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Story of My Life by Helen Keller

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aptitude, turned to language because of its extraordinary value
to her.

There have been many discussions of the question whether Helen
Keller's achievements are due to her natural ability or to the
method by which she was taught.

It is true that a teacher with ten times Miss Sullivan's genius
could not have made a pupil so remarkable as Helen Keller out of
a child born dull and mentally deficient. But it is also true
that, with ten times her native genius, Helen Keller could not
have grown to what she is, if she had not been excellently taught
from the very start, and especially at the start. And the fact
remains that she was taught by a method of teaching language to
the deaf the essential principles of which are clearly expressed
in Miss Sullivan's letters, written while she was discovering the
method and putting it successfully into practice. And it can be
applied by any teacher to any healthy deaf child, and in the
broadest interpretation of the principles, can be applied to the
teaching of language of all kinds to all children.

In the many discussions of this question writers seem to throw us
from one horn to another of a dilemma--either a born genius in
Helen Keller, or a perfect method in the teacher. Both things may
be true at once, and there is another truth which makes the
dilemma imperfect. Miss Sullivan is a person of extraordinary
power. Her method might not succeed so completely in the hands of
any one else. Miss Sullivan's vigorous, original mind has lent
much of its vitality to her pupil. If Miss Keller is fond of
language and not interested especially in mathematics, it is not
surprising to find Miss Sullivan's interests very similar. And
this does not mean that Miss Keller is unduly dependent on her
teacher. It is told of her that, as a child of eight, when some
one tried to interfere with her, she sat sober a few moments,
and, when asked what was the trouble, answered, "I am preparing
to assert my independence." Such an aggressive personality cannot
grow up in mere dependence even under the guidance of a will like
Miss Sullivan's. But Miss Sullivan by her "natural aptitude" has
done for her pupil much that is not capable of analysis and
reduction to principle; she has given the inspiration which is in
all close friendship, and which rather develops than limits the
powers of either person. Moreover, if Miss Keller is a "marvel of
sweetness and goodness," if she has a love "of all things good
and beautiful," this implies something about the teacher who has
lived with her for sixteen years.

There is, then, a good deal that Miss Sullivan has done for Miss
Keller which no other teacher can do in just the same way for any
one else. To have another Helen Keller there must be another Miss
Sullivan. To have another, well-educated deaf and blind child,
there need only be another teacher, living under favourable
conditions, among plenty of external interests, unseparated from
her pupil allowed to have a free hand, and using as many as she
needs of the principles which Miss Sullivan has saved her the
trouble of finding out for herself, modifying and adding as she
finds it necessary; and there must be a pupil in good health, of
good native powers, young enough not to have grown beyond
recovery in ignorance. Any deaf child or deaf and blind child in
good health can be taught. And the one to do it is the parent or
the special teacher, not the school. I know that this idea will
be vigorously combated by those who conduct schools for the deaf.
To be sure, the deaf school is the only thing possible for
children educated by the State. But it is evident that precisely
what the deaf child needs to be taught is what other children
learn before they go to school at all. When Miss Sullivan went
out in the barnyard and picked up a little chicken and talked to
Helen about it, she was giving a kind of instruction impossible
inside four walls, and impossible with more than one pupil at a

Surely Dr. Howe is wrong when he says, "A teacher cannot be a
child." That is just what the teacher of the deaf child must be,
a child ready to play and romp, and interested in all childish

The temptation to discuss, solely in the light of Helen Keller,
the whole matter of educating the deaf is a dangerous one, and
one which I have not taken particular care to avoid, because my
opinions are of no authority and I have merely tried to suggest
problems and reinforce some of the main ideas expressed by Miss
Sullivan, who is an authority. It is a question whether Helen
Keller's success has not led teachers to expect too much of other
children, and I know of deaf-blind children who are dragged along
by their teachers and friends, and become the subjects of glowing
reports, which are pathetically untrue, because one sees behind
the reports how the children are tugged at to bring them
somewhere near the exaggerated things that are said about them.

Let me sum up a few of the elements that made Helen Keller what
she is. In the first place she had nineteen months' experience of
sight and sound. This meant some mental development. She had
inherited vigour of body and mind. She expressed ideas in signs
before she learned language. Mrs. Keller writes me that before
her illness Helen made signs for everything, and her mother
thought this habit the cause of her slowness in learning to
speak. After the illness, when they were dependent on signs,
Helen's tendency to gesture developed. How far she could receive
communications is hard to determine, but she knew much that was
going on around her. She recognized that others used their lips;
she "saw" her father reading a paper and when he laid it down she
sat in his chair and held the paper before her face. Her early
rages were an unhappy expression of the natural force of
character which instruction was to turn into trained and
organized power.

It was, then, to a good subject that Miss Sullivan brought her
devotion and intelligence, and fearless willingness to
experiment. Miss Sullivan's methods were so good that even
without the practical result, any one would recognize the truth
of the teacher's ideas. Miss Sullivan has in addition a vigorous
personality. And finally all the conditions were good for that
first nature school, in which the teacher and pupil played
together, exploring together and educating themselves, pupil and
teacher inseparable.

Miss Keller's later education is easy to understand and needs no
further explanation than she has given. Those interested may get
on application to the Volta Bureau, Washington, D. C., the
reports of the teachers who prepared her for college, Mr. Arthur
Gilman of the Cambridge School for Young Ladies, and Mr. Merton
S. Keith.


The two persons who have written authoritatively about Miss
Keller's speech and the way she learned it are Miss Sarah Fuller,
of the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston, Massachusetts,
who gave her the first lessons, and Miss Sullivan, who, by her
unremitting discipline, carried on the success of these first

Before I quote from Miss Sullivan's account, let me try to give
some impression of what Miss Keller's speech and voice qualities
are at present.

Her voice is low and pleasant to listen to. Her speech lacks
variety and modulation; it runs in a sing-song when she is
reading aloud; and when she speaks with fair degree of loudness,
it hovers about two or three middle tones. Her voice has an
aspirate quality; there seems always to be too much breath for
the amount of tone. Some of her notes are musical and charming.
When she is telling a child's story, or one with pathos in it,
her voice runs into pretty slurs from one tone to another. This
is like the effect of the slow dwelling on long words, not quite
well managed, that one notices in a child who is telling a solemn

The principal thing that is lacking is sentence accent and
variety in the inflection of phrases. Miss Keller pronounces each
word as a foreigner does when he is still labouring with the
elements of a sentence, or as children sometimes read in school
when they have to pick out each word.

She speaks French and German. Her friend, Mr. John Hitz, whose
native tongue is German, says that her pronunciation is
excellent. Another friend, who is as familiar with French as with
English, finds her French much more intelligible than her
English. When she speaks English she distributes her emphasis as
in French and so does not put sufficient stress on accented
syllables. She says for example, "pro-vo-ca-tion,"
"in-di-vi-du-al," with ever so little difference between the
value of syllables, and a good deal of inconsistency in the
pronunciation of the same word one day and the next. It would, I
think, be hard to make her feel just how to pronounce DICTIONARY
without her erring either toward DICTIONAYRY or DICTION'RY, and,
of course the word is neither one nor the other. For no system of
marks in a lexicon can tell one how to pronounce a word. The only
way is to hear it, especially in a language like English which is
so full of unspellable, suppressed vowels and quasi-vowels.

Miss Keller's vowels are not firm. Her AWFUL is nearly AWFIL. The
wavering is caused by the absence of accent on FUL, for she
pronounces FULL correctly.

She sometimes mispronounces as she reads aloud and comes on a
word which she happens never to have uttered, though she may have
written it many times. This difficulty and some others may be
corrected when she and Miss Sullivan have more time. Since 1894,
they have been so much in their books that they have neglected
everything that was not necessary to the immediate task of
passing the school years successfully. Miss Keller will never be
able, I believe, to speak loud without destroying the pleasant
quality and the distinctness of her words, but she can do much to
make her speech clearer.

When she was at the Wright-Humason School in New York, Dr.
Humason tried to improve her voice, not only her word
pronunciation, but the voice itself, and gave her lessons in tone
and vocal exercises.

It is hard to say whether or not Miss Keller's speech is easy to
understand. Some understand her readily; others do not. Her
friends grow accustomed to her speech and forget that it is
different from that of any one else. Children seldom have any
difficulty in understanding her; which suggests that her
deliberate measured speech is like theirs, before they come to
the adult trick of running all the words of a phrase into one
movement of the breath. I am told that Miss Keller speaks better
than most other deaf people.

Miss Keller has told how she learned to speak. Miss Sullivan's
account in her address at Chautauqua, in July, 1894, at the
meeting of The American Association to Promote the Teaching of
Speech to the Deaf, is substantially like Miss Keller's in points
of fact.


It was three years from the time when Helen began to communicate
by means of the manual alphabet that she received her first
lesson in the more natural and universal medium of human
intercourse--oral language. She had become very proficient in the
use of the manual alphabet, which was her only means of
communication with the outside world; through it she had acquired
a vocabulary which enabled her to converse freely, read
intelligently, and write with comparative ease and correctness.
Nevertheless, the impulse to utter audible sounds was strong
within her, and the constant efforts which I made to repress this
instinctive tendency, which I feared in time would become
unpleasant, were of no avail. I made no effort to teach her to
speak, because I regarded her inability to watch the lips of
others as an insurmountable obstacle. But she gradually became
conscious that her way of communicating was different from that
used by those around her, and one day her thoughts found
expression. "How do the blind girls know what to say with their
mouths? Why do you not teach me to talk like them? Do deaf
children ever learn to speak?" I explained to her that some deaf
children were taught to speak, but that they could see their
teachers' mouths, and that that was a very great assistance to
them. But she interrupted me to say she was very sure she could
feel my mouth very well. Soon after this conversation, a lady
came to see her and told her about the deaf and blind Norwegian
child, Ragnhild Kaata, who had been taught to speak and
understand what her teacher said to her by touching his lips with
her fingers. She at once resolved to learn to speak, and from
that day to this she has never wavered in that resolution. She
began immediately to make sounds which she called speaking, and I
saw the necessity of correct instruction, since her heart was set
upon learning to talk; and, feeling my own incompetence to teach
her, never having given the subject of articulation serious
study, I went with my pupil for advice and assistance, to Miss
Sarah Fuller. Miss Fuller was delighted with Helen's earnestness
and enthusiasm, and at once began to teach her. In a few lessons
she learned nearly all of the English sounds, and in less than a
month she was able to articulate a great many words distinctly.
From the first she was not content to be drilled in single
sounds, but was impatient to pronounce words and sentences. The
length of the word or the difficulty of the arrangement of the
elements never seemed to discourage her. But, with all her
eagerness and intelligence, learning to speak taxed her powers to
the utmost. But there was satisfaction in seeing from day to day
the evidence of growing mastery and the possibility of final
success. And Helen's success has been more complete and inspiring
than any of her friends expected, and the child's delight in
being able to utter her thoughts in living and distinct speech is
shared by all who witness her pleasure when strangers tell her
that they understand her.

I have been asked a great many times whether I think Helen will
ever speak naturally; that is, as other people speak. I am hardly
prepared to decide that question, or even give an opinion
regarding it. I believe that I have hardly begun yet to know what
is possible. Teachers of the deaf often express surprise that
Helen's speech is so good when she has not received any regular
instruction in speech since the first few lessons given her by
Miss Fuller. I can only say in reply, "This is due to habitual
imitation and practice! practice! practice!" Nature has
determined how the child shall learn to speak, and all we can do
is to aid him in the simplest, easiest way possible, by
encouraging him to observe and imitate the vibrations in the

Some further details appear in an earlier, more detailed account,
which Miss Sullivan wrote for the Perkins Institution Report of

I knew that Laura Bridgman had shown the same intuitive desire to
produce sounds, and had even learned to pronounce a few simple
words, which she took great delight in using, and I did not doubt
that Helen could accomplish as much as this. I thought, however,
that the advantage she would derive would not repay her for the
time and labour that such an experiment would cost.

Moreover, the absence of hearing renders the voice monotonous and
often very disagreeable; and such speech is generally
unintelligible except to those familiar with the speaker.

The acquiring of speech by untaught deaf children is always slow
and often painful. Too much stress, it seems to me, is often laid
upon the importance of teaching a deaf child to articulate--a
process which may be detrimental to the pupil's intellectual
development. In the very nature of things, articulation is an
unsatisfactory means of education; while the use of the manual
alphabet quickens and invigorates mental activity, since through
it the deaf child is brought into close contact with the English
language, and the highest and most abstract ideas may be conveyed
to the mind readily and accurately. Helen's case proved it to be
also an invaluable aid in acquiring articulation. She was already
perfectly familiar with words and the construction of sentences,
and had only mechanical difficulties to overcome. Moreover, she
knew what a pleasure speech would be to her, and this definite
knowledge of what she was striving for gave her the delight of
anticipation which made drudgery easy. The untaught deaf child
who is made to articulate does not know what the goal is, and his
lessons in speech are for a long time tedious and meaningless.

Before describing the process of teaching Helen to speak, it may
be well to state briefly to what extent she had used the vocal
organs before she began to receive regular instruction in
articulation. When she was stricken down with the illness which
resulted in her loss of sight and hearing, at the age of nineteen
months, she was learning to talk. The unmeaning babblings of the
infant were becoming day by day conscious and voluntary signs of
what she felt and thought. But the disease checked her progress
in the acquisition of oral language, and, when her physical
strength returned, it was found that she had ceased to speak
intelligibly because she could no longer hear a sound. She
continued to exercise her vocal organs mechanically, as ordinary
children do. Her cries and laughter and the tones of her voice as
she pronounced many word elements were perfectly natural, but the
child evidently attached no significance to them, and with one
exception they were produced not with any intention of
communicating with those around her, but from the sheer necessity
of exercising her innate, organic, and hereditary faculty of
expression. She always attached a meaning to the word water,
which was one of the first sounds her baby lips learned to form,
and it was the only word which she continued to articulate after
she lost her hearing. Her pronunciation of this gradually became
indistinct, and when I first knew her it was nothing more than a
peculiar noise. Nevertheless, it was the only sign she ever made
for water, and not until she had learned to spell the word with
her fingers did she forget the spoken symbol. The word water, and
the gesture which corresponds to the word good-by,seem to have
been all that the child remembered of the natural and acquired
signs with which she had been familiar before her illness.

As she became acquainted with her surroundings through the sense
of feeling (I use the word in the broadest sense, as including
all tactile impressions), she felt more and more the pressing
necessity of communicating with those around her. Her little
hands felt every object and observed every movement of the
persons about her, and she was quick to imitate these movements.
She was thus able to express her more imperative needs and many
of her thoughts.

At the time when I became her teacher, she had made for herself
upward of sixty signs, all of which were imitative and were
readily understood by those who knew her. The only signs which I
think she may have invented were her signs for SMALL and LARGE.
Whenever she wished for anything very much she would gesticulate
in a very expressive manner. Failing to make herself understood,
she would become violent. In the years of her mental imprisonment
she depended entirely upon signs, and she did not work out for
herself any sort of articulate language capable of expressing
ideas. It seems, however, that, while she was still suffering
from severe pain, she noticed the movements of her mother's lips.

When she was not occupied, she wandered restlessly about the
house, making strange though rarely unpleasant sounds. I have
seen her rock her doll, making a continuous, monotonous sound,
keeping one hand on her throat, while the fingers of the other
hand noted the movements of her lips. This was in imitation of
her mother's crooning to the baby. Occasionally she broke out
into a merry laugh, and then she would reach out and touch the
mouth of any one who happened to be near her, to see if he were
laughing also. If she detected no smile, she gesticulated
excitedly, trying to convey her thought; but if she failed to
make her companion laugh, she sat still for a few moments, with a
troubled and disappointed expression. She was pleased with
anything which made a noise. She liked to feel the cat purr; and
if by chance she felt a dog in the act of barking, she showed
great pleasure. She always liked to stand by the piano when some
one was playing and singing. She kept one hand on the singer's
mouth, while the other rested on the piano, and she stood in this
position as long as any one would sing to her, and afterward she
would make a continuous sound which she called singing. The only
words she had learned to pronounce with any degree of
distinctness previous to March, 1890, were PAPA, MAMMA, BABY,
SISTER. These words she had caught without instruction from the
lips of friends. It will be seen that they contain three vowel
and six consonant elements, and these formed the foundation for
her first real lesson in speaking.

At the end of the first lesson she was able to pronounce
distinctly the following sounds: a, a", a^, e, i, o, c soft like
s and hard like k, g hard, b, l, n, m, t, p, s, u, k, f and d.
Hard consonants were, and indeed still are, very difficult for
her to pronounce in connection with one another in the same word;
she often suppresses the one and changes the other, and sometimes
she replaces both by an analogous sound with soft aspiration. The
confusion between l and r was very noticeable in her speech at
first. She would repeatedly use one for the other. The great
difficulty in the pronunciation of the r made it one of the last
elements which she mastered. The ch, sh and soft g also gave her
much trouble, and she does not yet enunciate them clearly. [The
difficulties which Miss Sullivan found in 1891 are, in a measure,
the difficulties which show in Miss Keller's speech today.]

When she had been talking for less than a week, she met her
friend, Mr. Rodocanachi, and immediately began to struggle with
the pronunciation of his name; nor would she give it up until she
was able to articulate the word distinctly. Her interest never
diminished for a moment; and, in her eagerness to overcome the
difficulties which beset her on all sides, she taxed her powers
to the utmost, and learned in eleven lessons all of the separate
elements of speech.

Enough appears in the accounts by Miss Keller's teacher to show
the process by which she reads the lips with her fingers, the
process by which she was taught to speak, and by which, of
course, she can listen to conversation now. In reading the lips
she is not so quick or so accurate as some reports declare. It is
a clumsy and unsatisfactory way of receiving communication,
useless when Miss Sullivan or some one else who knows the manual
alphabet is present to give Miss Keller the spoken words of
others. Indeed, when some friend is trying to speak to Miss
Keller, and the attempt is not proving successful, Miss Sullivan
usually helps by spelling the lost words into Miss Keller's hand.

President Roosevelt had little difficulty last spring in making
Miss Keller understand him, and especially requested Miss
Sullivan not to spell into her hand. She got every word, for the
President's speech is notably distinct. Other people say they
have no success in making Miss Keller "hear" them.

A few friends to whom she is accustomed, like Mrs. A. C. Pratt,
and Mr. J. E. Chamberlin, can pass a whole day with her and tell
her everything without the manual alphabet. The ability to read
the lips helps Miss Keller in getting corrections of her
pronunciation from Miss Sullivan and others, just as it was the
means of her learning to speak at all, but it is rather an
accomplishment than a necessity.

It must be remembered that speech contributed in no way to her
fundamental education, though without the ability to speak she
could hardly have gone to higher schools and to college. But she
knows better than any one else what value speech has had for her.
The following is her address at the fifth meeting of the American
Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, at Mt.
Airy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 8, 1896:


If you knew all the joy I feel in being able to speak to you
to-day, I think you would have some idea of the value of speech
to the deaf, and you would understand why I want every little
deaf child in all this great world to have an opportunity to
learn to speak. I know that much has been said and written on
this subject, and that there is a wide difference of opinion
among teachers of the deaf in regard to oral instruction. It
seems very strange to me that there should be this difference of
opinion; I cannot understand how any one interested in our
education can fail to appreciate the satisfaction we feel in
being able to express our thoughts in living words. Why, I use
speech constantly, and I cannot begin to tell you how much
pleasure it gives me to do so. Of course I know that it is not
always easy for strangers to understand me, but it will be by and
by; and in the meantime I have the unspeakable happiness of
knowing that my family and friends rejoice in my ability to
speak. My little sister and baby brother love to have me tell
them stories in the long summer evenings when I am at home; and
my mother and teacher often ask me to read to them from my
favourite books. I also discuss the political situation with my
dear father, and we decide the most perplexing questions quite as
satisfactorily to ourselves as if I could see and hear. So you
see what a blessing speech is to me. It brings me into closer and
tenderer relationship with those I love, and makes it possible
for me to enjoy the sweet companionship of a great many persons
from whom I should be entirely cut off if I could not talk.

I can remember the time before I learned to speak, and how I used
to struggle to express my thoughts by means of the manual
alphabet--how my thoughts used to beat against my finger tips
like little birds striving to gain their freedom, until one day
Miss Fuller opened wide the prison-door and let them escape. I
wonder if she remembers how eagerly and gladly they spread their
wings and flew away. Of course, it was not easy at first to fly.
The speech-wings were weak and broken, and had lost all the grace
and beauty that had once been theirs; indeed, nothing was left
save the impulse to fly, but that was something. One can never
consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar. But,
nevertheless, it seemed to me sometimes that I could never use my
speech-wings as God intended I should use them; there were so
many difficulties in the way, so many discouragements; but I kept
on trying, knowing that patience and perseverance would win in
the end. And while I worked, I built the most beautiful
air-castles, and dreamed dreams, the pleasantest of which was of
the time when I should talk like other people, and the thought of
the pleasure it would give my mother to hear my voice once more,
sweetened every effort and made every failure an incentive to try
harder next time. So I want to say to those who are trying to
learn to speak and those who are teaching them: Be of good cheer.
Do not think of to-days failures, but of the success that may
come to-morrow. You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you
will succeed if you persevere, and you will find a joy in
overcoming obstacles--a delight in climbing rugged paths, which
you would perhaps never know if you did not sometime slip
backward--if the road was always smooth and pleasant. Remember,
no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever
lost. Sometime, somewhere, somehow we shall find that which we
seek. We shall speak, yes, and sing, too, as God intended we
should speak and sing.


No one can have read Miss Keller's autobiography without feeling
that she writes unusually fine English. Any teacher of
composition knows that he can bring his pupils to the point of
writing without errors in syntax or in the choice of words. It is
just this accuracy which Miss Keller's early education fixes as
the point to which any healthy child can be brought, and which
the analysis of that education accounts for. Those who try to
make her an exception not to be explained by any such analysis of
her early education, fortify their position by an appeal to the
remarkable excellence of her use of language even when she was a

This appeal is to a certain degree valid; for, indeed, those
additional harmonies of language and beauties of thought which
make style are the gifts of the gods. No teacher could have made
Helen Keller sensitive to the beauties of language and to the
finer interplay of thought which demands expression in melodious
word groupings.

At the same time the inborn gift of style can be starved or
stimulated. No innate genius can invent fine language. The stuff
of which good style is made must be given to the mind from
without and given skilfully. A child of the muses cannot write
fine English unless fine English has been its nourishment. In
this, as in all other things, Miss Sullivan has been the wise
teacher. If she had not had taste and an enthusiasm for good
English, Helen Keller might have been brought up on the "Juvenile
Literature," which belittles the language under pretense of being
simply phrased for children; as if a child's book could not, like
"Treasure Island" or "Robinson Crusoe" or the "Jungle Book," be
in good style.

If Miss Sullivan wrote fine English, the beauty of Helen Keller's
style would, in part, be explicable at once. But the extracts
from Miss Sullivan's letters and from her reports, although they
are clear and accurate, have not the beauty which distinguishes
Miss Keller's English. Her service as a teacher of English is not
to be measured by her own skill in composition. The reason why
she read to her pupil so many good books is due, in some measure,
to the fact that she had so recently recovered her eyesight. When
she became Helen Keller's teacher she was just awakening to the
good things that are in books, from which she had been shut out
during her years of blindness.

In Captain Keller's library she found excellent books, Lamb's
"Tales from Shakespeare," and better still Montaigne. After the
first year or so of elementary work she met her pupil on equal
terms, and they read and enjoyed good books together.

Besides the selection of good books, there is one other cause for
Miss Keller's excellence in writing, for which Miss Sullivan
deserves unlimited credit. That is her tireless and unrelenting
discipline, which is evident in all her work. She never allowed
her pupil to send off letters which contained offenses against
taste, but made her write them over until they were not only
correct, but charming and well phrased.

Any one who has tried to write knows what Miss Keller owes to the
endless practice which Miss Sullivan demanded of her. Let a
teacher with a liking for good style insist on a child's writing
a paragraph over and over again until it is more than correct,
and he will be training, even beyond his own power of expression,
the power of expression in the child.

How far Miss Sullivan carried this process of refinement and
selection is evident from the humorous comment of Dr. Bell, that
she made her pupil a little old woman, too widely different from
ordinary children in her maturity of thought. When Dr. Bell said
this he was arguing his own case. For it was Dr. Bell who first
saw the principles that underlie Miss Sullivan's method, and
explained the process by which Helen Keller absorbed language
from books.

There is, moreover, a reason why Helen Keller writes good
English, which lies in the very absence of sight and hearing. The
disadvantages of being deaf and blind were overcome and the
advantages remained. She excels other deaf people because she was
taught as if she were normal. On the other hand, the peculiar
value to her of language, which ordinary people take for granted
as a necessary part of them like their right hand, made her think
about language and love it. Language was her liberator, and from
the first she cherished it.

The proof of Miss Keller's early skill in the use of English, and
the final comment on the excellence of this whole method of
teaching, is contained in an incident, which, although at the
time it seemed unfortunate, can no longer be regretted. I refer
to the "Frost King" episode, which I shall explain in detail.
Miss Keller has given her account of it, and the whole matter was
discussed in the first Volta Bureau Souvenir from which I quote
at length:


Superintendent of the Volta Bureau, Washington, D. C.

Dear Sir: Since my paper was prepared for the second edition of
the Souvenir "Helen Keller," some facts have been brought to my
notice which are of interest in connection with the subject of
the acquisition of language by my pupil, and if it is not already
too late for publication in this issue of the Souvenir, I shall
be glad if I may have opportunity to explain them in detail.

Perhaps it will be remembered that in my paper*, where allusion
is made to Helen's remarkable memory, it is noted that she
appears to retain in her mind many forms of expression which, at
the time they are received, she probably does not understand; but
when further information is acquired, the language retained in
her memory finds full or partial expression in her conversation
or writing, according as it proves of greater or less value to
her in the fitness of its application to the new experience.
Doubtless this is true in the case of every intelligent child,
and should not, perhaps, be considered worthy of especial mention
in Helen's case, but for the fact that a child who is deprived of
the senses of sight and hearing might not be expected to be as
gifted mentally as this little girl proves to be; hence it is
quite possible we may be inclined to class as marvelous many
things we discover in the development of her mind which do not
merit such an explanation.

* In this paper Miss Sullivan says: "During this winter (1891-92)
I went with her into the yard while a light snow was falling, and
let her feel the falling flakes. She appeared to enjoy it very
much indeed. As we went in she repeated these words, 'Out of the
cloud-folds of his garments Winter shakes the snow.' I inquired
of her where she had read this; she did not remember having read
it, did not seem to know that she had learned it. As I had never
heard it, I inquired of several of my friends if they recalled
the words; no one seemed to remember it. The teachers at the
Institution expressed the opinion that the description did not
appear in any book in raised print in that library; but one lady,
Miss Marrett, took upon herself the task of examining books of
poems in ordinary type, and was rewarded by finding the following
lines in one of Longfellow's minor poems, entitled 'Snowflakes':

'Out of the bosom of the air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.'

"It would seem that Helen had learned and treasured the memory of
this expression of the poet, and this morning in the snow-storm
had found its application."

In the hope that I may be pardoned if I appear to overestimate
the remarkable mental capacity and power of comprehension and
discrimination which my pupil possesses, I wish to add that,
while I have always known that Helen made great use of such
descriptions and comparisons as appeal to her imagination and
fine poetic nature, yet recent developments in her writings
convince me of the fact that I have not in the past been fully
aware to what extent she absorbs the language of her favourite
authors. In the early part of her education I had full knowledge
of all the books she read and of nearly all the stories which
were read to her, and could without difficulty trace the source
of any adaptations noted in her writing or conversation; and I
have always been much pleased to observe how appropriately she
applies the expressions of a favourite author in her own

The following extracts from a few of her published letters give
evidence of how valuable this power of retaining the memory of
beautiful language has been to her. One warm, sunny day in early
spring, when we were at the North, the balmy atmosphere appears
to have brought to her mind the sentiment expressed by Longfellow
in "Hiawatha," and she almost sings with the poet: "The ground
was all aquiver with the stir of new life. My heart sang for very
joy. I thought of my own dear home. I knew that in that sunny
land spring had come in all its splendour. 'All its birds and all
its blossoms, all its flowers and all its grasses.'"

About the same time, in a letter to a friend, in which she makes
mention of her Southern home, she gives so close a reproduction
from a poem by one of her favourite authors that I will give
extracts from Helen's letter and from the poem itself:


[The entire letter is published on pp. 245 and 246 of the Report
of the Perkins Institution for 1891]

The blue-bird with his azure plumes, the thrush clad all in
brown, the robin jerking his spasmodic throat, the oriole
drifting like a flake of fire, the jolly bobolink and his happy
mate, the mocking-bird imitating the notes of all, the red-bird
with his one sweet trill, and the busy little wren, are all
making the trees in our front yard ring with their glad song.


The bluebird, breathing from his azure plumes
The fragrance borrowed from the myrtle blooms;
The thrush, poor wanderer, dropping meekly down,
Clad in his remnant of autumnal brown;
The oriole, drifting like a flake of fire
Rent by a whirlwind from a blazing spire;
The robin, jerking his spasmodic throat,
Repeats imperious, his staccato note;
The crack-brained bobolink courts his crazy mate,
Poised on a bullrush tipsy with his weight:
Nay, in his cage the lone canary sings,
Feels the soft air, and spreads his idle wings.

On the last day of April she uses another expression from the
same poem, which is more an adaptation than a reproduction:
"To-morrow April will hide her tears and blushes beneath the
flowers of lovely May."

In a letter to a friend at the Perkins Institution, dated May 17,
1889, she gives a reproduction from one of Hans Christian
Andersen's stories, which I had read to her not long before. This
letter is published in the Perkins Institution Report (1891), p.
204. The original story was read to her from a copy of
"Andersen's Stories," published by Leavitt & Allen Bros., and may
be found on p. 97 of Part I. in that volume.

Her admiration for the impressive explanations which Bishop
Brooks has given her of the Fatherhood of God is well known. In
one of his letters, speaking of how God in every way tells us of
His love, he says, "I think he writes it even upon the walls of
the great house of nature which we live in, that he is our
Father." The next year at Andover she said: "It seems to me the
world is full of goodness, beauty, and love; and how grateful we
must be to our heavenly Father, who has given us so much to
enjoy! His love and care are written all over the walls of

In these later years, since Helen has come in contact with so
many persons who are able to converse freely with her, she has
made the acquaintance of some literature with which I am not
familiar; she has also found in books printed in raised letters,
in the reading of which I have been unable to follow her, much
material for the cultivation of the taste she possesses for
poetical imagery. The pages of the book she reads become to her
like paintings, to which her imaginative powers give life and
colour. She is at once transported into the midst of the events
portrayed in the story she reads or is told, and the characters
and descriptions become real to her; she rejoices when justice
wins, and is sad when virtue goes unrewarded. The pictures the
language paints on her memory appear to make an indelible
impression; and many times, when an experience comes to her
similar in character, the language starts forth with wonderful
accuracy, like the reflection from a mirror.

Helen's mind is so gifted by nature that she seems able to
understand with only the faintest touch of explanation every
possible variety of external relations. One day in Alabama, as we
were gathering wild flowers near the springs on the hillsides,
she seemed to understand for the first time that the springs were
surrounded by mountains, and she exclaimed: "The mountains are
crowding around the springs to look at their own beautiful
reflections!" I do not know where she obtained this language, yet
it is evident that it must have come to her from without, as it
would hardly be possible for a person deprived of the visual
sense to originate such an idea. In mentioning a visit to
Lexington, Mass., she writes: "As we rode along we could see the
forest monarchs bend their proud forms to listen to the little
children of the woodlands whispering their secrets. The anemone,
the wild violet, the hepatica, and the funny little curled-up
ferns all peeped out at us from beneath the brown leaves." She
closes this letter with, "I must go to bed, for Morpheus has
touched my eyelids with his golden wand." Here again, I am unable
to state where she acquired these expressions.

She has always seemed to prefer stories which exercise the
imagination, and catches and retains the poetic spirit in all
such literature; but not until this winter have I been conscious
that her memory absorbed the exact language to such an extent
that she is herself unable to trace the source.

This is shown in a little story she wrote in October last at the
home of her parents in Tuscumbia, which she called "Autumn
Leaves." She was at work upon it about two weeks, writing a
little each day, at her own pleasure. When it was finished, and
we read it in the family, it occasioned much comment on account
of the beautiful imagery, and we could not understand how Helen
could describe such pictures without the aid of sight. As we had
never seen or heard of any such story as this before, we inquired
of her where she read it; she replied, "I did not read it; it is
my story for Mr. Anagnos's birthday." While I was surprised that
she could write like this, I was not more astonished than I had
been many times before at the unexpected achievements of my
little pupil, especially as we had exchanged many beautiful
thoughts on the subject of the glory of the ripening foliage
during the autumn of this year.

Before Helen made her final copy of the story, it was suggested
to her to change its title to "The Frost King," as more
appropriate to the subject of which the story treated; to this
she willingly assented. The story was written by Helen in
braille, as usual and copied by her in the same manner, I then
interlined the manuscript for the greater convenience of those
who desired to read it. Helen wrote a little letter, and,
enclosing the manuscript, forwarded both by mail to Mr. Anagnos
for his birthday.

The story was printed in the January number of the Mentor and,
from a review of it in the Goodson Gazette, I was startled to
find that a very similar story had been published in 1873, seven
years before Helen was born. This story, "Frost Fairies,"
appeared in a book written by Miss Margaret T. Canby, entitled
"Birdie and his Fairy Friends." The passages quoted from the two
stories were so much alike in thought and expression as to
convince me that Miss Canby's story must at some time have been
read to Helen.

As I had never read this story, or even heard of the book, I
inquired of Helen if she knew anything about the matter, and
found she did not. She was utterly unable to recall either the
name of the story or the book. Careful examination was made of
the books in raised print in the library of the Perkins
Institution to learn if any extracts from this volume could be
found there; but nothing was discovered. I then concluded that
the story must have been read to her a long time ago, as her
memory usually retains with great distinctness facts and
impressions which have been committed to its keeping.

After making careful inquiry, I succeeded in obtaining the
information that our friend, Mrs. S. C. Hopkins, had a copy of
this book in 1888 which was presented to her little daughter in
1873 or 1874. Helen and I spent the summer of 1888 with Mrs.
Hopkins at her home in Brewster, Mass., where she kindly relieved
me a part of the time, of the care of Helen. She amused and
entertained Helen by reading to her from a collection of juvenile
publications, among which was the copy of "Birdie and his Fairy
Friends"; and, while Mrs. Hopkins does not remember this story of
"Frost Fairies," she is confident that she read to Helen
extracts, if not entire stories, from this volume. But as she was
not able to find her copy, and applications for the volume at
bookstores in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Albany, and other
places resulted only in failure, search was instituted for the
author herself. This became a difficult task, as her publishers
in Philadelphia had retired from business many years ago;
however, it was eventually discovered that her residence is at
Wilmington, Delaware, and copies of the second edition of the
book, 1889, were obtained from her. She has since secured and
forwarded to me a copy of the first edition.

The most generous and gratifying letters have been received from
Miss Canby by Helen's friends, a few extracts from which are

Under date of February 24, 1892, after mentioning the order of
the publication of the stories in the magazine, she writes:

"All the stories were revised before publishing them in book
form; additions were made to the number as first published, I
think, and some of the titles may have been changed."

In the same letter she writes:

"I hope that you will be able to make her understand that I am
glad she enjoyed my story, and that I hope the new book will give
her pleasure by renewing her friendship with the Fairies. I shall
write to her in a short time. I am so much impressed with what I
have learned of her that I have written a little poem entitled A
Silent Singer, which I may send to her mother after a while. Can
you tell me in what paper the article appeared accusing Helen of
plagiarism, and giving passages from both stories? I should like
much to see it, and to obtain a few copies if possible."

Under date of March 9, 1892, Miss Canby writes:

"I find traces, in the Report which you so kindly sent me, of
little Helen having heard other stories than that of 'Frost
Fairies.' On page 132, in a letter, there is a passage which must
have been suggested by my story called 'The Rose Fairies' (see
pp. 13-16 of 'Birdie') and on pages 93 and 94 of the Report the
description of a thunderstorm is very much like Birdie's idea of
the same in the 'Dew Fairies' on page 59 and 60 of my book. What
a wonderfully active and retentive mind that gifted child must
have! If she had remembered and written down accurately, a short
story, and that soon after hearing it, it would have been a
marvel; but to have heard the story once, three years ago, and in
such a way that neither her parents nor teacher could ever allude
to it or refresh her memory about it, and then to have been able
to reproduce it so vividly, even adding some touches of her own
in perfect keeping with the rest, which really improve the
original, is something that very few girls of riper age, and with
every advantage of sight, hearing, and even great talents for
composition, could have done as well, if at all. Under the
circumstances, I do not see how any one can be so unkind as to
call it a plagiarism; it is a wonderful feat of memory, and
stands ALONE, as doubtless much of her work will in future, if
her mental powers grow and develop with her years as greatly as
in the few years past. I have known many children well, have been
surrounded by them all my life, and love nothing better than to
talk with them, amuse them, and quietly notice their traits of
mind and character; but I do not recollect more than one girl of
Helen's age who had the love and thirst for knowledge, and the
store of literary and general information, and the skill in
composition, which Helen possesses. She is indeed a
'Wonder-Child.' Thank you very much for the Report, Gazette, and
Helen's Journal. The last made me realize the great
disappointment to the dear child more than before. Please give
her my warm love, and tell her not to feel troubled about it any
more. No one shall be allowed to think it was anything wrong; and
some day she will write a great, beautiful story or poem that
will make many people happy. Tell her there are a few bitter
drops in every one's cup, and the only way is to take the bitter
patiently, and the sweet thankfully. I shall love to hear of her
reception of the book and how she likes the stories which are new
to her."

I have now (March, 1892) read to Helen "The Frost Fairies," "The
Rose Fairies," and a portion of "The Dew Fairies," but she is
unable to throw any light on the matter. She recognized them at
once as her own stories, with variations, and was much puzzled to
know how they could have been published before she was born! She
thinks it is wonderful that two people should write stories so
much alike; but she still considers her own as original.

I give below a portion of Miss Canby's story, "The Rose Fairies,"
and also Helen's letter to Mr. Anagnos containing her "dream," so
that the likenesses and differences may be studied by those
interested in the subject:


[From"Birdie and his Fairy Friends," by Margaret T. Canby]

One pleasant morning little Birdie might have been seen sitting
quietly on the grass-plat at the side of his mother's house,
looking very earnestly at the rose-bushes.

It was quite early; great Mr. Sun, who is such an early riser in
summer time, had not been up very long; the birds were just
beginning to chirp their "good-mornings" to each other; and as
for the flowers, they were still asleep. But Birdie was so busy
all day, trotting about the house and garden, that he was always
ready for HIS nest at night, before the birds and flowers had
thought of seeking THEIRS; and so it came to pass that when Mr.
Sun raised his head above the green woods and smiled lovingly
upon the earth, Birdie was often the first to see him, and to
smile back at him, all the while rubbing his eyes with his
dimpled fists, until between smiling and rubbing, he was wide

And what do you think he did next! Why, the little rogue rolled
into his mamma's bed, and kissed her eyelids, her cheeks, and her
mouth, until she began to dream that it was raining kisses; and
at last she opened her eyes to see what it all meant, and found
that it was Birdie, trying to "kiss her awake," as he said.

She loved her little boy very dearly, and liked to make him
happy, and when he said, "Please dress me, dear mamma, and let me
go out to play in the garden," she cheerfully consented; and,
soon after, Birdie went downstairs in his morning-dress of cool
linen, and with his round face bright and rosy from its bath, and
ran out on the gravel path to play, until breakfast was ready.

He stood still a moment to look about him, and think what he
should do first. The fresh morning air blew softly in his face,
as if to welcome him and be his merry playmate; and the bright
eye of Mr. Sun looked at him with a warm and glowing smile; but
Birdie soon walked on to find something to play with. As he came
in sight of the rose-bushes that grew near the side of the house,
he suddenly clapped his hands, and with a little shout of joy
stopped to look at them; they were all covered with lovely
rosebuds. Some were red, some white, and others pale pink, and
they were just peeping out of the green leaves, as rosy-faced
children peep out from their warm beds in wintertime before they
are quite willing to get up. A few days before, Birdie's papa had
told him that the green balls on the rose-bushes had beautiful
flowers shut up within them, but the little boy found it hard to
believe, for he was so young that he did not remember how pretty
the roses had been the summer before. Now he found out that his
father's words were true, for a few days of warm weather had
turned the green balls into rosebuds, and they were SO beautiful
that it was enough to make Birdie stand still before them, his
blue eyes dancing with delight and his little hands clasped
tightly together.

After awhile he went nearer, and looking closely at the buds,
found that they were folded up, leaf over leaf, as eyelids are
folded over sleeping eyes, so that Birdie thought they must be
asleep. "Lazy roses, wake up," said he, giving the branches a
gentle shake; but only the dew fell off in bright drops, and the
flowers were still shut up. At last Birdie remembered how he had
awakened his mother with kisses, and thought he would try the
same plan with the roses; so he drew up his red lips until THEY
looked like a rosebud, too, and bending down a branch with a
lovely pink bud upon it, he kissed it softly two or three times.

Here the similarity in the language of the story to that in the
letter ceases.


(Written February 2 and 3, 1890.)

[This letter was enclosed in another written in French, dated Le
1 fevrier 1890.]

My Dear Mr. Anagnos: You will laugh when you open your little
friend's letter and see all the queer mistakes she has made in
French, but I think you will be pleased to know that I can write
even a short letter in French. It makes me very happy to please
you and my dear teacher. I wish I could see your little niece
Amelia. I am sure we should love each other. I hope you will
bring some of Virginia Evanghelides' poems home with you, and
translate them for me. Teacher and I have just returned from our
walk. It is a beautiful day. We met a sweet little child. She was
playing on the pier with a wee brother. She gave me a kiss and
then ran away, because she was a shy little girl. I wonder if you
would like to have me tell you a pretty dream which I had a long
time ago when I was a very little child? Teacher says it was a
day-dream, and she thinks you would be delighted to hear it. One
pleasant morning in the beautiful springtime, I thought I was
sitting on the soft grass under my dear mother's window, looking
very earnestly at the rose-bushes which were growing all around
me. It was quite early, the sun had not been up very long; the
birds were just beginning to sing joyously. The flowers were
still asleep. They would not awake until the sun had smiled
lovingly upon them. I was a very happy little child with rosy
cheeks, and large blue eyes, and the most beautiful golden
ringlets you can imagine. The fresh morning air blew gently in my
face, as if to welcome me, and be my merry playmate, and the sun
looked at me with a warm and tender smile. I clapped my chubby
hands for joy when I saw that the rose-bushes were covered with
lovely buds. Some were red, some white, and others were delicate
pink, and they were peeping out from between the green leaves
like beautiful little fairies. I had never seen anything so
lovely before, for I was very young and I could not remember how
pretty the roses had been the summer before. My little heart was
filled with a sweet joy, and I danced around the rosebushes to
show my delight. After a while I went very near to a beautiful
white rose-bush which was completely covered with buds and
sparkling with dewdrops; I bent down one of the branches with a
lovely pure white bud upon it, and kissed it softly many times;
just then I felt two loving arms steal gently around me, and
loving lips kissing my eyelids, my cheeks, and my mouth, until I
began to think it was raining kisses; and at last I opened my
eyes to see what it all meant, and found it was my precious
mother, who was bending over me, trying to kiss me awake. Do you
like my day-dream? If you do, perhaps I will dream again for you
some time.

Teacher and all of your friends send you their love. I shall be
so glad when you come home, for I greatly miss you. Please give
my love to your good Greek friends, and tell them that I shall
come to Athens some day.

Lovingly your little friend and playmate,

"The Frost Fairies" and "The Frost Kings" are given in full, as
the differences are as important as the resemblances:

The Frost Fairies [From "Birdie and his Fairy Friends"] by
Margaret T. Canby

King Frost, or Jack Frost as he is sometimes called, lives in a
cold country far to the North; but every year he takes a journey
over the world in a car of golden clouds drawn by a strong and
rapid steed called "North Wind." Wherever he goes he does many
wonderful things; he builds bridges over every stream, clear as
glass in appearance but often strong as iron; he puts the flowers
and plants to sleep by one touch of his hand, and they all bow
down and sink into the warm earth, until spring returns; then,
lest we should grieve for the flowers, he places at our windows
lovely wreaths and sprays of his white northern flowers, or
delicate little forests of fairy pine-trees, pure white and very
beautiful. But his most wonderful work is the painting of the
trees, which look, after his task is done, as if they were
covered with the brightest layers of gold and rubies; and are
beautiful enough to comfort us for the flight of summer.

I will tell you how King Frost first thought of this kind work,
for it is a strange story. You must know that this King, like all
other kings, has great treasures of gold and precious stones in
his palace; but, being a good-hearted old fellow, he does not
keep his riches locked up all the time, but tries to do good and
make others happy with them. He has two neighbours, who live
still farther north; one is King Winter, a cross and churlish old
monarch, who is hard and cruel, and delights in making the poor
suffer and weep; but the other neighbour is Santa Claus, a fine,
good-natured, jolly old soul, who loves to do good, and who
brings presents to the poor, and to nice little children at

Well, one day King Frost was trying to think of some good that he
could do with his treasure; and suddenly he concluded to send
some of it to his kind neighbour, Santa Claus, to buy presents of
food and clothing for the poor, that they might not suffer so
much when King Winter went near their homes. So he called
together his merry little fairies, and showing them a number of
jars and vases filled with gold and precious stones, told them to
carry those carefully to the palace of Santa Claus, and give them
to him with the compliments of King Frost. "He will know how to
make good use of the treasure," added Jack Frost; then he told
the fairies not to loiter by the way, but to do his bidding

The fairies promised obedience and soon started on their journey,
dragging the great glass jars and vases along, as well as they
could, and now and then grumbling a little at having such hard
work to do, for they were idle fairies, and liked play better
than work. At last they reached a great forest, and, being quite
tired, they decided to rest awhile and look for nuts before going
any further. But lest the treasure should be stolen from them,
they hid the jars among the thick leaves of the forest trees,
placing some high up near the top, and others in different parts
of the various trees, until they thought no one could find them.

Then they began to wander about and hunt for nuts, and climb the
trees to shake them down, and worked much harder for their own
pleasure than they had done for their master's bidding, for it is
a strange truth that fairies and children never complain of the
toil and trouble they take in search of amusement, although they
often grumble when asked to work for the good of others.

The frost fairies were so busy and so merry over their nutting
frolic that they soon forgot their errand and their king's
command to go quickly; but, as they played and loitered in the
forest until noon, they found the reason why they were told to
hasten; for although they had, as they thought, hidden the
treasure so carefully, they had not secured it from the power of
Mr. Sun, who was an enemy of Jack Frost, and delighted to undo
his work and weaken him whenever he could.

His bright eyes found out the jars of treasure among the trees,
and as the idle fairies left them there until noon, at which time
Mr. Sun is the strongest, the delicate glass began to melt and
break, and before long every jar and vase was cracked or broken,
and the precious treasures they contained were melting, too, and
dripping slowly in streams of gold and crimson over the trees and
bushes of the forest.

Still, for awhile, the frost fairies did not notice this strange
occurrence, for they were down on the grass, so far below the
tree-tops that the wonderful shower of treasure was a long time
in reaching them; but at last one of them said, "Hark! I believe
it is raining; I certainly hear the falling drops." The others
laughed, and told him that it seldom rained when the sun was
shining; but as they listened they plainly heard the tinkling of
many drops falling through the forest, and sliding from leaf to
leaf until they reached the bramble-bushes beside them, when, to
their great dismay, they found that the RAIN-DROPS were MELTED
RUBIES, which hardened on the leaves and turned them to bright
crimson in a moment. Then looking more closely at the trees
around, they saw that the treasure was all melting away, and that
much of it was already spread over the leaves of the oak trees
and maples, which were shining with their gorgeous dress of gold
and bronze, crimson and emerald. It was very beautiful; but the
idle fairies were too much frightened at the mischief their
disobedience had caused, to admire the beauty of the forest, and
at once tried to hide themselves among the bushes, lest King
Frost should come and punish them.

Their fears were well founded, for their long absence had alarmed
the king, and he had started out to look for his tardy servants,
and just as they were all hidden, he came along slowly, looking
on all sides for the fairies. Of course, he soon noticed the
brightness of the leaves, and discovered the cause, too, when he
caught sight of the broken jars and vases from which the melted
treasure was still dropping. And when he came to the nut trees,
and saw the shells left by the idle fairies and all the traces of
their frolic, he knew exactly how they had acted, and that they
had disobeyed him by playing and loitering on their way through
the woods.

King Frost frowned and looked very angry at first, and his
fairies trembled for fear and cowered still lower in their
hiding-places; but just then two little children came dancing
through the wood, and though they did not see King Frost or the
fairies, they saw the beautiful colour of the leaves, and laughed
with delight, and began picking great bunches to take to their
mother. "The leaves are as pretty as flowers," said they; and
they called the golden leaves "buttercups," and the red ones
"roses," and were very happy as they went singing through the

Their pleasure charmed away King Frost's anger, and he, too,
began to admire the painted trees, and at last he said to
himself, "My treasures are not wasted if they make little
children happy. I will not be offended at my idle, thoughtless
fairies, for they have taught me a new way of doing good." When
the frost fairies heard these words they crept, one by one, from
their corners, and, kneeling down before their master, confessed
their fault, and asked his pardon. He frowned upon them for
awhile, and scolded them, too, but he soon relented, and said he
would forgive them this time, and would only punish them by
making them carry more treasure to the forest, and hide it in the
trees, until all the leaves, with Mr. Sun's help, were covered
with gold and ruby coats.

Then the fairies thanked him for his forgiveness, and promised to
work very hard to please him; and the good-natured king took them
all up in his arms, and carried them safely home to his palace.
From that time, I suppose, it has been part of Jack Frost's work
to paint the trees with the glowing colours we see in the autumn;
and if they are NOT covered with gold and precious stones, I do
not know how he makes them so bright; DO YOU?

The Frost King by Helen A. Keller

King Frost lives in a beautiful palace far to the North, in the
land of perpetual snow. The palace, which is magnificent beyond
description, was built centuries ago, in the reign of King
Glacier. At a little distance from the palace we might easily
mistake it for a mountain whose peaks were mounting heavenward to
receive the last kiss of the departing day. But on nearer
approach we should discover our error. What we had supposed to be
peaks were in reality a thousand glittering spires. Nothing could
be more beautiful than the architecture of this ice-palace. The
walls are curiously constructed of massive blocks of ice which
terminate in cliff-like towers. The entrance to the palace is at
the end of an arched recess, and it is guarded night and day by
twelve soldierly-looking white Bears.

But, children, you must make King Frost a visit the very first
opportunity you have, and see for yourselves this wonderful
palace. The old King will welcome you kindly, for he loves
children, and it is his chief delight to give them pleasure.

You must know that King Frost, like all other kings, has great
treasures of gold and precious stones; but as he is a generous
old monarch, he endeavours to make a right use of his riches. So
wherever he goes he does many wonderful works; he builds bridges
over every stream, as transparent as glass, but often as strong
as iron; he shakes the forest trees until the ripe nuts fall into
the laps of laughing children; he puts the flowers to sleep with
one touch of his hand; then, lest we should mourn for the bright
faces of the flowers, he paints the leaves with gold and crimson
and emerald, and when his task is done the trees are beautiful
enough to comfort us for the flight of summer. I will tell you
how King Frost happened to think of painting the leaves, for it
is a strange story.

One day while King Frost was surveying his vast wealth and
thinking what good he could do with it, he suddenly bethought him
of his jolly old neighbour, Santa Claus. "I will send my
treasures to Santa Claus," said the King to himself. "He is the
very man to dispose of them satisfactorily, for he knows where
the poor and the unhappy live, and his kind old heart is always
full of benevolent plans for their relief." So he called together
the merry little fairies of his household and, showing them the
jars and vases containing his treasures, he bade them carry them
to the palace of Santa Claus as quickly as they could. The
fairies promised obedience, and were off in a twinkling, dragging
the heavy jars and vases along after them as well as they could,
now and then grumbling a little at having such a hard task, for
they were idle fairies and loved to play better than to work.
After awhile they came to a great forest and, being tired and
hungry, they thought they would rest a little and look for nuts
before continuing their journey. But thinking their treasure
might be stolen from them, they hid the jars among the thick
green leaves of the various trees until they were sure that no
one could find them. Then they began to wander merrily about
searching for nuts, climbing trees, peeping curiously into the
empty birds' nests, and playing hide and seek from behind the
trees. Now, these naughty fairies were so busy and so merry over
their frolic that they forgot all about their errand and their
master's command to go quickly, but soon they found to their
dismay why they had been bidden to hasten, for although they had,
as they supposed, hidden the treasure carefully, yet the bright
eyes of King Sun had spied out the jars among the leaves, and as
he and King Frost could never agree as to what was the best way
of benefiting the world, he was very glad of a good opportunity
of playing a joke upon his rather sharp rival. King Sun laughed
softly to himself when the delicate jars began to melt and break.
At length every jar and vase was cracked or broken, and the
precious stones they contained were melting, too, and running in
little streams over the trees and bushes of the forest.

Still the idle fairies did not notice what was happening, for
they were down on the grass, and the wonderful shower of treasure
was a long time in reaching them; but at last they plainly heard
the tinkling of many drops falling like rain through the forest,
and sliding from leaf to leaf until they reached the little
bushes by their side, when to their astonishment they discovered
that the rain-drops were melted rubies which hardened on the
leaves, and turned them to crimson and gold in a moment. Then
looking around more closely, they saw that much of the treasure
was already melted, for the oaks and maples were arrayed in
gorgeous dresses of gold and crimson and emerald. It was very
beautiful, but the disobedient fairies were too frightened to
notice the beauty of the trees. They were afraid that King Frost
would come and punish them. So they hid themselves among the
bushes and waited silently for something to happen. Their fears
were well founded, for their long absence had alarmed the King,
and he mounted North Wind and went out in search of his tardy
couriers. Of course, he had not gone far when he noticed the
brightness of the leaves, and he quickly guessed the cause when
he saw the broken jars from which the treasure was still
dropping. At first King Frost was very angry, and the fairies
trembled and crouched lower in their hiding-places, and I do not
know what might have happened to them if just then a party of
boys and girls had not entered the wood. When the children saw
the trees all aglow with brilliant colors they clapped their
hands and shouted for joy, and immediately began to pick great
bunches to take home. "The leaves are as lovely as the flowers!"
cried they, in their delight. Their pleasure banished the anger
from King Frost's heart and the frown from his brow, and he, too,
began to admire the painted trees. He said to himself, "My
treasures are not wasted if they make little children happy. My
idle fairies and my fiery enemy have taught me a new way of doing

When the fairies heard this, they were greatly relieved and came
forth from their hiding-places, confessed their fault, and asked
their master's forgiveness.

Ever since that time it has been King Frost's great delight to
paint the leaves with the glowing colors we see in the autumn,
and if they are not covered with gold and precious stones I
cannot imagine what makes them so bright, can you?

If the story of "The Frost Fairies" was read to Helen in the
summer of 1888, she could not have understood very much of it at
that time, for she had only been under instruction since March,

Can it be that the language of the story had remained dormant in
her mind until my description of the beauty of the autumn scenery
in 1891 brought it vividly before her mental vision?

I have made careful investigation among Helen's friends in
Alabama and in Boston and its vicinity, but thus far have been
unable to ascertain any later date when it could have been read
to her.

Another fact is of great significance in this connection. "The
Rose Fairies" was published in the same volume with "The Frost
Fairies," and, therefore, was probably read to Helen at or about
the same time.

Now Helen, in her letter of February, 1890 (quoted above),
alludes to this story of Miss Canby's as a dream "WHICH I HAD A
a half would appear "a long time ago" to a little girl like
Helen; we therefore have reason to believe that the stories must
have been read to her at least as early as the summer of 1888.


(The following entry made by Helen in her diary speaks for

'1892. January 30. This morning I took a bath, and when teacher
came upstairs to comb my hair she told me some very sad news
which made me unhappy all day. Some one wrote to Mr. Anagnos that
the story which I sent him as a birthday gift, and which I wrote
myself, was not my story at all, but that a lady had written it a
long time ago. The person said her story was called "Frost
Fairies." I am sure I never heard it. It made us feel so bad to
think that people thought we had been untrue and wicked. My heart
was full of tears, for I love the beautiful truth with my whole
heart and mind.

'It troubles me greatly now. I do not know what I shall do. I
never thought that people could make such mistakes. I am
perfectly sure I wrote the story myself. Mr. Anagnos is much
troubled. It grieves me to think that I have been the cause of
his unhappiness, but of course I did not mean to do it.

'I thought about my story in the autumn, because teacher told me
about the autumn leaves while we walked in the woods at Fern
Quarry. I thought fairies must have painted them because they are
so wonderful, and I thought, too, that King Frost must have jars
and vases containing precious treasures, because I knew that
other kings long ago had, and because teacher told me that the
leaves were painted ruby, emerald, gold, crimson, and brown; so
that I thought the paint must be melted stones. I knew that they
must make children happy because they are so lovely, and it made
me very happy to think that the leaves were so beautiful and that
the trees glowed so, although I could not see them.

'I thought everybody had the same thought about the leaves, but I
do not know now. I thought very much about the sad news when
teacher went to the doctor's; she was not here at dinner and I
missed her.'

I do not feel that I can add anything more that will be of
interest. My own heart is too "full of tears" when I remember how
my dear little pupil suffered when she knew "that people thought
we had been untrue and wicked," for I know that she does indeed
"love the beautiful truth with her whole heart and mind."

Yours truly,

So much appears in the Volta Bureau Souvenir. The following
letter from Mr. Anagnos is reprinted from the American Annals of
the Deaf, April, 1892:

SO. BOSTON, March 11, 1892.

Sir: In compliance with your wishes I make the following
statement concerning Helen Keller's story of "King Frost." It was
sent to me as a birthday gift on November 7th, from Tuscumbia,
Alabama. Knowing as well as I do Helen's extraordinary abilities
I did not hesitate to accept it as her own work; nor do I doubt
to-day that she is fully capable of writing such a composition.
Soon after its appearance in print I was pained to learn, through
the Goodson Gazette, that a portion of the story (eight or nine
passages) is either a reproduction or adaptation of Miss Margaret
Canby's "Frost Fairies." I immediately instituted an inquiry to
ascertain the facts in the case. None of our teachers or officers
who are accustomed to converse with Helen ever knew or heard
about Miss Canby's book, nor did the child's parents and
relatives at home have any knowledge of it. Her father, Captain
Keller, wrote to me as follows on the subject:

"I hasten to assure you that Helen could not have received any
idea of the story from any of her relations or friends here, none
of whom can communicate with her readily enough to impress her
with the details of a story of that character."

At my request, one of the teachers in the girls' department
examined Helen in regard to the construction of the story. Her
testimony is as follows:

"I first tried to ascertain what had suggested to Helen's mind
the particular fancies which made her story seem like a
reproduction of one written by Miss Margaret Canby. Helen told me
that for a long time she had thought of Jack Frost as a king,
because of the many treasures which he possessed. Such rich
treasures must be kept in a safe place, and so she had imagined
them stored in jars and vases in one part of the royal palace.
She said that one autumn day her teacher told her as they were
walking together in the woods, about the many beautiful colours
of the leaves, and she had thought that such beauty must make
people very happy, and very grateful to King Frost. I asked Helen
what stories she had read about Jack Frost. In answer to my
question she recited a part of the poem called 'Freaks of the
Frost,' and she referred to a little piece about winter, in one
of the school readers. She could not remember that any one had
ever read to her any stories about King Frost, but said she had
talked with her teacher about Jack Frost and the wonderful things
he did."

The only person that we supposed might possibly have read the
story to Helen was her friend, Mrs. Hopkins, whom she was
visiting at the time in Brewster. I asked Miss Sullivan to go at
once to see Mrs. Hopkins and ascertain the facts in the matter.
The result of her investigation is embodied in the printed note
herewith enclosed. [This note is a statement of the bare facts
and an apology, which Mr. Anagnos inserted in his report of the
Perkins Institute.]

I have scarcely any doubt that Miss Canby's little book was read
to Helen, by Mrs. Hopkins, in the summer of 1888. But the child
has no recollection whatever of this fact. On Miss Sullivan's
return to Brewster, she read to Helen the story of "Little Lord
Fauntleroy," which she had purchased in Boston for the purpose.
The child was at once fascinated and absorbed with the charming
story, which evidently made a deeper impression upon her mind
than any previously read to her, as was shown in the frequent
reference to it, both in her conversation and letters, for many
months afterward. Her intense interest in Fauntleroy must have
buried all remembrance of "Frost Fairies," and when, more than
three years later, she had acquired a fuller knowledge and use of
language, and was told of Jack Frost and his work, the seed so
long buried sprang up into new thoughts and fancies. This may
explain the reason why Helen claims persistently that "The Frost
King" is her own story. She seems to have some idea of the
difference between original composition and reproduction. She did
not know the meaning of the word "plagiarism" until quite
recently, when it was explained to her. She is absolutely
truthful. Veracity is the strongest element of her character. She
was very much surprised and grieved when she was told that her
composition was an adaptation of Miss Canby's story of "Frost
Fairies." She could not keep back her tears, and the chief cause
of her pain seemed to be the fear lest people should doubt her
truthfulness. She said, with great intensity of feeling, "I love
the beautiful truth." A most rigid examination of the child of
about two hours' duration, at which eight persons were present
and asked all sorts of questions with perfect freedom, failed to
elicit in the least any testimony convicting either her teacher
or any one else of the intention or attempt to practice

In view of these facts I cannot but think that Helen, while
writing "The Frost King," was entirely unconscious of ever having
had the story of "Frost Fairies" read to her, and that her memory
has been accompanied by such a loss of associations that she
herself honestly believed her composition to be original. This
theory is shared by many persons who are perfectly well
acquainted with the child and who are able to rise above the
clouds of a narrow prejudice.

Very sincerely yours,
Director of the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for
the Blind.

The episode had a deadening effect on Helen Keller and on Miss
Sullivan, who feared that she had allowed the habit of imitation,
which has in truth made Miss Keller a writer, to go too far. Even
to-day, when Miss Keller strikes off a fine phrase, Miss Sullivan
says in humorous despair, "I wonder where she got that?" But she
knows now, since she has studied with her pupil in college the
problems of composition, under the wise advice of Mr. Charles T.
Copeland, that the style of every writer and indeed, of every
human being, illiterate or cultivated, is a composite
reminiscence of all that he has read and heard. Of the sources of
his vocabulary he is, for the most part, as unaware as he is of
the moment when he ate the food which makes a bit of his
thumbnail. With most of us the contributions from different
sources are blended, crossed and confused. A child with but few
sources may keep distinct what he draws from each. In this case
Helen Keller held almost intact in her mind, unmixed with other
ideas, the words of a story which at the time it was read to her
she did not fully understand. The importance of this cannot be
overestimated. It shows how the child-mind gathers into itself
words it has heard, and how they lurk there ready to come out
when the key that releases the spring is touched. The reason that
we do not observe this process in ordinary children is, because
we seldom observe them at all, and because they are fed from so
many sources that the memories are confused and mutually
destructive. The story of "The Frost King" did not, however, come
from Helen Keller's mind intact, but had taken to itself the
mould of the child's temperament and had drawn on a vocabulary
that to some extent had been supplied in other ways. The style of
her version is in some respects even better than the style of
Miss Canby's story. It has the imaginative credulity of a
primitive folktale; whereas Miss Canby's story is evidently told
for children by an older person, who adopts the manner of a fairy
tale and cannot conceal the mature mood which allows such
didactic phrases as "Jack Frost as he is sometimes called,"
"Noon, at which time Mr. Sun is strongest." Most people will feel
the superior imaginative quality of Helen Keller's opening
paragraph. Surely the writer must become as a little child to see
things like that. "Twelve soldierly-looking white bears" is a
stroke of genius, and there is beauty of rhythm throughout the
child's narrative. It is original in the same way that a poet's
version of an old story is original.

This little story calls into life all the questions of language
and the philosophy of style. Some conclusions may be briefly

All use of language is imitative, and one's style is made up of
all other styles that one has met.

The way to write good English is to read it and hear it. Thus it
is that any child may be taught to use correct English by not
being allowed to read or hear any other kind. In a child, the
selection of the better from the worse is not conscious; he is
the servant of his word experience.

The ordinary man will never be rid of the fallacy that words obey
thought, that one thinks first and phrases afterward. There must
first, it is true, be the intention, the desire to utter
something, but the idea does not often become specific, does not
take shape until it is phrased; certainly an idea is a different
thing by virtue of being phrased. Words often make the thought,
and the master of words will say things greater than are in him.
A remarkable example is a paragraph from Miss Keller's sketch in
the Youth's Companion. Writing of the moment when she learned
that everything has a name, she says: "We met the nurse carrying
my little cousin; and teacher spelled 'baby.' AND FOR THE FIRST
TIME I was impressed with the smallness and helplessness of a
little baby, and mingled with the thought there was another one
of myself, and I was glad I was myself, and not a baby." It was a
word that created these thoughts in her mind. So the master of
words is master of thoughts which the words create, and says
things greater than he could otherwise know. Helen Keller writing
"The Frost King" was building better than she knew and saying
more than she meant.

Whoever makes a sentence of words utters not his wisdom, but the
wisdom of the race whose life is in the words, though they have
never been so grouped before. The man who can write stories
thinks of stories to write. The medium calls forth the thing it
conveys, and the greater the medium the deeper the thoughts.

The educated man is the man whose expression is educated. The
substance of thought is language, and language is the one thing
to teach the deaf child and every other child. Let him get
language and he gets the very stuff that language is made of, the
thought and the experience of his race. The language must be one
used by a nation, not an artificial thing. Volapuk is a paradox,
unless one has French or English or German or some other language
that has grown up in a nation. The deaf child who has only the
sign language of De l'Epee is an intellectual Philip Nolan, an
alien from all races, and his thoughts are not the thoughts of an
Englishman, or a Frenchman, or a Spaniard. The Lord's prayer in
signs is not the Lord's prayer in English.

In his essay on style De Quincey says that the best English is to
be found in the letters of the cultivated gentlewoman, because
she has read only a few good books and has not been corrupted by
the style of newspapers and the jargon of street, market-place,
and assembly hall.

Precisely these outward circumstances account for Helen Keller's
use of English. In the early years of her education she had only
good things to read; some were, indeed, trivial and not excellent
in style, but not one was positively bad in manner or substance.
This happy condition has obtained throughout her life. She has
been nurtured on imaginative literature, and she has gathered
from it into her vigorous and tenacious memory the style of great
writers. "A new word opens its heart to me," she writes in a
letter; and when she uses the word its heart is still open. When
she was twelve years old, she was asked what book she would take
on a long railroad journey. "Paradise Lost," she answered, and
she read it on the train.

Until the last year or two she has not been master of her style,
rather has her style been master of her. It is only since she has
made composition a more conscious study that she has ceased to be
the victim of the phrase; the lucky victim, fortunately, of the
good phrase.

When in 1892, she was encouraged to write a sketch of her life
for the Youth's Companion, in the hope that it would reassure her
and help her to recover from the effect of "The Frost King," she
produced a piece of composition which is much more remarkable and
in itself more entertaining at some points than the corresponding
part of her story in this book. When she came to retell the story
in a fuller form, the echo was still in her mind of the phrases
she had written nine years before. Yet she had not seen her
sketch in the Youth's Companion since she wrote it, except two
passages which Miss Sullivan read to her to remind her of things
she should say in this autobiography, and to show her, when her
phrasing troubled her, how much better she did as a little girl.

From the early sketch I take a few passages which seem to me,
without making very much allowance for difference in time, almost
as good as anything she has written since:

I discovered the true way to walk when I was a year old, and
during the radiant summer days that followed I was never still a

Then when my father came in the evening, I would run to the gate
to meet him, and he would take me up in his strong arms and put
back the tangled curls from my face and kiss me many times,
saying, "What has my Little Woman been doing to-day?"

But the brightest summer has winter behind it. In the cold,
dreary month of February, when I was nineteen months old, I had a
serious illness. I still have confused memories of that illness.
My mother sat beside my little bed and tried to soothe my
feverish moans while in her troubled heart she prayed, "Father in
Heaven, spare my baby's life!" But the fever grew and flamed in
my eyes, and for several days my kind physician thought I would

But early one morning the fever left me as mysteriously and
unexpectedly as it had come, and I fell into a quiet sleep. Then
my parents knew I would live, and they were very happy. They did
not know for some time after my recovery that the cruel fever had
taken my sight and hearing; taken all the light and music and
gladness out of my little life.

But I was too young to realize what had happened. When I awoke
and found that all was dark and still, I suppose I thought it was
night, and I must have wondered why day was so long coming.
Gradually, however, I got used to the silence and darkness that
surrounded me, and forgot that it had ever been day.

I forgot everything that had been except my mother's tender love.
Soon even my childish voice was stilled, because I had ceased to
hear any sound.

But all was not lost! After all, sight and hearing are but two of
the beautiful blessings which God had given me. The most
precious, the most wonderful of His gifts was still mine. My mind
remained clear and active, "though fled fore'er the light."

As soon as my strength returned, I began to take an interest in
what the people around me were doing. I would cling to my
mother's dress as she went about her household duties, and my
little hands felt every object and observed every motion, and in
this way I learned a great many things.

When I was a little older I felt the need of some means of
communication with those around me, and I began to make simple
signs which my parents and friends readily understood; but it
often happened that I was unable to express my thoughts
intelligibly, and at such times I would give way to my angry
feelings utterly....

Teacher had been with me nearly two weeks, and I had learned
eighteen or twenty words, before that thought flashed into my
mind, as the sun breaks upon the sleeping world; and in that
moment of illumination the secret of language was revealed to me,
and I caught a glimpse of the beautiful country I was about to

Teacher had been trying all the morning to make me understand
that the mug and the milk in the mug had different names; but I
was very dull, and kept spelling MILK for mug, and mug for milk
until teacher must have lost all hope of making me see my
mistake. At last she got up, gave me the mug, and led me out of
the door to the pump-house. Some one was pumping water, and as
the cool fresh stream burst forth, teacher made me put my mug
under the spout and spelled "w-a-t-e-r," Water!

That word startled my soul, and it awoke, full of the spirit of
the morning, full of joyous, exultant song. Until that day my
mind had been like a darkened chamber, waiting for words to enter
and light the lamp, which is thought....

I learned a great many words that day. I do not remember what
they all were; but I do know that MOTHER, FATHER, SISTER and
TEACHER were among them. It would have been difficult to find a
happier little child than I was that night as I lay in my crib
and thought over the joy the day had brought me, and for the
first time longed for a new day to come.

The next morning I awoke with joy in my heart. Everything I
touched seemed to quiver with life. It was because I saw
everything with the new, strange, beautiful sight which had been
given me. I was never angry after that because I understood what
my friends said to me, and I was very busy learning many
wonderful things. I was never still during the first glad days of
my freedom. I was continually spelling and acting out the words
as I spelled them. I would run, skip, jump and swing, no matter
where I happened to be. Everything was budding and blossoming.
The honeysuckle hung in long garlands, deliciously fragrant, and
the roses had never been so beautiful before. Teacher and I lived
out-of-doors from morning until night, and I rejoiced greatly in
the forgotten light and sunshine found again....

The morning after our arrival I awoke bright and early. A
beautiful summer day had dawned, the day on which I was to make
the acquaintance of a somber and mysterious friend. I got up, and
dressed quickly and ran downstairs. I met Teacher in the hall,
and begged to be taken to the sea at once. "Not yet," she
responded, laughing. "We must have breakfast first." As soon as
breakfast was over we hurried off to the shore. Our pathway led
through low, sandy hills, and as we hastened on, I often caught
my feet in the long, coarse grass, and tumbled, laughing, in the
warm, shining sand. The beautiful, warm air was peculiarly
fragrant, and I noticed it got cooler and fresher as we went on.

Suddenly we stopped, and I knew, without being told, the Sea was
at my feet. I knew, too, it was immense! awful! and for a moment
some of the sunshine seemed to have gone out of the day. But I do
not think I was afraid; for later, when I had put on my
bathing-suit, and the little waves ran up on the beach and kissed
my feet, I shouted for joy, and plunged fearlessly into the surf.
But, unfortunately, I struck my foot on a rock and fell forward
into the cold water.

Then a strange, fearful sense of danger terrified me. The salt
water filled my eyes, and took away my breath, and a great wave
threw me up on the beach as easily as if I had been a little
pebble. For several days after that I was very timid, and could
hardly be persuaded to go in the water at all; but by degrees my
courage returned, and almost before the summer was over, I
thought it the greatest fun to be tossed about by the

I do not know whether the difference or the similarity in
phrasing between the child's version and the woman's is the more
remarkable. The early story is simpler and shows less deliberate
artifice, though even then Miss Keller was prematurely conscious
of style, but the art of the later narrative, as in the passage
about the sea, or the passage on the medallion of Homer, is
surely a fulfilment of the promise of the early story. It was in
these early days that Dr. Holmes wrote to her: "I am delighted
with the style of your letters. There is no affectation about
them, and as they come straight from your heart, so they go
straight to mine."

In the years when she was growing out of childhood, her style
lost its early simplicity and became stiff and, as she says,
"periwigged." In these years the fear came many times to Miss
Sullivan lest the success of the child was to cease with
childhood. At times Miss Keller seemed to lack flexibility, her
thoughts ran in set phrases which she seemed to have no power to
revise or turn over in new ways.

Then came the work in college--original theme writing with new
ideals of composition or at least new methods of suggesting those
ideals. Miss Keller began to get the better of her old friendly
taskmaster, the phrase. This book, her first mature experiment in
writing, settles the question of her ability to write.

The style of the Bible is everywhere in Miss Keller's work, just
as it is in the style of most great English writers. Stevenson,
whom Miss Sullivan likes and used to read to her pupil, is
another marked influence. In her autobiography are many
quotations, chiefly from the Bible and Stevenson, distinct from
the context or interwoven with it, the whole a fabric quite of
her own design. Her vocabulary has all the phrases that other
people use, and the explanation of it, and the reasonableness of
it ought to be evident by this time. There is no reason why she
should strike from her vocabulary all words of sound and vision.
Writing for other people, she should in many cases be true to
outer fact rather than to her own experience. So long as she uses
words correctly, she should be granted the privilege of using
them freely, and not be expected to confine herself to a
vocabulary true to her lack of sight and hearing. In her style,
as in what she writes about, we must concede to the artist what
we deny to the autobiographer. It should be explained, too, that
LOOK and SEE are used by the blind, and HEAR by the deaf, for
PERCEIVE; they are simple and more convenient words. Only a
literal person could think of holding the blind to PERCEPTION or
APPERCEPTION, when SEEING and LOOKING are so much easier, and
have, moreover, in the speech of all men the meaning of
intellectual recognition as well as recognition through the sense
of sight. When Miss Keller examines a statue, she says in her
natural idiom, as her fingers run over the marble, "It looks like
a head of Flora."

It is true, on the other hand, that in her descriptions, she is
best from the point of view of art when she is faithful to her
own sensations; and this is precisely true of all artists.

Her recent training has taught her to drop a good deal of her
conventionality and to write about experiences in her life which
are peculiar to her and which, like the storm in the wild cherry
tree, mean most and call for the truest phrasing. She has learned
more and more to give up the style she borrowed from books and
tried to use, because she wanted to write like other people; she
has learned that she is at her best when she "feels" the lilies
sway; lets the roses press into her hands and speaks of the heat
which to her means light.

Miss Keller's autobiography contains almost everything that she
ever intended to publish. It seems worth while, however, to quote
from some of her chance bits of writing, which are neither so
informal as her letters nor so carefully composed as her story of
her life. These extracts are from her exercises in her course in
composition, where she showed herself at the beginning of her
college life quite without rival among her classmates. Mr.
Charles T. Copeland, who has been for many years instructor in
English and Lecturer on English Literature at Harvard and
Radcliffe, said to me: "In some of her work she has shown that
she can write better than any pupil I ever had, man or woman. She
has an excellent 'ear' for the flow of sentences." The extracts

A few verses of Omar Khayyam's poetry have just been read to me,
and I feel as if I had spent the last half-hour in a magnificent
sepulcher. Yes, it is a tomb in which hope, joy and the power of
acting nobly lie buried. Every beautiful description, every deep
thought glides insensibly into the same mournful chant of the
brevity of life, of the slow decay and dissolution of all earthly
things. The poet's bright, fond memories of love, youth and
beauty are but the funeral torches shedding their light on this
tomb, or to modify the image a little, they are the flowers that
bloom on it, watered with tears and fed by a bleeding heart.
Beside the tomb sits a weary soul, rejoicing neither in the joys
of the past nor in the possibilities of the future, but seeking
consolation in forgetfulness. In vain the inspiring sea shouts to
this languid soul, in vain the heavens strive with its weakness;
it still persists in regretting and seeks a refuge in oblivion
from the pangs of present woe. At times it catches some faint
echo from the living, joyous, real world, a gleam of the
perfection that is to be; and, thrilled out of its despondency,
feels capable of working out a grand ideal even "in the poor,
miserable, hampered actual," wherein it is placed; but in a
moment the inspiration, the vision is gone, and this great,
much-suffering soul is again enveloped in the darkness of
uncertainty and despair.

It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting the
devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving
their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui.

I often think that beautiful ideas embarrass most people as much
as the company of great men. They are regarded generally as far
more appropriate in books and in public discourses than in the
parlor or at the table. Of course I do not refer to beautiful
sentiments, but to the higher truths relating to everyday life.
Few people that I know seem ever to pause in their daily
intercourse to wonder at the beautiful bits of truth they have
gathered during their years of study. Often when I speak
enthusiastically of something in history or in poetry, I receive
no response, and I feel that I must change the subject and return
to the commonest topics, such as the weather, dressmaking,
sports, sickness, "blues" and "worries." To be sure, I take the
keenest interest in everything that concerns those who surround
me; it is this very interest which makes it so difficult for me
to carry on a conversation with some people who will not talk or
say what they think, but I should not be sorry to find more
friends ready to talk with me now and then about the wonderful
things I read. We need not be like "Les Femmes Savantes" but we
ought to have something to say about what we learn as well as
about what we MUST do, and what our professors say or how they
mark our themes.

To-day I took luncheon with the Freshman Class of Radcliffe. This
was my first real experience in college life, and a delightful
experience it was! For the first time since my entrance into
Radcliffe I had the opportunity to make friends with all my
classmates, and the pleasure of knowing that they regarded me as
one of themselves, instead of thinking of me as living apart and
taking no interest in the everyday nothings of their life, as I
had sometimes feared they did. I have often been surprised to
hear this opinion expressed or rather implied by girls of my own
age and even by people advanced in years. Once some one wrote to
me that in his mind I was always "sweet and earnest," thinking
only of what is wise, good and interesting--as if he thought I
was one of those wearisome saints of whom there are only too many
in the world! I always laugh at these foolish notions, and assure
my friends that it is much better to have a few faults and be
cheerful and responsive in spite of all deprivations than to
retire into one's shell, pet one's affliction, clothe it with
sanctity, and then set one's self up as a monument of patience,
virtue, goodness and all in all; but even while I laugh I feel a
twinge of pain in my heart, because it seems rather hard to me
that any one should imagine that I do not feel the tender bonds
which draw me to my young sisters--the sympathies springing from
what we have in common--youth, hope, a half-eager, half-timid
attitude towards the life before us and above all the royalty of

Sainte-Beuve says, "Il vient un age peut-etre quand on n'ecrit
plus." This is the only allusion I have read to the possibility
that the sources of literature, varied and infinite as they seem
now, may sometime be exhausted. It surprises me to find that such
an idea has crossed the mind of any one, especially of a highly
gifted critic. The very fact that the nineteenth century has not
produced many authors whom the world may count among the greatest
of all time does not in my opinion justify the remark, "There may
come a time when people cease to write."

In the first place, the fountains of literature are fed by two
vast worlds, one of action, one of thought, by a succession of
creations in the one and of changes in the other. New experiences
and events call forth new ideas and stir men to ask questions
unthought of before, and seek a definite answer in the depths of
human knowledge.

In the second place, if it is true that as many centuries must
pass before the world becomes perfect as passed before it became
what it is to-day, literature will surely be enriched
incalculably by the tremendous changes, acquisitions and
improvements that cannot fail to take place in the distant
future. If genius has been silent for a century it has not been
idle. On the contrary, it has been collecting fresh materials not
only from the remote past, but also from the age of progress and
development, and perhaps in the new century there will be
outbursts of splendor in all the various branches of literature.
At present the world is undergoing a complete revolution, and in
the midst of falling systems and empires, conflicting theories
and creeds, discoveries and inventions, it is a marvel how one
can produce any great literary works at all. This is an age of
workers, not of thinkers. The song to-day is:

Let the dead past bury its dead,
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within and God overhead.

A little later, when the rush and heat of achievement relax, we
can begin to expect the appearance of grand men to celebrate in
glorious poetry and prose the deeds and triumphs of the last few

It is very interesting to watch a plant grow, it is like taking
part in creation. When all outside is cold and white, when the
little children of the woodland are gone to their nurseries in
the warm earth, and the empty nests on the bare trees fill with
snow, my window-garden glows and smiles, making summer within
while it is winter without. It is wonderful to see flowers bloom
in the midst of a snow-storm! I have felt a bud "shyly doff her
green hood and blossom with a silken burst of sound," while the
icy fingers of the snow beat against the window-panes. What
secret power, I wonder, caused this blossoming miracle? What
mysterious force guided the seedling from the dark earth up to
the light, through leaf and stem and bud, to glorious fulfilment
in the perfect flower? Who could have dreamed that such beauty

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