Her life has been a series of attempts to do whatever other people do, and to do it as well. Her success has been complete, for in trying to be like other people she has come most fully to be herself. Her unwillingness to be beaten has developed her courage. Where another can go, she can go. Her respect for physical bravery is like Stevenson’s–the boy’s contempt for the fellow who cries, with a touch of young bravado in it. She takes tramps in the woods, plunging through the underbrush, where she is scratched and bruised; yet you could not get her to admit that she is hurt, and you certainly could not persuade her to stay at home next time.
So when people try experiments with her, she displays a sportsmanlike determination to win in any test, however unreasonable, that one may wish to put her to.
If she does not know the answer to a question, she guesses with mischievous assurance. Ask her the colour of your coat (no blind person can tell colour), she will feel it and say “black.” If it happens to be blue, and you tell her so triumphantly, she is likely to answer, “Thank you. I am glad you know. Why did you ask me?”
Her whimsical and adventuresome spirit puts her so much on her mettle that she makes rather a poor subject for the psychological experimenter. Moreover, Miss Sullivan does not see why Miss Keller should be subjected to the investigation of the scientist, and has not herself made many experiments. When a psychologist asked her if Miss Keller spelled on her fingers in her sleep, Miss Sullivan replied that she did not think it worth while to sit up and watch, such matters were of so little consequence.
Miss Keller likes to be part of the company. If any one whom she is touching laughs at a joke, she laughs, too, just as if she had heard it. If others are aglow with music, a responding glow, caught sympathetically, shines in her face. Indeed, she feels the movements of Miss Sullivan so minutely that she responds to her moods, and so she seems to know what is going on, even though the conversation has not been spelled to her for some time. In the same way her response to music is in part sympathetic, although she enjoys it for its own sake.
Music probably can mean little to her but beat and pulsation. She cannot sing and she cannot play the piano, although, as some early experiments show, she could learn mechanically to beat out a tune on the keys. Her enjoyment of music, however, is very genuine, for she has a tactile recognition of sound when the waves of air beat against her. Part of her experience of the rhythm of music comes, no doubt, from the vibration of solid objects which she is touching: the floor, or, what is more evident, the case of the piano, on which her hand rests. But she seems to feel the pulsation of the air itself. When the organ was played for her in St. Bartholomew’s, the whole building shook with the great pedal notes, but that does not altogether account for what she felt and enjoyed. The vibration of the air as the organ notes swelled made her sway in answer. Sometimes she puts her hand on a singer’s throat to feel the muscular thrill and contraction, and from this she gets genuine pleasure. No one knows, however, just what her sensations are. It is amusing to read in one of the magazines of 1895 that Miss Keller “has a just and intelligent appreciation of different composers from having literally felt their music, Schumann being her favourite.” If she knows the difference between Schumann and Beethoven, it is because she has read it, and if she has read it, she remembers it and can tell any one who asks her.
Miss Keller’s effort to reach out and meet other people on their own intellectual ground has kept her informed of daily affairs. When her education became more systematic and she was busy with books, it would have been very easy for Miss Sullivan to let her draw into herself, if she had been so inclined. But every one who has met her has given his best ideas to her and she has taken them. If, in the course of a conversation, the friend next to her has ceased for some moments to spell into her hand, the question comes inevitably, “What are you talking about?” Thus she picks up the fragments of the daily intercourse of normal people, so that her detailed information is singularly full and accurate. She is a good talker on the little occasional affairs of life.
Much of her knowledge comes to her directly. When she is out walking she often stops suddenly, attracted by the odour of a bit of shrubbery. She reaches out and touches the leaves, and the world of growing things is hers, as truly as it is ours, to enjoy while she holds the leaves in her fingers and smells the blossoms, and to remember when the walk is done.
When she is in a new place, especially an interesting place like Niagara, whoever accompanies her–usually, of course, Miss Sullivan–is kept busy giving her an idea of visible details. Miss Sullivan, who knows her pupil’s mind, selects from the passing landscape essential elements, which give a certain clearness to Miss Keller’s imagined view of an outer world that to our eyes is confused and overloaded with particulars. If her companion does not give her enough details, Miss Keller asks questions until she has completed the view to her satisfaction.
She does not see with her eyes, but through the inner faculty to serve which eyes were given to us. When she returns from a walk and tells some one about it, her descriptions are accurate and vivid. A comparative experience drawn from written descriptions and from her teacher’s words has kept her free from errors in her use of terms of sound and vision. True, her view of life is highly coloured and full of poetic exaggeration; the universe, as she sees it, is no doubt a little better than it really is. But her knowledge of it is not so incomplete as one might suppose. Occasionally she astonishes you by ignorance of some fact which no one happens to have told her; for instance, she did not know, until her first plunge into the sea, that it is salt. Many of the detached incidents and facts of our daily life pass around and over her unobserved; but she has enough detailed acquaintance with the world to keep her view of it from being essentially defective.
Most that she knows at first hand comes from her sense of touch. This sense is not, however, so finely developed as in some other blind people. Laura Bridgman could tell minute shades of difference in the size of thread, and made beautiful lace. Miss Keller used to knit and crochet, but she has had better things to do. With her varied powers and accomplishments, her sense of touch has not been used enough to develop it very far beyond normal acuteness. A friend tried Miss Keller one day with several coins. She was slower than he expected her to be in identifying them by their relative weight and size. But it should be said she almost never handles money–one of the many sordid and petty details of life, by the way, which she has been spared.
She recognizes the subject and general intention of a statuette six inches high. Anything shallower than a half-inch bas-relief is a blank to her, so far as it expresses an idea of beauty. Large statues, of which she can feel the sweep of line with her whole hand, she knows in their higher esthetic value. She suggests herself that she can know them better than we do, because she can get the true dimensions and appreciate more immediately the solid nature of a sculptured figure. When she was at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston she stood on a step-ladder and let both hands play over the statues. When she felt a bas-relief of dancing girls she asked, “Where are the singers?” When she found them she said, “One is silent.” The lips of the singer were closed.
It is, however, in her daily life that one can best measure the delicacy of her senses and her manual skill. She seems to have very little sense of direction. She gropes her way without much certainty in rooms where she is quite familiar. Most blind people are aided by the sense of sound, so that a fair comparison is hard to make, except with other deaf-blind persons. Her dexterity is not notable either in comparison with the normal person, whose movements are guided by the eye, or, I am told, with other blind people. She has practised no single constructive craft which would call for the use of her hands. When she was twelve, her friend Mr. Albert H. Munsell, the artist, let her experiment with a wax tablet and a stylus. He says that she did pretty well and managed to make, after models, some conventional designs of the outlines of leaves and rosettes. The only thing she does which requires skill with the hands is her work on the typewriter. Although she has used the typewriter since she was eleven years old, she is rather careful than rapid. She writes with fair speed and absolute sureness. Her manuscripts seldom contain typographical errors when she hands them to Miss Sullivan to read. Her typewriter has no special attachments. She keeps the relative position of the keys by an occasional touch of the little finger on the outer edge of the board.
Miss Keller’s reading of the manual alphabet by her sense of touch seems to cause some perplexity. Even people who know her fairly well have written in the magazines about Miss Sullivan’s “mysterious telegraphic communications” with her pupil. The manual alphabet is that in use among all educated deaf people. Most dictionaries contain an engraving of the manual letters. The deaf person with sight looks at the fingers of his companion, but it is also possible to feel them. Miss Keller puts her fingers lightly over the hand of one who is talking to her and gets the words as rapidly as they can be spelled. As she explains, she is not conscious of the single letters or of separate words. Miss Sullivan and others who live constantly with the deaf can spell very rapidly–fast enough to get a slow lecture, not fast enough to get every word of a rapid speaker.
Anybody can learn the manual letters in a few minutes, use them slowly in a day, and in thirty days of constant use talk to Miss Keller or any other deaf person without realizing what his fingers are doing. If more people knew this, and the friends and relatives of deaf children learned the manual alphabet at once the deaf all over the world would be happier and better educated.
Miss Keller reads by means of embossed print or the various kinds of braille. The ordinary embossed book is made with roman letters, both small letters and capitals. These letters are of simple, square, angular design. The small letters are about three-sixteenths of an inch high, and are raised from the page the thickness of the thumbnail. The books are large, about the size of a volume of an encyclopedia. Green’s “Short History of the English People” is in six large volumes. The books are not heavy, because the leaves with the raised type do not lie close. The time that one of Miss Keller’s friends realizes most strongly that she is blind is when he comes on her suddenly in the dark and hears the rustle of her fingers across the page.
The most convenient print for the blind is braille, which has several variations, too many, indeed–English, American, New York Point. Miss Keller reads them all. Most educated blind people know several, but it would save trouble if, as Miss Keller suggests, English braille were universally adopted. The facsimile on page xv [omitted from etext] gives an idea of how the raised dots look. Each character (either a letter or a special braille contraction) is a combination made by varying in place and number points in six possible positions. Miss Keller has a braille writer on which she keeps notes and writes letters to her blind friends. There are six keys, and by pressing different combinations at a stroke (as one plays a chord on the piano) the operator makes a character at a time in a sheet of thick paper, and can write about half as rapidly as on a typewriter. Braille is especially useful in making single manuscript copies of books.
Books for the blind are very limited in number. They cost a great deal to publish and they have not a large enough sale to make them profitable to the publisher; but there are several institutions with special funds to pay for embossed books. Miss Keller is more fortunate than most blind people in the kindness of her friends who have books made especially for her, and in the willingness of gentlemen, like Mr. E. E. Allen of the Pennsylvania Institute for the Instruction of the Blind, to print, as he has on several occasions, editions of books that she has needed.
Miss Keller does not as a rule read very fast, but she reads deliberately, not so much because she feels the words less quickly than we see then, as because it is one of her habits of mind to do things thoroughly and well. When a passage interests her, or she needs to remember it for some future use, she flutters it off swiftly on the fingers of her right hand. Sometimes this finger-play is unconscious. Miss Keller talks to herself absent-mindedly in the manual alphabet. When she is walking up or down the hall or along the veranda, her hands go flying along beside her like a confusion of birds’ wings.
There is, I am told, tactile memory as well as visual and aural memory. Miss Sullivan says that both she and Miss Keller remember “in their fingers” what they have said. For Miss Keller to spell a sentence in the manual alphabet impresses it on her mind just as we learn a thing from having heard it many times and can call back the memory of its sound.
Like every deaf or blind person, Miss Keller depends on her sense of smell to an unusual degree. When she was a little girl she smelled everything and knew where she was, what neighbour’s house she was passing, by the distinctive odours. As her intellect grew she became less dependent on this sense. To what extent she now identifies objects by their odour is hard to determine. The sense of smell has fallen into disrepute, and a deaf person is reluctant to speak of it. Miss Keller’s acute sense of smell may account, however, in some part for that recognition of persons and things which it has been customary to attribute to a special sense, or to an unusual development of the power that we all seem to have of telling when some one is near.
The question of a special “sixth sense,” such as people have ascribed. to Miss Keller, is a delicate one. This much is certain, she cannot have any sense that other people may not have, and the existence of a special sense is not evident to her or to any one who knows her. Miss Keller is distinctly not a singular proof of occult and mysterious theories, and any attempt to explain her in that way fails to reckon with her normality. She is no more mysterious and complex than any other person. All that she is, all that she has done, can be explained directly, except such things in every human being as never can be explained. She does not, it would seem, prove the existence of spirit without matter, or of innate ideas, or of immortality, or anything else that any other human being does not prove. Philosophers have tried to find out what was her conception of abstract ideas before she learned language. If she had any conception, there is no way of discovering it now; for she cannot remember, and obviously there was no record at the time. She had no conception of God before she heard the word “God,” as her comments very clearly show.
Her sense of time is excellent, but whether it would have developed as a special faculty cannot be known, for she has had a watch since she was seven years old.
Miss Keller has two watches, which have been given her. They are, I think, the only ones of their kind in America. The watch has on the back cover a flat gold indicator which can be pushed freely around from left to right until, by means of a pin inside the case, it locks with the hour hand and takes a corresponding position. The point of this gold indicator bends over the edge of the case, round which are set eleven raised points–the stem forms the twelfth. Thus the watch, an ordinary watch with a white dial for the person who sees, becomes for a blind person by this special attachment in effect one with a single raised hour hand and raised figures. Though there is less than half an inch between the points–a space which represents sixty minutes–Miss Keller tells the time almost exactly. It should be said that any double-case watch with the crystal removed serves well enough for a blind person whose touch is sufficiently delicate to feel the position of the hands and not disturb or injure them.
The finer traits of Miss Keller’s character are so well known that one needs not say much about them. Good sense, good humour, and imagination keep her scheme of things sane and beautiful. No attempt is made by those around her either to preserve or to break her illusions. When she was a little girl, a good many unwise and tactless things that were said for her benefit were not repeated to her, thanks to the wise watchfulness of Miss Sullivan. Now that she has grown up, nobody thinks of being less frank with her than with any other intelligent young woman. What her good friend, Charles Dudley Warner, wrote about her in Harper’s Magazine in 1896 was true then, and it remains true now:
“I believe she is the purest-minded human ever in existence…. The world to her is what her own mind is. She has not even learned that exhibition on which so many pride themselves, of ‘righteous indignation.’
“Some time ago, when a policeman shot dead her dog, a dearly loved daily companion, she found in her forgiving heart no condemnation for the man; she only said, ‘If he had only known what a good dog she was, he wouldn’t have shot her.’ It was said of old time, ‘Lord forgive them, they know not what they do!’
“Of course the question will arise whether, if Helen Keller had not been guarded from the knowledge of evil, she would have been what she is to-day…. Her mind has neither been made effeminate by the weak and silly literature, nor has it been vitiated by that which is suggestive of baseness. In consequence her mind is not only vigorous, but it is pure. She is in love with noble things, with noble thoughts, and with the characters of noble men and women.”
She still has a childlike aversion to tragedies. Her imagination is so vital that she falls completely under the illusion of a story, and lives in its world. Miss Sullivan writes in a letter of 1891:
“Yesterday I read to her the story of ‘Macbeth,’ as told by Charles and Mary Lamb. She was very greatly excited by it, and said: ‘It is terrible! It makes me tremble!’ After thinking a little while, she added, ‘I think Shakespeare made it very terrible so that people would see how fearful it is to do wrong.'”
Of the real world she knows more of the good and less of the evil than most people seem to know. Her teacher does not harass her with the little unhappy things; but of the important difficulties they have been through, Miss Keller was fully informed, took her share of the suffering, and put her mind to the problems. She is logical and tolerant, most trustful of a world that has treated her kindly.
Once when some one asked her to define “love,” she replied, “Why, bless you, that is easy; it is what everybody feels for everybody else.”
“Toleration,” she said once, when she was visiting her friend Mrs. Laurence Hutton, “is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle.”
She has a large, generous sympathy and absolute fairness of temper. So far as she is noticeably different from other people she is less bound by convention. She has the courage of her metaphors and lets them take her skyward when we poor self-conscious folk would think them rather too bookish for ordinary conversation. She always says exactly what she thinks, without fear of the plain truth; yet no one is more tactful and adroit than she in turning an unpleasant truth so that it will do the least possible hurt to the feelings of others. Not all the attention that has been paid her since she was a child has made her take herself too seriously. Sometimes she gets started on a very solemn preachment. Then her teacher calls her an incorrigible little sermonizer, and she laughs at herself. Often, however, her sober ideas are not to be laughed at, for her earnestness carries her listeners with her. There is never the least false sententiousness in what she says. She means everything so thoroughly that her very quotations, her echoes from what she has read, are in truth original.
Her logic and her sympathy are in excellent balance. Her sympathy is of the swift and ministering sort which, fortunately, she has found so often in other people. And her sympathies go further and shape her opinions on political and national movements. She was intensely pro-Boer and wrote a strong argument in favour of Boer independence. When she was told of the surrender of the brave little people, her face clouded and she was silent a few minutes. Then she asked clear, penetrating questions about the terms of the surrender, and began to discuss them.
Both Mr. Gilman and Mr. Keith, the teachers who prepared her for college, were struck by her power of constructive reasoning; and she was excellent in pure mathematics, though she seems never to have enjoyed it much. Some of the best of her writing, apart from her fanciful and imaginative work, is her exposition in examinations and technical themes, and in some letters which she found it necessary to write to clear up misunderstandings, and which are models of close thinking enforced with sweet vehemence.
She is an optimist and an idealist.
“I hope,” she writes in a letter, “that L– isn’t too practical, for if she is, I’m afraid she’ll miss a great deal of pleasure.”
In the diary that she kept at the Wright-Humason School in New York she wrote on October 18, 1894, “I find that I have four things to learn in my school life here, and indeed, in life–to think clearly without hurry or confusion, to love everybody sincerely, to act in everything with the highest motives, and to trust in dear God unhesitatingly.”
CHAPTER III. EDUCATION
It is now sixty-five years since Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe knew that he had made his way through Laura Bridgman’s fingers to her intelligence. The names of Laura Bridgman and Helen Keller will always be linked together, and it is necessary to understand what Dr. Howe did for his pupil before one comes to an account of Miss Sullivan’s work. For Dr. Howe is the great pioneer on whose work that of Miss Sullivan and other teachers of the deaf-blind immediately depends.
Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe was born in Boston, November 10, 1801, and died in Boston, January 9, 1876. He was a great philanthropist, interested especially in the education of all defectives, the feeble-minded, the blind, and the deaf. Far in advance of his time he advocated many public measures for the relief of the poor and the diseased, for which he was laughed at then, but which have since been put into practice. As head of the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, he heard of Laura Bridgman and had her brought to the Institution on October 4, 1837.
Laura Bridgman was born at Hanover, New Hampshire, December 21, 1829; so she was almost eight years old when Dr. Howe began his experiments with her. At the age of twenty-six months scarlet fever left her without sight or hearing. She also lost her sense of smell and taste. Dr. Howe was an experimental scientist and had in him the spirit of New England transcendentalism with its large faith and large charities. Science and faith together led him to try to make his way into the soul which he believed was born in Laura Bridgman as in every other human being. His plan was to teach Laura by means of raised types. He pasted raised labels on objects and made her fit the labels to the objects and the objects to the labels. When she had learned in this way to associate raised words with things, in much the same manner, he says, as a dog learns tricks, he began to resolve the words into their letter elements and to teach her to put together “k-e-y,” “c-a-p.” His success convinced him that language can be conveyed through type to the mind of the blind-deaf child, who, before education, is in the state of the baby who has not learned to prattle; indeed, is in a much worse state, for the brain has grown in years without natural nourishment.
After Laura’s education had progressed for two months with the use only of raised letters, Dr. Howe sent one of his teachers to learn the manual alphabet from a deaf-mute. She taught it to Laura, and from that time on the manual alphabet was the means of communicating with her.
After the first year or two Dr. Howe did not teach Laura Bridgman himself, but gave her over to other teachers, who under his direction carried on the work of teaching her language.
Too much cannot be said in praise of Dr. Howe’s work. As an investigator he kept always the scientist’s attitude. He never forgot to keep his records of Laura Bridgman in the fashion of one who works in a laboratory. The result is, his records of her are systematic and careful. From a scientific standpoint it is unfortunate that it was impossible to keep such a complete record of Helen Keller’s development. This in itself is a great comment on the difference between Laura Bridgman and Helen Keller. Laura always remained an object of curious study. Helen Keller became so rapidly a distinctive personality that she kept her teacher in a breathless race to meet the needs of her pupil, with no time or strength to make a scientific study.
In some ways this is unfortunate. Miss Sullivan knew at the beginning that Helen Keller would be more interesting and successful than Laura Bridgman, and she expresses in one of her letters the need of keeping notes. But neither temperament nor training allowed her to make her pupil the object of any experiment or observation which did not help in the child’s development. As soon as a thing was done, a definite goal passed, the teacher did not always look back and describe the way she had come. The explanation of the fact was unimportant compared to the fact itself and the need of hurrying on. There are two other reasons why Miss Sullivan’s records are incomplete. It has always been a severe tax on her eyes to write, and she was early discouraged from publishing data by the inaccurate use made of what she at first supplied.
When she first wrote from Tuscumbia to Mr. Michael Anagnos, Dr. Howes son-in-law and his successor as Director of the Perkins Institution, about her work with her pupil, the Boston papers began at once to publish exaggerated accounts of Helen Keller. Miss Sullivan protested. In a letter dated April 10, 1887, only five weeks after she went to Helen Keller, she wrote to a friend:
“– sent me a Boston Herald containing a stupid article about Helen. How perfectly absurd to say that Helen is ‘already talking fluently!’ Why, one might just as well say that a two-year-old child converses fluently when he says ‘apple give,’ or ‘baby walk go.’ I suppose if you included his screaming, crowing, whimpering, grunting, squalling, with occasional kicks, in his conversation, it might be regarded as fluent–even eloquent. Then it is amusing to read of the elaborate preparation I underwent to fit me for the great task my friends entrusted to me. I am sorry that preparation didn’t include spelling, it would have saved me such a lot of trouble.”
On March 4, 1888, she writes in a letter:
“Indeed, I am heartily glad that I don’t know all that is being said and written about Helen and myself. I assure you I know quite enough. Nearly every mail brings some absurd statement, printed or written. The truth is not wonderful enough to suit the newspapers; so they enlarge upon it and invent ridiculous embellishments. One paper has Helen demonstrating problems in geometry by means of her playing blocks. I expect to hear next that she has written a treatise on the origin and future of the planets!”
In December, 1887, appeared the first report of the Director of the Perkins Institution, which deals with Helen Keller. For this report Miss Sullivan prepared, in reluctant compliance with the request of Mr. Anagnos, an account of her work. This with the extracts from her letters, scattered through the report, is the first valid source of information about Helen Keller. Of this report Miss Sullivan wrote in a letter dated October 30, 1887:
“Have you seen the paper I wrote for the ‘report’? Mr. Anagnos was delighted with it. He says Helen’s progress has been ‘a triumphal march from the beginning,’ and he has many flattering things to say about her teacher. I think he is inclined to exaggerate; at all events, his language is too glowing, and simple facts are set forth in such a manner that they bewilder one. Doubtless the work of the past few months does seem like a triumphal march to him; but then people seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant success is achieved.”
As Mr. Anagnos was the head of a great institution, what he said had much more effect than the facts in Miss Sullivan’s account on which he based his statements. The newspapers caught Mr. Anagnos’s spirit and exaggerated a hundred-fold. In a year after she first went to Helen Keller, Miss Sullivan found herself and her pupil the centre of a stupendous fiction. Then the educators all over the world said their say and for the most part did not help matters. There grew up a mass of controversial matter which it is amusing to read now. Teachers of the deaf proved a priori that what Miss Sullivan had done could not be, and some discredit was reflected on her statements, because they were surrounded by the vague eloquence of Mr. Anagnos. Thus the story of Helen Keller, incredible when told with moderation, had the misfortune to be heralded by exaggerated announcements, and naturally met either an ignorant credulity or an incredulous hostility.
In November, 1888, another report of the Perkins Institution appeared with a second paper by Miss Sullivan, and then nothing official was published until November, 1891, when Mr. Anagnos issued the last Perkins Institution report containing anything about Helen Keller. For this report Miss Sullivan wrote the fullest and largest account she has ever written; and in this report appeared the “Frost King,” which is discussed fully in a later chapter. Then the controversy waxed fiercer than ever.
Finding that other people seemed to know so much more about Helen Keller than she did, Miss Sullivan kept silent and has been silent for ten years, except for her paper in the first volta Bureau Souvenir of Helen Keller and the paper which, at Dr. Bell’s request, she prepared in 1894 for the meeting at Chautauqua of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf. When Dr. Bell and others tell her, what is certainly true from an impersonal point of view, that she owes it to the cause of education to write what she knows, she answers very properly that she owes all her time and all her energies to her pupil.
Although Miss Sullivan is still rather amused than distressed when some one, even one of her friends, makes mistakes in published articles about her and Miss Keller, still she sees that Miss Keller’s book should include all the information that the teacher could at present furnish. So she consented to the publication of extracts from letters which she wrote during the first year of her work with her pupil. These letters were written to Mrs. Sophia C. Hopkins, the only person to whom Miss Sullivan ever wrote freely. Mrs. Hopkins has been a matron at the Perkins Institution for twenty years, and during the time that Miss Sullivan was a pupil there she was like a mother to her. In these letters we have an almost weekly record of Miss Sullivan’s work. Some of the details she had forgotten, as she grew more and more to generalize. Many people have thought that any attempt to find the principles in her method would be nothing but a later theory superimposed on Miss Sullivan’s work. But it is evident that in these letters she was making a clear analysis of what she was doing. She was her own critic, and in spite of her later declaration, made with her modest carelessness, that she followed no particular method, she was very clearly learning from her task and phrasing at the time principles of education of unique value not only in the teaching of the deaf but in the teaching of all children. The extracts from her letters and reports form an important contribution to pedagogy, and more than justify the opinion of Dr. Daniel C. Gilman, who wrote in 1893, when he was President of Johns Hopkins University:
“I have just read… your most interesting account of the various steps you have taken in the education of your wonderful pupil, and I hope you will allow me to express my admiration for the wisdom that has guided your methods and the affection which has inspired your labours.”
Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan was born at Springfield, Massachusetts. Very early in her life she became almost totally blind, and she entered the Perkins Institution October 7, 1880, when she was fourteen years old. Later her sight was partially restored.
Mr. Anagnos says in his report of 1887: “She was obliged to begin her education at the lowest and most elementary point; but she showed from the very start that she had in herself the force and capacity which insure success…. She has finally reached the goal for which she strove so bravely. The golden words that Dr. Howe uttered and the example that he left passed into her thoughts and heart and helped her on the road to usefulness; and now she stands by his side as his worthy successor in one of the most cherished branches of his work…. Miss Sullivan’s talents are of the highest order.”
In 1886 she graduated from the Perkins Institution. When Captain Keller applied to the director for a teacher, Mr. Anagnos recommended her. The only time she had to prepare herself for the work with her pupil was from August, 1886, when Captain Keller wrote, to February, 1887. During this time she read Dr. Howe’s reports. She was further aided by the fact that during the six years of her school life she had lived in the house with Laura Bridgman. It was Dr. Howe who, by his work with Laura Bridgman, made Miss Sullivan’s work possible: but it was Miss Sullivan who discovered the way to teach language to the deaf-blind.
It must be remembered that Miss Sullivan had to solve her problems unaided by previous experience or the assistance of any other teacher. During the first year of her work with Helen Keller, in which she taught her pupil language, they were in Tuscumbia; and when they came North and visited the Perkins Institution, Helen Keller was never a regular student there or subject to the discipline of the Institution. The impression that Miss Sullivan educated Helen Keller “under the direction of Mr. Anagnos” is erroneous. In the three years during which at various times Miss Keller and Miss Sullivan were guests of the Perkins Institution, the teachers there did not help Miss Sullivan, and Mr. Anagnos did not even use the manual alphabet with facility as a means of communication. Mr. Anagnos wrote in the report of the Perkins Institution, dated November 27, 1888: “At my urgent request, Helen, accompanied by her mother and her teacher, came to the North in the last week of May, and spent several months with us as our guests…. We gladly allowed her to use freely our library of embossed books, our collection of stuffed animals, sea-shells, models of flowers and plants, and the rest of our apparatus for instructing the blind through the sense of touch. I do not doubt that she derived from them much pleasure and not a little profit. But whether Helen stays at home or makes visits in other parts of the country, her education is always under the immediate direction and exclusive control of her teacher. No one interferes with Miss Sullivan’s plans, or shares in her tasks. She has been allowed entire freedom in the choice of means and methods for carrying on her great work; and, as we can judge by the results, she has made a most judicious and discreet use of this privilege. What the little pupil has thus far accomplished is widely known, and her wonderful attainments command general admiration; but only those who are familiar with the particulars of the grand achievement know that the credit is largely due to the intelligence, wisdom, sagacity, unremitting perseverance and unbending will of the instructress, who rescued the child from the depths of everlasting night and stillness, and watched over the different phases of her mental and moral development with maternal solicitude and enthusiastic devotion.”
Here follow in order Miss Sullivan’s letters and the most important passages from the reports. I have omitted from each succeeding report what has already been explained and does not need to be repeated. For the ease of the reader I have, with Miss Sullivan’s consent, made the extracts run together continuously and supplied words of connection and the resulting necessary changes in syntax, and Miss Sullivan has made slight changes in the phrasing of her reports and also of her letters, which were carelessly written. I have also italicized a few important passages. Some of her opinions Miss Sullivan would like to enlarge and revise. That remains for her to do at another time. At present we have here the fullest record that has been published. The first letter is dated March 6, 1887, three days after her arrival in Tuscumbia.
…It was 6.30 when I reached Tuscumbia. I found Mrs. Keller and Mr. James Keller waiting for me. They said somebody had met every train for two days. The drive from the station to the house, a distance of one mile, was very lovely and restful. I was surprised to find Mrs. Keller a very young-looking woman, not much older than myself, I should think. Captain Keller met us in the yard and gave me a cheery welcome and a hearty handshake. My first question was, “Where is Helen?” I tried with all my might to control the eagerness that made me tremble so that I could hardly walk. As we approached the house I saw a child standing in the doorway, and Captain Keller said, “There she is. She has known all day that some one was expected, and she has been wild ever since her mother went to the station for you.” I had scarcely put my foot on the steps, when she rushed toward me with such force that she would have thrown me backward if Captain Keller had not been behind me. She felt my face and dress and my bag, which she took out of my hand and tried to open. It did not open easily, and she felt carefully to see if there was a keyhole. Finding that there was, she turned to me, making the sign of turning a key and pointing to the bag. Her mother interfered at this point and showed Helen by signs that she must not touch the bag. Her face flushed, and when her mother attempted to take the bag from her, she grew very angry. I attracted her attention by showing her my watch and letting her hold it in her hand. Instantly the tempest subsided, and we went upstairs together. Here I opened the bag, and she went through it eagerly, probably expecting to find something to eat. Friends had probably brought her candy in their bags, and she expected to find some in mine. I made her understand, by pointing to a trunk in the hall and to myself and nodding my head, that I had a trunk, and then made the sign that she had used for eating, and nodded again. She understood in a flash and ran downstairs to tell her mother, by means of emphatic signs, that there was some candy in a trunk for her. She returned in a few minutes and helped me put away my things. It was too comical to see her put on my bonnet and cock her head first on one side, then on the other, and look in the mirror, just as if she could see. Somehow I had expected to see a pale, delicate child–I suppose I got the idea from Dr. Howe’s description of Laura Bridgman when she came to the Institution. But there’s nothing pale or delicate about Helen. She is large, strong, and ruddy, and as unrestrained in her movements as a young colt. She has none of those nervous habits that are so noticeable and so distressing in blind children. Her body is well formed and vigorous, and Mrs. Keller says she has not been ill a day since the illness that deprived her of her sight and hearing. She has a fine head, and it is set on her shoulders just right. Her face is hard to describe. It is intelligent, but lacks mobility, or soul, or something. Her mouth is large and finely shaped. You see at a glance that she is blind. One eye is larger than the other, and protrudes noticeably. She rarely smiles; indeed, I have seen her smile only once or twice since I came. She is unresponsive and even impatient of caresses from any one except her mother. She is very quick-tempered and wilful, and nobody, except her brother James, has attempted to control her. The greatest problem I shall have to solve is how to discipline and control her without breaking her spirit. I shall go rather slowly at first and try to win her love. I shall not attempt to conquer her by force alone; but I shall insist on reasonable obedience from the start. One thing that impresses everybody is Helen’s tireless activity. She is never still a moment. She is here, there, and everywhere. Her hands are in everything; but nothing holds her attention for long. Dear child, her restless spirit gropes in the dark. Her untaught, unsatisfied hands destroy whatever they touch because they do not know what else to do with things.
She helped me unpack my trunk when it came, and was delighted when she found the doll the little girls sent her. I thought it a good opportunity to teach her her first word. I spelled “d-o-l-l” slowly in her hand and pointed to the doll and nodded my head, which seems to be her sign for possession. Whenever anybody gives her anything, she points to it, then to herself, and nods her head. She looked puzzled and felt my hand, and I repeated the letters. She imitated them very well and pointed to the doll. Then I took the doll, meaning to give it back to her when she had made the letters; but she thought I meant to take it from her, and in an instant she was in a temper, and tried to seize the doll. I shook my head and tried to form the letters with her fingers; but she got more and more angry. I forced her into a chair and held her there until I was nearly exhausted. Then it occurred to me that it was useless to continue the struggle–I must do something to turn the current of her thoughts. I let her go, but refused to give up the doll. I went downstairs and got some cake (she is very fond of sweets). I showed Helen the cake and spelled “c-a-k-e” in her hand, holding the cake toward her. Of course she wanted it and tried to take it; but I spelled the word again and patted her hand. She made the letters rapidly, and I gave her the cake, which she ate in a great hurry, thinking, I suppose, that I might take it from her. Then I showed her the doll and spelled the word again, holding the doll toward her as I held the cake. She made the letters “d-o-l”‘ and I made the other “l” and gave her the doll. She ran downstairs with it and could not be induced to return to my room all day.
Yesterday I gave her a sewing-card to do. I made the first row of vertical lines and let her feel it and notice that there were several rows of little holes. She began to work delightedly and finished the card in a few minutes, and did it very neatly indeed. I thought I would try another word; so I spelled “c-a-r-d.” She made the “c-a,” then stopped and thought, and making the sign for eating and pointing downward she pushed me toward the door, meaning that I must go downstairs for some cake. The two letters “c-a,” you see, had reminded her of Fridays “lesson”–not that she had any idea that cake was the name of the thing, but it was simply a matter of association, I suppose. I finished the word “c-a-k-e” and obeyed her command. She was delighted. Then I spelled “d-o-l-l” and began to hunt for it. She follows with her hands every motion you make, and she knew that I was looking for the doll. She pointed down, meaning that the doll was downstairs. I made the signs that she had used when she wished me to go for the cake, and pushed her toward the door. She started forward, then hesitated a moment, evidently debating within herself whether she would go or not. She decided to send me instead. I shook my head and spelled “d-o-l-l” more emphatically, and opened the door for her; but she obstinately refused to obey. She had not finished the cake she was eating, and I took it away, indicating that if she brought the doll I would give her back the cake. She stood perfectly still for one long moment, her face crimson; then her desire for the cake triumphed, and she ran downstairs and brought the doll, and of course I gave her the cake, but could not persuade her to enter the room again.
She was very troublesome when I began to write this morning. She kept coming up behind me and putting her hand on the paper and into the ink-bottle. These blots are her handiwork. Finally I remembered the kindergarten beads, and set her to work stringing them. First I put on two wooden beads and one glass bead, then made her feel of the string and the two boxes of beads. She nodded and began at once to fill the string with wooden beads. I shook my head and took them all off and made her feel of the two wooden beads and the one glass bead. She examined them thoughtfully and began again. This time she put on the glass bead first and the two wooden ones next. I took them off and showed her that the two wooden ones must go on first, then the glass bead. She had no further trouble and filled the string quickly, too quickly, in fact. She tied the ends together when she had finished the string, and put the beads round her neck. I did not make the knot large enough in the next string, and the beads came off as fast as she put them on; but she solved the difficulty herself by putting the string through a bead and tying it. I thought this very clever. She amused herself with the beads until dinner-time, bringing the strings to me now and then for my approval.
My eyes are very much inflamed. I know this letter is very carelessly written. I had a lot to say, and couldn’t stop to think how to express things neatly. Please do not show my letter to any one. If you want to, you may read it to my friends.
I had a battle royal with Helen this morning. Although I try very hard not to force issues, I find it very difficult to avoid them.
Helen’s table manners are appalling. She puts her hands in our plates and helps herself, and when the dishes are passed, she grabs them and takes out whatever she wants. This morning I would not let her put her hand in my plate. She persisted, and a contest of wills followed. Naturally the family was much disturbed, and left the room. I locked the dining-room door, and proceeded to eat my breakfast, though the food almost choked me. Helen was lying on the floor, kicking and screaming and trying to pull my chair from under me. She kept this up for half an hour, then she got up to see what I was doing. I let her see that I was eating, but did not let her put her hand in the plate. She pinched me, and I slapped her every time she did it. Then she went all round the table to see who was there, and finding no one but me, she seemed bewildered. After a few minutes she came back to her place and began to eat her breakfast with her fingers. I gave her a spoon, which she threw on the floor. I forced her out of the chair and made her pick it up. Finally I succeeded in getting her back in her chair again, and held the spoon in her hand, compelling her to take up the food with it and put it in her mouth. In a few minutes she yielded and finished her breakfast peaceably. Then we had another tussle over folding her napkin. When she had finished, she threw it on the floor and ran toward the door. Finding it locked, she began to kick and scream all over again. It was another hour before I succeeded in getting her napkin folded. Then I let her out into the warm sunshine and went up to my room and threw myself on the bed exhausted. I had a good cry and felt better. I suppose I shall have many such battles with the little woman before she learns the only two essential things I can teach her, obedience and love.
Good-by, dear. Don’t worry; I’ll do my best and leave the rest to whatever power manages that which we cannot. I like Mrs. Keller very much.
Tuscumbia, Alabama, March 11, 1887.
Since I wrote you, Helen and I have gone to live all by ourselves in a little garden-house about a quarter of a mile from her home, only a short distance from Ivy Green, the Keller homestead. I very soon made up my mind that I could do nothing with Helen in the midst of the family, who have always allowed her to do exactly as she pleased. She has tyrannized over everybody, her mother, her father, the servants, the little darkies who play with her, and nobody had ever seriously disputed her will, except occasionally her brother James, until I came; and like all tyrants she holds tenaciously to her divine right to do as she pleases. If she ever failed to get what she wanted, it was because of her inability to make the vassals of her household understand what it was. Every thwarted desire was the signal for a passionate outburst, and as she grew older and stronger, these tempests became more violent. As I began to teach her, I was beset by many difficulties. She wouldn’t yield a point without contesting it to the bitter end. I couldn’t coax her or compromise with her. To get her to do the simplest thing, such as combing her hair or washing her hands or buttoning her boots, it was necessary to use force, and, of course, a distressing scene followed. The family naturally felt inclined to interfere, especially her father, who cannot bear to see her cry. So they were all willing to give in for the sake of peace. Besides, her past experiences and associations were all against me. I saw clearly that it was useless to try to teach her language or anything else until she learned to obey me. I have thought about it a great deal, and the more I think, the more certain I am that obedience is the gateway through which knowledge, yes, and love, too, enter the mind of the child. As I wrote you, I meant to go slowly at first. I had an idea that I could win the love and confidence of my little pupil by the same means that I should use if she could see and hear. But I soon found that I was cut off from all the usual approaches to the child’s heart. She accepted everything I did for her as a matter of course, and refused to be caressed, and there was no way of appealing to her affection or sympathy or childish love of approbation. She would or she wouldn’t, and there was an end of it. Thus it is, we study, plan and prepare ourselves for a task, and when the hour for action arrives, we find that the system we have followed with such labour and pride does not fit the occasion; and then there’s nothing for us to do but rely on something within us, some innate capacity for knowing and doing, which we did not know we possessed until the hour of our great need brought it to light.
I had a good, frank talk with Mrs. Keller, and explained to her how difficult it was going to be to do anything with Helen under the existing circumstances. I told her that in my opinion the child ought to be separated from the family for a few weeks at least–that she must learn to depend on and obey me before I could make any headway. After a long time Mrs. Keller said that she would think the matter over and see what Captain Keller thought of sending Helen away with me. Captain Keller fell in with the scheme most readily and suggested that the little garden-house at the “old place” be got ready for us. He said that Helen might recognize the place, as she had often been there, but she would have no idea of her surroundings, and they could come every day to see that all was going well, with the understanding, of course, that she was to know nothing of their visits. I hurried the preparations for our departure as much as possible, and here we are.
The little house is a genuine bit of paradise. It consists of one large square room with a great fireplace, a spacious bay-window, and a small room where our servant, a little negro boy, sleeps. There is a piazza in front, covered with vines that grow so luxuriantly that you have to part them to see the garden beyond. Our meals are brought from the house, and we usually eat on the piazza. The little negro boy takes care of the fire when we need one, so I can give my whole attention to Helen.
She was greatly excited at first, and kicked and screamed herself into a sort of stupor, but when supper was brought she ate heartily and seemed brighter, although she refused to let me touch her. She devoted herself to her dolls the first evening, and when it was bedtime she undressed very quietly, but when she felt me get into bed with her, she jumped out on the other side, and nothing that I could do would induce her to get in again. But I was afraid she would take cold, and I insisted that she must go to bed. We had a terrific tussle, I can tell you. The struggle lasted for nearly two hours. I never saw such strength and endurance in a child. But fortunately for us both, I am a little stronger, and quite as obstinate when I set out. I finally succeeded in getting her on the bed and covered her up, and she lay curled up as near the edge of the bed as possible.
The next morning she was very docile, but evidently homesick. She kept going to the door, as if she expected some one, and every now and then she would touch her cheek, which is her sign for her mother, and shake her head sadly. She played with her dolls more than usual, and would have nothing to do with me. It is amusing and pathetic to see Helen with her dolls. I don’t think she has any special tenderness for them–I have never seen her caress them; but she dresses and undresses them many times during the day and handles them exactly as she has seen her mother and the nurse handle her baby sister.
This morning Nancy, her favourite doll, seemed to have some difficulty about swallowing the milk that was being administered to her in large spoonfuls; for Helen suddenly put down the cup and began to slap her on the back and turn her over on her knees, trotting her gently and patting her softly all the time. This lasted for several minutes; then this mood passed, and Nancy was thrown ruthlessly on the floor and pushed to one side, while a large, pink-cheeked, fuzzy-haired member of the family received the little mother’s undivided attention.
Helen knows several words now, but has no idea how to use them, or that everything has a name. I think, however, she will learn quickly enough by and by. As I have said before, she is wonderfully bright and active and as quick as lightning in her movements.
March 13, 1887.
You will be glad to hear that my experiment is working out finely. I have not had any trouble at all with Helen, either yesterday or to-day. She has learned three new words, and when I give her the objects, the names of which she has learned, she spells them unhesitatingly; but she seems glad when the lesson is over.
We had a good frolic this morning out in the garden. Helen evidently knew where she was as soon as she touched the boxwood hedges, and made many signs which I did not understand. No doubt they were signs for the different members of the family at Ivy Green.
I have just heard something that surprised me very much. It seems that Mr. Anagnos had heard of Helen before he received Captain Keller’s letter last summer. Mr. Wilson, a teacher at Florence, and a friend of the Kellers’, studied at Harvard the summer before and went to the Perkins Institution to learn if anything could be done for his friend’s child. He saw a gentleman whom he presumed to be the director, and told him about Helen. He says the gentleman was not particularly interested, but said he would see if anything could be done. Doesn’t it seem strange that Mr. Anagnos never referred to this interview?
March 20, 1887.
My heart is singing for joy this morning. A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil’s mind, and behold, all things are changed!
The wild little creature of two weeks ago has been transformed into a gentle child. She is sitting by me as I write, her face serene and happy, crocheting a long red chain of Scotch wool. She learned the stitch this week, and is very proud of the achievement. When she succeeded in making a chain that would reach across the room, she patted herself on the arm and put the first work of her hands lovingly against her cheek. She lets me kiss her now, and when she is in a particularly gentle mood, she will sit in my lap for a minute or two; but she does not return my caresses. The great step–the step that counts–has been taken. The little savage has learned her first lesson in obedience, and finds the yoke easy. It now remains my pleasant task to direct and mould the beautiful intelligence that is beginning to stir in the child-soul. Already people remark the change in Helen. Her father looks in at us morning and evening as he goes to and from his office, and sees her contentedly stringing her beads or making horizontal lines on her sewing-card, and exclaims, “How quiet she is!” When I came, her movements were so insistent that one always felt there was something unnatural and almost weird about her. I have noticed also that she eats much less, a fact which troubles her father so much that he is anxious to get her home. He says she is homesick. I don’t agree with him; but I suppose we shall have to leave our little bower very soon.
Helen has learned several nouns this week. “M-u-g” and “m-i-l-k,” have given her more trouble than other words. When she spells “milk,” she points to the mug, and when she spells “mug,” she makes the sign for pouring or drinking, which shows that she has confused the words. She has no idea yet that everything has a name.
Yesterday I had the little negro boy come in when Helen was having her lesson, and learn the letters, too. This pleased her very much and stimulated her ambition to excel Percy. She was delighted if he made a mistake, and made him form the letter over several times. When he succeeded in forming it to suit her, she patted him on his woolly head so vigorously that I thought some of his slips were intentional.
One day this week Captain Keller brought Belle, a setter of which he is very proud, to see us. He wondered if Helen would recognize her old playmate. Helen was giving Nancy a bath, and didn’t notice the dog at first. She usually feels the softest step and throws out her arms to ascertain if any one is near her. Belle didn’t seem very anxious to attract her attention. I imagine she has been rather roughly handled sometimes by her little mistress. The dog hadn’t been in the room more than half a minute, however, before Helen began to sniff, and dumped the doll into the wash-bowl and felt about the room. She stumbled upon Belle, who was crouching near the window where Captain Keller was standing. It was evident that she recognized the dog; for she put her arms round her neck and squeezed her. Then Helen sat down by her and began to manipulate her claws. We couldn’t think for a second what she was doing; but when we saw her make the letters “d-o-l-l” on her own fingers, we knew that she was trying to teach Belle to spell.
March 28, 1887.
Helen and I came home yesterday. I am sorry they wouldn’t let us stay another week; but I think I have made the most I could of the opportunities that were mine the past two weeks, and I don’t expect that I shall have any serious trouble with Helen in the future. The back of the greatest obstacle in the path of progress is broken. I think “no” and “yes,” conveyed by a shake or a nod of my head, have become facts as apparent to her as hot and cold or as the difference between pain and pleasure. And I don’t intend that the lesson she has learned at the cost of so much pain and trouble shall be unlearned. I shall stand between her and the over-indulgence of her parents. I have told Captain and Mrs. Keller that they must not interfere with me in any way. I have done my best to make them see the terrible injustice to Helen of allowing her to have her way in everything, and I have pointed out that the processes of teaching the child that everything cannot be as he wills it, are apt to be painful both to him and to his teacher. They have promised to let me have a free hand and help me as much as possible. The improvement they cannot help seeing in their child has given them more confidence in me. Of course, it is hard for them. I realize that it hurts to see their afflicted little child punished and made to do things against her will. Only a few hours after my talk with Captain and Mrs. Keller (and they had agreed to everything), Helen took a notion that she wouldn’t use her napkin at table. I think she wanted to see what would happen. I attempted several times to put the napkin round her neck; but each time she tore it off and threw it on the floor and finally began to kick the table. I took her plate away and started to take her out of the room. Her father objected and said that no child of his should be deprived of his food on any account.
Helen didn’t come up to my room after supper, and I didn’t see her again until breakfast-time. She was at her place when I came down. She had put the napkin under her chin, instead of pinning it at the back, as was her custom. She called my attention to the new arrangement, and when I did not object she seemed pleased and patted herself. When she left the dining-room, she took my hand and patted it. I wondered if she was trying to “make up.” I thought I would try the effect of a little belated discipline. I went back to the dining-room and got a napkin. When Helen came upstairs for her lesson, I arranged the objects on the table as usual, except that the cake, which I always give her in bits as a reward when she spells a word quickly and correctly, was not there. She noticed this at once and made the sign for it. I showed her the napkin and pinned it round her neck, then tore it off and threw it on the floor and shook my head. I repeated this performance several times. I think she understood perfectly well; for she slapped her hand two or three times and shook her head. We began the lesson as usual. I gave her an object, and she spelled the name (she knows twelve now). After spelling half the words, she stopped suddenly, as if a thought had flashed into her mind, and felt for the napkin. She pinned it round her neck and made the sign for cake (it didn’t occur to her to spell the word, you see). I took this for a promise that if I gave her some cake she would be a good girl. I gave her a larger piece than usual, and she chuckled and patted herself.
April 3, 1887.
We almost live in the garden, where everything is growing and blooming and glowing. After breakfast we go out and watch the men at work. Helen loves to dig and play in the dirt like any other child. This morning she planted her doll and showed me that she expected her to grow as tall as I. You must see that she is very bright, but you have no idea how cunning she is.
At ten we come in and string beads for a few minutes. She can make a great many combinations now, and often invents new ones herself. Then I let her decide whether she will sew or knit or crochet. She learned to knit very quickly, and is making a wash-cloth for her mother. Last week she made her doll an apron, and it was done as well as any child of her age could do it. But I am always glad when this work is over for the day. Sewing and crocheting are inventions of the devil, I think. I’d rather break stones on the king’s highway than hem a handkerchief. At eleven we have gymnastics. She knows all the free-hand movements and the “Anvil Chorus” with the dumb-bells. Her father says he is going to fit up a gymnasium for her in the pump-house; but we both like a good romp better than set exercises. The hour from twelve to one is devoted to the learning of new words. BUT YOU MUSTN’T THINK THIS IS THE ONLY TIME I SPELL TO HELEN; FOR I SPELL IN HER HAND EVERYTHING WE DO ALL DAY LONG, ALTHOUGH SHE HAS NO IDEA AS YET WHAT THE SPELLING MEANS. After dinner I rest for an hour, and Helen plays with her dolls or frolics in the yard with the little darkies, who were her constant companions before I came. Later I join them, and we make the rounds of the outhouses. We visit the horses and mules in their stalls and hunt for eggs and feed the turkeys. Often, when the weather is fine, we drive from four to six, or go to see her aunt at Ivy Green or her cousins in the town. Helen’s instincts are decidedly social; she likes to have people about her and to visit her friends, partly, I think, because they always have things she likes to eat. After supper we go to my room and do all sorts of things until eight, when I undress the little woman and put her to bed. She sleeps with me now. Mrs. Keller wanted to get a nurse for her, but I concluded I’d rather be her nurse than look after a stupid, lazy negress. Besides, I like to have Helen depend on me for everything, AND I FIND IT MUCH EASIER TO TEACH HER THINGS AT ODD MOMENTS THAN AT SET TIMES.
On March 31st I found that Helen knew eighteen nouns and three verbs. Here is a list of the words. Those with a cross after them are words she asked for herself: DOLL, MUG, PIN, KEY, DOG, HAT, CUP, BOX, WATER, MILK, CANDY, EYE (X), FINGER (X), TOE (X), HEAD (X), CAKE, BABY, MOTHER, SIT, STAND, WALK. On April 1st she learned the nouns KNIFE, FORK, SPOON, SAUCER, TEA, PAPA, BED, and the verb RUN.
April 5, 1887.
I must write you a line this morning because something very important has happened. Helen has taken the second great step in her education. She has learned that EVERYTHING HAS A NAME, AND THAT THE MANUAL ALPHABET IS THE KEY TO EVERYTHING SHE WANTS TO KNOW.
In a previous letter I think I wrote you that “mug” and “milk” had given Helen more trouble than all the rest. She confused the nouns with the verb “drink.” She didn’t know the word for “drink,” but went through the pantomime of drinking whenever she spelled “mug” or “milk.” This morning, while she was washing, she wanted to know the name for “water.” When she wants to know the name of anything, she points to it and pats my hand. I spelled “w-a-t-e-r” and thought no more about it until after breakfast. Then it occurred to me that with the help of this new word I might succeed in straightening out the “mug-milk” difficulty. We went out to the pump-house, and I made Helen hold her mug under the spout while I pumped. As the cold water gushed forth, filling the mug, I spelled “w-a-t-e-r” in Helen’s free hand. The word coming so close upon the sensation of cold water rushing over her hand seemed to startle her. She dropped the mug and stood as one transfixed. A new light came into her face. She spelled “water” several times. Then she dropped on the ground and asked for its name and pointed to the pump and the trellis, and suddenly turning round she asked for my name. I spelled “Teacher.” Just then the nurse brought Helen’s little sister into the pump-house, and Helen spelled “baby” and pointed to the nurse. All the way back to the house she was highly excited, and learned the name of every object she touched, so that in a few hours she had adDED THIRTY NEW WORDS TO HER VOCABULARY. HERE ARE SOME OF THEM: DOOR, OPEN, SHUT, GIVE, GO, COME, and a great many more.
P.S.–I didn’t finish my letter in time to get it posted last night; so I shall add a line. Helen got up this morning like a radiant fairy. She has flitted from object to object, asking the name of everything and kissing me for very gladness. Last night when I got in bed, she stole into my arms of her own accord and kissed me for the first time, and I thought my heart would burst, so full was it of joy.
April 10, 1887.
I see an improvement in Helen day to day, almost from hour to hour. Everything must have a name now. Wherever we go, she asks eagerly for the names of things she has not learned at home. She is anxious for her friends to spell, and eager to teach the letters to every one she meets. She drops the signs and pantomime she used before, as soon as she has words to supply their place, and the acquirement of a new word affords her the liveliest pleasure. And we notice that her face grows more expressive each day.
I HAVE DECIDED NOT TO TRY TO HAVE REGULAR LESSONS FOR THE PRESENT. I AM GOING TO TREAT HELEN EXACTLY LIKE A TWO-YEAR-OLD CHILD. IT OCCURRED TO ME THE OTHER DAY THAT IT IS ABSURD TO REQUIRE A CHILD TO COME TO A CERTAIN PLACE AT A CERTAIN TIME AND RECITE CERTAIN LESSONS, WHEN HE HAS NOT YET ACQUIRED A WORKING VOCABULARY. I sent Helen away and sat down to think. I asked myself, “How does a normal child learn language?” The answer was simple, “By imitation.” The child comes into the world with the ability to learn, and he learns of himself, provided he is supplied with sufficient outward stimulus. He sees people do things, and he tries to do them. He hears others speak, and he tried to speak. BUT LONG BEFORE HE UTTERS HIS FIRST WORD, HE UNDERSTANDS WHAT IS SAID TO HIM. I have been observing Helen’s little cousin lately. She is about fifteen months old, and already understands a great deal. In response to questions she points out prettily her nose, mouth, eye, chin, cheek, ear. If I say, “Where is baby’s other ear?” she points it out correctly. If I hand her a flower, and say, “Give it to mamma,” she takes it to her mother. If I say, “Where is the little rogue?” she hides behind her mother’s chair, or covers her face with her hands and peeps out at me with an expression of genuine roguishness. She obeys many commands like these: “Come,” “Kiss,” “Go to papa,” “Shut the door,” “Give me the biscuit.” But I have not heard her try to say any of these words, although they have been repeated hundreds of times in her hearing, and it is perfectly evident that she understands them. These observations have given me a clue to the method to be followed in teaching Helen language.I SHALL TALK INTO HER HAND AS WE TALK INTO THE BABY’S EARS. I shall assume that she has the normal child’s capacity of assimilation and imitation. I SHALL USE COMPLETE SENTENCES IN TALKING TO HER, and fill out the meaning with gestures and her descriptive signs when necessity requires it; but I shall not try to keep her mind fixed on any one thing. I shall do all I can to interest and stimulate it, and wait for results.
April 24, 1887.
The new scheme works splendidly. Helen knows the meaning of more than a hundred words now, and learns new ones daily without the slightest suspicion that she is performing a most difficult feat. She learns because she can’t help it, just as the bird learns to fly. But don’t imagine that she “talks fluently.” Like her baby cousin, she expresses whole sentences by single words. “Milk,” with a gesture means, “Give me more milk.” “Mother,” accompanied by an inquiring look, means, “Were is mother?” “Go” means, “I want to go out.” But when I spell into her hand, “Give me some bread,” she hands me the bread, or if I say, “Get your hat and we will go to walk,” she obeys instantly. The two words, “hat” and “walk” would have the same effect; BUT THE WHOLE SENTENCE, REPEATED MANY TIMES DURING THE DAY, MUST IN TIME IMPRESS ITSELF UPON THE BRAIN, AND BY AND BY SHE WILL USE IT HERSELF.
We play a little game which I find most useful in developing the intellect, and which incidentally answers the purpose of a language lesson. It is an adaptation of hide-the-thimble. I hide something, a ball or a spool, and we hunt for it. When we first played this game two or three days ago, she showed no ingenuity at all in finding the object. She looked in places where it would have been impossible to put the ball or the spool. For instance, when I hid the ball, she looked under her writing-board. Again, when I hid the spool, she looked for it in a little box not more than an inch long; and she very soon gave up the search. Now I can keep up her interest in the game for an hour or longer, and she shows much more intelligence, and often great ingenuity in the search. This morning I hid a cracker. She looked everywhere she could think of without success, and was evidently in despair when suddenly a thought struck her, and she came running to me and made me open my mouth very wide, while she gave it a thorough investigation. Finding no trace of the cracker there, she pointed to my stomach and spelled “eat,” meaning, “Did you eat it?”
Friday we went down town and met a gentleman who gave Helen some candy, which she ate, except one small piece which she put in her apron pocket. When we reached home, she found her mother, and of her own accord said, “Give baby candy.” Mrs. Keller spelled, “No–baby eat–no.” Helen went to the cradle and felt of Mildred’s mouth and pointed to her own teeth. Mrs. Keller spelled “teeth.” Helen shook her head and spelled “Baby teeth–no, baby eat–no,” meaning of course, “Baby cannot eat because she has no teeth.”
May 8, 1887.
No, I don’t want any more kindergarten materials. I used my little stock of beads, cards and straws at first because I didn’t know what else to do; but the need for them is past, for the present at any rate.
I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of, before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.
Helen is learning adjectives and adverbs as easily as she learned nouns. The idea always precedes the word. She had signs for SMALL and LARGE long before I came to her. If she wanted a small object and was given a large one, she would shake her head and take up a tiny bit of the skin of one hand between the thumb and finger of the other. If she wanted to indicate something large, she spread the fingers of both hands as wide as she could, and brought them together, as if to clasp a big ball. The other day I substituted the words SMALL and LARGE for these signs, and she at once adopted the words and discarded the signs. I can now tell her to bring me a large book or a small plate, to go upstairs slowly, to run fast and to walk quickly. This morning she used the conjunction AND for the first time. I told her to shut the door, and she added, “and lock.”
She came tearing upstairs a few minutes ago in a state of great excitement. I couldn’t make out at first what it was all about. She kept spelling “dog–baby” and pointing to her five fingers one after another, and sucking them. My first thought was, one of the dogs has hurt Mildred; but Helen’s beaming face set my fears at rest. Nothing would do but I must go somewhere with her to see something. She led the way to the pump-house, and there in the corner was one of the setters with five dear little pups! I taught her the word “puppy” and drew her hand over them all, while they sucked, and spelled “puppies.” She was much interested in the feeding process, and spelled “mother-dog” and “baby” several times. Helen noticed that the puppies’ eyes were closed, and she said, “Eyes–shut. Sleep–no,” meaning, “The eyes are shut, but the puppies are not asleep.” She screamed with glee when the little things squealed and squirmed in their efforts to get back to their mother, and spelled, “Baby–eat large.” I suppose her idea was “Baby eats much.” She pointed to each puppy, one after another, and to her five fingers, and I taught her the word FIVE. Then she held up one finger and said “baby.” I knew she was thinking of Mildred, and I spelled, “One baby and five puppies.” After she had played with them a little while, the thought occurred to her that the puppies must have special names, like people, and she asked for the name of each pup. I told her to ask her father, and she said, “No–mother.” She evidently thought mothers were more likely to know about babies of all sorts. She noticed that one of the puppies was much smaller than the others, and she spelled “small,” making the sign at the same time, and I said “very small.” She evidently understood that VERY was the name of the new thing that had come into her head; for all the way back to the house she used the word VERY correctly. One stone was “small,” another was “very small.” When she touched her little sister, she said: “Baby–small. Puppy- very small.” Soon after, she began to vary her steps from large to small, and little mincing steps were “very small.” She is going through the house now, applying the new words to all kinds of objects.
Since I have abandoned the idea of regular lessons, I find that Helen learns much faster. I am convinced that the time spent by the teacher in digging out of the child what she has put into him, for the sake of satisfying herself that it has taken root, is so much time thrown away. IT’S MUCH BETTER, I THINK, TO ASSUME THAT THE CHILD IS DOING HIS PART, AND THAT THE SEED YOU HAVE SOWN WILL BEAR FRUIT IN DUE TIME. It’s only fair to the child, anyhow, and it saves you much unnecessary trouble.
May 16, 1887.
We have begun to take long walks every morning, immediately after breakfast. The weather is fine, and the air is full of the scent of strawberries. Our objective point is Keller’s Landing, on the Tennessee, about two miles distant. We never know how we get there, or where we are at a given moment; but that only adds to our enjoyment, especially when everything is new and strange. Indeed, I feel as if I had never seen anything until now, Helen finds so much to ask about along the way. We chase butterflies, and sometimes catch one. Then we sit down under a tree, or in the shade of a bush, and talk about it. Afterwards, if it has survived the lesson, we let it go; but usually its life and beauty are sacrificed on the altar of learning, though in another sense it lives forever; for has it not been transformed into living thoughts? It is wonderful how words generate ideas! Every new word Helen learns seems to carry with it necessity for many more. Her mind grows through its ceaseless activity.
Keller’s Landing was used during the war to land troops, but has long since gone to pieces, and is overgrown with moss and weeds. The solitude of the place sets one dreaming. Near the landing there is a beautiful little spring, which Helen calls “squirrel-cup,” because I told her the squirrels came there to drink. She has felt dead squirrels and rabbits and other wild animals, and is anxious to see a “walk-squirrel,” which interpreted, means, I think, a “live squirrel.” We go home about dinner-time usually, and Helen is eager to tell her mother everything she has seen. THIS DESIRE TO REPEAT WHAT HAS BEEN TOLD HER SHOWS A MARKED ADVANCE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF HER INTELLECT, AND IS AN INVALUABLE STIMULUS TO THE ACQUISITION OF LANGUAGE. I ASK ALL HER FRIENDS TO ENCOURAGE HER TO TELL THEM OF HER DOINGS, AND TO MANIFEST AS MUCH CURIOSITY AND PLEASURE IN HER LITTLE ADVENTURES AS THEY POSSIBLY CAN. This gratifies the child’s love of approbation and keeps up her interest in things. This is the basis of real intercourse. She makes many mistakes, of course, twists words and phrases, puts the cart before the horse, and gets herself into hopeless tangles of nouns and verbs; but so does the hearing child. I am sure these difficulties will take care of themselves. The impulse to tell is the important thing. I supply a word here and there, sometimes a sentence, and suggest something which she has omitted or forgotten. Thus her vocabulary grows apace, and the new words germinate and bring forth new ideas; and they are the stuff out of which heaven and earth are made.
May 22, 1887.
My work grows more absorbing and interesting every day. Helen is a wonderful child, so spontaneous and eager to learn. She knows about 300 words now and A GREAT MANY COMMON IDIOMS, and it is not three months yet since she learned her first word. It is a rare privilege to watch the birth, growth, and first feeble struggles of a living mind; this privilege is mine; and moreover, it is given me to rouse and guide this bright intelligence.
If only I were better fitted for the great task! I feel every day more and more inadequate. My mind is full of ideas; but I cannot get them into working shape. You see, my mind is undisciplined, full of skips and jumps, and here and there a lot of things huddled together in dark corners. How I long to put it in order! Oh, if only there were some one to help me! I need a teacher quite as much as Helen. I know that the education of this child will be the distinguishing event of my life, if I have the brains and perseverance to accomplish it. I have made up my mind about one thing: Helen must learn to use books- indeed, we must both learn to use them, and that reminds me–will you please ask Mr. Anagnos to get me Perez’s and Sully’s Psychologies? I think I shall find them helpful.
We have reading lessons every day. Usually we take one of the little “Readers” up in a big tree near the house and spend an hour or two finding the words Helen already knows. WE MAKE A SORT OF GAME OF IT and try to see who can find the words most quickly, Helen with her fingers, or I with my eyes, and she learns as many new words as I can explain with the help of those she knows. When her fingers light upon words she knows, she fairly screams with pleasure and hugs and kisses me for joy, especially if she thinks she has me beaten. It would astonish you to see how many words she learns in an hour in this pleasant manner. Afterward I put the new words into little sentences in the frame, and sometimes it is possible to tell a little story about a bee or a cat or a little boy in this way. I can now tell her to go upstairs or down, out of doors or into the house, lock or unlock a door, take or bring objects, sit, stand, walk, run, lie, creep, roll, or climb. She is delighted with action-words; so it is no trouble at all to teach her verbs. She is always ready for a lesson, and the eagerness with which she absorbs ideas is very delightful. She is as triumphant over the conquest of a sentence as a general who has captured the enemy’s stronghold.
One of Helen’s old habits, that is strongest and hardest to correct, is a tendency to break things. If she finds anything in her way, she flings it on the floor, no matter what it is: a glass, a pitcher, or even a lamp. She has a great many dolls, and every one of them has been broken in a fit of temper or ennui. The other day a friend brought her a new doll from Memphis, and I thought I would see if I could make Helen understand that she must not break it. I made her go through the motion of knocking the doll’s head on the table and spelled to her: “No, no, Helen is naughty. Teacher is sad,” and let her feel the grieved expression on my face. Then I made her caress the doll and kiss the hurt spot and hold it gently in her arms, and I spelled to her, “Good Helen, teacher is happy,” and let her feel the smile on my face. She went through these motions several times, mimicking every movement, then she stood very still for a moment with a troubled look on her face, which suddenly cleared, and she spelled, “Good Helen,” and wreathed her face in a very large, artificial smile. Then she carried the doll upstairs and put it on the top shelf of the wardrobe, and she has not touched it since.
Please give my kind regards to Mr. Anagnos and let him see my letter, if you think best. I hear there is a deaf and blind child being educated at the Baltimore Institution.
June 2, 1887.
The weather is scorching. We need rain badly. We are all troubled about Helen. She is very nervous and excitable. She is restless at night and has no appetite. It is hard to know what to do with her. The doctor says her mind is too active; but how are we to keep her from thinking? She begins to spell the minute she wakes up in the morning, and continues all day long. If I refuse to talk to her, she spells into her own hand, and apparently carries on the liveliest conversation with herself.
I gave her my braille slate to play with, thinking that the mechanical pricking of holes in the paper would amuse her and rest her mind. But what was my astonishment when I found that the little witch was writing letters! I had no idea she knew what a letter was. She has often gone with me to the post-office to mail letters, and I suppose I have repeated to her things I wrote to you. She knew, too, that I sometimes write “letters to blind girls” on the slate; but I didn’t suppose that she had any clear idea what a letter was. One day she brought me a sheet that she had punched full of holes, and wanted to put it in an envelope and take it to the post-office. She said, “Frank–letter.” I asked her what she had written to Frank. She replied, “Much words. Puppy motherdog–five. Baby–cry. Hot. Helen walk–no. Sunfire–bad. Frank–come. Helen–kiss Frank. Strawberries–very good.”
Helen is almost as eager to read as she is to talk. I find she grasps the import of whole sentences, catching from the context the meaning of words she doesn’t know; and her eager questions indicate the outward reaching of her mind and its unusual powers.
The other night when I went to bed, I found Helen sound asleep with a big book clasped tightly in her arms. She had evidently been reading, and fallen asleep. When I asked her about it in the morning, she said, “Book–cry,” and completed her meaning by shaking and other signs of fear. I taught her the word AFRAID, and she said: “Helen is not afraid. Book is afraid. Book will sleep with girl.” I told her that the book wasn’t afraid, and must sleep in its case, and that “girl” mustn’t read in bed. She looked very roguish, and apparently understood that I saw through her ruse.
I am glad Mr. Anagnos thinks so highly of me as a teacher. But “genius” and “originality” are words we should not use lightly. If, indeed, they apply to me even remotely, I do not see that I deserve any laudation on that account.
And right here I want to say something which is for your ears alone. Something within me tells me that I shall succeed beyond my dreams. Were it not for some circumstances that make such an idea highly improbable, even absurd, I should think Helen’s education would surpass in interest and wonder Dr. Howe’s achievement. I know that she has remarkable powers, and I believe that I shall be able to develop and mould them. I cannot tell how I know these things. I had no idea a short time ago how to go to work; I was feeling about in the dark; but somehow I know now, and I know that I know. I cannot explain it; but when difficulties arise, I am not perplexed or doubtful. I know how to meet them; I seem to divine Helen’s peculiar needs. It is wonderful.
Already people are taking a deep interest in Helen. No one can see her without being impressed. She is no ordinary child, and people’s interest in her education will be no ordinary interest. Therefore let us be exceedingly careful what we say and write about her. I shall write freely to you and tell you everything, on one condition: It is this: you must promise never to show my letters to any one. My beautiful Helen shall not be transformed into a prodigy if I can help it.
June 5, 1887.
The heat makes Helen languid and quiet. Indeed, the Tophetic weather has reduced us all to a semi-liquid state. Yesterday Helen took off her clothes and sat in her skin all the afternoon. When the sun got round to the window where she was sitting with her book, she got up impatiently and shut the window. But when the sun came in just the same, she came over to me with a grieved look and spelled emphatically: “Sun is bad boy. Sun must go to bed.”
She is the dearest, cutest little thing now, and so loving! One day, when I wanted her to bring me some water, she said: “Legs very tired. Legs cry much.”
She is much interested in some little chickens that are pecking their way into the world this morning. I let her hold a shell in her hand, and feel the chicken “chip, chip.” Her astonishment, when she felt the tiny creature inside, cannot be put in a letter. The hen was very gentle, and made no objection to our investigations. Besides the chickens, we have several other additions to the family–two calves, a colt, and a penful of funny little pigs. You would be amused to see me hold a squealing pig in my arms, while Helen feels it all over, and asks countless questions–questions not easy to answer either. After seeing the chicken come out of the egg, she asked: “Did baby pig grow in egg? Where are many shells?”
Helen’s head measures twenty and one-half inches, and mine measures twenty-one and one-half inches. You see, I’m only one inch ahead!
June 12, 1887.
The weather continues hot. Helen is about the same–pale and thin; but you mustn’t think she is really ill. I am sure the heat, and not the natural, beautiful activity of her mind, is responsible for her condition. Of course, I shall not overtax her brain. We are bothered a good deal by people who assume the responsibility of the world when God is neglectful. They tell us that Helen is “overdoing,” that her mind is too active (these very people thought she had no mind at all a few months ago!) and suggest many absurd and impossible remedies. But so far nobody seems to have thought of chloroforming her, which is, I think, the only effective way of stopping the natural exercise of her faculties. It’s queer how ready people always are with advice in any real or imaginary emergency, and no matter how many times experience has shown them to be wrong, they continue to set forth their opinions, as if they had received them from the Almighty!
I am teaching Helen the square-hand letters as a sort of diversion. It gives her something to do, and keeps her quiet, which I think is desirable while this enervating weather lasts. She has a perfect mania for counting. She has counted everything in the house, and is now busy counting the words in her primer. I hope it will not occur to her to count the hairs of her head. If she could see and hear, I suppose she would get rid of her superfluous energy in ways which would not, perhaps, tax her brain so much, although I suspect that the ordinary child takes his play pretty seriously. The little fellow who whirls his “New York Flyer” round the nursery, making “horseshoe curves” undreamed of by less imaginative engineers, is concentrating his whole soul on his toy locomotive.
She just came to say, with a worried expression, “Girl–not count very large (many) words.” I said, “No, go and play with Nancy.” This suggestion didn’t please her, however; for she replied, “No. Nancy is very sick.” I asked what was the matter, and she said, “Much (many) teeth do make Nancy sick.” (Mildred is teething.)
I happened to tell her the other day that the vine on the fence was a “creeper.” She was greatly amused, and began at once to find analogies between her movements and those of the plants. They run, creep, hop, and skip, bend, fall, climb, and swing; but she tells me roguishly that she is “walk-plant.”
Helen held some worsted for me last night while I wound it. Afterward she began to swing round and round, spelling to herself all the time, “Wind fast, wind slow,” and apparently enjoying her conceit very much.
June 15, 1887.
We had a glorious thunder-tempest last night, and it’s much cooler to-day. We all feel refreshed, as if we’d had a shower-bath. Helen’s as lively as a cricket. She wanted to know if men were shooting in the sky when she felt the thunder, and if the trees and flowers drank all the rain.
June 19, 1887.
My little pupil continues to manifest the same eagerness to learn as at first. Her every waking moment is spent in the endeavour to satisfy her innate desire for knowledge, and her mind works so incessantly that we have feared for her health. But her appetite, which left her a few weeks ago, has returned, and her sleep seems more quiet and natural. She will be seven years old the twenty-seventh of this month. Her height is four feet one inch, and her head measures twenty and one-half inches in circumference, the line being drawn round the head so as to pass over the prominences of the parietal and frontal bones. Above this line the head rises one and one-fourth inches.
During our walks she keeps up a continual spelling, and delights to accompany it with actions such as skipping, hopping, jumping, running, walking fast, walking slow, and the like. When she drops stitches she says, “Helen wrong, teacher will cry.” If she wants water she says, “Give Helen drink water.” She knows four hundred words besides numerous proper nouns. In one lesson I taught her these words: BEDSTEAD, MATTRESS, SHEET, BLANKET, COMFORTER, SPREAD, PILLOW. The next day I found that she remembered all but spread. The same day she had learned, at different times, the words: hOUSE, WEED, DUST, SWING, MOLASSES, FAST, SLOW, MAPLE-SUGAR and COUNTER, and she had not forgotten one of these last. This will give you an idea of the retentive memory she possesses. She can count to thirty very quickly, and can write seven of the square-hand letters and the words which can be made with them. She seems to understand about writing letters, and is impatient to “write Frank letter.” She enjoys punching holes in paper with the stiletto, and I supposed it was because she could examine the result of her work; but we watched her one day, and I was much surprised to find that she imagined she was writing a letter. She would spell “Eva” (a cousin of whom she is very fond) with one hand, then make believe to write it; then spell, “sick in bed,” and write that. She kept this up for nearly an hour. She was (or imagined she was) putting on paper the things which had interested her. When she had finished the letter she carried it to her mother and spelled, “Frank letter,” and gave it to her brother to take to the post-office. She had been with me to take letters to the post-office.
She recognizes instantly a person whom she has once met, and spells the name. Unlike Laura Bridgman, she is fond of gentlemen, and we notice that she makes friends with a gentleman sooner than with a lady.
She is always ready to share whatever she has with those about her, often keeping but very little for herself. She is very fond of dress and of all kinds of finery, and is very unhappy when she finds a hole in anything she is wearing. She will insist on having her hair put in curl papers when she is so sleepy she can scarcely stand. She discovered a hole in her boot the other morning, and, after breakfast, she went to her father and spelled, “Helen new boot Simpson (her brother) buggy store man.” One can easily see her meaning.
July 3, 1887.
There was a great rumpus downstairs this morning. I heard Helen screaming, and ran down to see what was the matter. I found her in a terrible passion. I had hoped this would never happen again. She has been so gentle and obedient the past two months, I thought love had subdued the lion; but it seems he was only sleeping. At all events, there she was, tearing and scratching and biting Viney like some wild thing. It seems Viney had attempted to take a glass, which Helen was filling with stones, fearing that she would break it. Helen resisted, and Viney tried to force it out of her hand, and I suspect that she slapped the child, or did something which caused this unusual outburst of temper. When I took her hand she was trembling violently, and began to cry. I asked what was the matter, and she spelled: “Viney–bad,” and began to slap and kick her with renewed violence. I held her hands firmly until she became more calm.
Later Helen came to my room, looking very sad, and wanted to kiss me. I said, “I cannot kiss naughty girl.” She spelled, “Helen is good, Viney is bad.” I said: “You struck Viney and kicked her and hurt her. You were very naughty, and I cannot kiss naughty girl.” She stood very still for a moment, and it was evident from her face, which was flushed and troubled, that a struggle was going on in her mind. Then she said: “Helen did (does) not love teacher. Helen do love mother. Mother will whip Viney.” I told her that she had better not talk about it any more, but think. She knew that I was much troubled, and would have liked to stay near me; but I thought it best for her to sit by herself. At the dinner-table she was greatly disturbed because I didn’t eat, and suggested that “Cook make tea for teacher.” But I told her that my heart was sad, and I didn’t feel like eating. She began to cry and sob and clung to me.
She was very much excited when we went upstairs; so I tried to interest her in a curious insect called a stick-bug. It’s the queerest thing I ever saw–a little bundle of fagots fastened together in the middle. I wouldn’t believe it was alive until I saw it move. Even then it looked more like a mechanical toy than a living creature. But the poor little girl couldn’t fix her attention. Her heart was full of trouble, and she wanted to talk about it. She said: “Can bug know about naughty girl? Is bug very happy?” Then, putting her arms round my neck, she said: “I am (will be) good to-morrow. Helen is (will be) good all days.” I said, “Will you tell Viney you are very sorry you scratched and kicked her?” She smiled and answered, “Viney (can) not spell words.” “I will tell Viney you are very sorry,” I said. “Will you go with me and find Viney?” She was very willing to go, and let Viney kiss her, though she didn’t return the caress. She has been unusually affectionate since, and it seems to me there is a sweetness-a soul-beauty in her face which I have not seen before.
July 31, 1887.
Helen’s pencil-writing is excellent, as you will see from the enclosed letter, which she wrote for her own amusement. I am teaching her the braille alphabet, and she is delighted to be able to make words herself that she can feel.
She has now reached the question stage of her development. It is “what?” “why?” “when?” especially “why?” all day long, and as her intelligence grows her inquiries become more insistent. I remember how unbearable I used to find the inquisitiveness of my friends’ children; but I know now that these questions indicate the child’s growing interest in the cause of things. The “why?” is the DOOR THROUGH WHICH HE ENTERS THE WORLD OF REASON AND REFLECTION. “How does carpenter know to build house?” “Who put chickens in eggs?” “Why is Viney black?” “Flies bite–why?” “Can flies know not to bite?” “Why did father kill sheep?” Of course she asks many questions that are not as intelligent as these. Her mind isn’t more logical than the minds of ordinary children. On the whole, her questions are analogous to those that a bright three-year-old child asks; but her desire for knowledge is so earnest, the questions are never tedious, though they draw heavily upon my meager store of information, and tax my ingenuity to the utmost.
I had a letter from Laura Bridgman last Sunday. Please give her my love, and tell her Helen sends her a kiss. I read the letter at the supper-table, and Mrs. Keller exclaimed: “My, Miss Annie, Helen writes almost as well as that now!” It is true.
August 21, 1887.
We had a beautiful time in Huntsville. Everybody there was delighted with Helen, and showered her with gifts and kisses. The first evening she learned the names of all the people in the hotel, about twenty, I think. The next morning we were astonished to find that she remembered all of them, and recognized every one she had met the night before. She taught the young people the alphabet, and several of them learned to talk with her. One of the girls taught her to dance the polka, and a little boy showed her his rabbits and spelled their names for her. She was delighted, and showed her pleasure by hugging and kissing the little fellow, which embarrassed him very much.
We had Helen’s picture taken with a fuzzy, red-eyed little poodle, who got himself into my lady’s good graces by tricks and cunning devices known only to dogs with an instinct for getting what they want.
She has talked incessantly since her return about what she did in Huntsville, and we notice a very decided improvement in her ability to use language. Curiously enough, a drive we took to the top of Monte Sano, a beautiful mountain not far from Huntsville, seems to have impressed her more than anything else, except the wonderful poodle. She remembers all that I told her about it, and in telling her mother REPEATED THE VERY WORDS AND PHRASES I HAD USED IN DESCRIBING IT TO HER. In conclusion she asked her mother if she should like to see “very high mountain and beautiful cloudcaps.” I hadn’t used this expression. I said, “The clouds touch the mountain softly, like beautiful flowers.” You see, I had to use words and images with which she was familiar through the sense of touch. But it hardly seems possible that any mere words should convey to one who has never seen a mountain the faintest idea of its grandeur; and I don’t see how any one is ever to know what impression she did receive, or the cause of her pleasure in what was told her about it. All that we do know certainly is that she has a good memory and imagination and the faculty of association.
August 28, 1887.
I do wish things would stop being born! “New puppies,” “new calves” and “new babies” keep Helen’s interest in the why and wherefore of things at white heat. The arrival of a new baby at Ivy Green the other day was the occasion of a fresh outburst of questions about the origin of babies and live things in general. “Where did Leila get new baby? How did doctor know where to find baby? Did Leila tell doctor to get very small new baby? Where did doctor find Guy and Prince?” (puppies) “Why is Elizabeth Evelyn’s sister?” etc., etc. These questions were sometimes asked under circumstances which rendered them embarrassing, and I made up my mind that something must be done. If it was natural for Helen to ask such questions, it was my duty to answer them. It’s a great mistake, I think, to put children off with falsehoods and nonsense, when their growing powers of observation and discrimination excite in them a desire to know about things. From the beginning, I HAVE MADE IT A PRACTICE TO ANSWER ALL HELEN’S QUESTIONS TO THE BEST OF MY ABILITY IN A WAY INTELLIGIBLE TO HER, and at the same time truthfully. “Why should I treat these questions differently?” I asked myself. I decided that there was no reason, except my deplorable ignorance of the great facts that underlie our physical existence. It was no doubt because of this ignorance that I rushed in where more experienced angels fear to tread. There isn’t a living soul in this part of the world to whom I can go for advice in this, or indeed, in any other educational difficulty. The only thing for me to do in a perplexity is to go ahead, and learn by making mistakes. But in this case I don’t think I made a mistake. I took Helen and my Botany, “How Plants Grow,” up in the tree, where we often go to read and study, and I told her in simple words the story of plantlife. I reminded her of the corn, beans and watermelon-seed she had planted in the spring, and told her that the tall corn in the garden, and the beans and watermelon vines had grown from those seeds. I explained how the earth keeps the seeds warm and moist, until the little leaves are strong enough to push themselves out into the light and air where they can breathe and grow and bloom and make more seeds, from which other baby-plants shall grow. I drew an analogy between plant and animal-life, and told her that seeds are eggs as truly as hens’ eggs and birds’ eggs–that the mother hen keeps her eggs warm and dry until the little chicks come out. I made her understand that all life comes from an egg. The mother bird lays her eggs in a nest and keeps them warm until the birdlings are hatched. The mother fish lays her eggs where she knows they will be moist and safe, until it is time for the little fish to come out. I told her that she could call the egg the cradle of life. Then I told her that other animals like the dog and cow, and human beings, do not lay their eggs, but nourish their young in their own bodies. I had no difficulty in making it clear to her that if plants and animals didn’t produce offspring after their kind, they would cease to exist, and everything in the world would soon die. But the function of sex I passed over as lightly as possible. I did, however, try to give her the idea that love is the great continuer of life. The subject was difficult, and my knowledge inadequate; but I am glad I didn’t shirk my responsibility; for, stumbling, hesitating, and incomplete as my explanation was, it touched deep responsive chords in the soul of my little pupil, and the readiness with which she comprehended the great facts of physical life confirmed me in the opinion that the child has dormant within him, when he comes into the world, all the experiences of the race. These experiences are like photographic negatives, until language develops them and brings out the memory-images.
September 4, 1887.
Helen had a letter this morning from her uncle, Doctor Keller. He invited her to come to see him at Hot Springs. The name Hot Springs interested her, and she asked many questions about it. She knows about cold springs. There are several near Tuscumbia; one very large one from which the town got its name. “Tuscumbia” is the Indian for “Great Spring.” But she was surprised that hot water should come out of the ground. She wanted to know who made fire under the ground, and if it was like the fire in stoves, and if it burned the roots of plants and trees.
She was much pleased with the letter, and after she had asked all the questions she could think of, she took it to her mother, who was sewing in the hall, and read it to her. It was amusing to see her hold it before her eyes and spell the sentences out on her fingers, just as I had done. Afterward she tried to read it to Belle (the dog) and Mildred. Mrs. Keller and I watched the nursery comedy from the door. Belle was sleepy, and Mildred inattentive. Helen looked very serious, and, once or twice, when Mildred tried to take the letter, she put her hand away impatiently. Finally Belle got up, shook herself, and was about to walk away, when Helen caught her by the neck and forced her to lie down again. In the meantime Mildred had got the letter and crept away with it. Helen felt on the floor for it, but not finding it there, she evidently suspected Mildred; for she made the little sound which is her “baby call.” Then she got up and stood very still, as if listening with her feet for Mildred’s “thump, thump.” When she had located the sound, she went quickly toward the little culprit and found her chewing the precious letter! This was too much for Helen. She snatched the letter and slapped the little hands soundly. Mrs. Keller took the baby in her arms, and when we had succeeded in pacifying her, I asked Helen, “What did you do to baby?” She looked troubled, and hesitated a moment before answering. Then she said: “Wrong girl did eat letter. Helen did slap very wrong girl.” I told her that Mildred was very small, and didn’t know that it was wrong to put the letter in her mouth.
“I did tell baby, no, no, much (many) times,” was Helen’s reply.
I said, “Mildred doesn’t understand your fingers, and we must be very gentle with her.”
She shook her head.