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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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To resolve to write a book is one thing; to write it -- fortunately for the public -- is quite another. Though I wrote letters with ease, I soon discovered that I knew nothing of the vigils or methods of writing a book. Even then I did not attempt to predict just when I should begin to commit my story to paper. But, a month later, a member of the firm made a remark which acted as a sudden spur. One day, while discussing the business situation with me, he informed me that my work had convinced him that he had made no mistake in engaging me when he did. Naturally I was pleased. I had vindicated sooner than I had hoped his judgment in selecting me for a unique work. Aside from appreciating and remembering his compliment, at the time I paid no more attention to it. Not until two weeks later did the force of his remark exert any peculiar influence on my plans. During those weeks it apparently penetrated to some subconscious part of me -- a part which, on prior occasions, had assumed such authority as to dominate my whole being. But, in this instance, the part that became dominant did not exert an unruly or even unwelcome influence. Full of interest in my business affairs one week, the next I not only had no interest in them, but I had begun even to dislike them. From a matter-of-fact man of business I was transformed into a man whose one thought was the amelioration of suffering among the afflicted insane. Traveling on this high plane of ideal humanitarianism I could get none but a distorted and dissatisfying view of the life I must lead if I should continue to devote my time to the comparatively deadening routine of commercial affairs. Thus it was inevitable that I should focus my attention on my humanitarian project. During the last week of December I sought ammunition by making a visit to the two institutions where I had once been confined as an incompetent. I went there to discuss certain phases of the subject of reform with the doctors in authority. I was politely received and listened to with a degree of deference which was, indeed, satisfying. Though I realized that I was rather intense on the subject of reform I did not have that clear insight into my state of mind which the doctors had. Indeed, I believe that only those expert in the detection of symptoms of a slightly disturbed mental condition could possibly have observed anything abnormal about me at that time. Only when I discussed my fond project of reform did I betray an abnormal stress of feeling. I could talk as convincingly about business as I had at any time in my life; for, even at the height of this "wave of enthusiasm," I dealt at length with a certain banker who finally placed with my employers a large contract. After conferring with the doctors, or rather -- as it proved -- exhibiting myself to them, I returned to New Haven and discussed my project with the president of Yale University. He listened patiently -- he could scarcely do otherwise -- and did me the great favor of interposing his judgment at a time when I might have made a false move. I told him that I intended to visit Washington at once, and enlist the aid of the President; also that of the Secretary of State, Hon. John Hay, who was then alive. Dr. Hadley tactfully dissuaded me. He advised me not to approach these two gentlemen until I had more thoroughly crystallized my ideas and committed them to paper. His wise suggestion I had the wisdom to adopt.


The next day I went to New York, and on January 1st, 1905, I began to write. Within two days I had written about fifteen thousand words -- for the most part on the subject of reforms and how to effect them. By way of mental diversion I wrote personal letters to intimate friends. One of these produced a result unlocked for. It was so well written that its recipient jumped at the conclusion that I had again lost my poise. There were about it compromising earmarks which he recognized. I intimated that I was about to approach a certain man of wealth and influence in New York, with a view to securing some action that would lead to reform. That was enough. My friend showed the letter to my brother -- the one who had acted as my conservator. Upon reading it he knew at once that I was in an excited mental condition. But he could not very well judge the degree of the excitement; for when I had last talked with him -- a week earlier -- I had not discussed my large plans. Business affairs and my hope for business advancement had then alone interested me.


I talked with President Hadley on Friday; Saturday I went to New York; Sunday and Monday I spent at the Yale Club, writing; Tuesday, this tell-tale letter fell under the prescient eye of my brother. That day, Tuesday, he at once got in touch with me by telephone. We briefly discussed the situation. He did not intimate that he believed me to be in elation. He simply urged me not to attempt to interest any one in my project until I had first returned to New Haven and discussed it with him. Now I had already gone so far as to invite the members of the firm to dine with me that very night at the Yale Club, for the purpose of informing them of my plans. This I did, believing it to be only fair that they should know what I intended to do, so that they might dispense with my services should they feel that my plans would in any way impair my usefulness as an employee. Of this dinner engagement, therefore, I told my brother. But, so insistently did he urge me to defer any such conference as I proposed until I had talked with him that, although it was too late to break the dinner engagement, I agreed to avoid, if possible, all reference to my project. With that qualified but well-meant promise, and the promise to return home the next day, our telephone conference ended.

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