It is now sixty-five years since Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe knew that he had made his way through Laura Bridgman's fingers to her intelligence. The names of Laura Bridgman and Helen Keller will always be linked together, and it is necessary to understand what Dr. Howe did for his pupil before one comes to an account of Miss Sullivan's work. For Dr. Howe is the great pioneer on whose work that of Miss Sullivan and other teachers of the deaf-blind immediately depends.
Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe was born in Boston, November 10, 1801, and died in Boston, January 9, 1876. He was a great philanthropist, interested especially in the education of all defectives, the feeble-minded, the blind, and the deaf. Far in advance of his time he advocated many public measures for the relief of the poor and the diseased, for which he was laughed at then, but which have since been put into practice. As head of the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, he heard of Laura Bridgman and had her brought to the Institution on October 4, 1837.
Laura Bridgman was born at Hanover, New Hampshire, December 21, 1829; so she was almost eight years old when Dr. Howe began his experiments with her. At the age of twenty-six months scarlet fever left her without sight or hearing. She also lost her sense of smell and taste. Dr. Howe was an experimental scientist and had in him the spirit of New England transcendentalism with its large faith and large charities. Science and faith together led him to try to make his way into the soul which he believed was born in Laura Bridgman as in every other human being. His plan was to teach Laura by means of raised types. He pasted raised labels on objects and made her fit the labels to the objects and the objects to the labels. When she had learned in this way to associate raised words with things, in much the same manner, he says, as a dog learns tricks, he began to resolve the words into their letter elements and to teach her to put together "k-e-y," "c-a-p." His success convinced him that language can be conveyed through type to the mind of the blind-deaf child, who, before education, is in the state of the baby who has not learned to prattle; indeed, is in a much worse state, for the brain has grown in years without natural nourishment.
After Laura's education had progressed for two months with the use only of raised letters, Dr. Howe sent one of his teachers to learn the manual alphabet from a deaf-mute. She taught it to Laura, and from that time on the manual alphabet was the means of communicating with her.
After the first year or two Dr. Howe did not teach Laura Bridgman himself, but gave her over to other teachers, who under his direction carried on the work of teaching her language.
Too much cannot be said in praise of Dr. Howe's work. As an investigator he kept always the scientist's attitude. He never forgot to keep his records of Laura Bridgman in the fashion of one who works in a laboratory. The result is, his records of her are systematic and careful. From a scientific standpoint it is unfortunate that it was impossible to keep such a complete record of Helen Keller's development. This in itself is a great comment on the difference between Laura Bridgman and Helen Keller. Laura always remained an object of curious study. Helen Keller became so rapidly a distinctive personality that she kept her teacher in a breathless race to meet the needs of her pupil, with no time or strength to make a scientific study.
In some ways this is unfortunate. Miss Sullivan knew at the beginning that Helen Keller would be more interesting and successful than Laura Bridgman, and she expresses in one of her letters the need of keeping notes. But neither temperament nor training allowed her to make her pupil the object of any experiment or observation which did not help in the child's development. As soon as a thing was done, a definite goal passed, the teacher did not always look back and describe the way she had come. The explanation of the fact was unimportant compared to the fact itself and the need of hurrying on. There are two other reasons why Miss Sullivan's records are incomplete. It has always been a severe tax on her eyes to write, and she was early discouraged from publishing data by the inaccurate use made of what she at first supplied.
When she first wrote from Tuscumbia to Mr. Michael Anagnos, Dr. Howes son-in-law and his successor as Director of the Perkins Institution, about her work with her pupil, the Boston papers began at once to publish exaggerated accounts of Helen Keller. Miss Sullivan protested. In a letter dated April 10, 1887, only five weeks after she went to Helen Keller, she wrote to a friend:
"-- sent me a Boston Herald containing a stupid article about Helen. How perfectly absurd to say that Helen is 'already talking fluently!' Why, one might just as well say that a two-year-old child converses fluently when he says 'apple give,' or 'baby walk go.' I suppose if you included his screaming, crowing, whimpering, grunting, squalling, with occasional kicks, in his conversation, it might be regarded as fluent--even eloquent. Then it is amusing to read of the elaborate preparation I underwent to fit me for the great task my friends entrusted to me. I am sorry that preparation didn't include spelling, it would have saved me such a lot of trouble."
On March 4, 1888, she writes in a letter:
"Indeed, I am heartily glad that I don't know all that is being said and written about Helen and myself. I assure you I know quite enough. Nearly every mail brings some absurd statement, printed or written. The truth is not wonderful enough to suit the newspapers; so they enlarge upon it and invent ridiculous embellishments. One paper has Helen demonstrating problems in geometry by means of her playing blocks. I expect to hear next that she has written a treatise on the origin and future of the planets!"
In December, 1887, appeared the first report of the Director of the Perkins Institution, which deals with Helen Keller. For this report Miss Sullivan prepared, in reluctant compliance with the request of Mr. Anagnos, an account of her work. This with the extracts from her letters, scattered through the report, is the first valid source of information about Helen Keller. Of this report Miss Sullivan wrote in a letter dated October 30, 1887:
"Have you seen the paper I wrote for the 'report'? Mr. Anagnos was delighted with it. He says Helen's progress has been 'a triumphal march from the beginning,' and he has many flattering things to say about her teacher. I think he is inclined to exaggerate; at all events, his language is too glowing, and simple facts are set forth in such a manner that they bewilder one. Doubtless the work of the past few months does seem like a triumphal march to him; but then people seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant success is achieved."
As Mr. Anagnos was the head of a great institution, what he said had much more effect than the facts in Miss Sullivan's account on which he based his statements. The newspapers caught Mr. Anagnos's spirit and exaggerated a hundred-fold. In a year after she first went to Helen Keller, Miss Sullivan found herself and her pupil the centre of a stupendous fiction. Then the educators all over the world said their say and for the most part did not help matters. There grew up a mass of controversial matter which it is amusing to read now. Teachers of the deaf proved a priori that what Miss Sullivan had done could not be, and some discredit was reflected on her statements, because they were surrounded by the vague eloquence of Mr. Anagnos. Thus the story of Helen Keller, incredible when told with moderation, had the misfortune to be heralded by exaggerated announcements, and naturally met either an ignorant credulity or an incredulous hostility.
In November, 1888, another report of the Perkins Institution appeared with a second paper by Miss Sullivan, and then nothing official was published until November, 1891, when Mr. Anagnos issued the last Perkins Institution report containing anything about Helen Keller. For this report Miss Sullivan wrote the fullest and largest account she has ever written; and in this report appeared the "Frost King," which is discussed fully in a later chapter. Then the controversy waxed fiercer than ever.
Finding that other people seemed to know so much more about Helen Keller than she did, Miss Sullivan kept silent and has been silent for ten years, except for her paper in the first volta Bureau Souvenir of Helen Keller and the paper which, at Dr. Bell's request, she prepared in 1894 for the meeting at Chautauqua of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf. When Dr. Bell and others tell her, what is certainly true from an impersonal point of view, that she owes it to the cause of education to write what she knows, she answers very properly that she owes all her time and all her energies to her pupil.
Although Miss Sullivan is still rather amused than distressed when some one, even one of her friends, makes mistakes in published articles about her and Miss Keller, still she sees that Miss Keller's book should include all the information that the teacher could at present furnish. So she consented to the publication of extracts from letters which she wrote during the first year of her work with her pupil. These letters were written to Mrs. Sophia C. Hopkins, the only person to whom Miss Sullivan ever wrote freely. Mrs. Hopkins has been a matron at the Perkins Institution for twenty years, and during the time that Miss Sullivan was a pupil there she was like a mother to her. In these letters we have an almost weekly record of Miss Sullivan's work. Some of the details she had forgotten, as she grew more and more to generalize. Many people have thought that any attempt to find the principles in her method would be nothing but a later theory superimposed on Miss Sullivan's work. But it is evident that in these letters she was making a clear analysis of what she was doing. She was her own critic, and in spite of her later declaration, made with her modest carelessness, that she followed no particular method, she was very clearly learning from her task and phrasing at the time principles of education of unique value not only in the teaching of the deaf but in the teaching of all children. The extracts from her letters and reports form an important contribution to pedagogy, and more than justify the opinion of Dr. Daniel C. Gilman, who wrote in 1893, when he was President of Johns Hopkins University:
"I have just read... your most interesting account of the various steps you have taken in the education of your wonderful pupil, and I hope you will allow me to express my admiration for the wisdom that has guided your methods and the affection which has inspired your labours."
Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan was born at Springfield, Massachusetts. Very early in her life she became almost totally blind, and she entered the Perkins Institution October 7, 1880, when she was fourteen years old. Later her sight was partially restored.
Mr. Anagnos says in his report of 1887: "She was obliged to begin her education at the lowest and most elementary point; but she showed from the very start that she had in herself the force and capacity which insure success.... She has finally reached the goal for which she strove so bravely. The golden words that Dr. Howe uttered and the example that he left passed into her thoughts and heart and helped her on the road to usefulness; and now she stands by his side as his worthy successor in one of the most cherished branches of his work.... Miss Sullivan's talents are of the highest order."
In 1886 she graduated from the Perkins Institution. When Captain Keller applied to the director for a teacher, Mr. Anagnos recommended her. The only time she had to prepare herself for the work with her pupil was from August, 1886, when Captain Keller wrote, to February, 1887. During this time she read Dr. Howe's reports. She was further aided by the fact that during the six years of her school life she had lived in the house with Laura Bridgman. It was Dr. Howe who, by his work with Laura Bridgman, made Miss Sullivan's work possible: but it was Miss Sullivan who discovered the way to teach language to the deaf-blind.
It must be remembered that Miss Sullivan had to solve her problems unaided by previous experience or the assistance of any other teacher. During the first year of her work with Helen Keller, in which she taught her pupil language, they were in Tuscumbia; and when they came North and visited the Perkins Institution, Helen Keller was never a regular student there or subject to the discipline of the Institution. The impression that Miss Sullivan educated Helen Keller "under the direction of Mr. Anagnos" is erroneous. In the three years during which at various times Miss Keller and Miss Sullivan were guests of the Perkins Institution, the teachers there did not help Miss Sullivan, and Mr. Anagnos did not even use the manual alphabet with facility as a means of communication. Mr. Anagnos wrote in the report of the Perkins Institution, dated November 27, 1888: "At my urgent request, Helen, accompanied by her mother and her teacher, came to the North in the last week of May, and spent several months with us as our guests.... We gladly allowed her to use freely our library of embossed books, our collection of stuffed animals, sea-shells, models of flowers and plants, and the rest of our apparatus for instructing the blind through the sense of touch. I do not doubt that she derived from them much pleasure and not a little profit. But whether Helen stays at home or makes visits in other parts of the country, her education is always under the immediate direction and exclusive control of her teacher. No one interferes with Miss Sullivan's plans, or shares in her tasks. She has been allowed entire freedom in the choice of means and methods for carrying on her great work; and, as we can judge by the results, she has made a most judicious and discreet use of this privilege. What the little pupil has thus far accomplished is widely known, and her wonderful attainments command general admiration; but only those who are familiar with the particulars of the grand achievement know that the credit is largely due to the intelligence, wisdom, sagacity, unremitting perseverance and unbending will of the instructress, who rescued the child from the depths of everlasting night and stillness, and watched over the different phases of her mental and moral development with maternal solicitude and enthusiastic devotion."
Here follow in order Miss Sullivan's letters and the most important passages from the reports. I have omitted from each succeeding report what has already been explained and does not need to be repeated. For the ease of the reader I have, with Miss Sullivan's consent, made the extracts run together continuously and supplied words of connection and the resulting necessary changes in syntax, and Miss Sullivan has made slight changes in the phrasing of her reports and also of her letters, which were carelessly written. I have also italicized a few important passages. Some of her opinions Miss Sullivan would like to enlarge and revise. That remains for her to do at another time. At present we have here the fullest record that has been published. The first letter is dated March 6, 1887, three days after her arrival in Tuscumbia.
...It was 6.30 when I reached Tuscumbia. I found Mrs. Keller and Mr. James Keller waiting for me. They said somebody had met every train for two days. The drive from the station to the house, a distance of one mile, was very lovely and restful. I was surprised to find Mrs. Keller a very young-looking woman, not much older than myself, I should think. Captain Keller met us in the yard and gave me a cheery welcome and a hearty handshake. My first question was, "Where is Helen?" I tried with all my might to control the eagerness that made me tremble so that I could hardly walk. As we approached the house I saw a child standing in the doorway, and Captain Keller said, "There she is. She has known all day that some one was expected, and she has been wild ever since her mother went to the station for you." I had scarcely put my foot on the steps, when she rushed toward me with such force that she would have thrown me backward if Captain Keller had not been behind me. She felt my face and dress and my bag, which she took out of my hand and tried to open. It did not open easily, and she felt carefully to see if there was a keyhole. Finding that there was, she turned to me, making the sign of turning a key and pointing to the bag. Her mother interfered at this point and showed Helen by signs that she must not touch the bag. Her face flushed, and when her mother attempted to take the bag from her, she grew very angry. I attracted her attention by showing her my watch and letting her hold it in her hand. Instantly the tempest subsided, and we went upstairs together. Here I opened the bag, and she went through it eagerly, probably expecting to find something to eat. Friends had probably brought her candy in their bags, and she expected to find some in mine. I made her understand, by pointing to a trunk in the hall and to myself and nodding my head, that I had a trunk, and then made the sign that she had used for eating, and nodded again. She understood in a flash and ran downstairs to tell her mother, by means of emphatic signs, that there was some candy in a trunk for her. She returned in a few minutes and helped me put away my things. It was too comical to see her put on my bonnet and cock her head first on one side, then on the other, and look in the mirror, just as if she could see. Somehow I had expected to see a pale, delicate child--I suppose I got the idea from Dr. Howe's description of Laura Bridgman when she came to the Institution. But there's nothing pale or delicate about Helen. She is large, strong, and ruddy, and as unrestrained in her movements as a young colt. She has none of those nervous habits that are so noticeable and so distressing in blind children. Her body is well formed and vigorous, and Mrs. Keller says she has not been ill a day since the illness that deprived her of her sight and hearing. She has a fine head, and it is set on her shoulders just right. Her face is hard to describe. It is intelligent, but lacks mobility, or soul, or something. Her mouth is large and finely shaped. You see at a glance that she is blind. One eye is larger than the other, and protrudes noticeably. She rarely smiles; indeed, I have seen her smile only once or twice since I came. She is unresponsive and even impatient of caresses from any one except her mother. She is very quick-tempered and wilful, and nobody, except her brother James, has attempted to control her. The greatest problem I shall have to solve is how to discipline and control her without breaking her spirit. I shall go rather slowly at first and try to win her love. I shall not attempt to conquer her by force alone; but I shall insist on reasonable obedience from the start. One thing that impresses everybody is Helen's tireless activity. She is never still a moment. She is here, there, and everywhere. Her hands are in everything; but nothing holds her attention for long. Dear child, her restless spirit gropes in the dark. Her untaught, unsatisfied hands destroy whatever they touch because they do not know what else to do with things.
She helped me unpack my trunk when it came, and was delighted when she found the doll the little girls sent her. I thought it a good opportunity to teach her her first word. I spelled "d-o-l-l" slowly in her hand and pointed to the doll and nodded my head, which seems to be her sign for possession. Whenever anybody gives her anything, she points to it, then to herself, and nods her head. She looked puzzled and felt my hand, and I repeated the letters. She imitated them very well and pointed to the doll. Then I took the doll, meaning to give it back to her when she had made the letters; but she thought I meant to take it from her, and in an instant she was in a temper, and tried to seize the doll. I shook my head and tried to form the letters with her fingers; but she got more and more angry. I forced her into a chair and held her there until I was nearly exhausted. Then it occurred to me that it was useless to continue the struggle--I must do something to turn the current of her thoughts. I let her go, but refused to give up the doll. I went downstairs and got some cake (she is very fond of sweets). I showed Helen the cake and spelled "c-a-k-e" in her hand, holding the cake toward her. Of course she wanted it and tried to take it; but I spelled the word again and patted her hand. She made the letters rapidly, and I gave her the cake, which she ate in a great hurry, thinking, I suppose, that I might take it from her. Then I showed her the doll and spelled the word again, holding the doll toward her as I held the cake. She made the letters "d-o-l"' and I made the other "l" and gave her the doll. She ran downstairs with it and could not be induced to return to my room all day.
Yesterday I gave her a sewing-card to do. I made the first row of vertical lines and let her feel it and notice that there were several rows of little holes. She began to work delightedly and finished the card in a few minutes, and did it very neatly indeed. I thought I would try another word; so I spelled "c-a-r-d." She made the "c-a," then stopped and thought, and making the sign for eating and pointing downward she pushed me toward the door, meaning that I must go downstairs for some cake. The two letters "c-a," you see, had reminded her of Fridays "lesson"--not that she had any idea that cake was the name of the thing, but it was simply a matter of association, I suppose. I finished the word "c-a-k-e" and obeyed her command. She was delighted. Then I spelled "d-o-l-l" and began to hunt for it. She follows with her hands every motion you make, and she knew that I was looking for the doll. She pointed down, meaning that the doll was downstairs. I made the signs that she had used when she wished me to go for the cake, and pushed her toward the door. She started forward, then hesitated a moment, evidently debating within herself whether she would go or not. She decided to send me instead. I shook my head and spelled "d-o-l-l" more emphatically, and opened the door for her; but she obstinately refused to obey. She had not finished the cake she was eating, and I took it away, indicating that if she brought the doll I would give her back the cake. She stood perfectly still for one long moment, her face crimson; then her desire for the cake triumphed, and she ran downstairs and brought the doll, and of course I gave her the cake, but could not persuade her to enter the room again.
She was very troublesome when I began to write this morning. She kept coming up behind me and putting her hand on the paper and into the ink-bottle. These blots are her handiwork. Finally I remembered the kindergarten beads, and set her to work stringing them. First I put on two wooden beads and one glass bead, then made her feel of the string and the two boxes of beads. She nodded and began at once to fill the string with wooden beads. I shook my head and took them all off and made her feel of the two wooden beads and the one glass bead. She examined them thoughtfully and began again. This time she put on the glass bead first and the two wooden ones next. I took them off and showed her that the two wooden ones must go on first, then the glass bead. She had no further trouble and filled the string quickly, too quickly, in fact. She tied the ends together when she had finished the string, and put the beads round her neck. I did not make the knot large enough in the next string, and the beads came off as fast as she put them on; but she solved the difficulty herself by putting the string through a bead and tying it. I thought this very clever. She amused herself with the beads until dinner-time, bringing the strings to me now and then for my approval.
My eyes are very much inflamed. I know this letter is very carelessly written. I had a lot to say, and couldn't stop to think how to express things neatly. Please do not show my letter to any one. If you want to, you may read it to my friends.
I had a battle royal with Helen this morning. Although I try very hard not to force issues, I find it very difficult to avoid them.
Helen's table manners are appalling. She puts her hands in our plates and helps herself, and when the dishes are passed, she grabs them and takes out whatever she wants. This morning I would not let her put her hand in my plate. She persisted, and a contest of wills followed. Naturally the family was much disturbed, and left the room. I locked the dining-room door, and proceeded to eat my breakfast, though the food almost choked me. Helen was lying on the floor, kicking and screaming and trying to pull my chair from under me. She kept this up for half an hour, then she got up to see what I was doing. I let her see that I was eating, but did not let her put her hand in the plate. She pinched me, and I slapped her every time she did it. Then she went all round the table to see who was there, and finding no one but me, she seemed bewildered. After a few minutes she came back to her place and began to eat her breakfast with her fingers. I gave her a spoon, which she threw on the floor. I forced her out of the chair and made her pick it up. Finally I succeeded in getting her back in her chair again, and held the spoon in her hand, compelling her to take up the food with it and put it in her mouth. In a few minutes she yielded and finished her breakfast peaceably. Then we had another tussle over folding her napkin. When she had finished, she threw it on the floor and ran toward the door. Finding it locked, she began to kick and scream all over again. It was another hour before I succeeded in getting her napkin folded. Then I let her out into the warm sunshine and went up to my room and threw myself on the bed exhausted. I had a good cry and felt better. I suppose I shall have many such battles with the little woman before she learns the only two essential things I can teach her, obedience and love.
Good-by, dear. Don't worry; I'll do my best and leave the rest to whatever power manages that which we cannot. I like Mrs. Keller very much.
Tuscumbia, Alabama, March 11, 1887.
Since I wrote you, Helen and I have gone to live all by ourselves in a little garden-house about a quarter of a mile from her home, only a short distance from Ivy Green, the Keller homestead. I very soon made up my mind that I could do nothing with Helen in the midst of the family, who have always allowed her to do exactly as she pleased. She has tyrannized over everybody, her mother, her father, the servants, the little darkies who play with her, and nobody had ever seriously disputed her will, except occasionally her brother James, until I came; and like all tyrants she holds tenaciously to her divine right to do as she pleases. If she ever failed to get what she wanted, it was because of her inability to make the vassals of her household understand what it was. Every thwarted desire was the signal for a passionate outburst, and as she grew older and stronger, these tempests became more violent. As I began to teach her, I was beset by many difficulties. She wouldn't yield a point without contesting it to the bitter end. I couldn't coax her or compromise with her. To get her to do the simplest thing, such as combing her hair or washing her hands or buttoning her boots, it was necessary to use force, and, of course, a distressing scene followed. The family naturally felt inclined to interfere, especially her father, who cannot bear to see her cry. So they were all willing to give in for the sake of peace. Besides, her past experiences and associations were all against me. I saw clearly that it was useless to try to teach her language or anything else until she learned to obey me. I have thought about it a great deal, and the more I think, the more certain I am that obedience is the gateway through which knowledge, yes, and love, too, enter the mind of the child. As I wrote you, I meant to go slowly at first. I had an idea that I could win the love and confidence of my little pupil by the same means that I should use if she could see and hear. But I soon found that I was cut off from all the usual approaches to the child's heart. She accepted everything I did for her as a matter of course, and refused to be caressed, and there was no way of appealing to her affection or sympathy or childish love of approbation. She would or she wouldn't, and there was an end of it. Thus it is, we study, plan and prepare ourselves for a task, and when the hour for action arrives, we find that the system we have followed with such labour and pride does not fit the occasion; and then there's nothing for us to do but rely on something within us, some innate capacity for knowing and doing, which we did not know we possessed until the hour of our great need brought it to light.
I had a good, frank talk with Mrs. Keller, and explained to her how difficult it was going to be to do anything with Helen under the existing circumstances. I told her that in my opinion the child ought to be separated from the family for a few weeks at least--that she must learn to depend on and obey me before I could make any headway. After a long time Mrs. Keller said that she would think the matter over and see what Captain Keller thought of sending Helen away with me. Captain Keller fell in with the scheme most readily and suggested that the little garden-house at the "old place" be got ready for us. He said that Helen might recognize the place, as she had often been there, but she would have no idea of her surroundings, and they could come every day to see that all was going well, with the understanding, of course, that she was to know nothing of their visits. I hurried the preparations for our departure as much as possible, and here we are.
The little house is a genuine bit of paradise. It consists of one large square room with a great fireplace, a spacious bay-window, and a small room where our servant, a little negro boy, sleeps. There is a piazza in front, covered with vines that grow so luxuriantly that you have to part them to see the garden beyond. Our meals are brought from the house, and we usually eat on the piazza. The little negro boy takes care of the fire when we need one, so I can give my whole attention to Helen.
She was greatly excited at first, and kicked and screamed herself into a sort of stupor, but when supper was brought she ate heartily and seemed brighter, although she refused to let me touch her. She devoted herself to her dolls the first evening, and when it was bedtime she undressed very quietly, but when she felt me get into bed with her, she jumped out on the other side, and nothing that I could do would induce her to get in again. But I was afraid she would take cold, and I insisted that she must go to bed. We had a terrific tussle, I can tell you. The struggle lasted for nearly two hours. I never saw such strength and endurance in a child. But fortunately for us both, I am a little stronger, and quite as obstinate when I set out. I finally succeeded in getting her on the bed and covered her up, and she lay curled up as near the edge of the bed as possible.
The next morning she was very docile, but evidently homesick. She kept going to the door, as if she expected some one, and every now and then she would touch her cheek, which is her sign for her mother, and shake her head sadly. She played with her dolls more than usual, and would have nothing to do with me. It is amusing and pathetic to see Helen with her dolls. I don't think she has any special tenderness for them--I have never seen her caress them; but she dresses and undresses them many times during the day and handles them exactly as she has seen her mother and the nurse handle her baby sister.
This morning Nancy, her favourite doll, seemed to have some difficulty about swallowing the milk that was being administered to her in large spoonfuls; for Helen suddenly put down the cup and began to slap her on the back and turn her over on her knees, trotting her gently and patting her softly all the time. This lasted for several minutes; then this mood passed, and Nancy was thrown ruthlessly on the floor and pushed to one side, while a large, pink-cheeked, fuzzy-haired member of the family received the little mother's undivided attention.
Helen knows several words now, but has no idea how to use them, or that everything has a name. I think, however, she will learn quickly enough by and by. As I have said before, she is wonderfully bright and active and as quick as lightning in her movements.
March 13, 1887.
You will be glad to hear that my experiment is working out finely. I have not had any trouble at all with Helen, either yesterday or to-day. She has learned three new words, and when I give her the objects, the names of which she has learned, she spells them unhesitatingly; but she seems glad when the lesson is over.
We had a good frolic this morning out in the garden. Helen evidently knew where she was as soon as she touched the boxwood hedges, and made many signs which I did not understand. No doubt they were signs for the different members of the family at Ivy Green.
I have just heard something that surprised me very much. It seems that Mr. Anagnos had heard of Helen before he received Captain Keller's letter last summer. Mr. Wilson, a teacher at Florence, and a friend of the Kellers', studied at Harvard the summer before and went to the Perkins Institution to learn if anything could be done for his friend's child. He saw a gentleman whom he presumed to be the director, and told him about Helen. He says the gentleman was not particularly interested, but said he would see if anything could be done. Doesn't it seem strange that Mr. Anagnos never referred to this interview?
March 20, 1887.
My heart is singing for joy this morning. A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil's mind, and behold, all things are changed!
The wild little creature of two weeks ago has been transformed into a gentle child. She is sitting by me as I write, her face serene and happy, crocheting a long red chain of Scotch wool. She learned the stitch this week, and is very proud of the achievement. When she succeeded in making a chain that would reach across the room, she patted herself on the arm and put the first work of her hands lovingly against her cheek. She lets me kiss her now, and when she is in a particularly gentle mood, she will sit in my lap for a minute or two; but she does not return my caresses. The great step--the step that counts--has been taken. The little savage has learned her first lesson in obedience, and finds the yoke easy. It now remains my pleasant task to direct and mould the beautiful intelligence that is beginning to stir in the child-soul. Already people remark the change in Helen. Her father looks in at us morning and evening as he goes to and from his office, and sees her contentedly stringing her beads or making horizontal lines on her sewing-card, and exclaims, "How quiet she is!" When I came, her movements were so insistent that one always felt there was something unnatural and almost weird about her. I have noticed also that she eats much less, a fact which troubles her father so much that he is anxious to get her home. He says she is homesick. I don't agree with him; but I suppose we shall have to leave our little bower very soon.
Helen has learned several nouns this week. "M-u-g" and "m-i-l-k," have given her more trouble than other words. When she spells "milk," she points to the mug, and when she spells "mug," she makes the sign for pouring or drinking, which shows that she has confused the words. She has no idea yet that everything has a name.
Yesterday I had the little negro boy come in when Helen was having her lesson, and learn the letters, too. This pleased her very much and stimulated her ambition to excel Percy. She was delighted if he made a mistake, and made him form the letter over several times. When he succeeded in forming it to suit her, she patted him on his woolly head so vigorously that I thought some of his slips were intentional.
One day this week Captain Keller brought Belle, a setter of which he is very proud, to see us. He wondered if Helen would recognize her old playmate. Helen was giving Nancy a bath, and didn't notice the dog at first. She usually feels the softest step and throws out her arms to ascertain if any one is near her. Belle didn't seem very anxious to attract her attention. I imagine she has been rather roughly handled sometimes by her little mistress. The dog hadn't been in the room more than half a minute, however, before Helen began to sniff, and dumped the doll into the wash-bowl and felt about the room. She stumbled upon Belle, who was crouching near the window where Captain Keller was standing. It was evident that she recognized the dog; for she put her arms round her neck and squeezed her. Then Helen sat down by her and began to manipulate her claws. We couldn't think for a second what she was doing; but when we saw her make the letters "d-o-l-l" on her own fingers, we knew that she was trying to teach Belle to spell.
March 28, 1887.
Helen and I came home yesterday. I am sorry they wouldn't let us stay another week; but I think I have made the most I could of the opportunities that were mine the past two weeks, and I don't expect that I shall have any serious trouble with Helen in the future. The back of the greatest obstacle in the path of progress is broken. I think "no" and "yes," conveyed by a shake or a nod of my head, have become facts as apparent to her as hot and cold or as the difference between pain and pleasure. And I don't intend that the lesson she has learned at the cost of so much pain and trouble shall be unlearned. I shall stand between her and the over-indulgence of her parents. I have told Captain and Mrs. Keller that they must not interfere with me in any way. I have done my best to make them see the terrible injustice to Helen of allowing her to have her way in everything, and I have pointed out that the processes of teaching the child that everything cannot be as he wills it, are apt to be painful both to him and to his teacher. They have promised to let me have a free hand and help me as much as possible. The improvement they cannot help seeing in their child has given them more confidence in me. Of course, it is hard for them. I realize that it hurts to see their afflicted little child punished and made to do things against her will. Only a few hours after my talk with Captain and Mrs. Keller (and they had agreed to everything), Helen took a notion that she wouldn't use her napkin at table. I think she wanted to see what would happen. I attempted several times to put the napkin round her neck; but each time she tore it off and threw it on the floor and finally began to kick the table. I took her plate away and started to take her out of the room. Her father objected and said that no child of his should be deprived of his food on any account.
Helen didn't come up to my room after supper, and I didn't see her again until breakfast-time. She was at her place when I came down. She had put the napkin under her chin, instead of pinning it at the back, as was her custom. She called my attention to the new arrangement, and when I did not object she seemed pleased and patted herself. When she left the dining-room, she took my hand and patted it. I wondered if she was trying to "make up." I thought I would try the effect of a little belated discipline. I went back to the dining-room and got a napkin. When Helen came upstairs for her lesson, I arranged the objects on the table as usual, except that the cake, which I always give her in bits as a reward when she spells a word quickly and correctly, was not there. She noticed this at once and made the sign for it. I showed her the napkin and pinned it round her neck, then tore it off and threw it on the floor and shook my head. I repeated this performance several times. I think she understood perfectly well; for she slapped her hand two or three times and shook her head. We began the lesson as usual. I gave her an object, and she spelled the name (she knows twelve now). After spelling half the words, she stopped suddenly, as if a thought had flashed into her mind, and felt for the napkin. She pinned it round her neck and made the sign for cake (it didn't occur to her to spell the word, you see). I took this for a promise that if I gave her some cake she would be a good girl. I gave her a larger piece than usual, and she chuckled and patted herself.
April 3, 1887.
We almost live in the garden, where everything is growing and blooming and glowing. After breakfast we go out and watch the men at work. Helen loves to dig and play in the dirt like any other child. This morning she planted her doll and showed me that she expected her to grow as tall as I. You must see that she is very bright, but you have no idea how cunning she is.
At ten we come in and string beads for a few minutes. She can make a great many combinations now, and often invents new ones herself. Then I let her decide whether she will sew or knit or crochet. She learned to knit very quickly, and is making a wash-cloth for her mother. Last week she made her doll an apron, and it was done as well as any child of her age could do it. But I am always glad when this work is over for the day. Sewing and crocheting are inventions of the devil, I think. I'd rather break stones on the king's highway than hem a handkerchief. At eleven we have gymnastics. She knows all the free-hand movements and the "Anvil Chorus" with the dumb-bells. Her father says he is going to fit up a gymnasium for her in the pump-house; but we both like a good romp better than set exercises. The hour from twelve to one is devoted to the learning of new words. BUT YOU MUSTN'T THINK THIS IS THE ONLY TIME I SPELL TO HELEN; FOR I SPELL IN HER HAND EVERYTHING WE DO ALL DAY LONG, ALTHOUGH SHE HAS NO IDEA AS YET WHAT THE SPELLING MEANS. After dinner I rest for an hour, and Helen plays with her dolls or frolics in the yard with the little darkies, who were her constant companions before I came. Later I join them, and we make the rounds of the outhouses. We visit the horses and mules in their stalls and hunt for eggs and feed the turkeys. Often, when the weather is fine, we drive from four to six, or go to see her aunt at Ivy Green or her cousins in the town. Helen's instincts are decidedly social; she likes to have people about her and to visit her friends, partly, I think, because they always have things she likes to eat. After supper we go to my room and do all sorts of things until eight, when I undress the little woman and put her to bed. She sleeps with me now. Mrs. Keller wanted to get a nurse for her, but I concluded I'd rather be her nurse than look after a stupid, lazy negress. Besides, I like to have Helen depend on me for everything, AND I FIND IT MUCH EASIER TO TEACH HER THINGS AT ODD MOMENTS THAN AT SET TIMES.
On March 31st I found that Helen knew eighteen nouns and three verbs. Here is a list of the words. Those with a cross after them are words she asked for herself: DOLL, MUG, PIN, KEY, DOG, HAT, CUP, BOX, WATER, MILK, CANDY, EYE (X), FINGER (X), TOE (X), HEAD (X), CAKE, BABY, MOTHER, SIT, STAND, WALK. On April 1st she learned the nouns KNIFE, FORK, SPOON, SAUCER, TEA, PAPA, BED, and the verb RUN.
April 5, 1887.
I must write you a line this morning because something very important has happened. Helen has taken the second great step in her education. She has learned that EVERYTHING HAS A NAME, AND THAT THE MANUAL ALPHABET IS THE KEY TO EVERYTHING SHE WANTS TO KNOW.
In a previous letter I think I wrote you that "mug" and "milk" had given Helen more trouble than all the rest. She confused the nouns with the verb "drink." She didn't know the word for "drink," but went through the pantomime of drinking whenever she spelled "mug" or "milk." This morning, while she was washing, she wanted to know the name for "water." When she wants to know the name of anything, she points to it and pats my hand. I spelled "w-a-t-e-r" and thought no more about it until after breakfast. Then it occurred to me that with the help of this new word I might succeed in straightening out the "mug-milk" difficulty. We went out to the pump-house, and I made Helen hold her mug under the spout while I pumped. As the cold water gushed forth, filling the mug, I spelled "w-a-t-e-r" in Helen's free hand. The word coming so close upon the sensation of cold water rushing over her hand seemed to startle her. She dropped the mug and stood as one transfixed. A new light came into her face. She spelled "water" several times. Then she dropped on the ground and asked for its name and pointed to the pump and the trellis, and suddenly turning round she asked for my name. I spelled "Teacher." Just then the nurse brought Helen's little sister into the pump-house, and Helen spelled "baby" and pointed to the nurse. All the way back to the house she was highly excited, and learned the name of every object she touched, so that in a few hours she had adDED THIRTY NEW WORDS TO HER VOCABULARY. HERE ARE SOME OF THEM: DOOR, OPEN, SHUT, GIVE, GO, COME, and a great many more.
P.S.--I didn't finish my letter in time to get it posted last night; so I shall add a line. Helen got up this morning like a radiant fairy. She has flitted from object to object, asking the name of everything and kissing me for very gladness. Last night when I got in bed, she stole into my arms of her own accord and kissed me for the first time, and I thought my heart would burst, so full was it of joy.
April 10, 1887.
I see an improvement in Helen day to day, almost from hour to hour. Everything must have a name now. Wherever we go, she asks eagerly for the names of things she has not learned at home. She is anxious for her friends to spell, and eager to teach the letters to every one she meets. She drops the signs and pantomime she used before, as soon as she has words to supply their place, and the acquirement of a new word affords her the liveliest pleasure. And we notice that her face grows more expressive each day.
I HAVE DECIDED NOT TO TRY TO HAVE REGULAR LESSONS FOR THE PRESENT. I AM GOING TO TREAT HELEN EXACTLY LIKE A TWO-YEAR-OLD CHILD. IT OCCURRED TO ME THE OTHER DAY THAT IT IS ABSURD TO REQUIRE A CHILD TO COME TO A CERTAIN PLACE AT A CERTAIN TIME AND RECITE CERTAIN LESSONS, WHEN HE HAS NOT YET ACQUIRED A WORKING VOCABULARY. I sent Helen away and sat down to think. I asked myself, "How does a normal child learn language?" The answer was simple, "By imitation." The child comes into the world with the ability to learn, and he learns of himself, provided he is supplied with sufficient outward stimulus. He sees people do things, and he tries to do them. He hears others speak, and he tried to speak. BUT LONG BEFORE HE UTTERS HIS FIRST WORD, HE UNDERSTANDS WHAT IS SAID TO HIM. I have been observing Helen's little cousin lately. She is about fifteen months old, and already understands a great deal. In response to questions she points out prettily her nose, mouth, eye, chin, cheek, ear. If I say, "Where is baby's other ear?" she points it out correctly. If I hand her a flower, and say, "Give it to mamma," she takes it to her mother. If I say, "Where is the little rogue?" she hides behind her mother's chair, or covers her face with her hands and peeps out at me with an expression of genuine roguishness. She obeys many commands like these: "Come," "Kiss," "Go to papa," "Shut the door," "Give me the biscuit." But I have not heard her try to say any of these words, although they have been repeated hundreds of times in her hearing, and it is perfectly evident that she understands them. These observations have given me a clue to the method to be followed in teaching Helen language.I SHALL TALK INTO HER HAND AS WE TALK INTO THE BABY'S EARS. I shall assume that she has the normal child's capacity of assimilation and imitation. I SHALL USE COMPLETE SENTENCES IN TALKING TO HER, and fill out the meaning with gestures and her descriptive signs when necessity requires it; but I shall not try to keep her mind fixed on any one thing. I shall do all I can to interest and stimulate it, and wait for results.
April 24, 1887.
The new scheme works splendidly. Helen knows the meaning of more than a hundred words now, and learns new ones daily without the slightest suspicion that she is performing a most difficult feat. She learns because she can't help it, just as the bird learns to fly. But don't imagine that she "talks fluently." Like her baby cousin, she expresses whole sentences by single words. "Milk," with a gesture means, "Give me more milk." "Mother," accompanied by an inquiring look, means, "Were is mother?" "Go" means, "I want to go out." But when I spell into her hand, "Give me some bread," she hands me the bread, or if I say, "Get your hat and we will go to walk," she obeys instantly. The two words, "hat" and "walk" would have the same effect; BUT THE WHOLE SENTENCE, REPEATED MANY TIMES DURING THE DAY, MUST IN TIME IMPRESS ITSELF UPON THE BRAIN, AND BY AND BY SHE WILL USE IT HERSELF.
We play a little game which I find most useful in developing the intellect, and which incidentally answers the purpose of a language lesson. It is an adaptation of hide-the-thimble. I hide something, a ball or a spool, and we hunt for it. When we first played this game two or three days ago, she showed no ingenuity at all in finding the object. She looked in places where it would have been impossible to put the ball or the spool. For instance, when I hid the ball, she looked under her writing-board. Again, when I hid the spool, she looked for it in a little box not more than an inch long; and she very soon gave up the search. Now I can keep up her interest in the game for an hour or longer, and she shows much more intelligence, and often great ingenuity in the search. This morning I hid a cracker. She looked everywhere she could think of without success, and was evidently in despair when suddenly a thought struck her, and she came running to me and made me open my mouth very wide, while she gave it a thorough investigation. Finding no trace of the cracker there, she pointed to my stomach and spelled "eat," meaning, "Did you eat it?"
Friday we went down town and met a gentleman who gave Helen some candy, which she ate, except one small piece which she put in her apron pocket. When we reached home, she found her mother, and of her own accord said, "Give baby candy." Mrs. Keller spelled, "No--baby eat--no." Helen went to the cradle and felt of Mildred's mouth and pointed to her own teeth. Mrs. Keller spelled "teeth." Helen shook her head and spelled "Baby teeth--no, baby eat--no," meaning of course, "Baby cannot eat because she has no teeth."
May 8, 1887.
No, I don't want any more kindergarten materials. I used my little stock of beads, cards and straws at first because I didn't know what else to do; but the need for them is past, for the present at any rate.
I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of, before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.
Helen is learning adjectives and adverbs as easily as she learned nouns. The idea always precedes the word. She had signs for SMALL and LARGE long before I came to her. If she wanted a small object and was given a large one, she would shake her head and take up a tiny bit of the skin of one hand between the thumb and finger of the other. If she wanted to indicate something large, she spread the fingers of both hands as wide as she could, and brought them together, as if to clasp a big ball. The other day I substituted the words SMALL and LARGE for these signs, and she at once adopted the words and discarded the signs. I can now tell her to bring me a large book or a small plate, to go upstairs slowly, to run fast and to walk quickly. This morning she used the conjunction AND for the first time. I told her to shut the door, and she added, "and lock."
She came tearing upstairs a few minutes ago in a state of great excitement. I couldn't make out at first what it was all about. She kept spelling "dog--baby" and pointing to her five fingers one after another, and sucking them. My first thought was, one of the dogs has hurt Mildred; but Helen's beaming face set my fears at rest. Nothing would do but I must go somewhere with her to see something. She led the way to the pump-house, and there in the corner was one of the setters with five dear little pups! I taught her the word "puppy" and drew her hand over them all, while they sucked, and spelled "puppies." She was much interested in the feeding process, and spelled "mother-dog" and "baby" several times. Helen noticed that the puppies' eyes were closed, and she said, "Eyes--shut. Sleep--no," meaning, "The eyes are shut, but the puppies are not asleep." She screamed with glee when the little things squealed and squirmed in their efforts to get back to their mother, and spelled, "Baby--eat large." I suppose her idea was "Baby eats much." She pointed to each puppy, one after another, and to her five fingers, and I taught her the word FIVE. Then she held up one finger and said "baby." I knew she was thinking of Mildred, and I spelled, "One baby and five puppies." After she had played with them a little while, the thought occurred to her that the puppies must have special names, like people, and she asked for the name of each pup. I told her to ask her father, and she said, "No--mother." She evidently thought mothers were more likely to know about babies of all sorts. She noticed that one of the puppies was much smaller than the others, and she spelled "small," making the sign at the same time, and I said "very small." She evidently understood that VERY was the name of the new thing that had come into her head; for all the way back to the house she used the word VERY correctly. One stone was "small," another was "very small." When she touched her little sister, she said: "Baby--small. Puppy- very small." Soon after, she began to vary her steps from large to small, and little mincing steps were "very small." She is going through the house now, applying the new words to all kinds of objects.
Since I have abandoned the idea of regular lessons, I find that Helen learns much faster. I am convinced that the time spent by the teacher in digging out of the child what she has put into him, for the sake of satisfying herself that it has taken root, is so much time thrown away. IT'S MUCH BETTER, I THINK, TO ASSUME THAT THE CHILD IS DOING HIS PART, AND THAT THE SEED YOU HAVE SOWN WILL BEAR FRUIT IN DUE TIME. It's only fair to the child, anyhow, and it saves you much unnecessary trouble.
May 16, 1887.
We have begun to take long walks every morning, immediately after breakfast. The weather is fine, and the air is full of the scent of strawberries. Our objective point is Keller's Landing, on the Tennessee, about two miles distant. We never know how we get there, or where we are at a given moment; but that only adds to our enjoyment, especially when everything is new and strange. Indeed, I feel as if I had never seen anything until now, Helen finds so much to ask about along the way. We chase butterflies, and sometimes catch one. Then we sit down under a tree, or in the shade of a bush, and talk about it. Afterwards, if it has survived the lesson, we let it go; but usually its life and beauty are sacrificed on the altar of learning, though in another sense it lives forever; for has it not been transformed into living thoughts? It is wonderful how words generate ideas! Every new word Helen learns seems to carry with it necessity for many more. Her mind grows through its ceaseless activity.
Keller's Landing was used during the war to land troops, but has long since gone to pieces, and is overgrown with moss and weeds. The solitude of the place sets one dreaming. Near the landing there is a beautiful little spring, which Helen calls "squirrel-cup," because I told her the squirrels came there to drink. She has felt dead squirrels and rabbits and other wild animals, and is anxious to see a "walk-squirrel," which interpreted, means, I think, a "live squirrel." We go home about dinner-time usually, and Helen is eager to tell her mother everything she has seen. THIS DESIRE TO REPEAT WHAT HAS BEEN TOLD HER SHOWS A MARKED ADVANCE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF HER INTELLECT, AND IS AN INVALUABLE STIMULUS TO THE ACQUISITION OF LANGUAGE. I ASK ALL HER FRIENDS TO ENCOURAGE HER TO TELL THEM OF HER DOINGS, AND TO MANIFEST AS MUCH CURIOSITY AND PLEASURE IN HER LITTLE ADVENTURES AS THEY POSSIBLY CAN. This gratifies the child's love of approbation and keeps up her interest in things. This is the basis of real intercourse. She makes many mistakes, of course, twists words and phrases, puts the cart before the horse, and gets herself into hopeless tangles of nouns and verbs; but so does the hearing child. I am sure these difficulties will take care of themselves. The impulse to tell is the important thing. I supply a word here and there, sometimes a sentence, and suggest something which she has omitted or forgotten. Thus her vocabulary grows apace, and the new words germinate and bring forth new ideas; and they are the stuff out of which heaven and earth are made.
May 22, 1887.
My work grows more absorbing and interesting every day. Helen is a wonderful child, so spontaneous and eager to learn. She knows about 300 words now and A GREAT MANY COMMON IDIOMS, and it is not three months yet since she learned her first word. It is a rare privilege to watch the birth, growth, and first feeble struggles of a living mind; this privilege is mine; and moreover, it is given me to rouse and guide this bright intelligence.
If only I were better fitted for the great task! I feel every day more and more inadequate. My mind is full of ideas; but I cannot get them into working shape. You see, my mind is undisciplined, full of skips and jumps, and here and there a lot of things huddled together in dark corners. How I long to put it in order! Oh, if only there were some one to help me! I need a teacher quite as much as Helen. I know that the education of this child will be the distinguishing event of my life, if I have the brains and perseverance to accomplish it. I have made up my mind about one thing: Helen must learn to use books- indeed, we must both learn to use them, and that reminds me--will you please ask Mr. Anagnos to get me Perez's and Sully's Psychologies? I think I shall find them helpful.
We have reading lessons every day. Usually we take one of the little "Readers" up in a big tree near the house and spend an hour or two finding the words Helen already knows. WE MAKE A SORT OF GAME OF IT and try to see who can find the words most quickly, Helen with her fingers, or I with my eyes, and she learns as many new words as I can explain with the help of those she knows. When her fingers light upon words she knows, she fairly screams with pleasure and hugs and kisses me for joy, especially if she thinks she has me beaten. It would astonish you to see how many words she learns in an hour in this pleasant manner. Afterward I put the new words into little sentences in the frame, and sometimes it is possible to tell a little story about a bee or a cat or a little boy in this way. I can now tell her to go upstairs or down, out of doors or into the house, lock or unlock a door, take or bring objects, sit, stand, walk, run, lie, creep, roll, or climb. She is delighted with action-words; so it is no trouble at all to teach her verbs. She is always ready for a lesson, and the eagerness with which she absorbs ideas is very delightful. She is as triumphant over the conquest of a sentence as a general who has captured the enemy's stronghold.
One of Helen's old habits, that is strongest and hardest to correct, is a tendency to break things. If she finds anything in her way, she flings it on the floor, no matter what it is: a glass, a pitcher, or even a lamp. She has a great many dolls, and every one of them has been broken in a fit of temper or ennui. The other day a friend brought her a new doll from Memphis, and I thought I would see if I could make Helen understand that she must not break it. I made her go through the motion of knocking the doll's head on the table and spelled to her: "No, no, Helen is naughty. Teacher is sad," and let her feel the grieved expression on my face. Then I made her caress the doll and kiss the hurt spot and hold it gently in her arms, and I spelled to her, "Good Helen, teacher is happy," and let her feel the smile on my face. She went through these motions several times, mimicking every movement, then she stood very still for a moment with a troubled look on her face, which suddenly cleared, and she spelled, "Good Helen," and wreathed her face in a very large, artificial smile. Then she carried the doll upstairs and put it on the top shelf of the wardrobe, and she has not touched it since.
Please give my kind regards to Mr. Anagnos and let him see my letter, if you think best. I hear there is a deaf and blind child being educated at the Baltimore Institution.
June 2, 1887.
The weather is scorching. We need rain badly. We are all troubled about Helen. She is very nervous and excitable. She is restless at night and has no appetite. It is hard to know what to do with her. The doctor says her mind is too active; but how are we to keep her from thinking? She begins to spell the minute she wakes up in the morning, and continues all day long. If I refuse to talk to her, she spells into her own hand, and apparently carries on the liveliest conversation with herself.
I gave her my braille slate to play with, thinking that the mechanical pricking of holes in the paper would amuse her and rest her mind. But what was my astonishment when I found that the little witch was writing letters! I had no idea she knew what a letter was. She has often gone with me to the post-office to mail letters, and I suppose I have repeated to her things I wrote to you. She knew, too, that I sometimes write "letters to blind girls" on the slate; but I didn't suppose that she had any clear idea what a letter was. One day she brought me a sheet that she had punched full of holes, and wanted to put it in an envelope and take it to the post-office. She said, "Frank--letter." I asked her what she had written to Frank. She replied, "Much words. Puppy motherdog--five. Baby--cry. Hot. Helen walk--no. Sunfire--bad. Frank--come. Helen--kiss Frank. Strawberries--very good."
Helen is almost as eager to read as she is to talk. I find she grasps the import of whole sentences, catching from the context the meaning of words she doesn't know; and her eager questions indicate the outward reaching of her mind and its unusual powers.
The other night when I went to bed, I found Helen sound asleep with a big book clasped tightly in her arms. She had evidently been reading, and fallen asleep. When I asked her about it in the morning, she said, "Book--cry," and completed her meaning by shaking and other signs of fear. I taught her the word AFRAID, and she said: "Helen is not afraid. Book is afraid. Book will sleep with girl." I told her that the book wasn't afraid, and must sleep in its case, and that "girl" mustn't read in bed. She looked very roguish, and apparently understood that I saw through her ruse.
I am glad Mr. Anagnos thinks so highly of me as a teacher. But "genius" and "originality" are words we should not use lightly. If, indeed, they apply to me even remotely, I do not see that I deserve any laudation on that account.
And right here I want to say something which is for your ears alone. Something within me tells me that I shall succeed beyond my dreams. Were it not for some circumstances that make such an idea highly improbable, even absurd.