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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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This feverish day-dream is less remarkable than the external stimuli which excited it. As I have since ascertained there was, just outside my room, an elevator and near it a speaking tube. Whenever the speaking-tube was used from another part of the building, the summoning whistle conveyed to my mind the idea of the exhaustion of air in a ship-compartment, and the opening and shutting of the elevator door completed the illusion of a ship fast going to pieces. But the ship my mind was on never reached any shore, nor did she sink. Like a mirage she vanished, and again I found myself safe in my bed at the hospital. "Safe," did I say? Scarcely that, -- for deliverance from one impending disaster simply meant immediate precipitation into another.


My delirium gradually subsided, and four or five days after the 23d the doctors were able to set my broken bones. To my gradually increasing insanity the operation suggested new delusions. Shortly before the adjustment of the plaster casts, my legs, for obvious reasons, were shaved from shin to calf. This unusual tonsorial operation I read for a sign of degradation -- associating it with what I had heard of the treatment of murderers and with similar customs in more barbarous lands. It was about this time also that: strips of court-plaster, in the form of a cross, were placed on my brow, which had been slightly scratched in my fall, and this I read for a brand of infamy.


Had my health been good I should at this time have been participating in the Triennial of my class at Yale. Indeed I was a member of the Triennial Committee and though, when I left New York on June 15th, I had been feeling terribly ill, I had then hoped to brace myself for the anticipated pleasures of the reunion. The class reunions were held on Tuesday, June 26th -- three days after my collapse. Those familiar with Yale customs know that the Harvard baseball game is one of the chief events of the commencement season. Headed by brass bands, all the classes whose reunions fall in the same year, march to the Yale Athletic Field to see the game and renew their youth -- using up as much vigor in one delirious day as would insure a ripe old age if less prodigally expended. These classes with their bands and cheering, accompanied by thousands of other vociferating enthusiasts, march through West Chapel Street -- the most direct route from the Campus to the Field. It is upon this line of march that Grace Hospital is situated, and I knew that on the day of the game the Yale thousands would pass the scene of my incarceration.


I have endured so many days of the most exquisite torture that I hesitate to distinguish among them by degrees; each deserves its own unique place, even as a Saint's Day on the calendar of an olden Spanish inquisitor. But, if the palm is to be awarded to any, June 26th, 1900, perhaps has the first claim.


My state of mind at this time might be pictured thus: The criminal charge of attempted suicide stood against me on June 23d. By the 26th many other and worse charges had accumulated. The public believed me the most despicable member of my race. The papers were filled with accounts of my misdeeds. The thousands of collegians gathered in the city, many of whom I knew personally, loathed the very thought that a Yale man should so disgrace his Alma Mater. And when they approached the hospital on their way to the Athletic Field, I concluded that it was their intention to take me from my bed, drag me to the lawn, and there tear me limb from limb. Few incidents during my unhappiest years are more vividly or circumstantially impressed upon my memory. The fear, to be sure, was absurd, but in the lurid lexicon of Unreason there is no such word as "absurd." The college cries which filled the air that afternoon struck more terror to my heart than all the Yale cheers of history have struck to the hearts of vanquished rivals on field or water.




NATURALLY I was suspicious of all about me, and became more so each day. But not until about a month after my hurt did I refuse to recognize my relatives. While I was at Grace Hospital my father and eldest brother called almost every day to see me, and, though I said little, I still accepted them in their proper characters. I remember well a conversation one morning with my father. The words I uttered were few but full of meaning. Shortly before this time my death had been momentarily expected. I still believed that I was surely about to die as a result of my injuries, and I wished in some way to let my father know that, despite my apparently ignominious end, I appreciated all that he had done for me during my life. Few men, I believe, ever had a more painful time in expressing their feelings than I had on that occasion. I had but little control over my mind, and my power of speech was impaired. My father sat beside my bed. Looking up at him, I said, "You have been a good father to me."


"I have always tried to be," was his characteristic reply.

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