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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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Drawing and writing materials having been again taken from me, I cast about for some new occupation. As soon as I was transferred to a room with a bed, I found an occupation in the problem of warmth. Though I gave repeated expression to the benumbed messages of my tortured nerves, the doctor refused to return my clothes. For a semblance of warmth I was forced to depend upon ordinary undergarments and an extraordinary imagination. The heavy felt druggets were about as plastic as blotting paper and I derived little comfort from them until I hit upon the idea of rending them into strips. These strips I would weave into a crude Rip Van Winkle sort of suit; and so intricate was the warp and woof thereof that the attendant had to cut me out of it each morning. At first, until I acquired the destructive knack, the tearing of one drugget into strips was a task of four or five hours. But in time I became so proficient that I could completely destroy two, sometimes three, of these six-by-eight druggets in a single night. During the following weeks of my close confinement I destroyed more than twenty of these druggets, each worth about four dollars; -- and I confess, I found a peculiar satisfaction in the destruction of property belonging to a State which had deprived me of all my effects -- except underclothes. But my destructiveness was due to a variety of causes. It was occasioned primarily by a "pressure of activity," for which the tearing of druggets served as a vent. A phrase used by me in a letter written during my first month of elation aptly describes my condition at this time. Said I, in that letter, "I'm as busy as a nest of ants." That my energy should direct itself toward the only destructible objects at hand -- the druggets -- was not surprising; nor was it surprising that I found a use for the strips, for, as I have already proved, an insane person's acts are often purposeful. Though the habit of tearing druggets was the outgrowth of an abnormal impulse, the habit itself lasted longer than it could have done had I not, for so long a time, been deprived of suitable clothes and been held a prisoner in cold cells. But another motive soon asserted itself. Being deprived of all the luxuries of life and most of the necessities, my mother-wit, always conspiring with a wild imagination for something to occupy my time, led me at last to invade the field of invention. With appropriate contrariety an unfamiliar and, by me, hitherto almost detested line of investigation now attracted me. Abstruse mathematical problems which had defied solution for centuries began to appear easy. To defy the State and its puny representatives had become mere child's play, so I forthwith decided to overcome no less a force than gravity itself.


My conquering imagination soon tricked me into believing that I could lift myself by my boot-straps -- or rather that I should do so when my laboratory should contain footgear that lent itself to the experiment. But what of the strips of felt torn from the druggets? Why, these I used as the straps of my missing boots; and having no boots to stand in I used my bed as boots. I reasoned that for my scientific purpose a man in bed was as favorably situated as a man in boots. Therefore, attaching a sufficient number of my felt strips to the head and foot of the bed, and, in turn, attaching the free ends to the transom and the window-guard, I found the rest very simple. For, next, I joined these cloth cables in such manner that by pulling downward I effected a re-adjustment of stress and strain, and my bed, with me in it, was soon dangling in space. My sensations at this momentous instant must have been much like those which thrilled Newton when he solved one of the riddles of the universe. Indeed, they must have been more intense, for Newton, knowing, had his doubts; I, not knowing, had no doubts at all. So epoch-making did this discovery appear to me that I noted the exact position of the bed so that a wondering posterity might ever afterward view and reverence the exact spot on the earth's surface whence one of man's greatest thoughts had winged its way to immortality.


For weeks I believed I had uncovered a mechanical principle which would enable man to defy gravity. And I talked freely and confidently about it. That is, I proclaimed the impending results. The intermediate steps in the solution of my problem I ignored -- for good reasons. A blind man may harness a horse. So long as the horse is harnessed one need not know the office of each strap and buckle. Gravity was harnessed -- that was all. At the proper time I should reveal my secret in detail. Meanwhile I felt sure that another sublime moment of inspiration would intervene and clear the atmosphere, thus rendering flight of the body as easy as a flight of imagination.




WHILE my inventive operations were in progress I was chafing under a sense of the injustice of the unsanitary and certainly unscientific treatment to which I was being subjected. In spite of my close confinement in vile cells, for a period of over three weeks I was denied a bath. I do not regret this deprivation, for the attendants, who at the beginning were unfriendly, might have forced me to bathe in water which had first served for several other patients. Though such an unsanitary and disgusting practice was contrary to rules, it was often indulged in by the lazy brutes who controlled the ward. Investigation has convinced me that this evil is widespread.

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