In all institutions those confined in different kinds of wards go to bed at different hours. The patients in the best wards retire at nine or ten o'clock. Those in the wards where more troublesome cases are treated go to bed usually at seven or eight o'clock. I, while undergoing treatment, have retired at all hours, so that I am in the better position to describe the mysteries of what is, in a way, one of the greatest secret societies in the world. I soon became accustomed to the rather agreeable routine, and had I not been burdened with the delusions which held me a prisoner of the police, and kept me a stranger to my old world, I should have been able to enjoy a comparatively happy existence in spite of all.
This new feeling of comparative contentment had not been brought about by any marked improvement in health. It was due directly and entirely to an environment more nearly in tune with my ill-tuned mind. While surrounded by sane people my mental inferiority had been painfully apparent to me, as well as to others. Here a feeling of superiority easily asserted itself, for many of my associates were, to my mind, vastly inferior to myself. But this stimulus did not affect me at once. For several weeks I believed the institution to be peopled by detectives, feigning insanity. The government was still operating the Third Degree, only on a grander scale. Nevertheless, I did soon come to the conclusion that the institution was what it purported to be—still cherishing the idea, however, that certain patients and attaches were detectives.
For a while after my arrival I again abandoned my new-found reading habit. But as I became accustomed to my surroundings I grew bolder and resumed the reading of newspapers and such books as were at hand. There was a bookcase in the ward, filled with old numbers of standard English periodicals; among them: Westminster Review, Edinburgh Review, London Quarterly, and Blackwood's. There were also copies of Harper's and The Atlantic Monthly, dated a generation or more before my first reading days. Indeed, some of the reviews were over fifty years old. But I had to read their heavy contents or go without reading, for I would not yet ask even for a thing I ardently desired. In the room of one of the patients were thirty or forty books belonging to him. Time and again I walked by his door and cast longing glances at those books, which at first I had not the courage to ask for or to take. But during the summer, about the time I was getting desperate, I finally managed to summon enough courage to take them surreptitiously. It was usually while the owner of these books was attending the daily service in the chapel that his library became a circulating one.
The contents of the books I read made perhaps a deeper impression on my memory than most books make on the minds of normal readers. To assure myself of the fact, I have since reread "The Scarlet Letter," and I recognize it as an old friend. The first part of the story, however, wherein Hawthorne describes his work as a Custom House official and portrays his literary personality, seems to have made scarcely any impression. This I attribute to my utter lack of interest at that time in writers and their methods. I then had no desire to write a book, nor any thought of ever doing so.
Letters I looked upon with suspicion. I never read them at the time they were received. I would not even open them; but generally, after a week or sometimes a month, I would secretly open and read them—forgeries of the detectives.
I still refused to speak, and exhibited physical activity only when the patients were taken out of doors. For hours I would sit reading books or newspapers, or apparently doing nothing. But my mind was in an active state and very sensitive. As the event proved, almost everything done or said within the range of my senses was making indelible impressions, though these at the time were frequently of such a character that I experienced great difficulty in trying to recall incidents which I thought I might find useful at the time of my appearance in court.
My ankles had not regained anything like their former strength. It hurt to walk. For months I continued to go flat-footed. I could not sustain my weight with heels lifted from the floor. In going downstairs I had to place my insteps on the edge of each step, or go one step at a time, like a child. Believing that the detectives were pampering me into prime condition, as a butcher fattens a beast for slaughter, I deliberately made myself out much weaker than I really was; and not a little of my inactivity was due to a desire to prolong my fairly comfortable existence, by deferring as long as possible the day of trial and conspicuous disgrace.
But each day still had its distressing incidents. Whenever the attendants were wanted at the office, an electric bell was rung. During the fourteen months that I remained in this hospital in a depressed condition, the bell in my ward rang several hundred times. Never did it fail to send through me a mild shock of terror, for I imagined that at last the hour had struck for my transportation to the scene of trial. Relatives and friends would be brought to the ward—heralded, of course, by a warning bell—and short interviews would be held in my room, during which the visitors had to do all the talking. My eldest brother, whom I shall refer to hereafter as my conservator, called often. He seldom failed to use one phrase which worried me.
"You are looking better and getting stronger," he would say. "We shall straighten you out yet."
To be "straightened out" was an ambiguous phrase which might refer to the end of the hangman's rope or to a fatal electric shock.
I preferred to be let alone, and the assistant physician in charge of my case, after several ineffectual attempts to engage me in conversation, humored my persistent taciturnity. For more than a year his only remarks to me were occasional conventional salutations. Subsequent events have led me to doubt the wisdom of his policy.
For one year no further attention was paid to me than to see that I had three meals a day, the requisite number of baths, and a sufficient amount of exercise. I was, however, occasionally urged by an attendant to write a letter to some relative, but that, of course, I refused to do. As I shall have many hard things to say about attendants in general, I take pleasure in testifying that, so long as I remained in a passive condition, those at this institution were kind, and at times even thoughtful. But there came a time when diplomatic relations with doctors and attendants became so strained that war promptly ensued.
It was no doubt upon the gradual, but sure improvement in my physical condition that the doctors were relying for my eventual return to normality. They were not without some warrant for this. In a way I had become less suspicious, but my increased confidence was due as much to an increasing indifference to my fate as to an improvement in health. And there were other signs of improved mental vigor. I was still watchful, however, for a chance to end my life, and, but for a series of fortunate circumstances, I do not doubt that my choice of evils would have found tragic expression in an overt act.
Having convinced myself that most of my associates were really insane, and therefore (as I believed) disqualified as competent witnesses in a court of law, I would occasionally engage in conversation with a few whose evident incompetency seemed to make them safe confidants. One, a man who during his life had more than once been committed to an institution, took a very evident interest in me and persisted in talking to me, often much against my will. His persistent inquisitiveness seemed to support his own statement that he had formerly been a successful life-insurance agent. He finally gained my confidence to such a degree that months before I finally began to talk to others I permitted myself to converse frequently with him—but only when we were so situated as to escape observation. I would talk to him on almost any subject, but would not speak about myself. At length, however, his admirable persistence overcame my reticence. During a conversation held in June, 1902, he abruptly said, "Why you are kept here I cannot understand. Apparently you are as sane as anyone. You have never made any but sensible remarks to me." Now for weeks I had been waiting for a chance to tell this man my very thoughts. I had come to believe him a true friend who would not betray me.
"If I should tell you things which you apparently don't know, you would understand why I am held here," I said.
"Well, tell me," he urged.
"Will you promise not to repeat my statements to any one else?"
"I promise not to say a word."
"Well," I remarked, "you have seen certain persons who have come here, professing to be relatives of mine."
"Yes, and they are your relatives, aren't they?"
"They look like my relatives, but they're not," was my reply.
My inquisitive friend burst into laughter and said, "Well, if you mean that, I shall have to take back what I just said. You are really the craziest person I have ever met, and I have met several."
"You will think differently some day," I replied; for I believed that when my trial should occur, he would appreciate the significance of my remark. I did not tell him that I believed these callers to be detectives; nor did I hint that I thought myself in the hands of the police.
Meanwhile, during July and August, 1902, I redoubled my activity in devising suicidal schemes; for I now thought my physical condition satisfactory to my enemies, and was sure that my trial could not be postponed beyond the next opening of the courts in September. I even went so far as to talk to one of the attendants, a medical student, who during the summer worked as an attendant at the hospital. I approached him artfully. First I asked him to procure from the library for me "The Scarlet Letter," "The House of the Seven Gables," and other books; then I talked medicine and finally asked him to lend me a textbook on anatomy which I knew he had in his possession. This he did, cautioning me not to let anyone know that he had done so. The book once secured, I lost no time in examining that part which described the heart, its functions, and especially its exact position in the body. I had scarcely begun to read when the young man returned and took the book from me, giving as his reason that an attendant had no right to let a patient read a medical work. Maybe his change of heart was providential.
As is usual in these institutions, all knives, forks, and other articles that might be used by a patient for a dangerous purpose were counted by the attendants after each meal. This I knew, and the knowledge had a deterrent effect. I dared not take one. Though I might at any time during the night have hanged myself, that method did not appeal to me, and I kept it in mind only as a last resort. To get possession of some sharp dagger-like instrument which I could plunge into my heart at a moment's notice—this was my consuming desire. With such a weapon I felt that I could, when the crisis came, rob the detectives of their victory. During the summer months an employe spent his entire time mowing the lawn with a large horse-drawn machine. This, when not in use, was often left outdoors. Upon it was a square wooden box, containing certain necessary tools, among them a sharp, spike-like instrument, used to clean the oil-holes when they became clogged. This bit of steel was five or six inches long, and was shaped like a pencil. For at least three months, I seldom went out of doors that I did not go with the intention of purloining that steel spike. I intended then to keep it in my room against the day of my anticipated transfer to jail.
It was now that my delusions protected me from the very fate they had induced me to court. For had I not believed that the eye of a detective was on me every moment, I could have taken that spike a score of times. Often, when it was not in use, I walked to the lawnmower and even laid my hand upon the tool-box. But I dared not open it. My feelings were much like those of Pandora about a certain other box. In my case, however, the box upon which I looked with longing had Hope without, and not within. Instinctively, perhaps, I realized this, for I did not lift the lid.
One day, as the patients were returning to their wards, I saw, lying directly in my path (I could even now point out the spot), the coveted weapon. Never have I seen anything that I wanted more. To have stooped and picked it up without detection would have been easy; and had I known, as I know now, that it had been carelessly dropped there, nothing could have prevented me from doing so and perhaps using it with fatal effect. But I believed it had been placed there deliberately and as a test, by those who had divined my suicidal purpose. The eye of the imagined detective, which, I am inclined to believe, and like to believe, was the eye of the real God, was upon me; and though I stepped directly over it, I did not pick up that thing of death.
When I had decided that my chance for securing the little stiletto spike was very uncertain, I at once busied myself with plans which were designed to bring about my death by drowning. There was in the ward a large bath tub. Access to it could be had at any time, except from the hour of nine (when the patients were locked in their rooms for the night) until the following morning. How to reach it during the night was the problem which confronted me. The attendant in charge was supposed to see that each patient was in his room before his door was locked. As it rarely happened that the patients were not in their rooms at the appointed time, the attendants naturally grew careless, and often locked a door without looking in. "Good night"—a salutation usually devoid of sentiment—might, or might not, elicit a response, and the absence of a response would not tend to arouse suspicion—especially in a case like mine, for I would sometimes say "good night," but more often not.
My simple and easy plan was to hide behind a piece of furniture in the corridor and there remain until the attendant had locked the doors of the rooms and gone to bed. I had even advanced so far in my plan as to select a convenient nook within twenty feet of my own room. Should the attendant, when about to lock the door, discover my absence, I should, of course, immediately reveal my hiding-place by leaving it; and it would have been an easy matter to convince him that I had done the thing as a test of his own vigilance. On the other hand, if I escaped discovery, I should then have nine hours at my disposal with little fear of interruption. True, the night watch passed through the ward once every hour. But death by drowning requires a time no longer than that necessary to boil an egg. I had even calculated how long it would take to fill the tub with water. To make sure of a fatal result, I had secreted a piece of wire which I intended so to use that my head, once under water, could by no possibility be raised above the surface in the inevitable death struggle.
I have said that I did not desire death; nor did I. Had the supposed detectives been able to convince me that they would keep their word, I would willingly have signed an agreement stipulating on my side that I must live the rest of my life in confinement, and on theirs that I should never undergo a trial for crime.
Fortunately, during these dismal preparations, I had not lost interest in other schemes which probably saved my life. In these the fellow-patient who had won my confidence played the role of my own private detective. That he and I could defeat the combined forces arrayed against me hardly seemed probable, but the seeming impossibility of so doing only lent zest to the undertaking. My friend, who, of course, did not realize that he was engaged in combat with the Secret Service, was allowed to go where he pleased within the limits of the city where the hospital was situated. Accordingly I determined to enlist his services. It was during July that, at my suggestion, he tried to procure copies of certain New Haven newspapers, of the date of my attempted suicide and the several dates immediately following. My purpose was to learn what motive had been ascribed to my suicidal act. I felt sure that the papers would contain at least hints as to the nature of the criminal charges against me. But my purpose I did not disclose to my friend. In due time he reported that no copies for the given dates were to be had. So that quest proved fruitless, and I attributed the failure to the superior strategy of the enemy.
Meanwhile, my friend had not stopped trying to convince me that my apparent relatives were not spurious; so one day I said to him: "If my relatives still live in New Haven, their addresses must be in the latest New Haven Directory. Here is a list containing the names and former addresses of my father, brother, and uncle. These were their addresses in 1900. To-morrow, when you go out, please see whether they appear in the New Haven Directory for 1902. These persons who present themselves to me as relatives pretend to live at these addresses. If they speak the truth, the 1902 Directory will corroborate them. I shall then have hope that a letter sent to any one of these addresses will reach relatives—and surely some attention will be paid to it."
The next day, my own good detective went to a local publishing house where directories of important cities throughout the country could be consulted. Shortly after he went upon this errand, my conservator appeared. He found me walking about the lawn. At his suggestion we sat down. Bold in the assurance that I could kill myself before the crisis came, I talked with him freely, replying to many of his questions and asking several. My conservator, who did not know that I doubted his identity, commented with manifest pleasure on my new-found readiness to talk. He would have been less pleased, however, had he been able to read my mind.
Shortly after my conservator's departure, my fellow-patient returned and informed me that the latest New Haven Directory contained the names and addresses I had given him. This information, though it did not prove that my morning caller was no detective, did convince me that my real brother still lived where he did when I left New Haven, two years earlier. Now that my delusions were growing weaker, my returning reason enabled me to construct the ingenious scheme which, I believe, saved my life; for, had I not largely regained my reason when I did, I am inclined to believe that my distraught mind would have destroyed itself and me, before it could have been restored by the slow process of returning health.
A few hours after my own private detective had given me the information I so much desired, I wrote the first letter I had written in twenty-six months. As letters go, it is in a class by itself. I dared not ask for ink, so I wrote with a lead pencil. Another fellow-patient in whom I had confidence, at my request, addressed the envelope; but he was not in the secret of its contents. This was an added precaution, for I thought the Secret Service men might have found out that I had a detective of my own and would confiscate any letters addressed by him or me. The next morning, my "detective" mailed the letter. That letter I still have, and I treasure it as any innocent man condemned to death would treasure a pardon. It should convince the reader that sometimes a mentally disordered person, even one suffering from many delusions, can think and write clearly. An exact copy of this—the most important letter I ever expect to be called upon to write—is here presented:
AUGUST 29, 1902.
On last Wednesday morning a person who claimed to be George M. Beers of New Haven, Ct., clerk in the Director's Office of the Sheffield Scientific School and a brother of mine, called to see me.
Perhaps what he said was true, but after the events of the last two years I find myself inclined to doubt the truth of everything that is told me. He said that he would come and see me again sometime next week, and I am sending you this letter in order that you may bring it with you as a passport, provided you are the one who was here on Wednesday.
If you did not call as stated please say nothing about this letter to anyone, and when your double arrives, I'll tell him what I think of him. Would send other messages, but while things seem as they do at present it is impossible. Have had someone else address envelope for fear letter might be held up on the way.
Though I felt reasonably confident that this message would reach my brother, I was by no means certain. I was sure, however, that, should he receive it, under no circumstances would he turn it over to anyone hostile to myself. When I wrote the words: "Dear George," my feeling was much like that of a child who sends a letter to Santa Claus after his childish faith has been shaken. Like the skeptical child, I felt there was nothing to lose, but everything to gain. "Yours" fully expressed such affection for relatives as I was then capable of—for the belief that I had disgraced, perhaps destroyed, my family prompted me to forbear to use the family name in the signature.
The thought that I might soon get in touch with my old world did not excite me. I had not much faith anyway that I was to re-establish former relations with it, and what little faith I had was all but destroyed on the morning of August 30th, 1902, when a short message, written on a slip of paper, reached me by the hand of an attendant. It informed me that my conservator would call that afternoon. I thought it a lie. I felt that any brother of mine would have taken the pains to send a letter in reply to the first I had written him in over two years. The thought that there had not been time for him to do so and that this message must have arrived by telephone did not then occur to me. What I believed was that my own letter had been confiscated. I asked one of the doctors to swear on his honor that it really was my own brother who was coming to see me. This he did. But abnormal suspicion robbed all men in my sight of whatever honor they may have had, and I was not fully reassured.
In the afternoon, as usual, the patients were taken out of doors, I among them. I wandered about the lawn and cast frequent and expectant glances toward the gate, through which I believed my anticipated visitor would soon pass. In less than an hour he appeared. I first caught sight of him about three hundred feet away, and, impelled more by curiosity than hope, I advanced to meet him. "I wonder what the lie will be this time," was the gist of my thoughts.
The person approaching me was indeed the counterpart of my brother as I remembered him. Yet he was no more my brother than he had been at any time during the preceding two years. He was still a detective. Such he was when I shook his hand. As soon as that ceremony was over, he drew forth a leather pocketbook. I instantly recognized it as one I myself had carried for several years prior to the time I was taken ill in 1900. It was from this that he took my recent letter.
"Here's my passport," he said.
"It's a good thing you brought it," I replied, as I glanced at it and again shook his hand—this time the hand of my own brother.
"Don't you want to read it?" he asked.
"There is no need of that. I am convinced."
After my long journey of exploration in the jungle of a tangled imagination, a journey which finally ended in my finding the person for whom I had long searched, my behavior differed very little from that of a great explorer who, full of doubt after a long and perilous trip through real jungles, found the man he sought and, grasping his hand, greeted him with the simple and historic words, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"
The very instant I caught sight of my letter in the hands of my brother, all was changed. The thousands of false impressions recorded during the seven hundred and ninety-eight days of my depression seemed at once to correct themselves. Untruth became Truth. A large part of what was once my old world was again mine. To me, at last my mind seemed to have found itself, for the gigantic web of false beliefs in which it had been all but hopelessly enmeshed I now immediately recognized as a snare of delusions. That the Gordian knot of mental torture should be cut and swept away by the mere glance of a willing eye is like a miracle. Not a few patients, however, suffering from certain forms of mental disorder, regain a high degree of insight into their mental condition in what might be termed a flash of divine enlightenment. Though insight regained seemingly in an instant is a most encouraging symptom, power to reason normally on all subjects cannot, of course, be so promptly recovered. My new power to reason correctly on some subjects simply marked the transition from depression, one phase of my disorder, to elation, another phase of it. Medically speaking, I was as mentally disordered as before—yet I was happy!
My memory during depression may be likened to a photographic film, seven hundred and ninety-eight days long. Each impression seems to have been made in a negative way and then, in a fraction of a second, miraculously developed and made positive. Of hundreds of impressions made during that depressed period I had not before been conscious, but from the moment my mind, if not my full reason, found itself, they stood out vividly. Not only so, but other impressions registered during earlier years became clearer. Since that August 30th, which I regard as my second birthday (my first was on the 30th of another month), my mind has exhibited qualities which, prior to that time, were so latent as to be scarcely distinguishable. As a result, I find myself able to do desirable things I never before dreamed of doing—the writing of this book is one of them.
Yet had I failed to convince myself on August 30th, when my brother came to see me, that he was no spy, I am almost sure that I should have compassed my own destruction within the following ten days, for the next month, I believed, was the fatal one of opening courts. You will recall that it was death by drowning that impended. I liken my salvation itself to a prolonged process of drowning. Thousands of minutes of the seven hundred and ninety-eight days—and there were over one million of them, during which I had been borne down by intolerably burdensome delusions—were, I imagine, much like the last minutes of consciousness experienced by persons who drown. Many who have narrowly escaped that fate can testify to the vividness with which good and bad impressions of their entire life rush through their confused minds, and hold them in a grip of terror until a kind unconsciousness envelops them. Such had been many of my moments. But the only unconsciousness which had deadened my sensibilities during these two despondent years was that of sleep itself. Though I slept fairly well most of the time, mine was seldom a dreamless sleep. Many of my dreams were, if anything, harder to bear than my delusions of the day, for what little reason I had was absolutely suspended in sleep. Almost every night my brain was at battledore and shuttlecock with weird thoughts. And if not all my dreams were terrifying, this fact seemed to be only because a perverted and perverse Reason, in order that its possessor might not lose the capacity for suffering, knew how to keep Hope alive with visions which supplied the contrast necessary for keen appreciation.
No man can be born again, but I believe I came as near it as ever a man did. To leave behind what was in reality a hell, and immediately have this good green earth revealed in more glory than most men ever see it, was one of the compensating privileges which make me feel that my suffering was worth while.
I have already described the peculiar sensation which assailed me when, in June, 1900, I lost my reason. At that time my brain felt as though pricked by a million needles at white heat. On this August 30th, 1902, shortly after largely regaining my reason, I had another most distinct sensation in the brain. It started under my brow and gradually spread until the entire surface was affected. The throes of a dying Reason had been torture. The sensations felt as my dead Reason was reborn were delightful. It seemed as though the refreshing breath of some kind Goddess of Wisdom were being gently blown against the surface of my brain. It was a sensation not unlike that produced by a menthol pencil rubbed ever so gently over a fevered brow. So delicate, so crisp and exhilarating was it that words fail me in my attempt to describe it. Few, if any, experiences can be more delightful. If the exaltation produced by some drugs is anything like it, I can easily understand how and why certain pernicious habits enslave those who contract them. For me, however, this experience was liberation, not enslavement.
After two years of silence I found it no easy matter to carry on with my brother a sustained conversation. So weak were my vocal cords from lack of use that every few minutes I must either rest or whisper. And upon pursing my lips I found myself unable to whistle, notwithstanding the popular belief, drawn from vague memories of small-boyhood, that this art is instinctive. Those who all their lives have talked at will cannot possibly appreciate the enjoyment I found in using my regained power of speech. Reluctantly I returned to the ward; but not until my brother had left for home, laden with so much of my conversation that it took most of his leisure for the next two days to tell the family what I had said in two hours.
During the first few hours I seemed virtually normal. I had none of the delusions which had previously oppressed me; nor had I yet developed any of the expansive ideas, or delusions of grandeur, which soon began to crowd in upon me. So normal did I appear while talking to my brother that he thought I should be able to return home in a few weeks; and, needless to say, I agreed with him. But the pendulum, as it were, had swung too far. The human brain is too complex a mechanism to admit of any such complete readjustment in an instant. It is said to be composed of several million cells; and, that fact granted, it seems safe to say that every day, perhaps every hour, hundreds of thousands of the cells of my brain were now being brought into a state of renewed activity. Comparatively sane and able to recognize the important truths of life, I was yet insane as to many of its practical details. Judgment being King of the Realm of Thought, it was not surprising that my judgment failed often to decide correctly the many questions presented to it by its abnormally communicative subjects. At first I seemed to live a second childhood. I did with delight many things which I had first learned to do as a child—the more so as it had been necessary for me to learn again to eat and walk, and now to talk. I had much lost time to make up; and for a while my sole ambition seemed to be to utter as many thousand words a day as possible. My fellow-patients who for fourteen months had seen me walk about in silence—a silence so profound and inexorable that I would seldom heed their friendly salutations—were naturally surprised to see me in my new mood of unrestrained loquacity and irrepressible good humor. In short, I had come into that abnormal condition which is known to psychiatrists as elation.
For several weeks I believe I did not sleep more than two or three hours a night. Such was my state of elation, however, that all signs of fatigue were entirely absent and the sustained and abnormal mental and physical activity in which I then indulged has left on my memory no other than a series of very pleasant impressions. Though based on fancy, the delights of some forms of mental disorder are real. Few, if any, sane persons would care to test the matter at so great a price; but those familiar with the "Letters of Charles Lamb" must know that Lamb, himself, underwent treatment for mental disease. In a letter to Coleridge, dated June 10th, 1796, he says: "At some future time I will amuse you with an account, as full as my memory will permit, of the strange turns my frenzy took. I look back upon it at times with a gloomy kind of envy; for, while it lasted, I had many, many hours of pure happiness. Dream not, Coleridge, of having tasted all the grandeur and wildness of Fancy till you have gone mad! All now seems to me vapid, comparatively so!"
As for me, the very first night vast but vague humanitarian projects began joyously to shape themselves in my mind. My garden of thoughts seemed filled with flowers which might properly be likened to the quick-blowing night-blooming cereus—that Delusion of Grandeur of all flowering plants that thinks itself prodigal enough if it but unmask its beauty to the moon! Few of my bold fancies, however, were of so fugitive and chaste a splendor.
The religious instinct is found in primitive man. It is not strange, therefore, that at this time the religious side of my nature was the first to display compelling activity. Whether or not this was due to my rescue from a living death, and my immediate appreciation of God's goodness, both to me and to those faithful relatives who had done all the praying during the preceding two years—this I cannot say. But the fact stands out, that, whereas I had, while depressed, attached a sinister significance to everything done or said in my presence, I now interpreted the most trifling incidents as messages from God. The day after this transition I attended church. It was the first service in over two years which I had not attended against my will. The reading of a psalm—the 45th—made a lasting impression upon me, and the interpretation which I placed upon it furnishes the key to my attitude during the first weeks of elation. It seemed to me a direct message from Heaven.
The minister began: "My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer."—Whose heart but mine? And the things indited—what were they but the humanitarian projects which had blossomed in my garden of thoughts over night? When, a few days later, I found myself writing very long letters with unwonted facility, I became convinced that my tongue was to prove itself "the pen of a ready writer." Indeed, to these prophetic words I trace the inception of an irresistible desire, of which this book is the first fruit.
"Thou art fairer than the children of men; grace is poured into thy lips:" was the verse next read (by myself and the congregation), to which the minister responded, "Therefore God hath blessed thee for ever."—"Surely, I have been selected as the instrument wherewith great reforms shall be effected," was my thought. (All is grist that comes to the mill of a mind in elation—then even divine encomiums seem not undeserved.)
"Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty"—a command to fight. "And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness;" replied the minister. "And thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things,"—was another response. That I could speak the truth, I knew. "Meekness" I could not associate with myself, except that during the preceding two years I had suffered many indignities without open resentment. That my right hand with a pen should teach me terrible things—how to fight for reform—I firmly believed.
"Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the King's enemies, whereby the people fall under thee," quoth the minister. Yes, my tongue could be as sharp as an arrow, and I should be able to stand up against those who should stand in the way of reform. Again: "Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness. Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." The first sentence I did not apply to myself; but being then, as I supposed, a man restored to himself, it was easy to feel that I had been anointed with the oil of gladness above my fellows. "Oil of gladness" is, in truth, an apt phrase wherewith to describe elation.
The last two verses of the psalm corroborated the messages found in the preceding verses: "I will make thy name to be remembered in all generations:"—thus the minister. "Therefore shall the people praise thee for ever and ever," was the response I read. That spelled immortal fame for me, but only on condition that I should carry to a successful conclusion the mission of reform—an obligation placed upon me by God when He restored my reason.
When I set out upon a career of reform, I was impelled to do so by motives in part like those which seem to have possessed Don Quixote when he set forth, as Cervantes says, with the intention "of righting every kind of wrong, and exposing himself to peril and danger, from which in the issue he would obtain eternal renown and fame." In likening myself to Cervantes' mad hero my purpose is quite other than to push myself within the charmed circle of the chivalrous. What I wish to do is to make plain that a man abnormally elated may be swayed irresistably by his best instincts, and that while under the spell of an exaltation, idealistic in degree, he may not only be willing, but eager to assume risks and endure hardships which under normal conditions he would assume reluctantly, if at all. In justice to myself, however, I may remark that my plans for reform have never assumed quixotic, and therefore, impracticable proportions. At no time have I gone a-tilting at windmills. A pen rather than a lance has been my weapon of offence and defence; for with its point I have felt sure that I should one day prick the civic conscience into a compassionate activity, and thus bring into a neglected field earnest men and women who should act as champions for those afflicted thousands least able to fight for themselves.
After being without relatives and friends for over two years I naturally lost no time in trying again to get in touch with them; though I did heed my conservator's request that I first give him two or three days in which to acquaint intimates with the new turn my affairs had taken.
During the latter part of that first week I wrote many letters, so many, indeed, that I soon exhausted a liberal supply of stationery. This had been placed at my disposal at the suggestion of my conservator, who had wisely arranged that I should have whatever I wanted, if expedient. It was now at my own suggestion that the supervisor gave me large sheets of manila wrapping paper. These I proceeded to cut into strips a foot wide. One such strip, four feet long, would suffice for a mere billet-doux; but a real letter usually required several such strips pasted together. More than once letters twenty or thirty feet long were written; and on one occasion the accumulation of two or three days of excessive productivity, when spread upon the floor, reached from one end of the corridor to the other—a distance of about one hundred feet. My hourly output was something like twelve feet, with an average of one hundred and fifty words to the foot. Under the pressure of elation one takes pride in doing everything in record time. Despite my speed my letters were not incoherent. They were simply digressive, which was to be expected, as elation befogs one's "goal idea." Though these epistolary monstrosities were launched, few reached those to whom they were addressed; for my conservator had wisely ordered that my literary output be sent in bulk to him. His action was exasperating, but later I realized that he had done me a great favor when he interposed his judgment between my red-hot mentality and the cool minds of the workaday world. Yet this interference with what I deemed my rights proved to be the first step in the general overruling of them by tactless attendants and, in particular, by a certain assistant physician.
I had always shown a strong inclination to superintend. In consequence, in my elated condition it was but natural that I should have an excess of executive impulses. In order to decrease this executive pressure I proceeded to assume entire charge of that portion of the hospital in which I happened at the moment to be confined. What I eventually issued as imperative orders were often presented at first as polite suggestions. But, if my suggestions were not accorded a respectful hearing, and my demands acted upon at once, I invariably supplemented them with vituperative ultimatums. These were double-edged, and involved me in trouble quite as often as they gained the ends I sought.
The assistant physician in charge of my case, realizing that he could not grant all of my requests, unwisely decided to deny most of them. Had he been tactful, he could have taken the same stand without arousing my animosity. As it was, he treated me with a contemptuous sort of indifference which finally developed into spite, and led to much trouble for us both. During the two wild months that followed, the superintendent and the steward could induce me to do almost anything by simply requesting it. If two men out of three could control me easily during such a period of mental excitement, is it not reasonable to suppose that the third man, the assistant physician, could likewise have controlled me had he treated me with consideration? It was his undisguised superciliousness that gave birth to my contempt for him. In a letter written during my second week of elation, I expressed the opinion that he and I should get along well together. But that was before I had become troublesome enough to try the man's patience. Nevertheless, it indicates that he could have saved himself hours of time and subsequent worry, had he met my friendly advances in the proper spirit, for it is the quality of heart quite as much as the quantity of mind that cures or makes happy the insane.
The literary impulse took such a hold on me that, when I first sat down to compose a letter, I bluntly refused to stop writing and go to bed when the attendant ordered me to do so. For over one year this man had seen me mute and meek, and the sudden and startling change from passive obedience to uncompromising independence naturally puzzled him. He threatened to drag me to my room, but strangely enough decided not to do so. After half an hour's futile coaxing, during which time an unwonted supply of blood was drawn to his brain, that surprised organ proved its gratitude by giving birth to a timely and sensible idea. With an unaccustomed resourcefulness, by cutting off the supply of light at the electric switch, he put the entire ward in darkness. Secretly I admired the stratagem, but my words on that occasion probably conveyed no idea of the approbation that lurked within me.
I then went to bed, but not to sleep. The ecstasy of elation made each conscious hour one of rapturous happiness, and my memory knows no day of brighter sunlight than those nights. The floodgates of thought wide open. So jealous of each other were the thoughts that they seemed to stumble over one another in their mad rush to present themselves to my re-enthroned ego.
I naturally craved companionship, but there were not many patients whom I cared to talk with. I did, however, greatly desire to engage the assistant physician in conversation, as he was a man of some education and familiar with the history of my case. But this man, who had tried to induce me to speak when delusions had tied my tongue, now, when I was at last willing talk, would scarcely condescend to listen; and what seemed to me his studied and ill-disguised avoidance only served to whet my desire to detain him whenever possible.
It was about the second week that my reformative turn of mind became acute. The ward in which I was confined was well furnished and as homelike as such a place could be, though in justice to my own home I must observe that the resemblance was not great. About the so-called violent ward I had far less favorable ideas. Though I had not been subjected to physical abuse during the first fourteen months of my stay here, I had seen unnecessary and often brutal force used by the attendants in managing several so-called violent patients, who, upon their arrival, had been placed in the ward where I was. I had also heard convincing rumors of rough treatment of irresponsible patients in the violent ward.
At once I determined to conduct a thorough investigation of the institution. In order that I might have proof that my intended action was deliberate, my first move was to tell one or two fellow-patients that I should soon transgress some rule in such a way as to necessitate my removal to the violent ward. At first I thought of breaking a few panes of glass; but my purpose was accomplished in another way—and, indeed, sooner than I had anticipated. My conservator, in my presence, had told the assistant physician that the doctors could permit me to telephone him whenever they should see fit. It was rather with the wish to test the unfriendly physician than to satisfy any desire to speak with my conservator that one morning I asked permission to call up the latter. That very morning I had received a letter from him. This the doctor knew, for I showed him the letter—but not its contents. It was on the letter that I based my demand, though in it my brother did not even intimate that he wished to speak to me. The doctor, however, had no way of knowing that my statement was not true. To deny my request was simply one of his ill-advised whims, and his refusal was given with customary curtness and contempt. I met his refusal in kind, and presented him with a trenchant critique of his character.
He said, "Unless you stop talking in that way I shall have you transferred to the Fourth Ward." (This was the violent ward.)
"Put me where you please," was my reply. "I'll put you in the gutter before I get through with you."
With that the doctor made good his threat, and the attendant escorted me to the violent ward—a willing, in fact, eager prisoner.
The ward in which I was now placed (September 13th, 1902) was furnished in the plainest manner. The floors were of hard wood and the walls were bare. Except when at meals or out of doors taking their accustomed exercise, the patients usually lounged about in one large room, in which heavy benches were used, it being thought that in the hands of violent patients, chairs might become a menace to others. In the dining room, however, there were chairs of a substantial type, for patients seldom run amuck at meal time. Nevertheless, one of these dining-room chairs soon acquired a history.
As my banishment had come on short notice, I had failed to provide myself with many things I now desired. My first request was that I be supplied with stationery. The attendants, acting no doubt on the doctor's orders, refused to grant my request; nor would they give me a lead pencil—which, luckily, I did not need, for I happened to have one. Despite their refusal I managed to get some scraps of paper, on which I was soon busily engaged in writing notes to those in authority. Some of these (as I learned later) were delivered, but no attention was paid to them. No doctor came near me until evening, when the one who had banished me made his regular round of inspection. When he appeared, the interrupted conversation of the morning was resumed—that is, by me—and in a similar vein. I again asked leave to telephone my conservator. The doctor again refused, and, of course, again I told him what I thought of him.
My imprisonment pleased me. I was where I most wished to be, and I busied myself investigating conditions and making mental notes. As the assistant physician could grant favors to the attendants, and had authority to discharge them, they did his bidding and continued to refuse most of my requests. In spite of their unfriendly attitude, however, I did manage to persuade the supervisor, a kindly man, well along in years, to deliver a note to the steward. In it I asked him to come at once, as I wished to talk with him. The steward, whom I looked upon as a friend, returned no answer and made no visit. I supposed he, too, had purposely ignored me. As I learned afterwards, both he and the superintendent were absent, else perhaps I should have been treated in a less high-handed manner by the assistant physician, who was not absent.
The next morning, after a renewal of my request and a repeated refusal, I asked the doctor to send me the "Book of Psalms" which I had left in my former room. With this request he complied, believing, perhaps, that some religion would at least do me no harm. I probably read my favorite psalm, the 45th; but most of my time I spent writing, on the flyleaves, psalms of my own. And if the value of a psalm is to be measured by the intensity of feeling portrayed, my compositions of that day rightly belonged beside the writings of David. My psalms were indited to those in authority at the hospital, and later in the day the supervisor—who proved himself a friend on many occasions—took the book to headquarters.
The assistant physician, who had mistaken my malevolent tongue for a violent mind, had placed me in an exile which precluded my attending the service which was held in the chapel that Sunday afternoon. Time which might better have been spent in church I therefore spent in perfecting a somewhat ingenious scheme for getting in touch with the steward. That evening, when the doctor again appeared, I approached him in a friendly way and politely repeated my request. He again refused to grant it. With an air of resignation I said, "Well, as it seems useless to argue the point with you and as the notes sent to others have thus far been ignored, I should like, with your kind permission, to kick a hole in your damned old building and to-morrow present myself to the steward in his office."
"Kick away!" he said with a sneer. He then entered an adjoining ward, where he remained for about ten minutes.
If you will draw in your mind, or on paper, a letter "L," and let the vertical part represent a room forty feet in length, and the horizontal part one of twenty, and if you will then picture me as standing in a doorway at the intersection of these two lines—the door to the dining room—and the doctor behind another door at the top of the perpendicular, forty feet away, you will have represented graphically the opposing armies just prior to the first real assault in what proved to be a siege of seven weeks.
The moment the doctor re-entered the ward, as he had to do to return to the office, I disappeared through my door—into the dining room. I then walked the length of that room and picked up one of the heavy wooden chairs, selected for my purpose while the doctor and his tame charges were at church. Using the chair as a battering-ram, without malice—joy being in my heart—I deliberately thrust two of its legs through an upper and a lower pane of a four-paned plate glass window. The only miscalculation I made was in failing to place myself directly in front of that window, and at a proper distance, so that I might have broken every one of the four panes. This was a source of regret to me, for I was always loath to leave a well-thought-out piece of work unfinished.
The crash of shattered and falling glass startled every one but me. Especially did it frighten one patient who happened to be in the dining room at the time. He fled. The doctor and the attendant who were in the adjoining room could not see me, or know what the trouble was; but they lost no time in finding out. Like the proverbial cold-blooded murderer who stands over his victim, weapon in hand, calmly awaiting arrest, I stood my ground, and, with a fair degree of composure, awaited the onrush of doctor and attendant. They soon had me in hand. Each taking an arm, they marched me to my room. This took not more than half a minute, but the time was not so short as to prevent my delivering myself of one more thumb-nail characterization of the doctor. My inability to recall that delineation, verbatim, entails no loss on literature. But one remark made as the doctor seized hold of me was apt, though not impromptu. "Well, doctor," I said, "knowing you to be a truthful man, I just took you at your word."
Senseless as this act appears it was the result of logical thinking. The steward had entire charge of the building and ordered all necessary repairs. It was he whom I desired above all others to see, and I reasoned that the breaking of several dollars' worth of plate glass (for which later, to my surprise, I had to pay) would compel his attention on grounds of economy, if not those of the friendly interest which I now believed he had abandoned. Early the next morning, as I had hoped, the steward appeared. He approached me in a friendly way (as had been his wont) and I met him in a like manner. "I wish you would leave a little bit of the building," he said good-naturedly.
"I will leave it all, and gladly, if you will pay some attention to my messages," was my rejoinder.
"Had I not been out of town," he replied, "I would have come to see you sooner." And this honest explanation I accepted.
I made known to the steward the assistant physician's behavior in balking my desire to telephone my conservator. He agreed to place the matter before the superintendent, who had that morning returned. As proof of gratitude, I promised to suspend hostilities until I had had a talk with the superintendent. I made it quite plain, however, that should he fail to keep his word, I would further facilitate the ventilation of the violent ward. My faith in mankind was not yet wholly restored.
A few hours later, without having witnessed anything of particular significance, except as it befell myself, I was transferred to my old ward. The superintendent, who had ordered this rehabilitation, soon appeared, and he and I had a satisfactory talk. He gave me to understand that he himself would in future look after my case, as he realized that his assistant lacked the requisite tact and judgment to cope with one of my temperament—and with that, my desire to telephone my conservator vanished.
Now no physician would like to have his wings clipped by a patient, even indirectly, and without doubt the man's pride was piqued as his incompetence was thus made plain. Thereafter, when he passed through the ward, he and I had frequent tilts. Not only did I lose no opportunity to belittle him in the presence of attendants and patients, but I even created such opportunities; so that before long he tried to avoid me whenever possible. But it seldom was possible. One of my chief amusements consisted in what were really one-sided interviews with him. Occasionally he was so unwise as to stand his ground for several minutes, and his arguments on such occasions served only to keep my temper at a vituperative heat. If there were any epithets which I failed to apply to him during the succeeding weeks of my association with him, they must have been coined since. The uncanny admixture of sanity displayed by me, despite my insane condition, was something this doctor could not comprehend. Remarks of mine, which he should have discounted or ignored, rankled as the insults of a sane and free man would have done. And his blunt and indiscriminate refusal of most of my requests prolonged my period of mental excitement.
After my return to my old ward I remained there for a period of three weeks. At that time I was a very self-centred individual. My large and varied assortment of delusions of grandeur made everything seem possible. There were few problems I hesitated to attack. With sufficient provocation I even attacked attendants—problems in themselves; but such fights as I subsequently engaged in were fights either for my own rights or the rights of others. Though for a while I got along fairly well with the attendants and as well as could be expected with the assistant physician, it soon became evident that these men felt that to know me more was to love me less. Owing to their lack of capacity for the work required of them, I was able to cause them endless annoyance. Many times a day I would tell the attendants what to do and what not to do, and tell them what I should do if my requests, suggestions, or orders were not immediately complied with. For over one year they had seen me in a passive, almost speechless condition, and they were, therefore, unable to understand my unwonted aggressions. The threat that I would chastise them for any disobedience of my orders they looked upon as a huge joke. So it was, until one day I incontinently cracked that joke against the head of one of them.
It began in this wise: Early in October there was placed in the ward a man whose abnormality for the most part consisted of an inordinate thirst for liquor. He was over fifty years of age, well educated, traveled, refined and of an artistic temperament. Congenial companions were scarce where I was, and he and I were soon drawn together in friendship. This man had been trapped into the institution by the subterfuge of relatives. As is common in such cases, many "white" lies had been resorted to in order to save trouble for all concerned—that is, all except the patient. To be taken without notice from one's home and by a deceitful, though under the circumstances perhaps justifiable strategy, placed in a ward with fifteen other men, all exhibiting insanity in varying degrees, is as heartbreaking an ordeal as one can well imagine. Yet such was this man's experience. A free man one day, he found himself deprived of his liberty the next, and branded with what he considered an unbearable disgrace.
Mr. Blank (as I shall call him) was completely unnerved. As he was a stranger in what I well knew was a strange world, I took him under my protecting and commodious wing. I did all I could to cheer him up, and tried to secure for him that consideration which to me seemed indispensable to his well-being. Patients in his condition had never been forced, when taking their exercise, to walk about the grounds with the other patients. At no time during the preceding fourteen months had I seen a newly committed patient forced to exercise against his will. One who objected was invariably left in the ward, or his refusal was reported to the doctor before further action was taken. No sane person need stretch his imagination in order to realize how humiliating it would be for this man to walk with a crowd which greatly resembled a "chain gang." Two by two, under guard, these hostages of misfortune get the only long walks their restricted liberty allows them. After the one or two occasions when this man did walk with the gang, I was impressed with the not wholly unreasonable thought that the physical exercise in no way compensated for the mental distress which the sense of humiliation and disgrace caused him to suffer. It was delightfully easy for me to interfere in his behalf; and when he came to my room, wrought up over the prospect of another such humiliation and weeping bitterly, I assured him that he should take his exercise that day when I did. My first move to accomplish the desired result was to approach, in a friendly way, the attendant in charge, and ask him to permit my new friend to walk about the grounds with me when next I went. He said he would do nothing of the kind—that he intended to take this man when he took the others. I said, "For over a year I have been in this ward and so have you, and I have never yet seen a man in Mr. Blank's condition forced to go out of doors."
"It makes no difference whether you have or not," said the attendant, "he's going."
"Will you ask the doctor whether Mr. Blank can or cannot walk about the grounds with my special attendant when I go?"
"No, I won't. Furthermore, it's none of your business."
"If you resort to physical force and attempt to take Mr. Blank with the other patients, you'll wish you hadn't," I said, as I walked away.
At this threat the fellow scornfully laughed. To him it meant nothing. He believed I could fight only with my tongue, and I confess that I myself was in doubt as to my power of fighting otherwise.
Returning to my room, where Mr. Blank was in waiting, I supported his drooping courage and again assured him that he should be spared the dreaded ordeal. I ordered him to go to a certain room at the farther end of the hall and there await developments—so that, should there be a fight, the line of battle might be a long one. He obeyed. In a minute or two the attendant was headed for that room. I followed closely at his heels, still threatening to attack him if he dared so much as lay a finger on my friend. Though I was not then aware of it, I was followed by another patient, a man who, though a mental case, had his lucid intervals and always a loyal heart. He seemed to realize that trouble was brewing and that very likely I should need help. Once in the room, the war of words was renewed, my sensitive and unnerved friend standing by and anxiously looking on.
"I warn you once more," I said, "if you touch Mr. Blank, I'll punch you so hard you'll wish you hadn't." The attendant's answer was an immediate attempt to eject Mr. Blank from the room by force. Nothing could be more automatic than my action at that time; indeed, to this day I do not remember performing the act itself. What I remember is the determination to perform it and the subsequent evidence of its having been performed. At all events I had already made up my mind to do a certain thing if the attendant did a certain thing. He did the one and I did the other. Almost before he had touched Mr. Blank's person, my right fist struck him with great force in, on, or about the left eye. It was then that I became the object of the attendant's attention—but not his undivided attention—for as he was choking me, my unsuspected ally stepped up and paid the attendant a sincere compliment by likewise choking him. In the scuffle I was forced to the floor. The attendant had a grip upon my throat. My wardmate had a double grip upon the attendant's throat. Thus was formed a chain with a weak, if not a missing, link in the middle. Picture, if you will, an insane man being choked by a supposedly sane one, and he in turn being choked by a temporarily sane insane friend of the assaulted one, and you will have Nemesis as nearly in a nutshell as any mere rhetorician has yet been able to put her.
That I was well choked is proved by the fact that my throat bore the crescent-shaped mark of my assailant's thumb nail. And I am inclined to believe that my rescuer, who was a very powerful man, made a decided impression on my assailant's throat. Had not the superintendent opportunely appeared at that moment, the man might soon have lapsed into unconsciousness, for I am sure my ally would never have released him until he had released me. The moment the attendant with his one good eye caught sight of the superintendent the scrimmage ended. This was but natural, for it is against the code of honor generally obtaining among attendants, that one should so far forget himself as to abuse patients in the presence of sane and competent witnesses.
The choking which I had just received served only to limber my vocal cords. I told the doctor all about the preliminary verbal skirmish and the needlessness of the fight. The superintendent had graduated at Yale over fifty years prior to my own graduation, and because of this common interest and his consummate tact we got along well together. But his friendly interest did not keep him from speaking his mind upon occasion, as his words at this time proved. "You don't know," he said, "how it grieves me to see you—a Yale man—act so like a rowdy."
"If fighting for the rights of a much older man, unable to protect his own interests, is the act of a rowdy, I'm quite willing to be thought one," was my reply.
Need I add that the attendant did not take Mr. Blank for a walk that morning? Nor, so far as I know, was the latter ever forced again to take his exercise against his will.
The superintendent now realized that I was altogether too energetic a humanitarian to remain in a ward with so many other patients. My actions had a demoralizing effect upon them; so I was forthwith transferred to a private room, one of two situated in a small one-story annex. These new quarters were rather attractive, not unlike a bachelor apartment.
As there was no one here with whom I could interfere I got along without making any disturbance—that is, so long as I had a certain special attendant, a man suited to my temperament. He who was now placed over me understood human nature. He never resorted to force if argument failed to move me; and trifling transgressions, which would have led to a fight had he behaved like a typical attendant, he either ignored or privately reported to the doctor. For the whole period of my intense excitement there were certain persons who could control me, and certain others whose presence threw me into a state bordering on rage, and frequently into passions which led to distressing results.
Unfortunately for me, my good attendant soon left the institution to accept a more attractive business offer. He left without even a good-bye to me. Nothing proves more conclusively how important to me would have been his retention than this abrupt leave-taking which the doctor had evidently ordered, thinking perhaps that the prospect of such a change would excite me. However, I caused no trouble when the substitution was made, though I did dislike having placed over me a man with whom I had previously had misunderstandings. He was about my own age and it was by no means so easy to take orders from him as it had been to obey his predecessor, who was considerably older than myself. Then, too, this younger attendant disliked me because of the many disagreeable things I had said to him while we were together in a general ward. He weighed about one hundred and ninety pounds to my one hundred and thirty, and had evidently been selected to attend me because of his great strength. A choice based on mental rather than physical considerations would have been wiser. The superintendent, because of his advanced age and ill health, had been obliged again to place my case in the hands of the assistant physician, and the latter gave this new attendant certain orders. What I was to be permitted to do, and what not, was carefully specified. These orders, many of them unreasonable, were carried out to the letter. For this I cannot justly blame the attendant. The doctor had deprived him of the right to exercise what judgment he had.
At this period I required but little sleep. I usually spent part of the night drawing; for it was in September, 1902, while I was at the height of my wave of self-centred confidence, that I decided that I was destined to become a writer of books—or at least of one book; and now I thought I might as well be an artist, too, and illustrate my own works. In school I had never cared for drawing; nor at college either. But now my awakened artistic impulse was irresistible. My first self-imposed lesson was a free-hand copy of an illustration on a cover of Life. Considering the circumstances, that first drawing was creditable, though I cannot now prove the assertion; for inconsiderate attendants destroyed it, with many more of my drawings and manuscripts. From the very moment I completed that first drawing, honors were divided between my literary and artistic impulses; and a letter which, in due time, I felt impelled to write to the Governor of the State, incorporated art with literature. I wrote and read several hours a day and I spent as many more in drawing. But the assistant physician, instead of making it easy for me to rid myself of an excess of energy along literary and artistic lines, balked me at every turn, and seemed to delight in displaying as little interest as possible in my newly awakened ambitions. When everything should have been done to calm my abnormally active mind, a studied indifference and failure to protect my interests kept me in a state of exasperation.
But circumstances now arose which brought about the untimely stifling—I might better say strangulation—of my artistic impulses. The doctors were led—unwisely, I believe—to decide that absolute seclusion was the only thing that would calm my over-active brain. In consequence, all writing and drawing materials and all books were taken from me. And from October 18th until the first of the following January, except for one fortnight, I was confined in one or another small, barred room, hardly better than a cell in a prison and in some instances far worse.
A corn cob was the determining factor at this crisis. Seeing in myself an embryonic Raphael, I had a habit of preserving all kinds of odds and ends as souvenirs of my development. These, I believed, sanctified by my Midas-like touch, would one day be of great value. If the public can tolerate, as it does, thousands of souvenir hunters, surely one with a sick mind should be indulged in the whim for collecting such souvenirs as come within his reach. Among the odds and ends that I had gathered were several corn cobs. These I intended to gild and some day make useful by attaching to them small thermometers. But on the morning of October 18th, the young man in charge of me, finding the corn cobs, forthwith informed me that he would throw them away. I as promptly informed him that any such action on his part would lead to a fight. And so it did.
When this fight began, there were two attendants at hand. I fought them both to a standstill, and told them I should continue to fight until the assistant physician came to the ward. Thereupon, my special attendant, realizing that I meant what I said, held me while the other went for assistance. He soon returned, not with the assistant physician, but with a third attendant, and the fight was renewed. The one who had acted as messenger, being of finer fibre than the other two, stood at a safe distance. It was, of course, against the rules of the institution for an attendant to strike a patient, and, as I was sane enough to report with a fair chance of belief any forbidden blows, each captor had to content himself with holding me by an arm and attempting to choke me into submission. However, I was able to prevent them from getting a good grip on my throat, and for almost ten minutes I continued to fight, telling them all the time that I would not stop until a doctor should come. An assistant physician, but not the one in charge of my case, finally appeared. He gave orders that I be placed in the violent ward, which adjoined the private apartment I was then occupying, and no time was lost in locking me in a small room in that ward.
Friends have said to me: "Well, what is to be done when a patient runs amuck?" The best answer I can make is: "Do nothing to make him run amuck." Psychiatrists have since told me that had I had an attendant with the wisdom and ability to humor me and permit me to keep my priceless corn cobs, the fight in question, and the worse events that followed, would probably not have occurred—not that day, nor ever, had I at all times been properly treated by those in charge of me.
So again I found myself in the violent ward—but this time not because of any desire to investigate it. Art and literature being now more engrossing than my plans for reform, I became, in truth, an unwilling occupant of a room and a ward devoid of even a suggestion of the aesthetic. The room itself was clean, and under other circumstances might have been cheerful. It was twelve feet long, seven feet wide, and twelve high. A cluster of incandescent lights, enclosed in a semi-spherical glass globe, was attached to the ceiling. The walls were bare and plainly wainscotted, and one large window, barred outside, gave light. At one side of the door was an opening a foot square with a door of its own which could be unlocked only from without, and through which food could be passed to a supposedly dangerous patient. Aside from a single bed, the legs of which were screwed to the floor, the room had no furniture.
The attendant, before locking me in, searched me and took from me several lead pencils; but the stub of one escaped his vigilance. Naturally, to be taken from a handsomely furnished apartment and thrust into such a bare and unattractive room as this caused my already heated blood to approach the boiling point. Consequently, my first act was to send a note to the physician who regularly had charge of my case, requesting him to visit me as soon as he should arrive, and I have every reason to believe that the note was delivered. Whether or not this was so, a report of the morning's fight and my transfer must have reached him by some one of several witnesses. While waiting for an answer, I busied myself writing, and as I had no stationery I wrote on the walls. Beginning as high as I could reach, I wrote in columns, each about three feet wide. Soon the pencil became dull. But dull pencils are easily sharpened on the whetstone of wit. Stifling acquired traits, I permitted myself to revert momentarily to a primitive expedient. I gnawed the wood quite from the pencil, leaving only the graphite core. With a bit of graphite a hand guided by the unerring insolence of elation may artistically damn all men and things. That I am inclined to believe I did; and I question whether Raphael or Michael Angelo—upon whom I then looked as mere predecessors—ever put more feeling per square foot into their mural masterpieces. Every little while, as if to punctuate my composition, and in an endeavor to get attention, I viciously kicked the door.
This first fight of the day occurred about 8 A.M. For the three hours following I was left to thrash about the room and work myself into a frenzy. I made up my mind to compel attention. A month earlier, shattered glass had enabled me to accomplish a certain sane purpose. Again this day it served me. The opalescent half-globe on the ceiling seemed to be the most vulnerable point for attack. How to reach and smash it was the next question—and soon answered. Taking off my shoes, I threw one with great force at my glass target and succeeded in striking it a destructive blow.
The attendants charged upon my room. Their entrance was momentarily delayed by the door which stuck fast. I was standing near it, and when it gave way, its edge struck me on the forehead with force enough to have fractured my skull had it struck a weaker part. Once in the room, the two attendants threw me on the bed and one choked me so severely that I could feel my eyes starting from their sockets. The attendants then put the room in order; removed the glass—that is, all except one small and apparently innocent, but as the event proved well-nigh fatal, piece—took my shoes and again locked me in my room—not forgetting, however, to curse me well for making them work for their living.
When the assistant physician finally appeared, I met him with a blast of invective which, in view of the events which quickly followed, must have blown out whatever spark of kindly feeling toward me he may ever have had. I demanded that he permit me to send word to my conservator asking him to come at once and look after my interests, for I was being unfairly treated. I also demanded that he request the superintendent to visit me at once, as I intended to have nothing more to do with the assistant physicians or attendants who were neglecting and abusing me. He granted neither demand.
The bit of glass which the attendants had overlooked was about the size of my thumb nail. If I remember rightly, it was not a part of the broken globe. It was a piece that had probably been hidden by a former occupant, in a corner of the square opening at the side of the door. At all events, if the pen is the tongue of a ready writer, so may a piece of glass be, under given conditions. As the thought I had in mind seemed an immortal one I decided to etch, rather than write with fugitive graphite. On the topmost panel of the door, which a few minutes before had dealt me so vicious a blow, I scratched a seven-word sentiment—sincere, if not classic: "God bless our Home, which is Hell."
The violent exercise of the morning had given me a good appetite and I ate my dinner with relish, though with some difficulty, for the choking had lamed my throat. On serving this dinner, the attendants again left me to my own devices. The early part of the afternoon I spent in vain endeavors to summon them and induce them to take notes to the superintendent and his assistant. They continued to ignore me. By sundown the furious excitement of the morning had given place to what might be called a deliberative excitement, which, if anything, was more effective. It was but a few days earlier that I had discussed my case with the assistant physician and told him all about the suicidal impulse which had been so strong during my entire period of depression. I now reasoned that a seeming attempt at suicide, a "fake" suicide, would frighten the attendants into calling this doctor whose presence I now desired—and desired the more because of his studied indifference. No man that ever lived, loved life more than I did on that day, and the mock tragedy which I successfully staged about dusk was, I believe, as good a farce as was ever perpetrated. If I had any one ambition it was to live long enough to regain my freedom and put behind prison bars this doctor and his burly henchmen. To compel attention that was my object.
At that season the sun set by half-past five and supper was usually served about that time. So dark was my room then that objects in it could scarcely be discerned. About a quarter of an hour before the attendant was due to appear with my evening meal I made my preparations. That the stage setting might be in keeping with the plot, I tore up such papers as I had with me, and also destroyed other articles in the room—as one might in a frenzy; and to complete the illusion of desperation, deliberately broke my watch. I then took off my suspenders, and tying one end to the head of the bedstead, made a noose of the other. This I adjusted comfortably about my throat. At the crucial moment I placed my pillow on the floor beside the head of the bed and sat on it—for this was to be an easy death. I then bore just enough weight on the improvised noose to give all a plausible look. And a last lifelike (or rather deathlike) touch I added by gurgling as in infancy's happy days.
No schoolboy ever enjoyed a prank more than I enjoyed this one. Soon I heard the step of the attendant, bringing my supper. When he opened the door, he had no idea that anything unusual was happening within. Coming as he did from a well-lighted room into one that was dark, it took him several seconds to grasp the situation—and then he failed really to take it in, for he at once supposed me to be in a semi-unconscious condition from strangulation. In a state of great excitement this brute of the morning called to his brute partner and I was soon released from what was nothing more than an amusing position, though they believed it one of torture or death. The vile curses with which they had addressed me in the morning were now silenced. They spoke kindly and expressed regret that I should have seen fit to resort to such an act. Their sympathy was as genuine as such men can feel, but a poor kind at best, for it was undoubtedly excited by the thought of what might be the consequences to them of their own neglect. While this unwonted stress of emotion threatened their peace of mind, I continued to play my part, pretending to be all but unconscious.
Shortly after my rescue from a very living death, the attendants picked me up and carried my limp body and laughing soul to an adjoining room, where I was tenderly placed upon a bed. I seemed gradually to revive.
"What did you do it for?" asked one.
"What's the use of living in a place like this, to be abused as I've been to-day?" I asked. "You and the doctor ignore me and all my requests. Even a cup of water between meals is denied me, and other requests which you have no right to refuse. Had I killed myself, both of you would have been discharged. And if my relatives and friends had ever found out how you had abused and neglected me, it is likely you would have been arrested and prosecuted."
Word had already been sent to the physician. He hurried to the ward, his almost breathless condition showing how my farce had been mistaken for a real tragedy. The moment he entered I abandoned the part I had been playing.
"Now that I have you three brutes where I want you, I'll tell you a few things you don't know," I said. "You probably think I've just tried to kill myself. It was simply a ruse to make you give me some attention. When I make threats and tell you that my one object in life is to live long enough to regain my freedom and lay bare the abuses which abound in places like this, you simply laugh at me, don't you? But the fact is, that's my ambition, and if you knew anything at all, you'd know that abuse won't drive me to suicide. You can continue to abuse me and deprive me of my rights, and keep me in exile from relatives and friends, but the time will come when I'll make you sweat for all this. I'll put you in prison where you belong. Or if I fail to do that, I can at least bring about your discharge from this institution. What's more, I will."
The doctor and attendants took my threats with characteristic nonchalance. Such threats, often enough heard in such places, make little or no impression, for they are seldom made good. When I made these threats, I really wished to put these men in prison. To-day I have no such desire, for were they not victims of the same vicious system of treatment to which I was subjected? In every institution where the discredited principles of "Restraint" are used or tolerated, the very atmosphere is brutalizing. Place a bludgeon in the hand of any man, with instructions to use it when necessary, and the gentler and more humane methods of persuasion will naturally be forgotten or deliberately abandoned.
Throughout my period of elation, especially the first months of it when I was doing the work of several normal men, I required an increased amount of fuel to generate the abnormal energy my activity demanded. I had a voracious appetite, and I insisted that the attendant give me the supper he was about to serve when he discovered me in the simulated throes of death. At first he refused, but finally relented and brought me a cup of tea and some buttered bread. Because of the severe choking administered earlier in the day it was with difficulty that I swallowed any food. I had to eat slowly. The attendant, however, ordered me to hurry, and threatened otherwise to take what little supper I had. I told him that I thought he would not—that I was entitled to my supper and intended to eat it with as much comfort as possible. This nettled him, and by a sudden and unexpected move he managed to take from me all but a crust of bread. Even that he tried to snatch. I resisted and the third fight of the day was soon on—and that within five minutes of the time the doctor had left the ward. I was seated on the bed. The attendant, true to his vicious instincts, grasped my throat and choked me with the full power of a hand accustomed to that unmanly work. His partner, in the meantime, had rendered me helpless by holding me flat on my back while the attacking party choked me into breathless submission. The first fight of the day was caused by a corn cob; this of the evening by a crust of bread.