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The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller

 

Part II: Letters (1887 - 1901)

 

1890

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TO DR. EDWARD EVERETT HALE

South Boston, Jan. 8, 1890.

 

My dear Mr. Hale:

The beautiful shells came last night. I thank you very much for them. I shall always keep them, and it will make me very happy to think that you found them, on that far away island, from which Columbus sailed to discover our dear country. When I am eleven years old it will be four hundred years since he started with the three small ships to cross the great strange ocean. He was very brave. The little girls were delighted to see the lovely shells. I told them all I knew about them. Are you very glad that you could make so many happy? I am. I should be very happy to come and teach you the Braille sometime, if you have time to learn, but I am afraid you are too busy. A few days ago I received a little box of English violets from Lady Meath. The flowers were wilted, but the kind thought which came with them was as sweet and as fresh as newly pulled violets.

 

With loving greeting to the little cousins, and Mrs. Hale and a sweet kiss for yourself,

From your little friend,

HELEN A. KELLER.

 

This, the first of Helen's letters to Dr. Holmes, written soon after a visit to him, he published in "Over the Teacups."

[Atlantic Monthly, May, 1890]

TO DR. OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

South Boston, Mass., March 1, 1890.

 

Dear, Kind Poet:--I have thought of you many times since that bright Sunday when I bade you good-bye; and I am going to write you a letter, because I love you. I am sorry that you have no little children to play with you sometimes; but I think you are very happy with your books, and your many, many friends. On Washington's birthday a great many people came here to see the blind children; and I read for them from your poems, and showed them some beautiful shells, which came from a little island near Palos.

 

I am reading a very sad story, called "Little Jakey." Jakey was the sweetest little fellow you can imagine, but he was poor and blind. I used to think--when I was small, and before I could read--that everybody was always happy, and at first it made me very sad to know about pain and great sorrow; but now I know that we could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.

 

I am studying about insects in zoology, and I have learned many things about butterflies. They do not make honey for us, like the bees, but many of them are as beautiful as the flowers they light upon, and they always delight the hearts of little children. They live a gay life, flitting from flower to flower, sipping the drops of honeydew, without a thought for the morrow. They are just like little boys and girls when they forget books and studies, and run away to the woods and the fields, to gather wild flowers, or wade in the ponds for fragrant lilies, happy in the bright sunshine.

 

If my little sister comes to Boston next June, will you let me bring her to see you? She is a lovely baby, and I am sure you will love her.

 

Now I must tell my gentle poet good-bye, for I have a letter to write home before I go to bed.

From your loving little friend,

HELEN A. KELLER.  

  

TO MISS SARAH FULLER [Miss Fuller gave Helen Keller her first lesson in articulation. See Chapter IV, Speech.]

South Boston, Mass., April 3, 1890.

 

My dear Miss Fuller,

My heart is full of joy this beautiful morning, because I have learned to speak many new words, and I can make a few sentences. Last evening I went out in the yard and spoke to the moon. I said, "O! moon come to me!" Do you think the lovely moon was glad that I could speak to her? How glad my mother will be. I can hardly wait for June to come I am so eager to speak to her and to my precious little sister. Mildred could not understand me when I spelled with my fingers, but now she will sit in my lap and I will tell her many things to please her, and we shall be so happy together. Are you very, very happy because you can make so many people happy? I think you are very kind and patient, and I love you very dearly. My teacher told me Tuesday that you wanted to know how I came to wish to talk with my mouth. I will tell you all about it, for I remember my thoughts perfectly. When I was a very little child I used to sit in my mother's lap all the time, because I was very timid, and did not like to be left by myself. And I would keep my little hand on her face all the while, because it amused me to feel her face and lips move when she talked with people. I did not know then what she was doing, for I was quite ignorant of all things. Then when I was older I learned to play with my nurse and the little negro children and I noticed that they kept moving their lips just like my mother, so I moved mine too, but sometimes it made me angry and I would hold my playmates' mouths very hard. I did not know then that it was very naughty to do so. After a long time my dear teacher came to me, and taught me to communicate with my fingers and I was satisfied and happy. But when I came to school in Boston I met some deaf people who talked with their mouths like all other people, and one day a lady who had been to Norway came to see me, and told me of a blind and deaf girl [Ragnhild Kaata] she had seen in that far away land who had been taught to speak and understand others when they spoke to her. This good and happy news delighted me exceedingly, for then I was sure that I should learn also. I tried to make sounds like my little playmates, but teacher told me that the voice was very delicate and sensitive and that it would injure it to make incorrect sounds, and promised to take me to see a kind and wise lady who would teach me rightly. That lady was yourself. Now I am as happy as the little birds, because I can speak and perhaps I shall sing too. All of my friends will be so surprised and glad.

Your loving little pupil,

HELEN A. KELLER.

 

When the Perkins Institution closed for the summer, Helen and Miss Sullivan went to Tuscumbia. This was the first home-going after she had learned to "talk with her mouth."

TO  REV. PHILLIPS BROOKS

Tuscumbia, Alabama, July 14, 1890.

 

My dear Mr. Brooks, I am very glad to write to you this beautiful day because you are my kind friend and I love you, and because I wish to know many things.   I have been at home three weeks, and Oh, how happy I have been with dear mother and father and precious little sister. I was very, very sad to part with all of my friends in Boston, but I was so eager to see my baby sister I could hardly wait for the train to take me home. But I tried very hard to be patient for teacher's sake. Mildred has grown much taller and stronger than she was when I went to Boston, and she is the sweetest and dearest little child in the world. My parents were delighted to hear me speak, and I was overjoyed to give them such a happy surprise. I think it is so pleasant to make everybody happy. Why does the dear Father in heaven think it best for us to have very great sorrow sometimes? I am always happy and so was Little Lord Fauntleroy, but dear Little Jakey's life was full of sadness. God did not put the light in Jakey's eyes and he was blind, and his father was not gentle and loving. Do you think poor Jakey loved his Father in heaven more because his other father was unkind to him? How did God tell people that his home was in heaven? When people do very wrong and hurt animals and treat children unkindly God is grieved, but what will he do to them to teach them to be pitiful and loving? I think he will tell them how dearly He loves them and that He wants them to be good and happy, and they will not wish to grieve their father who loves them so much, and they will want to please him in everything they do, so they will love each other and do good to everyone, and be kind to animals.

 

Please tell me something that you know about God. It makes me happy to know much about my loving Father, who is good and wise. I hope you will write to your little friend when you have time. I should like very much to see you to-day Is the sun very hot in Boston now? this afternoon if it is cool enough I shall take Mildred for a ride on my donkey. Mr. Wade sent Neddy to me, and he is the prettiest donkey you can imagine. My great dog Lioness goes with us when we ride to protect us. Simpson, that is my brother, brought me some beautiful pond lilies yesterday--he is a very brother to me.

 

Teacher sends you her kind remembrances, and father and mother also send their regards.

From your loving little friend,

HELEN A. KELLER.

 

DR. BROOKS'S REPLY

London, August 3, 1890.

 

My Dear Helen--I was very glad indeed to get your letter. It has followed me across the ocean and found me in this magnificent great city which I should like to tell you all about if I could take time for it and make my letter long enough. Some time when you come and see me in my study in Boston I shall be glad to talk to you about it all if you care to hear.

 

But now I want to tell you how glad I am that you are so happy and enjoying your home so very much. I can almost think I see you with your father and mother and little sister, with all the brightness of the beautiful country about you, and it makes me very glad to know how glad you are.

 

I am glad also to know, from the questions which you ask me, what you are thinking about. I do not see how we can help thinking about God when He is so good to us all the time. Let me tell you how it seems to me that we come to know about our heavenly Father. It is from the power of love which is in our own hearts. Love is at the soul of everything. Whatever has not the power of loving must have a very dreary life indeed. We like to think that the sunshine and the winds and the trees are able to love in some way of their own, for it would make us know that they were happy if we knew that they could love. And so God who is the greatest and happiest of all beings is the most loving too. All the love that is in our hearts comes from him, as all the light which is in the flowers comes from the sun. And the more we love the more near we are to God and His Love.

 

I told you that I was very happy because of your happiness. Indeed I am. So are your Father and your Mother and your Teacher and all your friends. But do you not think that God is happy too because you are happy? I am sure He is. And He is happier than any of us because He is greater than any of us, and also because He not merely SEES your happiness as we do, but He also MADE it. He gives it to you as the sun gives light and color to the rose. And we are always most glad of what we not merely see our friends enjoy, but of what we give them to enjoy. Are we not?

 

But God does not only want us to be HAPPY; He wants us to be good. He wants that most of all. He knows that we can be really happy only when we are good. A great deal of the trouble that is in the world is medicine which is very bad to take, but which it is good to take because it makes us better. We see how good people may be in great trouble when we think of Jesus who was the greatest sufferer that ever lived and yet was the best Being and so, I am sure, the happiest Being that the world has ever seen.

 

I love to tell you about God. But He will tell you Himself by the love which He will put into your heart if you ask Him. And Jesus, who is His Son, but is nearer to Him than all of us His other Children, came into the world on purpose to tell us all about our Father's Love. If you read His words, you will see how full His heart is of the love of God. "We KNOW that He loves us," He says. And so He loved men Himself and though they were very cruel to Him and at last killed Him, He was willing to die for them because He loved them so. And, Helen, He loves men still, and He loves us, and He tells us that we may love Him.

 

And so love is everything. And if anybody asks you, or if you ask yourself what God is, answer, "God is Love." That is the beautiful answer which the Bible gives.

 

All this is what you are to think of and to understand more and more as you grow older. Think of it now, and let it make every blessing brighter because your dear Father sends it to you.

 

You will come back to Boston I hope soon after I do. I shall be there by the middle of September. I shall want you to tell me all about everything, and not forget the Donkey.

 

I send my kind remembrance to your father and mother, and to your teacher. I wish I could see your little sister.

 

Good Bye, dear Helen. Do write to me soon again, directing your letter to Boston.

Your affectionate friend

PHILLIPS BROOKS.

 

DR. HOLMES'S REPLY

To a letter which has been lost.

 

Beverly Farms, Mass., August 1, 1890.

My Dear Little Friend Helen:

 

I received your welcome letter several days ago, but I have so much writing to do that I am apt to make my letters wait a good while before they get answered.

 

It gratifies me very much to find that you remember me so kindly. Your letter is charming, and I am greatly pleased with it. I rejoice to know that you are well and happy. I am very much delighted to hear of your new acquisition--that you "talk with your mouth" as well as with your fingers. What a curious thing SPEECH is! The tongue is so serviceable a member (taking all sorts of shapes, just as is wanted),--the teeth, the lips, the roof of the mouth, all ready to help, and so heap up the sound of the voice into the solid bits which we call consonants, and make room for the curiously shaped breathings which we call vowels! You have studied all this, I don't doubt, since you have practised vocal speaking.

 

I am surprised at the mastery of language which your letter shows. It almost makes me think the world would get along as well without seeing and hearing as with them. Perhaps people would be better in a great many ways, for they could not fight as they do now. Just think of an army of blind people, with guns and cannon! Think of the poor drummers! Of what use would they and their drumsticks be? You are spared the pain of many sights and sounds, which you are only too happy in escaping. Then think how much kindness you are sure of as long as you live. Everybody will feel an interest in dear little Helen; everybody will want to do something for her; and, if she becomes an ancient, gray-haired woman, she is still sure of being thoughtfully cared for.

 

Your parents and friends must take great satisfaction in your progress. It does great credit, not only to you, but to your instructors, who have so broken down the walls that seemed to shut you in that now your outlook seems more bright and cheerful than that of many seeing and hearing children.

 

Good-bye, dear little Helen! With every kind wish from your friend,

OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES.

 

This letter was written to some gentlemen in Gardiner, Maine, who named a lumber vessel after her.

TO MESSRS. BRADSTREET

Tuscumbia, Ala., July 14, 1890.

 

My Dear, Kind Friends:--I thank you very, very much for naming your beautiful new ship for me. It makes me very happy to know that I have kind and loving friends in the far-away State of Maine. I did not imagine, when I studied about the forests of Maine, that a strong and beautiful ship would go sailing all over the world, carrying wood from those rich forests, to build pleasant homes and schools and churches in distant countries. I hope the great ocean will love the new Helen, and let her sail over its blue waves peacefully. Please tell the brave sailors, who have charge of the HELEN KELLER, that little Helen who stays at home will often think of them with loving thoughts. I hope I shall see you and my beautiful namesake some time.

 

With much love, from your little friend,

HELEN A. KELLER.

To the Messrs. Bradstreet.

 

Helen and Miss Sullivan returned to the Perkins Institution early in November.

TO  MRS. KATE ADAMS KELLER

South Boston, Nov. 10, 1890.

 

My Dearest Mother:--My heart has been full of thoughts of you and my beautiful home ever since we parted so sadly on Wednesday night. How I wish I could see you this lovely morning, and tell you all that has happened since I left home! And my darling little sister, how I wish I could give her a hundred kisses! And my dear father, how he would like to hear about our journey! But I cannot see you and talk to you, so I will write and tell you all that I can think of.

 

We did not reach Boston until Saturday morning. I am sorry to say that our train was delayed in several places, which made us late in reaching New York. When we got to Jersey City at six o'clock Friday evening we were obliged to cross the Harlem River in a ferry-boat. We found the boat and the transfer carriage with much less difficulty than teacher expected. When we arrived at the station they told us that the train did not leave for Boston until eleven o'clock, but that we could take the sleeper at nine, which we did. We went to bed and slept until morning. When we awoke we were in Boston. I was delighted to get there, though I was much disappointed because we did not arrive on Mr. Anagnos' birthday. We surprised our dear friends, however, for they did not expect us Saturday; but when the bell rung Miss Marrett guessed who was at the door, and Mrs. Hopkins jumped up from the breakfast table and ran to the door to meet us; she was indeed much astonished to see us. After we had had some breakfast we went up to see Mr. Anagnos. I was overjoyed to see my dearest and kindest friend once more. He gave me a beautiful watch. I have it pinned to my dress. I tell everybody the time when they ask me. I have only seen Mr. Anagnos twice. I have many questions to ask him about the countries he has been travelling in. But I suppose he is very busy now.

 

The hills in Virginia were very lovely. Jack Frost had dressed them in gold and crimson. The view was most charmingly picturesque. Pennsylvania is a very beautiful State. The grass was as green as though it was springtime, and the golden ears of corn gathered together in heaps in the great fields looked very pretty. In Harrisburg we saw a donkey like Neddy. How I wish I could see my own donkey and my dear Lioness! Do they miss their mistress very much? Tell Mildred she must be kind to them for my sake.

 

Our room is pleasant and comfortable.

 

My typewriter was much injured coming. The case was broken and the keys are nearly all out. Teacher is going to see if it can be fixed.

 

There are many new books in the library. What a nice time I shall have reading them! I have already read Sara Crewe. It is a very pretty story, and I will tell it to you some time. Now, sweet mother, your little girl must say good-bye.

 

With much love to father, Mildred, you and all the dear friends, lovingly your little daughter,

HELEN A. KELLER.

 

TO  JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER

South Boston, Dec. 17, 1890.

 

Dear Kind Poet,

This is your birthday; that was the first thought which came into my mind when I awoke this morning; and it made me glad to think I could write you a letter and tell you how much your little friends love their sweet poet and his birthday. This evening they are going to entertain their friends with readings from your poems and music. I hope the swift winged messengers of love will be here to carry some of the sweet melody to you, in your little study by the Merrimac. At first I was very sorry when I found that the sun had hidden his shining face behind dull clouds, but afterwards I thought why he did it, and then I was happy. The sun knows that you like to see the world covered with beautiful white snow and so he kept back all his brightness, and let the little crystals form in the sky. When they are ready, they will softly fall and tenderly cover every object. Then the sun will appear in all his radiance and fill the world with light. If I were with you to-day I would give you eighty-three kisses, one for each year you have lived. Eighty-three years seems very long to me. Does it seem long to you? I wonder how many years there will be in eternity. I am afraid I cannot think about so much time. I received the letter which you wrote to me last summer, and I thank you for it. I am staying in Boston now at the Institution for the Blind, but I have not commenced my studies yet, because my dearest friend, Mr. Anagnos wants me to rest and play a great deal.

 

Teacher is well and sends her kind remembrance to you. The happy Christmas time is almost here! I can hardly wait for the fun to begin! I hope your Christmas Day will be a very happy one and that the New Year will be full of brightness and joy for you and every one.

From your little friend

HELEN A. KELLER.

 

WHITTIER'S REPLY

 

My Dear Young Friend--I was very glad to have such a pleasant letter on my birthday. I had two or three hundred others and thine was one of the most welcome of all. I must tell thee about how the day passed at Oak Knoll. Of course the sun did not shine, but we had great open wood fires in the rooms, which were all very sweet with roses and other flowers, which were sent to me from distant friends; and fruits of all kinds from California and other places. Some relatives and dear old friends were with me through the day. I do not wonder thee thinks eighty three years a long time, but to me it seems but a very little while since I was a boy no older than thee, playing on the old farm at Haverhill. I thank thee for all thy good wishes, and wish thee as many. I am glad thee is at the Institution; it is an excellent place. Give my best regards to Miss Sullivan, and with a great deal of love I am

Thy old friend,

JOHN G. WHITTIER.

 

Tommy Stringer, who appears in several of the following letters, became blind and deaf when he was four years old. His mother was dead and his father was too poor to take care of him. For a while he was kept in the general hospital at Allegheny. From here he was to be sent to an almshouse, for at that time there was no other place for him in Pennsylvania. Helen heard of him through Mr. J. G. Brown of Pittsburgh, who wrote her that he had failed to secure a tutor for Tommy. She wanted him brought to Boston, and when she was told that money would be needed to get him a teacher, she answered, "We will raise it." She began to solicit contributions from her friends, and saved her pennies.

 

Dr. Alexander Graham Bell advised Tommy's friends to send him to Boston, and the trustees of the Perkins Institution agreed to admit him to the kindergarten for the blind.

 

Meanwhile opportunity came to Helen to make a considerable contribution to Tommy's education. The winter before, her dog Lioness had been killed, and friends set to work to raise money to buy Helen another dog. Helen asked that the contributions, which people were sending from all over America and England, be devoted to Tommy's education. Turned to this new use, the fund grew fast, and Tommy was provided for. He was admitted to the kindergarten on the sixth of April.

 

Miss Keller wrote lately, "I shall never forget the pennies sent by many a poor child who could ill spare them, 'for little Tommy,' or the swift sympathy with which people from far and near, whom I had never seen, responded to the dumb cry of a little captive soul for aid."

 


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