Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 63.djvu/75

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71
HELEN KELLER.
HELEN KELLER: A PSYCHOLOGICAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY.[1]
By Professor JOSEPH JASTROW,
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN.

THE interest in the story of Helen Keller is many sided. To the public at large the personal interest naturally dominates; for the story of the development, in spite of seemingly impassable curtailments of experience, of a bright child into an intellectual young woman forms an intensely interesting and deeply human document. As an experiment in education the account is most valuable; at one point it reinforces principles already advocated upon other varieties of evidence; at another it opposes a narrow overvaluation of method or theory; at many others it illuminates the profound significance of the essentials, and throws into relief the secondary values of the ways and means of a real education. For the psychologist the narrative is no less important. It contributes notably to the interpretation of the role of sensation in the building up of intellectual acquisitions; it furnishes pertinent illustrations of the delicate interlacing of the strands of experience—throughout conditioned by natural endowment—in the composite pattern of the mental texture.

Born June 27, 1880, at Tuscumbia, Alabama, of good ancestry, the child was deprived by a serious illness that befell her at the age of eighteen months, of both sight and hearing. Taste and smell remained normal, and her physical health continued to be excellent. At the time of her illness, the child had already spoken a few words, one of which—'wah-wah' for 'water'—may have been retained through the illness and the sightless and silent years that followed. Miss Keller believes that something remains to her of the glimpses of the world during her first months of life. 'If we have once seen,' she cites, 'the day is ours, and what the day has shown.' One must not underestimate the value of such continuity of experience as is possible even at so tender an age; yet it may be said that practically her mental life began anew amid her altered and restricted environment.

The five years before the 'light of the world' was brought to her are suggestive of the spontaneous ingenuity of the child under such

  1. 'The story of My Life,' by Helen Keller with her letters (1887-1901), and letters of her teacher Anne Mansfield Sullivan, supplemented by John Albert Macy. New York, Doubleday, Page & Co., 1903, pp. 441, 8vo. The illustrations we owe to the courtesy of the Volta Bureau, Washington, D. C, and of Messrs. Doubleday Page & Co.