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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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About the middle of January the doctor in charge of my case went for a two week's vacation. During his absence another member of the staff took charge of the violent ward. A man of wider experience and more liberal ideas than his predecessor, he at once granted me several real privileges. One day he permitted me to pay a brief visit to the best ward -- the ward from which I had been transferred two months earlier. I thus was able again to mingle with fairly sane men, and though I enjoyed this privilege upon but one occasion, and then only for a few hours, the knowledge that I could have such privileges for the asking was a source of intense satisfaction.


Altogether the last six weeks of the fourteen during which I was confined in the violent ward were comfortable and relatively happy. I was no longer subjected to physical abuse, though this exemption was largely due to my own skill in avoiding trouble. I was no longer cold and hungry. I was allowed a fair amount of out-door exercise which, after my close confinement, proved to be a delightful sort of shock. But, above all, I was again given an adequate supply of writing and drawing materials, which became as tinder under the focused rays of my artistic eagerness. My mechanical investigations were gradually set aside and art and literature again held sway. Except when out of doors taking my apportioned exercise, I remained in my room reading, writing or drawing. This room of mine soon became a Mecca for the most irrepressible and loquacious characters in the ward. These self-elected companions at first interfered with my work. But I soon schooled myself to shut my ears to their incoherent prattle. Occasionally, some uninvited visitor would become obstreperous -- perhaps because of my lordly order that he leave the room. At such times, however, I tested my theory that insane patients in anger can be controlled by tact. The result was that I invariably induced them to obey. Often did they threaten to throttle me; but I ignored the threats, and they were never carried out. Nor was I afraid that they would be. Had I been a typical attendant, I should have accepted them as challenges, with the usual brutal consequences.


The drawings I produced at this time were crude. For the most part they consisted of copies of illustrations which I had cut from magazines that had miraculously found their way into the violent ward. The heads of men and women interested me most, for I had decided to take up portraiture. At first I was content to draw in black and white, but I soon procured some colors and from that time on I devoted my attention to mastering pastel. With it I evolved a method which produced an unusual but not an unpleasing effect. I doubt if a graduate of a recognized School of Art would dare to discover the secret of my method. Therefore I shall give up the key to my mystery so that he who runs may take or leave it. On paper with a rough surface (such as draughtsmen commonly use) first draw an outline, using a hard pencil. Then rub in pastel of the desired color. With the tip of the finger this can be properly distributed; and the slight indentations on the surface of the paper, caused by the hard pencil, will immediately appear as light lines. These lines produce a peculiar and striking effect. Though this method would be of no value in many drawings, in a drawing in which there is a wealth of hair to be represented it is very serviceable. With my compliments, this method (so far as I know, my own) I bequeath to posterity, and to such living artists as dare to risk their reputation by adopting it.


In the world of letters I had made little progress. My compositions were for the most part epistles -- addressed to relatives and friends, and to those in authority at the hospital. Frequently the letters addressed to the doctors were sent in sets of three -- this to save time, for I was very busy. The first letter of such a series would contain my request, couched in friendly and polite terms. To this I would add a postscript, worded about as follows: "If, after reading this letter, you feel inclined to refuse my request, please read letter number two." Letter number two would be severely formal -- a business-like repetition of the request made in letter number one. Again a postscript would advise the reader to consult letter number three, if the reading of number two had failed to move him. Letter number three was invariably a brief philippic in which I would consign the unaccommodating doctor to oblivion.


In this way I expended part of my prodigious supply of feeling. But I had also another way of reducing my creative pressure. Occasionally, from sheer excess of emotion, I would burst into verse -- of a quality not to be doubted. Of that quality the reader shall judge, for I am going to quote a "creation" written under circumstances which, to say the least, were adverse. Before writing these lines I had never attempted verse in my life -- barring intentionally inane doggerel. And, as I now judge these lines, it is probably true that even yet I have never written a poem. Nevertheless, my involuntary, almost automatic outburst is at least suggestive of the fervor that was in me. These fourteen lines were written within thirty minutes of the time I first conceived the idea; and I present them substantially as they first took form. From a psychological standpoint, at least, they are not without interest.

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