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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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The presentation of so unique a contract requires a degree of persuasiveness and audacity. Though I have not met with an unusual degree of success, I have secured a sufficient number of contracts to warrant my being kept on the list of employees of the firm which had the courage to send me abroad in the land as its representative. My business missionary work has been done among bankers in three hundred cities and towns. Contact with two or three thousand such men in the North, East, South, and Southwest has, in every way, been beneficial to me. Not only have I talked with them. I have talked "at" them, endeavoring to convert them from an old and unsatisfactory method to a new and practical one. Many a time have I smiled inwardly when I found myself thus addressing a Board of Directors, or Building Committee, about to let a contract for a new building or the remodeling of an old banking room. For, at such times my memory invariably presents two pictures of similar (but how different!) scenes -- one, that of my appearance before a clinic of Yale medical students, held at the State Hospital while I was possessed of a remarkably complete collection of delusions of grandeur which I willingly, yes, eagerly, laid on the Altar of Science. The other, that in which I appeared before the Medical Staff at the same hospital, prior to my discharge. These two occasions marked my first attempts at speech-making. My next talk of sufficient length to be called a speech was delivered before a Board of Directors. After listening to me they signed a contract for a sixty-thousand-dollar building. Aside from the preliminary nerve-racking hiatus which invariably precedes a speech, I found it easy to monopolize the attention of my listeners. It would seem, therefore, that the training I received in an institution not commonly classed as one of learning proved to be of decided utility.


Dealing almost exclusively with bankers -- those hard-worked men of seemingly easy hours -- I have enjoyed almost as much leisure for reading and trying to learn how to write as I should have enjoyed had I had an assured income that would have enabled me to devote my entire time to these pursuits. And so congenial has my work proved, and so many places of interest have I visited, that I might rather be classed as a "commercial tourist" than as a commercial traveler. To view almost all of the natural wonders and places of historic interest east of the Mississippi -- and many west of it; to meet and know representative men and women; to enjoy an almost uninterrupted leisure, and, at the same time, earn a livelihood -- these advantages bear me out in the feeling that in securing the position I did, at the time I did, I enjoyed one of those rare compensations which Fate sometimes bestows upon those who survive unusual adversity.




WHEN I regained my liberty (September, 1903) I realized that I could not successfully advocate reforms in hospital management until I had first proved to relatives and friends my ability to earn a living. And I knew that, after securing a position in the business world, I must first satisfy my employers before I could hope to persuade others to join me in prosecuting the reforms I had at heart. Consequently during the first year of my renewed business activity (the year 1904) I held my humanitarian project in abeyance and gave all my executive energy to my business duties. During the first half of that year I gave but little time to reading and writing, and none at all to drawing. In a tentative way, however, I did occasionally discuss my project with intimate friends; but I spoke of its consummation as a thing of the uncertain future. At that time, though confident of accomplishing my set purpose, I believed I should be fortunate if my projected book were published before my fortieth year. That I am able to publish it eight years earlier is due to one of those unlocked for combination of circumstances which sometimes causes a hurried change of plans.


The events of November and December 1904, and January, 1905, must be mentioned, and then I shall have told the reader about most of my personal fortunes. Late in the fall of 1904, a slight illness detained me for two weeks, in a city several hundred miles from home. The illness itself amounted to little, and, so far as I know, had no direct bearing on later results, except that in giving me an enforced vacation it afforded me an opportunity to read several of the world's great books -- books which people are prone to reserve until a period of leisure reminds them of their former neglect.


One of these was "Les Misérables." It made so deep an impression on me that I am inclined to believe it started a train of thought which gradually grew into a purpose so all-absorbing that I might have been overwhelmed by it, had not my over-active imagination been brought to bay by another's common sense. Hugo's plea for suffering Humanity -- for the world's miserable -- struck a responsive chord within me. Not only did it revive my latent desire to help the afflicted; it did more. It aroused a consuming desire to emulate Hugo himself, by writing a book which should arouse sympathy for and interest in that class of unfortunates in whose behalf I felt it my peculiar right and duty to speak. I question whether any one ever read "Les Misérables" with intenser interest or feeling. I read the entire work within a few days. By day I read the story until my head ached; by night I dreamed of it. Then and there I resolved that I should lose no time in the beginning of my own work.

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