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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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Man's darkest hour is the hour before he's born,
Another is the hour just before the Dawn;
From Darkness unto Life and Light he leaps,
To Life but once, -- to Light as oft as God wills he should.
'Tis God's own secret, why
Some live long, and others early die;
For Life depends on Light, and Light on God,
Who hath given to Man the perfect knowledge
That Grim Despair and Sorrow end in Light
And Life everlasting, in realms
Where darkest Darkness becomes Light;
But not the Light Man knows,
Which only is Light Because God told Man so.


These verses, which breathe religion, were written in an atmosphere where religion was almost extinct. With the curses of madmen ringing in my ears, some subconscious part of me forced me to write at its dictation. I was far from being in a pious frame of mind myself, and the quality of my thought surprised me then -- as it does now. Perhaps for a moment some ancestor (I have two who went as missionaries to the Sandwich Islands early in the last century) controlled my thoughts. At any rate I like to think so, for I should object to being held entirely responsible for a poem the technical imperfections of which are scarcely atoned for by the elevation of the theme.


Though I respected my clothes, I did not at once cease to tear such material as would serve me in my scientific investigations. Gravity being conquered, it was inevitable that I should devote some of my time to the invention of a flying-machine. This was soon perfected -- in my mind; and all I needed, that I might test the device, was my liberty. As usual I was unable to explain how I should produce the result which I so confidently foretold. But I was secure in the belief that I should, ere long, fly to St. Louis and claim and receive the one hundred thousand dollar reward offered by the Commission of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition for the most efficient airship there to be exhibited. The moment that thought winged its way through my mind, I had not only a flying-machine, but a fortune in the bank. Being where I could not dissipate my riches I became a lavish verbal spender. I was in a mood to buy anything, and I whiled away many an hour planning what I should do with my fortune. The St. Louis prize was a paltry trifle. I reasoned (if my magnificent mental processes may be dignified as reasoning) that the man who could harness gravity had at his beck and call the world and all that therein is. This sudden accession of wealth made my vast humanitarian projects seem only the more feasible. What could be more delightful, thought I, than the furnishing and financing of ideas of a magnitude such as would stagger humanity. My condition was one of ecstatic suspense. Give me my liberty and I would show a sleepy old world what could be done to improve conditions, not only among the insane, but along every line of beneficent endeavor.


The city of my birth was to be made a garden-spot. All defiling, smoke-begriming factories were to be banished to an innocuous distance. Churches were to give way to cathedrals; the city itself was to become a paradise of mansions. Yale University was to be transformed into the most magnificent -- yet efficient -- seat of learning in the world. For once, college professors were to be paid adequate salaries, and alluring provision for their declining years was to be made. New Haven should become a very hot-bed of culture. Art galleries, libraries, museums, and theaters of a dream-like splendor were to rise whenever and wherever I should will. Why absurd? Was it not I who would defray the cost? The famous buildings of the Old World were to be reproduced, if, indeed, the originals could not be purchased, brought to this country, and re-erected. Not far from New Haven there is a sandy plain, once the bed of the Connecticut River, but now a kind of miniature desert. I often smile as I pass it on the train; for it was here, for the edification of those who might never be able to visit the Valley of the Nile, that I planned to erect a pyramid that should out-Cheops the original. My harnessed gravity, I believed, would not only enable me to overcome existing mechanical difficulties, but it would make the quarrying of immense monoliths as easy as the slicing of bread.


After all, delusions of grandeur are the most entertaining of toys. The assortment which my imagination provided was a comprehensive one. I had tossed aside the blocks of childhood days. Instead of laboriously piling small squares of wood one upon another, in an endeavor to build the tiny semblance of a house, I now, in this second childhood of mine, projected against thin air phantom edifices, planned and completed in the twinkling of an eye. To be sure such houses of cards almost immediately superseded each other, but the vanishing of one could not disturb a mind which had ever another interesting bauble to take its place. And therein lies part of the secret of the happiness peculiar to that stage of elation which is distinguished by delusions of grandeur, -- always provided the afflicted one be not subjected to privation and abuse. The sane man who can prove that he is rich in material wealth is not nearly so happy as his unfortunate brother whose delusions trick him into believing himself a modem Croesus. A wealth of Midas-like delusions is no burden. Such a fortune, though a misfortune in itself, bathes the world in a golden glow. No clouds obscure the vision. Optimism reigns supreme. "Failure" and "impossible" are as words from an unknown tongue. And the unique satisfaction about a fortune of this fugitive type is that its loss occasions no regret. One by one the phantom ships of treasure sail away for parts unknown; until when the last has become but a speck on the mental horizon, the observer makes the happy discovery that his pirate fleet has left behind it a priceless wake of Reason!

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