I then introduced myself, mentioning a few common friends, by way of indicating that I was not without influential political connections, and proceeded as follows: "I take pleasure in informing you that I am in the Crazy Business and am holding my job down with ease and a fair degree of grace. Being in the Crazy Business, I understand certain phases of the business about which you know nothing. You as Governor are at present 'head devil' in this 'hell,' though I know you are unconsciously acting as 'His Majesty's' 1st Lieutenant."
I then launched into my arraignment of the treatment of the insane. The method, I declared, was "wrong from start to finish. The abuses existing here exist in every other institution of the kind in the country. They are all alike—though some of them are of course worse than others. Hell is hell the world over, and I might also add that hell is only a great big bunch of disagreeable details anyway. That's all an Insane Asylum is. If you don't believe it, just go crazy and take up your abode here. In writing this letter I am laboring under no mental excitement. I am no longer subjected to the abuses about which I complain. I am well and happy. In fact I never was so happy as I am now. Whether I am in perfect mental health or not, I shall leave for you to decide. If I am insane to-day I hope I may never recover my Reason."
First I assailed the management of the private institution where I had been strait-jacketed and referred to "Jekyll-Hyde" as "Dr.——, M.D. (Mentally Deranged)." Then followed an account of the strait-jacket experience; then an account of abuses at the State Hospital. I described in detail the most brutal assault that fell to my lot. In summing up I said, "The attendants claimed next day that I had called them certain names. Maybe I did—though I don't believe I did at all. What of it? This is no young ladies' boarding school. Should a man be nearly killed because he swears at attendants who swear like pirates? I have seen at least fifteen men, many of them mental and physical wrecks, assaulted just as brutally as I was, and usually without a cause. I know that men's lives have been shortened by these brutal assaults. And that is only a polite way of saying that murder has been committed here." Turning next to the matter of the women's wards, I said: "A patient in this ward—a man in his right mind, who leaves here on Tuesday next—told me that a woman patient told him that she had seen many a helpless woman dragged along the floor by her hair, and had also seen them choked by attendants who used a wet towel as a sort of garrote. I have been through the mill and believe every word of the abuse. You will perhaps doubt it, as it seems impossible. Bear in mind, though, that everything bad and disagreeable is possible in an Insane Asylum."
It will be observed that I was shrewd enough to qualify a charge I could not prove.
When I came to the matter of the Bull Pen, I wasted no words: "The Bull Pen," I wrote, "is a pocket edition of the New York Stock Exchange during a panic."
I next pointed out the difficulties a patient must overcome in mailing letters: "It is impossible for any one to send a letter to you via the office. The letter would be consigned to the waste-basket—unless it was a particularly crazy letter—in which case it might reach you, as you would then pay no attention to it. But a sane letter and a true letter, telling about the abuses which exist here would stand no show of being mailed. The way in which mail is tampered with by the medical staff is contemptible."
I then described my stratagem in mailing my letter to the Governor. Discovering that I had left a page of my epistolary booklet blank, I drew upon it a copy of Rembrandt's Anatomy Lesson, and under it wrote: "This page was skipped by mistake. Had to fight fifty-three days to get writing paper and I hate to waste any space—hence the masterpiece—drawn in five minutes. Never drew a line till September 26 (last) and never took lessons in my life. I think you will readily believe my statement." Continuing in the same half-bantering vein, I said: "I intend to immortalize all members of medical staff of State Hospital for Insane—when I illustrate my Inferno, which, when written, will make Dante's Divine Comedy look like a French Farce."
I then outlined my plans for reform: "Whether my suggestions meet with approval or not," I wrote, "will not affect the result—though opposition on your part would perhaps delay reforms. I have decided to devote the next few years of my life to correcting abuses now in existence in every asylum in this country. I know how these abuses can be corrected and I intend—later on, when I understand the subject better—to draw up a Bill of Rights for the Insane. Every State in the Union will pass it, because it will be founded on the Golden Rule. I am desirous of having the co-operation of the Governor of Connecticut, but if my plans do not appeal to him I shall deal directly with his only superior, the President of the United States. When Theodore Roosevelt hears my story his blood will boil. I would write to him now, but I am afraid he would jump in and correct abuses too quickly. And by doing it too quickly too little good would be accomplished."
Waxing crafty, yet, as I believed, writing truth, I continued: "I need money badly, and if I cared to, I could sell my information and services to the New York World or New York Journal for a large amount. But I do not intend to advertise Connecticut as a Hell-hole of Iniquity, Insanity, and Injustice. If the facts appeared in the public press at this time, Connecticut would lose caste with her sister States. And they would profit by Connecticut's disgrace and correct the abuses before they could be put on the rack. As these conditions prevail throughout the country, there is no reason why Connecticut should get all the abuse and criticism which would follow any such revelation of disgusting abuse; such inhuman treatment of human wrecks. If publicity is necessary to force you to act—and I am sure it will not be necessary—I shall apply for a writ of habeas corpus, and, in proving my sanity to a jury, I shall incidentally prove your own incompetence. Permitting such a whirl-wind reformer to drag Connecticut's disgrace into open court would prove your incompetence."
For several obvious reasons it is well that I did not at that time attempt to convince a jury that I was mentally sound. The mere outlining of my ambitious scheme for reform would have caused my immediate return to the hospital. That scheme, however, was a sound and feasible one, as later events have proved. But, taking hold of me, as it did, while my imagination was at white heat, I was impelled to attack my problem with compromising energy and, for a time, in a manner so unconvincing as to obscure the essential sanity of my cherished purpose.
I closed my letter as follows: "No doubt you will consider certain parts of this letter rather 'fresh.' I apologize for any such passages now, but, as I have an Insane License, I do not hesitate to say what I think. What's the use when one is caged like a criminal?
"P.S. This letter is a confidential one—and is to be returned to the writer upon demand."
The letter was eventually forwarded to my conservator and is now in my possession.
As a result of my protest the Governor immediately interrogated the superintendent of the institution where "Jekyll-Hyde" had tortured me. Until he laid before the superintendent my charges against his assistant, the doctor in authority had not even suspected that I had been tortured. This superintendent took pride in his institution. He was sensitive to criticism and it was natural that he should strive to palliate the offence of his subordinate. He said that I was a most troublesome patient, which was, indeed, the truth; for I had always a way of my own for doing the things that worried those in charge of me. In a word, I brought to bear upon the situation what I have previously referred to as "an uncanny admixture of sanity."
The Governor did not meet the assistant physician who had maltreated me. The reprimand, if there was to be any, was left to the superintendent to administer.
In my letter to the Governor I had laid more stress upon the abuses to which I had been subjected at this private institution than I had upon conditions at the State Hospital where I was when I wrote to him. This may have had some effect on the action he took, or rather failed to take. At any rate, as to the State Hospital, no action was taken. Not even a word of warning was sent to the officials, as I later learned; for before leaving the institution I asked them.
Though my letter did not bring about an investigation, it was not altogether without results. Naturally, it was with considerable satisfaction that I informed the doctors that I had outwitted them, and it was with even greater satisfaction that I now saw those in authority make a determined, if temporary, effort to protect helpless patients against the cruelties of attendants. The moment the doctors were convinced that I had gone over their heads and had sent a characteristic letter of protest to the Governor of the State, that moment they began to protect themselves with an energy born of a realization of their former shortcomings. Whether or not the management in question ever admitted that their unwonted activity was due to my successful stratagem, the fact remains that the summary discharge of several attendants accused and proved guilty of brutality immediately followed and for a while put a stop to wanton assaults against which for a period of four months I had protested in vain. Patients who still lived in the violent ward told me that comparative peace reigned about this time.
My failure to force the Governor to investigate conditions at the State Hospital convinced me that I could not hope to prosecute my reforms until I should regain my liberty and re-establish myself in my old world. I therefore quitted the role of reformer-militant; and, but for an occasional outburst of righteous indignation at some flagrant abuse which obtruded itself upon my notice, my demeanor was that of one quite content with his lot in life.
I was indeed content—I was happy. Knowing that I should soon regain my freedom, I found it easy to forgive—taking great pains not to forget—any injustice which had been done me. Liberty is sweet, even to one whose appreciation of it has never been augmented by its temporary loss. The pleasurable emotions which my impending liberation aroused within me served to soften my speech and render me more tractable. This change the assistant physician was not slow to note, though he was rather slow in placing in me the degree of confidence which I felt I deserved. So justifiable, however, was his suspicion that even at the time I forgave him for it. I had on so many prior occasions "played possum" that the doctor naturally attributed complex and unfathomable motives to my most innocent acts. For a long time he seemed to think that I was trying to capture his confidence, win the privilege of an unlimited parole, and so effect my escape. Doubtless he had not forgotten the several plans for escape which I had dallied with and bragged about while in the violent ward.
Though I was granted considerable liberty during the months of April, May, and June, 1903, not until July did I enjoy a so-called unlimited parole which enabled me to walk about the neighboring city unattended. My privileges were granted so gradually that these first tastes of regained freedom, though delightful, were not so thrilling as one might imagine. I took everything as a matter of course, and, except when I deliberately analyzed my feelings, was scarcely conscious of my former deprivations.
This power to forget the past—or recall it only at will—has contributed much to my happiness. Some of those who have suffered experiences such as mine are prone to brood upon them, and I cannot but attribute my happy immunity from unpleasant memories to the fact that I have viewed my own case much as a physician might view that of a patient. My past is a thing apart. I can examine this or that phase of it in the clarifying and comforting light of reason, under a memory rendered somewhat microscopic. And I am further compensated by the belief that I have a distinct mission in life—a chance for usefulness that might never have been mine had I enjoyed unbroken health and uninterrupted liberty.
The last few months of my life in the hospital were much alike, save that each succeeding one brought with it an increased amount of liberty. My hours now passed pleasantly. Time did not drag, for I was engaged upon some enterprise every minute. I would draw, read, write, or talk. If any feeling was dominant, it was my feeling for art; and I read with avidity books on the technique of that subject. Strange as it may seem, however, the moment I again found myself in the world of business my desire to become an artist died almost as suddenly as it had been born. Though my artistic ambition was clearly an outgrowth of my abnormal condition, and languished when normality asserted itself, I am inclined to believe I should even now take a lively interest in the study of art if I were so situated as to be deprived of a free choice of my activities. The use of words later enthralled me because so eminently suited to my purposes.
During the summer of 1903, friends and relatives often called to see me. The talks we had were of great and lasting benefit to me. Though I had rid myself of my more extravagant and impossible delusions of grandeur—flying-machines and the like—I still discussed with intense earnestness other schemes, which, though allied to delusions of grandeur, were, in truth, still more closely allied to sanity itself. My talk was of that high, but perhaps suspicious type in which Imagination overrules Common Sense. Lingering delusions, as it were, made great projects seem easy. That they were at least feasible under certain conditions, my mentors admitted. Only I was in an abnormal hurry to produce results. Work that I later realized could not be accomplished in less than five or ten years, if, indeed, in a lifetime, I then believed could be accomplished in a year or two, and by me single-handed. Had I had none but mentally unbalanced people to talk with, I might have continued to cherish a distorted perspective. It was the unanimity of sane opinions that helped me to correct my own views; and I am confident that each talk with relatives and friends hastened my return to normality.
Though I was not discharged from the State Hospital until September 10th, 1903, during the preceding month I visited my home several times, once for three days. These trips were not only interesting, but steadying in effect. I willingly returned to the hospital when my parole expired. Though several friends expressed surprise at this willingness to enter again an institution where I had experienced so many hardships, to me my temporary return was not in the least irksome. As I had penetrated and conquered the mysteries of that dark side of life, it no longer held any terrors for me. Nor does it to this day. I can contemplate the future with a greater degree of complacency than can some of those whose lot in life has been uniformly fortunate. In fact, I said at that time that, should my condition ever demand it, I would again enter a hospital for the insane, quite as willingly as the average person now enters a hospital for the treatment of bodily ailments.
It was in this complacent and confident mood, and without any sharp line of transition, that I again began life in my old world of companionship and of business.
For the first month of regained freedom I remained at home. These weeks were interesting. Scarcely a day passed that I did not meet several former friends and acquaintances who greeted me as one risen from the dead. And well they might, for my three-year trip among the worlds—rather than around the world—was suggestive of complete separation from the everyday life of the multitude. One profound impression which I received at this time was of the uniform delicacy of feeling exhibited by my well-wishers. In no instance that I can recall was a direct reference made to the nature of my recent illness, until I had first made some remark indicating that I was not averse to discussing it. There was an evident effort on the part of friends and acquaintances to avoid a subject which they naturally supposed I wished to forget. Knowing that their studied avoidance of a delicate subject was inspired by a thoughtful consideration, rather than a lack of interest, I invariably forced the conversation along a line calculated to satisfy a suppressed, but perfectly proper, curiosity which I seldom failed to detect. My decision to stand on my past and look the future in the face has, I believe, contributed much to my own happiness, and, more than anything else, enabled my friends to view my past as I myself do. By frankly referring to my illness, I put my friends and acquaintances at ease, and at a stroke rid them of that constraint which one must feel in the presence of a person constantly in danger of being hurt by a chance allusion to an unhappy occurrence.
I have said much about the obligation of the sane in reference to easing the burdens of those committed to institutions. I might say almost as much about the attitude of the public toward those who survive such a period of exile, restored, but branded with a suspicion which only time can efface. Though a former patient receives personal consideration, he finds it difficult to obtain employment. No fair-minded man can find fault with this condition of affairs, for an inherent dread of insanity leads to distrust of one who has had a mental breakdown. Nevertheless, the attitude is mistaken. Perhaps one reason for this lack of confidence is to be found in the lack of confidence which a former patient often feels in himself. Confidence begets confidence, and those men and women who survive mental illness should attack their problem as though their absence had been occasioned by any one of the many circumstances which may interrupt the career of a person whose mind has never been other than sound. I can testify to the efficacy of this course, for it is the one I pursued. And I think that I have thus far met with as great a degree of success as I might have reasonably expected had my career never been all but fatally interrupted.
Discharged from the State Hospital in September, 1903, late in October of that same year I went to New York. Primarily my purpose was to study art. I even went so far as to gather information regarding the several schools; and had not my artistic ambition taken wing, I might have worked for recognition in a field where so many strive in vain. But my business instinct, revivified by the commercially surcharged atmosphere of New York, soon gained sway, and within three months I had secured a position with the same firm for which I had worked when I first went to New York six years earlier. It was by the merest chance that I made this most fortunate business connection. By no stretch of my rather elastic imagination can I even now picture a situation that would, at one and the same time, have so perfectly afforded a means of livelihood, leisure in which to indulge my longing to write the story of my experiences, and an opportunity to further my humanitarian project.
Though persons discharged from mental hospitals are usually able to secure, without much difficulty, work as unskilled laborers, or positions where the responsibility is slight, it is often next to impossible for them to secure positions of trust. During the negotiations which led to my employment, I was in no suppliant mood. If anything, I was quite the reverse; and as I have since learned, I imposed terms with an assurance so sublime that any less degree of audacity might have put an end to the negotiations then and there. But the man with whom I was dealing was not only broad-minded, he was sagacious. He recognized immediately such an ability to take care of my own interests as argued an ability to protect those of his firm. But this alone would not have induced the average business man to employ me under the circumstances. It was the common-sense and rational attitude of my employer toward mental illness which determined the issue. This view, which is, indeed, exceptional to-day, will one day (within a few generations, I believe) be too commonplace to deserve special mention. As this man tersely expressed it: "When an employe is ill, he's ill, and it makes no difference to me whether he goes to a general hospital or a hospital for the insane. Should you ever find yourself in need of treatment or rest, I want you to feel that you can take it when and where you please, and work for us again when you are able."
Dealing almost exclusively with bankers, for that was the nature of my work, I enjoyed almost as much leisure for reading and trying to learn how to write as I should have enjoyed had I had an assured income that would have enabled me to devote my entire time to these pursuits. And so congenial did my work prove, and so many places of interest did I visit, that I might rather have been classed as a "commercial tourist" than as a commercial traveler. To view almost all of the natural wonders and places of historic interest east of the Mississippi, and many west of it; to meet and know representative men and women; to enjoy an almost uninterrupted leisure, and at the same time earn a livelihood—these advantages bear me out in the feeling that in securing the position I did, at the time I did, I enjoyed one of those rare compensations which Fate sometimes bestows upon those who survive unusual adversity.
After again becoming a free man, my mind would not abandon the miserable ones whom I had left behind. I thought with horror that my reason had been threatened and baffled at every turn. Without malice toward those who had had me in charge, I yet looked with abhorrence upon the system by which I had been treated. But I realized that I could not successfully advocate reforms in hospital management until I had first proved to relatives and friends my ability to earn a living. And I knew that, after securing a position in the business world, I must first satisfy my employers before I could hope to persuade others to join me in prosecuting the reforms I had at heart. Consequently, during the first year of my renewed business activity (the year 1904), I held my humanitarian project in abeyance and gave all my executive energy to my business duties. During the first half of that year I gave but little time to reading and writing, and none at all to drawing. In a tentative way, however, I did occasionally discuss my project with intimate friends; but I spoke of its consummation as a thing of the uncertain future. At that time, though confident of accomplishing my set purpose, I believed I should be fortunate if my projected book were published before my fortieth year. That I was able to publish it eight years earlier was due to one of those unlooked for combinations of circumstances which sometimes cause a hurried change of plans.
Late in the autumn of 1904, a slight illness detained me for two weeks in a city several hundred miles from home. The illness itself amounted to little, and, so far as I know, had no direct bearing on later results, except that, in giving me an enforced vacation, it afforded me an opportunity to read several of the world's great books. One of these was "Les Miserables." It made a deep impression on me, and I am inclined to believe it started a train of thought which gradually grew into a purpose so all-absorbing that I might have been overwhelmed by it, had not my over-active imagination been brought to bay by another's common sense. Hugo's plea for suffering Humanity—for the world's miserable—struck a responsive chord within me. Not only did it revive my latent desire to help the afflicted; it did more. It aroused a consuming desire to emulate Hugo himself, by writing a book which should arouse sympathy for and interest in that class of unfortunates in whose behalf I felt it my peculiar right and duty to speak. I question whether any one ever read "Les Miserables" with keener feeling. By day I read the story until my head ached; by night I dreamed of it.
To resolve to write a book is one thing; to write it—fortunately for the public—is quite another. Though I wrote letters with ease, I soon discovered that I knew nothing of the vigils or methods of writing a book. Even then I did not attempt to predict just when I should begin to commit my story to paper. But, a month later, a member of the firm in whose employ I was made a remark which acted as a sudden spur. One day, while discussing the business situation with me, he informed me that my work had convinced him that he had made no mistake in re-employing me when he did. Naturally I was pleased. I had vindicated his judgment sooner than I had hoped. Aside from appreciating and remembering his compliment, at the time I paid no more attention to it. Not until a fortnight later did the force of his remark exert any peculiar influence on my plans. During that time it apparently penetrated to some subconscious part of me—a part which, on prior occasions, had assumed such authority as to dominate my whole being. But, in this instance, the part that became dominant did not exert an unruly or even unwelcome influence. Full of interest in my business affairs one week, the next I not only had no interest in them, but I had begun even to dislike them. From a matter-of-fact man of business I was transformed into a man whose all-absorbing thought was the amelioration of suffering among the afflicted insane. Travelling on this high plane of ideal humanitarianism, I could get none but a distorted and dissatisfying view of the life I must lead if I should continue to devote my time to the comparatively deadening routine of commercial affairs.
Thus it was inevitable that I should focus my attention on my humanitarian project. During the last week of December I sought ammunition by making a visit to two of the institutions where I had once been a patient. I went there to discuss certain phases of the subject of reform with the doctors in authority. I was politely received and listened to with a degree of deference which was, indeed, gratifying. Though I realized that I was rather intense on the subject of reform, I did not have that clear insight into my state of mind which the doctors had. Indeed, I believe that only those expert in the detection of symptoms of a slightly disturbed mental condition could possibly have observed anything abnormal about me at that time. Only when I discussed my fond project of reform did I betray an abnormal stress of feeling. I could talk as convincingly about business as I had at any time in my life; for even at the height of this wave of enthusiasm I dealt at length with a certain banker who finally placed with my employers a large contract.
After conferring with the doctors, or rather—as it proved—exhibiting myself to them, I returned to New Haven and discussed my project with the President of Yale University. He listened patiently—he could scarcely do otherwise—and did me the great favor of interposing his judgment at a time when I might have made a false move. I told him that I intended to visit Washington at once, to enlist the aid of President Roosevelt; also that of Mr. Hay, Secretary of State. Mr. Hadley tactfully advised me not to approach them until I had more thoroughly crystallized my ideas. His wise suggestion I had the wisdom to adopt.
The next day I went to New York, and on January 1st, 1905, I began to write. Within two days I had written about fifteen thousand words—for the most part on the subject of reforms and how to effect them. One of the documents prepared at that time contained grandiloquent passages that were a portent of coming events—though I was ignorant of the fact. In writing about my project I said, "Whether I am a tool of God or a toy of the devil, time alone will tell; but there will be no misunderstanding Time's answer if I succeed in doing one-tenth of the good things I hope to accomplish.... Anything which is feasible in this philanthropic age can easily be put into practice.... A listener gets the impression that I hope to do a hundred years' work in a day. They are wrong there, for I'm not so in love with work—as such. I would like though to interest so many people in the accomplishment of my purpose that one hundred years' work might be done in a fraction of that time. Hearty co-operation brings quick results, and once you start a wave of enthusiasm in a sea of humanity, and have for the base of that wave a humanitarian project of great breadth, it will travel with irresistible and ever-increasing impulse to the ends of the earth—which is far enough. According to Dr. ——, many of my ideas regarding the solution of the problem under consideration are years and years in advance of the times. I agree with him, but that is no reason why we should not put 'the times' on board the express train of progress and give civilization a boost to a higher level, until it finally lands on a plateau where performance and perfection will be synonymous terms."
Referring to the betterment of conditions, I said, "And this improvement can never be brought about without some central organization by means of which the best ideas in the world may be crystallized and passed along to those in charge of this army of afflicted ones. The methods to be used to bring about these results must be placed on the same high level as the idea itself. No yellow journalism or other sensational means should be resorted to. Let the thing be worked up secretly and confidentially by a small number of men who know their business. Then when the very best plan has been formulated for the accomplishment of the desired results, and men of money have been found to support the movement until it can take care of itself, announce to the world in a dignified and effective manner the organization and aims of the society, the name of which shall be—, decided later.... To start the movement will not require a whole lot of money. It will be started modestly and as financial resources of the society increase, the field will be broadened." ... "The abuses and correction of same is a mere detail in the general scheme." ... "It is too early to try to interest anyone in this scheme of preventing breakdowns, as there are other things of more importance to be brought about first—but it will surely come in time."
"'Uncle Tom's Cabin,'" I continued, "had a very decided effect on the question of slavery of the negro race. Why cannot a book be written which will free the helpless slaves of all creeds and colors confined to-day in the asylums and sanitariums throughout the world? That is, free them from unnecessary abuses to which they are now subjected. Such a book, I believe, can be written and I trust that I may be permitted to live till I am wise enough to write it. Such a book might change the attitude of the public towards those who are unfortunate enough to have the stigma of mental incompetency put upon them. Of course, an insane man is an insane man and while insane should be placed in an institution for treatment, but when that man comes out he should be as free from all taint as the man is who recovers from a contagious disease and again takes his place in society." In conclusion, I said, "From a scientific point of view there is a great field for research.... Cannot some of the causes be discovered and perhaps done away with, thereby saving the lives of many—and millions in money? It may come about that some day something will be found which will prevent a complete and incurable mental breakdown...."
Thus did I, as revealed by these rather crude, unrevised quotations, somewhat prophetically, if extravagantly, box the compass that later guided the ship of my hopes (not one of my phantom ships) into a safe channel, and later into a safe harbor.
By way of mental diversion during these creative days at the Yale Club, I wrote personal letters to intimate friends. One of these produced a result unlooked for. There were about it compromising earmarks which the friend to whom it was sent recognized. In it I said that I intended to approach a certain man of wealth and influence who lived in New York, with a view to securing some action that would lead to reform. That was enough. My friend showed the letter to my brother—the one who had acted as my conservator. He knew at once that I was in an excited mental condition. But he could not very well judge the degree of the excitement; for when I had last talked with him a week earlier, I had not discussed my larger plans. Business affairs and my hope for business advancement had then alone interested me.
I talked with President Hadley on Friday; Saturday I went to New York; Sunday and Monday I spent at the Yale Club, writing; Tuesday, this telltale letter fell under the prescient eye of my brother. On that day he at once got in touch with me by telephone. We briefly discussed the situation. He did not intimate that he believed me to be in elation. He simply urged me not to attempt to interest anyone in my project until I had first returned to New Haven and talked with him. Now I had already gone so far as to invite my employers to dine with me that very night at the Yale Club for the purpose of informing them of my plans. This I did, believing it to be only fair that they should know what I intended to do, so that they might dispense with my services should they feel that my plans would in any way impair my usefulness as an employe. Of this dinner engagement, therefore, I told my brother. But so insistently did he urge me to defer any such conference as I proposed until I had talked with him that, although it was too late to break the dinner engagement, I agreed to avoid, if possible, any reference to my project. I also agreed to return home the next day.
That night my guests honored me as agreed. For an hour or two we discussed business conditions and affairs in general. Then, one of them referred pointedly to my implied promise to unburden myself on a certain subject, the nature of which he did not at the time know. I immediately decided that it would be best to "take the bull by the horns," submit my plans, and, if necessary, sever my connection with the firm, should its members force me to choose (as I put it) between themselves and Humanity. I then proceeded to unfold my scheme; and, though I may have exhibited a decided intensity of feeling during my discourse, at no time, I believe, did I overstep the bounds of what appeared to be sane enthusiasm. My employers agreed that my purpose was commendable—that no doubt I could and would eventually be able to do much for those I had left behind in a durance I so well knew to be vile. Their one warning was that I seemed in too great a hurry. They expressed the opinion that I had not been long enough re-established in business to be able to persuade people of wealth and influence to take hold of my project. And one of my guests very aptly observed that I could not afford to be a philanthropist, which objection I met by saying that all I intended to do was to supply ideas for those who could afford to apply them. The conference ended satisfactorily. My employers disclaimed any personal objection to my proceeding with my project, if I would, and yet remaining in their employ. They simply urged me to "go slow." "Wait until you're forty," one of them said. I then thought that I might do so. And perhaps I should have waited so long, had not the events of the next two days put me on the right road to an earlier execution of my cherished plans.
The next day, January 4th, true to my word, I went home. That night I had a long talk with my brother. I did not suspect that a man like myself, capable of dealing with bankers and talking for several consecutive hours with his employers without arousing their suspicion as to his mental condition, was to be suspected by his own relatives. Nor, indeed, with the exception of my brother, who had read my suspiciously excellent letter, were any of my relatives disturbed; and he did nothing to disabuse my assurance. After our night conference he left for his own home, casually mentioning that he would see me again the next morning. That pleased me, for I was in a talkative mood and craved an interested listener.
When my brother returned the next morning, I willingly accepted his invitation to go with him to his office, where we could talk without fear of interruption. Arrived there, I calmly sat down and prepared to prove my whole case. I had scarcely "opened fire" when in walked a stranger—a strapping fellow, to whom my brother immediately introduced me. I instinctively felt that it was by no mere chance that this third party had so suddenly appeared. My eyes at once took in the dark blue trousers worn by the otherwise conventionally dressed stranger. That was enough. The situation became so clear that the explanations which followed were superfluous. In a word, I was under arrest, or in imminent danger of being arrested. To say that I was not in the least disconcerted would scarcely be true, for I had not divined my brother's clever purpose in luring me to his office. But I can say, with truth, that I was the coolest person in the room. I knew what I should do next, but my brother and the officer of the law could only guess. The fact is I did nothing. I calmly remained seated, awaiting the verdict which I well knew my brother, with characteristic decision, had already prepared. With considerable effort—for the situation, he has since told me, was the most trying one of his life—he informed me that on the preceding day he had talked with the doctors to whom I had so opportunely exhibited myself a week earlier. All agreed that I was in a state of elation which might or might not become more pronounced. They had advised that I be persuaded to submit voluntarily to treatment in a hospital, or that I be, if necessary, forcibly committed. On this advice my brother had proceeded to act. And it was well so; for, though I appreciated the fact that I was by no means in a normal state of mind, I had not a clear enough insight into my condition to realize that treatment and a restricted degree of liberty were what I needed, since continued freedom might further inflame an imagination already overwrought.
A few simple statements by my brother convinced me that it was for my own good and the peace of mind of my relatives that I should temporarily surrender my freedom. This I agreed to do. Perhaps the presence of two hundred pounds of brawn and muscle, representing the law, lent persuasiveness to my brother's words. In fact, I did assent the more readily because I admired the thorough, sane, fair, almost artistic manner in which my brother had brought me to bay. I am inclined to believe that, had I suspected that a recommitment was imminent, I should have fled to a neighboring State during the preceding night. Fortunately, however, the right thing was done in the right way at the right time. Though I had been the victim of a clever stratagem, not for one moment thereafter, in any particular, was I deceived. I was frankly told that several doctors had pronounced me elated, and that for my own good I must submit to treatment. I was allowed to choose between a probate court commitment which would have "admitted me" to the State Hospital, or a "voluntary commitment" which would enable me to enter the large private hospital where I had previously passed from depression to elation, and had later suffered tortures. I naturally chose the more desirable of the two disguised blessings, and agreed to start at once for the private hospital, the one in which I had been when depression gave way to elation. It was not that I feared again to enter the State Hospital. I simply wished to avoid the publicity which necessarily would have followed, for at that time the statutes of Connecticut did not provide for voluntary commitment to the state hospitals. Then, too, there were certain privileges which I knew I could not enjoy in a public institution. Having re-established myself in society and business I did not wish to forfeit that gain; and as the doctors believed that my period of elation would be short, it would have been sheer folly to advertise the fact that my mental health had again fallen under suspicion.
But before starting for the hospital I imposed certain conditions. One was that the man with the authoritative trousers should walk behind at such a distance that no friend or acquaintance who might see my brother and myself would suspect that I was under guard; the other was that the doctors at the institution should agree to grant my every request, no matter how trivial, so long as doing so could in no way work to my own injury. My privileges were to include that of reading and writing to my heart's content, and the procuring of such books and supplies as my fancy might dictate. All this was agreed to. In return I agreed to submit to the surveillance of an attendant when I went outside the hospital grounds. This I knew would contribute to the peace of mind of my relatives, who naturally could not rid themselves of the fear that one so nearly normal as myself might take it into his head to leave the State and resist further attempts at control. As I felt that I could easily elude my keeper, should I care to escape, his presence also contributed to my peace of mind, for I argued that the ability to outwit my guard would atone for the offence itself.
I then started for the hospital; and I went with a willingness surprising even to myself. A cheerful philosophy enabled me to turn an apparently disagreeable situation into one that was positively pleasing to me. I convinced myself that I could extract more real enjoyment from life during the ensuing weeks within the walls of a "retreat" than I could in the world outside. My one desire was to write, write, write. My fingers itched for a pen. My desire to write was, I imagine, as irresistible as is the desire of a drunkard for his dram. And the act of writing resulted in an intoxicating pleasure composed of a mingling of emotions that defies analysis.
That I should so calmly, almost eagerly, enter where devils might fear to tread may surprise the reader who already has been informed of the cruel treatment I had formerly received there. I feared nothing, for I knew all. Having seen the worst, I knew how to avoid the pitfalls into which, during my first experience at that hospital, I had fallen or deliberately walked. I was confident that I should suffer no abuse or injustice so long as the doctors in charge should live up to their agreement and treat me with unvarying fairness. This they did, and my quick recovery and subsequent discharge may be attributed partly to this cause. The assistant physicians who had come in contact with me during my first experience in this hospital were no longer there. They had resigned some months earlier, shortly after the death of the former superintendent. Thus it was that I started with a clean record, free from those prejudices which so often affect the judgment of a hospital physician who has treated a mental patient at his worst.
On more than one occasion my chameleonlike temperament has enabled me to adjust myself to new conditions, but never has it served me better than it did at the time of which I write. A free man on New Year's Day, enjoying the pleasures of a congenial club life, four days later I found myself again under the lock and key of an institution for the insane. Never had I enjoyed life in New York more than during those first days of that new year. To suffer so rude a change was, indeed, enough to arouse a feeling of discontent, if not despair; yet, aside from the momentary initial shock, my contentment was in no degree diminished. I can say with truth that I was as complacent the very moment I recrossed the threshold of that "retreat" as I had been when crossing and recrossing at will the threshold of my club.
Of everything I thought and did during the interesting weeks which followed, I have a complete record. The moment I accepted the inevitable, I determined to spend my time to good advantage. Knowing from experience that I must observe my own case, if I was to have any detailed record of it, I provided myself in advance with notebooks. In these I recorded, I might almost say, my every thought and action. The sane part of me, which fortunately was dominant, subjected its temporarily unruly part to a sort of scientific scrutiny and surveillance. From morning till night I dogged the steps of my restless body and my more restless imagination. I observed the physical and mental symptoms which I knew were characteristic of elation. An exquisite light-heartedness, an exalted sense of wellbeing, my pulse, my weight, my appetite—all these I observed and recorded with a care that would have put to the blush a majority of the doctors in charge of mental cases in institutions.
But this record of symptoms, though minute, was vague compared to my reckless analysis of my emotions. With a lack of reserve characteristic of my mood, I described the joy of living, which, for the most part, then consisted in the joy of writing. And even now, when I reread my record, I feel that I cannot overstate the pleasure I found in surrendering myself completely to that controlling impulse. The excellence of my composition seemed to me beyond criticism. And, as to one in a state of elation, things are pretty much as they seem, I was able to experience the subtle delights which, I fancy, thrill the soul of a master. During this month of elation I wrote words enough to fill a book nearly as large as this one. Having found that each filling of my fountain pen was sufficient for the writing of about twenty-eight hundred words, I kept a record of the number of times I filled it. This minute calculation I carried to an extreme. If I wrote for fifty-nine minutes, and then read for seventeen, those facts I recorded. Thus, in my diary and out of it, I wrote and wrote until the tips of my thumb and forefinger grew numb. As this numbness increased and general weariness of the hand set in, there came a gradual flagging of my creative impulse until a very normal unproductivity supervened.
The reader may well wonder in what my so-called insanity at this time consisted. Had I any of those impracticable delusions which had characterized my former period of elation? No, not one—unless an unreasonable haste to achieve my ambitions may be counted a delusion. My attention simply focussed itself on my project. All other considerations seemed of little moment. My interest in business waned to the vanishing point. Yet one thing should be noted: I did deliberately devote many hours to the consideration of business affairs. Realizing that one way to overcome an absorbing impulse is to divide the attention, I wrote a brief of the arguments I had often used when talking with bankers. In this way I was able to convince the doctors that my intense interest in literature and reform would soon spend itself.
A consuming desire to effect reforms had been the determining factor when I calmly weighed the situation with a view to making the best possible use of my impulse to write. The events of the immediate past had convinced me that I could not hope to interest people of wealth and influence in my humanitarian project until I had some definite plan to submit for their leisurely consideration. Further, I had discovered that an attempt to approach them directly disturbed my relatives and friends, who had not yet learned to dissociate! present intentions from past performances. I had, therefore, determined to drill myself in the art of composition to the end that I might write a story of my life which would merit publication. I felt that such a book, once written, would do its own work, regardless of my subsequent fortunes. Other books had spoken even from the grave; why should not my book so speak—if necessary?
With this thought in mind I began not only to read and write, but to test my impulse in order that I might discover if it were a part of my very being, an abnormal impulse, or a mere whim. I reasoned that to compare my own feelings toward literature, and my emotions experienced in the heat of composition, with the recorded feelings of successful men of letters, would give me a clue to the truth on this question. At this time I read several books that could have served as a basis for my deductions, but only one of them did I have time to analyze and note in my diary. That one was, "Wit and Wisdom of the Earl of Beaconsfield." The following passages from the pen of Disraeli I transcribed in my diary with occasional comment.
"Remember who you are, and also that it is your duty to excel. Providence has given you a great lot. Think ever that you are born to perform great duties." This I interpreted in much the same spirit that I had interpreted the 45th Psalm on an earlier occasion.
"It was that noble ambition, the highest and best, that must be born in the heart, and organized in the brain, which will not let a man be content unless his intellectual power is recognized by his race, and desires that it should contribute to their welfare."
"Authors—the creators of opinion."
"What appear to be calamities are often the sources of fortune."
"Change is inevitable in a progressive country. Change is constant." ("Then why," was my recorded comment, "cannot the changes I propose to bring about, be brought about?")
"The author is, as we must ever remember, of peculiar organization. He is a being born with a predisposition which with him is irresistible, the bent of which he cannot in any way avoid, whether it directs him to the abstruse researches of erudition or induces him to mount into the fervid and turbulent atmosphere of imagination."
"This," I wrote (the day after arriving at the hospital) "is a fair diagnosis of my case as it stands to-day, assuming, of course, that an author is one who loves to write, and can write with ease, even though what he says may have no literary value. My past proves that my organization is a peculiar one. I have for years (two and a half) had a desire to achieve success along literary lines. I believe that, feeling as I do to-day, nothing can prevent my writing. If I had to make a choice at once between a sure success in the business career ahead of me and doubtful success in the field of literature, I would willingly, yes confidently, choose the latter. I have read many a time about successful writers who learned how to write, and by dint of hard work ground out their ideas. If these men could succeed, why should not a man who is in danger of being ground up by an excess of ideas and imagination succeed, when he seems able to put those ideas into fairly intelligible English? He should and will succeed."
Therefore, without delay, I began the course of experiment and practice which culminated within a few months in the first draft of my story. Wise enough to realize the advantages of a situation free from the annoying interruptions of the workaday world, I enjoyed a degree of liberty seldom experienced by those in possession of complete legal liberty and its attendant obligations. When I wished to read, write, talk, walk, sleep, or eat, I did the thing I wished. I went to the theatre when the spirit moved me to do so, accompanied, of course, by an attendant, who on such occasions played the role of chum.
Friends called to see me and, at their suggestion or mine, invited me to dinner outside the walls of my "cloister." At one of these dinners an incident occurred which throws a clear light on my condition at the time. The friend, whose willing prisoner I was, had invited a common friend to join the party. The latter had not heard of my recent commitment. At my suggestion, he who shared my secret had agreed not to refer to it unless I first broached the subject. There was nothing strange in the fact that we three should meet. Just such impromptu celebrations had before occurred among us. We dined, and, as friends will, indulged in that exchange of thoughts which bespeaks intimacy. During our talk, I so shaped the conversation that the possibility of a recurrence of my mental illness was discussed. The uninformed friend derided the idea.
"Then, if I were to tell you," I remarked, "that I am at this moment supposedly insane—at least not normal—and that when I leave you to-night I shall go direct to the very hospital where I was formerly confined, there to remain until the doctors pronounce me fit for freedom, what would you say?"
"I should say that you are a choice sort of liar," he retorted.
This genial insult I swallowed with gratification. It was, in truth, a timely and encouraging compliment, the force of which its author failed to appreciate until my host had corroborated my statements.
If I could so favorably impress an intimate friend at a time when I was elated, it is not surprising that I should subsequently hold an interview with a comparative stranger—the cashier of a local bank—without betraying my state of mind. As business interviews go, this was in a class by itself. While my attendant stood guard at the door, I, an enrolled inmate of a hospital for the insane, entered the banking room and talked with a level-headed banker. And that interview was not without effect in subsequent negotiations which led to the closing of a contract amounting to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
The very day I re-entered the hospital I stopped on the way at a local hotel and procured some of the hostelry's stationery. By using this in the writing of personal and business letters I managed to conceal my condition and my whereabouts from all except near relatives and a few intimate friends who shared the secret. I quite enjoyed leading this legitimate double life. The situation appealed (not in vain) to my sense of humor. Many a smile did I indulge in when I closed a letter with such ambiguous phrases as the following: "Matters of importance necessitate my remaining where I am for an indefinite period." ... "A situation has recently arisen which will delay my intended trip South. As soon as I have closed a certain contract (having in mind my contract to re-establish my sanity) I shall again take to the road." To this day few friends or acquaintances know that I was in semi-exile during the month of January, 1905. My desire to suppress the fact was not due, as already intimated, to any sensitiveness regarding the subject of insanity. What afterwards justified my course was that on regaining my freedom I was able, without embarrassment, again to take up my work. Within a month of my voluntary commitment, that is, in February, I started on a business trip through the Central West and South, where I remained until the following July. During those months I felt perfectly well, and have remained in excellent health ever since.
This second interruption of my career came at a time and in a manner to furnish me with strong arguments wherewith to support my contention that so-called madmen are too often man-made, and that he who is potentially mad may keep a saving grip on his own reason if he be fortunate enough to receive that kindly and intelligent treatment to which one on the brink of mental chaos is entitled. Though during this second period of elation I was never in a mood so reckless as that which obtained immediately after my recovery from depression in August, 1902, I was at least so excitable that, had those in authority attempted to impose upon me, I should have thrown discretion to the winds. To them, indeed, I frankly reiterated a terse dictum which I had coined during my first period of elation. "Just press the button of Injustice," I said, "and I'll do the rest!" This I meant, for fear of punishment does not restrain a man in the dare-devil grip of elation.
What fostered my self-control was a sense of gratitude. The doctors and attendants treated me as a gentleman. Therefore it was not difficult to prove myself one. My every whim was at least considered with a politeness which enabled me to accept a denial with a highly sane equanimity. Aside from mild tonics I took no other medicine than that most beneficial sort which inheres in kindness. The feeling that, though a prisoner, I could still command obligations from others led me to recognize my own reciprocal obligations, and was a constant source of delight. The doctors, by proving their title to that confidence which I tentatively gave them upon re-entering the institution, had no difficulty in convincing me that a temporary curtailment of some privileges was for my own good. They all evinced a consistent desire to trust me. In return I trusted them.
On leaving the hospital and resuming my travels, I felt sure that any one of several magazines or newspapers would willingly have had me conduct my campaign under its nervously commercial auspices; but a flash-in-the-pan method did not appeal to me. Those noxious growths, Incompetence, Abuse, and Injustice, had not only to be cut down, but rooted out. Therefore, I clung to my determination to write a book—an instrument of attack which, if it cuts and sears at all, does so as long as the need exists. Inasmuch as I knew that I still had to learn how to write, I approached my task with deliberation. I planned to do two things: first, to crystallize my thoughts by discussion—telling the story of my life whenever in my travels I should meet any person who inspired my confidence; second, while the subject matter of my book was shaping itself in my mind, to drill myself by carrying on a letter-writing campaign. Both these things I did—as certain indulgent friends who bore the brunt of my spoken and written discourse can certify. I feared the less to be dubbed a bore, and I hesitated the less, perhaps, to impose upon good-nature, because of my firm conviction that one in a position to help the many was himself entitled to the help of the few.
I wrote scores of letters of great length. I cared little if some of my friends should conclude that I had been born a century too late; for, without them as confidants, I must write with no more inspiring object in view than the wastebasket. Indeed, I found it difficult to compose without keeping before me the image of a friend. Having stipulated that every letter should be returned upon demand, I wrote without reserve—my imagination had free rein. I wrote as I thought, and I thought as I pleased. The result was that within six months I found myself writing with a facility which hitherto had obtained only during elation. At first I was suspicious of this new-found and apparently permanent ease of expression—so suspicious that I set about diagnosing my symptoms. My self-examination convinced me that I was, in fact, quite normal. I had no irresistible desire to write, nor was there any suggestion of that exalted, or (technically speaking) euphoric, light-heartedness which characterizes elation. Further, after a prolonged period of composition, I experienced a comforting sense of exhaustion which I had not known while elated. I therefore concluded—and rightly—that my unwonted facility was the product of practice. At last I found myself able to conceive an idea and immediately transfer it to paper effectively.
In July, 1905, I came to the conclusion that the time for beginning my book was at hand. Nevertheless, I found it difficult to set a definite date. About this time I so arranged my itinerary that I was able to enjoy two summer—though stormy—nights and a day at the Summit House on Mount Washington. What better, thought I, than to begin my book on a plane so high as to be appropriate to this noble summit? I therefore began to compose a dedication. "To Humanity" was as far as I got. There the Muse forsook me.
But, returning to earth and going about my business, I soon again found myself in the midst of inspiring natural surroundings—the Berkshire Hills. At this juncture Man came to the assistance of Nature, and perhaps with an unconsciousness equal to her own. It was a chance remark made by an eminent man that aroused my subconscious literary personality to irresistible action. I had long wished to discuss my project with a man of great reputation, and if the reputation were international, so much the better. I desired the unbiased opinion of a judicial mind. Opportunely, I learned that the Hon. Joseph H. Choate was then at his summer residence at Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Mr. Choate had never heard of me and I had no letter of introduction. The exigencies of the occasion, however, demanded that I conjure one up, so I wrote my own letter of introduction and sent it:
RED LION INN, STOCKBRIDGE, MASS. August 18, 1905.
HON. JOSEPH H. CHOATE, Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Though I might present myself at your door, armed with one of society's unfair skeleton-keys—a letter of introduction—I prefer to approach you as I now do: simply as a young man who honestly feels entitled to at least five minutes of your time, and as many minutes more as you care to grant because of your interest in the subject to be discussed.
I look to you at this time for your opinion as to the value of some ideas of mine, and the feasibility of certain schemes based on them.
A few months ago I talked with President Hadley of Yale, and briefly outlined my plans. He admitted that many of them seemed feasible and would, if carried out, add much to the sum-total of human happiness. His only criticism was that they were "too comprehensive."
Not until I have staggered an imagination of the highest type will I admit that I am trying to do too much. Should you refuse to see me, believe me when I tell you that you will still be, as you are at this moment, the unconscious possessor of my sincere respect.
Business engagements necessitate my leaving here early on Monday next. Should you care to communicate with me, word sent in care of this hotel will reach me promptly.
Yours very truly,
CLIFFORD W. BEERS.
Within an hour I had received a reply, in which Mr. Choate said that he would see me at his home at ten o'clock the next morning.
At the appointed time, the door, whose lock I had picked with a pen, opened before me and I was ushered into the presence of Mr. Choate. He was graciousness itself—but pointed significantly at a heap of unanswered letters lying before him. I took the hint and within ten minutes briefly outlined my plans. After pronouncing my project a "commendable one," Mr. Choate offered the suggestion that produced results. "If you will submit your ideas in writing," he said, "I shall be glad to read your manuscript and assist you in any way I can. To consider fully your scheme would require several hours, and busy men cannot very well give you so much time. What they can do is to read your manuscript during their leisure moments."
Thus it was that Mr. Choate, by granting the interview, contributed to an earlier realization of my purposes. One week later I began the composition of this book. My action was unpremeditated, as my quitting Boston for less attractive Worcester proves. That very day, finding myself with a day and a half of leisure before me, I decided to tempt the Muse and compel myself to prove that my pen was, in truth, "the tongue of a ready writer." A stranger in the city, I went to a school of stenography and there secured the services of a young man who, though inexperienced in his art, was more skilled in catching thoughts as they took wing than I was at that time in the art of setting them free. Except in the writing of one or two conventional business letters, never before had I dictated to a stenographer. After I had startled him into an attentive mood by briefly outlining my past career and present purpose, I worked without any definite plan or brief, or reference to data. My narrative was therefore digressive and only roughly chronological. But it served to get my material in front of me for future shaping. At this task I hammered away three or four hours a day for a period of five weeks.
It so happened that Mr. Choate arrived at the same hotel on the day I took up my abode there, so that some of the toil he had inspired went on in his proximity, if not in his presence. I carefully kept out of his sight, however, lest he should think me a "crank" on the subject of reform, bent on persecuting his leisure.
As the work progressed my facility increased. In fact, I soon called in an additional stenographer to help in the snaring of my thoughts. This excessive productivity caused me to pause and again diagnose my condition. I could not fail now to recognize in myself symptoms hardly distinguishable from those which had obtained eight months earlier when it had been deemed expedient temporarily to restrict my freedom. But I had grown wise in adversity. Rather than interrupt my manuscript short of completion I decided to avail myself of a vacation that was due, and remain outside my native State—this, so that well-meaning but perhaps overzealous relatives might be spared unnecessary anxiety, and I myself be spared possible unwarranted restrictions. I was by no means certain as to the degree of mental excitement that would result from such continuous mental application; nor did I much care, so long as I accomplished my task. However, as I knew that "possession is nine points of the law," I decided to maintain my advantage by remaining in my literary fortress. And my resolve was further strengthened by certain cherished sentiments expressed by John Stuart Mill in his essay "On Liberty," which I had read and reread with an interest born of experience.
At last the first draft of the greater part of my story was completed. After a timely remittance (for, in strict accordance with the traditions of the craft, I had exhausted my financial resources) I started for home with a sigh of relief. For months I had been under the burden of a conscious obligation. My memory, stored with information which, if rightly used, could, I believed, brighten and even save unhappy lives, was to me as a basket of eggs which it was my duty to balance on a head whose poise was supposed to be none too certain. One by one, during the preceding five weeks, I had gently lifted my thoughts from their resting-place, until a large part of my burden had been so shifted as to admit of its being imposed upon the public conscience.
After I had lived over again the trials and the tortures of my unhappiest years—which was of course necessary in ploughing and harrowing a memory happily retentive—the completion of this first draft left me exhausted. But after a trip to New York, whither I went to convince my employers that I should be granted a further leave-of-absence, I resumed work. The ground for this added favor was that my manuscript was too crude to submit to any but intimate acquaintances. Knowing, perhaps, that a business man with a literary bee buzzing in his ear is, for the time, no business man at all, my employers readily agreed that I should do as I pleased during the month of October. They also believed me entitled to the favor, recognizing the force of my belief that I had a high obligation to discharge.
It was under the family rooftree that I now set up my literary shop. Nine months earlier an unwonted interest in literature and reform had sent me to an institution. That I should now in my own home be able to work out my destiny without unduly disturbing the peace of mind of relatives was a considerable satisfaction. In the very room where, during June, 1900, my reason had set out for an unknown goal, I redictated my account of that reason's experiences.
My leave-of-absence ended, I resumed my travels eagerly; for I wished to cool my brain by daily contact with the more prosaic minds of men of business. I went South. For a time I banished all thoughts of my book and project. But after some months of this change of occupation, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I found leisure in the course of wide travels to take up the work of elaboration and revision. A presentable draft of my story being finally prepared, I began to submit it to all sorts and conditions of minds (in accordance with Mill's dictum that only in that way can the truth be obtained). In my quest for criticism and advice, I fortunately decided to submit my manuscript to Professor William James of Harvard University, the most eminent of American psychologists and a masterful writer, who was then living. He expressed interest in my project; put my manuscript with others on his desk—but was somewhat reserved when it came to promising to read my story. He said it might be months before he could find time to do so. Within a fortnight, however, I received from him a characteristic letter. To me it came as a rescuing sun, after a period of groping about for an authoritative opinion that should put scoffers to flight. The letter read as follows:
95 IRVING ST., CAMBRIDGE, MASS. July 1, 1906.
DEAR MR. BEERS:
Having at last "got round" to your MS., I have read it with very great interest and admiration for both its style and its temper. I hope you will finish it and publish it. It is the best written out "case" that I have seen; and you no doubt have put your finger on the weak spots of our treatment of the insane, and suggested the right line of remedy. I have long thought that if I were a millionaire, with money to leave for public purposes, I should endow "Insanity" exclusively.
You were doubtless a pretty intolerable character when the maniacal condition came on and you were bossing the universe. Not only ordinary "tact," but a genius for diplomacy must have been needed for avoiding rows with you; but you certainly were wrongly treated nevertheless; and the spiteful Assistant M.D. at —— deserves to have his name published. Your report is full of instructiveness for doctors and attendants alike.
The most striking thing in it to my mind is the sudden conversion of you from a delusional subject to a maniacal one—how the whole delusional system disintegrated the moment one pin was drawn out by your proving your brother to be genuine. I never heard of so rapid a change in a mental system.
You speak of rewriting. Don't you do it. You can hardly improve your book. I shall keep the MS. a week longer as I wish to impart it to a friend.
Though Mr. James paid me the compliment of advising me not to rewrite my original manuscript, I did revise it quite thoroughly before publication. When my book was about to go to press for the first time and since its reception by the public was problematical, I asked permission to publish the letter already quoted. In reply, Mr. James sent the following letter, also for publication.
95 IRVING ST., CAMBRIDGE, MASS. November 10, 1907.
DEAR MR. BEERS:
You are welcome to use the letter I wrote to you (on July 1, 1906) after reading the first part of your MS. in any way your judgment prompts, whether as preface, advertisement, or anything else. Reading the rest of it only heightens its importance in my eyes. In style, in temper, in good taste, it is irreproachable. As for contents, it is fit to remain in literature as a classic account "from within" of an insane person's psychology.
The book ought to go far toward helping along that terribly needed reform, the amelioration of the lot of the insane of our country, for the Auxiliary Society which you propose is feasible (as numerous examples in other fields show), and ought to work important effects on the whole situation.
You have handled a difficult theme with great skill, and produced a narrative of absorbing interest to scientist as well as layman. It reads like fiction, but it is not fiction; and this I state emphatically, knowing how prone the uninitiated are to doubt the truthfulness of descriptions of abnormal mental processes.
With best wishes for the success of the book and the plan, both of which, I hope, will prove epoch-making, I remain,
Several times in my narrative, I have said that the seemingly unkind fate that robbed me of several probably happy and healthful years had hidden within it compensations which have offset the sufferings and the loss of those years. Not the least of the compensations has been the many letters sent to me by eminent men and women, who, having achieved results in their own work, are ever responsive to the efforts of anyone trying to reach a difficult objective. Of all the encouraging opinions I have ever received, one has its own niche in my memory. It came from William James a few months before his death, and will ever be an inspiration to me. Let my excuse for revealing so complimentary a letter be that it justifies the hopes and aspirations expressed in the course of my narrative, and shows them to be well on the way to accomplishment.
95 IRVING STREET, CAMBRIDGE, January 17, 1910.
Your exegesis of my farewell in my last note to you was erroneous, but I am glad it occurred, because it brought me the extreme gratification of your letter of yesterday.
You are the most responsive and recognizant of human beings, my dear Beers, and it "sets me up immensely" to be treated by a practical man on practical grounds as you treat me. I inhabit such a realm of abstractions that I only get credit for what I do in that spectral empire; but you are not only a moral idealist and philanthropic enthusiast (and good fellow!), but a tip-top man of business in addition; and to have actually done anything that the like of you can regard as having helped him is an unwonted ground with me for self-gratulation. I think that your tenacity of purpose, foresight, tact, temper, discretion and patience, are beyond all praise, and I esteem it an honor to have been in any degree associated with you. Your name will loom big hereafter, for your movement must prosper, but mine will not survive unless some other kind of effort of mine saves it.
I am exceedingly glad of what you say of the Connecticut Society. May it prosper abundantly!
I thank you for your affectionate words which I return with interest and remain, for I trust many years of this life,
At this point, rather than in the dusty corners of the usual preface, I wish to express my obligation to Herbert Wescott Fisher, whom I knew at school. It was he who led me to see my need of technical training, neglected in earlier years. To be exact, however, I must confess that I read rather than studied rhetoric. Close application to its rules served only to discourage me, so I but lazily skimmed the pages of the works which he recommended. But my friend did more than direct me to sources. He proved to be the kindly mean between the two extremes of stranger and intimate. I was a prophet not without honor in his eyes. Upon an embarrassing wealth of material he brought to bear his practical knowledge of the workmanship of writing; and my drafting of the later parts and subsequent revisions has been so improved by the practice received under his scrupulous direction that he has had little fault to find with them. My debt to him is almost beyond repayment.
Nothing would please me more than to express specifically my indebtedness to many others who have assisted me in the preparation of my work. But, aside from calling attention to the fact that physicians connected with the State Hospital and with the private institution referred to—the one not run for profit—exhibited rare magnanimity (even going so far as to write letters which helped me in my work), and, further, acknowledging anonymously (the list is too long for explicit mention) the invaluable advice given me by psychiatrists who have enabled me to make my work authoritative, I must be content to indite an all-embracing acknowledgment. Therefore, and with distinct pleasure, I wish to say that the active encouragement of casual, but trusted acquaintances, the inspiring indifference of unconvinced intimates, and the kindly scepticism of indulgent relatives, who, perforce, could do naught but obey an immutable law of blood-related minds—all these influences have conspired to render more sure the accomplishment of my heart's desire.
"My heart's desire" is a true phrase. Since 1900, when my own breakdown occurred, not fewer than one million men and women in the United States alone have for like causes had to seek treatment in institutions, thousands of others have been treated outside of institutions, while other thousands have received no treatment at all. Yet, to use the words of one of our most conservative and best informed psychiatrists, "No less than half of the enormous toll which mental disease takes from the youth of this country can be prevented by the application, largely in childhood, of information and practical resources now available."
Elsewhere is an account of how my plan broadened from reform to cure, from cure to prevention—how far, with the co-operation of some of this country's ablest specialists and most generous philanthropists, it has been realized, nationally and internationally, through the new form of social mechanism known as societies, committees, leagues or associations for mental hygiene.
More fundamental, however, than any technical reform, cure, or prevention—indeed, a condition precedent to all these—is a changed spiritual attitude toward the insane. They are still human: they love and hate, and have a sense of humor. The worst are usually responsive to kindness. In not a few cases their gratitude is livelier than that of normal men and women. Any person who has worked among the insane, and done his duty by them, can testify to cases in point; and even casual observers have noted the fact that the insane are oftentimes appreciative. Consider the experience of Thackeray, as related by himself in "Vanity Fair" (Chapter LVII). "I recollect," he writes, "seeing, years ago, at the prison for idiots and madmen, at Bicetre, near Paris, a poor wretch bent down under the bondage of his imprisonment and his personal infirmity, to whom one of our party gave a halfpennyworth of snuff in a cornet or 'screw' of paper. The kindness was too much ... He cried in an anguish of delight and gratitude; if anybody gave you and me a thousand a year, or saved our lives, we could not be so affected."
A striking exhibition of fine feeling on the part of a patient was brought to my attention by an assistant physician whom I met while visiting a State Hospital in Massachusetts. It seems that the woman in question had, at her worst, caused an endless amount of annoyance by indulging in mischievous acts which seemed to verge on malice. At that time, therefore, no observer would have credited her with the exquisite sensibility she so signally displayed when she had become convalescent and was granted a parole which permitted her to walk at will about the hospital grounds. After one of these walks, taken in the early spring, she rushed up to my informant and, with childlike simplicity, told him of the thrill of delight she had experienced in discovering the first flower of the year in full bloom—a dandelion, which, with characteristic audacity, had risked its life by braving the elements of an uncertain season.
"Did you pick it?" asked the doctor.
"I stooped to do so," said the patient; "then I thought of the pleasure the sight of it had given me—so I left it, hoping that someone else would discover it and enjoy its beauty as I did."
Thus it was that a woman, while still insane, unconsciously exhibited perhaps finer feeling than did Ruskin, Tennyson, and Patmore on an occasion the occurrence of which is vouched for by Mr. Julian Hawthorne. These three masters, out for a walk one chilly afternoon in late autumn, discovered a belated violet bravely putting forth from the shelter of a mossy stone. Not until these worthies had got down on all fours and done ceremonious homage to the flower did they resume their walk. Suddenly Ruskin halted and, planting his cane in the ground, exclaimed, "I don't believe, Alfred—Coventry, I don't believe that there are in all England three men besides ourselves who, after finding a violet at this time of year, would have had forbearance and fine feeling enough to refrain from plucking it."
The reader may judge whether the unconscious display of feeling by the obscure inmate of a hospital for the insane was not finer than the self-conscious raptures of these three men of world-wide reputation.
Is it not, then, an atrocious anomaly that the treatment often meted out to insane persons is the very treatment which would deprive some sane persons of their reason? Miners and shepherds who penetrate the mountain fastnesses sometimes become mentally unbalanced as a result of prolonged loneliness. But they usually know enough to return to civilization when they find themselves beginning to be affected with hallucinations. Delay means death. Contact with sane people, if not too long postponed, means an almost immediate restoration to normality. This is an illuminating fact. Inasmuch as patients cannot usually be set free to absorb, as it were, sanity in the community, it is the duty of those entrusted with their care to treat them with the utmost tenderness and consideration.
"After all," said a psychiatrist who had devoted a long life to work among the insane, both as an assistant physician and later as superintendent at various private and public hospitals, "what the insane most need is a friend!"
These words, spoken to me, came with a certain startling freshness. And yet it was the sublime and healing power of this same love which received its most signal demonstration two thousand years ago at the hands of one who restored to reason and his home that man of Scripture "who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces; neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of the Most High God? I adjure Thee by God, that Thou torment me not."