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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 89:


Not until I have staggered an imagination of the highest type will I admit that I am trying to do too much. Should you refuse to see me, believe me, when I tell you that you will still be, as you are at this moment, the unconscious possessor of my sincere respect.


Business engagements necessitate my leaving here early on Monday next. Should you care to communicate with me, word sent in care of this hotel will reach me promptly.


Yours very truly,


Within an hour I had received the following reply:


Friday evening.




Your note of to-day rec'd. I will see you here for a few minutes to-morrow morning at ten o'clock.


Yours truly,


The next morning at ten o'clock, the door, whose lock I had picked with a pen, opened before me and I was ushered into the presence of Mr. Choate. He was graciousness itself -- but pointed significantly at a heap of unanswered correspondence lying before him. I took the hint and within ten minutes briefly outlined my purpose. After pronouncing my project a "commendable one," Mr. Choate offered the suggestion that produced results. Said he: "If you will submit your ideas in writing I shall be glad to read your manuscript and assist you in any way I can. To fully consider your scheme would require several hours, and busy men cannot very well give you so much time. What they can do is to read your manuscript during their leisure moments."


Thus it was that Mr. Choate, by granting the interview, contributed to an earlier fruition of my plans. One week later I began the composition of this book. My action was unpremeditated, as my quitting Boston for less attractive Worcester proves. That very day, finding myself with a day and a half of leisure before me, I decided to tempt the Muse and compel myself to prove that my pen was, in truth, "the tongue of a ready writer." A stranger in the city, I went to a school of stenography and there secured the services of a young man who, though inexperienced in his art, was more skilled in catching thoughts as they took wing than I was in the art of setting them free. Except in the writing of one or two conventional business letters, never before had I dictated to a stenographer. After I had startled him into an attentive mood by briefly outlining my past career and present purpose, I worked without any definite plan or brief, or reference to data. My narrative was therefore digressive and only roughly chronological. But it served to get my material before my own eyes for future shaping. At this task I hammered away three or four hours a day for a period of five weeks.


It so happened that Mr. Choate arrived at the same hotel on the same day with myself, so that some of the toil he had inspired went on in his proximity, if not in his presence; but I studiously kept out of his sight, lest he think me a "crank" on the subject of reform, bent on persecuting his leisure.


As the work progressed my facility increased -- in fact, I soon called in an additional stenographer to help in the snaring of my flying thoughts. This excessive productivity caused me to pause and again to diagnose my condition. I could not fail now to recognize in myself symptoms hardly distinguishable from those which had obtained eight months earlier when it had been deemed expedient temporarily to restrict my freedom. But I had grown wise in adversity. Rather than interrupt my manuscript short of completion I decided to avail myself of a vacation that was due, and remain without the borders of my native State -- this, so that well-meaning but perhaps over-zealous relatives might be spared unnecessary anxiety, and I myself be spared possible unwarranted restrictions. I was by no means certain as to the degree of mental excitement that would result from such continuous mental application; nor did I much care, so long as I accomplished my task. However, as I knew that "possession is nine points of the law," I decided to maintain my advantage by remaining in my literary fortress. And my resolve was further strengthened by certain cherished sentiments expressed by John Stuart Mill in his essay "On Liberty," -- an essay which I have read and re-read with an interest born of experience.


At last the draft was completed. After a timely remittance (for, in strict accordance with the traditions of the craft, I had exhausted my financial resources) I started for home -- with a sigh of relief. For months I had been under the burden of a conscious obligation. My memory, stored with information which, if rightly used, could, I believed, brighten unhappy lives, was to me as a basket of eggs which it was my duty to balance on a head whose poise was none too certain. One by one, during the preceding five weeks, I had gently lifted each thought from its resting-place, until my worrisome burden had been so shifted as to admit of its being imposed upon the public conscience.


After I had lived over again the trials and the tortures of my unhappiest years -- which was of course necessary in plowing and harrowing a memory, happily retentive -- the completion of the draft left me exhausted. But after a trip to New York, whither I went to convince my employers that I should be granted a further leave-of-absence, I resumed work. The ground for this added favor was that my manuscript was too crude to submit to any but intimate acquaintances. Knowing perhaps that a business man with a literary bee buzzing in his ear is, for the time, no business man at all, my employers readily agreed that I should do as I pleased during the month of October. They also believed me entitled to the favor, recognizing the force of my belief that I had a high obligation to discharge.

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