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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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ON leaving the hospital and resuming my travels, I felt sure that any one of several magazines or newspapers would willingly have had me conduct my campaign under its nervously commercial auspices; but a flash-in-the-pan method did not appeal to me. Those noxious growths, Incompetence, Abuse, and Injustice, had not only to be cut down, but rooted out. Therefore, I clung to my determination to write a book -- an instrument of attack which, if it cuts and tears at all, does so as long as the need exists. Inasmuch as I knew that I still had to learn how to write I approached my task with deliberation. I planned to do two things: first, to crystallize my thoughts by discussion -- telling the story of my life whenever, in my travels, I should meet any person who inspired my confidence; second, while the subject-matter of my book was shaping itself in my mind, to drill myself by carrying out a letter-writing campaign. Both these things I did -- as certain indulgent friends who bore the brunt of my spoken and written discourse can certify. I feared the less to be dubbed a bore, and I hesitated the less perhaps to impose upon good nature, because of my firm conviction that one in a position to help the many was himself entitled to the help of the few.


I wrote scores of letters of great length. I cared little if some of my friends should conclude that I had been born a century too late; for, without them as confidants, I must write with no more inspiring object in view than the waste-basket. Indeed, I found it difficult to compose without keeping before me the image of a friend. Having stipulated that every letter should be returned upon demand, I wrote without reserve -- my imagination had free rein. I wrote as I thought, and I thought as I pleased. The result was that within six months I found myself writing with a facility which hitherto had obtained only during elation. At first I was suspicious of this new-found and apparently permanent ease of expression -- so suspicious that I set about diagnosing my physical symptoms. My self-examination convinced me that I was, in fact, quite normal. I had no irresistible desire to write, nor was there any suggestion of that exalting light-heartedness which characterizes elation. Further, after a prolonged period of composition, I experienced a comforting sense of exhaustion which I had not known while elated. I therefore concluded -- and rightly -- that my unwonted facility was the product of practice. At last I found myself able to conceive an idea and immediately transfer it to paper.


In July, 1905, I came to the conclusion that the time for beginning my book was at hand. Nevertheless, I found it difficult to set a definite date. About this time I so arranged my itinerary that I was able to enjoy two summer -- though stormy -- nights and a day at the Summit House on Mount Washington. What better, thought I, than to begin my book on a plane so high as to be appropriate to this noble summit? I therefore began to compose a dedication. "To Humanity" was as far as I got. There the Muse forsook me.


But, returning to earth and going about my business, I soon again found myself in the midst of inspiring natural surroundings -- the Berkshire Hills. At this juncture Man came to the assistance of Nature, and perhaps with an unconsciousness equal to her own. It was a chance remark made by an eminent man that aroused my subconscious literary personality to irresistible action. I had long wished to discuss my project with a man of deserved reputation, and if his reputation were international, so much the better. I desired the unbiased opinion of a judicial mind. Opportunely, I learned that the Hon. Joseph H. Choate was then at his summer residence at Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Now, I need offer no proof that Mr. Choate, like some eighty odd millions of others, had never heard of me. Neither had I a letter of introduction. But the exigencies of the occasion demanded that I conjure up one. Wishing can do much, for a burning desire can only be quenched by performance. The result was, I wrote my own letter of introduction and sent it:


STOCKBRIDGE, MASS. August 18, 1906.


Stockbridge, Massachusetts.




Though I might present myself at your door, armed with one of society's unfair skeleton-keys -- a letter of introduction -- I prefer to approach you as I now do: simply as a young man who honestly feels entitled to at least five minutes of your time, and as many minutes more as you care to grant because of your interest in the subject to be discussed.


I look to you at this time for your opinion as to the value of some ideas of mine, and the feasibility of certain schemes based on them.


A few months ago I talked with President Hadley of Yale, and briefly outlined my plans. He admitted that many of them seemed feasible and would, if carried out, add much to the sum-total of human happiness. His only criticism was that they were "too comprehensive."

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