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A Mind That Found Itself: An Autobiography

Creator: Clifford Whittingham Beers (author)
Date: 1910
Publisher: Longmans, Green, and Co., New York
Source: Available at selected libraries

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Page 11:


Familiar materials had acquired a different "feel." In the dark, the bed sheets at times seemed like silk. As I had not been born with a golden spoon in my mouth, or other accessories of a useless luxury, I believed the detectives had provided these silken sheets for some hostile purpose of their own. What that purpose was I could not divine, and my very inability to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion stimulated my brain to the assembling of disturbing thoughts in an almost endless train. Thus does a perverted sense grow by what it feeds on.


Imaginary breezes struck my face, gentle, but not welcome, most of them from parts of the room where currents of air could not possibly originate. They seemed to come from cracks in the walls and ceiling and annoyed me exceedingly. I thought them in some way related to that Chinese method of torture by which water is allowed to strike the victim's forehead, a drop at a time, until death releases him.


The old doctrine of brimstone, Hell-fire, and damnation is not so difficult for me to believe as it is for that type of saint who would get to Glory easily, or, at least, substitute for Heaven a sweet and unmerited oblivion. For does not the Devil lurk in one's nasal passages? Stifling fumes of sulphur are as the crisp air of wooded glens compared to the odor of burning human flesh and other pestilential fumes which seemed to assail me.


My sense of sight was subjected to many weird and uncanny effects. Phantasmagoric visions made their visitations throughout the night, for a time with such regularity that I used to await their coming with a certain restrained curiosity. Although I was not entirely unaware that something was ailing with my mind, I did not accept these visions, or any other abnormal effects of sense, as symptoms of insanity. All these horrors I took for the work of detectives, who sat up nights racking their brains in order to rack and utterly wreck my own with a cruel and unfair "Third Degree."


Handwriting on the wall has ever struck terror to the hearts of sane men. I remember as one of my most unpleasant experiences that I began to see handwriting on the sheets of my bed staring me in the face, and not me alone, but also the spurious relatives who often stood or sat near me. On each fresh sheet placed over me I would soon begin to see words, sentences, and signatures, all in my own handwriting. Yet I could not decipher any of the words, and this fact dismayed me, for I firmly believed that those who stood about could read them all and found them to be incriminating evidence.


I imagined that these vision-like effects, with few exceptions, were produced by a magic-lantern, controlled by some of my myriad persecutors. The lantern was rather a cinematographic contrivance. Moving pictures, often brilliantly colored, were thrown on the ceiling of my room and sometimes on the sheets of my bed. Human bodies, dismembered and gory, were one of the most common of these. All this may have been due to the fact that, as a boy, I had fed my imagination on the sensational news of the day as presented in the public press. These papers I had been accustomed to read thoroughly, reading first the worst news and ending with the best -- if I had time. Despite the heavy penalty which I now paid for thus loading my mind, I believe this unwise indulgence gave a breadth and variety to my peculiar psychological experience which it otherwise would have lacked. For with an insane ingenuity I managed to connect myself with almost every crime of importance of which I had ever read.


Dismembered human bodies were not alone my bed-fellows at this time. I remember one vision of vivid beauty. Swarms of butterflies and large and gorgeous moths appeared on the sheets. That sight I really enjoyed, knowing that pretty creatures were not alive; and I wished that the usually unkind operator would continue to minister to my aesthetic taste by feeding it on colors so rich and so faultlessly combined. Another pleasing vision appeared about twilight several days in succession. I can trace it directly to impressions gained in early childhood. The quaint pictures by Kate Greenaway -- little children in attractive dress, playing in old-fashioned gardens -- would float through space just outside my windows. The pictures were always accompanied by the gleeful shouts of real children in the neighborhood, who, before being sent to bed by watchful parents, devoted the last hour of the day to play. It was their shouts that stirred my memories of childhood and brought forth these pictures.


In my chamber of intermittent horrors and momentary delights, uncanny occurrences were frequent. I believed there was some one who at fall of night secreted himself under my bed. That in itself was not peculiar, as sane persons, at one time or another, are troubled by that same notion. But my bed-fellow -- under the bed -- was a detective; and he spent most of his time during the night pressing pieces of ice against my injured heels, to precipitate, as I thought, my overdue confession.

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