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The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller

 

Part II: Letters (1887 - 1901)

 

1896

 

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The next two letters were written just after the death of Mr. John P. Spaulding.

TO  MRS. GEORGE H. BRADFORD

New York, February 4, 1896.

 

What can I say which will make you understand how much Teacher and I appreciate your thoughtful kindness in sending us those little souvenirs of the dear room where we first met the best and kindest of friends? Indeed, you can never know all the comfort you have given us. We have put the dear picture on the mantel-piece in our room where we can see it every day, and I often go and touch it, and somehow I cannot help feeling that our beloved friend is very near to me.... It was very hard to take up our school work again, as if nothing had happened; but I am sure it is well that we have duties which must be done, and which take our minds away for a time at least from our sorrow....

   

 

TO MISS CAROLINE DERBY

New York, March 2nd, 1896. 

 

...We miss dear King John sadly. It was so hard to lose him, he was the best and kindest of friends, and I do not know what we shall do without him....

 

We went to a poultry-show... and the man there kindly permitted us to feel of the birds. They were so tame, they stood perfectly still when I handled them. I saw great big turkeys, geese, guineas, ducks and many others.

 

Almost two weeks ago we called at Mr. Hutton's and had a delightful time. We always do! We met Mr. Warner, the writer, Mr. Mabie, the editor of the Outlook and other pleasant people. I am sure you would like to know Mr. and Mrs. Hutton, they are so kind and interesting. I can never tell you how much pleasure they have given us.

 

Mr. Warner and Mr. Burroughs, the great lover of nature, came to see us a few days after, and we had a delightful talk with them. They were both very, very dear! Mr. Burroughs told me about his home near the Hudson, and what a happy place it must be! I hope we shall visit it some day. Teacher has read me his lively stories about his boyhood, and I enjoyed them greatly. Have you read the beautiful poem, "Waiting"? I know it, and it makes me feel so happy, it has such sweet thoughts. Mr. Warner showed me a scarf-pin with a beetle on it which was made in Egypt fifteen hundred years before Christ, and told me that the beetle meant immortality to the Egyptians because it wrapped itself up and went to sleep and came out again in a new form, thus renewing itself.

    

TO MISS CAROLINE DERBY

New York, April 25, 1896.

 

...My studies are the same as they were when I saw you, except that I have taken up French with a French teacher who comes three times a week. I read her lips almost exclusively, (she does not know the manual alphabet) and we get on quite well. I have read "Le Medecin Malgre Lui," a very good French comedy by Moliere, with pleasure; and they say I speak French pretty well now, and German also. Anyway, French and German people understand what I am trying to say, and that is very encouraging. In voice-training I have still the same old difficulties to contend against; and the fulfilment of my wish to speak well seems O, so far away! Sometimes I feel sure that I catch a faint glimpse of the goal I am striving for, but in another minute a bend in the road hides it from my view, and I am again left wandering in the dark! But I try hard not to be discouraged. Surely we shall all find at last the ideals we are seeking....

   

 

TO MR. JOHN HITZ

Brewster, Mass. July 15, 1896.

 

...As to the book, I am sure I shall enjoy it very much when I am admitted, by the magic of Teacher's dear fingers, into the companionship of the two sisters who went to the Immortal Fountain.

 

As I sit by the window writing to you, it is so lovely to have the soft, cool breezes fan my cheek and to feel that the hard work of last year is over! Teacher seems to feel benefitted by the change too; for she is already beginning to look like her dear old self. We only need you, dear Mr. Hitz, to complete our happiness. Teacher and Mrs. Hopkins both say you must come as soon as you can! We will try to make you comfortable.

 

Teacher and I spent nine days at Philadelphia. Have you ever been at Dr. Crouter's Institution? Mr. Howes has probably given you a full account of our doings. We were busy all the time; we attended the meetings and talked with hundreds of people, among whom were dear Dr. Bell, Mr. Banerji of Calcutta, Monsieur Magnat of Paris with whom I conversed in French exclusively, and many other distinguished persons. We had looked forward to seeing you there, and so we were greatly disappointed that you did not come. We think of you so, so often! and our hearts go out to you in tenderest sympathy; and you know better than this poor letter can tell you how happy we always are to have you with us! I made a "speech" on July eighth, telling the members of the Association what an unspeakable blessing speech has been to me, and urging them to give every little deaf child an opportunity to learn to speak. Every one said I spoke very well and intelligibly. After my little "speech," we attended a reception at which over six hundred people were present. I must confess I do not like such large receptions; the people crowd so, and we have to do so much talking; and yet it is at receptions like the one in Philadelphia that we often meet friends whom we learn to love afterwards. We left the city last Thursday night, and arrived in Brewster Friday afternoon. We missed the Cape Cod train Friday morning, and so we came down to Provincetown in the steamer Longfellow. I am glad we did so; for it was lovely and cool on the water, and Boston Harbor is always interesting.

 

We spent about three weeks in Boston, after leaving New York, and I need not tell you we had a most delightful time. We visited our good friends, Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlin, at Wrentham, out in the country, where they have a lovely home. Their house stands near a charming lake where we went boating and canoeing, which was great fun. We also went in bathing several times. Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlin celebrated the 17th of June by giving a picnic to their literary friends. There were about forty persons present, all of whom were writers and publishers. Our friend, Mr. Alden, the editor of Harper's was there, and of course we enjoyed his society very much....

   

 

TO  CHARLES DUDLEY WARNER

Brewster, Mass., September 3, 1896.

 

...I have been meaning to write to you all summer; there were many things I wanted to tell you, and I thought perhaps you would like to hear about our vacation by the seaside, and our plans for next year; but the happy, idle days slipped away so quickly, and there were so many pleasant things to do every moment, that I never found time to clothe my thought in words, and send them to you. I wonder what becomes of lost opportunities. Perhaps our guardian angel gathers them up as we drop them, and will give them back to us in the beautiful sometime when we have grown wiser, and learned how to use them rightly. But, however this may be, I cannot now write the letter which has lain in my thought for you so long. My heart is too full of sadness to dwell upon the happiness the summer has brought me. My father is dead. He died last Saturday at my home in Tuscumbia, and I was not there. My own dear loving father! Oh, dear friend, how shall I ever bear it!...

 

On the first of October Miss Keller entered the Cambridge School for Young Ladies, of which Mr. Arthur Gilman is Principal. The "examinations" mentioned in this letter were merely tests given in the school, but as they were old Harvard papers, it is evident that in some subjects Miss Keller was already fairly well prepared for Radcliffe.

   

 

TO  MRS. LAURENCE HUTTON

37 Concord Avenue, Cambridge, Mass.

October 8, 1896.

 

...I got up early this morning, so that I could write you a few lines. I know you want to hear how I like my school. I do wish you could come and see for yourself what a beautiful school it is! There are about a hundred girls, and they are all so bright and happy; it is a joy to be with them.

 

You will be glad to hear that I passed my examinations successfully. I have been examined in English, German, French, and Greek and Roman history. They were the entrance examinations for Harvard College; so I feel pleased to think I could pass them. This year is going to be a very busy one for Teacher and myself. I am studying Arithmetic, English Literature, English History, German, Latin, and advanced geography; there is a great deal of preparatory reading required, and, as few of the books are in raised print, poor Teacher has to spell them all out to me; and that means hard work.

 

You must tell Mr. Howells when you see him, that we are living in his house....

   

 

TO MRS. WILLIAM THAW

37 Concord Avenue, Cambridge, Mass.,

December 2, 1896.

 

...It takes me a long time to prepare my lessons, because I have to have every word of them spelled out in my hand. Not one of the textbooks which I am obliged to use is in raised print; so of course my work is harder than it would be if I could read my lessons over by myself. But it is harder for Teacher than it is for me because the strain on her poor eyes is so great, and I cannot help worrying about them. Sometimes it really seems as if the task which we have set ourselves were more than we can accomplish; but at other times I enjoy my work more than I can say.

 

It is such a delight to be with the other girls, and do everything that they do. I study Latin, German, Arithmetic and English History, all of which I enjoy except Arithmetic. I am afraid I have not a mathematical mind; for my figures always manage to get into the wrong places!...

 

 


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