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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 64:


I must pause to call the reader's attention to the degree of fair-mindedness displayed in the foregoing. Facts I stated as facts, but I was wise enough to qualify a statement incapable of proof. An extravagant imagination does not necessarily supersede and suspend judgment.


When I came to the matter of the "Bull Pen" I wasted no words: "The Bull Pen," I wrote, "is a pocket edition of the New York Stock Exchange during a panic."


I next pointed out the difficulties a patient must overcome in mailing letters: "It is impossible for any one to send a letter to you via the office. The letter would be consigned to the waste-basket -- unless it was a particularly crazy letter -- in which case it might reach you, as you would then pay no attention to it. But a sane letter, and a true letter, telling about the abuses which exist here would stand no show of being mailed. The way in which mail is tampered with by the medical staff is contemptible."


I then described my stratagem in mailing my letter to the Governor. Discovering that I had left a page of my epistolary booklet blank, I drew upon it a copy of Rembrandt's Anatomy Lesson, and under it wrote: "This page was skipped by mistake. Had to fight fifty-three days to get writing-paper and I hate to waste any space -- hence the masterpiece, -- drawn in five minutes. Never drew a line till September 26 (last) and never took lessons in my life. I think you will readily believe my statement." I ask the reader to notice here the humorous insight into my artistic limitations which I displayed, despite my delusional state of mind. Continuing in the same half-deluded, half-bantering vein, I said: "I intend to immortalize all members of medical staff of State Hospital for Insane -- when I illustrate my Inferno, which, when written, will make Dante's Divine Comedy look like a French Farce."


I then outlined my plans for reform: "Whether my suggestions meet with approval or not," I wrote, "will not affect the result -- though opposition on your part would perhaps delay reforms. I have decided to devote the next few years of my life to correcting abuses now in existence in every asylum in this country. I know how these abuses can be corrected and I intend -- later on, when I understand the subject better -- to draw up a Bill of Rights for the Insane. Every State in the Union will pass it, because it will be founded on the Golden Rule. I am desirous of having the co-operation of the Governor of Connecticut, but if my plans do not appeal to him I shall deal directly with his only superior, the President of the United States. When Theodore Roosevelt hears my story his blood will boil. I would write to him now, but I am afraid he would jump in and correct abuses too quickly. And by doing it too quickly too little good would be accomplished." The reader will here perhaps infer ( and rightly) that my fear of hasty executive action was really born of a desire to have a hand in the crusade, and I knew that this would be impossible until I should have regained my freedom.


Waxing crafty, yet, as I believed, writing truth, I continued: "I need money badly, and if I cared to, I could sell my information and services to the New York World or New York Journal for a large amount. But I do not intend to advertise Connecticut as a Hell-hole of Iniquity, Insanity, and Injustice. If the facts appeared in the public press at this time, Connecticut would lose caste with her sister States. And they would profit by Connecticut's disgrace and correct the abuses before they could be put on the rack. As these conditions prevail throughout the country, there is no reason why Connecticut should get all the abuse and criticism which would follow any such revelation of disgusting abuse; such inhuman treatment of human wrecks. If publicity is necessary to force you to act -- and I am sure it will not be necessary -- I shall apply for a writ of habeas corpus, and, in proving my sanity to a jury, I shall incidentally prove your own incompetence. Permitting such a whirlwind reformer to drag Connecticut's disgrace into open court would prove your incompetence."


For several obvious reasons it is well that I did not at that time attempt to convince a jury that I was mentally sound. The mere outlining of my ambitious scheme for reform would have caused my immediate return to the asylum. For all that, the scheme itself, stripped of its insane trappings, was then, as it is to-day, absolutely feasible and sane; and, in this assertion, I am supported by the opinions of certain alienists who have read my story. According to these authorities, my consistent and persistent desire to effect reforms, taken by itself, was not characteristic of any form of mental disorder. It was a sane idea; but, taking hold of me, as it did, while my imagination was at white heat, I was impelled to attack my problem with compromising energy and, for a time, in a manner so unconvincing as to obscure the essential sanity of my cherished purpose.

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