be training, even beyond his own power of expression, the power of expression in the child.
How far Miss Sullivan carried this process of refinement and selection is evident from the humorous comment of Dr. Bell, that she made her pupil a little old woman, too widely different from ordinary children in her maturity of thought. When Dr. Bell said this he was arguing his own case. For it was Dr. Bell who first saw the principles that underlie Miss Sullivan's method, and explained the process by which Helen Keller absorbed language from books.
There is, moreover, a reason why Helen Keller writes good English, which lies in the very absence of sight and hearing. The disadvantages of being deaf and blind were overcome and the advantages remained. She excels other deaf people because she was taught as if she were normal. On the other hand, the peculiar value to her of language, which ordinary people take for granted as a necessary part of them, like their right hand, made her think about language and love it. Language was her liberator, and from the first she cherished it.
The proof of Miss Keller's early skill in the use of English, and the final comment on the excellence of this whole method of teaching, is contained in an incident, which, although at the time it seemed unfortunate, can no longer be regretted. I refer to the "Frost King" episode, which I shall explain in detail. Miss Keller has given her account of it, and the whole matter was discussed in the first Volta Bureau Souvenir from which I quote at length:
MISS SULLIVAN'S ACCOUNT OF THE "FROST KING"
HON. JOHN HITZ,
Superintendent of the Volta Bureau, Washington, D.C.
DEAR SIR: Since my paper was prepared for the second edition of the Souvenir "Helen Keller," some facts have been brought to my notice which are of interest in connection with the subject of the acquisition of language by my pupil, and if it is not already too late for publication in this issue of the Souvenir, I shall be glad if I may have opportunity to explain them in detail.
Photograph by A. Marshall, 1902
MISS SULLIVAN READING TO MISS KELLER
Perhaps it will be remembered that in my paper, * where allusion is made to Helen's remarkable memory, it is noted that she appears to retain in her mind many forms of expression which, at the time they are received, she probably does not understand; but when further information is acquired, the language retained in her memory finds full or partial expression in her conversation or writing, according as it proves of greater or less value to her in the fitness of its application to the new experience. Doubtless this is true in the case of every intelligent child, and should not, perhaps, be considered worthy of especial mention in Helen's case, but for the fact that a child who is deprived of the senses of sight and hearing might not be expected to be as gifted mentally as this little girl proves to be; hence it is quite possible that we may be inclined to class as marvelous many things we discover in the development of her mind which do not merit such an explanation.
In the hope that I may be pardoned if I appear to overestimate the remarkable mental capacity and power of comprehension and discrimination which my pupil possesses, I wish to add that, while I have always known that Helen made great use of such descriptions and comparisons as appeal to her imagination and fine poetic nature, yet recent developments in her writing convince me of the fact that I have not in the past been fully aware to what extent she absorbs the language of her favourite authors. In the early part of her education I had full knowledge of all the books she read and of nearly all the stories which were read to her, and could without difficulty trace the source of any adaptations noted in her writing or conversations, and I have always been much pleased to observe how appropriately she applies the expressions of a favourite author in her own compositions.
The following extracts from a few of her published letters give evidence of how valuable this power of retaining the memory of beautiful language has been to her. One warm, sunny day in early spring, when we were at the North, the balmy atmosphere appears to have brought to her mind the sentiment expressed by Longfellow in "Hiawatha," and she almost sings with the poet: "The ground was all aquiver with the air of new life. My heart sang for very joy. I thought of my own dear home. I knew that in that sunny land spring had come in all its splendour. 'All its birds and all its blossoms, all its flowers and all its grasses.'"
About the same time, in a letter to a friend, in which she makes mention of her Southern home, she gives so close a reproduction from a poem by one of her favourite authors that I will give extracts from Helen's letter and from the poem itself:
|EXTRACTS FROM HELEN'S LETTER||FROM THE POEM ENTITLED "SPRING," BY OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES|
[The entire letter is published on pp. 245 and 246 of the Report of the Perkins Institution for 1891 ]|
|The blue-bird with his azure plumes, the thrush clad all in brown, the robin jerking his spasmodic throat, the oriole drifting like a flake of fire, the jolly bobolink and his happy mate, the mocking-bird imitating the notes of all, the red-bird with his one sweet trill, and the busy little wren, are all making the trees in our front yard ring with their glad songs.||
The bluebird, breathing from
his azure plumes,|
The fragrance borrowed from the myrtle blooms;
The thrush, poor wanderer, dropping meekly down,
Clad in his remnant of autumnal brown;
The oriole, drifting like a flake of fire
Rent by a whirlwind from a blazing spire;
The robin, jerking his spasmodic throat,
Repeats imperious, his staccato note;
The crack-brained bobolink, courts his crazy mate,
Poised on a bullrush tipsy with his weight;
Nay, in his cage, the lone canary sings,
Feels the soft air, and spreads his idle wings.
On the last day of April she uses another expression from the same poem, which is more an adaptation than a reproduction: "To-morrow April will hide her tears and blushes beneath the flowers of lovely May."
In a letter to a friend * at the Perkins Institution, dated May 17, 1889, she gives a reproduction from one of Hans Christian Anderson's stories, which I had read to her not long before. This letter is published in the Perkins Institution Report (1891), p. 204. The original story was read to her from a copy of "Anderson's Stories," published by Leavitt & Allen Bros., and may be found on p. 97 of Part I, in that volume.
Her admiration for the impressive explanations which Bishop Brooks has given her of the Fatherhood of God is well-known. In one of his letters, speaking of how God in every way tells us of His love, he says, "I think he writes it even upon the walls of the great house of nature which we live in, that he is our Father." The next year at Andover she said: "It seems to me the world is full of goodness, beauty, and love; and how grateful we must be to our heavenly Father, who has given us so much to enjoy! His love and care are written all over the walls of nature."
In these later years, since Helen has come in contact with so many persons who are able to converse freely with her, she has made the acquaintance of some literature with which I am not familiar; she has also found in books printed in raised letters, in the reading of which I have been unable to follow her, much material for cultivation of the taste she possesses for poetical imagery. The pages of the book she reads become to her like paintings, to which her imaginative powers give life and colour. She is at once transported into the midst of the events portrayed in the story she reads or is told, and the characters and descriptions become real to her; she rejoices when justice wins, and is sad when virtue goes unrewarded. The pictures the language paints on her memory appear to make an indelible impression; and many times, when an experience comes to her similar in character, the language starts forth with wonderful accuracy, like the reflection from a mirror.
Helen's mind is so gifted by nature that she seems able to understand with only the faintest touch of explanation every possible variety of external relations. One day in Alabama, as we were gathering wild flowers near the springs on the hillsides, she seemed to understand for the first time that the springs were surrounded by mountains, and she exclaimed, "The mountains are crowding around the springs to look at their own beautiful reflections!" I do not know where she obtained this language, yet it is evident that it must have come to her from without, as it would hardly be possible for a person deprived of the visual sense to originate such an idea. In mentioning a visit to Lexington, Mass., she writes, "As we rode along we could see the forest monarchs bend their proud forms to listen to the children of the woodlands whispering their secrets. The anemone, the wild violet, the hepatica, and the funny little curled-up ferns all peeped out at us from beneath the brown leaves." She closes this letter with, "I must go to bed, for Morpheus has touched my eyelids with his golden wand." Here again, I am unable to state where she acquired these expressions.
She has always seemed to prefer stories which exercise the imagination, and catches and retains the poetic spirit in all such literature, but not until this winter have I been conscious that her memory absorbed the exact language to such an extent that she is herself unable to trace the source.
This is shown in a little story she wrote in October last at the home of her parents in Tuscumbia, which she called "Autumn Leaves." She was at work upon it about two weeks, writing a little each day, at her own pleasure. When it was finished, and we read it in the family, it occasioned much comment on account of the beautiful imagery, and we could not understand how Helen could describe such pictures without the aid of sight. As we had never seen or heard of any such story as this before, we inquired of her where she read it; she replied, "I did not read it; it is my story for Mr. Anagnos's birthday." While I was surprised that she could write like this, I was not more astonished than I had been many times before at the unexpected achievements of my little pupil, especially as we had exchanged many beautiful thoughts on the subject of the glory of the ripening foliage during the autumn of this year.
Before Helen made her final copy of the story, it was suggested to her to change its title to "The Frost King," as more appropriate to the subject of which the story treated; to this she willingly assented. The story was written by Helen in braille, as usual, and copied by her in the same manner; I then interlined the manuscript for the greater convenience of those who desired to read it. Helen wrote a little letter, and, enclosing the manuscript, forwarded both by mail to Mr. Anagnos for his birthday.
The story was printed in the January number of the Mentor and, from a review of it in the Goodson Gazette, I was startled to find a very similar story had been published in 1873, seven years before Helen was born. This story, "Frost Fairies," appeared in a book written by Miss Margaret T. Canby, entitled "Birdie and his Fairy Friends." The passages quoted from the two stories were so much alike in thought and expression as to convince me that Miss Canby's story must at some time have been read to Helen.
As I had never read this story, or even heard of the book, I inquired of Helen if she knew anything about the matter, and found she did not. She was utterly unable to recall either the name of the story or the book. Careful examination was made of the books in raised print in the library of the Perkins Institution to learn if any extracts from this volume could be found there; but nothing was discovered. I then concluded that the story must have been read to her a long time ago, as her memory usually retains with great distinction facts and impressions which have been committed to its keeping.
After making careful inquiry, I succeeded in obtaining the information that our friend, Mrs. S. C. Hopkins, had a copy of this book in 1888 which was presented to her little daughter in 1873 or 1874. Helen and I spent the summer of 1888 with Mrs. Hopkins at her home in Brewster, Mass., where she kindly relieved me a part of the time, of the care of Helen. She amused and entertained Helen by reading to her from a collection of juvenile publications, among which was the copy of "Birdie and his Fairy Friends:, and while Mrs. Hopkins does not remember this story of "Frost Fairies," she is confident that she read to Helen extracts, if not entire stories, from this volume. But as she was not able to find her copy, and applications for the volume at bookstores in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Albany, and other places resulted only in failure, search was instituted for the author herself. This became a difficult task, as her publishers in Philadelphia had retired from business many years ago; however, it was eventually discovered that her residence is at Wilmington, Delaware, and copies of the second edition of the book, 1889, were obtained from her. She has since secured and forwarded to me a copy of the first edition.
The most generous and gratifying letters have been received from Miss Canby by Helen's friends, a few extracts from which are given.
Under date of February 24, 1892, after mentioning the order of the publication of the stories in the magazine, she writes:
"All the stories were revised before publishing them in book form; additions were made to the number as first published, I think, and some of the titles may have been changed."
In the same letter she writes:
"I hope that you will be able to make her understand that I am glad she enjoyed my story, and that I hope the new book will give her pleasure by renewing her friendship with the Fairies. I shall write to her in a short time. I am so much impressed with what I have learned of her that I have written a little poem entitled 'A Silent Singer,' which I may send to her mother after a while. Can you tell me in what paper the article appeared accusing Helen of plagiarism and giving passages from both stories? I should like much to see it, and to obtain a few copies if possible."
Under date of March 9, 1892, Miss Canby writes:
"I find traces, in the Report which you so kindly sent me, of little Helen having heard other stories than that of 'Frost Fairies.' On page 132, in a letter, there is a passage which must have been suggested by my story called 'The Rose Fairies' (see pp. 13-16 of 'Birdie') and on pages 93 and 94 of the Report the description of a thunderstorm is very much like Birdie's idea of the same in the 'Dew Fairies' on pages 59 and 60 of my book. What a wonderfully active and retentive mind that gifted child must have! If she had remembered and written down accurately, a short story, and that soon after hearing it, it would have been a marvel; but to have heard the story once, three years ago, and in such a way that neither her parents nor teacher could ever allude to it or refresh her memory about it, and then to have been able to reproduce it so vividly, even adding some touches of her own in perfect keeping with the rest, which really improve the original, is something that very few girls of riper age, and with every advantage of sight, hearing, and even great talents for composition, could have done as well, if at all. Under the circumstances, I do not see how any one can be so unkind as to call it a plagiarism; it is a wonderful feat of memory, and stands alone, as doubtless much of her work will in future, if her mental powers grow and develop with her years as greatly as in the few years past. I have known many children well, have been surrounded by them all my life, and love nothing better than to talk with them, amuse them, and quietly notice their traits of mind and character; but I do not recollect more than one girl of Helen's age who had the love and thirst for knowledge, and the store of literary and general information, and the skill in composition, which Helen possesses. She is indeed a 'Wonder-Child.' Thank you very much for the Report, Gazette, and Helen's Journal. The last made me realize the great disappointment to the dear child more than before. Please give her my warm love, and tell her not to feel troubled about it any more. No one shall be allowed to think it was anything wrong; and some day she will write a great, beautiful story or poem that will make many people happy. Tell her there are a few bitter drops in every one's cup, and the only way is to take the bitter patiently, and the sweet thankfully. I shall love to hear of her reception of the book and how she likes the stories which are new to her."
I have now (March 1892) read to Helen, "The Frost Fairies," "The Rose Fairies," and a portion of "The Dew Fairies," but she is unable to throw any light on the matter. She recognized them at once as her own stories, with variations, and was much puzzled to know how they could have been published before she was born! She thinks it is wonderful that two people should write stories so much alike; but she still considers her own as original.
I give below a portion of Miss Canby's story, "The Rose Fairies," and also Helen's letter to Mr. Anagnos containing her "dream," so that the likenesses and differences may be studied by those interested in the subject:
THE ROSE FAIRIES
[From "Birdie and his Fairy Friends," by Margaret T. Canby ]
One pleasant morning little Birdie might have been seen sitting quietly on the grass-plat at the side of his mother's house, looking very earnestly at the rose-bushes.
It was quite early; great Mr. Sun, who is such an early riser in summer time, had not been up very long; the birds were just beginning to chirp their "good-mornings" to each other; and as for the flowers, they were still asleep. But Birdie was so busy all day, trotting about the house and garden, that he was always ready for his nest at night, before the birds and flowers had thought of seeking theirs, and so it came to pass that when Mr. Sun raised his head above the green woods and smiled lovingly upon the earth, Birdie was often the first to see him, and to smile back at him, all the while rubbing his eyes with his dimpled fists, until between smiling and rubbing, he was wide awake.
And what do you think he did next! Why, the little rogue rolled into his mamma's bed, and kissed her eyelids, her cheeks, and her mouth, until she began to dream that it was raining kisses; and at last she opened her eyes to see what it all meant, and found that it was Birdie, trying to "kiss her awake," as he said.
She loved her little boy very dearly, and liked to make him happy, and when he said, "Please dress me, dear mamma, and let me go out to play in the garden," she cheerfully consented; and, soon after, Birdie went downstairs in his morning-dress of cool linen, and with his round face bright and rosy from its bath, and ran out on the gravel path to play, until breakfast was ready.
He stood still a moment to look about him, and think what he should do first. The fresh morning air blew softly in his face, as if to welcome him and be his merry playmate; and the bright eye of Mr. Sun looked at him with a warm and glowing smile; but Birdie soon walked on to find something to play with. As he came in sight of the rose-bushes that grew near the side of the house, he suddenly clapped his hands, and with a little shout of joy stopped to look at them; they were all covered with lovely rosebuds. Some were red, some white, and others pale pink, and they were just peeping out of the green leaves, as rosy-faced children peep out from their warm beds in wintertime before they are quite willing to get up. A few days before, Birdie's papa had told him that the green balls on the rose-bushes had beautiful flowers shut up within them, but the little boy found it hard to believe, for he was so young that he did not remember how pretty the roses had been the summer before. Now he found out that his father's words were true, for a few days of warm weather had turned the green balls into rosebuds, and they were so beautiful that it was enough to make Birdie stand still before them, his blue eyes dancing with delight and his little hands clasped tightly together.
After awhile he went nearer, and looking closely at the buds, found that they were folded up, leaf over leaf, as eyelids are folded over sleeping eyes, so that Birdie thought they must be asleep. "Lazy roses, wake up," said he, giving the branches a gentle shake; but only the dew fell off in bright drops, and the flowers were still shut up. At last Birdie remembered how he had awakened his mother with kisses, and thought he would try the same plan with the roses; so he drew up his red lips until they looked like a rosebud, too, and bending down a branch with a lovely pink bud upon it, he kissed it softly two or three times.
Here the similarity in the language of the story to that in the letter ceases.
HELEN'S LETTER TO MR. ANAGNOS
(Written February 2 and 3, 1890.)
[This letter was enclosed in another written in French, dated Le 1 fevrier 1890. ]
MY DEAR MR. ANAGNOS: You will laugh when you open your little friend's letter and see all the queer mistakes she has made in French, but I think you will be pleased to know that I can write even a short letter in French. It makes me very happy to please you and my dear teacher. I wish I could see your little niece Amelia. I am sure we should love each other. I hope you will bring some of Virginia Evanghelides' poems home with you, and translate them for me. Teacher and I have just returned from our walk. It is a beautiful day. We met a sweet little child. She was playing on the pier with a wee brother. She gave me a kiss and then ran away, because she was a shy little girl. I wonder if you would like to have me tell you a pretty dream which I had a long time ago when I was a very little child? Teacher says it was a day-dream, and she thinks you would be delighted to hear it. One pleasant morning in the beautiful springtime, I thought I was sitting on the soft grass under my dear mother's window, looking very earnestly at the rose-bushes which were growing all around me. It was quite early, the sun had not been up very long; the birds were just beginning to sing joyously. The flowers were still asleep. They would not awake until the sun had smiled lovingly upon them. I was a very happy little child with rosy cheeks, and large blue eyes, and the most beautiful golden ringlets you can imagine The fresh morning air blew gently in my face, as if to welcome me, and be my merry playmate, and the sun looked at me with a warm and tender smile. I clapped my chubby hands for joy when I saw that the rose-bushes were covered with lovely buds. Some were red, some white, and others were delicate pink, and they were peeping out from between the green leaves like beautiful little fairies. I had never seen anything so lovely before, for I was very young and I could not remember how pretty the roses had been the summer before. My little heart was filled with a sweet joy, and I danced around the rose-bushes to show my delight. After a while I went very near to a beautiful white rose-bush which was completely covered with buds and sparkling with dewdrops; I bent down one of the branches with a lovely pure white bud upon it, and kissed it softly many times; just then I felt two loving arms steal gently around me, and loving lips kissing my eyelids, my cheeks, and my mouth, until I began to think it was raining kisses; and at last I opened my eyes to see what it all meant, and found it was my precious mother, who was bending over me, trying to kiss me awake. Do you like my day-dream? If you do, perhaps I will dream again for you some time.
Teacher and all of your friends send you their love. I shall be so glad when you come home, for I greatly miss you. Please give my love to your good Greek friends, and tell them that I shall come to Athens some day.
Lovingly your little friend and playmate,
HELEN A. KELLER.
"The Frost Fairies" and "'The Frost King" are given in full, as the differences are as important as the resemblances:
|THE FROST FAIRIES||THE FROST KING|
|[From "Birdie and his Fairy Friends" ]|
|BY MARGARET T. CANBY||BY HELEN A. KELLER|
King Frost, or Jack Frost as he is sometimes called, lives in a cold country far to the North; but every year he takes a journey over the world in a car of golden clouds drawn by a strong and rapid steed called "North Wind." Wherever he goes he does many wonderful things; he builds bridges over every stream, clear as glass in appearance but often strong as iron; he puts the flowers and plants to sleep by one touch of his hand and they all bow down and sink into the warm earth, until spring returns; then, lest we should grieve for the flowers, he places at our windows lovely wreaths and sprays of his white northern flowers, or delicate little forests of fairy pine-trees, pure white and very beautiful. But his most wonderful work is the painting of the trees, which look, after his task is done, as if they were covered with the brightest layers of gold and rubies; and are beautiful enough to comfort us for the flight of summer.
I will tell you how King Frost first thought of this kind of work, for it is a strange story. You must know that this King, like all other kings, has great treasures of gold and precious stones in his palace; but, being a good-hearted old fellow, he does not keep his riches locked up all the time, but tries to do good and make others happy with them. He has two neighbours, who live still farther north; one is King Winter, a cross and churlish old monarch, who is hard and cruel, and delights in making the poor suffer and weep; but the other neighbour is Santa Claus, a fine, good-natured, jolly old soul, who loves to do good, and who brings presents to the poor, and to nice little children at Christmas.
Well, one day King Frost was trying to think of some good that he could do with his treasure; and suddenly he concluded to send some of it to his kind neighbour, Santa Claus, to buy presents of food and clothing for the poor, that they might not suffer so much when King Winter went near their homes. So he called together his merry little fairies, and showing them a number of jars and vases filled with gold and precious stones, told them to carry those carefully to the palace of Santa Claus, and give them to him with the compliments of King Frost. "He will know how to make good use of the treasure," added Jack Frost; then he told the fairies not to loiter by the way, but to do his bidding quickly.
The fairies promised obedience and soon started on their journey, dragging the great glass jars and vases along, as well as they could, and now and then grumbling a little at having such hard work to do, for they were idle fairies, and liked play better than work. At last they reached a great forest, and, being quite tired, they decided to rest awhile and look for nuts before going any further. But lest the treasure should be stolen from them, they hid the jars among the thick leaves of the forest trees, placing some high up near the top, and others in different parts of the various trees, until they thought no one could find them.
Then they began to wander about and hunt for nuts, and climb the trees to shake them down, and worked much harder for their own pleasure than they had done for their master's bidding, for it is strange truth that fairies and children never complain of the toil and trouble they take in search of amusement, although they often grumble when asked to work for the good of others.
The frost fairies were so busy and so merry over their nutting frolic that they soon forgot their errand and their king's command to go quickly; but, as they played and loitered in the forest until noon, they found the reason why they were told to hasten; for although they had, as they thought, hidden the treasure so carefully, they had not secured it from the power of Mr. Sun, who was an enemy of Jack Frost, and delighted to undo his work and weaken him whenever he could.
His bright eyes found out the jars of treasure among the trees, and as the idle fairies left them there until noon, at which time Mr. Sun is the strongest, the delicate glass began to melt and break, and before long every jar and vase was cracked or broken, and the precious treasures they contained were melting, too, and dripping slowly in streams of gold and crimson over the trees and bushes of the forest.
Still, for awhile, the frost fairies did not notice this strange occurrence, for they were down on the grass, so far below the tree-tops that the wonderful shower of treasure was a long time in reaching them; but at last one of them said, "Hark! I believe it is raining; I certainly hear the falling drops." The others laughed, and told him that it seldom rained when the sun was shining; but as they listened they plainly heard the tinkling of many drops falling through the forest, and sliding from leaf to leaf until they reached the bramble-bushes beside them, when, to their great dismay, they found that the rain-drops were melted rubies, which hardened on the leaves and turned them to bright crimson in a moment. Then looking more closely at the trees around, they saw that the treasure was all melting away, and that much of it was already spread over the leaves of the oak trees and maples, which were shining with their gorgeous dress of gold and bronze, crimson and emerald. It was very beautiful; but the idle fairies were too much frightened at the mischief their disobedience had caused, to admire the beauty of the forest, and at once tried to hide themselves among the bushes, lest King Frost should come and punish them.
Their fears were well founded, for their long absence had alarmed the King, and he had started out to look for his tardy servants, and just as they were all hidden, he came along slowly, looking on all sides for the fairies. Of course, he soon noticed the brightness of the leaves, and discovered the cause, too, when he caught sight of the broken jars and vases from which the melted treasure was still dropping. And when he came to the nut trees, and saw the shells left by the idle fairies and all the traces of their frolic, he knew exactly how they had acted, and that they had disobeyed him by playing and loitering on their way through the woods.
King Frost frowned and looked very angry at first, and his fairies trembled for fear and cowered still lower in their hiding-place; but just then two little children came dancing through the wood, and though they did not see King Frost or the fairies, they saw the beautiful colour of the leaves, and laughed with delight, and began picking great bunches to take to their mother. "The leaves are as pretty as flowers," said they; and they called the golden leaves "buttercups," and the red ones "roses," and were very happy as they went singing through the wood.
Their pleasure charmed away King Frost's anger, and he, too, began to admire the painted trees, and at last he said to himself, "My treasures are not wasted if they make little children happy. I will not be offended at my idle, thoughtless fairies, for they have taught me a new way of doing good." When the frost fairies heard these words they crept, one by one, from their corners, and, kneeling down before their master, confessed their fault, and asked his pardon. He frowned upon them for awhile, and scolded them, too, but he soon relented, and said he would forgive them this time, and would only punish them by making them carry more treasure to the forest, and hide it in the trees, until all the leaves, with Mr. Sun's help, were covered with gold and ruby coats.
Then the fairies thanked him for his forgiveness, and promised to work very hard to please him; and the good-natured king took them all up in his arms, and carried them safely home to his palace. From that time, I suppose, it has been part of Jack Frost's work to paint the trees with the glowing colours we see in the autumn; and if they are not covered with gold and precious stones, I do not know how he makes them so bright; do you?
King Frost lives in a beautiful palace far to the North, in the land of perpetual snow. The palace, which is magnificent beyond description, was built centuries ago, in the reign of King Glacier. At a little distance from the palace we might easily mistake it for a mountain whose peaks were mounting heavenward to receive the last kiss of the departing day. But on nearer approach we should discover our error. What we had supposed to be peaks were in reality a thousand glittering spires. Nothing could be more beautiful than the architecture of this ice-palace. The walls are curiously constructed of massive blocks of ice which terminate in cliff-like towers. The entrance to the palace is at the end of an arched recess, and it is guarded night and day by twelve soldierly-looking white Bears.
But, children, you must make King Frost a visit the very first opportunity you have, and see for yourselves this wonderful palace. The old King will welcome you kindly, for he loves children, and it is his chief delight to give them pleasure.
You must know that King Frost, like all other kings, has great treasures of gold and precious stones; but as he is a generous old monarch, he endeavours to make a right use of his riches. So wherever he goes he does many wonderful works; he builds bridges over every stream, as transparent as glass, but often as strong as iron; he shakes the forest trees until the ripe nuts fall into the laps of laughing children; he puts the flowers to sleep with one touch of his hand; then, lest we should mourn for the bright faces of the flowers, he paints the leaves with gold and crimson and emerald, and when his task is done the trees are beautiful enough to comfort us for the flight of summer. I will tell you how King Frost happened to think of painting the leaves, for it is a strange story.
One day while King Frost was surveying his vast wealth and thinking what good he could do with it, he suddenly bethought him of his jolly old neighbour, Santa Claus. "I will send my treasures to Santa Claus," said the King to himself. "He is the very man to dispose of them satisfactorily, for he knows where the poor and the unhappy live, and his kind old heart is always full of benevolent plans for their relief." So he called together the merry little fairies of his household and, showing them the jars and vases containing his treasures, he bade them carry them to the palace of Santa Claus as quickly as they could. The fairies promised obedience, and were off in a twinkling, dragging the heavy jars and vases along after them as well as they could, now and then grumbling a little at having such a hard task, for they were idle fairies and loved to play better than to work. After awhile they came to a great forest and, being tired and hungry, they thought they would rest a little and look for nuts before continuing their journey. But thinking their treasure might be stolen from them, they hid the jars among the thick green leaves of the various trees until they were sure that no one could find them. Then they began to wander merrily about, searching for nuts, climbing trees, peeping curiously into the empty birds' nests, and playing hide and seek from behind the trees. Now, these naughty fairies were so busy and so merry over their frolic that they forgot all about their errand and their master's command to go quickly, but soon they found to their dismay why they had been bidden to hasten, for although they had, as they supposed, hidden the treasure carefully, yet the bright eyes of King Sun had spied out the jars among the leaves, and as he and King Frost could never agree as to what was the best way of benefiting the world, he was very glad of a good opportunity of playing a joke upon his rather sharp rival. King Sun laughed softly to himself when the delicate jars began to melt and break. At length every jar and vase was cracked or broken, and the precious stones they contained were melting, too, and running in little streams over the trees and bushes of the forest.
Still the idle fairies did not notice what was happening, for they were down on the grass, and the wonderful shower of treasure was a long time in reaching them; but at last they plainly heard the tinkling of many drops falling like rain through the forest, and sliding from leaf to leaf until they reached the little bushes by their side, when to their astonishment they discovered that the raindrops were melted rubies which hardened on the leaves, and turned them to crimson and gold in a moment. Then looking around more closely, they saw that much of the treasure was already melted, for the oaks and maples were arrayed in gorgeous dresses of gold and crimson and emerald. It was very beautiful, but the disobedient fairies were too frightened to notice the beauty of the trees. They were afraid that King Frost would come and punish them. So they hid themselves among the bushes and waited silently for something to happen. Their fears were well founded, for their long absence had alarmed the King, and he mounted North Wind and went out in search of his tardy couriers. Of course, he had not gone far when he noticed the brightness of the leaves, and he quickly guessed the cause when he saw the broken jars from which the treasure was still dropping. At first King Frost was very angry, and the fairies trembled and crouched lower in their hiding-places, and I do not know what might have happened to them if just then a party of boys and girls had not entered the wood. When the children saw the trees all aglow with brilliant colors they clapped their hands and shouted for joy, and immediately began to pick great bunches to take home. "The leaves are as lovely as the flowers!" cried they, in their delight. Their pleasure banished the anger from King Frost's heart and the frown from his brow, and he, too, began to admire the painted trees. He said to himself, "My treasures are not wasted if they make little children happy. My idle fairies and my fiery enemy have taught me a new way of doing good."
When the fairies heard this, they were greatly relieved and came forth from their hiding-places, confessed their fault, and asked their master's forgiveness.
Ever since that time it has been King Frost's great delight to paint the leaves with the glowing colors we see in the autumn, and if they are not covered with gold and precious stones I cannot imagine what makes them so bright, can you?
If the story of "The Frost Fairies" was read to Helen in the summer of 1888, she could not have understood very much of it at that time, for she had only been under instruction since March, 1887.
Can it be that the language of the story had remained dormant in her mind until my description of the beauty of the autumn scenery in 1891 brought it vividly before her mental vision?
I have made careful investigation among Helen's friends in Alabama and in Boston and its vicinity, but thus far have been unable to ascertain any later date when it could have been read to her.
Another fact is of great significance in this connection. "The Rose Fairies" was published in the same volume with "The Frost Fairies," and, therefore, was probably read to Helen at or about the same time.
Now Helen, in her letter of February, 1890 (quoted above), alludes to this story of Miss Canby's as a dream "which I had a long time ago when I was a very little child. " Surely, a year and a half would appear "a long time ago" to a little girl like Helen; we therefore have reason to believe that the stories must have been read to her at least as early as the summer of 1888.
HELEN KELLER'S OWN STATEMENT
(The following entry made by Helen in her diary speaks for itself. )
1892. January 30. This morning I took a bath, and when teacher came upstairs to comb my hair she told me some very sad news which made me unhappy all day. Some one wrote to Mr. Anagnos that the story which I sent him as a birthday gift, and which I wrote myself, was not my story at all, but that a lady had written it a long time ago. The person said her story was called "Frost Fairies." I am sure I never heard it. It made us feel so bad to think that people thought we had been untrue and wicked. My heart was full of tears, for I love the beautiful truth with my whole heart and mind.
It troubles me greatly now. I do not know what I shall do. I never thought that people could make such mistakes. I am perfectly sure I wrote the story myself. Mr. Anagnos is much troubled. It grieves me to think that I have been the cause of his unhappiness, but of course I did not mean to do it.
I thought about my story in the autumn, because teacher told me about the autumn leaves while we walked in the woods at Fern Quarry. I thought fairies must have painted them because they are so wonderful, and I thought, too, that King Frost must have jars and vases containing precious treasures, because I knew that other kings long ago had, and because teacher told me that the leaves were painted ruby, emerald, gold, crimson, and brown; so that I thought the paint must be melted stones. I knew that they must make children happy because they are so lovely, and it made me very happy to think that the leaves were so beautiful and that the trees glowed so, although I could not see them.
I thought everybody had the same thought about the leaves, but I do not know now. I thought very much about the sad news when teacher went to the doctor's; she was not here at dinner and I missed her.
I do not feel that I can add anything more that will be of interest. My own heart is too "full of tears" when I remember how my dear little pupil suffered when she knew "that people thought we had been untrue and wicked," for I know that she does indeed "love the beautiful truth with her whole heart and mind."
ANNIE M. SULLIVAN.
So much appears in the Volta Bureau Souvenir. The following letter from Mr. Anagnos is reprinted from the American Annals of the Deaf, April, 1892:
PERKINS INSTITUTION AND MASSACHUSETTS SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND
SO. BOSTON, March 11, 1892.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE Annals.
SIR: In compliance with your wishes I make the following statement concerning Helen Keller's story of "King Frost." It was sent to me as a birthday gift on November 7th, from Tuscumbia, Alabama. Knowing as well as I do Helen's extraordinary abilities I did not hesitate to accept it as her own work; nor do I doubt to-day that she is fully capable of writing such a composition. Soon after its appearance in print I was pained to learn, through the Goodson Gazette, that a portion of the story (eight or nine passages) is either a reproduction or adaptation of Miss Margaret Canby's "Frost Fairies." I immediately instituted an inquiry to ascertain the facts in the case. None of our teachers or officers who are accustomed to converse with Helen ever knew or heard about Miss Canby's book, nor did the child's parents and relatives at home have any knowledge of it. Her father, Captain Keller, wrote to me as follows on the subject:
"I hasten to assure you that Helen could not have received any idea of the story from any of her relations or friends here, none of whom can communicate with her readily enough to impress her with the details of a story of that character."
At my request, one of the teachers in the girls' department examined Helen in regard to the construction of the story. Her testimony is as follows:
"I first tried to ascertain what had suggested to Helen's mind the particular fancies which made her story seem like a reproduction of one written by Miss Margaret Canby. Helen told me that for a long time she had thought of Jack Frost as a king, because of the many treasures which he possessed. Such rich treasures must be kept in a safe place, and so she had imagined them stored in jars and vases in one part of the royal palace. She said that one autumn day her teacher told her as they were walking together in the woods, about the many beautiful colours of the leaves, and she had thought that such beauty must make people very happy, and very grateful to King Frost. I asked Helen what stories she had read about Jack Frost. In answer to my question she recited a part of the poem called 'Freaks of the Frost,' and she referred to a little piece about winter, in one of the school readers. She could not remember that any one had ever read to her any stories about King Frost, but said she had talked with her teacher about Jack Frost and the wonderful things he did."
The only person that we supposed might possibly have read the story to Helen was her friend, Mrs. Hopkins, whom she was visiting at the time in Brewster. I asked Miss Sullivan to go at once to see Mrs. Hopkins and ascertain the facts in the matter. The result of her investigation is embodied in the printed note herewith enclosed. *
I have scarcely any doubt that Miss Canby's little book was read to Helen, by Mrs. Hopkins, in the summer of 1888. But the child has no recollection whatever of this fact. On Miss Sullivan's return to Brewster, she read to Helen the story of "Little Lord Fauntleroy," which she had purchased in Boston for the purpose. The child was at once fascinated and absorbed with the charming story, which evidently made a deeper impression upon her mind than any previously read to her, as was shown in the frequent reference to it, both in her conversation and letters, for many months afterward. Her intense interest in Fauntleroy must have buried all remembrance of "Frost Fairies," and when, more than three years later, she had acquired a fuller knowledge and use of language, and was told of Jack Frost and his work, the seed so long buried sprang up into new thoughts and fancies. This may explain the reason why Helen claims persistently that "The Frost King" is her own story. She seems to have some idea of the difference between original composition and reproduction. She did not know the meaning of the word "plagiarism" until quite recently, when it was explained to her. She is absolutely truthful. Veracity is the strongest element of her character. She was very much surprised and grieved when she was told that her composition was an adaptation of Miss Canby's story of "Frost Fairies." She could not keep back her tears, and the chief cause of her pain seemed to be the fear lest people should doubt her truthfulness. She said, with great intensity of feeling, "I love the beautiful truth." A most rigid examination of the child of about two hours' duration, at which eight persons were present and asked all sorts of questions with perfect freedom, failed to elicit in the least any testimony convicting either her teacher or any one lese of the intention or attempt to practice deception.
In view of these facts I cannot but think that Helen, while writing "The Frost King," was entirely unconscious of ever having had the story of "Frost Fairies" read to her, and that her memory has been accompanied by such a loss of associations that she herself honestly believed her composition to be orginal. This theory is shared by many persons who are perfectly well acquainted with the child and who are able to rise about the clouds of a narrow prejudice.
Very sincerely yours,
Director of the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind.
The episode had a deadening effect on Helen Keller and on Miss Sullivan, who feared that she had allowed the habit of imitation, which has in truth made Miss Keller a writer, to go too far. Even to-day, when Miss Keller strikes off a fine phrase, Miss Sullivan says in a humorous despair, "I wonder where she got that?" But she knows now, since she has studied with her pupil in college the problems of composition, under the wise advice of Mr. Charles T. Copeland, that the style of every writer and indeed, of every human being, illiterate or cultivated, is a composite reminiscence of all that he has read and heard. Of the sources of his vocabulary he is, for the most part, as unaware as he is of the moment when he ate the food which makes a bit of his thumbnail. With most of us the contributions from different sources are blended, crossed, and confused. A child with but few sources may keep distinct what he draws from each. In this case Helen Keller held almost intact in her mind, unmixed with other ideas, the words of a story which at the time it was read to her she did not fully understand. The importance of this cannot be overestimated. It shows how the child-mind gathers into itself words it has heard, and how they lurk there ready to come out when the key that releases the spring is touched. The reason that we do not observe this process in ordinary children is, because we seldom observe them at all, and because they are fed from so many sources that the memories are confused and mutually destructive. The story of "The Frost King" did not, however, come from Helen Keller's mind intact, but had taken to itself the mould of the child's temperment and had drawn on a vocabulary that to some extent had been supplied in other ways. The style of her version is in some respects even better than the style of Miss Canby's story. It has the imaginative credulity of a primitive folk-tale; whereas Miss Canby's story is evidently told for children by an older person, who adopts the mannoer of a fairy tale and cannot conceal the mature mood which allows such didactic phrases as "Jack Frost as he is sometimes called," "Noon, at which time Mr. Sun is strongest." Most people will feel the superior imaginative quality of Helen Keller's opening paragraph. Surely the writer must become as a little child to see things like that. "Twelve soldierly looking white bears" is a stroke of genius, and there is beauty of rhythm throughout the child's narrative. It is original in the same way that a poet's version of an old story is original.
This little story calls into life all the questions of language and the philosophy of style. Some conclusions may be briefly suggested.
All use of language is imitative, and one's style is made up of all other styles that one has met.
The way to write good English is to read it and hear it. Thus it is that any child may be taught to use correct English by not being allowed to read or hear any other kind. In a child, the selection of the better from the worse is not conscious; he is the servant of his word experience.
The ordinary man will never be rid of the fallacy that words obey thought, that one thinks first and phrases afterward. There must first, it is true, be the intention, the desire to utter something, but the idea does not often become specific, does not take shape until it is phrased. Words often make the thought, and the master of words will say things greater than are in him. A remarkable example is a paragraph from Miss Keller's sketch in the Youth's Companion. Writing of the moment when she learned that everything has a name, she says: "We met the nurse carrying my little cousin; and the teacher spelled 'baby.' And for the first time I was impressed with the smallness and helplessness of a little baby, and mingled with the thought there was another one of myself, and I was glad I was myself, and not a baby." It was a word that created these thoughts in her mind. So the master of words is master of thoughts which the words create, and says things greater than he could otherwise know. Helen Keller writing "The Frost King" was building better than she knew and saying more than she meant.
Whoever makes a sentence of words utters not his wisdom, but the wisdom of the race whose life is in the words, though they have never been so grouped before. The man who can write stories thinks of stories to write. The medium calls forth the thing it conveys, and the greater the medium the deeper the thoughts.
The educated man is the man whose expression is educated. The substance of thought is language, and language is the one thing to teach the deaf child and every other child. Let him get language and he gets the very stuff that language is made of, the thought and the experience of his race. The language must be one used by a nation, not an artificial thing. Volapük is a paradox, unless one has French or English or German or some other language that has grown up in a nation. The deaf child who has only the sign language of De l'Épée is an intellectual Philip Nolan, an alien from all races, and his thoughts are not the thoughts of an Englishman, or a Frenchman, or a Spaniard. The Lord's Prayer in signs is not the Lord's Prayer in English.
In his essay on style De Quincey says that the best English is to be found in the letters of the cultivated gentlewoman, because she has read only a few good books and has not been corrupted by the style of newspapers and the jargon of street, market-place, and assembly hall.
Precisely these outward circumstances account for Helen Keller's use of English. In the early years of her education she had only good things to read; some were indeed, trivial and not excellent in style, but not one was positively bad in manner or substance. This happy condition has obtained throughout her life. She has been nurtured on imaginative literature, and she has gathered from it into her vigorous and tenacious memory the style of great writers. "A new word opens its heart to me," she writes in a letter; and when she uses the word its heart is still open. When she was twelve years old, she was asked what book she would take on a long railroad journey. "Paradise Lost," she answered, and she read it on the train.
Until the last year or two she has not been master of her style; rather has her style been master of her. It is only since she has made composition a more conscious study that she has ceased to be the victim of the phrase; the lucky victim, fortunately, of the good phrase.
When in 1892, she was encouraged to write a sketch of her life for the Youth's Companion, in the hope that it would reassure her and help her to recover from the effect of "The Frost King," she produced a piece of composition which is much more remarkable and in itself more entertaining at some points than the corresponding part of her story in this book. When she came to retell the story in a fuller form, the echo was still in her mind of the phrases she had written nine years before. Yet she had not seen her sketch in the Youth's Companion since she wrote it, except two passages which Miss Sullivan read to her to remind her of things she should say in this autobiography, and to show her when her phrasing troubled her, how much better she did as a little girl.
From the early sketch I take a few passages which seem to me, without making very much allowance for difference in time, almost as good as anything she has written since:
I discovered the true way to walk when I was a year old, and during the radiant summer days that followed I was never still a minute....
Then when my father came in the evening, I would run to the gate to meet him, and he would take me up in his strong arms and put back the tangled curls from my face and kiss me many times, saying, "What has my Little Woman been doing to-day?"
But the brightest summer has winter behind it. In the cold, dreary month of February, when I was nineteen months old, I had a serious illness. I still have confused memories of that illness. My mother sat beside my little bed and tried to sooth my feverish moans while in her troubled heart she prayed, "Father in Heaven, spare my baby's life!" But the fever grew and flamed in my eyes and for several days my kind physician thought I would die.
But early one morning the fever left me as mysteriously and unexpectedly as it had come, and I fell into a quiet sleep. Then my parents knew I would live, and they were very happy. They did not know for some time after my recovery that the cruel fever had taken my sight and hearing; taken all the light and music and gladness out of my little life.
But I was too young to realize what had happened. When I awoke and found that all was dark and still, I suppose I thought it was night, and I must have wondered why day was so long coming. Gradually, however, I got used to the silence and darkness that surrounded me, and forgot that it had ever been day.
I forgot everything that had been except my mother's tender love. Soon even my childish voice was stilled, because I had ceased to hear any sound.
But all was not lost! After all, sight and hearing are but two of the beautiful blessings which God had given me. The most precious, the most wonderful of His gifts was still mine. My mind remained clear and active, "though fled fore'er the light."
As soon as my strength returned, I began to take an interest in what the people around me were doing. I would cling to my mother's dress as she went about her household duties, and my little hands felt every object and observed every motion, and in this way I learned a great many things.
When I was a little older I felt the need of some means of communication with those around me, and I began to make simple signs which my parents and friends readily understood; but it often happened that I was unable to express my thoughts intelligibly, and at such times I would give way to my angry feelings utterly....
Teacher had been with me nearly two weeks, and I had learned eighteen or twenty words, before that thought flashed into my mind, as the sun breaks upon the sleeping world; and in that moment of illumination the secret of language was revealed to me, and I caught a glimpse of the beautiful country I was about to explore.
Teacher had been trying all morning to make me understand that the mug and the milk in the mug had different names; but I was very dull, and kept spelling milk for mug, and mug for milk until teacher must have lost all hope of making me see my mistake. At last she got up, gave me the mug, and led me out of the door to the pump-house. Some one was pumping water, and as the cool fresh stream burst forth, teacher made me put my mug under the spout and spelled "w-a-t-e-r," Water!
That word startled my soul, and it awoke, full of the spirit of the morning, full of joyous, exultant song. Until that day my mind had been like a darkened chamber, waiting for words to enter and light the lamp, which is thought....
I learned a great many words that day. I do not remember what they all were; but I do know that mother, father, sister, and teacher were among them. It would have been difficult to find a happier little child than I was that night as I lay in my crib and thought over the joy the day had brought me, and for the first time longed for a new day to come.
The next morning I awoke with joy in my heart. Everything I touched seemed to quiver with life. It was because I saw everything with the new, strange, beautiful sight which had been given me. I was never angry after that because I understood what my friends said to me, and I was very busy learning many wonderful things. I was never still during the first glad days of my freedom. I was continually spelling and acting out the words as I spelled them. I would run, skip, jump, and swing, no matter where I happened to be. Everything was budding and blossoming. The honeysuckle hung in long garlands, deliciously fragrant, and the roses had never been so beautiful before. Teacher and I lived out-of-doors from morning until night, and I rejoiced greatly in the forgotten light and sunshine found again....
The morning after our arrival I awoke bright and early. A beautiful summer day had dawned, the day on which I was to make the acquaintance of a somber and mysterious friend. I got up, and dressed quickly and ran downstairs. I met Teacher in the hall, and begged to be taken to the sea at once. "Not yet," she responded, laughing. "We must have breakfast first." As soon as breakfast was over we hurried off to the shore. Our pathway led through low, sandy hills, and as we hastened on, I often caught my feet in the long, coarse grass, and tumbled, laughing, in the warm shining sand. The beautiful, warm air was peculiarly fragrant, and I noticed it got cooler and fresher as we went on.
Suddenly we stopped, and I knew, without being told, the Sea was at my feet. I knew, too, it was immense! awful! and for a moment some of the sunshine seemed to have gone out of the day. But I do not think I was afraid; for later, when I had put on my bathing-suit, and the little waves ran up on the beach and kissed my feet, I shouted for joy, and plunged fearlessly into the surf. But, unfortunately, I struck my foot on a rock and fell forward into the cold water.
Then a strange, fearful sense of danger terrified me. The salt water filled my eyes, and took away my breath, and a great wave threw me up on the beach as easily as if I had been a little pebble. For several days after that I was very timid, and could hardly be persuaded to go in the water at all; but by degrees my courage returned, and almost before the summer was over, I thought it the greatest fun to be tossed about by the sea-waves....
I do not know whether the difference or the similarity in phrasing between the child's version and the woman's is the more remarkable. The early story is simpler and shows less deliberate artifice, though even then Miss Keller was prematurely conscious of style; but the art of the later narrative, as in the passage about the sea, or the passage on the medallion of Homer, is surely a fulfilment of the promise of the early story. It was in these early days that Dr. Holmes wrote to her: "I am delighted with the style of your letters. There is no affectation about them, and as they come straight from your heart, so they go straight to mine."
In the years when she was growing out of childhood, her style lost its early simplicity and became stiff and, as she says, "periwigged." In these years the fear came many times to Miss Sullivan lest the success of the child was to cease with childhood. At times Miss Keller seemed to lack flexibility; her thoughts ran in set phrases which she seemed to have no power to revise or turn over in new ways.
Then came the work in college–original theme writing with new ideals of composition or at least new methods of suggesting those ideals. Miss Keller began to get the better of her old friendly task-master, the phrase. This book, her first mature experiment in writing, settles the question of her ability to write.
The style of the Bible is everywhere in Miss Keller's work, just as it is in the style of most great English writers. Stevenson, whom Miss Sullivan likes and used to read to her pupil, is another marked influence. In her autobiography are many quotations, chiefly from the Bible and Stevenson, distinct from the context or interwoven with it, the whole a fabric quite of her own design. Her vocabulary has all the phrases that other people use, and the explanation of it, and the reasonableness of it ought to be evident by this time. There is no reason why she should strike from her vocabulary all words of sound and vision. Writing for other people, she should in many cases be true to outer fact rather than to her own experience. So long as she uses words correctly, she should be granted the privilege of using them freely, and not be expected to confine herself to vocabulary true to her lack of sight and hearing. In her style, as in what she writes about, we must concede to the artist what we deny to the autobiographer. It should be explained, too, that look and see are used by the blind, and hear by the deaf, for perceive; they are simple and more convenient words. Only a literal person could think of holding the blind to perception or apperception, when seeing and looking are so much easier, and have, moreover, in the speech of all men the meaning of intellectual recognition as well as recognition through the sense of sight. When Miss Keller examines a statue, she says in her natural idiom, as her fingers run over the marble, "It looks like a head of Flora."
It is true, on the other hand, that in her descriptions, she is best from the point of view of art when she is faithful to her own sensations; and this is precisely true of all artists.
Her recent training has taught her to drop a good deal of her conventionality and to write about experiences in her life which are peculiar to her and which, like the storm in the wild cherry tree, mean most and call for the truest phrasing. She has learned more and more to give up the style she borrowed from books and tried to use, because she wanted to write like other people; she has learned that she is at her best when she "feels" the lilies sway; lets the roses press into her hands and speaks of the heat which to her means light.
Miss Keller's autobiography contains almost everything that she ever intended to publish. It seems worth while, however, to quote from some of her chance bits of writing, which are neither so informal as her letters nor so carefully composed as her story of her life. These extracts are from her exercises in her course in composition, where she showed herself at the beginning of her college life quite without rival among her classmates. Mr. Charles T. Copeland, who has been for many years at Harvard and Radcliffe, said to me: "In some of her work she has shown that she can write better than any pupil I ever had, man or woman. She has an excellent 'ear' for the flow of sentences." The extracts follow:
A few verses of Omar Khayyám's poetry have just been read to me, and I feel as if I had spent the last half-hour in a magnificent sepulcher. Yes, it is a tomb in which hope, joy and the power of acting nobly lie buried. Every beautiful description, every deep thought glides insensibly into the same mournful chant of the brevity of life, of the slow decay and dissolution of all earthly things. The poet's bright, fond memories of love, youth and beauty are but the funeral torches shedding their light on this tomb, or to modifiy the image a little, they are the flowers that bloom on it, watered with tears and fed by a bleeding heart. Beside the tomb sits a weary soul, rejoicing neither in the joys of the past nor in the possibilities of the future, but seeking consolation in forgetfulness. In vain the inspiring sea shouts to this languid soul, in vain the heavens strive with its weakness; it still persists in regretting and seeks a refuge in oblivion from the pangs of present woe. At times it catches some faint echo from the living, joyous, real world, a gleam of the perfection that is to be; and, thrilled out of its despondency, feels capable of working out a grand ideal even "in the poor, miserable, hampered actual," wherein it is placed; but in a moment the inspiration, the vision is gone, and this great, much-suffering soul is again enveloped in the darkness of uncertainty and despair.
It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting off the devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui.
I often think that beautiful ideas embarrass most people as much as the company of great men. They are regarded generally as far more appropriate in books and in public discourses than in the parlor or at the table. Of course I do not refer to beautiful sentiments, but to the higher truths relating to everyday life. Few people that I know seem ever to pause in their daily intercourse to wonder at the beautiful bits of truth they have gathered during their years of study. Often when I speak enthusiastically of something in history or in poetry, I receive no response, and I feel that I must change the subject and return to the commonest topics, such as the weather, dressmaking, sports, sickness, "blues" and "worries." To be sure, I take the keenest interest in everything that concerns those who surround me; it is this very interest which makes it so difficult for me to carry on a conversation with some people who will not talk or say what they think; but I should not be sorry to find more friends ready to talk with me now and then about the wonderful things I read. We need not be like "Les Femmes Savantes" but we ought to have something to say about what we learn as well as about what we must do, and what our professors say or how they mark our themes.
To-day I took luncheon with the Freshman Class of Radcliffe. This was my first real experience in college life, and a delightful experience it was! For the first time since my entrance into Radcliffe I had the opportunity to make friends with all my classmates, and the pleasure of knowing that they regarded me as one of themselves, instead of thinking of me as living apart and taking no interest in the everyday nothings of their life, as I had sometimes feared they did. I have often been surprised to hear this opinion expressed or rather implied by girls of my own age and even by people advanced in years. Once some one wrote to me that in his mind I was always "sweet and earnest," thinking only of what is wise, good and interesting–as if he thought I was one of those wearisome saints of whom there are only too many in the world! I always laugh at these foolish notions, and assure my friends that it is much better to have a few faults and be cheerful and responsive in spite of all deprivations than to retire into one's shell, pet one's affliction, clothe it with sanctity, virtue, goodness and all in all; but even while I laugh I feel a twinge of pain in my heart, because it seems rather hard to me that any one should imagine that I do not feel the tender bonds which draw me to my young sisters–the sympathies springing from what we have in common–youth, hope, a half-eager, half-timid attitude towards the life before us and above all the royalty of maidenhood.
Sainte-Beuve say, "Il vient un age peut-être quand on n'ecrit plus." This is the only allusion I have read to the possibility that the sources of literature, varied and infinite as they seem now, may sometime be exhausted. It surprises me to find that such an idea has crossed the mind of any one, especially of a highly gifted critic. The very fact that the nineteenth century has not produced many authors whom the world may count among the greatest of all time does not in my opinion justify the remark, "There may come a time when people cease to write."
In the first place, the fountains of literature are fed by two vast worlds, one of action, one of thought, by a succession of creations in the one and of changes in the other. New experiences and events call forth new ideas and stir men to ask questions unthought of before, and seek a definite answer in the depths of human knowledge.
In the second place, if it is true that as many centuries must pass before the world becomes perfect as passed before it became what it is to-day, literature will surely be enriched incalculably by the tremendous changes, acquisitions and improvements that cannot fail to take place in the distant future. If genius has been silent for a century it has not been idle. On the contrary, it has been collecting fresh materials not only from the remote past, but also from the age of progress and development, and perhaps in the new century there will be outbursts of splendor in all the various branches of literature. At present the world is undergoing a complete revolution, and in the midst of falling systems and empires, conflicting theories and creeds, discoveries and inventions, it is a marvel how one can produce any great literary works at all. This is an age of workers, not of thinkers. The song to-day is:
Let the dead past bury its dead,
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within and God overhead.
A little later, when the rush and heat of achievement relax, we can begin to expect the appearance of grand men to celebrate in glorious poetry and prose the deeds and triumphs of the last few centuries.
It is very interesting to watch a plant grow, it is like taking part in creation. When all outside is cold and white, when the little children of the woodland are gone to their nurseries in the warm earth, and the empty nests on the bare trees fill with snow, my window-garden glows and smiles, making summer within while it is winter without. It is wonderful to see flowers bloom in the midst of a snow-storm! I have felt a bud "shyly doff her green hood and blossom with a silken burst of sound," while the icy fingers of the snow beat against the window-panes. What secret power, I wonder, caused this blossoming miracle? What mysterious force guided the seedling from the dark earth up to the light, through leaf and stem and bud, to glorious fulfilment in the perfect flower? Who could have dreamed that such beauty lurked in the dark earth, was latent in the tiny seed we planted? Beautiful flower, you have taught me to see a little way into the hidden heart things. Now I understand that the darkness everywhere may hold possibilities better even than my hopes.
A FREE TRANSLATION FROM HORACE
I am not one of those on whom fortune deigns to smile. My house is not resplendent with ivory and gold; nor is it adorned with marble arches, resting on graceful columns brought from the quarries of distant Africa. For me no thrifty spinners weave purple garments. I have not unexpectedly fallen heir to princely estates, titles or power; but I have something more to be desired than all the world's treasures–the love of my friends, and honorable fame, won by my own industry and talents. Despite my poverty, it is my privilege to be the companion of the rich and mighty. I am too grateful for all these blessings to wish for more from princes, or from the gods. My little Sabine farm is dear to me; for here I spend my happiest days, far from the noise and strife of the world.
O, ye who live in the midst of luxury, who seek beautiful marbles for new villas, that shall surpass the old in splendor, you never dream that the shadow of death is hanging over your halls. Forgetful of the tomb, you lay the foundation of your palaces. In your mad pursuit of pleasure you rob the sea of its beach and desecrate hallowed ground. More even than this, in your wickedness you destroy the peaceful homes of your clients! Without a touch of remorse you drive the father from his land, clasping to his bosom his household gods and his half-naked children.
You forget that death comes to the rich and the poor alike, and comes once for all; but remember, Acheron could not be bribed by gold to ferry the crafty Prometheus back to the sunlit world. Tantalus, too, great as he was above all mortals, went down to the kingdom of the dead, never to return. Remember, too, that, although death is inexorable, yet he is just; for he brings retribution to the rich for their wickedness, and gives the poor eternal rest from their toil and sorrow.
Ah, the pranks that the nixies of Dreamland play on us while we sleep! Methinks "they are jesters at the Court of Heaven." They frequently take the shape of daily themes to mock me; they strut about on the stage of Sleep like foolish virgins, only they carry well-trimmed note-books in their hands instead of empty lamps. At other times they examine and cross-examine me in all the studies I have ever had, and invariably ask me questions as easy to answer as this: "What was the name of the first mouse that worried Hippopotamus, satrap of Cambridge under Astyagas, grandfather of Cyrus the Great?" I wake terror-stricken with the words ringing in my ears, "An answer or your life!"
Such are the distorted fancies that flit through the mind of one who is at college and lives as I do in an atmosphere of ideas, conceptions and half-thoughts, half-feelings which tumble and jostle each other until one is almost crazy. I rarely have dreams that are not in keeping with what I really think and feel, but one night my very nature seemed to change, and I stood in the eye of the world a mighty man and a terrible. Naturally I love peace and hate war and all that pertains to war; I see nothing admirable in the ruthless career of Napoleon, save its finish. Nevertheless, in that dream the spirit of that pitiless slayer of men entered me! I shall never forget how the fury of battle throbbed in my veins–it seemed as if the tumultuous beating of my heart would stop my breath. I rode a fiery hunter–I can feel the impatient toss of his head now and the quiver that ran through him at the first roar of the cannon.
From the top of the hill where I stood I saw my army surging over a sunlit plain like angry breakers, and as they moved, I saw the green fields, like the cool hollows between billows. Trumpet answered trumpet above the steady beat of drums and the rhythm of marching feet. I spurred my panting steed and waving my sword on high and shouting, "I come! Behold me, warriors–Europe!" I plunged into the oncoming billows, as a strong swimmer dives into breakers, and struck, alas, 'tis true, the bedpost!
Now I rarely sleep without dreaming; but before Miss Sulllivan came to me, my dreams were few and far between, devoid of thought or coherency, except those of a purely physical nature. In my dreams something was always falling suddenly and heavily, and at times my nurse seemed to punish me for my unkind treatment of her in the daytime and return at an usurer's rate of interest my kickings and pinchings. I would wake with a start or struggle frantically to escape from my tormentor. I was very fond of bananas, and one night I dreamed that I found a long string of them in the dining-room, near the cupboard, all peeled and deliciously ripe, and all I had to do was to stand under the string and eat as long as I could eat.
After Miss Sullivan came to me, the more I learned, the oftener I dreamed; but with the waking of my mind there came many dreary fancies and vague terrors which troubled my sleep for a long time. I dreaded the darkness and loved the woodfire. Its warm touch seemed like a human caress, I really thought it was a sentient being, capable of loving and protecting me. One cold winter night I was alone in my room. Mis Sullivan had put out the light and gone away, thinking I was sound asleep. Suddenly I felt my bed shake, and a wolf seemd to spring on me and snarl in my face. It was only a dream, but I thought it real, and my heart sank within me. I dared not scream, and I dared not stay in bed. Perhaps this was a confused recollection of the story I had heard not long before about Red Riding Hood. At all events, I slipped down from the bed and nestled close to the fire which had not flickered out. The instant I felt its warmth I was reassured, and I sat a long time watching it climb higher and higher in shining waves. At last sleep surprised me, and when Miss Sullivan returned she found me wrapped in a blanket by the hearth.
Often when I dream, thoughts pass through my mind like cowled shadows silent and remote, and disappear. Perhaps they are the ghosts of thoughts that once inhabited the mind of an ancestor. At other times the things I have learned and the things I have been taught drop away, as the lizard sheds its skin, and I see my soul as God sees it. There are also rare and beautiful moments when I see and hear in dreamland. What if in my waking hours a sound should ring though the silent halls of hearing? What if a ray of light should flash through the darkened chambers of my soul? What would happen, I ask many and many a time. Would the bow-and-string tension of life snap? Would the heart, overweighted with sudden joy, stop beating for very excess of happiness?
* See page 263.
* See pages 369 and 371.
* See "The Life and Education of Laura Dewey Bridgman," by Mrs. Mary Swift Lamson.
* See page 396.
* This extract was published in the Perkins Institution Report of 1887.
* See page 146.
† See page 147.
‡ This extract from a letter to Mr. Anagnos was published in the Perkins Institution Report of 1887.
* Most of this journal was lost. Fortunately, however, Helen Keller writes so many letters and exercises that there is no lack of records of that sort.
* See Perkins Institution Report for 1887, page 105.
* See page 187.
* Page 351.
* Miss Fuller's account may be obtained on application to the Volta Bureau, Washington, D. C.
* Page 58.
* See pages 319 and 338.
* The difficulties which Miss Sullivan found in 1891 are, in a measure, the difficulties which show in Miss Keller's speech to-day.
* In this paper Miss Sullivan says: "During this winter (1891-92) I went with her into the yard while a light snow was falling, and let her feel the falling flakes. She appeared to enjoy it very much indeed. As we went in she repeated these words, 'Out of the cloud-folds of his garments Winter shakes the snow.' I inquired of her where she had read this; she did not remember having read it, did not seem to know that she had learned it. As I had never heard it, I inquired of several of my friends if they recalled the words; no one seemed to remember it. The teachers at the Institution expressed the opinion that the description did not appear in any book in raised print in that library; but one lady, Miss Marrett, took upon herself the task of examining books of poems in ordinary type, and was rewarded by finding the following lines in one of Longfellow's minor poems, entitled 'Snowflakes':'Out of the bosom of the air,"It would seem that Helen had learned and treasured the memory of this expression of the poet, and this morning in the snow-storm had found its application.
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow,
Descends the snow.'
* Pages 170.
* This note is a statement of the bare facts and an apology, which Mr. Anagnos inserted in his report of the Perkins Institute.
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