Part 4 out of 4
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
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."