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Title: Adventures in Silence
Author: Collingwood, Herbert Winslow
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Adventures in Silence" ***

TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE: Italic text is denoted by _underscores_.




  _Distributed by_

  333 WEST 30th STREET

  Copyright, 1923


  _Printed in U. S. A._

  TO E. W. C.


There are in this country about 75,000 people who were never able to
hear. There are also about half a million who have lost all or part of
their hearing, and more than one million in addition who must use some
contrivance to aid their ears. This army, nearly as large as the one
sent overseas, is forced to live a strange and mysterious life, which
most normal persons know nothing about, even though they come into daily
contact with the outposts. The ordinary deaf man is usually regarded
as a joke or a nuisance, according to the humor of his associates.
This social condition is largely due to the fact that he has found
no place in literature; he occupies an abnormal position because his
story has never been fairly told. The lame, the halt and the blind
have been driven or gently led into literature. Poem, essay and story
have described their lives, their habits, their needs; as a result the
average person of reasonable intelligence has a fair notion of what it
is like to be crippled or blind. _But no one tells what it is like to
be deaf._ No one seems to love a deaf man well enough to analyze his
thought or to describe the remarkable world in which he must live apart,
although he may be close enough to his companions to touch them and
to see their every action. Very likely this is our own fault; perhaps
we have no right to expect the public to do for us what we should do
for ourselves. I have long felt that we are sadly handicapped socially
through this failure to put our life and our strange adventures into
literature—the deaf person must remain a joke or a tragedy until he
has made the world see something of the finer side of his life in the
silence. This is why I have attempted to record these “adventures.” I
am aware that it is rather a crude pioneer performance. Beginnings are
rarely impressive. Much as we respect the pioneer of years ago, very few
of us would care to house and entertain him today. It is my hope that
this volume will lead other deaf persons to record their experiences,
so that we may present our case fully to the public. The great trouble
is that we find it so easy to make a genuine “tale of woe” out of our
experience; it is hardly possible to avoid this if we record honestly.
Perhaps we “enjoy the thought of our affliction” so thoroughly that we
do not realize that the reading public has no use for it. My own method
of avoiding this has been to turn the manuscript over to my daughter
and to walk away from it, leaving her entirely free to cut the “grouch”
out of it with the happy instruments of youth and hope and music. With
us the great adventure of life is to pass contentedly from the world of
sound into the world of silence and there strive to prepare ourselves
for the world of serenity which lies beyond.




  INTRODUCTION                                 3

  TERRORS THAT ARE IMAGINARY                   9

  ON THE ROAD TO SILENCE                      20


  FACING THE HARD SITUATION                   52

  A HEART FOR ANY FATE                        73

  MEMORIES OF EARLY LIFE                      87


  COMPANIONS IN TROUBLE                      116

  THE APPROACH TO SILENCE                    133

  MIXING WORD MEANINGS                       147

  THE WHISPERING WIRE                        160

  “NO MUSIC IN HIMSELF”                      178

  SILENCE NOT ALWAYS GOLDEN                  194

  CASES OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY                 210

  ALL IN A LIFETIME                          223



  “GROUCH” OR GENTLEMAN                      274




  The World of Silence Uncharted—Two Initial Incidents,
  Darkness in the Tunnel, and at Home—Imaginary Terrors of
  the Deaf—When John Harlow Thought He Was a Murderer.

For some years I have considered writing a book concerning the life of
the deaf or the “hard of hearing.” It is hard to understand why our
peculiar and interesting life in the silent world has not been more
fully recorded. We read of adventures in strange lands, far away, yet
here is a stranger country close by, with its mysteries and miseries
uncharted. Having lived in this silent world for some years, I have
often planned to make an effort to describe it. However, like many other
writers, I could not get going. I was not able to start my story until
two rather unusual incidents spurred me into action.

Those of you who know industrial New York understand how the vast army
of commuters is rushed to the city each day and rushed home again at
night. From New Jersey alone a crowd of men and women larger by far than
the entire population of the State of Vermont is carried to the banks of
the Hudson from a territory sixty miles in diameter. Once at the river
bank there are two ways by which these commuters may reach the city.
They may float over in the great ferryboats, or they may dive under the
river in rapid trains driven through a tube far below the water. This
submarine travel is the quicker and more popular way, and during the
rush hours the great tunnel makes one think of a mighty tube of vaseline
or tooth paste with a giant hand squeezing a thick stream of humanity
out of the end.

I reach the Hudson over the Erie Railroad. At this point the underground
tube makes a wide curve inland, and in order to get to the trains we
must walk through a long concrete cave far underground. The other
morning several trains arrived at the Erie station together, and their
passengers were all dumped into this cave like grain poured into a long
sack. There was a solid mass of humanity slowly making its way to the
end. The city worker naturally adapts himself to a crowd. He at once
becomes an organized part of it. Take a thousand countrymen, each from
the wide elbow room of his farm, and throw them together in a mass and
they would trample each other in a panic. The city crowd, as long as
it can be kept good-natured, will march on in orderly fashion; but let
it once be overcome by fear, and it will be more uncontrolled than the
throngs of countrymen.

This cave is brilliantly lighted, and we were moving on in orderly
procession, without thought of danger. We would move forward perhaps 50
feet and then halt for a moment—to move ahead once more. During one
of these halts I looked about me. At my right was a group of giggling
girls; at my left a white-faced, nervous man; behind, a lame man, and in
front two great giants in blouse and overalls. I was close by the change
booth. A slight, pale-faced young woman sat within; the piles of money
in front of her. A husky, rough-looking man was offering a bill to be
changed. I saw it all, and as I looked, in an instant the lights flashed
out and left us in inky darkness.

I have been left in dark, lonely places where I groped about without
touching a human being, but it was far more terrifying to stand in that
closely packed crowd and to realize what would happen in case of a
panic. I reached out my hand and could touch a dozen people, but I could
hear no sound. Suppose these silly girls were to scream; suppose this
man at my elbow were to yell “Fire!” as fools have often done in such
crowds. Suppose that man at the booth reached in, strangled the girl and
swept the money out. At any of these possible alarms that orderly crowd
in the dark might change to a wild mob, smashing and trampling its way
back to the entrance, as uncontrollable as the crazy herds of cattle
I had seen in Western stampedes. The deaf man thinks quickly at such
times, and in the black silence dangers are magnified. The deaf are
usually peculiar in their mental make-up; most of them have developed
the faculty of intuition into a sense, and they can quickly grasp many
situations which the average man would hardly imagine.

But there was no scream or call of alarm. After what seemed to me half
an hour of intense living, the lights flashed back and the big clock at
the end of the cave, solemnly ticking the time away, showed us that we
had been less than 50 seconds in darkness. With a good-natured laugh the
crowd moved on. Those girls had had no thought of screaming. They were
more interested in the group of young men behind them. That nervous man,
whom I had thought trembling with fright, had been laughing at the joke.
The rough-looking man, whom my fancy had painted as a possible murderer
and thief, had been standing before that money like a faithful dog on
guard. There had been danger of a panic, and I had sensed it, but most
of my companions had thought of nothing except the joke of being held up
for a moment. They were happier for their lack of imagination.

At home I started to tell our people about it. The baby sat on my knee.
She had my knife in her hand, paring an apple. Mother sat by the table
sewing, and the children were scattered about the room. Suddenly the
lights snapped out. I put up my hand just in time to catch the knife
as the baby swung her arm at my face. And there we sat, waiting for
the lights to return. There was no fear, for we knew each other. There
was faith in that darkness; there could be no panic. I could hear no
sound, yet the baby curled up close to me and all was well. Darkness is
the worst handicap for the deaf. Give them light and they can generally
manage; but, in the dark, without sound, they are helpless, and unless
they are blessed with strong faith and philosophy, imagination comes
and prints a series of terror pictures for them which you with your
dependable hearing can hardly realize.

These incidents gave me my start by bringing to my mind the story of
John Harlow, curiously typical of the imaginary terrors of the deaf and
the folly of giving way to them. John Harlow was a New England man. He
had all the imagination and all the narrow prejudice of his class; he
had never traveled west of his own corner of the nation, and he was
deaf. The man who carries this combination of qualities about with him
is booked for trouble whenever he gets out among new types of people.
Part of the Harlow property was invested in land lying in the mountains
of Eastern Kentucky, and it became necessary for John to go there, to
look up titles and investigate agents.

About all the average New Englander of that day knew of that mountain
country was that it seemed to be the stage on which bloody family
feuds were fought out. The _Atlantic Monthly_ had printed stories by
Charles Egbert Craddock, and they were accepted as true pictures of
mountain life. John Harlow should have known that the New Englanders
and the mountaineers are alike the purest in real American blood, and
that they must have many traits in common; but he went South with the
firm conviction that life in the mountains must be one long tragedy of
ambuscades and murders.

When a deaf man gets such ideas in mind, imagination prints them in red
ink, because the deaf must brood over their fears and troubles. They
cannot lighten the mind with music or aimless conversation. So when
Harlow left the train at a little mountain hamlet he was not surprised
to find his agent a tall, solemn-eyed man, with a long gray beard; a
typical leader in the family feud, as the Boston man had pictured it.
Harlow mounted the buckboard beside this silent mountaineer, and they
drove off into the mountains just as the dusky shadows were beginning to
creep down into the little nooks and valleys. As soon as this man found
that John was deaf he drove on in silence, glancing at his companion now
and then with that kindly awe with which simple people generally regard
the deaf.

It was quite dark when they reached a small “cove” or opening in which
stood a large house, with the usual farm buildings around it; the
forest crept close to the barn at one point. It struck John that the
buildings were arranged in the form of a fort, but what a chance had
been left for the enemy to creep up through the woods and suddenly fall
upon them! After supper John stood at the window watching the moon lift
itself over the mountain and go climbing up the sky. There came to his
mind the description of just such a moonrise, from one of Craddock’s
stories, where a group of mountaineers came creeping over the hill to
fall upon the home of their enemy. As he stood there he became aware
that the whole family was making preparations for what seemed to him
like defense. The women came and pulled down the curtains, and one of
the boys went out and closed the heavy shutters. His host came and tried
to explain, but Harlow was nervous, and it is hard to make the deaf hear
at such times. All that he could catch were scattered words or parts
of sentences. “We are waiting for them.” “They will be here by nine
o’clock.” “There is a pistol for you.” “They have done us great damage.”
“We must kill them tonight.”

Then the lights were put out, and even the great fire in the fireplace
was dimmed; a rug was thrown over the crack under the door, and they all
sat there—waiting. John Harlow, the deaf man, will never forget that
scene. The little splinter of light from the fire revealed the stern
old man and his three sons waiting, gun in hand, and the women sitting
by the table, knitting mechanically in the dimness—all listening for
the coming of the enemy. By the door lay two large dogs, alert and
watchful. And Harlow, pulled from a comfortable place in Boston and
suddenly made a part of this desperate family quarrel, did not even know
what it was all about. He started twice to demand an explanation in the
loud, harsh tones of the deaf, but the older man quickly waved him to

How long they sat in that dim light Harlow cannot tell. He never thought
to look at his watch. Suddenly the dogs lying by the door started up
with low growls and bristling hair.

“Here they are,” said the old man; “now get ready.”

He thrust a pistol into John’s hand and took him by the arm as the
boys silently opened the door and passed out with the dogs. John found
himself following. In the moonlight they crept along the shadow of the
buildings out to the point where the woods crawled in almost to the
barn. There the old man crept off to one side. For the moment the moon
was obscured by a passing cloud. Then its light burst upon them, and
John from his hiding-place distinctly saw three forms crawling slowly
across the grassy field to the back of the barn. In the clear moonlight
he could distinguish three white faces, peering through the deep grass.
They would move slowly forward a few feet, and then halt, apparently to
listen. The deaf man in this strange, lonely place, thought he saw three
desperate men making their way to the barn buildings. This very thing
had been described in one of the stories he had read; three mountaineers
had crawled slowly through the grass to set fire to the barn. And it
came to John’s mind that these three white-faced fiends were creeping up
to burn down this home and then shoot down its occupants by the light
from the burning! The nearest crawler came slowly to within two rods of
John and raised his head to look about him. As viewed in the moonlight
it seemed a hideous face, hardly human in its aspect.

John Harlow was a man of peace, and he had been cursing himself for
having been brought into this neighborhood quarrel. It was none of
his business, he told himself, but the sight of this cowardly wretch
crawling up like a snake to fire the buildings was too much for Boston
reserve, and John raised his pistol, took aim at that hateful white
face and pulled the trigger. The figure seemed to throw itself in the
air at the shot, and then it lay quiet, the ghastly face still in the

As John fired there came a sharp volley from the other buildings, and
the two other shapes lay still. A cloud passed over the moon, and
through the darkness, feeling himself a murderer, John found his way
back to the house, where the women were waiting with eager faces. They
lighted the lamps once more and the men came tramping back, to hang
their guns on the wall. They were all in great spirits, and the old man
came to John’s chair and with much shouting and waving his hands, made
the deaf man understand.

“You made a great shot. Got him right between the eyes. We got them all
laid out on the grass—come out and see them.”

But John did not want to see these dead men! He was a murderer. He had
killed a man, perhaps an innocent stranger who had never done him wrong.
It was frightful, but even the women insisted that he come, so with his
eyes shut John permitted himself to be drawn out to the hateful spot
where those dead bodies were lying.

“There’s the one you got!” roared a voice in his ear.

“You must be a dead shot—look at him; see how white he is!”

And Harlow opened his eyes, expecting to see a picture which could never
be erased from memory. There were the dead bodies on the grass before
him in the lantern light. There were three big skunks with more than the
usual amount of white about their faces and backs!

Harlow gazed at them, and his paralyzed mind slowly came back to
normal working order. And then the light came. He had not taken part
in any family feud. No one had tried to kill him. The people of that
section were as kindly neighbors as any he had ever had in Boston. For
some weeks the skunks had been stealing chickens, and the family had
organized this successful defense. It was not the white face of a man
that John had seen in the tangled grass, but the white head and back of
a skunk. He was not a murderer—he was only a skunk-killer!

Most deaf men go through these “adventures in silence.” Many of them
are not particularly thrilling, but they are sometimes exciting enough
to let the imagination run away with us. In what follows I shall try to
make it clear that most of our fears are imaginary—thin ghosts, stuffed
lions, scarecrows (or skunks!) which stand beside the road to frighten
us. For the deaf should know from experience that the only safety in
life is to _go on_, no matter what dangers croakers or cowards may
predict just around the curve.



  The Nature of the Journey to the Silent
  Country—Substitutes for Perfect Silence—Sounds of
  Nature Companionable—The Direct Attack—“Just As I
  am”—Compensation in Idealized Memories—“Cut Out the
  Bitterness”—Reasons for Writing the Book—A Matter of
  Point of View, Concerning John Armstrong’s Possessions.

I think life has given me a certificate which qualifies me to act as
guide and interpreter on the journey to the Silent Land. For forty
years I have been traveling along the road to silence. I have seen some
unfortunate people who were suddenly deprived of their hearing, as it
seemed without warning. Fate did not give them even a chance to prepare
for the death of sound. It was as if some cruel hand had suddenly
dragged them into a prison, a form of living death through which the
poor bewildered wretches must wander aimlessly until they could in some
feeble way adjust themselves to the new conditions which we shall find
in the world of silence. Happily my journey was not made in that way.
I have wandered slowly and gently along the road, each year coming a
little nearer to silence, yet working on so easily and unobtrusively
that the way has not seemed hard and rough. I know every step of the
road, and I can point out the landmarks as we pass along. You may be
compelled to travel over the same route alone some day. Perhaps your
feet are upon it even now, unknown to you. Take my advice and notice the
milestones as you pass them.

Let’s not hurry. Let our journey be like one of those happy family
wanderings in the old farm days, long before the age of gasoline. On a
Sunday afternoon we would all start walking, on past the back of the
farm. Father, mother and the baby, all would go. We could stop to drink
from the spring, to rest under the pines, to stand on the hill looking
off over the valleys. The beauty of the walk was that time was no
object; our destination was nowhere in particular, and we always reached
it. No one hears of those family trips in these days. We “go” now. The
family, smaller than of old, will crowd into a car and go rushing about
the country in an effort to cover as many miles as possible, and to do
as little sight-seeing as may be during the rush. Now, we shall not
hurry, and there will be no great objection to our leaving the road now
and then to gather flowers or bright stones, or to watch a bird or a
squirrel. We shall need all the pleasant memories we can think of when
we arrive.

Very likely you have before now entered into a “solitude where none
intrude,” and have thought yourself entirely alone in the silence. But
you had not reached the real end of the road. You missed some of the
familiar sounds of your everyday life, but there were substitutes. There
was always the low growl of the ocean, the murmur of the wind among
the trees, the cheerful ripple of the brook, the song of the birds, or
some of the many sweet sounds of nature. It was not the silence which
we know, nor were the voices which came to you harsh or distorted. They
were clear and true, even though they were strange to you.

I did not realize how largely the habits of our life are bound up in
sound until some years ago we hired a city woman to come and work in our
farmhouse. We live in a lonely place. This woman spent one night with
us. In the morning she came with terror in her eyes and begged to be
taken back to New York.

“It’s so still here; I can’t sleep!”

It was true. Her ears had become so accustomed to the harsh noises of
the city that every nerve and faculty had been tuned to them. The quiet
of the country was as irksome to her as the constant city noises are
annoying to the countryman, just from his silent hills. Perhaps you
have awakened suddenly in the night in some quiet country place, let us
say in the loneliness of Winter in the hill country. You looked from
the window across the glittering snow to the dark pines which seemed to
prison the farm and house. You fancied that you had finally reached
the world of silence, and you were seized by a nameless terror as you
imagined what would happen to you if sight were suddenly withdrawn. Then
you heard the timbers of the house creak with the cold, the friendly
wind sighed through the trees and around the corner of the house. There
came faint chords of weird music as from an æolian harp when it passed
over some wire fence. Or perhaps there came to you the faint step of
some prowling animal. Then the terror vanished before these sounds of
the night. For this is not the world which I ask you to enter with me.
We are bound for the world of the deaf. I tell you in advance that it
is a dull, drab world, without music or pleasant conversation, into
which none of the natural tones of the human voice or the multitudinous
sounds of nature can come. You must leave them all behind, and you will
never realize how much they have meant to you until they are out of your
reach. Could you readjust your life for a new adventure in this strange

The deaf man must carry this world of silence about with him always,
and it leads him into strange performances. I know a deaf man who went
to a church service. He could hear nothing of the sermon, but he felt
something of the glory of worship, and when the congregation stood up to
sing my deaf friend felt that here was where he could help.

“Just as I am, without one plea,” announced the preacher, and the deaf
man’s wife found the place in the hymn book. He sang along with the rest
and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, one of the penalties of the Silent
Country is that its inhabitants can rarely keep in step with the crowd.
My friend did not realize that at the end of each verse the organist was
expected to play a short interlude before the next verse started. There
has never seemed to me to be any reason for these ornamental musical
flourishes; they merely keep us from getting on with our singing.

The deaf man knew nothing of all this. He was there to finish the
singing of that hymn. It is a habit of the deaf to go straight to the
end, since there is no reason why they should stop to listen. So he
started in on the second verse as all the rest were marking time through
that useless interlude, and he sang a solo:

“Just as I am, and waiting not!”

He sang with all his power, he was in good voice and his heart was
full of the glory of the service. He was never a singer at best, and
the voice of a deaf person is never musical. This hard, metallic voice
cut into that interlude much like the snarl of a buzz saw. His wife
tried to stop him, but he could not quite get the idea, and he sang
on. It is rather a curious commentary on the slavery to habit which
most intelligent human beings willingly assume that this one earnest
man, just as little out of step, nearly destroyed the inspiration of
that church service. The unconscious solo would have taken all the
worship from the hearts of that congregation had it not been for the
quick-witted organist.

Some human beings have risen to the mental capacity of animals in
understanding and conveying a form of unspoken language. It may be
“instinct,” “intuition,” or what you will, but in some way they are able
to convey their meaning without words. I have found many such people
in the world of silence. The organist possessed this power. Before the
deaf man had sung five words she had stopped playing her interlude, had
caught the time of what he was singing, and was signaling the choir to
join her. By the time they reached the end of the second line at “one
dark spot” the entire congregation was singing as though nothing had
happened. The minister, too, sensed the situation, for at the end of the
verse, before the deaf man could make another start, he said:

“Let us pray.” And the incident was happily closed.

As I look about me in the world of silence and see some of the sad
blunders of my fellows, I feel that in their poor way they illustrate
something of the life tragedy which often engulfs the reformer. The deaf
man does not know or has forgotten that those who are blessed with good
hearing do not and cannot go straight to the mark. Much of their time
is wasted on useless “interludes” or ornamental flourishes which mean
nothing in work or worship. This man at the church, while his heart
was full, could only think of getting that hymn through, earnestly,
lovingly, and without loss of time. He may have had more true worship in
his heart than any other member of the congregation, but he dropped just
a little out of form, and he quickly became a ridiculous nuisance. The
truth is, if you did but know it, that some of your clumsy efforts to
keep step with so-called fashionable people make you far more ridiculous
than those of us who fall out of step. Nature never intended your big
feet for dancing, but, because others dance, you must try it.

Your reformer broods over his mission until it becomes a part of his
life, a habit which he cannot break. He reaches a position where he
cannot compromise, sidestep or wait patiently. He goes ahead and never
waits for “interludes,” which most of us must put in between efforts at
“reform.” The rest of the world cannot follow him. He becomes a “crank,”
a “nut,” or an “old stick,” because he cannot stop with the crowd and
play with the theory of reform, but must push on with all his soul.
It seems to us who look out upon the aimless procession moving before
us that an average man feels that he cannot “succeed” unless he stops
at command and plays the petty games of society; he has sold himself
into the slavery of habit and fashion, though he knows how poor and
trivial they may be. This is bad enough, but it is worse to see scores
of people fastening the handcuffs on their children. Now and then the
organist has visions which show her what to do, and she swings the
great congregation to the deaf man’s lead. Unhappily there are few such

It is strange, indeed, when you come to consider it, that two worlds,
separated only by sound, lie side by side and yet so far apart. You
cannot understand our life, and perhaps at times you shudder at the
thought of how narrow our lives have been made. We who have known sound
and lost it have learned to find substitutes, and we often wonder that
you narrow your own lives by making such trivial and ignoble use of
sound as we see you doing. Fate has narrowed our lives, and we have been
forced to broaden them by seeking the larger thoughts. You, it often
seems to us, straiten your own lives by dwelling with the smaller things
of existence.

The deaf have one advantage at least. They have explored the pleasant
roads and the dark alleys of both worlds. If they are of true heart,
in doing so they have gained at least a glimpse of that other dim,
mysterious country which lies hidden beyond us all. To the blind, the
deaf, or to those who carry bravely the cross of some deep trouble,
there will surely come vision and promise which never appear to those
who are denied the privilege of passing through life under the shadow of
a great affliction. But these visions do not come to those who pass on
with downcast eyes, permitting their affliction to bear them down. They
are reserved for those who defy fate and march through the dark places
with smiling faces and uplifted eyes.

Someone has said that the deaf man is half dead, because he is unable to
separate in his life the living memory or sound from the deadness of the

“I must walk softly all my days in the bitterness of my soul.”

That was the old prophet’s dismal view of life, and how often have I
heard hopeless sufferers, half insane with the jangle of head noises,
quote that passage.

“Cut out the bitterness, and I’ll walk softly with you,” was the comment
of one brave soul who would not subscribe to the whole doctrine. I
have had two deaf men quote that and tell me that their condition
reminded them of what they had read of prison life in the Russian mines.
Formerly, in some of these mines, men were chained together at their
work below ground. Sometimes, when one member of the hideous partnership
died, the survivor did not have his chains removed for days! One of my
friends told me that he felt as though his life was passed dragging
about wherever he went the dead body of sound, and what it had meant
to his former life. Unless he could keep his mind fully occupied there
would rise up before him the dim picture of the prisoner dragging his
dead partner through the horrors of their underground prison. The other
man who made the comparison had a happier view of life. He told me
that he had read all he could find on the subject, and that when these
men were released from their hateful prison and brought up into the
sunlight, they seemed to know much about the great mystery into which we
all must enter. So he felt that he was not carrying the dead around with
him, but rather the living, for the spirit of the old life, the best of
it in memory and inspiration, remained with him. So we deaf are like you
of the sound-world in that some of us sink under our afflictions, while
to others of us they are stepping-stones.

I have come to think that of all the human faculties, sound is the most
closely associated with life. The blind man may say that light means
more than sound; I do not know how the question can be fairly argued,
but I think in most cases deafness removes us further from the real joy
of living. You will notice that the blind are usually more cheerful
than the deaf. But at any rate, all the seriously afflicted have lost
something of life and are not on terms of full equality with those who
are normal. Their compensations must come largely from another world.

Most people pass through life associating only with the living, and
thus give but little thought to any world beside their own. The great
majority of the people to whom I have talked about the other life are
Christians, more or less interested in church or charitable work, yet
they have no conception of what lies beyond. Many of them dimly imagine
a dark valley or a black hole in the wall through which they will grope
their way, hopeful that at some corner they may come upon the light. The
law of compensation must give those of us who have lost an essential
of human life a greater insight into that other shadowy existence. For
us who have entered the silence there must somewhere be substitutes
for music and for the charm of the human voice. Most of the deaf who
formerly heard carry with them memories of music or kindly words,
legacies from the world of sound. These are treasured in the brain, and
as the years go by they become more and more ideal. Just as the chemist
may by continued analysis find new treasures in substances which others
have discarded, the man whose ears are sealed may find new beauties in
an old song, or in some word lightly spoken, which you in your wild riot
of sound have never discovered. And perhaps out of this long-continued
analysis there may come fragments of a new language, a vision which
may give one a closer view or a keener knowledge of worlds beyond. Who
knows? Again, one may not only add the beauty of brightness to the past,
but one may, if he will, summon the very imps of darkness out of the
shadows for their hateful work of destroying faith and hope in the human
heart. The Kingdom of Heaven or the prison of hell will be built as one
may decide—and his tool is the brain.

“_For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he!_”

It is my conviction that this proverb was written by a deaf man, who had
thoroughly explored the world of silence!

While the inhabitants of every locality are usually anxious to increase
their population, I am very frank to say that some of the recruits
wished upon us are not a full credit to our community. The world in
which we must live is naturally gloomy, where canned sunshine must be
used about as canned fruit is carried into the northern snows. It is
no help to have our ranks filled with discontented, unhappy beings
who spend the years which might be made the best of their lives in
bemoaning their fate and reminding the rest of us of our affliction.
What we are trying to do is to forget it as far as we can. The deaf
man does not want the world’s pity. That is the most distasteful thing
you can hand him, even though it be wrapped in gold. For the expressed
pity of our friends only leads to self-pity, and that, sooner or later,
will pit the face of the soul like a case of moral smallpox. The most
depressing thing I have to encounter is the well-meant pity of friends
and acquaintances. I know from their faces that they are shuddering at
the thought of my affliction, and I see them discussing it, as they
look at me! Why can they not stop cultivating my trouble? All we ask
is a fair chance to make a self-respecting living and to be treated as
human beings. This compassion makes me feel that I am being analyzed and
separated like an anatomical specimen; there will come to me out of the
distant past of sound the bitter words of a great actor, who said as

“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions?”

I was brought up among deaf people. They seemed rather amusing to me,
and I could not imagine any condition which could put me in their place.
I now see that I should have profited by a study of their life and
habits. I could have been better prepared to live the life of a prisoner
in the silent world. Would I have struggled for greater power and
wealth? No, for they are not, after all, greater essentials here than in
your world. Were I to go over the road again, I should fill my mind and
soul with music, and should strive with every possible sacrifice to fill
out my life with enduring friendships, the kind that come with youth.
It seems to be practically impossible for the deaf man to gain that
friendship which is stronger than any other human tie. My aurist once
told me that at least sixty per cent of the people we meet in everyday
life have lost part of their hearing. They cannot be called deaf, but
the hearing is imperfect and deafness is progressive. Many of you who
read this may be slowly traveling toward our world, without really
knowing it. There are in the country today about sixty thousand deaf
and dumb persons. If we include these, my estimate is that there are at
least half a million persons who have little or no hearing, while over
one million are obliged to use some kind of a device for the ears. So we
may safely claim that our world is likely to become more thickly settled
in the future, and we may well prepare to number the streets and put up

And I will admit another reason for telling you about this quiet
country. It concerns our own people, for whom I speak. I would gladly
do what I can to make life easier for the deaf. Their lot is usually
made harder through the failure of others to understand the affliction,
and to realize what it means to live in the silence. In my own case
I can make no complaint. I am confident that society has treated me
better than I deserve, given me more than I have returned. I have been
blessed with family and friends who have made my affliction far easier
than it might have been. I realize that it is not easy for the ordinary
person to be patient and fair with the deaf. We may so easily become
nuisances. I presume that there is no harder test of a woman’s character
and ability than for her to serve as the wife of a deaf man, to endure
his moods and oddities and suspicions with gentleness and patience and
loving help. A woman may well hesitate to enter such a life unless the
man is of very superior character.

Now and then I meet deaf people who complain bitterly at the treatment
which society metes out to them. In most cases I think they are wrong,
for we must all admit squarely the foundation fact of our affliction,
which is that we may very easily become a trouble and a nuisance
socially. We represent perhaps two per cent of the nation’s population,
and we can hardly expect the other ninety-eight per cent always to
understand us. I have had people move away from me as though they
expected me to bite them. Some sensitive souls might feel that they
were thus associated with mad dogs, but it is better to see the humor
of it. For my part, I have come to realize that I am barred from terms
of social equality with those who live in the kingdom of sound. I have
come to be prepared for a certain amount of impatience and annoyance. I
am often myself impatient with those dull souls who depend so entirely
upon their ears that they have failed to cultivate the instinct or the
intuition which enables us to grasp a situation at a glance. But I do
ask for our people a fair hearing, if I may put it that way. While we
are deprived of many of your opportunities and possibilities, we think
we have developed something which you lack, perhaps unconsciously. We
can turn our experience over to you if you will be patient.

Do not fear that I shall corner you to make you listen to a tale of woe.
The truth is that I often feel, in all sincerity, exceedingly sorry for
you poor unfortunates who must listen to all the small talk and the
skim-milk of conversation.

  “I saw a smith stand with his hammer—thus,
   The whilst his iron did on the anvil cool,
   With open mouth swallowing a tailor’s news!”

It is so long since I have been able to chatter and play with words that
I forget what people talk about. Some of them at least seem to have
talked their tongues loose from their brains. I often ask intelligent
people after this chatter what it was all about, and whether their
brains were really working as they babbled on. Not one in ten can give
any good reason for the conversation or remember twenty words of it.
Do you wonder that we of the silence, seeing this waste of words, pick
up our strong and enduring book and wander away with the great undying
characters of history, rather thankful that we are not as other men,
condemned to waste good time on such trivial exercise of ears and

That is the way we like to think about it, but there is a worm in this
philosophy after all. I have reasoned things out in this way fifty
times; the logic seems perfect, and yet my mind works back from my book
to the story of John Armstrong and his New England farm.

John was a seedling, rooted in one of those Vermont hill farms. The
Psalmist tells of a man who is like “a tree planted by the rivers of
water”; such a tree puts its roots down until it becomes well-nigh
impossible to pull them out of the earth. There had been a mortgage
howling at the Armstrong door for generations. Not much beside family
pride can be grown on these hillsides, and John would have spent his
life cultivating it to the end, if his lungs hadn’t given out. The
country doctor put it to him straight; it was stay on the hills and
die, or go to the Western desert and probably live. In some way the
love of life proved strongest. John bequeathed his share of the family
pride to brother Henry and went to Arizona. There he lost the use of one
lung, but filled his pockets with money. He secured a great tract of
desert land, and one day the engineers turned the course of a mountain
stream and spread it over John’s land. At home in Vermont the little
streams tumbled down hill, played with a few mill wheels, gave drink to
a few cows and sheep, and played on until they reached the river, to be
finally lost in the ocean. In Arizona the river caused the desert to
bloom with Alfalfa, and wheat, and orchards, thus turning the sand to

And one day John stood on the mountain with his friends and looked over
the glowing country, all his—wealth uncounted. All his! Worth an entire
county of Vermont, so his friends told him.

“You should be a happy man,” they said, “with all that wealth and power
taken from the sand. A happy man—what more can you ask?”

“I know it,” said John. “I know it—and yet, in spite of it all, right
face to face with all this wealth, I’d give the whole darned country for
just one week in that Vermont pasture in June!”

And so, unmolested in my world of silence, free from chatter and small
talk, able to concentrate my mind on strong books, I look across to the
idle gossipers and know just how John Armstrong felt. I would give up
all this restful calm if I could only hear my boy play his violin, if I
could only hear little Rose when she comes to say good-night, if I could
only hear that bird which they say is singing to her young in yonder



  Head Noises—The Quality Probably Depends on the Memory
  of Sounds Heard in Youth—The Sea and the Church
  Bells—“Voices” and Subjective Audition—Insanity and the
  Unseen—The Rich Dream-Life of the Deaf.

Deafness is not even complete silence, for we must frequently listen
to head noises, which vary from gentle whispering to wild roars or
hideous bellowing. There is little other physical discomfort usually,
though some exceptional cases are associated with headache or neuralgia.
There is, however, an annoying pressure upon the ears, which is greatly
increased by excitement, depression or extreme fatigue. Unseen hands
appear to be pressing in at either side of the head. The actual noises
are peculiar to the individual in both quantity and quality; there are
cases of the “boiler-maker’s disease,” where the head is filled with a
hammering which keeps time with the pulse. I have known people to be
amazed at the “uncontrolled fury” of the deaf when their anger is fully
aroused—perhaps by something which seems trivial enough. They do not
realize how a sudden quickening of the heart action may start a great
army of furies to shouting and smashing in the deaf man’s brain!

Again, the roaring and the pounding will start without warning, and
then as suddenly fade to a dim murmur. It appears to diminish when the
victim can concentrate his mind upon some cheerful subject, so I take it
to be more of a mental or nervous disorder—not essentially physical.
Many times I have observed that these noises become more violent and
malignant whenever the mind is led into melancholy channels. They appear
to be modified and softened in dreams, so I am thankful that I have been
able to train myself into the ability to lie down and sleep when the
clamor becomes unendurable. I meet people who pride themselves on their
ability to go without sleep, and I shudder to think of their fate should
they ever be marooned in the silence, since they appear to regard extra
hours of sleep as a form of gross negligence at least! These night-owls
tell me that they are the “pep” of society—its greatest need. I am not
so sure of their mission. As I see it, the world has already too much
“pep” for its own good. We need more “salt.”

You have doubtless noticed deaf people who go about with a weary,
half-frightened expression, and have wondered why they have failed to
“brace up” and accept their lot with philosophy. You do not realize how
these discordant sounds and malignant voices are driving these deaf
people through life as a haunted man is lashed along the avenues of
eternal doom. Of course his will frequently becomes broken down, and his
capacity for consistent and continuous labor is practically destroyed.
Do you know that if you were forced to remain for several hours in a
roaring factory you would come back to your friends showing the same
symptoms of voice and manner which you notice in the deaf?

In my own case these noises have not been greatly troublesome, since I
have persistently refused to listen to them. It is not unlikely that
they are largely imaginary—although you are free to experiment by
taking a double dose of quinine, which should give you a fair imitation
of what many deaf people live with. The chief noise trouble that I
have had is a sort of low roaring or murmuring, at times rising to an
angry bellow, and then again dying to a low muttering. The deaf usually
remember common noises heard in their youth, although I fancy that
as the years go on our memory of sound changes with them. My private
demonstration reminds me of the old sound of the ocean, pounding on the
shores of the seaport town in New England where I was born. It seems to
me now that the ocean was never quiet, except at low tide, and even then
there came a low growl from the bar far out at the harbor entrance. I
can remember lying awake at night as a child, listening to the pounding
of the surf or the lap of the waves against the wharf. With a gentle
east wind there was a low, musical murmur, but when the wind rose and
worked to the north it seemed to me like a giant smashing at the beach,
or like a magnified version of the Autumn flails pounding on barn
floors far back among the hills. It seems to me now that I can hear
and distinguish all those variations of sound in the noises within my
head; I have often wondered if such memories ever come to those who have
perfect hearing.

Poets and dreamers have enlarged upon the romantic quality of “the sad
sea waves.” I once knew a woman who wrote very successful songs about
the “shining sea,” though she never saw the ocean in her life. Those
who live in the interior, far from the ocean, with never a view of any
large body of water, are easily led to believe that the sounds of the
sea are delightful companions. I often wish I could share my part of
the performance with them! I would gladly exchange my constant sound
companion for ten minutes of wind among the trees. Bryant says:

  “There is society, where none intrude,
   By the deep sea, and music in its roar.”

True; but Bryant was not deaf. No doubt as a child he held a sea shell
to his ear and listened to its murmuring with delight. _But he could lay
it aside when it became tiresome!_ One speaks from quite another point
of view when incased for life within the shell. I think I know just how
the Apostle John felt when, looking out from every direction from his
weary island, he saw only the blue, rolling water. He wrote as part of
his conception of heaven:

  “There shall be no more sea!”

I agree with him fully, and yet I know people whose conception of heaven
includes Byron’s apostrophe to the ocean. How can we all be satisfied?

Other curious sounds come to us as we sit in the silence. Some are
interesting, a few are strange or delightful. I frequently seem to hear
church bells gently chiming, just as they did years ago when the sound
came over the hills of the little country town where I was a boy. The
sound now seems to start far away, dim in the distance; gradually it
comes nearer, until the tones seem to fall upon the ear with full power.
They are always musical, never discordant; they go as suddenly and as
unexpectedly as they come. And where do they come from? Can it be that
dormant brain cells suddenly arouse to life and unload their charge
of gentle memories? Or it may be—but you are not interested in what
the deaf man comes to think of strange messengers who enter the silent
world. You would not believe me were I to tell you all we think and
feel about them.

When I asked my aurist about this he wanted to know if any particular
incidents of my childhood were connected with the ringing of bells. I
could remember two. It was the custom, years ago, for the sexton of the
Unitarian Church to come and strike the bell when any member of the
community died. There was one stroke for each year of their age. That
was the method of carrying the news. The sexton did not pull the rope,
but climbed into the belfry and pulled the tongue of the bell with a
string. It was my duty to count the strokes, and thus convey the news
to my deaf aunt. In that community we knew each other so well that this
tolling the age gave us as much about it as one would now get over the
telephone. And then the bell on the Orthodox Church over in the next
valley! That always rang on Sunday, before our bell did, and I heard it
softly and musically as the sound floated over us. I had been taught to
believe that the Orthodox people had a very hard and cruel religion,
and I used to wonder how their bell could carry such soft music. When
I spoke of this the aurist smiled understandingly and said it fully
explained why these musical sounds now come back to my weary brain.

Actual voices come to us at times. I have had words or sentences
shouted lustily in my ears. In several cases while sitting alone at
night reading or writing this conversation of the unseen has seemed
so clear and natural that I have stopped and glanced about the room,
or even moved about the house, half expecting to find some visitor.
As a rule the sentences are incoherent, and are not closely connected
with everyday life; they sometimes refer to things which have preyed
upon my mind in previous days. Deaf friends have told me of direct and
important warnings and suggestions they have received in this way, but I
have known nothing of the sort. It does seem to me, however, that this
shouting and incoherent talking usually refers to matters which I have
deeply considered at times of depression, fatigue or strong excitement.
I consider that, as in the case of the bells, it may mean the sudden
stirring of brain cells which have stored up strongly expressed
thoughts, and are in some way able to give them audible rendition to the

My aurist offers an ingenious explanation. He says that I can hear my
own voice, and undoubtedly it is at some times clearer than at others. I
may unconsciously “think out loud”; that is, go through the interesting
performance of talking to myself without knowing that I am doing it.
Perhaps if he were deaf himself he would not be quite so sure of his
theory—nothing is so convincing as a fact. I remember that at one time
my dentist was trying to persuade me that I ought to have a plate.

“But that is merely your theory,” I said. “You tell me that you can make
a plate which will enable me to eat and talk in a natural manner. How do
I know? I think a dentist, to be entirely successful, should be able to
prove such statements from his own experience.”

For answer he gravely took a good-sized plate out of his own mouth.
I had no idea that he had one! I have often wished that some of our
skilled aurists might graft their theory of head noises upon practical

Scientists and psychologists refer to these noises as subjective
audition. I shall attempt no scientific discussion of the matter, as
this book is intended to be a record of personal or related experience.
All students of deafness seem to agree that we can hear sounds, definite
noises and even words that are purely subjective. Certainly in some
forms of insanity the victims hear voices commanding them to do this or
that. I have known several persons apparently sane in all other matters
who insist that unseen friends talk to them and give advice.

Some years ago I was permitted to make a careful study of members of
a small religious community which was established near my farm. Its
members were ordinary country people, for the most part of rather
low mentality and narrow thought, yet with a curiously shrewd power
of intuition. They were fanatics, and among other practices or
“self-denials” they refused to eat anything which had to do with animal
life. Thus they limited their diet to grain, vegetables and fruit. One
man, who called himself “John the Baptist,” found this restriction
a rigorous punishment, for he “liked to eat up hearty!” He wrestled
in spirit for weeks, and finally told me that he had received an
unanswerable argument straight from the Lord. In a moment of depression
he had heard a voice from Heaven saying very distinctly:

“John, look at that big black horse!”

“I can see him right now!”

“Look at him! He is big and strong and can pull a plow all alone. Does
he eat meat? No, he lives on grain and hay—the grass of the field! Now
if that big horse can keep up his strength without meat, you can do the
same, John!”

And John fully believed that he had held direct conversation with the
Lord. No man could shake his faith in that. Undoubtedly it was a case
of that subjective audition similar to what the deaf experience. John
_heard_ the conversation, or at least imagined that the words were
spoken; they followed or grew out of his thought.

I myself have had enough experience along this line to make me very
charitable with those who give accounts of this sort of thing. It is a
question, however, as to just how much of the unseen one can hear and
not be considered insane! While some of the deaf lack the imagination
to carry out this strange experience, others realize that the public
draws no distinct boundary between “oddity” and insanity, and are wary
of repeating all the strange messages which come to them. I think it is
beyond question that primitive people, Indians, isolated mountaineers or
ignorant folk living in lonely places have this subjective side of their
hearing greatly developed. This I believe to be also true of educated
thinkers who are largely influenced by imagination. It seems perfectly
evident to me that some persons of peculiar psychic power may really
develop abilities unknown to those who possess the ordinary five senses.
As I have stated elsewhere in this book, I predict that the study of
this strange power is to develop during the next century, and that the
afflicted are to lead in its investigation.

Speaking of head noises and imaginary voices, I have an idea that there
are deaf men who took these things too seriously and came to think
that such noises appear to all. This led to a condition which made it
something of a trial to live with them. They have been railroaded off to
some “sanitarium” or asylum, even though they may be entirely sane. I
have met deaf men who realize all this, and therefore, as they express
it, they “will not tell all they know.” I am convinced that for this
reason much that might be valuable to the psychologist is lost to the

Another strangely interesting point in this connection is that the
deaf hear perfectly in dreams. Even considering dream psychology,
this is to me the most curious phenomenon of the condition. In dreams
I seem to meet my friends just as in waking hours, and I hear their
conversation, even to a whisper. I also hear music, but it is entirely
of the old style which I heard as a young man, before my hearing failed.
Unfortunately (or otherwise) the modern “jazz” and rag-time tunes mean
nothing to me; I have never heard a note of them. In dreams I hear grand
operas and songs of the Civil War and the following decade; these last
are plaintive melodies for the most part, for New England, when I was a
young man, was full of “war orphans,” who largely dictated the music of
the period. But even in sleep, listening as easily as anyone to this old
music or to the voices of friends, the thought comes to me constantly
that I am really deaf, and that all this riot of music and conversation
is abnormal. The psychological explanation that here is a dream struggle
between a great desire and the fact which thwarts it in real life sounds
plausible enough, but the deaf man still must ponder on the profound
mystery of his dream-life. I do not know just how common this dream
music or sleep conversation may be among the deaf. I am told that some
deaf people rarely, if ever, have this experience, while others tell
very remarkable stories of what comes to them in sleep. It must be
understood that I am merely giving my own personal experience, without
trying to record the general habit of the deaf.

Physicians relate some curious experiences in this line. In one case a
deaf and dumb man, utterly incapable of hearing when awake, was made to
hear music and conversation when asleep. On the other hand, a deaf man
who could hear music and conversation in dreams could not be awakened
even by loud noises close to his ear. He showed a mechanical response
to the vibration by a slight flicker of the eyelids, but protested that
he _heard_ nothing of the racket. In most cases of hysterical deafness
arising from nervous trouble or shell shock during the war the patient
seemed to have _forgotten how to listen_. If he could be made to listen
intently he usually made some gain in hearing. Mind control or the use
of some hypnotic influence is actually helpful in many cases.

I feel confident that this subjective hearing and these strange voices
are responsible for the reverence or fear with which the Indians and
other ignorant people usually regard the deaf. It is not unlikely that
the famous “voices” which inspired Joan of Arc resulted from a form
of subjective audition. Seers or “mediums” probably have developed
this quality until it gains for them the respect and awe of their
constituents; this would account for their great influence with
primitive peoples. I have even had evidence of a remarkable attitude of
wonderment toward myself on the part of strange people among whom I
have traveled.

I take it that all this subjective audition arises from thoughts and
emotions filed away by memory somewhere in the mind. Business men run
through their dusty files and find letters or documents that were
put there years ago and forgotten. Here at last they are brought to
recollection, and the memories associated with them start a train of
ideas which may affect the mind like a joyous parade or a funeral
procession. The deaf, lacking the healing or diverting influence of
sound, live nearer to this subconscious stratum of memories and can
more easily call them up; in time of worry or great fatigue they can
more easily come to us. Much of the curious foolishness of intoxicated
persons results from this rising of the subconscious.

I have no doubt that the original deaf man, far back in history, when
men lived in caves without light or fire, was considered a gifted and
highly favored individual. I think it likely that the voices and strange
noises which come to us through subjective audition were considered by
these primitive people as communications from the strange, mysterious
powers which changed light into darkness, and brought cold, hunger and
storm. Probably the original deaf man was given the warmest corner in
the cave and the first choice of food, in order to propitiate the spirit
which communicated with him. The modern deaf man, however, can take
little pride in the good fortunes of his original representative, for
he is made aware every day that his fellows no longer class him as a
necessity in the world’s economy, unless perchance he is able to lend
them money or cater to their necessities.

It has been clearly shown that the play of our emotions has a physical
influence on the body. The working of such emotions as fear, anger or
worry is destructive; joy or quiet pleasure helps to build up rather
than to break down. The happier emotions are nearly always influenced or
guided by sound—music, or gentle tones of the voice. Thus we may see
how the deaf, deprived of this healing or harmonizing influence, except
in dreams, may easily become fearsome and morbid. Once a woman loathed
dishwashing with a hatred too bitter for this world. She was obliged to
do it, and she was able to largely overcome her emotion of disgust by
playing selections from the operas on the victrola while at her work.
That music influenced the counter emotions of joy and beauty until they
overcame the loathing. Her hands were in the dishwater, but her mind
was in glory—and then what did her hands matter? We can all remember
similar cases where music has filled the soul with a great joy and has
lifted the body out of menial tasks or humiliation. But music is not for
the deaf; we are shut away from it, and can find no substitute. We must
work out our mental troubles as best we can.



  The Beginnings of Deafness—The Cows in the
  Corn—Re-adjustments—The “House of the Deaf”—Spirits
  of the Past on Our Side—The Course in Philosophy—The
  Reverence of the Ignorant Herder—The Slave and the King.

Every deaf man will tell you that for months or years he was able to
convince himself that there was no real danger of losing his hearing.
Then, suddenly made evident by some small happening, Fate stood solidly
in the road pointing a stern finger—and there was no denying the
verdict: “_You are on the road to silence!_” How foolish and dangerous
to fight off the disagreeable thought when most cases of deafness could
be cured or greatly helped if taken in time! It is safe to say that
if the first symptoms of defective hearing were as uncomfortable as a
cinder in the eye, or as painful as an ordinary stomach-ache, the great
majority of cases would be remedied before the affliction could lead its
victims into the silent world. But deafness usually creeps in without
pain or special warning; if it is caused by a disease of the inner ear
there are probably few outward symptoms, and it will not be considered
serious. Then suddenly it will demonstrate its strangle-hold upon life,
and cannot be shaken off; it is like a tiger creeping stealthily through
grass and brush for a spring upon the careless watcher by the campfire.

I first looked into the dim shadows of the silent country one night in
Colorado. Our people had broken up a piece of raw prairie land, ditched
water to it and planted corn. It was a new crop for the locality, but we
succeeded in getting a good growth for cattle feed. In those days there
were few fences, except the horizon and the sky, and cattle wandered
everywhere, so as the corn developed we took turns guarding it. One
night a small bunch of fat cattle on their way to market was herded
about a mile from our cornfield. Feed was scarce on the range, and these
steers were hungry. We could see them raise their heads and smell the
corn. We knew they would stampede if they could break away. I was on
guard; my duty was to ride my pony up and down on the side of the field
nearest the herd.

Those who know the plains which roll away from the foothills of Northern
Colorado will remember the brilliant starlit nights. The dry plains
stretch away in rolling waves of brown to the east, while to the west
the mountains lift their snow-caps far up into the sparkle of the
starlight. It is a land of mystery. Any man who has ever lived there has
felt at times that he would give all he possessed to be back there with
the shapes that live in the starlight. Great dark shadows slip over
the plains. You see them slowly moving and you wonder at them. How can
they shift as they do when there are no clouds? That night, far over the
prairie, I could see the fires which the herders had built; two or three
horsemen were slowly circling about the bunched cattle.

It seemed entirely safe, and at one corner of the field I got off the
pony and let him feed as I walked along the corn. The night was still,
and I could hear nothing, but suddenly my little horse threw up his
head, snorted and pulled at his picket pin. I fancied he sensed some
sneaking coyote, until out of a shadow near the field I saw half a dozen
black forms with white gleaming horns, running for the corn. Part of the
herd had broken away, and as I mounted the snorting pony the sickening
thought flashed in upon me that I could no longer hear them. Before we
could turn back the herd forty or fifty steers had entered the corn.
They went aimlessly, smashing and crashing their way through the stalks,
and with the other riders I went in after them, but I could hardly hear
them. I remember that in order to make sure I held my fingers to my
right ear to shut out sound. In the shadow of the corn I ran directly
into a steer! He was tearing his way along, but I did not know he was
there until my hands touched him. Then for the first time I knew whither
I was bound. Probably there is nothing quite so chilling to the heart,
unless it be the sudden knowledge that some dear friend must soon walk
down the road with death.

Deaf people who read this will recall incidents connected with the first
real discovery of their affliction; up to that time they have been
able to throw the trouble out of mind with more or less confidence.
They could argue that it was due to a cold, or to some little trouble
that would soon adjust itself; they were slightly annoyed, but soon
forgot it. Then—perhaps they cannot keep up with the conversation;
they seem suddenly to lose the noises which are a part of daily normal
life. Neither their work nor their play can go on without a complete
readjustment of their methods of communicating with others. Suppose
society refuses to do more for them than they have ever done for the
afflicted? Many a man has been made to realize how small a moral balance
he has to draw upon when at last he knows that for the rest of his life
he must depend largely upon the charity or indulgence of those with whom
he associates. For this is really our condition in the silent world.
A person of dominating power may push through life thinking himself a
master, but we must live with the humiliation of realizing that our
friends cannot regard us as normal. It is a staggering blow to the man
or woman of fixed ambition, or of that warm personality which demands
human sympathy and kindly companionship. The old life must be broken up.

My first thought was to seek “medical advice.” That is what we are
always told to do. The air about the deaf man is usually vibrant with
advice, and frequently the less attention he pays to it the better off
he is. The local doctor in the nearest town was an expert with pills,
powders and blisters, but he went no farther. Like many country doctors
of that time, he was little more than an expert nurse, though if you
had told him this he could have shaken a diploma in your face. I went
to see him one evening after milking. He had a kerosene lamp with a
tin reflector with which he illumed my ears; his report was that the
trouble was caused by wax growing on the ear drum. If I would come in by
daylight he would scrape it off with a small knife. There was nothing to
be alarmed about; I would outgrow it. As a precaution he would advise
me to blister the ears—or that part of the skull immediately behind

“_My charge is two dollars!_”

Since then several famous aurists have peered into my nose and ears;
they told me the truth, and charged more than this doctor did for his
wild guess.

Later I shall describe some of the local treatments to which my poor
ears have been subjected. It would make a volume in itself were I to
tell all, and it would record the experience of most country people
who go down the silent road. Frequently the city man may obtain expert
advice from aurists who fully understand that they are dealing with an
interior nerve or brain disease. Most of us who were “brought up” in
the country fell into the hands of physicians who appeared to think
deafness is what they call a “mechanical disease,” much like the sprain
of the knee or wrist. That country doctor saw only the wax on the ear
drum, when the real trouble was far inside. So we are blistered and
oiled and irrigated—and the real seat of the trouble is not reached. Of
course I should have found some one competent to treat my case. That is
easily said, but the great majority of young men in my day were without
capital, quite incapable of taking advice, and they labored under
the conviction that any public admission of serious disease would be
considered a weakness that was like a stigma.

I have been singularly unsuccessful in obtaining original impressions
from deaf people in trying to learn from them just what were their
sensations when it became evident, past all argument, that they were
to walk softly through ever-increasing silence. It would seem that
they rarely have great imagination; perhaps silence, and a lack of the
stimulant of sound, destroys that faculty. Psychology estimates that of
all the senses hearing has the greatest influence over the emotions and
the morals. I fancy that the violent effort to readjust life habits to
a new existence bewilders most of us, so that the mind is incapable of
working in exactly the old way. Apparently many of the deaf fall into
a morbid, hopelessly despondent frame of mind, which does not permit
any reasonable and useful research into the habits and landmarks which
characterize a strange country. I know how useless it is to tell the
ordinary deaf man that it is a rare privilege to know and to study the
ideas which special messengers bring to us in the silent world. I know
that what I tell him is true, yet I am forced to agree with him when he
says that he would give it all for the privilege of hearing a hand-organ
playing on a street corner. Still, it is a part of the game for us to
believe that in many ways the deaf are the favored of the Lord.

As far as my own experience goes, I know that I went about for some time
in a daze. In spite of the verdict of the country doctor I realized
that my hearing was surely failing, and I remember that I began to take
stock of my mental and physical assets for the great game of life that
was opening up before me. When a man does that fairly he will realize
how industry and skill are changing all lines of life. When I was a boy
playing ball we always put the poorest, most awkward player in right
field. That was the jumping-off place in baseball. As the game is now
played right field offers opportunity for the best player of the nine.
After standing off and looking at myself fairly I was forced to conclude
that I was not fitted to enter the silent world with any great hope of
making more than the most ordinary living there. Try it yourself. Cast
up your personal account, giving a fair valuation to the things you
can do really well, and then tell me what sort of a living you could
make for your family if tomorrow you found yourself totally blind or
totally deaf. Like many young men I had received no special training
for any life enterprise; I knew no trade and had no particular “knack”
at tools or machinery. I had attended a country school and one term of
high school, but had never been taught the true foundation principles
of any of my subjects. I had read many books without direction or good
judgment, with no definite end in view. The sum total of my life assets
seemed to be that I was an expert milker and could take care of cattle;
the most promising position for me that of a rather inferior hired
man. Thousands of men have gone through life with a poorer outfit, but
they have had, in addition, the boon of perfect hearing; how great an
advantage this is no one can know until he must face the world without

Every healthy young man looks forward to the time when he may build
four strong walls about his life. These walls are home, wife, a piece
of land and power. In the flush of youth we feel that if we build this
square and live inside we may laugh at adversity and say in our hearts,
“_The world is mine!_” But this becomes a troubled dream when one comes
to understand that he must crawl through life crippled—with one great
faculty on crutches.

It is rather curious how at such a time the mind grasps at meanings
hardly considered before, and makes new and rapid applications from
things which formerly seemed of no consequence. I remember picking up
at this time a school reader which one of the children was studying.
My eye fell on the old familiar poem—how many of us have performed a
parrot-like recitation of it in the little old schoolhouse!

  “Oh, solitude! where are the charms
     Which sages have seen in thy face?
   Better dwell in the midst of alarms
     Than reign in this horrible place.

   I am out of humanity’s reach,
     I must finish my journey alone;
   _Never hear the sweet music of speech,_
    _I start at the sound of my own!_”

I had read this many times before without getting its full power. Now I
saw that I was drifting with other deaf men out of reach of the “soft
music of speech.” Suppose that I were to end my days on a desert island
of complete silence! The idea haunted me for days, and I thought it out
to the end. At last it came to me that Robinson Crusoe and Alexander
Selkirk were but examples of brave spirits who could not be conquered by
ordinary conditions. Other men have been marooned or swept ashore upon
deserted or unknown islands—men of feeble will, without stern personal
power. They made a struggle to hold on to civilization, but finally
gave up, surrendered to natural forces, and either perished or reverted
to barbarism. They, “heirs of all the ages,” renounced the progress of
their race and went back nearer to the brute. Crusoe and Selkirk were
made of sterner stuff. They were not to be beaten; out of the crudest
materials they made home and companions and retained self-respect and
much of the sweetness of life. Each made his own house in a new world,
fashioned it by sheer force of will and faith. I made up my mind that I
would do likewise. I would build my own house in the silent world and
would make it a house of cheer.

But who will help the deaf man to build his house? Where can he find the
material? I meet deaf people who complain bitterly because the people
with whom they work and live do not treat them with full understanding
and consideration. Let us be honest, and remember how little _we_ ever
went out of our way to stand by the deaf before our own affliction put
us out of the social game! No doubt we laughed with the others at
the queer blunders of deaf people, or let them see our annoyance when
communication with them became a trouble. The chances are that we will
receive fairer treatment from our associates than we ourselves gave to
the afflicted in our best days. As for me, I vote the world a kindly
place; people treat me reasonably. They are not cruel, but many of them
are busy or selfish, and I fully realize that it is no pleasure for the
average man or woman to attempt communication with the deaf. I do not
blame them for avoiding it. And even when they use us well, from the
very nature of the situation which separates us they can help but little
in the building of these isolated houses of the silent world.

But I have lived to learn a strange thing. The silent world is peopled
with the ghosts and shadows of men and women who have lived in other
ages. Somehow they seem to feel that they would like to relive their
lives, and repeat their message to humanity; but only the blind, the
deaf and those otherwise afflicted seem to be able to meet them fully.
The great undying souls who have made or modified history and human
thought live in books, pictures and memories, but only in the world of
silence can they give full comfort and power. For we come to know them
so intimately that we learn how each one of them went about his great
work carrying a cross of some kind—and the bond of sympathy to the
afflicted grows stronger. You with light physical crosses perhaps think
that you take full inspiration from Milton. Have you ever thought how
much clearer his message can be to the blind or the deaf? Here, then, is
our help and our hope. Our ears are not dull to the reverberating echoes
of the past, and we can reach back for the best worldly solace—the
experience and advice of those who have fought the good fight, and won.

It would be nonsense for anyone to claim that he goes through this
preparatory course in philosophy with patience or good temper. He misses
too much. The future is too uncertain. The dread of losing the rest of
his hearing and the thought of the blight which this would mean to his
future will at times drive the deaf man to desperation. At times he is
almost willing to take the advice of Job’s wife—

“_Dost thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God and die!_”

And some of us never gain the faith and philosophy which make life in
the silence endurable. Others acquire them slowly by a burning process
which scars, but in the end gives them new strength. I remember two
incidents which influenced me during the first days of my realization of
what was ahead. They are of distinctly opposite character.

One day the regular herder was sick and I took his place. He was a
“lunger,” a victim of tuberculosis, who had waited too long before
coming to Colorado. At one time I worked with three of these men, and
I came to know how their disease could send them to the top round
of ecstasy and to the lowest level of depression in a single day. I
have seen them get up in the morning dancing at the very joy of life,
planning their “going home” to surprise the old folks with their cure.
Yet by night perhaps they put a handkerchief to the mouth and took it
away stained with blood—and their spirits would fall to earth abruptly.
They are even more distressing companions than inhabitants of the
silence who feel that they have lost life, fortune and future with the
closing of their ears.

This herder had built up trouble for me without telling me about it.
The deaf man usually runs blindly into that form of trouble every week
of his life; it is a sort of legacy which others leave at his door.
Down the river some two miles lived a ranchman who had seeded wheat and
made a garden on a low flat where the river curved past a bluff. The
herder had carelessly let the cattle get away from him the previous day,
and before he could stop them several cows had trampled through this
garden with all the exasperating nonchalance that a fat and stupid cow
is capable of showing. When a man has lived for a year or so on “sow
belly,” pancakes and potatoes, and when he is naturally inclined to a
profane disposition of language, he knows precisely what to do to the
responsible party. As I came along the river behind the herd, I saw
this ranchman and his wife advancing to meet me. He opened up at long
range, but as I did not know what it was all about, and, moreover, could
not hear him, I kept on riding right up to meet him. My pony had once
belonged to a mule driver noted for his remarks to mules, and the little
horse actually seemed to recognize a master in this excited individual.
This man’s boy afterwards told me that as he advanced his father was
relating in a dozen ways in which he proposed to punish me. Shooting,
it appeared, was too easy. He would meet me man to man and roll me in
the cactus, etc., and worse! Unfortunately, I did not hear at all until
I got close to him, and then his breath had failed somewhat, so that he
was not doing himself full justice. So I rode right up to him and asked
him the most foolish of questions—so he must have thought:

“_What can I do for you?_”

He looked at me in amazement.

“Are you deaf?”

I told him that I could not hear well.

“Ain’t you heard a word of what I’ve been handing you?”

“Hardly a word!”

“Well, by God, if that don’t beat all! I’ve wasted all them words on a
deaf man!”

There was genuine sorrow in his voice as he spoke of the loss sustained
by society through my failure to hear. All his anger was gone.

“Come,” he said. “Get off your horse. The woman’s got dinner ready. Come
in and eat.”

“But suppose the cows get on your wheat?”

“Darn the wheat. I don’t make a new friend like you every day. Anyway,
the boy can herd ’em.”

He put his boy on my pony and we went into the house, where over
coffee, fried pork, riz biscuits and rhubarb sauce we pledged eternal
friendship. His wife was a very happy woman as she explained matters to

“My man is terrible profane at times. Some men go and get drunk now
and again to relieve their feelings, but my man don’t do that. He just
swears something awful, and when it’s all over he’s all right again.
He was awful to you, but when he found out you didn’t hear him, he
was terrible shocked, and came out of his mad like the man in the
Scriptures. He met his match at last, and I do hope he’ll quit.”

I have heard that the Indians never torture or mutilate a deaf man.
They seem to think that he is specially protected by the Great Spirit.
Here was a white man with much the same feeling, and I have seen a
like forbearance in other cases. I think the great majority of human
beings seldom or never take deliberate advantage of the hard of hearing;
they may be amused at our blunders or annoyed by our mistakes, but
they hesitate to treat us with the severity they could justly accord
one in full possession of his faculties. Some deaf man could probably
point to bitter personal experiences, but this is my own feeling. The
above encounter also helps to prove what I feel to be a psychological
truth—that most of our fear comes as a result of sounds registered by
the brain. I frankly confess that if I could have heard this big man I
should not have gone within a hundred and fifty feet of him. I shall
discuss this phase of fear later; but I learned early in my affliction

  “Cowards die many times before their deaths;
   The valiant never taste of death but once.”

One January night I was caught out in a Colorado blizzard. Only those
who have felt and seen the icy blasts pour down out of the mountain
canyons and roar over the plains, driving the hard flakes like the
volley from a thousand machine guns, can realize what it means to face
such a blast. The cattle turn from such a wind and drift before it,
half-frozen, heads lowered, moaning with pain. A herd of horses will
bunch together, heads at the center, ready to lash out at the wolves. I
was riding carelessly, rubbing my frosted ears, when the pony stepped
into a prairie-dog hole, fell and threw me into the snow. Then with a
snort, reins dragging, he started at a wild run directly into the storm.
I stood in the snow, in the midst of whirling blackness, with nothing
to guide me except the rapidly filling tracks of the deserting horse.
I knew he was headed for home, and I followed as best I could, feeling
for his tracks in the snow. After wading for a few rods, I saw far ahead
what seemed like a dim star, close to the earth. It grew brighter as I
approached, and sooner than I expected I stumbled upon a small group of
buildings and a sod corral—The star proved to be the light in the house
window. My horse stood with drooping head in front of the door.

Then the door opened and revealed a sheep herder. He had on a fur coat
and bags were tied about his feet. Out he came with his lantern, and we
put the horse in a shed. The air was filled with a low and plaintive
crying from the sheep in the corral, bunched together where the snow was
drifting in over them. There was nothing we could do for them, so we
made our way to the house.

It was a tiny one-room affair, built of sods piled up like bricks,
with a roof made of poles covered with sods and wild hay; it boasted
a wooden floor. There were a stove, a table, three chairs and a small
cot. In these days there would be a phonograph and a collection of the
latest music, but this herder’s only constant companions were a dog and
a canary bird. For fuel there was a small pile of cottonwood sticks, a
box of buffalo chips, and a barrel containing bunches of wild hay tied
into knots. Two other men were there, also driven in by the blizzard. I
shall always feel that the mental picture revealed to me by the contrast
between those two men in that lonely hut had the greatest deciding
influence in helping me to fit myself for the life of the silent world.

They were both white-haired old men, though full of vigor. One I
recognized as the cattle king of Northern Colorado. His cattle were
everywhere; he owned half a town and an army ran at his beck and call,
yet he could barely write his own name. It was said he always signed
his checks “Z,” because he could not be sure of spelling “Zachariah”
properly. He had no poetry or imagination, except what he could drink
out of a jug. In the old days, when the plains were ruled by brute
force, this man was happy, for life becomes tolerable only as we can
equal our friends in manners and education. But how the plains had
changed! Schools, churches, music, culture, were working in with the
towns—the leaven which was to change the soggy biscuit of the old life
to the “riz bread” of the new. That strange, fateful, overmastering
thing we call education was separating the people of the new prairie
towns into classes more distinct than money and material power had
ever been able to create. This old man had railed and cursed at the
change, for a premonition of what was to come had entered his heart, and
something told him that his blunt philosophy of life was all wrong.
In this country a man may climb from poverty up to wealth, or he may
leave wealth to others, but it is not possible for him to climb in the
same way up into education, and he cannot leave these benefits to those
who follow him. The old man had begun to fear that he had climbed the
wrong ladder. There he sat, bitter and hateful, chained to prejudice,
the slave of ignorance. He had no companion to share his narrow prison
except his money—the most useless and irritating single companion that
any man can have for the harvest years.

His companion was about the same age, an educated man, a “lunger,”
forced to spend the rest of his life in these dry plains. I had seen
him before at the county convention, where there had been talk of
nominating him for county clerk—a much-desired political job. He might
have been nominated but for his own actions. He stood straight up in the
convention and said:

“Gentlemen, I refuse to let my name go before this convention. I have
been approached by certain people who would compromise my manhood, and
now I would not accept your nomination, even if you offered it.”

“Made a fool of himself. Had a cinch and threw it away!”

That was the way they talked in the street afterwards; but I remember
going home that night with this thought dancing through my brain:

“I wish _I_ could get up and do such things.”

He would have ranked as a poor man, or at best one of modest competence,
yet in his enforced exile from home and friends he was sustained and
comforted by a mighty host of men and women who came trooping out of
history at his call.

There they sat in the dimly lighted room—the cattle king and the
scholar, a slave of disease. Their chosen companions were about them,
and these had turned the king into a slave, the slave into a monarch.
For one there were only the spirits of hopeless gloom, grinning,
snarling as though they knew that fate disdains money in exchange for
the things which alone can bring comfort and courage into the shadow
of years. For the other man the dim room was crowded with a goodly
company—the great spirits who live forever in song and story, who
gladly come back from the unknown country at the call of those who have
learned to know them.

I saw all this, and then I seemed to see myself in the years that were
coming, in the shadow of the impending affliction, a resident of the
silent world. It was evidently to be a choice of masters. I remember
now as though it were yesterday how on that howling night in that dim
sod house I made a desperate vow that I would, if need be, go through
fire and acid before I would end my days or sit alone in the silence
as mentally hopeless and impotent as that “cattle king.” And I had been
ready to say “me, too,” only a short time before to the cowboy who said:

“If I could round up and brand the money old Zack can, I wouldn’t care
how little else I knew.”

Take a man with dull hearing, little or no education, no surplus
capital—nothing except health and a dim idea that “education” will
prove the tool to crack the safe wherein is locked opportunity—and what
college will take and train him? I am sure that the colleges to which
my boys have gone would never have given me a chance. But one fine day
in September found me entering the gate of the Michigan Agricultural
College. I do not think I ever passed the examination—I think the
instructors felt somewhat as the Indians do about the deaf. At any rate,
I entered, not knowing what I wanted or what I was fitted for. It might
be interesting to see what sort of an education may be picked up in this
go-as-you-please manner, or what is required to fit a man for a happy
life in the silent world. However needful it may be for a deaf man to
acquire excellence in some definite work, it is most of all important
that he soak in all possible poetry, human sunshine and inspiration
against the time that he must enter prison.



  Early Adventures—From Boston to the West—The Milkman
  and the Ear Trumpet—The “Milk Cure”—The Office of the
  Apple—Cases of Mistaken Identity—The Prohibitionist and
  the Missing Uncle George.

Until I went to Colorado as a young man to work on a dairy ranch, I did
not fully realize the possibilities of deafness. I made a long jump
to the Rocky Mountains. In those days it was something of a leap in
longitude, culture and occupation. I had been working in a publishing
house, and for several years part of my job had consisted in running
errands for a group of the most distinguished authors ever brought
together in America. Of course, no gentleman can be a hero to his valet,
but a great author can be more than a hero to his errand boy. I went out
once and bought a bag of peanuts for this merry group of serious-minded
men; I suppose I am the only living person who ever ate peanuts with
Longfellow, Lowell, Emerson, Holmes, Whittier and Aldrich. I saw Dr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes put a peanut shell on his thumb and shoot it
across the room at John G. Saxe, as a boy would shoot a marble. To me
the most impressive of all that group of supermen was John Greenleaf
Whittier. He was quite deaf, and the affliction troubled him greatly.
Some of the critics think that his inability to hear accurately accounts
for some of his slips of rhyme. To me the remarkable thing is that in
all Whittier’s writings I can find only one indirect reference to his
severe affliction. This is in the poem entitled “My Birthday”:

  Better than self-indulgent years
    The outflung heart of youth,
  Than pleasant songs in idle years
    The tumult of the truth.
  *    *    *    *    *    *    *

  And if the eye must fail of light,
    The ear forget to hear,
  Make clearer still the Spirit’s sight,
    More fine the inward ear!

There could be no finer advice for the deaf. I think Whittier’s gentle
and placid philosophy (whose only sting was for slavery) was ripened and
mellowed by his narrow life, which was still more closely circumscribed
by the years of silence. But how strangely does compensation spring
from a bitter root, and how surely are its best fruits reserved for
“character”! Denied wide experience and education, deprived of one
important avenue of approach to humanity, nevertheless Whittier’s voice
came from his lonely hills with a rugged power all its own. And the
message still rings true and sweet. He is truly a noble Apostle of the

It was indeed something of a jump from such associations as these to
a milking-stool beside a bad-smelling cow in a dusty barnyard, or out
among the cactus on the dry plains. Then I soon found that I was on the
road to silence. In that dry country those who naturally suffer from
catarrh are sure to have trouble with the head and ears unless they can
have expert treatment in time. Our ranch was just outside a growing
town; the cattle were herded on the open prairie. We milked our cows in
the open air in Summer and in low sheds in Winter; the milk was peddled
from door to door, dipped out of an open can, so that the dust might
increase the amount of milk solids. That was long before these days of
certified milk or sanitary inspection; I doubt if there was a single
milk inspector in the whole of Colorado. Such milk as we handled could
never be sold for human consumption in these critical modern days.
Happily for us, we had never heard of germs or bacteria. We doubtless
consumed thousands of them with every meal—and rather liked the taste!

Our custom was to drive up in front of a house and ring a large bell
until someone came out with pail or pitcher. The milk was dipped out
of the can and poured into the open dish. On an early morning in cool
weather some of our customers were slow in responding to the bell. At
those times we would ring patiently until the side door would open a
narrow crack and a hand would appear holding a receptacle for the milk.
Whenever I saw those hands extended, I thought of Whittier’s terrible
lines on Daniel Webster: “Walk backward with averted face.” That was the
way we were expected to approach the door.

On one occasion the milkman had forgotten his glasses, and he was
somewhat near-sighted. He rang his bell before one house for several
minutes with no visible response. Finally he saw the front door open,
and what seemed to him a tin bucket was thrust through the opening.
Being somewhat familiar with the vagaries of lazy housewives, he filled
a quart measure with milk and backed up to the door. He was careful, for
hardly ten minutes before a lady holding out a hand in much the same way
had plainly cautioned him:

“Walk straight now, and if you bat an eye at this door I’ll call my

In a community where women were a minority such a command was emphatic,
so the milkman proceeded with care and circumspection. Peering about
uncertainly, he carefully poured the milk into what he supposed was a
milkpail. There was a tremendous commotion within, for quite innocently
he had sent a forcible message into the world of silence. It later
appeared that the woman of the house was ill and had been greatly
disturbed by the bell, so Aunt Sarah had volunteered to end the noise.
But Aunt Sarah, though a woman of large and very superior intentions,
was not an expert on noises. She was very deaf, and made use of one of
the old-fashioned trumpets with a mouthpiece as large as a good-sized
funnel. She had not been able to fully complete her toilet, so she did
not throw the door wide open; but in order to hear what the milkman
had to say for himself, she made an opening just wide enough to thrust
out the mouthpiece of her trumpet. The man poured the milk into
it—literally giving Aunt Sarah “an earful.” I have heard of several
cases where a great nervous shock or a long continuance of trouble has
suddenly destroyed the hearing. I wish I might say that Aunt Sarah’s
hearing was restored or improved by this milk treatment; the dispenser
of the liquid declares that it had a striking effect upon her voice,
but that she was quite unable to appreciate his explanation. Were I to
repeat some of her remarks, I should add to the force of this narrative,
but hardly to its dignity.

The town of Greeley was organized as a temperance community. It was
recorded in every deed or lease that the title was to be forfeited at
any time that liquor was sold on the premises, and this regulation was
absolutely enforced, for the settlers were a band of earnest “cranks,”
who saw to it that the wheels went ’round. The result was that this
town contained more cases of near-delirium tremens than any other place
of equal size in the State. It came to be a favorite plan for those
who had been elsewhere on a spree to come to Greeley to sober up. They
could get no liquor except what they brought, and most of that was taken
away from them. The first time I drove the milk wagon I encountered
one of these “patients.” At a lonely place on the outskirts of town
a disreputable character suddenly started up from the roadside and
caught the horse’s bridle with his left hand, meanwhile pointing a long
forefinger at me. He was red-eyed, unshaven and trembly, and I could
not hear a word he said. I took it to be “Money or your life”—and who
ever knew a milkman to have money? It turned out that he was demanding
a quart of new milk with which to help float over a new leaf. I had
nothing in which to serve the milk except the quart measure, but I
filled that and handed it over. The man sat down on the grass and slowly
drank his “medicine”; then I washed the measure in an irrigating ditch
and was prepared for the next customer.

This man told me that he was making a desperate effort to recover from
a protracted spree, and it was the general belief that a diet of warm
milk was the best treatment. It came to be a common thing for us to meet
these haggard, wild-eyed sufferers, and help them to the milk cure. I
have seldom heard of the treatment elsewhere. It was there considered
a standard remedy, though I have never been able to understand the
psychology or the physiology of it. A friend of mine who is quite deaf
tells me of another experience with a new cure for the drink habit.

He took his vacation one Summer on a steamer running from Buffalo up
the Great Lakes. Among other supplies he carried a peck of good apples.
I cannot say that apples are to be recommended as a cure for deafness,
but to many of us they are better than tobacco for companionship. The
first day out, while waiting for his fellow-passengers to realize that a
deaf man was not likely to eat them up or convey some terrible disease,
my friend took two mellow Baldwins, found a shady place on the forward
deck, and prepared for a lazy lunch. He was about to bite into the first
of his fruit when an excited man hurried up from below and began talking
eagerly. The deaf man could not imagine what it was all about, and
while he was trying to explain the newcomer snatched the apple out of
his hand and buried his teeth far into it. My friend was reminded of a
wild animal half-crazed for food. At this moment an anxious-faced woman
appeared. The man turned to her, and with his mouth well filled shouted:

“Mary, you’ll find it in the false bottom of my bag. Get rid of it at

The woman disappeared on the run, while the man finished the first
apple and held out his hand for the other. Presently she returned with
two bottles of whiskey, and, going to the side of the steamer, she
deliberately threw them overboard. Then, while her husband kept at the
apples, she made the deaf man understand.

It appeared that her man was a hard drinker, though he was trying with
all his poor enfeebled will to free himself from the slavery. He had
tried many “cures,” but the only way to overcome the desire for whiskey
was to eat sour apples when the craving became too strong. It did not
always work, but frequently this remedy was successful. This trip was a
vacation for him and his wife, and just before the boat had started some
of his companions had brought him two bottles of whiskey, which he had
hidden in the bottom of his bag, and he was waiting for an opportunity
to “enjoy life.” All the morning he had been prowling about the boat
trying to fight off the craving. Finally down in the hold he had come
upon what he called a “funeral outfit.” There was a coffin—but let him
tell it.

“That coffin was going as freight to the last resting-place, and it
made me realize that I was going by express to the same place. Beside
it stood an undertaker—one of those melancholy individuals with black
burnsides and a long chin. He looked at me, and I thought he was saying:

‘Come on, old man! This is what rum is bringing you to. Give me the

“I knew right there that I must decide between that coffin and a barrel
of apples.”

There came upon him a fierce craving to brace his nerves with some of
the whiskey in his bag. He ran through the ship praying as fervently
as a drowning man for some saving straw. He saw the deaf man with the
Baldwin apple, and he ran to the fruit like a hunted animal—eager to
bite into it and to ease his heated tongue against its sour juice.

Since I first heard the story I have investigated many cases, and have
never found a heavy drinker who was at the same time a large consumer
of raw apples. And I have run upon several cases where sour apples
eaten freely have safely tided men past the desire to drink. Surely a
prohibition country must be one flowing with milk and apples!

We founded the Apple Consumers’ League largely on that theory. Something
over twenty-five years ago I was lunching at a New York restaurant.
There was a bumper apple crop that year, and a poor sale for it. Looking
over the bill of fare, I found oranges, prunes and bananas, and an idea
struck me.

“Bring me a baked apple.”

“We ain’t got none.”

“What, no baked apples? I thought this was an American place.”

“Sorry, boss, but we ain’t got none.”

By this time everyone within fifty feet was listening. Soon came an
anxious-looking man, rubbing his hands and trying to smile.

“Nothing the matter with the food, I hope.”

I could not hear much that he said, and it did not matter. I did my best
to deliver a public lecture on the apple, and all around me people were
nodding as if to say:

“I’d order one if I could get it.”

The manager was impressed, and that night for supper he had “Baked Apple
with Cream” written into his card in red ink. Later he came to me and
asked names of varieties and where they could be found. As a result
of this experiment a few of us founded the “American Apple Consumers’
League.” We pledged ourselves to call for apple in some form whenever we
sat at any public table. Our declaration was cast in rhyme:

  Apple, apple, call for apple
    Everywhere you go.
  Closely scan the bill of fare,
    And if apple is not there
  Call the landlord down with care!
    He will come with smirking manner
  Offering the soft banana,
    Or the orange—be not shaken
  In the job you’ve undertaken.
    Call for apple! Call for apple!
    With the problem closely grapple.

Some commercial travelers took it up, and soon nearly every restaurant
in the country began providing baked apple. There was one result which
we did not anticipate. The finer apples do not “stand up” well on
baking; they are delicious, but they flatten to a jelly. The public
demands something that stands up like an apple in shape. This has
created a great demand for the coarse-fleshed fruit of inferior quality,
which will stand up well in the pan.

We came upon another good office of the apple in this campaign. It is
an ideal toothbrush. We found that the bacteria which cause pyorrhea
are weakened by the mild acid, thus a wash of vinegar and water is an
excellent remedy. This has been verified by dentists, and a mellow, sour
apple eaten raw is likewise helpful. Using a sour apple as a toothbrush
ought to be a popular method of scrubbing the teeth.

I have perhaps spent unnecessary time over these matters, but in my
study of men who live in the silent world I have found a number who
consider the deaf man justified in finding solace in drink. It is a most
foolish prescription, but I fear the practice is all too common. The
deaf are subject to periods of deep depression, and the argument is that
the moderate use of alcohol will brighten their lives. I can think of
nothing more pitiful or ridiculous than an intoxicated deaf man. Alcohol
is the worst possible companion for the silence. There, if anywhere,
the faithless and deceitful comrades of life lead only to darkness and
misery. The deaf man needs every moral brace that life can give him;
no other character who tries to find a place and to adjust himself to
his fellow-men has greater need of the discipline which self-denial
alone can give. Only the finer and more substantial hopes are worth
considering when music no longer greets us and well-loved voices fade
away or lose all their tenderness, when they become harsh and discordant
sounds. Bottled sunshine, taken from coal or the electric wire, may be a
fair substitute for daylight, but bottled happiness will finally bring
nothing but misery to the deaf.

And yet you never can tell how people will size you up. There was a
deaf man who became greatly interested in prohibition. He could not
even drink coffee as a stimulant. He was to be chairman of the State
prohibition convention, and so started on a night train for the meeting.
Just before retiring he read over his speech, and then crawled into his
berth very well satisfied with himself. About midnight he was awakened
by a heavy hand on his shoulder. You must remember that it is a great
shock for the deaf to be rudely started from sleep in this way; it is
then impossible for them to grasp any new situation quickly. In the
dim light of the Pullman our deaf man saw the figure of a man who was
fumbling about in his suitcase. When he saw that he had awakened the
sleeper, this intruder left the case, opened the curtains and held out
his hand with some object presented straight at the deaf man’s head. As
he was evidently asking some question, the deaf man imagined that he was
a train robber presenting a pistol with a “Hands up,” “Money or your
life,” or some such appropriate remark. The prohibition orator thrust up
his hands and said:

“I’m deaf. Take it all!”

The “train robber” talked for a while and then lowered his hand, took
the deaf man by the arm and led him to the smoking-room. There the
“robber” turned out to be the colored porter, with no pistol, but a
glass bottle in his hand. Finally, he slowly and laboriously wrote out
the following:

“_Man in lower four sick. Has got to have brandy. Says you look like a
sport and probably have it on you. Can you fill this bottle?_”

They had taken our prohibition friend for the other sort of a
“rum-punisher.” Such cases of mistaken identity are quite common to the
deaf, and some of them are never fully untangled.

Once when I entered a crowded dining-room in New York City a young woman
jumped up from a table and greeted me with every evidence of affection.
I had never seen her before, and was greatly embarrassed, especially as
I could not hear a word she said. I tried to explain, but she continued
talking rapidly, holding me by the arm. Of all the people present, no
one thought of coming to my aid except the colored waiter. He was the
good Samaritan who talked to the lady and wrote out her story for me on
the back of his order card. She thought I was her Uncle George, who had
agreed to meet her there. She insisted that I was playing a practical
joke in pretending that I was only a plain and somewhat bewildered deaf
man. Finally she obtained a side view of my face which convinced her of
her mistake, and then, greatly startled by the publicity she had caused,
she hurried away. To this day I do not know who “Uncle George” was or if
he ever found his niece. My colored interpreter, however, is still on
duty, and frequently writes out for me the conversations of people near



  Reflection versus Conversation—Old Memories—The Lecture
  and the Whipping—Education and the Stick—Ridicule
  Unbearable to the Deaf—The Office Fight—The Dangers of

The deaf man may not excel in conversation, but he is usually strong on
reflection. He has plenty of time, for his life is roughly divided into
three chief periods, working, sleeping and thinking. It may safely be
said that the character and temper of the deaf are determined rather by
their thought than by their work. The greater part of their thinking
is a form of mental analysis. They like to go back to the beginning of
things. That is why the deaf man is such a remarkably superior specimen
of a “grouch” when he puts himself to the task of analyzing his own
troubles. If you could read the thoughts of the deaf as they sit by
themselves without book or work you would find that they are searching
the past to find something which may be compared to their present

It is a curious mental sensation, probably far different from anything
that comes to you in your world of sound, unless it comes in moments of
depression, or when you are deeply stirred by old memories. Sometimes
in the evening we become tired of reading and we cannot join in the
music or chatter about us; it is too dark to work outdoors, and we have
accomplished enough for the day. So we amuse ourselves by trying to go
back to the beginnings of things. When did I first fall in love with the
portly lady who sits at the other side of the fire? How much smaller was
she then? When did I find the first gray hair? When did I first discover
that my eyes had failed so that I could not read signs across the way?
When did I begin to discover something of the real life difference
between work and play? We think these things out to no particular
advantage, except that perhaps they may form a text for a moral lecture
to our young people. And now I find that my children very properly pay
little attention to my lectures. I have stopped delivering them since
going back to the original dissertation given for my benefit.

The old gentleman who brought me up was much addicted to the lecture
cure for youthful depravity. He would seat me in the corner on a little
cricket, and with his long forefinger well extended would depict the
sin and laziness of “this young generation” whenever I forgot to water
the horses or to feed the hens. I can see him now, with his spectacles
pushed up to the top of his bald head, and that thick finger projected
at me as he recounted the hardships of his own boyhood, and his own
faithful and unfailing service. What a remarkable boy he must have
been! Then his wife, who was very deaf, and, more unfortunately, very
inquisitive, would appear at the door and shout: “What say?” Her husband
would patiently gather his lungs full of air, make a trumpet of his
hands and roar in her ear:

“I’m telling the boy about the terrible sin and danger of this young
generation. What kind of a world will it be, I ask you, when such boys
as that grow up to control things? It will be another Babylon, and I
don’t want to live to see it.”

And his wife, getting only a word here and there, would quote some
appropriate passage from Isaiah and go back to her work well satisfied
that she had done her duty.

“Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are for signs
and for wonders in Israel:” And now it seems to me, as I sit here, a
gray-haired man of the silent world, that I have seen many of the signs
and wonders, though I did not recognize them as they passed by. That
“sinful young generation” has grown up, and men of my age may be said
to control the nation. It seems to me that it is a good world after
all, and I believe that my mischief-making children will grow up into a
steadily developing generation which will make it better yet. For here
in the silent world we learn to smile at youthful antics, and to have
great charity for them.

The earliest incident of my childhood that I can remember is the
time my father pretended to give us a whipping. My older brother and
I had been sent to bed in disgrace, to wait for father to come home
and administer punishment. I can just recall that we were up in a New
England attic, in the bed at the head of the stairs, surrounded by a
collection of trunks, boxes and old rubbish which a thrifty housewife
always puts “upstairs.” She is too economical to throw them away, and
too neat to have them in sight downstairs. I think the town bell was
faintly ringing, as it always did at six o’clock, and there was a sound
like a gentle tapping as the water lapped at the wharf in high tide.
I can just dimly remember the sunshine streaming in through the dusty
window as we lay there in bed. The dust danced and floated in it like
a flock of tiny flies. Since then I have read much of history. There
have been many occasions when brave souls have waited for death or an
ominous sentence. These scenes haunt the deaf; we cannot talk and laugh
them away as others do. We must put down our book and go back in memory,
seeking something in our own lives which may even remotely resemble
what we have read. That is part of the penalty which must come with the
silence. I remember reading a powerful description of Louis XVI on the
night before his execution. A well-meaning, easy-going man, he had never
been able to realize the serious side of life until it suddenly peered
in through his window with the hideous face of Revolution. Then, face
to face with death, he rose to that dignity “which doth become a king.”
As I read that passage I put my book down, and, ridiculously enough,
there flashed into my mind the picture of these two little boys waiting
for the coming of father with his stick. We had determined that we would
not cry, no matter how hard he hit us. That was our nearest approach to

I think that even then my hearing was a little defective. I heard my
father come in below, and mother’s clear voice was certainly intended
for our hearing.

“Now, Joseph, you go right up and whip those boys! They would not mind
me, and _you must do it_.”

All through my life I have somehow managed to hear the unpleasant
remarks or thorns of life. We deaf usually miss the bouquets. Poor
father! The Civil War was raging, and he had volunteered. My young
people seem to think that the Civil War was a mere skirmish beside the
great World War just ended. Perhaps so, if we count only money and men,
yet our part in this recent conflict was but a plaything in intense
living, in sentiment, and breaking up of family life, as compared with
the war of the sixties. Father was to leave home for the front in less
than a week. He was captain of the local company, and should probably
have been stronger in family discipline. But his heart was tender. He
did not want to whip his boys, and he protested, as many a man has
done. I could not hear what he said, but I knew from the expression on
my brother’s face that he was protesting. Tonight, after these long and
toilsome years have boiled out much of ambition and the desire to know
the great things of life, I wish most keenly that I could have heard
what my father said.

But mother insisted, as good women do, and finally we heard the big man
slowly mounting the stairs. I can see him now as he stood framed in the
doorway with the bright splinter of sunshine bathing him in light; a
tall man with a strong, kindly face and a thick black beard. It is the
only real memory I have of my father, for he did not come back from the
war alive. Long, long years after, I sat at a great banquet next to a
famous Senator, who had seen much of life. I told him that I have only
this memory of my father, but that I had finally found a man who had
served in the same regiment with him, slept in the same tent, who had
known him intimately as a man.

“Now,” I asked, “shall I hunt up that man and have him tell me in his
own way just what kind of a man my father was?”

Quickly the answer came from this hardened old diplomat:

“Keep away from him! Let him alone! Never go near him! Burn his letters
without reading them. You now have an ideal of your father. This man
knows him as just a plain, common man, probably with most of the faults
of humanity. Let him alone! If at your age God has permitted you to
retain an ideal of any human being, keep it pure. Take no chances of
having it blackened!”

I took his advice, and have always been glad that I did so. It has been
my experience that deaf men are able to hold their ideals longer than
those who can hear; probably this is another part of our compensation. I
would advise every man of the silent world to build up a hobby and gain
an ideal. One will serve to keep hand and brain busy, the other helps to
keep the soul clean. I heard one deaf man say that clean ideals mark the
difference between a “grouch” and a gentleman.

My father came slowly to the bed where we lay, tuning his voice as
nearly to a growl as the nerves between the vocal chords and the
heart-strings would permit.

“I’ll attend to your case, young men! I’ll teach you to mind your

Then he began to strike the pillow with his hand, growling as before.

“_Now_, will you mind your mother when she speaks to you?”

It was one of those cases of thought suggestion which I have mentioned.
My brother and I understood. No one can prove that father told us to
cry and help him play his part. Like the horses in the pasture, we
understood. We screamed lustily as father spanked the pillow, though we
had fully agreed between us that we would endure it all without a sound.
In fact, we carried out our part so well that mother, listening below to
see that father did not shirk his duty, finally came running upstairs to
defend her brood.

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Joseph, to hurt those little
boys so! They did nothing so very bad!” And there was a great loving
time, with mother holding us close and making little crooning sounds as
she swayed back and forth with us. Father stood by, trying to act the
part of stern parent, with indifferent success. And then he carried us
downstairs, a reunited family, where we boys each had a doughnut with
our bread and milk.

That was nearly sixty years ago, and I have been forced to stand up and
take punishment for many sins and omissions. If father had lived, it
is not likely that we would have discussed this little deception, but
it still would have been a beautiful memory. My wife, who was once a
school teacher, strong in discipline, says it was a great mistake on
father’s part. Perhaps I show this in defects of character. He should
have taken a shingle to us, she says. Perhaps so; yet after all these
years (and what test can compare with time?) I am glad he acted as he
did. If I were starting on his long journey, I should be likely to treat
my children in the same way.

I have often been asked if deaf people of middle-age can safely be
entrusted with the bringing up of a little child. That depends—both on
the grown people and the child. Generally speaking, I should not advise
it. Deaf people are likely to be obstinate in their opinions, rather
narrow in thought, and slow to understand that the habits and tendencies
of society grow like a tree. Many of them have made a brilliant success
in certain lines of work, but they are apt to be narrow as a board
outside of their limited range. In rearing a child it is a great
disadvantage not to be able to hear its little whispered confidences;
if the little one has no reliable confidant it will grow up hard and
unsympathetic, or it will go with its confidences to the wrong person. I
know deaf people who regret bitterly that they can only give financial
aid and reasonable example to their children, while they long to enter
into that part of child life which can only be reached through sound.

Looking back over life, I become convinced that my hearing was always
a little dull; probably the trouble started in a case of scarlet fever
when I was a baby, and in those days no one thought of examining or
treating the ears of a child. Also, I think one of my teachers helped to
start me along the road to silence. Those were the days when “corporal
punishment” was not only permitted, but was encouraged. Most of us
were brought up on the “Scriptures and a stick,” and each teacher
seemed to select some special portion of the human anatomy as the most
susceptible part through which to make her authority felt. Some of the
educational methods of those days were effective even if they were
violent. I have had the teacher point a long stick at me and issue the

“Spell incomprehensibility!”

I would stumble on as far as “ability” and then fall down completely. In
these days my children are led gently over the bad place in the road,
but then we took it at a jump. The teacher would lay that long stick
three times over your back, and while the dust was rising from your
jacket would make another demand.

“_Now_ spell it!”

And I must confess that we were then usually able to do so. This
particular teacher chose the ear for her point of attack; she would
steal up behind a whisperer or a loiterer and strike him over the ears
with a large book, like a geography. Or she would upon occasion pull
some special culprit out to the front of the school by the lobe of the
ear. Such things are no longer permitted in the public schools, yet
I frequently see people in sudden anger slap or “box” their children
on the side of the face or on the ears. It is a cruel and degrading
punishment, and, remembering my own experience, I always feel like
striking those who are guilty of it squarely in their own faces with all
my power.

What annoys the deaf man most is the suggestion that he is being used
as the butt for ridicule. We can stand abuse or open attack with more
or less serenity, but it is gall and wormwood to feel that there are
those who can make sport of our serious affliction. I once worked on a
newspaper where one of the editors was absolutely deaf, unable to hear
his own voice. He was a big man, naturally good-natured and reasonably
cheerful. The foreman of the composing-room was a man of medium size,
and a great “bluffer.” Sometimes he would try to impress strangers in
the office by using the big deaf man as a chopping block for courage.
He would get out of sight behind, shake his fist over the poor fellow’s
head and roar out his challenge:

“You big coward; for five cents I’d lift you out of that chair and mop
up the floor with you. Step out in the street and I’ll knock your block

It was very cheap stuff, though quite effective. The deaf man, of
course, didn’t hear a word of it, but kept on with his work, and many
visitors considered the foreman courageous for calling down a much
larger man. But one day the editor chanced to see the reflection of that
fist in his glasses. He looked up suddenly and caught the foreman right
in the act. The deaf think quickly and accurately in a crisis, and in
an instant this man was on his feet, pulling off his coat. He did not
know what it was all about, but here was a man taking advantage of his
affliction. There is something more than impressive about the wrath of
the deaf, and the foreman ran behind a table, took a piece of paper and
wrote the following:

“I cannot fight. I promised a Christian mother that I would never strike
a cripple, or a deaf or a blind man!”

The deaf man read the communication and made but one remark:

“I am under no such obligation!”

The way he polished off his tormentor was a joy to us all. He could not
hear the foreman yell “Enough!” and we did not notify him until the job
was perfectly done.

However, the deaf man will be wise if he keeps out of quarrels. When
they arise suddenly he cannot tell which side he ought to be on. I have
taken part vigorously in several sudden and violent battles only to find
when it was all over that I had been doing valiant work—on the wrong
side! Likewise, “bluffing” is taboo. Few men can ever escape with even
the wreckage of a “bluff” unless it is safely mounted on skids of sound.
We all learn these things by hard experience before we discover the
limitations of the silent life.

Some years ago I attended a banquet where a great company of lions
appeared to have gathered to feed and to listen to a few roars after
the meal. The man next to me would have made a splendid “announcer”
for a circus. Here, he told me, was a famous statesman; that man over
there might have been President; this man had enough money to buy a
European state; the man helping himself to a double portion of terrapin
was a poet; the big man nibbling his bit of cheese was a well-known
historian. He was a man of great ability, though unfortunately somewhat
deaf, which fact naturally interested me so much that I kept an eye on
the historian.

When the toastmaster began his “We have with us tonight,” it seemed as
though every speaker felt that he carried a ticket to a front seat in
the Hall of Fame, and in an evil hour I decided to attempt a little
“bluff.” I rose for a few remarks on agriculture. Pedigree or good
stock is essential to good farming, so it was easy to refer to “my
ancestor, Lord Collingwood.” I had read somewhere that Lord Collingwood
was present at the Battle of Bunker Hill as a petty officer on one of
the English warships. It was quite easy to refer to the fact that I had
one ancestor in that battle wearing a red coat and another behind the
American breastworks wearing overalls! What would have happened to me if
both had been killed? It was what we call very cheap stuff—too cheap
for a deaf man to handle. It was a very silly thing to do, but for the
moment it seemed to impress the audience. Out of the corner of my eye I
saw the historian with his hand at his ear whisper to his companion and
then make notes on a sheet of paper.

“Ah,” I thought with gratification, “I have impressed the great
historian!” And I sat down thinking very well of myself. But the eminent
historian folded his paper and sent it to me by a waiter. This is what I

“_Are you sure of your pedigree? The facts seem to be that Lord
Collingwood had only two children, both daughters. I think neither of
them ever married._”

Then and there I lost interest in my ancestors. I have no further desire
to trace back my pedigree, especially in the presence of well-read
historians. And I am cured of “bluffing.”



  Deafness Cures—We Forget to Listen—Science and
  Scent—Lip-Reading—Judging Character.

We all have our pet aversions, and with deaf people the popular
candidate for this position is the man who is positive that he can cure
the disease. The “hope-deferred” period comes to most of us, and for a
time we try every possible remedy, only to find that the affliction is
still marching steadily upon us. Then it is the part of wisdom to give
up the experimenting and to dig in as a line of defense all the humor
and philosophy we can muster. It is not so much resignation to our fate
as it is determination to make that fate luminous with hope and good
cheer. Miraculous cures which restore the wasted organs of the body may
now and then be possible, but they are not probable, while it is certain
that too long a period of hope-deferred will cause a sickness of the
soul as well as of the heart.

Many cannot agree with this philosophy. I think they add to the
terror and trouble of their lives by submitting their poor bodies to
a continuous series of experiments. There was a prominent merchant in
New York, blind, with a disease which the best physicians declared
incurable. He made a standing offer of a quarter of a million to
anyone who would restore his sight. His theory was that this constant
experimenting and treatment kept hope and faith alive. My own
experience with the deaf does not point that way. I truly consider it
wiser to devote the spirit which may be wasted in false expectation to
the task of making the silent land endurable. I know of a woman for
whom a tuberculosis expert prescribed a dry, hilly country, a simple
diet and a cheerful mode of life, involving little or no medicine. She
settled in the country, and some local “quack” told her that a friend
had been cured by taking whiskey in which pine chips had been soaked.
This intelligent woman, considering her doctor’s treatment too mild,
was actually ready to follow this method. As a boy I lived with people
whose lives were long experiments with deafness cures. At that time the
country was full of unlicensed practitioners, who went about promising
to cure every possible disease, and our folks tried them all, just as
they sampled every new brand of patent medicine. Even now, many deaf
men, and especially those who live in the country or small towns, must
expect to be regarded as human experiment stations. We can all relate
remarkable experiences with the various “cures” which have been tried
out on us. From skunk oil to chiropractic and back again, we know every
way station. Few persons appear to aspire to curing blindness, but in
every community in which I have ever lived were several individuals who
were certain that they could successfully handle diseases of the ear.
I have seen them stand impatient, their fingers fairly itching to get
hold of me. Usually their “knowledge” of the ear is merely that they
recognize it as the organ of hearing, yet they are quite ready to rush
in where aurists hesitate to enter. Most of the quack remedies may be
harmless, yet sometimes these practitioners have done great injury
where relief might have been obtained through proper care. I think
several of them injured me, and I should feel like taking a shotgun
to one of these amateur aurists were I to find him operating on one
of my children. I wish I knew why the community deaf man of a country
neighborhood is considered so fair a subject for experimentation.
Probably in some cases it is really a nuisance to communicate with him,
and again he may be the object of genuine sympathy, perhaps with an
admixture of curiosity. I have run the whole gauntlet, and should need
an entire book to report all the remedies suggested or actually tried
on me.

Perhaps the most popular “cure” is skunk oil. This theory appears to
be that since the skunk has a very acute sense of hearing, he can
communicate this faculty to a human, through his oil. Personally, I
believe the skunk to be a lazy, stupid beast, with hearing below normal;
but, at any rate, we are earnestly told that oil from a skunk, if
dropped into the ears, will surely improve their hearing. No man has
ever given this remedy a fairer trial than I have done. Later an aurist
diagnosed my case as a disorder of the interior ear which was rather
encouraged than cured by the application of the oil. Another “remedy,”
based on a similar principle, is an exclusive diet of pork. Here the
excellent ears of the pig are to be transmitted to the consumer! I
have been several times presented with the argument that deafness is
more prevalent among the Jews and other non-pork eaters than among any
other class. Also, they say that the disease of deafness was rarely
known among the earlier pioneers, who lived mostly on “hog and hominy.”
Possibly this was due to the fact that corn grows on “ears.” At any
rate, here are fair samples of the arguments which are submitted to
the unfortunate deaf. One Winter, when I taught school and “boarded
round,” I experienced a full course of treatments based on this remedy.
It was started by the school trustee, an economical soul, who sold his
butter and fed his family on pork fat. In those days we were innocent
of bacteria or vitamines, and this clever adaptation of a deafness cure
helped the trustee to avoid the local odium which would naturally center
upon a householder who fed the teacher on lard. And with one accord the
neighbors joined in the good work. I moved to a new family each week,
and as the news of the projected treatment spread, each farmer killed a
hog just before my arrival. I ate fresh pork every day for three months.
Ungratefully enough, I did not recover my hearing, but the treatment
surely roused the sporting instinct in that neighborhood. Near the close
of the term this comment was reported to me:

“No, it ain’t done him no good—he can’t scarcely hear it thunder; but
I’ll bet fifty dollars he’s raised bristles on his back.”

At another time one of these experimenters took me up into the church
belfry, ostensibly to “see the country.” As I stood beside the bell,
he suddenly struck it a hard blow with a hammer, on the theory that
this sudden and violent noise would “break up the wax in my ear” and
“frighten the muscle into a new grip”—whatever that may mean. He
protested that his grandfather had been cured in this way. This same
investigator once tried a very radical treatment on his deaf hired man.
It was Sunday afternoon, and the man had sought surcease from sorrow in
a nap in the haymow. The boss knew how to handle bees, so he selected
one from his hives, caught it safely by its wings, and, climbing the
haymow, he dropped the buzzing creature into the ear of the sleeping
hired man. He was working on a supposition that the man had _forgotten
how to listen_, and that the buzzing of the bee, and possibly his sting,
would shock him into remembering. But the victim merely started up from
sleep like an insane man, and rushed screaming to the brook, where he
ducked his head vigorously under water and drowned the bee. For long
weeks the poor fellow feared to go to sleep unless his ears were stuffed
full of cotton.

I asked the boss how he ever came to devise such a treatment for
deafness. He explained that some years before he had had a sick cow, who
had “lost her courage.” She positively refused to stand up, though she
might easily have done so. I have also had cows act this way; they seem
suddenly to have become “infirm of purpose,” and will die before they
will exert themselves. A horse under similar circumstances will finally
struggle to regain its feet, but the cow completely loses her nerve and
will not try. I have had such a cow lifted off the ground by a rope and
pulley, and yet refuse to use her legs. This farmer told me that he
called in a local “horse doctor,” who suddenly threw a good-sized dog on
the cow’s back. The dog barked and scratched, and under the influence
of sudden fear the cow scrambled to her feet and instantly regained the
power to walk. This farmer really was wiser than he knew, for there
are some cases of deafness, such as those caused by shell shock, which
consist in the loss of the ability to listen. Of course, our use of
instruments or lip-reading dulls the art of listening intently, in any
case, and it finally passes completely out of use. In some instances,
where the actual ear is unimpaired, this faculty may be shocked back
into use.

I once had an old lady solemnly assure me that a plaster made from the
lard of a white sow and the wool from the left ear of a black sheep
would surely cure any case of deafness. Query: Could the black sheep of
a family effect a simpler cure by rubbing on the lard and brushing his
hair down over it?

These are but samples of the dozens of ridiculous “cures” which have
been suggested to me, or even put into operation. I can vouch for the
comparative virtues of skunk oil, vibration, or the inflation of the
Eustachian tubes at the hands of a skilled aurist. And, after all, I
feel that in many cases the doom is sure, and that the best alleviation
for the future silent days is the store of accumulated philosophy and
sunshine. It seems to me that the surgery and general treatment of the
ears has not kept pace with the successful handling of diseases of other
organs. Some real “cure” may be developed, but hardly in my day. I
consider the study of lip-reading the most useful course for the deaf,
and we may at least prepare for the next generation by having the ears
of our children watched as carefully as we watch their teeth, their
eyes, their hands and feet.

For lip-reading one must have good eyes and a quick brain. Some of
us deaf become proficient in the use of the science, and I think its
practice will extend and become far more general. I have some little
knowledge of it, though I have not made it a prolonged study. It
would be difficult for me to explain exactly why I have not studied
the science more carefully. For many years my aurist told me that my
great hope for holding such hearing as I had was to force myself to
listen, even though I could get little of conversation. He thought that
the constant use of instruments or of lip-reading would weaken and
finally destroy my limited natural hearing, so that in time I should
forget how to listen and hear. This advice was, no doubt, good, though
if I were to go through life again I should make a thorough study of
lip-reading, anyway. In fact, I once started seriously enough, but
was switched away by a curious and disheartening discovery. I began
practicing on the train, studying intently the faces of men and women,
trying to take their words from their lips. Next to the ability to read
thought comes for interest and excitement the power of interpreting
ordinary conversation when the speaker has no thought of betraying his
communications to outsiders. I succeeded only too well with one man. I
had always supposed him to be a person of high character, and had been
wont to envy the recipients of his conversation. I finally was able to
read his lips, only to find that all of his talk was trivial, and some
of it filthy beyond expression. I, in my silence, busy with my gleanings
from good literature, had fancied that my companions were using a gift
priceless to me, and denied, for what we may honestly call “the glory
of God.” My little essay into lip-reading was thus discouraged; it
seemed suddenly a waste of time. Youth is probably the best time for
studying lip-reading, when the spirit for riding down obstacles and
discouragements is stronger.

The inexplicable sixth sense—a sort of intuition which we deaf
acquire—appears to be even stronger in afflicted animals than in men.
Sometimes it leads to an amusing outcome. In a certain New England State
a law was passed prohibiting exports of quail, and a well-informed
scientist was put in charge of it. He knew all about the habits of
quail, but little about the practical side of legal enforcement. He
made a tour through the State to consult with his deputies, and in
one locality he found a rough old farmer serving as game warden; an
independent old fellow, very deaf, most opinionated, with small respect
for professional knowledge. His constant companion was a little mongrel
dog, also very deaf. A strange silent combination they made, but they
carried a State-wide reputation for “spotting quail.”

The clash came at the railroad station, where the professor was waiting
for his train, completely disgusted with the appearance and general
attitude of the warden. The latter came slouching along the platform
with the small brown dog at his heels, and the face of the learned man
became as a book, in which the countryman could “read strange matters.”
The deaf are prompt to act when action seems necessary or desirable.
They do not join in useless preliminaries. Quickly and decisively the
game warden opened the campaign.

“You’re going home to fire me, but before you leave I want to tell you
before this crowd that you don’t know as much about this business as my
dog Jack does. He’s deaf, too!”

There are few situations more damaging to dignity than a public
argument with an angry deaf person—especially when the participator
with good ears is a polished gentleman and ladies are present. Again,
some men might appreciate the compliment of being associated with a
large, noble-looking dog. But the professor glanced at Jack and fully
realized the size of the insult. Here was just a little brown dog of
no particular breed, with one ear upright and the other lying limp,
evidence of previous injury in a fight. How was the professor to know
that because the outer door of those ears was shut the brain had been
forced to greater activity. And here was a shambling backwoodsman
telling a Ph.D. that this disreputable creature was his mental superior!
The professor was too indignant for words, but the game warden was ready
to continue:

“I’ll prove it! I’ll prove it right here. There’s a shipment of quail
going out of this town right now. Right on this platform are three
farmers, an old woman with a basket, two drummers with bags, old man
Edwards with a trunk, and that young woman with a fiddle case. Who’s got
the quail? Here’s a case where it don’t do us no good to know how many
eggs a quail lays or how many potato bugs she has in her gizzard. Who’s
got the quail? Can you tell?”

“Why,” gasped the indignant professor, “do you suppose I am going to
insult this young woman by intimating that she is a quail runner? And
these gentlemen? It’s preposterous!”

“It is, hey? Give it up, do ye? Well, we’ll try Jack. He can’t hear
nothing, but his ears have went to nose. Sic ’em, Jack!” And he snapped
his fingers at the little dog.

Jack put up his one capable ear and trotted along the platform,
applying his scarred nose to each package. He sniffed at the bags of
the drummers, nosed the trunk and the baskets, and finally came to the
violin case of the beautiful young woman. The instant his nose touched
that case every hair on Jack’s back stood erect and that broken ear
came as near to rising as it ever had done since the fight. Jack was
undoubtedly “pointing” at the hiding-place of the quail. In spite of
the young woman’s protest, the warden opened the case, and inside were
thirteen quail, snugly packed. Probably the lady could not even play the
“Rogue’s March” on a real violin.

And the farmer strode up triumphantly to the professor. Shaking a long
forefinger, he stated an evident truth.

“Professor, mebbe you’ve got the science, but you hain’t got the scent!”

Some of you who think that the loss of hearing can never be replaced by
a new sense may well be wary in your dealings with the deaf. There are
those like Jack, whose “ears have went to nose” and their “scent” is
quite too acute to be deceived.

I am often asked how we pass our time when we are alone or unoccupied.
We cannot, of course, beguile the time with music or the conversation
of chance acquaintance. In some way the mind must be kept occupied—an
idle mind leads to depression, the first step of the trip to insanity.
One’s eyes weary of constant reading. Perhaps our loneliest situations
are found in the great crowds. I have invented all sorts of schemes to
keep my mind busy. In the old days, when I crossed the Hudson daily to
New York on a ferryboat, I would count the number of revolutions which
the great wheel required to take us over. I had the average of many
trips. I have gathered all sorts of statistics. What proportion of men
in a crowd wear soft hats? How many wear straw hats after the regulation
date for shedding them? Does the majority of women wear black hats?
What proportion of men cross the knee when sitting? Does a right-handed
man ease his left leg in this way? What proportion of the dark-colored
horses one sees have the white spot or star on the forehead? I started
that investigation and was astonished to find how common this white
star is. Then I went through all available books to learn how this star
originated. Is it the remnant of a blazed face? I have never solved my
question. Such investigation is a marvelous help to the deaf.

Another of my plans is character study. I try to determine the
occupation and general character of strangers from their appearance,
their habits and the books they read. You would be surprised at the
accuracy of the observant deaf man in detecting these external marks
which he comes to understand. He finally secures a most interesting
chart of humanity, for in spite of us, character and occupation will
leave a stamp upon the face and actions. But we cannot always classify
strangers accurately. Here is one of my curious blunders: I saw daily
on the train a big, brutal-looking fellow with a red face, a flat
nose, well-protected eyes, and enormous arms and shoulders. I finally
classified him as a prize-fighter. One day he was reading a small book,
in which he was making frequent marks and comments. I reasoned that it
must be some new version of the “Manly Art of Self-Defense.” Soon my man
put down his book and went into the next car. Of course, I could not
resist the impulse to glance at the volume. It was “The Influence of
Christian Character in College Work.” My prize-fighter turned out to be
a professor in a theological seminary. At any rate, he was in the battle
against evil.

No other persons can ride a hobby so gracefully and to such good purpose
as the deaf are able to do. No matter what it is, however childish, so
long as it can keep the mind clean and busy, it is our most wholesome
mental exercise. I know a deaf farmer who late in life started to
collect and properly name every plant that grew on his farm. It was
not only a wonderful help to him, but he became an expert botanist.
And this recalls a discussion perennial with deaf men. Will they be
happier in the country or in the city? The person inexperienced in
deafness will immediately decide for the country, but I am not so sure
that he is right. Farming is a business in which sound is important;
animals betray pain or pleasure largely through sound; a poultryman is
at a great disadvantage if he cannot hear the little ones. Then, too,
some deaf persons crave the sight of their fellows; it is a pleasure to
them to mingle silently with crowds; to see the multitudes pass by. The
country—far from the rush and struggle of humans—actually terrorizes
some deaf men. For myself, I greatly prefer the country, and I have
selected fruit trees as my working companions. They talk the silent
language, and they do not need to cry out when they wish to tell me
that they need help. Yet, of course, we are better off if we mingle
frequently with our fellows.

Sometimes in public life or in crowds the right thing comes to us like
an inspiration. There was a deaf man who went out to address a meeting
of farmers. It was held in the open air, and a stiff wind blew straight
from the ocean to the speaker’s stand. The meeting was important; the
farmers were discouraged and discontented and had come to hear sound
advice and fearless comment. A cautious politician gave them half an
hour of unmitigated “hot air”—a collection of meaningless words and
high-sounding phrases. Then a well-known scientist followed with what
might appropriately be called “dry air.” The farmers disconsolately
classified both addresses as “wind,” and enough of that was blowing from
the ocean. Instinct told the deaf man that something was wrong, though
he had sat patiently through the long speeches without hearing a word.
When his turn came, he walked out of the wind into the shelter of a tree
and began:

“Job was the most afflicted man who ever lived. Of course, I know that
there are men who claim that Job had a bed of roses compared with their
constant afflictions. But Job has the advantage of good advertising in
the Bible. He spoke a great truth when he said:

‘Can a man fill his belly with the east wind?’”

A mighty roar of laughter from that audience startled the deaf man.
Fortunately he had said just what was needed to explode the gloom and
disappointment of that audience.



  The Deaf in Social and Business Life—The Partially
  Deaf—Endeavors to “Get By”—The Yeas and the Nays—Fifty
  Cents or a Dollar?—The Safety of the Written Word—The
  Indian and the Whisky—The Boiling-down Process—The New
  Sense Developed by Affliction—The Deaf Cat and the Piano.

During the years of expectancy, when we continue to look forward to
a cure, we deaf generally try to deceive ourselves along with others
by refusing to admit our condition, and by attempting to conceal the
defect in conversation. Many people are more or less deaf in one ear;
frequently they really do not realize the extent of their affliction.
They go through strange performances in their efforts to hear. Have
you ever seen a horse or a mule traveling with one ear bent forward
and the other reversed? The animal is, no doubt, somewhat defective in
hearing, and he “points” his ears front and back so as to catch all
noises, particularly commands from the driver. Back in the earlier ages
man also possessed this power of moving the ears; most of us have seen
individuals who still can control the muscles on the side of the head
so that their ears “wiggle.” All of us still have these muscles, even
if they have fallen out of use. Ear specialists say that many of us do
actually move our ears slightly when making a great effort to catch the
conversation. At any rate, human beings with defective hearing must bend
forward, or even move about a circle of talkers to get in full range
of the voices. We wonder sometimes why people insist upon getting on a
certain side of their companions, and always walk on the inside of the
street. Such a person is merely maneuvering to present the live side of
his head.

It is really very foolish for the deaf to attempt to conceal their
affliction; it places us in a false position, and we are at an added
disadvantage in society. We may hide our trouble for a time, but sooner
or later we will be found out, and it is far wiser to be frank in the
first place. Some of our misguided efforts to pose as full men have
humorous results. We have various tricks of the trade which we at times
employ to catch or hold conversation. One common plan is to lead the
discussion along lines which will enable us to do most of the talking.
It has been said of the deaf man that he either talks all the time or
else says nothing, and that sometimes he does both at once. Sometimes
we meet a talker who is desperately determined to tell all of his own
story—which is one involving many fatal direct questions, such as “Am I
right?” “Do I make myself clear?” Then the deaf man is hopelessly lost,
and the part of wisdom is to produce pencil and pad.

A friend of mine who knew that he was going deaf conceived the brilliant
scheme of saying “Yes,” or nodding his head to agree with everything
that was said to him. He felt that the path of least resistance lies
along the affirmative—in letting others always have the say. One day
he settled himself in the first vacant chair in a barber shop, at the
mercy of a very talkative barber, with whom expression of thought had
become merely a vocal exercise. My friend knew that this man was talking
and asking questions, but as he could hear nothing, he merely nodded at
each evident interrogation point. He had some important work on hand
which he was trying to develop, and, as is the habit of the deaf at such
times, he became absorbed in his thought and quite unmindful of what the
barber was doing. At each questioning look he emerged from his brown
study only long enough to nod his head. Finally the barber finished, and
presented a check for about three dollars. It then appeared that instead
of asking the usual questions about the weather and business the man
had been talking hair cut, singeing, facial massage, moustache curling,
hair renewer, and all the rest. Delighted at such a model customer,
the loquacious barber had done his full duty. Nothing but that special
Providence which guards fools and deaf men had saved my friend from the
bootblack, the vibrator and the manicure girl.

I recently read in the daily paper of a lawsuit in which a man sued his
barber to recover $4.75 obtained in just this way—the plaintiff being
a deaf man. The justice decided against the barber on the ground that a
man cannot legally be said to order a service unless he knows what it is
going to be. So, score another for the deaf man.

This and similar experiences convinced my deaf friend that the road to
affirmation is well lined with a group of citizens who do far more than
hold out their hats for charity. No deaf man is safe on that highway.
So he changed his method and shook his head at all questions. He said
that experience had convinced him that at best this is a selfish world,
and most men approached him seeking some advantage rather than offering
service: therefore a general negative was the best policy. Shortly after
making this decision he attended a reception at a wealthy man’s country
home. At one stage of the proceedings the men were all invited into a
side room, where a very dignified butler marched about and whispered to
each guest in turn. My friend ran true to form and shook his head. In a
short time a fine drink was served to everyone except himself.

As his affliction progresses, the deaf man learns frankly to admit his
inability to hear. This turns out to be a remarkably effective way to
separate the sheep from the goats, for most people will never go to the
trouble of making us understand unless they have some really important
message to deliver. Whenever we owe money, we find that our creditors
are quite able to communicate with us; would that our debtors were
equally insistent! Now and then comes a man who feels the tremendous
importance of his message, although no one else recognizes it. He
looks upon the deaf man as his select audience, and after giving us an
agonizing half-hour, he goes on his way, pluming himself on the kindly
deed he has performed in helping the neglected deaf man to valuable

I once lived in a little Southern town where the man who kept the livery
stable was quite deaf. He was popularly known as a “near” man, “so close
you could see him.” “The only thing he could hear was the clink of money
in his pocket.” The men who worked for him often had trouble getting
their money. One day his stableman, Ben Adams, colored, approached the
boss and screamed in his ear:

“Mr. Brown, can I have fifty cents?”

Brown heard him perfectly, but no one ever extracted fifty cents from
him without working for it. So he put on a fierce look and roared:

“_What?_ What did you say?”

Exceeding penury had made Ben Adams bold. Here was a chance to raise his
demand, and the delay bolstered his courage. So he made a trumpet of
his hands and roared again:

“Massa Brown, can I have _a dollar_?”

Brown donned that fierce scowl which the deaf know so well how to
assume, and roared himself:

“I thought you said fifty cents!”

The only safety for the very deaf man is to have the message written
out. Lip-reading and the use of superior instruments are frequently
very helpful, but my own experience is that it is a mistake to accept
anything but written evidence. I take it that sound conversation is
uncertain at best, and when a message is passed along through several
persons, all more or less careless in speaking or listening, it is sure
to be twisted out of its original shape. In our Southern printing office
there was a stock anecdote about the Indian who mixed up his message.

This Indian was printer’s devil in a small newspaper office in
Mississippi. He was said to be a star performer whenever he was
supported by firewater. In those days local printers made their own ink
rollers out of glue and molasses. During the Civil War the old roller
wore out, and it became necessary to send the Indian to Vicksburg for
the material for a new one. The printers did not dare write out the
order, for if papers were found on the Indian he would be hung for a
spy. So they coached him carefully and told him to go on saying over and
over to himself:

“Something sticky and something sweet.”

They felt that Vicksburg would understand this trade language, so they
started him off with the money. The Indian made straight for Vicksburg
through swamps and woods and across streams, ever repeating the
mysterious message. On the last lap of his journey he fell and struck
his head on a log with such force that he lay unconscious for a time.
Finally he recovered, shook his scattered wits together and went on
repeating the message. But it had been affected by the fall. Subjective
audition may even have been responsible, but, at any rate, when he
finally scrambled into the store at Vicksburg and presented his money,
he called for:

“Something sweet and something to drink.”

The merchant was well posted in this metaphor, so he fitted the Indian
out with a jug of whiskey and five pounds of brown sugar. A day or two
later the red man walked proudly into the printing office with this
roller material. The printers were given to philosophy, and, being
unable to make the ink roller, they proceeded to make a company of
high rollers, in which task they were ably assisted by the faithful
messenger. During the carouse a company of Grierson’s Union cavalry rode
into town. All trades were represented in the Union army, and a couple
of Northern printers used the printing outfit to good advantage. When
the owners woke up they were put to work printing one of Lincoln’s

By insisting upon written communications we deaf lose much of the
skim-milk of conversation, but we come to be expert in estimating
the ability of our friends to express themselves in clear and simple
English. Try it on a few of your visitors. You will be astonished to
see how many well-educated men will fail at the simple test of writing
what they have to say quickly and tersely on paper. They flounder like
schoolboys. My observation, as I look out from the silent world, is
that with many humans talking becomes a sort of mechanical operation,
usually involving no particular thought. It takes brains to put words on
paper; and, again, the written word is actual evidence. A man speaking
to you, and writing to me, would probably give me the stronger and more
reliable account—and work harder while doing it. I know a very pompous,
dignified gentleman of the old school who would probably say to you:

“The fateful hands upon the clock registered midnight’s doleful hour
before my head sought my pillow.”

Or, “The emotions generated by that pathetic occasion had such a
profound effect upon me that I fell into a lachrymose condition.”

If I handed him my pencil and pad he would get down to:

“I went to bed at twelve. I wept.”

Another bar to wordy discussions on paper is the fact that many
well-informed people are not sure of their spelling. In this modern age
too many business men depend upon their clerks and stenographers to see
to such trifles as spelling and grammar; their own knowledge of the
mechanics of expression grows dusty. One reason for the decline of the
Roman Empire was that the soldiers became too lazy to carry their own
weapons. They left them to slaves, and the slaves practiced with the
implements of war until they became so expert that they overcame the
masters. I think of this sometimes when a man who has nearly lost the
art of writing through this transfer of the medium of expression from
the hand to the mouth tries to communicate with me. Once I received
a scathing reply to an excuse I made to a correspondent—that a sore
throat had made it difficult for me to dictate letters. He acidly
inquired how long it had been since people wrote letters with the

Ignorant men who write little usually make the meaning evident, though
the form cannot be called graceful. One night a drunken man drove into
my yard by mistake. It was pitch dark, and I happened to be alone on the
farm. His horses, eager for harbor, had turned into our road. I went
without a lantern (the family had taken it on their trip) to turn his
horses about and start them down the highway. Then he became possessed
with a strong desire to tell me all his troubles. Of course, as I could
not hear them, I made no reply, and my silence so enraged him that he
wanted to fight. He clambered down from the wagon and groped about in
the darkness to reach me. At last I made him understand that I could not
hear, whereupon he was seized with a great grief for my trouble, and
insisted on writing out his sentiments for me. There was no denying him,
so off at one side of the buildings I started a little blaze of straw,
and by its light he scrawled on a piece of writing paper with a blunt
pencil. By the same flickering light I deciphered this:

“_I am darn sorry. My brother cured his’n with skunk oil._”

Then he drove off singing, glad in his heart that he had offered
consolation to an afflicted brother.

My children have been interpreters for me from the time they were able
to write. They can go with me on business trips and get the message
which others frequently cannot deliver on paper. At first they found
this hard and irksome, but it has proved remarkably good drill for
them in English. They have come to be excellent reporters, with the
ability to put the pith of long sentences and whole lectures into a
few exact words. This exercise of giving the deaf man an accurate and
brief account of the great volume of an ordinary conversation has really
developed their powers of expression.

We of the silence know that but few words are needed to grasp the really
essential things of life, and we often wonder why others lose so much
time in the useless approach to a subject when we can often see through
it by intuition. Probably one of the compensations of our affliction is
that we actually come to consider that these talkative, emotional people
who surround us are abnormal. Two men with good ears meet for a business
deal. They must go through the formula of discussing the weather, crops,
or politics before they start at the real subject. The whole discussion
is useless and irrelevant, yet they both feel that in some way it is
necessary, and even when they reach the point at issue, they seem to
prolong the debate with useless formal details. The deaf man cannot do
it that way. He must fully understand his side of the case beforehand,
forego all preliminaries, and plunge right into the heart of the subject
with as few words as possible. Is this entirely a disadvantage? I think
the man with perfect hearing might well learn from the deaf man whom he
pities in this respect to cut out useless conversation and spend the
extra time in thinking out his project. The most forceful and dependable
men you know are not long talkers and elaborators. Their words are few
and strong.

While a philosopher may perhaps summon this sort of reasoning to his aid
in the matter of conversation, he cannot apply it to music. Here the
deaf are quite hopeless. I have little knowledge of music, and could
never fairly distinguish one note from another. I have often wondered
whether a real musician who has lost his hearing can obtain any comfort
from _reading_ music as we read poetry or history for consolation.
Can a man hum over to himself some of the noble operas and obtain the
satisfaction which comes to me from “Paradise Lost” or Shakespeare? No
one seems to be able to tell of this; but of all the sorrowful people of
the silent world, the saddest are the musicians, for sound was more than
life to them. I read that Beethoven could muster no consolation when the
silence finally fell upon him. Life had turned dark, with no hope of

I often sit with people who tell me that they are listening to
delightful harmony of sound—music. My children grow up and learn to
play and sing, but I do not hear them. When my boy plays his violin
I get no more pleasure from it than I do from his sawing of a stick
of wood—not so much, in fact, for I know that the wood will build up
my fire and give me the light and heat which I can appreciate. It is
absurd, and I smile to myself, but sometimes when others sit beside me
with invisible fingers playing over their heart-strings at the wailing
of the violin and the calm tones of the piano, my mind goes back to
Lump, the white cat.

There is a general belief that white cats are deaf. I know that some
of them cannot hear, and Lump was one of the afflicted. I am bound to
say that Lump endured his loss with great equanimity; he was more of a
success than I ever was. He has given me more points on living happily
in the silence than I ever obtained from any human being. He forgot the
drawbacks and enlarged the advantages. Lump was never strikingly popular
with my wife. She _would not_ have cats in the house, and, her hearing
being good, she could not appreciate the philosophy of this particular
specimen. The proper place for cats, in her mind, was the barn, where
they may perform their life duty of demolishing rats and mice. There are
some humans who, like Lump, are forced into ignoble service when they
are really capable of giving instruction in psychology.

Long before my time men have been forced to meet their boon companions
under cover of darkness, or they have had to make private arrangements
for a rendezvous with the “guide, philosopher and friend.” So, sometimes
at night, after the rest of the family had retired, I would open the
back door. There always was Lump, curled on the mat, ready to share my
fire. Many a time as I let him in I have taken down a familiar old book
from its shelf and read Thackeray’s poem:

  “So each shall mourn, in life’s advance,
     Dear hopes dear friends untimely killed;
   Shall grieve for many a forfeit chance,
     And longing passion unfulfilled.
   Amen! Whatever fate be sent,
     Pray God the heart may kindly glow,
   Although the head with care be bent,
     And whitened with the Winter’s snow.

  “Come wealth or want, come good or ill,
     Let old and young accept their part,
   And bow before the awful will;
     _And bear it with an honest heart_,
   Who misses or who wins the prize.
     Go; lose or conquer as you can,
   And if you fail, or if you rise,
     Be each, pray God, a gentleman!”

And Lump would sit at the other side of the fire, turn his wise head to
one side, and look over at me as if to say:

“Old fellow, we are two of a kind—a rejected kind. They pity us for our
misfortune; let’s make them envy us for our advantages. I know more of
the habits of rats and mice than any cat in this neighborhood, because I
have been forced to study them. I have made new ears out of my eyes and
nose and brain, and so developed a new sense—instinct, which is worth
far more than their hearing. Why can’t you do the same with men?”

Those were great nights with Lump before my fire, and we both understood
that when the interview was over he was to go outside. One night,
however, I forgot this, and as I went sleepily off to bed he stayed
curled up by the warm hearth. The dreams of a deaf man are usually
vivid and emphatic. Sleep may be your time for rest and relief from
noise; with us it may be our period of music and excitement. That night
I dreamed that I was engaged in a prize-fight. I had given the other
man a knockout blow, when suddenly the referee came up from behind and
struck me on the side with such force that my ribs all seemed to give
way. I “came to” to find an energetic figure sitting up in bed beside
me, and pounding my side in an effort to bring me back to assume my true
position as defender of the family. Around the bed were grouped several
small white figures, and at last they made me understand.

“There’s someone downstairs. He’s robbing the house. We can hear him. Go
down and see about it!”

“What’s he doing?”

“Playing the piano.”

I will admit that my experience with burglars is somewhat limited, but
I had never heard of one who stopped to play the piano before starting
to burgle. Only a very desperate character would be likely to do that.
There have been numerous cases where a deaf man has been shot down when
approaching a house at night. He may have come on the most innocent
errand, but as he could not hear the command, “Speak or I’ll fire!”
he kept steadily on and was shot. I remembered these incidents, but
could not recall any instance where the deaf man was supposed to give
the order. But I had been telling my children great stories of life on
the plains, and the only way for me to remain a hero was to tackle the
intruder. I took my big stick and started down, while my wife brought a
lamp and held it at the top of the stairs. I presume she was handing out
some very sensible advice as I descended—but I could not hear it.

Now, what would you do and what would you say if you were roused at
night, led by your family into a conflict, only to find an old and
trusted friend robbing the henroost? I probably felt all your emotions
when I caught sight of that robber. The piano had been left open, and
there, walking up and down the keyboard impartially on black and white
was my old friend Lump—the deaf cat. He was taking advantage of a
night in the house to go on a voyage of exploration. His jump on to the
piano led to my disgrace. The “robber” was quickly flung into outer
darkness by an indignant woman, and probably I escaped a plain recital
of my shortcomings only by lack of hearing. Do you know, while I would
congratulate the husband on his escape, I always feel sorry for the
lady, who would be well justified in giving her man a full lecture, and
yet knows that he would not hear it. However, I feel that some innocent
member of the family may receive the impact of these remarks. At any
rate, before we were settled the baby woke up. It certainly was one
of those rare occasions when the deaf man appreciates his advantages

But why did Lump, in spite of his usual good sense, decide to try the
piano at midnight? Of course, he did not know he was making a noise; but
why mount the piano? I puzzled over this, and the wise old cat looked at
me pityingly; but I could not understand. Every time he could slip into
the house he went straight to the piano for a promenade up and down the
keys. I began to think that we had developed a wonderful “musical cat.”

Some time later the piano seemed to need tuning, and a tuner came to
take the muffle and twang out of its strings. When he opened up the
front, the mystery of the musical cat was revealed. Just behind the
keys, inside, was the nest of a mouse; she had carried in a handful
of soft material—and in it were half a dozen baby mice. Lump had not
been attempting “Home, Sweet Home”; his thought had been more nearly
along the line of “Thou Art So Near, and Yet So Far.” He had no ear for
music, but he had a nose for mice, and he had demonstrated his knowledge
of the habits of mice. I, too, have found it wiser to judge people by
their habits rather than by their music, for there are many who would be
willing to play “Home, Sweet Home” while in reality they are after the



  The Approach of Deafness—The College
  Woman—Student Methods in General—Calamity and
  Courage—Animals and Thought Communication—Another
  Compensation—Pronunciation and the Defensive Campaign.

Some years ago we planted a hedge at the end of my lawn. For years
I could sit at the dining-table and look over it. At night I saw my
neighbor’s window-light, and by day I could see him or some of his
family moving about the house or the fields. As the years went on I
became aware that the hedge was growing. Finally there came a Spring
when the bushes were filled out with foliage so that all view of the
neighbor’s house was lost. I could not see the light at night. While I
knew the people were moving about during the daytime, I could not see
them. The hedge had shut me away from them, yet it had grown so slowly
and so gently that there was no shock. Had my neighbor shut himself
suddenly away from view by building a spite fence, the loss would have
been far greater. This instance somewhat resembles the difference
between sudden loss of hearing and its slow fading away.

I know of the curious case of a woman who could not be made to realize
that her hearing was going until the common tests of everyday life
convinced her that she was going deaf. What are these common tests? The
usual ones are inability to hear the clocks and the birds. Very likely
you have been in the habit of listening to the clock at night when
for some reason sleep was impossible. It has been a comfort to you to
think how this constant old friend goes calmly on through sun or storm,
through joy or sorrow, gathering up the dust of the seconds into the
grains of the minutes, and forming them into bricks of the hours and
days. Or you may have been alone in the house on a Winter’s night. You
heard the house timbers crack, and gentle fingers seemed to be tapping
on the window pane. Then there came a night when you lay awake and
missed the sound of your old friend, who seemed to have stopped checking
off the marching hours. Many a deaf person waking in the night, missing
the sound of the clock, has risen from bed and brought a light to start
the old timepiece going. Not one of you can realize what it means when
the light falls upon the face of the clock, revealing the minute hand
still cheerfully circling its appointed course. The clock is still
going, but something else has stopped.

We have endured another test in watching the birds. Most of us can
remember when the morning was full of bird music. One day as we walk
about it comes suddenly home to us that the birds are silent or have
disappeared. At least, we can no longer hear them. We look about and
notice a robin on the lawn. We see him throw back his head, open his
mouth and move his throat. He is evidently singing—but we did not know
it. I cannot tell you in ordinary language how a chill suddenly passes
over the heart as we realize that as long as life lasts music is to
become to us as unsubstantial as the shadow of a cloud passing over the

The woman I speak of knew by these tests that her hearing was failing.
She was a student at college, where quick and sound ears are essential
if one is to obtain full benefit from lectures. I know just what this
means from my own experience, since I entered college some little time
after my ears began to fail. I am frequently asked how it is possible
for students with defective hearing to obtain an education. To the
ambitious man or woman the first thought on discovering the beginnings
of deafness is that the mind must be improved so as to make skilled
labor possible. Too many deaf people after a brief struggle feel
that fate has denied them the right to an education, and they give
up trying in despair. I found several ways of partly overcoming the
difficulty. I copied notes made by another student. In every class you
will find several natural reporters who make a very clear synopsis of
the lectures, and are rather proud of their skill. I found one lazy and
brilliant fellow who was an excellent reporter, though he absolutely
refused to study. He would give me his report and I would look up the
authorities and help him fill in the skeleton. We served each other like
the blind and the halt. I also made arrangements with several professors
to read their lecture notes. Most of them are quite willing to permit
this when they find the deaf man earnest and determined. In fact, the
average professor comes to be a dry sawbones of a fact dispenser, whose
daily struggle is to cram these facts into the more or less unwilling
student brain. When an interested deaf man appears, actually eager to
read the lectures, the soul of the driest professor will expand, for
here, he thinks, is full evidence of appreciation. The world and the
units which comprise it have always admired determination, or what plain
people call “grit.” I think it has been given that name because it is
that substance which the fighter may throw into the works of the machine
which would otherwise roll over him.

Working thus, I came to know something of the inner life of these
professors, whose daily routine comes to be a struggle with untrained
minds which resent all efforts to harness them. The attitude of the
average student in the class-room, as I recall it, reminds me of our
trotting colt, Beauty. She was so full of trotting blood that at
times it boiled over into a desire for a mad run. We thought we had a
world-beater, but when we put her on the track she could barely shade
four minutes. An experienced trainer took her in hand, put foot-weights
and straps on her and forced her to change her gait and concentrate
her power. How that beautiful little horse did rage and chafe at this
indignity! One could imagine her protest.

“Let me be free! Do I not know how to pick up my feet and use my limbs
for speed? My father was a king of speed—my mother of royal blood! Set
me free! Nature has given me natural swiftness—I do not need your art!”

But they held poor Beauty to it, though she chafed and lathered, and
tried to throw herself down. Everywhere she met the weights, the straps
and the cruel whip. At last she submitted to discipline and did as she
was told. She clipped fully ninety seconds from her natural speed for a
mile, but while she was forced to obey she had little respect for her

Could my college professors have controlled their human colts with
weights, straps and whips, it is more than likely that education would
have established a new record. I found my teachers quite willing to give
the list of references from which their lectures were taken, and with
these in hand the deaf student may read in advance of his class and be
fully prepared. As a rule, he does not stand high in recitations, but
excels in his written work. The truth is that for work which requires
study and research, deafness is something of an advantage. It enables
a student fully to concentrate his mind on the subject. It seems to me
that most of the world’s imperishable thoughts have been born in the
silence, or, at least, in solitude. The fact is that the human ear, for
all the joy, comfort or power it may give, is at best a treacherous and
undependable organ. Perhaps I cannot be classed as an authority on a
subject which involves accurate hearing, but I know that the greatest
danger in my business is that we are sometimes forced to rely upon
spoken or hearsay evidence. I will not use statements in print until
they are written out and signed. Too many people depend for their facts
upon what others tell them. The brain may distort the message and memory
may blur it. The wise deaf man learns to discount spoken testimony, and
will act only upon printed or written words. I have had people come to
me fully primed for an hour’s talk of complaint or scandal; I hand them
a pad of paper and a pencil, settle back and say:

“Now tell me all about it.”

That pen or pencil is usually as efficient as a milk-tester in
determining the surprisingly small amount of fat which exists in the
milk of ordinary conversation.

You see, as I told you I should be likely to do, I have wandered away
from the text. That is characteristic of the deaf, for we seldom hear
the text, anyway. The woman I started to tell about managed to work
through college and began treatment for her deafness. This promised some
relief, when suddenly the great earthquake shook San Francisco. The
shock and fright of that catastrophe destroyed her hearing entirely. I
have heard of several cases where deafness came like this, in a flash.
As one man repeated to me:

“At twenty-nine minutes past ten I actually heard a pin drop on the
floor of my room. At half-past ten it would have been necessary to prick
me to let me know that the pin was there.”

And this woman’s mother died. Her daughter was forced to sit beside her
at the last, unable to hear the message which the mother, just passing
into the unseen country, tried to give. In all the book of time, I
suppose there is recorded no more terrifying sadness than the fact of
this inability to hear the parting words. Sometimes I regret that I
promised not to make this book a tale of woe, for what could I not tell,
if I would, of the soul-destroying sadness of this longing to hear a
whispered confidence?

The woman of whom I speak did not shrivel under the heat of calamity.
She continued treatment, and has made some slight gain in hearing. And
now she has qualified as an expert physician. People wonder how a deaf
person can possibly diagnose organic diseases, such as heart trouble,
or even pneumonia. They can do it, for I have known several very deaf
physicians who yet have met with marked success. One in particular was
for years a chief examiner for a large insurance company. There was
something almost uncanny about the way this man could look into the
human body and put his finger upon any weak spot. I finally decided
that he had developed as a substitute for hearing a hidden power to
record with the eye and mind the symptoms not visible to most of his
profession. The others depended on man-made charts and rules. Their
perfect ears had made them slaves to common practice. My deaf friend,
deprived of the ordinary avenue of approach for consultation, had pushed
off like a pioneer into the unknown, where he had found the mysterious

I am well aware that I am getting out where the water is deep and that
many of you are not prepared to swim with me. But there are some very
strange things happening in the silent world. Have you ever noticed
two deaf people trying to communicate? Strange as the process may
appear, they are able to make each other understand, and they do it
quite easily, where a person with good ears would have great trouble.
I feel convinced that this century will see a system of wordless
thought communication worked out, though its beginnings may be crude.
It will be developed first by the afflicted, chiefly by the deaf. I am
sure that you have noticed, as I have, how the so-called dumb animals
can communicate. Let us take a group of horses at pasture. Now that
gasoline has so largely superseded oats as motive force on our farms,
younger people may not fully understand, but most people of middle age
will remember how old Dick and Kate and all the rest went to a service
of grass on Sunday. Perhaps they were scattered all over the field.
Suddenly Dick, the galled old veteran off by his fence corner, raised
his head and considered for a moment. Near by were old Sport and Kate,
feeding side by side as they have worked in the harness for years. Soon
old Dick walked meditatively up to this pair. He halted beside them and
they stopped feeding for a moment, apparently to listen. The old horse
stayed with them for a time and then walked slowly about the field to
the others. No audible sound was made, but finally, one by one, the
horses all stopped feeding and followed their leader up to the shadow
of the big tree. The gray mare and her foal were the last to go. There
in the shade the horses stood for some time with their heads together.
Evidently some soundless discussion was taking place. At one point the
gray mare threatened to kick old Dick, but she was prevented by big Tom,
who seemed to be sergeant-at-arms. After a time they separated, and
each went back to the spot where he was feeding. Who does not know that
there has been a convention at which these horses have agreed upon some
definite line of conduct? They may have organized a barnyard strike
or mutiny. Dick and Kate may refuse to pull at the plow. Perhaps the
council agreed to let certain parts of the pasture grow up to fresh
grass. We saw the colt chasing the sheep back to the hill. No doubt
he had been appointed a committee of one to do this, since the sheep
nibble too close to allow an honest horse a good mouthful. At any rate,
through some power which humans do not possess, these animals are able
to communicate, and to make their wants known. I presume that originally
man possessed something of this strange power. As he developed audible
language he let the ability fall into disuse. The Indians and some
savages have retained much of it. I take it that the deaf, shut away
from much of ordinary conversation, redevelop something of this power.

Kipling brings this idea out well in some of his Vermont stories. The
farmer goes on Sunday afternoon to salt the horses in the back pasture,
where the boarding horses are feeding. These boarders represent a
strange mixture. There are “sore” truck horses from the city, family
nags on vacation, and old veterans whose days of usefulness are ended.
With this mixed company, bringing in all the tricks of the city, are
the sober work horses of the farm. The farmer puts his salt on the
rocks where the horses can lick it, and then sits down to look over the
rolling country. Several of these city boarders are of the “tough”
element, and they attempt to stir up a mutiny.

“See,” they say as they lick the salt, “now we have him. He does not
suspect us. We can creep up behind him, kick him off that rock and
trample him.”

But the farm horses object. This man has treated them well, and they
will fight for him, and the toughs are awed. I have spent much time
watching farm animals at silent communication, and I have come to
believe that Kipling’s story may be partly true. I have seen our big
Airedale, Bruce, sit with his head at one side watching the children
at play on the lawn. He will walk off to where the other dogs are, and
evidently tell them about it, glancing at the children as he does so.

Some men are able to talk with their eyebrows or their shoulders or
their hands so that they are easily understood. I talked with an Italian
once through an interpreter. This man was a fruit-grower, and my friend
explained to him that I was growing peaches without cultivating the
soil, just cutting the grass and weeds and letting them lie on the
top of the ground. The Italian regarded this as rank heresy, and he
evidently regretted his inability to express himself in English. He did
give a curious long shrug to his shoulders, he spread out his hands,
rolled his eyes and spat on the ground. He could not possibly have
expressed his disapproval more eloquently, and I understood his feelings
far better than I did those of the learned professor who elaborated a
complicated theory for growing peaches.

All intelligent deaf men will tell you that they know something of this
subtle power. Edison is very deaf, and I am not surprised to learn
that he is studying it, attempting to organize it. It is one of the
interesting mysteries of the silent world, and it can be made into a
great healing compensation for one who will view his affliction with
philosophy, concentrating his mind upon its study.

While, of course, I could make a long catalogue of the compensations
and advantages of deafness, we must all admit that there is another
side. For instance, the man of the silent world must avoid the
pitfall of pronunciation. When sound is lost he forgets how words are
pronounced, and the new words and phrases constantly entering the
language are mysterious stumbling blocks. For example, no sensible deaf
man will mention the name of that Russian society, the epithet now so
glibly applied by conservatives to all who show radical tendencies.
Nor would he attempt to put tongue to the hideous names of some of
the new European States, or even to the name of McKinley’s assassin.
He lets someone else attempt those, some reckless person with good
ears. A strange thing about it is that our friends do not understand
our limitations in this respect. My wife ought to know most of the
restrictions and tricks of the deaf. Yet she was quite surprised when I
hesitated about reading a church lecture without a rehearsal. It was
a canned lecture, where you procure the slides and the manuscript, and
select some well-voiced “home talent” to read it. I was chosen as the
“talent,” but I remembered how years before I upset a sober-minded group
by twisting up “Beelzebub.” Therefore, I wanted to read the lecture over
several times and practice on some of the hard Bible names. Suppose I
ran unexpectedly on those men who went down into the fiery furnace.
Every child in the Sunday school could reel them off perfectly, but I
had not heard of them for years, and I defy any one to get them right at

Let the wise deaf man stick to the words he knows about until he has
practiced the new ones to the satisfaction of his wife and daughter. He
may well put up a defensive fight in most of his battles. Let him be
sure of his facts, sure that he is right, and then stand his ground. Let
others do the advancing and the countering and play the part of Napoleon
generally; the deaf man will do better to “stand pat.”

“But when was there ever a successful defensive campaign?”

I advise you to get out your history and read of the Norman conquest.
The battle of Hastings decided that. The Saxons lost that battle by
refusing to “stand pat.” They ran out of their stronghold and were
divided and destroyed. Had they taken my advice to deaf men, the
history of England would have been bound in blond leather instead of
black! That might have made considerable difference to you and me. I
think I may say without fear of contradiction that the deaf invite most
of their troubles by running out after them; when if we would keep
within our own defenses and stand our ground we might avoid them.



  Misunderstandings and Half-meanings—The Lazy
  Vocalists—The Minister and the Chicken Pie—Reconciling
  the Deaf Old Couple—When One Book Agent Received a
  Welcome—Putting the “Sick” in “Music.”

The average man does not begin to realize how sadly he has neglected the
training of his vocal organs. I have known men who have less than half
the articulation of a bullfrog to blame people with dull hearing because
they cannot understand the muffled mouthings and lazy vocalisms. Here we
deaf have a real grievance. There ought to be a world where the blame
and the ridicule for a failure to hear would go to the talker rather
than to the listener. The mouth is more often at fault than the ears,
although society will not have it so. There are people who run their
words together like beads crowded on a string. Others talk as though
their mouths were made for eating entirely, and were constantly employed
for that purpose. “His mouth is full of hot hasty pudd’n,” is the way
my deaf aunt would put it—and she was right in more ways than one,
for usually these mumblers and mouthers come with a foolish or useless
message, though they may consider it of the highest importance. Others
seem to consider it bad form to talk loud enough for the ordinary ear to
catch the sounds. I frequently wonder if people with such featureless
voices realize how they are regarded by those who are approaching the
silence. They seem to me persons who have hidden a priceless talent—not
in the earth like the unfaithful servant of the parable, but in their
chests, like a miser. It seems to me a crime to turn what might become
a flute or a silver-toned cornet into a whimpering bellows or a cracked
tin horn. I would have every child trained in some form of elocutlon
or music; such lessons would be far more useful to the world than much
of the geography and so-called science now taught in our schools. Many
blunders can be traced to the mumblers and lazy-voiced talkers.

Some of our commonest and most amusing mishaps are caused by our getting
only a word here and there in a conversation—and it often happens
that we seize upon something unimportant in a sentence and dress it up
grotesquely with our own ideas of what the speaker is trying to convey.
This is bad business, I know, but many people show such impatience when
we ask for repetitions that we prefer to take chances.

I remember one farm family consisting years ago of a very deaf and
dominating woman, her mild and well-drilled husband, and the boy they
were “bringing up.” The woman mastered the household, partly because
it was her nature to rule, and partly because it was impossible to
argue with her. She never heard any opposing opinions. The evidence was
always all one way—her way. The dominant or self-assertive deaf are the
greatest tyrants on earth; those who are not self-assertive are usually
bossed and put aside. In this family the deaf man and the boy well knew
how to keep to their places. There was something calculated to make you
shiver in the almost uncanny way the deaf woman would catch that boy at
his tricks. Every now and then she would stand him up in a corner, point
a long, bony finger at him and demand:

“_Boy, are you doing right?_”

As he was usually meditating some bit of mischief, this constant appeal
to conscience kept him well under subjection.

One cold day in early Spring the man and the boy were sorting potatoes
down cellar. That is a hungry job, and they were poorly fortified by a
light breakfast. The old man had cut a piece from the salt fish which
hung from a nail and divided it with the boy, but he truthfully said
it was not very “filling.” However, it made them thirsty, so in a few
minutes the man went up to the kitchen for a drink of water, and also
for the purpose of considering the prospects for dinner. His wife sat by
the stove reading her Bible, and he came up close to her.

“What ye goin’ ter have for dinner?”

“Who’s goin’ ter be here?”

“Nobody but the boy.”

In those days the line-up at the dinner-table made considerable
difference to the housekeeper. A “picked-up dinner” was ample for the
family, but special guests meant more elaborate fare. The lady had
listened attentively and had caught the sound of just one word—“boy.”
She used that for the foundation of the sentence, and let imagination do
the rest. So she gave her husband credit for saying:

“The Reverend Mr. Joy.”

Now this Mr. Joy was the minister. There was little about him to suggest
his name, but those were the good old days when “the cloth” was entitled
to a full yard of respect—and received it. In these days a woman may
gain fame by writing a book, running for office or appearing in some
spectacular divorce case; but these are commonplace affairs compared
with the old-time excitement of entertaining the minister and having him
praise the dinner. If the Rev. Mr. Joy was to be her guest, the farm
must shake itself to provide a full meal. So the deaf lady hastened at
once into action; she put her book aside, shook up the fire vigorously,
and meanwhile acquired a program.

“In that case we’ll have chicken pie!”

The man and the boy went out and ran down the old Brahma rooster. They
finally cornered him by the fence, where the old gentleman fell on him
and pinned him to the ground. Then they cut off his head, plunged him
into hot water, and the boy picked him, having stepped into a grain
sack, which served as an apron. That rooster had the reputation of being
old enough to vote, but those New England housekeepers well knew how to
put such a tough old customer into the pot and take him out as tender as
a broiler.

It was not until that chicken pie was on the table that the old lady
finally understood that she had exerted herself for the boy and not
for the minister. But again she rose at once to the occasion. That pie
was too rich for her plain family, so she carefully put it away in the
pantry and fed her husband and the boy on remnants. These consisted
of scrapings from the bean-pot, one fish ball, boiled turnips and one
“Taunton turkey,” which was the fashionable name for smoked herring. The
pie was held for next day, when the reverend was actually invited, and
he came.

It may have been your pleasant privilege to see a hungry minister, whose
lines are cast in a community where thrift marches a little ahead of
charity in the social parade, get within a few feet of a genuine New
England chicken pie. If you have not experienced this, you do not know
the real meaning of eloquent anticipation. Mr. Joy was hungry, and old
Brahma had certainly acquired the tenderness of youth. The minister had
had two helps and wanted another; he saw a fine piece of breast meat
right at the edge of the crust. It was an occasion for diplomacy, for
well he knew that the lady was planning to save enough of that pie for
the Sunday dinner. He cleared his throat and put his best pulpit voice
into the announcement:

“Mrs. Reed, this is an excellent pie!”

This compliment did not quite carry across the table.

“What say?”

Very slowly and distinctly did Mr. Joy repeat his compliment in shorter

“_This hen is a great success._”

The lady got part of that sentence. She was sure of “hen” and “great
success.” It happened that her nephew, Henry, was a student at the
theological seminary, and had delivered a strong sermon in the local
church shortly before. Naturally she thought the “hen” referred to him,
particularly as anyone ought to have known that the pie had been made
from an old rooster. So, with a pleasant smile she acknowledged the
compliment, coming as near to the target as the deaf generally do:

“_Yes, I always said that Henry was best fitted of all our flock to
enter the ministry._”

The Reverend Mr. Joy put his head on one side and let this remark
thoroughly soak into his mind. Then he silently passed his plate for
that piece of white meat, as he should have done before. Action is far
more emphatic than words to the deaf.

Then there were the two old people who had become estranged. Both were
very deaf, without imagination, and very stubborn. They quarreled
over some trivial misunderstanding, and refused to speak to each
other; for years they had lived in the same house, with never a word
passing between them. Probably the original trouble was due to a
misunderstanding of words, but when the deaf are obstinate and “set in
their ways,” you have the human mind like an oyster depositing a thick
shell of prejudice around the germ of charity and good nature. This is
one reason why they of all people should continuously read good poetry
and stories of human nature; this is their best chance for keeping in
touch with common humanity, and if a man lose the contact he is no
longer a full man.

So these old people lived together and yet never addressed each other.
There was one ear trumpet between them, and they always waited for
visitors to come before trying to communicate. They had been known to
call in some stranger who chanced to be passing in order that he might
act as intermediary. In truth, the old couple still loved each other in
an odd, clumsy fashion, and both would gladly have broken the silence
had not the pride of each refused to “give way.”

One day the neighbor’s boy came to borrow some milk, and both seized
upon him to act as interpreter. He screamed an explanation of his errand
to the old lady.

“Pa tried to milk old Spot, and she kicked him and the pail over. Ma
wants to borry some milk to feed the baby.”

“Tell him to get the pan off the pantry shelf.”

The boy delivered the message and the old man got the milk.

“Tell her I want my dinner.”

The boy did his best to scream this into the lady’s ear, but his feeble
voice cracked under the strain. The listener got only one clear sound.

“Says he’s a miserable sinner, does he? You’re right; he is. I’m glad to
see he’s getting humble. Tell him I’m waiting for dry wood. If I don’t
get it, I’ll raise Cain!”

The boy ran over to the man with this message. The part about the wood
was easy for there was the empty wood box. The rest of the message was
too dull for his ears. So he hunted up pencil and paper and told the boy
to write it out, while his wife sat congratulating herself with:

“Well, I may be kinda deaf; but I ain’t so bad as he is.”

After a protracted struggle with the pencil, the boy produced:

“She says she’ll give you cane.”

“A gold-headed cane. Just what I wanted! ’Pears to me Aunt Mary’s
getting ready to admit she was wrong. You tell her I knew she’d smart
for it!”

The boy went faithfully back across the room and screamed the message,
which she understood to be:

“He knew you’re awful smart!”

There was no question about the pleasure this gave her, but when was any
woman of spirit easily won? She could not give way so quickly.

“You just tell him to keep his soft soap for washing days!”

The boy again did his best, but the old man only heard “soap” and
“days,” and happily, imagination came to his aid and framed:

“I hope for happy days!”

The old man looked at his wife for a moment, and there was a mighty
struggle in his mind. Finally he hunted for their community ear trumpet,
and marched across the room to her side. At great cost of pride he put
the tube of the trumpet to her ear and shouted:

“I’d like to _make_ it happy days, Mary; and I kinda think I was part
wrong. Anyway, here I be speaking first.”

Aunt Mary took her turn at the trumpet.

“Reuben, I’m awful glad you spoke first. Thinking it over, I guess I was
a little to blame, too, but not half as much as you were!”

And Reuben saw visions of his old courting days, when they could both
hear whispered confidences, when this gray and wrinkled woman was a
blooming girl. And the old man rose to heights of wild extravagance.

“Here, boy,” he said, “I’ll give you ten cents to go out to the shed and
split an armful of that soft pine.”

And after the door closed behind him—well, there is a human language
which needs no words for its interpretation; it is action.

It is no wonder that when the boy returned Aunt Mary was so flustered
that instead of filling the pail with the skim-milk, she poured in fine
cream! That baby had a full supply of vitamines for once.

I am acquainted with a young man who once went out into a country
neighborhood to canvass for a subscription book. This man was somewhat
deaf, just enough to make him mix words a little. Of course, he had no
business to serve as a book agent, but the deaf will sometimes attempt
strange things. He stopped at one farmhouse and found a middle-aged
man and woman in the sitting-room. The man was evidently annoyed and
embarrassed by the book agent’s entrance, but the latter paid little
attention. He ran glibly through his story twice, and finished as usual,
handing his pencil over with his usual persuasive:

“Sign right here, on this dotted line.”

“Not on your life,” was the man’s response; but the agent heard only one
word distinctly, and got that wrong. He understood:

“Talk to my wife,” and, being on the lookout for any encouragement, he
proceeded to do this in his best style.

“Why, madam, think for a moment what it will mean to have this beautiful
book on your center table. When your husband here comes in from his work
it will entertain him and give him a kindly regard for his family. And,
madam, consider your children. When they come to the age of maturity
with such parents—” But that was as far as he could go, for the woman
dropped her work, screamed and ran from the room, leaving the book agent
completely mystified over what he had said to start such a scene. The
man glanced at him for a moment, and then snorted with satisfaction. He
rose and started after the woman, only halting in the doorway to say:

“It’s a good idea, all right. You wait here until I come back.”

Moments like these test the temper of the deaf man’s steel. He had
evidently stirred up a violent tumult, but he has no idea what it is
about and when or where it will boil over. The troubled agent sat by the
window and looked out at a savage bulldog which had come from behind the
house and was now waiting in the path with something like a sneer on his
brutal face, expressing:

“Here I am, on duty. Come and get yours! I need a new toothbrush, and
your coat is just what I have been looking for.”

And then back came the man, smiling like a May morning.

“Here, let me have the book. I’ll take two copies. Never had anything do
me so much good. Why, sir, I’ve been courting that fine woman for ten
years, and neither one of us could ever get up to the point, leap year
or any other. Then you come along and make that break about calling her
my wife. That did the business, sure—pushed us right into the river. I
just chased right after her and caught her in the kitchen. ‘Ain’t it the
truth?’ says I. ‘And if it ain’t, let’s make it so.’ And all she said
was: ‘Oh, William, I’m so happy—go right in and tell him to stay to
dinner.’ Say, give me that pencil. I’ll sign up for three copies while
I’m at it.”

Looking through the window, the agent saw that the bulldog was
listening, and he must in some way have understood, for he shook himself
and walked mournfully back to the barn.

If lifelong practice will bring perfection in the art of communicating
with the deaf, my daughter ought to be an expert. Her experience shows
something of the magnitude of the job. This young woman and her mother
attended a reception at the Old Ladies’ Home. There was to be a very
fine musical program, and the elder lady, as one of the managers,
appointed her daughter a scout to see that all the old ladies came in
to hear the music. This energetic scout found one sweet-faced inmate
waiting patiently in her room, even after the entertainment had started.

“Can you hear the music?”

The young woman knows how to talk to the deaf, and she did her best.


“Are you not coming to hear the music?”

The words were carefully separated, and shouted close to the ear.

“Hey, who’s sick? I’m sure I don’t know.”

The old lady heard one sound clearly, and twisted it into the wrong

“Of course, you went on and explained the thing carefully to her,” I

“No, I did not. I just changed the subject, and told her it was a fine

And that, I take it, is typical of much of the effort to interpret life
to the deaf. We can always tell them that it is a fine day. The old lady
sat contentedly in the silence, unaware of the fact that near at hand
the orchestra was working gloriously through what the local paper called
a “fine musical program.” The chances are that she was better off in the
silence. Most of us hear too much, anyway.



  Telephone Difficulties—Seeing and Believing—Bell
  and the First Telephone—Choosing Intermediaries by
  Professions and Appearance—When the Bartender Beat the
  Preacher and the Farmer—The Prohibition Convention—The
  Hebrew Drummer as a Satisfactory Proxy.

Often I wonder if those who make such glib use of the telephone can
possibly realize what it means to be unable to operate it at all. I
see my wife with the instrument at her ear bowing and smiling to some
invisible talker some miles away. Sometimes I ask why she should smile,
frown, or nod, to some one over in the next county, and though she has
never given a satisfactory answer, I take it that the mere sound of the
human voice is enough to excite most of the emotions. This commonplace
affair, as a matter of course conveying audible sound over long
distance, becomes to the deaf marvelous, a contrivance almost uncanny.

The woman who brought me up was very deaf, and, like many of us who live
in the silence, very narrow and most inquisitive. On Winter evenings
she would often read aloud to us chapters from Isaiah describing some
of the wonders which that poet and visionary predicted for the future.
Then she would give her own version of the account, while her husband
nodded in his chair and I was busied with my own dreams. I now wonder
what would have happened if I had told her that some day a man would
stand in the city of Boston with a small instrument at his ear and
would hear a person in San Francisco talking in an ordinary tone of
voice. At that time there was not even a railroad across the continent.
West of Omaha was a wild Indian country, filled with cactus and alkali
water. The folly of talking about delivering coherent sound across
that waste! I have heard of a missionary who went to the interior of
Africa and lived there with a pagan tribe. He told them stories of life
in the temperate zone, and while they could not understand, they made
no objection and politely listened. Finally he told them that at one
season of the year the water froze—that it became so hard that people
could walk on it. Here was something tangible; they understood water.
The statement that people could walk on it was a lie, of course, and
they threatened to kill the liar. Another man, a Vermonter, went to the
Island of Java and married a native woman. He told her about buckwheat
cakes and maple syrup in the Green Mountain State, and she would not
believe him. Finally she came to regard him as a deceiver. He wrote me
for help, and I sent him a sack of buckwheat flour and a can of syrup.
They made a journey half around the world, but at last the Vermonter
cooked a batch of pancakes which quite restored him to favor. The deaf
and the deficient are likewise hard to convince unless the evidence is
put before them in terms of their own understanding. If I had presented
my humble amendment to the prophecies of Isaiah, I think it would have
been decided that I possessed an evil spirit of the variety which may be
exorcised by a hickory stick.

Later, as a young man, I saw Alexander Graham Bell working with the
first telephone—a short line between Osgood’s publishing house in
Boston and the University Press in Cambridge. It seemed then more of a
toy than a device of practical value, and as I remember him, Bell was
a rather shabby inventor. His messages were mostly a loud shouting of:
“Hello! Hello! Can you understand me?”

Beginnings are rarely impressive or attractive, and the actual pioneer
seldom recognizes himself as such. I saw one of the great men of Boston
stand and laugh at Bell’s clumsy machine and at his efforts to make it

“Bell,” he said, “it isn’t even a good plaything. I’ll agree to write
a letter, walk to Cambridge with it, walk back with the answer and get
here long before you can ever get a reply with that thing.”

And Bell looked up from his apparent failure with a smile of confidence.

“I will make it work. The principle is right. We will find the way. The
time will come when this boy here will be able to talk with anyone in
any part of New England without raising his voice above an ordinary

And as a boy I thought that if I could ever face criticism and ridicule
with such confidence, the world, or at least as much of it as is worth
while, would be mine. I had faith in what Bell told us, and looked
forward to the day when his words would come true. The prophecy has been
more than fulfilled for others, but for us of the silence the telephone
remains a mystery which others must interpret for us. Yet somehow I feel
as confident as Bell that in some way out of our affliction will come a
new means of communication between humans which will make the silence an
enviable abiding-place.

My children have become greatly interested in radio communication. As
I write this one of my boys is developing a crude outfit with which
he actually takes sound waves from the air and translates them into
music or speech. People tell me of great concerts and speeches sent
through the air for hundreds of miles. Tonight thousands of country
people, seated in their own homes, are listening while this marvelous
instrument reaches up into the air and brings down treasures of sound
until it seems as though the speaker or singer were in the next room. We
deaf can readily understand what all this will mean for the future; it
will undoubtedly do more than the automobile toward bringing humanity
together and grouping the peoples of the world in thought and pleasure.
Yet how little it will mean to us! It may even be an added cross, for
evidently both pleasure and the business of the future are to depend
more and more upon the ability to hear well.

I can remember as though it were yesterday the day that Lincoln was
assassinated. I was a small youngster, but the event was printed into my
brain. I know that news of this world-shaking event passed but slowly
out into the country. There were lonely farms out among the hills where
farmers did not know of Lincoln’s death for days. There was no way of
quick communication. I thought of that during the last deciding baseball
game between the Giants and the Yankees. Seated in our farmhouse beside
his little radio ’phone, my boy could even hear the crack of the bat
against the ball. He could hear the roaring of the crowd and the growl
of “Babe” Ruth when the umpire called him out on strikes. And all this
marvellous change has come about during my life! You may perhaps imagine
the feelings of the deaf when they realize that they are shut away from
such wonderful things.

But modern life is so efficiently strung upon wires that even the deaf
must at times make use of the telephone. Some of our experiences in
selecting proxies to represent us at the wire are worth recording.
Every deaf man who takes even a small part in modern business must make
some use of the ’phone or be helplessly outdistanced in the race. In
the West they tell of a Mexican who wanted to get a message to his
sweetheart. They offered him his choice between the telegraph and the
telephone, and explained the difference. He chose the telephone without
hesitation, for he “wanted no man in between.” The deaf man must have
some one “in between,” and usually it is a matter of nice judgment to
choose the person to occupy that position. From choice the deaf will
take the telegram; they can read it, and the fact that each word costs
a certain sum of money means a brief message. If telephone messages
were paid for in the same way, all the world would gain in brevity of
expression, or else the income taxes of telephone companies would soon
pay the national debt.

It is remarkable how a deaf person with good eyes comes to be an expert
at estimating character by appearance or actions. I find that we
unconsciously analyze habits or manners, and group the possessors with
some skill. Let a man come to me and write out his questions, and I am
very sure that I can tell his business. A doctor accustomed to writing
prescriptions frames his questions slowly and stops at the end of each
sentence to make sure of the next one. A bookkeeper writes mechanically,
and seldom prepares an original question. A grocer or a drygoods clerk,
accustomed to writing down orders, betrays his occupation by certain
flourishes with the pencil when he tries to write out a question, just
as he is seized with a desire to rub his hands together during a sale.
One would think that a lawyer would be very successful at this task. He
usually fails. I have appeared as witness in several lawsuits, and able
lawyers have completely lost their efficiency (and their patience) in
trying to cross-examine me. Should any deaf person who reads this be
called to the witness chair, my advice would be absolutely to refuse to
answer any question that is not written out and first read by the judge.
His examination will not become tedious. To the lawyer who desires
a clear, straight story from a deaf person, I should say make the
questions short and clear. Have most of them typewritten beforehand, and
keep good-natured. A deaf man who knows the resources of his affliction
can become expert at concealing evidence.

Many men tell me that they finally estimate a man’s power and character
by the quality and tone of his voice. The substitute knowledge or
“instinct” which we gain through observation is nowhere more useful
than in selecting telephone proxies from strangers. Take this man
with the stiff neck and erect shoulders. Where shall we draw the line
between stupid obstinacy and firm character? Here is this shambling
and shuffling person. Does his manner denote a weak, nerveless will,
and inability to concentrate his mind, or is it merely superficial,
easy-going good nature, when at heart he is capable of flashing out in
anger or taking a bold stand? The fellow who keeps his hands in his
pocket and the other who constantly waves them about—a deaf man may
well beware when either approach him. And what of the man who seems to
be continually looking for post, tree or wall against which he may lean?
We come to know them all.

Some years ago I chanced to be in a small Alabama town, among people I
had never seen before. My mission was a delicate one, demanding keen
judgment and careful diplomacy. It became absolutely necessary for me to
communicate promptly and privately with my wife, who at the time was on
a steamship somewhere off Cape Hatteras. I could not use a telephone,
but I found a man whom I could trust. So I telegraphed to Charleston and
instructed my wife to call a certain ’phone number in this Alabama town.
The message was repeated by wireless, and far off on the wind-blown
ocean it reached the ship and was delivered. When the good lady reached
Charleston she called up the number I had given, delivered her message
to good ears, and it was turned over to me accurately in writing. One
can readily see how tragic it would be if the interpreter for the deaf
man chanced to be careless or criminal, for I should regard it as no
less than a criminal act for one purposely to deceive a deaf person. I
have employed strangers of all colors and conditions in this position
of trust, and it is pleasant to think that most of them have been
efficient and true in the emergencies. For it _is_ an emergency when
one is suddenly called upon to act as interpreter in the affairs of a
stranger. This matter of using the telephone has become so simple to
most people that it is hard to realize the dire complications it may
involve for the deaf.

Once I was delegated to meet my sister and daughter at the old Long
Island ferry in New York. They had spent the day on the island, and were
to come back at night. Before the Pennsylvania Railroad dug its tunnels
under the East River passengers came across from Long Island City at
Thirty-fourth street. The landing and the transfer to street-cars was a
jumble at best. It was about the easiest place in the world to miss your
friends in daylight, while in the evening, under the dim lights, hunting
for human express packages was much like going through a grab-bag. My
passengers did not arrive. There was no sign of them anywhere among
the masses of humans which boat after boat poured out. I began to be
worried, for neither of them had been over the route before. I found
that the train they had named had arrived on time. Either they had not
come or the great city had swallowed them. It was plainly a case where
the telephone became a necessity, but I could not go to the nearest
’phone and call up the friends with whom they had been staying. I had
to find some proxy who would deliver my message and give me an honest
report. All this was serious business at a time when the papers were
full of stories of abductions and insults to girls. Whom could I trust
in such a situation?

I looked about, and finally decided to appeal to a man who resembled
a Methodist minister. At least, he wore a black coat, a white tie,
and had adorned his face with a pair of “burnsides.” Also, I caught a
gesture—a spreading out of the hands—which seemed to say: “Bless you,
my children!” So, as an occasional occupant of the pews, I confidently
approached the pulpit.

“My friend, can I ask you to use the telephone for me?”

I learned then how slight a contraction of the facial muscles may change
a beneficent smile into a snarl.

“Why don’t you do it yourself?” I could see the words and the unpleasant
frown. “Are you too lazy?”

I tried to explain the situation and show him that I could not hear; but
he took no trouble to grasp my predicament. Several women had stopped
to listen, and were smiling. I have learned that no man who wears white
vest and tie can feel that women are laughing at him and retain his
dignity. So my clerical gentleman turned on his heel and walked away.

“I have no time to bother!”

No doubt, he was right. He could preach the Christian religion, but had
no time to practice it. It has always been my blessed privilege to see
the humor of a trying situation. That dignified exit made me think of
the deaf woman who lived in our old town. One day a stranger called,
said he was a retired minister, and asked her to board him a week free
of charge, so that he might “meditate over the follies of human life.”
She refused, and he became quite insistent. He roared in her ear:

“Be careful, now, lest ye entertain an angel unawares!”

She was quick to reply:

“I’m deaf, but I’m reasonably acquainted with the Lord, and I know He
won’t send no angel to my house with a cud of tobacco in his mouth.”

After failing with the ministry, I approached a man who looked like a
substantial farmer—a man apparently with some sense of humor, though I
judged him to be a bit stubborn.

“Sir, I need your help. I must find someone to telephone for me. My
sister and daughter are in the country, and—”

That was as far as I could go with him. He put one hand on his pocket as
if to make sure of his wallet, and waved the other at me.

“No, you don’t! I’m no ‘come-on.’ None of your bunco games on me.
That story is too old; I’ve heard it before. Get out or I’ll call the

I think the last sermon I ever heard was preached from the text, “And
they all, with one accord, began to make excuses.”

Unfortunately, the preacher had never been deaf, so he did not develop
all the possibilities of that text. But these rebuffs did not discourage
me; they are only part of the “social service” which the deaf must
expect. These men merely lacked the imagination needed to show them
the pleasure which would surely come from doing a kindly act. They had
declined opportunity.

Near the station was a saloon. It was a warm night, and the door was
open. I had just been offered the nomination for Congress on the
Prohibition ticket in my home district. Of course, a Prohibition
statesman has no business inside a saloon; but I paused at the door
and looked in. A pleasant-faced, red-haired Irishman stood behind the
bar, serving a glass of beer to a customer. I have always believed in
experimenting with extremes. By hitting both ends one generally finds a
soft spot at the middle. I was on a desperate quest, and, having been
rejected by the pulpit and the plow, I was willing to approach the bar.
So I entered the “unholy place.” The bartender ran an appraising eye
over me, and like a good salesman asked:

“What’ll it be—a beer? Or you likely need some of the hard stuff to
brace you up?”

“No; I want to find an honest man who will telephone for me. I cannot
hear well, and I must have help. Can you do it?”

“Sure I can, me friend, sure! ’Tis me job to serve the people. I’m very
sorry for ye, and ye can borry me ears and welcome. Here, Mike! You run
the bar while I help this gentleman find his friends.”

And he did the job well. I wrote out my message and he went into the
booth with it. Through the glass I saw him nodding his head and waving
his hands in explanation. He came out all smiles.

“Sure, and it’s all right. They missed the train through stopping too
long to eat. They’re on their way now safe and sound, and happy as
larks—and due in half an hour. They’d have let ye know, but couldn’t
tell where to reach ye!”

And he would have nothing but the regular toll for the service. But he
put his hand on my shoulder and said:

“Happy to meet ye. It’s a pleasure to serve such as ye. Come, now, and
_have something_ on me!”

And right there I came as near accepting a drink as I ever did in my
life. But there is one thing I _did_ do. I declined the honor of running
for Congress on the Prohibition ticket after receiving that kindly
Christian service from a saloonkeeper.

I told this story to a missionary who had spent much of his life among
rough-and-ready customers. His comment was:

“Many a hog will put on a white necktie, and many a saint will wear a
flannel shirt, and one not overly clean at that. The best judge of a
necktie is the hangman, and the final judgment over the boiled shirt is
made at the washtub. He who sells beer brewed in charity is a better man
than he who delivers sermons stuffed with cant and selfishness.”

I presume he is right, but how can a deaf man distinguish the virtues
and vices of the dispenser of selfish sermons from those of the
dispenser of charitable beer—when he cannot hear the sermons and
declines to taste the beer? However, since that night I have not been
able to trust the combination of white vest and necktie and a taste for

My experience with this variety of costume had begun years before,
when I happened to be a receptive candidate for Governor of New Jersey
on this same Prohibition ticket. My boom never developed beyond that
receptive stage, but I started for the convention feeling well disposed
toward myself—as I presume all candidates do. At Trenton I had to hunt
for the convention hall, and, as usual, tried to select the proper guide
from his appearance. On a street corner stood a portly, well-filled
gentleman, wearing a suit of solemn black, with a beard to match; also
there was the white necktie and the voluminous white vest. In truth, he
was a prosperous grocer come to town to marry his third wife, but to me
he looked like the chairman of the coming convention.

“Can you tell me where the convention is to be held?”

“What convention?”

“Why, the State Prohibition convention. I thought you were a brother

“Brother nothing.”

“But where is it to be held?”

He muttered something that was lost in that black beard. I could not get
it, and finally held out my notebook and pencil. He stared at me for a
moment, and then wrote—about as he would enter an order of salt fish
for Mrs. Brown:

“The Lord knows. I don’t.”

It was a shock to my boom, the first of many it received that day. For a
moment depression came over me. Then philosophy came to my aid and gave
me the proper answer.

“Well, if the Lord really knows, I guess it doesn’t make so much
difference whether you do or not! It is better to trust in the Lord.”

I left him staring after me. It is doubtful if he ever got the full
sense of the incident, but I have always remembered it.

It is one of my landmarks along the road to silence. For if the Lord
designs that the deaf man shall reach the convention, all the powers
of prejudice and selfishness cannot keep him away. I finally found a
bootblack who gave me the proper directions.

One Winter’s night I found myself in the railroad station of a small
New England town, waiting for a belated train. A blizzard was raging
outside, with the mercury in the thermometer close to zero. My train
was far up in Vermont, four hours behind time, feebly plowing through
snowdrifts. In order to obtain a berth and comfortable passage for New
York on that train it was necessary to ’phone Springfield and have the
agent there catch the train at some stopping place up country to make
arrangements. Perhaps a prudent deaf man should have given up the effort
and remained in that little town overnight. But I have found that the
deaf, even more than others, need the constant stimulus of attempting
the difficult or impossible.

It was necessary to find some honest proxy at once. The ticket agent had
closed his office and gone home. The array of available talent spread
before me on the seats was not, at first sight, promising. A German
Socialist had fallen asleep after a violent discussion about the war.
There was an Irishman who gave full evidence to at least three senses
that he did not favor prohibition enforcement. A fat, good-natured
looking colored man with a stupid moon face and a receding chin sprawled
over one of the wooden benches. An Italian woman, surrounded by several
great packages, was holding a sleeping child. There were two ladies
of uncertain age, who evidently belonged to that unmistakable class of
society—the New England old maid. At one side, figuring out his day’s
sales of cigars and notions, was a typical Hebrew drummer, a little
rat-faced man with hooked nose, low, receding forehead, and bald head
and beady eyes.

Now, if you had been the deaf man, forced to depend on one of these
agents to arrange for a sleeping place, which one would you have chosen?
The negro was too stupid, the German too belligerent, the Irishman would
have tried to bully Springfield, and who could think of asking the
stern-faced ladies to discuss such a matter? I selected the drummer as
the most promising material.

“Sure, I get it,” he said, when I gave him a statement of what I
wanted. He disappeared inside the telephone booth, where I soon saw
him gesticulating and shrugging his shoulders as he talked rapidly. He
looked around at me, and with my slight knowledge of lip-reading, I
could make out:

“This is a great man what asks this. You must help him out.”

Soon he came rushing out holding up one finger.

“It cost you one dollar!”

I paid him and back he went to his conversation. Before long he emerged
with a paper, on which he had written the name of the car, the number
of my berth, the name of the conductor, and the time of the train’s
arrival. It was all there. How he did it I have never been able to tell.
It was a marvel of speedy, skilful work.

I seldom find such an efficient proxy, but through long experience one
becomes able to select some stranger with patience enough to attempt
the job. One man who seemed fairly intelligent completely twisted my
message, and put me to no end of trouble. Once a woman deliberately
misrepresented me, but I was saved by a good Samaritan who stood by,
heard part of the discussion, and set me right.

Sometimes in public places the telephone operator will send the message
and report the answer, but it seems unfair to ask such service. A very
dignified gentleman once asked a stranger to telephone for him, and was
answered thus:

“Why not go and visit with the ‘hello girl’ over there?”

Being deaf, he lost one important syllable of the adjective, and
something of his dignity in consequence. Never select a person without
imagination as proxy for the deaf. In the city the colored porters who
are found about public places are usually excellent telephone agents;
colored waiters I have also found good. They are good-natured and
imaginative, usually intelligent, and always wonderfully faithful.



  Music—Beethoven in the Silent World—And Milton—Our
  Emotional Desert—Dream Compensation—The “Sings” in the
  Old Farmhouse, and the “Rest” for the Weary—The Drunken
  Irish Singer in the Barber Shop.

  “The man that hath no music in himself,
   Nor is not moved by concord of sweet sounds
   Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
   The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
   And his affections dark as Erebus.
   Let no such man be trusted.”

This passage always reminds me of the colored man who went to church
to hear the new minister’s trial sermon. The preacher was fond of
quotations, and among others he gave an old favorite in new guise:

“He who steals my purse is po’ white trash!”

One of the elders of the church immediately jumped up and interrupted:

“Say, brother, where you done git that idee at?”

“Dat, sar, am one ob the immortal, thoughtful gems of William

“Well, sar,” came in rich tones from the gentleman who had come to
criticise the sermon, “my only remark am: _Amen, Shakespeare!_”

Shakespeare certainly did not have the citizens of the silent world in
mind when he wrote that, but we deaf are often moved to say _Amen_.
Stratagems are somewhat out of our line, since they require good ears
to carry them through, but otherwise this is a perfect description of
what the lack of music may mean to us. It is our greatest loss. We may
rise in imagination above many deprivations, but we can never forget
the sinister fate which keeps from our ears forever the beauty of the
singing voice and the vibrating string.

  “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.
   To soften rocks or bend the knotted oak.”

Probably Congreve was drawing on his imagination entirely, especially
as it is not likely that he ever encountered a genuine savage; but
a deaf man with a natural love for music could have given him full
understanding and appreciation of its mighty power. And, on the other
hand, the silent life becomes drab and cold without the sweet tones of
harmony. In this respect I think the man who was born deaf has less to
regret than he who has known music only to lose it.

One of the most wretchedly pathetic figures in human history was
Beethoven when he became convinced that he was losing his hearing. He
realized at last that the melodies which meant all of life to him were
passing from him with ever-increasing rapidity. He must have watched
them go as a condemned man might see the sands dropping through the
hourglass. For Beethoven was sadly deficient in the needed equipment
of one who must enter the silent world. He had nothing but his music.
There was no remaining solace. The deaf Beethoven does not present an
heroic picture; he seems like a man cast upon a desert island without
the instinct or the ability to search intelligently for food and water.
There can be nothing more tragic than the fate of such a man thrown into
alien conditions which demand skill and courage of a high order, who yet
stands helpless through grief or terror. Compare Beethoven’s unmitigated
despair with Milton’s heroic serenity:

            “Who best
  Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best; his state
  Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed,
  And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
  They also serve who only stand and wait.”

But here we also see something of the different effects upon character
of the two afflictions. The blind are more cheerful than the deaf. Some
of their cheerfulness comes through the ability to hear music; the
courage comes through their inability to _see_ the danger.

When we deaf are adapting our lives to the inevitable we are surprised
to find the number of new handles life really presents. We have been
forced to look for them, and we can find new interests to give us a
fresh hold upon life. Yet there is nothing we can do, there is no
thought, philosophy or mental training that will ever be anything but a
poor substitute for music.

Perhaps the most peculiar sensation in all our affliction comes when
we sit in a room where skilled musicians are playing, and observe the
effect of sound upon our companions. They are moved to laughter or
tears. Their eyes brighten, their hands are clenched, or are beating
time to the music; their faces flush as waves of emotion sweep over
them. To us it seems most commonplace. We can merely see nimble fingers
dancing over the piano keys or touching the strings of the violin.
Perhaps we see the singer opening and shutting her mouth—much as she
would eat her food—and this is all we know. The mechanical processes
may even be grotesque. So far as any effect upon our emotions may be
considered, the flying fingers might as well be sewing or knitting, the
mouth might be talking the ordinary platitudes of conversation. The
thrill is not for us. Large audiences rise while “America” is being sung
or played—men and women listen with bowed heads. I stand up with them,
but I hear no sound. I feel a thrill—for it is _my_ country, too; yet
can I be blamed for feeling that life has denied me the power to be as
deeply stirred with that great emotion, and has given me no substitute?
The mighty charms which may “soften rocks or bend the knotted oak” are
made powerless by the little bones which have grown together inside my
ear, and they are the smallest bones in the body.

I have talked with deaf persons about their conception of heaven. What
will be the physical sensation when what we call “life” is finally
stolen away? I have given much thought to that. Most deaf people tell me
without hesitation that, according to their great hope and belief, some
great burst of music will suddenly be borne in upon them when:

“The casement slowly grows a glimmering square.”

They can conceive of no greater joy or reward; no existence more sublime
than that which is filled with the noblest music.

Partial compensation for the longing and its denial comes with the music
that we hear in dreams. The brain treasures up the desires of our waking
hours, and attempts to satisfy them during sleep. I knew of a man who
had lived a wild, sunny life in the open air. He was thrown into prison
unjustly, and was held in a dark cell for weeks. He was able to endure
this because, as he said, he had for years “soaked up all possible
sunshine.” The sun’s energy had been “canned in his system,” and it
carried him through his trouble. So may the deaf man be cheered after
he enters the silent world if in his youth he was able to “soak up” his
full share of music. It was my privilege as a boy to serve as “supe”
or stage-hand at a theater, where I heard most of the great operas.
The memory of that music has remained with me all through these long
years. Sometimes I am tempted to sing one of those wonderful songs to my
children. I presume there are few objects more ridiculous to a musician
than a deaf man trying to sing. My people may well smile at my painful
efforts (though the children do not, until they become worldly-wise),
but they will never understand unless they become exiled to the silent
land what such remembered music really means. But I must wait for
dreams, wherein all outside conventions and inhibitions are thrown off,
to give me the perfect rendition of remembered melodies.

There was an old farmer who used to scold his daughter because she would
spend five dollars of her money for an occasional trip to the city,
where she could hear famous singers.

“Why,” said he, “what nonsense, what folly to spend five dollars for
only two short hours of pleasure.”

But he did not realize that the money was paying for a memory which
would remain with the girl all her life. I would, if I could, have a
child soak his soul full of the noblest music that human power can give

In a fair analysis of the situation even the advantages of being deaf
to music should be stated. I am not asked to listen while little Mary
plays her piece on the piano. No one primes little Tommy to sing “Let
me like a soldier fall” for my benefit. I am not required to render
any opinion regarding the musical ability of those hopefuls. I am told
that such musical criticism has developed some most remarkable liars,
chiefly, I fancy, among the young men who are particularly interested
in little Mary’s older sister. I am also informed that some of the
singing to which you must listen is rather calculated to rouse the
savage breast than to soothe it. Once I spent the night at a country
house where, long after honest people should have been abed, a company
of young men drove out from town to serenade the young lady daughter. I
slept through it all, from “Stars of the Summer Night” to “Good Night,
Ladies!” The father of the serenaded one was a very outspoken business
man, whose word carried far, and he assured me that I was to be envied,
for the “quartette of calves” kept him awake for hours. He wanted
someone to give them more rope. “Why,” said this critical parent, “you
should have heard these softheads sing ‘How Can I Bear to Leave Thee?’
I tried to make them understand that I could let them leave without
turning a hair.” Hand organs beneath the window, German bands blowing
wind, wandering minstrels of all kinds, may start waves of more or less
harmonious sound afloat, so that my sensitive friends go about with
fingers at their ears, while I have the pleasure of imagining that it
is angel music. But at the end of all this satisfactory reasoning I
shrug my shoulders and begin to figure what I would give if I could go
back through the years to one of the old “sings” in my uncle’s kitchen.
How I should like to bring back the night when the stranger from Boston
sang “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” to that beautiful air from “Norma.”

However, if I could have my choice tonight of all the music I have ever
heard, I should go back to that lonely farmhouse beside the marsh. The
neighbors have come over the hill for a Sunday night “sing.” No lamps
are needed, for there is a fine blaze in the fireplace. There is snow
outside, and creepy, crackling sounds from the frost are in the timbers;
the moonlight sparkles over all. One of the girls sits at the little
melodeon. I’d give—well, what _can_ a man give—to hear old Uncle
Dwelly Baker sing “Rest for the Weary.” I can see him now sitting in
the big rocking-chair by the window. How his bald head and his white
whiskers shine in the moonlight! His eyes are shut, his spectacles have
been pushed to the top of his head. He rocks and rocks, singing:

  “On the other side of Jordan,
   In the sweet fields of Eden,
   Where the tree of Life is blooming,
   There is rest for you.”

And here we all come in on the chorus:

  “There is rest for the weary,
   There is rest for the weary,
   There is rest for the weary,
   There is rest for you!”

My reason for choosing this above all other music is that these people
in their dull, hard life were really weary, and they really found rest
in this song.

Some years ago I went for a shave into a barber shop of a New England
city. I was to deliver an address, and somehow I have found nothing
more soothing to the nerves than to sink down into a chair while the
barber rubs in the lather and then scrapes it off. All this, of course,
is conditioned upon the sharpness of the razor and my inability to hear
the barber’s questions. I have often wondered if imaginative barbers
ever feel a desire to seize the victim by the throat and use the razor
like a carving-knife. Several of them have looked at me as though they
would enjoy doing this, and the thought has actually driven me to a
safety razor. But, at any rate, shortly before this speech was due I
went in for my shave. At that time I carried an electric instrument, a
sort of personal telephone, which enabled me to hear at least part of
conversations. It contained a small battery, a sound magnifier and an
ear piece. I hung this on a nail, threw my overcoat and hat over it, and
sat down for my shave when the boss barber motioned “next.”

I think I must have drifted away in a half-dream while the barber went
over one side of my face. He was just brushing in the hot lather on the
other side when I suddenly became aware of a great commotion in the
shop. I straightened up with one side of my face well lathered, to find
a “spirit hunt” in progress. The barber stood with his brush in one
hand and an open razor in the other. Several men had armed themselves
with canes and umbrellas. A fierce-looking Irishman with a club was
stealthily approaching my overcoat as it hung on the nail. He raised
his club to strike a heavy blow. I jumped out of that chair as I fancy
a person would leave the electric chair if he were suddenly freed. I
caught him by the arm.

“What are you spoiling my overcoat for?”

“It’s a spirit. The devil himself. Hear him holler in there! Hark at
him! Do ye not hear thim groans?”

Then it suddenly came to me what the “spirit” was. I had put my
“acousticon” or electric hearing device into its case without shutting
off the electric current. It was really a small telephone, and while
the current is on, the sound magnifier gathers the sounds in a room and
throws them out in a series of whistles, groanings and roarings. The
Irishman and his friends had finally located the “spirit” emitting these
noises under my coat, where it certainly was hiding.

With the coating of lather still on my face, I took the coat down
and explained the instrument. The men listened like children as I
switched the current on and off, explained the dry cell battery, the ear
piece and the receiver. I let them try it at the ear until they were
satisfied—all but the Irishman. He looked at the machine for a moment
and then glanced at me and raised his voice:

“Ye poor thing; ye don’t hear nothin’, do ye?”

“Not much. I have the advantage of you, for you must listen to
everybody. I don’t have to. I am sure you have heard things today you
were sorry to hear.”

“Ain’t that right now? But don’t nobody ever come and bawl ye out?”

“No; not even my wife, for, you see, her throat would give out before my
ears would give in. Bawling out a deaf man is no joke for the bawler!”

“Well, it’s good to be delivered from the women; they have tongues like
a fish-hook, ’tis true. But don’t ye hear no good music?”

“No; I have not heard natural music for years; the little that comes to
me seems to have some tin-pan drumming in it.”

“But, say, mister, don’t ye hear no good music in your dreams? I ask ye
that now—as man to man. Have ye no singing dreams?”

“Yes, that is the strangest part of it. While I am asleep music often
comes to me, such music as, I am sure, mortal rarely hears. It seems to
me like music far beyond this world.”

“Ah, but don’t ye hate to wake up and leave that music behind ye? Don’t
ye hate to come back to life, where ye hear no sound? Ain’t it terrible
to think God has forsaken ye by shutting out music? Wouldn’t ye rather
be dead when ye might sleep forever with music in your ears?”

“No; for God has not forsaken me. I have my work to do in the world, and
I must do it. I will not run away from a thing like this. I will rise
above it. You see, I have friends. You are interested, and I know you
would help me if I needed help.”

“Would I not, now? Just put that tail-piece to your ear.”

I hesitated for a moment, but he repeated, sternly:

“Put that tail-piece to your ear and let on the juice again right away.”

With the cold lather still on my face, I put up the ear piece and turned
on the current. Then a beautiful thing happened. My Irish friend took
off his hat, put his mouth close to my receiver, and began to sing. He
had a beautiful tenor voice, and it came to me sweet and clear, while
the barber and the others gathered to listen.

  “Kathleen mavourneen, the gray dawn is breaking,
     The horn of the hunter is heard on the hill.
   The lark from her gray wing the bright dew is shaking—

   Oh, Kathleen mavourneen,—what? lingering still?
     Oh, hast thou forgotten, this day we must sever,
   Oh, hast thou forgotten, this day we must part?”

He sang it through—the sad, hopeless longing of a weary heart. “_It
may be for years, and it may be forever._” I glanced at the barber, and
saw him still with the open razor and the brush in his hands, while the
others stood about with heads bowed as they listened. And at the end of
the song my friend started another:

  “Come back to Erin, mavourneen, mavourneen,
     Come back, Aroon, to the land of thy birth.
   Come with the shamrocks of springtime, mavourneen,
     And its Killarney shall ring with thy mirth!”

I have often thought that to another deaf man we would have presented a
most ridiculous spectacle. By this time I had discovered that my musical
friend was by no means a prohibitionist; the breath which carried the
sweet sound had a flavor all its own. He had been tarrying with other
spirits besides the collection under my overcoat. I, still with the
thick smear of lather, diligently held the “tail-piece” to my ear;
the barber was scowling to hide his emotion, and with the open razor
he looked like a pirate. Yet I think there has never been such music
since the glorious night long ago when the angels’ song was heard by
men. You will smile at the extravagant language of a deaf man who has
no other music for comparison. Yet I think you never heard anything
like this. No doubt you have listened at the opera or at church while
some golden-voiced singer poured out marvelous melody. Ah, it could not
compare With the soft, tender voice which came to my dull ears in that
dim-lighted barber shop. For this man out of the troubles of his own
life put all the sorrow, all the yearning, all the tender hopelessness
of an imaginative race into its native songs. And with this came the
glow of feeling that he was doing a kindly deed for an unfortunate

As he sang I saw it all; the sunshine splintering on the white cliffs,
the sparkle of the little streams, the grassy meadows, the heavenly blue
sky over all. And there was the heavy, muttering ocean with the glitter
of the sun on its face. I thought of the thousands who had bravely
passed over it seeking a distant home, but loyal in their hearts to the
old green hills.

  “Come back to Erin, mavourneen, mavourneen!”

We were carried back, and for the moment all the troubles and
afflictions were forgotten. I saw tears in the eyes of the barber. The
others shuffled their feet, and one found it necessary to blow his nose.
And then—the song ended, and I was back on earth with only the old
dull roaring in my ears, and a mass of lather on my face. I thought the
Irishman turned sadly away.

“I cannot tell you, my friend, how much that means to me. It seems to
me the most beautiful human music I ever heard. What can I do to repay

“Nothing—it was only a neighborly deed, what any man should do with his
poor gift. You cannot pay me. ’Tis only from love of the music and of
helping that I did it.”

“But who are you—with such a voice?”

“I’m a poor Irishman, half-drunk now, ye see. I cannot sing without
whiskey. I make me living at vaudeville, and the movies is bad for the
business. I sing funny songs—some of them nasty. I know it’s a bad
living, but sometimes, like now, I love the best old songs. But on the
stage—” He shrugged.

“But tonight, instead of singing your comic songs, go on the stage and
sing as you have done for me. It would be wonderful.”

“No, they’d get a hook and pull me off. You don’t understand. The people
who come to hear me have got to laugh or die. Their lives are too hard.
They must laugh and forget it. Make them _think_ and cry and they would
go crazy. That is where you folks go wrong on us. You say to _think_
and work out of our troubles—but sorrow is always with us, and we must
laugh or we shall drink and die.”

Then came the reception committee on the run for me, for my time on the
program had come and the speaker who was to hold the stage until I came
had already repeated part of his speech three times. The barber finished
shaving me, and I went my way; but I shall always remember my Irish
singer and his philosophy.

“_A man in trouble must either laugh or die._”



  Looking Wise and Saying Nothing—Passing Encouragement
  Around—The Critic and the Short Skirts—The “Lion” and
  the Honest Deaf Man—How Reputation and the Deaf Man
  Overtook the Hon. Robt. Grey—The Simultaneous Blessings
  at the Dinner-table—Jealousy and Mrs. Brewster.

It has been said of a Cape Cod man that if he will tell where he comes
from, _look wise_ and say nothing, he will pass as a person of fine
intellect. Much the same is true of the deaf man. He is too apt to talk
all the time, or else to say nothing—and sometimes he does both at
once. Many of us betray the shoals of our mind and our shallow waters of
thought by talking too much. The Yankee is naturally inquisitive. He has
injured his position in history by asking too many useless questions.
Unfortunately, this is also the failing of too many of the deaf. Instead
of realizing that the choicest bits of conversation are reserved for
them, they persist in trying to borrow the dross. Cardinal Wolsey’s
outburst of bitter self-reproach would be a valuable memory gem for us:

  “I charge thee, fling away ambition.
   By that crime fell the angels.”

Here we must part with the foolish ambition to deal in small talk. The
surest way for us to become social nuisances is constantly to demand the
details of current conversation, and some of our worst embarrassments
come when some well-meaning, loud-voiced person diligently relays to us
the trivial remarks. For be it known that the bubbles of words which
work up from the feeble fermenting of shallow thoughts are usually stale
and unprofitable. And many a deaf person has passed an hour of agony in
company smiling and pretending to enjoy conversation which might as well
be carried on in Europe, as far as his understanding goes. A student of
lip-reading can find much amusing practice in such situations, but it
is far better for the rest of us to say frankly that we cannot hear the
talk, and then retire from the field with a book.

Every deaf person who possesses even a trace of humor can tell how
he or she has passed as an important personage by looking wise and
saying nothing. On several occasions I have played the part of
intelligent critic with some success. I can sit on the front seat at
a lecture or a concert, look intently at the speaker or singer, smile
and frown at the right places in the program, and make an effort to
look wise. The performer soon comes to think that he has at least one
very keen and appreciative listener, and soon he aims the best points
at me. Of course, we all know how the heart and spirit glow in the
face of evident appreciation. I do not hear a sound, but I present
the appearance of the mighty rock in the weary land of inattentive
listeners. I have even had the susceptible artist hunt me out
afterwards, evidently seeking some delicate compliment—for who is proof
against such desires? However, I keep out of the way, for it would never
do for him to find that the appreciative hearer is a deaf man. A friend
of mine, working on the same principle of passing encouragement around,
keeps an eye open for deaf men or those who seem discouraged, and when
he meets some one who seems to be losing his grip, he gives a military
salute. When his children criticise such a performance, he says:

“Why not? It makes him feel good. It inoculates his pride. He goes on
his way thinking that perhaps after all he may be somebody, since that
‘distinguished-looking man’ recognized him!”

There is a sorry old joke that I have played repeatedly on vain or
inquisitive people. I worked it off on my friend, Brown, three times
running. Brown is the type of fellow who is much in love with his own
voice. They tell me that he can deliver a fair speech, but that he
spoils the effect by making it quite evident that he is casting pearls,
and that lack of proper appreciation classes the audience with a
well-known suggestion of the New Testament. I have never heard Brown’s
words, but his actions speak loudly to a deaf man. So I wait until he
begins to describe some oratorical triumph and then start on him.

“Great! I know a man down town who would gladly pay five hundred dollars
to hear you speak. Thus far he has not been able to hear you.”

Brown absorbs the compliment with the air of a man well accustomed to
such little tributes. But I know how his mind is working, and, sure
enough, soon he rises to the bait.

“By the way, what did you say about that man who is anxious to hear me

“I said that there is a very intelligent man down town who says he would
give five hundred dollars to hear you speak. Thus far he has been denied
that privilege, but I think he means what he says.”

“That’s good! No doubt some one who has heard me has told him about it.
I expect to speak at a banquet next week. Perhaps we could have this man
invited. I should be glad to give him pleasure.”

“It certainly would give him great pleasure. I am sure he would travel
far to get within sound of your voice.”

“By the way, I do not recall that you mentioned the name of this

“_He is a deaf man. He has not heard a sound for years! I know he would
give five hundred dollars to be able to hear you._”

And then Brown refuses to speak to me for a month. He has no use for
these “funny men.” His vanity finally gets the best of him, however,
and a little later he “falls” for the same story with variations. You
can tell him of the man who would willingly give a thousand dollars
to see the great orator. Of course, he is blind. Then there is the
enthusiastic citizen who would gladly run a mile in order to join the
audience. He is a cripple with only one leg. Of course, these are
worn, old jokes, but the deaf man may be pardoned for indulging in the
old-timers if they help to offset some of his own blunders and mishaps.

Let it be known, however, that we deaf never shine as critics where our
opinions will have weight. Some men, naturally strong and dominant,
reach high positions, where they have power over others, and they become
hard taskmasters because through their inability to hear they make too
many snap judgments and become too critical. They may be efficient, but
frequently it is a raw and brutal efficiency which accomplishes little
good. One very deaf man was invited to a meeting of a literary society
in a Western town. It seemed to be the only entertainment in town that
night, and though it was obviously no place for a deaf man, he went
along with his friends. We know how to amuse ourselves at such places.
We may not hear a word, but the mind can be kept active with some detail
of business, or a review or something we have read. This man applauded
and smiled with the rest. It is often a foolish performance, but we
invariably fall into it. By assuming a serious expression of countenance
whenever it was apparent that the program called for thought, this
man found himself being accepted as a wise critic. One young woman
was determined to attract the attention of the distinguished-looking
stranger. She read her essay with one eye on him, and he did his best to
look appreciative. When the literary exercises were over the chairman
called various leading citizens to discuss the meeting and criticise
the various performances. The young woman was anxious to hear a word
of praise from the visitor. So, at her suggestion, the president wrote
a note and passed it to the deaf man—a note suggesting that he give a
truthful criticism of at least one number. This fishing for compliments
is like other forms of angling; you never know what you are going to
catch. My friend protested and tried to explain, but there was no
escape. Being a man of some determination, and, moreover, with severe
old-fashioned ideas, he stood up and delivered his criticism:

“My friends, I am no critic. Nature has made it necessary for me to
hear with my eyes, and I can offer but one suggestion. I may be wrong.
Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but it seems to me that if I had to walk
through life on such a pair of pipestems as I have seen tonight, they
would be the last thing in the world that I would take pride in
exhibiting. I’d wear a dress that would sweep the floor.”

The company reserved their laughter until they were safe at home, but
with one accord everyone glanced at the short skirt of the literary
young woman. It is safe to say that she never again suggested an unknown
deaf man as critic of her literary efforts.

Sometimes the deaf go fishing for compliments themselves, with very
disastrous results. We may wisely conclude that few bouquets will be
thrown in our direction. Even those which reach us may contain some
kind of hook concealed amid the flowers. Yet there was Henry Bascom,
very deaf, very vain, and filled with the almost criminal idea that he
could write poetry. He refused to work at his trade, for he felt that
his muse did not care to brush her skirts against overalls or working
clothes. His brother-in-law, a blunt, outspoken man, was growing weary
of “feeding lazy poets.” Once he roared out a protest, but Henry did
not get it straight, and hoped it was some sort of compliment. So he
insisted that his sister repeat it. But she hesitated. Finally she

“George merely said something about the great need of energy in the

Of course, Henry should have known that there was explosive material
hidden in all this, but he only decided that something fine was being
kept away from him. So when George came home he began again:

“George, I was much interested in what you said this morning. Won’t you
repeat it so that I can have it exact?”

And George very willingly complied. He wrote the message carefully in

“_I told Mary that if you belonged to me I would make you work even if
you bust a gut!_”

Investigation will destroy illusion nine times out of ten. If you think
your friends are saying nice things about you, let it go at that. Take
my advice and let analysis of such doubtful remarks alone. Eight times
out of ten, for the deaf, it will lead to an explosion.

And there was the deaf man who went to the reception with his wife and
daughter. Some remarkable literary lion had come to town, and the elite
had turned out to see him feed and hear him roar, if he could be induced
to perform. The deaf man, at his distance, watched the lion carefully
and felt that here was a kindred spirit. For back of the stereotyped
smile and the smug mask of conventionality there was another person, a
real human being, who had grown weary of the foolishness, and was eager
to get back into the wilderness, where outsiders, like the deaf and the
uncelebrated, may have their fling.

But the women continued to parade themselves and their ideas before the
celebrity with an ostentation that was quite enough to rouse the ire of
a sensible dweller in the silence. This man held in as long as he could,
and then remarked to his wife in what he thought was a whisper:

“Those silly girls make me very tired.”

The entire company heard him, and the wife and daughter were deeply
mortified. They did manage to cut off the rest of his remarks, and
finally, exceedingly conscious that he had made a bad blunder, the deaf
man retreated to the porch to look at the stars. They are old friends
who never find fault when one stumbles over some woman-made rule of
society. And there came the lion, broken away temporarily from his
keepers, fumigating with a cigar some of the thoughts which his admirers
had aroused. He went straight to the deaf man and held out his hand.

“My friend, you are the only honest man in this house. The _rest_ of us
are tired, but we lack the courage to admit it in public. How do you
come to be so brave?”

Another deaf man went back to his old town after fifteen years’ absence.
They were about to hold a political convention to nominate a candidate
for Congress. The Hon. Robert Grey controlled most of the delegates.
No one in particular was enthusiastic about the Hon. Robert excepting
himself and his close friends, yet no one could quite summon the courage
to tell the truth about him. The deaf man arrived, and saw a large,
black-haired man dominating the stage.

“Why,” he said, in what he intended to be a subdued tone, “there is Bob
Gray. He’s the man who stole the town funds while he was treasurer.
What’s he doing here? He should be in jail!”

He had not gauged his voice correctly, and half the people in the hall
heard him. It was just what the rest had lacked the courage to say. The
deaf man, with his simplicity and directness, had penetrated into the
hiding place of the big issue of the campaign. His remark changed the
entire spirit of the convention, and the Hon. Robert Grey was left at

The deaf man is often laughed at for his blunders, but, unwittingly,
he has pricked many a bubble and exposed many a fraud through his
blunderings. Take the case of the young man who fancied the minister’s
daughter and went to church with her. The congregation was small,
and the collections were generally in line with the congregation.
The collector was a deaf man, a faithful attendant, who, as he said,
could not even hear the money drop into the box. Our young man took a
five-dollar gold piece out of his pocket and held it up so that the
minister’s daughter could see it and observe his great liberality. She
protested in a whisper:

“Oh, that’s too much! I wouldn’t give that amount.”

“Oh, that’s nothing. My usual habit is to give ten dollars, but I don’t
happen to have such a coin with me today.”

So the bluffer waved her away, and really would have been able to
“get away with it” had it not been for the deaf man. When the box was
presented the young man deftly palmed his gold piece and dropped a penny
into the box. The organist played on through the offertory, and the deaf
man marched up the aisle with his contributions. The minister had tried
to tell him several times that it was not in good taste to report the
size of the contributions publicly, but the deaf man was a zealous soul,
and did not quite understand, so he carefully counted the amount found
in the box, and, just before the last hymn, he stood up in front of the

“My friends, I want to announce that the contributions for the day
amount to $3.27. ‘The Lord loveth a cheerful giver.’”

And the minister’s daughter, being rather good at mental arithmetic,
glanced at the young man, and fully understood.

Dr. A. W. Jackson tells a story which all deaf men will appreciate. He
was invited to preach the sermon in a country church, and after the
service he was taken for dinner to Deacon Bentley’s house. There was a
great family gathering, and the long table was spread in the kitchen.
The deacon sat at one end, the minister at the other. Naturally, the
minister expected to be asked to say the “grace,” so he prepared his
mind for it. We deaf demand a “sign” for such invitations, and Dr.
Jackson thought he had one when the deacon, far down the room, seemed
to nod his head as at a suggestion. So the preacher shut his eyes, bent
down his head and blessed the food with a long and fervent prayer. He
knew something was wrong, for he felt the table shaking, but he went
serenely on until he finished with a devout “amen.” How are we to
know what really happens at such times until we get home, where our
faithful reporter can tell us about it? Dr. Jackson did not in the
least understand until his wife explained that Deacon Bentley had not
given the expected sign, and, being deaf himself, he had bowed his own
head and said a rival blessing. Probably the spectacle of the two deaf
men offering simultaneous petitions blessed all who were present with
abundant appetite.

This was indeed ridiculous, but, no doubt, you have seen normal men
acting in much the same way, foolishly interfering with the jobs or
prerogatives of others when they know full well they have no business
out of their own corners. It is like the group of men I saw at a
country railway station trying to turn a locomotive on an old-fashioned
turntable. The engineer had run his machine on to the table, and though
the men were pushing on the lever with all their might, they could not
move the engine. Finally the engineer backed her about two feet. The
weight was then so nicely adjusted that a single man turned the table
with ease. At first there had been a poor adjustment. The men were
trying to lift the entire weight; when it became nicely balanced the
engine nearly turned itself. I think most men at some period of their
lives get out of their own corners to show others how the job of life
should be worked out. They throw the machinery out of balance and double
the world’s work.

Years ago, when I worked as a hired man in a back-country neighborhood,
I belonged to a debating society. I was on the program committee, and we
found something of a task in selecting subjects for debate which were
within the life and thought of our audience. “Resolved, that the mop is
a more useful element in civilization than the dishcloth” was a prime
favorite with the women. “Resolved, that for a man starting on a farm a
cow is more useful than a woman” brought out great argumentative effort
from the men, and as I recall it, the cow won on the statement that if
crops failed and you could not pay the mortgage, you could sell the cow.
If I were back there now, knowing what I do of life, I should suggest a
new topic: “Resolved, that deafness is a greater affliction to a woman
than to a man.” Here is fine opportunity for argument. The man is shut
out of many lines of bread-winning, while the woman is denied the right
to indulge largely in small talk and gossip.

I think deaf women are more likely than men to be exceedingly jealous.
Mrs. Helen Brewster was deaf, and she made life a burden to her husband,
Frank. He was really one of the most circumspect of men, but if he
stopped for a moment to talk with Miss Kempton, the sixty-year-old
dressmaker, poor Helen was quick to imagine him taking advantage of her
affliction to exchange nonsense with the other ladies. And right here
let me say to the deaf and the near-deaf: force yourselves to believe
that your friends, and particularly the members of your family, are
absolutely true; do not ever permit your mind to suggest that those
upon whom you must rely for help or interpretation are unfaithful.
Never admit this until you cannot escape the conviction. Remember
that most persons we meet are kindly and well disposed, if selfish
and thoughtless. They are not plotting our destruction or even our
unhappiness. It is too easy for the deaf to turn life into a veritable
hell by permitting the hideous devils of depression to master the brain.

Now, Helen Brewster was jealous without reason, and perhaps the
unreasonable phase of that disease runs its most violent course. The
Brewsters lived on the ground floor of an old-fashioned town house. In
the family living on the upper floor was a daughter, Mary Crimmins, who
caused Helen’s worst paroxysms. In Winter, after an unusually hard
storm, the old roof was endangered by its load of snow. Mary Crimmins
called from her window to Frank as the only man then in the house to
mount the roof and shovel away the snow. And Helen, washing dinner
dishes at the sink, saw the two talking, Frank looking up and smiling,
and immediately concluded that the topic was much warmer than snow.
Frank got a ladder and a shovel, and mounted to the roof, while poor
Helen sat in the sitting-room bathing her soul in misery, for while
men do not usually present a ladder when planning an elopement in
broad daylight, all things were possible to her distorted mind. Soon
there came a small avalanche of snow from the roof, but the distracted
deaf woman did not hear it. Then her son came rushing into the room,
screaming with such breath as was left in him:

“Oh, ma! It’s terrible!”

“What’s the matter?”

“The snow all slipped and knocked the ladder down, and pa—”

“What about pa?”

“He’s up there hugging—”

Johnnie really finished his sentence, but the words “pa” and “hugging”
were enough for Helen.

“He is, is he? I’ll attend to him!” And she rushed upstairs and knocked
loudly at the door; then, without waiting for any invitation, she strode
in. Old Mrs. Crimmins sat knitting by the window, while in a corner
behind her sat Mary with a stranger, a fine-looking young man. Before
the irate deaf woman could properly unload her mind, Mary blushing red,
came and screamed in her neighbor’s ear:

“This is my fiance, Henry Jordon. We meant to keep it secret, and you
are the first one I’ve told. I know you won’t repeat it.”

“But where’s Frank?” the astonished Helen at last managed to say.
Johnnie had followed her upstairs, and he was well drilled in handling
the deaf. So he caught hold of his mother’s dress and pulled her to the

“Come and _see_, ma,” he cried.

He led her downstairs, out into the snow and pointed. And there was pa.
The snow had slipped beneath his feet, and carried him to the very edge
of the roof. He had saved himself only by catching at the chimney. There
he stood, with both hands clasped about it, “hugging” literally for dear

It was a very silent and thoughtful deaf woman who raised the ladder
and gave her husband a chance to discontinue his attention to the
chimney. And that is about the way nine-tenths of our imaginary
troubles terminate. It never did pay to hug a rumor or a delusion
too strenuously. Better conserve your strength for something more



  Traveling for the Deaf—When the Deaf Man Saved a Leg
  for Someone Else—The Cornetist Who Couldn’t Play a
  Note—When the Deaf Meet the Drunk.

Some deaf persons make the mistake of concluding that the affliction
chains them at home and that they should not attempt to travel. This is
wrong, for they thus lose many extraordinary adventures. It is better
for us to get about if possible, and to take our chances with the world.
I travel about as freely as any man with perfect ears might do, and
thus see much of human nature which would otherwise be lost to me. No
adventures are more amusing or exciting than those which start with
mistaken identity. I have come to think that in the molding or shaping
of humanity comparatively few patterns are really used, judging from the
number of times that I and other deaf men have been mistaken for strange
persons in the mental shuffle of ordinary minds. The man with good ears
can usually explain at once, but we do not always understand, and we are
led into embarrassing situations.

Once years ago I went to the country to spend the night with an old
friend. It was dark when we reached the little town where I was to meet
“an elderly man with a gray beard,” who would drive me to the farm. We
deaf are careful to have all such arrangements understood beforehand.
It was a black, gloomy night, and there were no lights at the little
station except the lanterns carried by the agent and a few farmers. The
deaf man is at his worst in darkness. It holds unimaginable terrors for
him. Perhaps I should say perplexities, for the deaf are rarely afraid.

Most of us do more or less lip-reading, whether we make a study of the
science or not, and through long habit we come to make use of the eyes
without realizing how largely our lives must depend upon light. Thus,
when suddenly plunged into darkness, we are lost. I carried in my hand a
small black case containing the electric instrument which I used as an
aid to hearing, and this proved my undoing. Such a case may be accepted
as professional evidence; it may contain only a lunch or your laundry,
but lawyers and physicians also carry similar ones. As I stood looking
about in the dim light an elderly man with a short beard stepped up and
held his lantern so as to view my face. I saw his lips frame the words:

“Come on; hurry! We are all waiting.”

I supposed he referred to supper, for I knew my friend had a very
orderly and precise wife, who is a little deaf. One must be promptly on
time in keeping appointments with such a character. The old man caught
me by the arm, hurried me to a carriage, and fairly bundled me into it.
He paid no attention to my questions, but jumped into the front seat and
urged on the horse to full speed. The lantern swinging from the front
axle went out as we bumped off into the darkness over mud holes and ruts
without number. I tried to get my electric device into operation, but
the plug had dropped out of place and I could not make connections. So
on we plunged. Soon I found that the old man in front was nearly as deaf
as I. The combination of two deaf men in the darkness rushing through
what was to one of them an absolutely unknown country should have been
thrilling, but the deaf man rarely experiences a thrill; he must wait
for some one to tell him what it is all about. As usual, my mind worked
back for some comparative incident.

I remembered two. The year before I had gone to Canada during the
Winter. A farmer met me at the station after dark. It was very cold,
and the body of a closed carriage which had been put on runners was
filled with straw. This made a warm, comfortable nest, and the farmer
got in with me, while his son sat up in front to drive. The same
plug to my hearing device had dropped out, and in order to give me
a light for finding it, my host struck a match. He held it too long
and it burned his fingers. Then it fell into the straw and started a
great blaze. No two men ever showed greater activity than we did as
we plunged out of that carriage and threw in snow until the fire was
extinguished. That scene came to my mind, and then followed the story
by Ian Maclaren of the great surgeon who came up from London to perform
an operation, and was carried off into the wilderness against his will
by the local doctor.

We drove several miles, it seemed to me, and then suddenly turned into
the yard of a farmhouse. I felt the carriage shudder as the wheel grazed
the stone gatepost. The door opened and a long splinter of light darted
out upon us. Two women hurried down the walk and helped me out of the
carriage. They were strangers to me, and now I was sure that I was in
the midst of an exciting adventure, not at the home of my friend. The
women escorted me to the house, where I found two solemn-faced gentlemen
evidently waiting for me. One of them held up a finger and beckoned me
into an adjoining room, where upon a bed lay a man who glared at me with
no agreeable face. By this time I had my “acousticon” in working order,
and as this man evidently had something to say, I held the mouthpiece
down to him and heard him shout:

“_I tell you I won’t have it cut off!_”

The two men who had brought me in were very much startled when the exact
contents of my black case was revealed. They glanced at each other and
then promptly escorted me out of the room. We went into the kitchen,
and there, beside the stove, the mystery was explained. One of the men
looked curiously at me and then asked:

“Are you not Dr. Newton of New York?”

I hastened to explain that I had never before heard of Dr. Newton. Then
it was revealed to me that these men were country doctors, waiting to
hold a consultation with the great surgeon, who had been expected to
arrive on my train. The man on the bed had had serious trouble with his
knee. These physicians had agreed that the limb must be removed, yet
both hesitated to perform a complicated operation. Hence, the surgeon
was coming to do it. The sick man’s father-in-law had gone to the
station; he had been instructed to bring back a man of medium size, who
said little and carried a black case of surgical instruments. I was to
look for an elderly man with a gray beard. Father-in-law and I had mixed
our signals.

It took me but a short time to convince these physicians that I could
not fill the bill or saw off the leg. At last it developed that the
actual surgeon was detained and could not come until the following day.

The man on the bed forgot his terror and laughed when I told him my
story, and it gave him the fighting courage to compel his wife to
telegraph the surgeon not to come at all. But those doctors acted as
though I had deprived them of their prey. In my capacity as substitute
surgeon I gave the patient the best advice I knew of:

“As one afflicted man to another, I advise you to hang right on to your
leg. Try the faith cure and make yourself believe it can be saved.”

“You bet I will. They’ll have to cut my throat before they cut this leg

I saw him some years later. He carried a cane and limped, but he still
had two legs.

“They never cut it off,” he reported. “They put a silver cord in the
joint, and it has held ever since. It’s a little stiff—but _it’s a
leg_. I guess if Pa Morton and you hadn’t been deaf that night they
would have finished the job.”

I have heard of a deaf man who had an experience somewhat similar to
this. He also left the train one dark, stormy night in a good-sized
city. He was a stranger, so he was quite unfamiliar with the place.
He carried a small black case containing his hearing device and a
few toilet articles. As he stood in the dim light looking about for
his friends, two men rushed up to him, talking quite excitedly; they
grasped him by the arms and hurried him outside the station. Unable to
understand the performance, the deaf man followed, trying to explain
that he was waiting for his friends. Almost before he knew it he found
himself inside a car with these excitable gentlemen, driving rapidly
through the streets. Of course, you wonder why deaf men under such
conditions do not explain and break away.

“You wouldn’t catch _me_ in any such situation,” says my friend Jones.
“I’d soon make ’em understand.”

There is only one thing the matter with Jones’ point of view—he has
never lived in the silence. Let him try that and he will understand that
philosophy assumes a form of patience in such situations. We are usually
quite helpless in the darkness, and when we go among strangers we must
either suspect everyone who approaches us or consider him a friend. Most
of us conclude from experience that it is wiser to drop suspicion and
assume that the majority of human beings are honest. And as the great
emotion of fear apparently enters the brain through the ear, we are apt
to be calm under most extraordinary conditions.

We left our puzzled deaf man rushing in a car through the streets of an
unknown city. The auto finally entered a narrow, dark alley and stopped
before what appeared to be the back door of a large building. The deaf
man was urged out of the car by his nervous companions and was hurried
up a steep stairway. They blundered through several dark passages and
finally came out on the stage of a theater, where they stood in the
wings and watched a long-haired pianist in the center of the stage
laboring to unlock the keys of a piano in a way calculated to let loose
a horde of imprisoned melodies. A vast audience filled the house.

A man who appeared to be master of ceremonies rushed up to the deaf man
and wrote on his notebook:

“Delighted to see you! We feared you were not coming. Your first number
is next on the program. We will give the professor an encore while you
are preparing.”

The poor deaf man could only stare and protest in wonder, but soon a
ponderous German puffed up the stairs in great excitement. He pulled
the unfortunate victim back among the heaps of properties and roared,
shaking his fist:

“I am the cornetist what plays here! What do you mean, you impostor, who
try to take my place?”

After they had succeeded in pacifying the German they explained to the
deaf man. They had engaged a celebrated cornet soloist for the benefit
concert, and had sent a reception committee to the station to meet him.
It was late, and these nervous men had never seen the great musician.
They did see a dignified man carrying what looked like a case for
musical instruments. When they asked him if he was Professor Hoffman,
the deaf man merely nodded his head as the quickest way to get rid of
them, and they naturally rushed him to the theater without further ado,
leaving the musician to find his way alone.

This deaf man had a keen sense of humor, and greatly relished the
situation, but the German had never recognized a joke in his life, so he
continued to glare at the “impostor.” After a most humble apology about
all the committee could offer as recompense was an invitation to the
deaf man to _remain and hear the music_. He remained and was interested
in seeing his musical rival blow himself up to nearly twice his natural
size in order properly to express his feelings through his cornet.

Many of his most amusing and at the same time tragic experiences come
to the deaf man through his association with drunken people. We meet
them in all our travels, and I must confess that I have never found a
more interesting study than that which deals with the effect of alcohol
upon the human character. A drunken deaf man is a most pitiable object,
but to the observant deaf man his drunken neighbor presents a case
of infinite wonder and variety. We see men naturally grim and silent
singing ridiculous songs, or attempting to dance. Men usually profane,
making no pretense at religion, suddenly quote from the Scriptures
devoutly. Quarrelsome men of rough, ugly temper overwhelm us with
attentions, while men of kindly nature challenge us to fight. We see it
all, and must judge such people mainly by their actions.

Usually drunken men begin to talk to me. When they find that I do not
reply they generally foam over with sorrow or anger, and it is hard to
decide which is the more embarrassing. Once in a strange town when I
was looking about for my friends the town drunkard accosted me. I have
never known just what he did want, but when I explained that I was a
stranger looking for a certain street he volunteered to show me the way.
So he caught my arm and led me up the street, staggering against me at
every other step, and talking loudly. And on our way we met my friend
and his wife, sober and dignified persons who were horrified at my
appearance under the escort of the town drunkard. In his sober moments
my guide would never have thought of associating with these aristocratic
representatives of Main Street, but now he greeted them jovially, as old
friends. It was a most embarrassing situation, and my friends, being
absolutely devoid of humor, have never felt quite sure of me since the

A drunken man once approached a friend of mine with a remark which he
did not understand, as he was deaf, so he merely shook his head and
turned away. The intoxicated man, full of fight, followed, shouting
challenges and pulling off his coat. A crowd gathered about them, and
two rough-looking fellows got behind the deaf man and offered to act as
his seconds. One of them advised:

“Give him an upper cut on the chin whisker and follow it up with one on
his basket!”

What the deaf man did was to pull out his notebook and pencil and give
them to the drunken man, who now was quite ready for the fray.

“I cannot hear a word you say. Write it out for me!”

This is offered as a suggestion to the peace-makers, that they may be
more blessed than ever before. Whenever a man curses you, and you want
to gain time—ask him to write it out! Here the drunken man looked
curiously at the deaf man and then at the notebook. He pondered deeply
for a moment and then slowly began to put on his coat. He walked
unsteadily to a little box nearby, mounted it carefully and delivered a
short speech something like this:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am wrong. This man is not my enemy, but my
friend, made so through affliction. He is in need. I suggest that we
all chip in and help him on his way. I’ll start with the price of three
drinks! Come now, loosen up! He who giveth let him give quickly!”

Once I lived in the house with a kindly man who had a fierce craving for
drink. He really fought against it, but it mastered him again and again.
One year at Christmas he had gone for several months without drinking.
He was like a consumptive who imagines that he has overcome his disease
while it still lurks within only waiting for favorable conditions to
blaze up. A few days before Christmas several old friends stepped out
of his wild past and broke down the man’s self-control. When I came
home he was “roaring drunk”—I had never seen him in worse condition.
As I came up the stairs he rushed suddenly out of his room and caught
me unexpectedly by the collar. As I was taken off my guard he was able
to pull me inside the room, shut the door and throw himself against it.
At that time I could hear much of what he said. He glared at me like
a maniac. His fists were clenched, his eyes were bloodshot and he was
altogether a terrifying and a pitiful spectacle.

I expected him to throw himself upon me, and I was ready. I had no idea
wherein I had offended, and I did not want to hurt him. I derided that
when he sprang at me I would sidestep and give him the “French trip”
which I had learned in the lumber camps. That will floor anyone who is
not prepared for it, and I knew that I could tie him if necessary. But
there was no fight in him except the frightful battle he was waging
against himself. His fists opened and he held out his hands appealingly.

“_I’ve brought you here to pray for me!_ Get right down on your knees
and pray that I may be a man and not a skunk!”

Well—take it as you like, the deaf man has his share of excitement with
all sorts of men. There seems to be no good reason that we should lead
uneventful lives! I have often wondered what various pompous friends
of mine would have done with the above situation. Or I should like to
see them master another incident which involved the same man. Once he
approached me as I stood talking with visitors.

“I want you to do me a favor!” he said in the thick, eager voice of the
intoxicated. “I want you to kick me, and kick me hard!” As I did not
reply he thought I had not heard, so taking off his coat he backed up to
me in a way any deaf person could understand!



  The Training School for Robbers—Eavesdroppers Who Heard
  Not a Word—The Fox and the Wolf—The Murderer—The
  Plans for Eloping—Regarding the Deaf as Uncanny—The
  Narrowness and Prejudice of the Deaf Themselves—Dancing
  and Singing Eliminated—The Blind and the Deaf, and the
  Man with Both Afflictions.

On a lonely corner in New York City I once saw three boys practicing
the gentle art of highway robbery. One played the part of victim; he
walked along giving a good imitation of the ordinary citizen busy with
his own thoughts, giving little attention to his surroundings. The other
two boys approached him carelessly, apparently laughing at some joke.
As they passed, one of the “robbers” suddenly turned and threw his left
arm around the “citizen’s” head just below the chin. Then he quickly
slid his right arm down to pinion the arms of the victim just above
the elbow. He put his left knee at the middle of the victim’s back and
pulled with the left arm. It was a murderous grip; the more the victim
struggled the closer drew the “head lock” under his chin, and the neck
was forced back to the breaking point. The other boys deftly emptied
the unprotected pockets of watch and money. Then they threw the victim
to the ground and ran away. They rehearsed this over and over—taking
turns at the different positions, perfecting themselves in this
barbarous business.

I watched this fascinating play for some time, studying to think of some
way in which the victim might defend himself. He might possibly use his
feet, but taken unaware probably his breath would be shut off before
he could organize any defense. One can easily realize how powerless an
unsuspecting stranger would be at the hands of three trained villains
such as these boys seemed likely to become.

Two years later I had occasion to pass through the street where this
rogue’s training had been carried on. It was after dark, and just as my
mind reverted to this grewsome drill two men appeared from under the
shadow of the elevated station. They stopped and spoke to me, but I did
not understand. One of them repeated his question, pointing at my watch
chain. Naturally I pulled back my arm to strike him as I saw an opening,
but the other man quickly caught my head and arms in that murderous lock
which I had seen those boys practicing. He did not hurt me, but I found
myself powerless to move or speak. I cannot describe the feeling of
utter helplessness caused by that grip at my throat and arms. The first
man took my watch from my pocket and held it to the light, looked at it
carefully—_and put it back again_! He looked over my shoulder at his
companion who held me captive, and as his face was then in the light, I
could read the words on his lips:

“Only nine o’clock?”

Then I read once more:

“Thank you!”

My arms were set free, and, smiling, the two men hurried on. I assume
that they merely wanted to know the time. They saw that I could not hear
them and that I might call for help and put them in a bad position, so
they helped themselves to the time of day in true hold-up style.

One man’s adventure illustrates how deafness may be converted into
an asset if the affliction can be kept concealed. He went to a city
park, and was sitting on a bench which was partly concealed by trees
and shrubs. He was undergoing one of those periods of depression which
often fall upon us in the silence, after some sharp rebuff, or when
the real trouble of our affliction is visited upon us by some careless
associate. Completely absorbed, this man did not notice that a nearby
seat was occupied by a young woman and a man. Finally he did perceive
that they were talking earnestly—the man was evidently pleading and
the woman was inclined to deny him. But at last she evidently consented
to his proposition, and he looked cautiously around to make sure that
they were alone before sealing the agreement in the usual way. Then for
the first time he discovered my deaf friend within ten feet of their
bench! Of course these young people assumed that the deaf man had heard
it all. From the beginning conscience has made cowards of most of us.
The girl started to advertise her feelings with a scream, but her
companion checked her just in time by pointing to a park policeman who
was swinging his club at the corner of the path. Then he took out his
notebook, and without trying to talk he wrote this brief explanation and
handed it to the deaf man.

“Please don’t betray us. It is true that we have planned to elope. We
will be married this afternoon in New Jersey. I am sure her father
will forgive us when we return; it is our only way. You overheard by
accident—now be a good sport and let us alone!”

The deaf man put on his glasses to read the note. Through the film which
gathered on the lenses he saw only visions of youth and romance. No
woman would be likely to come into the land of silence and elope with
him! That would be but a clumsy and ridiculous performance, and he knew
it well. These young people were probably all wrong. Yonder policeman
would question them, find where they lived and notify the father of
the girl. As a sober-minded citizen opposed to youthful folly and far
removed from it, was it not his duty to stop such nonsense? And yet—

He who hesitates is frequently spared the necessity for decision. He
looked up to find that the young people had disappeared, they had
slipped out of sight during his meditation. And in his lonely silence
the deaf man could smile, for he was glad that they got away.

Another deaf man was traveling through a Western State in a Pullman.
This man noticed two men who seemed to be engaged in a most earnest
discussion. They sat across the aisle from him and as they talked they
glanced furtively about. They were a forbidding pair, one a great
hulking brute with a broad red face—the other a little rat of a man
with a low, receding forehead and a bright, restless eye. The wolf
and the fox appeared to be hunting together. Frequently the big man
became emphatic and struck the back of the seat with his great fist
while the little man shook his head and bared his teeth in a smile
which seemed like a menace. The deaf man wished to change his position
so as to get a better view of the country, and he happened to drop
into the seat which backed up against the one in which the wolf and
the fox were laying their plans. At first they paid no attention to
him, but continued to argue and gesticulate. Finally the fox realized
that the head of the deaf man was within a foot of their conversation.
How was he to know that the “listener” might as well have been a mile
away in so far as successful eavesdropping was concerned? He instantly
signalled to the wolf and the discussion stopped. They both soon moved
to the smoking-room, where they whispered for a little time; then the
fox came to sit beside the deaf man. He glanced about anxiously, but
finally said:

“Did you happen to hear what we were saying?”

The “eavesdropper” read some of the words on the lips of the other, and
vaguely nodded his head. Then the fox took a piece of paper and wrote:

“It is a good joke. I made a bet with my friend that we could make you
think we were in earnest in planning the job. Of course there is nothing
to it. It was a fake talk.”

Just then the wolf appeared with his hat and suitcase. The train was
approaching a small town. “Come,” he said, “we get out here.” His friend
jumped up to join him. They sprang off as the train stopped, though the
conductor said that their tickets would have carried them fifty miles
farther. The deaf man caught a look of fear and suspicion from the fox
as the two disappeared. Of course they were planning mischief, but fear
of this deaf man caused them to run from him as they would have fled a

Many years ago I passed a Winter in a lumber camp far up among the
snows of Northern Michigan. My bunk-mate was a gigantic, silent man, a
stranger and a mystery to all the rest of us. He said little and made
no friends. He had a curious habit of glancing hurriedly about him; he
started at light sounds and appeared to keep a watchful eye always upon
the door. Frequently at night I found him awake, gazing at the lantern
which always hung at the door, near the end of the camp. One day the
driver of the supply team smuggled a bottle of whiskey into camp and my
bunk-mate was able to get two good drinks. We worked together that day
in a lonely place, and he became quite talkative. I could not hear him
well, but he was evidently trying to tell some incident of his own life.
There in the forest, knee deep in snow, he appeared to be acting out a
tragedy. At the last he did not seem to realize that I was there. He
addressed some imaginary person, holding out his hands as if in appeal.
Apparently this was rejected, and his face changed in anger. He caught
up his axe and rushed up to a fallen log; he struck it a blow which sent
a great chip flying a hundred feet away. Then he looked at me in wonder,
seeming to realize that I must have overheard him. He sat on the log,
took great handfuls of snow and held them against his head. I found
myself helping him with a great chunk of ice which I had brought from
the brook.

“It was the whiskey,” he suddenly shouted. “It’s poison. It makes me
talk and think. Say—did you hear what I said? What was it?”

He looked at me with hard, savage eyes. I had not heard his ravings and
did not recount his actions. He continued to stare at me silently, axe
in hand. Then he decided to believe my denial and he kept at work as
before, silent and grim. As we went back to camp that night he asked me
once more, with apparent irrelevance:

“Did you hear what I said?”

I again assured him that I had understood nothing, which was the truth.
He seemed satisfied, but during the evening he divided his attention
between me and the outside door; he was again puzzled over the chance
that I had heard. In the early morning I awoke to find myself alone in
the bunk. The man did not appear again.

Two nights later I sat on the bench by the camp stove drying my clothes
after another day in the wet snow. At the moment when I was remembering
that curious watch-dog habit of my bunk-mate’s the door suddenly opened
and two men entered. One was the sheriff of a county in the lower
tier, near the Ohio line; the other was also armed. They were after my
bunk-mate—too late.

“What’s it for?” asked the foreman.

“Murder, I reckon. He quarreled with his wife and hit her with an axe.”

And to this day I wonder what would have happened to me in the woods if
I had heard what he said.

Deaf persons undoubtedly come to be really troublesome to many kindly
and essentially generous men and women. I have never been able to
understand the feeling; perhaps it resembles the creepy terror which
the touch or the sight of a cat arouses in some persons. At any rate
I have been introduced to people who are unmistakably afraid of me.
They cross the street to avoid a face-to-face encounter. I think they
would not dare to walk alone with me at night. I have come to realize
that a fair proportion of the human beings I meet are actually afraid
of me, or uncomfortable in my presence until I in some way make them
understand that I will not annoy them, or that I have a message for them
which can be delivered by no one else. Some deaf people live tormented
by the thought that society rejects them, or at best merely tolerates
them. They would be far happier to admit frankly that they are not as
other men, and realize that there is no reason why the world should give
them special accommodation. They should rather seek to acquire original
personality or power which would make them so luminous that the world
would eagerly follow them. This is possible in some way for every deaf
person. It is our best hope.

One of the finest men I ever knew told me frankly that two classes
of people make him shudder; men belonging to the Salvation Army, in
uniform, and deaf persons, trying to hear. This friend is a thoroughly
sincere clergyman, with a leaning toward the full dignity of the cloth.
The Salvation Army came to his town, and being charitably disposed
toward the workers, he attended one of their meetings. Greatly to his
embarrassment the captain called in a loud voice for Brother Johnson to
pray. The clergyman started in the formal manner but at the first period
he was greeted with a loud chorus—“_Amen, brother!_” While the drummer
pounded on his drum and clashed his brass. My friend still suffers
from the shock. His feeling for the deaf may be traced to Aunt Sallie.
At the bedside of a sick friend he was asked to pray. Before he could
even start, Aunt Sallie, very deaf but anxious to miss nothing, planted
herself so close as to place her ear about six inches from his mouth.
I do not wonder that this man will cross the street at the approach of
deafness or a uniformed Salvation Army officer.

And it must be admitted that it is quite easy for the deaf themselves
to become narrow and prejudiced. Frequently when exiled to the silent
world, with poetry and laughter shut out, we use a clipped yard-stick
to measure the good which is always to be found in everyone. Sometimes
prejudice is carried to a ridiculous extreme. When I was a boy Deacon
Drake of the Congregational Church went to a funeral at which a
Unitarian minister officiated. The Deacon had not heard for years, but
he sat stiff-necked and solemn until the choir sang a hymn which visibly
affected the people. He asked his daughter for the name of the hymn and
she wrote it out—“Nearer, My God, to Thee.” The old man had heard not
a note, but as he disapproved of the sentiment expressed he rose and
tramped firmly out of the room.

Job asked “Where is wisdom to be found?” Surely the deaf may eliminate
singing and dancing as promising prospects for their search! Once a deaf
man went to a party and fell into the hands of a feminine “joker.” This
lady had wagered that she could dance a Virginia reel with a man unable
to hear a note of the music. She contended that she would make him hear
through vibration and thus guide him properly. Of course the deaf man
knew better, but what was he to do? What could any man do in such a
case? You yourself would probably trample all over judgment and common
sense and stand out to make yourself ridiculous as man has done for
centuries, and will doubtless continue to do!

They started bravely, but half way down the line the music quickened and
the ill-starred deaf man landed heavily upon the foot of his partner.
It was a cruel smash. The vibration process was reversed. She lost her
wager and he was counted out, but he should have known better.

Perhaps you have seen a deaf man trying to march in a parade; I once saw
one trying to keep step to his own wedding march! Well, I may say that
the wife of a deaf man has many trials, usually she must do the marching
for both.

I have often been asked whether total deafness is a greater affliction
than total blindness. It would be very difficult to decide. At times
the blind man would gladly exchange his hearing for sight; he so longs
to see the faces of old friends or of his children. Yet frequently he
is glad that the burden of deafness has not been laid upon him. In like
manner the deaf man would sometimes give all he has for the sound of
some familiar voice or the melody of some old song. Yet, considering
carefully and weighing all the evidence, total blindness seems the
greater affliction. But I have had blind men “feel sorry” for me because
I miss the sounds of the birds and cannot hear whispered confidences.

However, I think the blind are happier than the deaf. There is less of
the torture of Tantalus about their affliction. If they are surrounded
by loving and considerate friends they have less to regret than the
deaf; their embarrassments are not brought home so cruelly, for they
do not see the consequences of their own blunders. I know a woman who
was suddenly blinded, twenty-five years ago. She has lived usefully and
happily with her family. Her children are now middle-age men and women,
showing the wrinkles and the wear of life. Her husband and her brother
have aged, but not for her. She only sees the old vision of youth and
power. An illuminated silence would have given her all the signs of age
creeping upon those nearest her, and would have destroyed her intimate
part in the everyday family life. Her children never could have come
to her, weeping, seeking her sacred confidences, had she been unable to
hear them.

Society has a more kindly feeling for the blind man than for the
deaf—at least so it seems to us. You may find a good illustration of
this at some party or social gathering in the country. The neighbors
gather; very likely it is Winter and they come from lonely places,
eager for human companionship. It is a jolly gathering. Perhaps a blind
man and a deaf man of equal social importance, will enter the room
simultaneously. The blind man hears the laughter and the happy chatter
and at once enters into the spirit of the evening. The deaf man catches
no happy contagion, he feels a melancholy irritation. He would have been
far happier at home with his book, but his wife and daughter urged upon
him the duty of coming to “enjoy himself” and—here he is.

Half a dozen people rush to the blind man. He must be guided to a
comfortable seat where a willing interpreter will quickly make him feel
at home. He is told about the new red dress which Mrs. Jones is wearing,
it is so becoming! Miss Foster is in blue, and her hair is arranged in
the latest New York style. Henry Benson has shaved off his beard. John
Mercer has a bandage on his hand where he cut it with the saw. The Chase
girls have new fur coats. The blind man sees it through the eyes of his
neighbor. It is a pleasure to sit unobtrusively and talk to him—it
gives one a thrill of satisfaction to feel that the blind man is made

But who rushes to the deaf man for the privilege of being his
interpreter? In all my experience I have known only one person to do
this. As he looks about him for a vacant seat the deaf man sees few
inviting hands or faces. If he is able to read facial expressions at all
he soon fancies that there are many versions of the thought:

“Oh, I hope that man will not sit near me!”

Who desires to attract attention by screaming at the deaf man or to
spend the evening writing out for him what others are saying?

A little handful of people once attended a prayer meeting at a little
country church back among the hills. It was during a severe, gloomy
Winter, a season of unusual trouble and unusual complaint. The little
stove could barely melt the thick frost on the windows. The feeble lamps
gave but a dim light. Yet as the meeting progressed through prayer
and song that melancholy group of farmers mellowed, and undoubtedly
something of holy joy came to them. I, of course, heard not a word
of the service, but apparently each person waited for the spirit to
move them, then rose and repeated some well-worn prayer or a verse of
Scripture. It was utterly crude and simple, but a certain power fell
upon that company and for the moment it was lifted out of the dull
commonplace of daily life. Little or nothing of the spiritual uplift
came to me. At the close of the service I saw people who had come gloomy
and depressed acting like happy children, shaking hands, forgetting
old troubles, buoyed and braced. And some of them seemed to regard my
calmness with wonder—I could not fully join in their happiness.

It is evident that a sincere religious spirit can bring great comfort
to the deaf. Now and then I find a deaf man who practices what I
call professional religion with all the cant and the pious phrases
necessary. It never seems to ring true. The deaf are notorious failures
at deception. But a firm trust in God and a sincere belief in His power
and mercy should be “As the shadow of a mighty rock in a weary land”—of
silence. We must have the best possible moral support.

I know of a man who is both blind and deaf. Once when I gave way
momentarily to depression his wife wrote me:

“I felt like writing an invitation to you to come and look at my husband
who is both blind and deaf. An accident twenty-one years ago caused the
loss of sight, which came on gradually but finally became complete. When
I told him you were to write “Adventures in Silence,” he said, ‘Why
not the wonders of silence and darkness?’ That has been his attitude
all through these burdened years. These are but a small portion of the
misfortunes and trials which have befallen us, but as he guides himself
by lines hung from one point to another just high enough to take the
crook of his cane there comes never a word of discouragement or despair.
Here let me say that an educated, trained mind is the finest gift you
can give to your children. It is the possession of a wonderful mind well
trained by a splendid education that has been next to God’s love that
has kept ‘my man’ upright and strong through the darkened and silent

We may all of us readily understand that no human or material power is
strong enough to sustain a man through such a fate.



  Imaginary Fears, Stuffed Lions and Bogus “Wild
  Men”—Sound as Stimulating Emotions, Even of Animals—The
  Brazen Courage of the Deaf—The Rum-crazed Men—The
  Overflowing Brook—The Drunken Prizefighter Challenged
  by a Deaf Man—The Terrors Lurking Within—Demons of
  Depression—The Deaf Man and the Only Girl.

Most of our fears are imaginary. I am convinced of this after a long
study of deaf people, and a careful analysis of my own experience in
the silence. I believe that physical fear is almost invariably induced
by sound. We all see lions in the way. The man with good ears hears the
roaring and hesitates, or turns aside. The horrible sound does not reach
the deaf man, and he feels more inclined to go ahead and investigate.
Most frequently the frightful object turns out to be a stuffed lion, a
creature without effective claws or teeth, with nothing but wind in its

With a little thought every man can remember incidents which tend to
prove this statement, but in time of threatened danger he is likely to
forget them. Years ago in my boyhood days a couple of us youngsters
went to a circus in the country town. In one of the side-shows was a
fierce-looking creature labelled “The Wild Man of Borneo.” It appeared
to be a human being of medium size with long claws, rolling eyes,
and a dreadful, discolored, hairy countenance. His most frightful
characteristic was his voice, which was exhibited by a horrible roar,
a sound well calculated to chill the simple hearts of the country
people who listened to the “manager’s” tale of a thrilling capture.
There had been a bloody fight in which the wild man had killed several
dogs and wounded a number of hunters. He would never have surrendered
had they not first captured his mate; he followed her into voluntary
slavery—“Thus proving that love is the primal and ruling force of the
universe. The love-song of this devoted couple, ringing over the hills
and dales, would have daunted the stoutest heart.” In proof of which the
two caged creatures started a chorus of roars which would have sent the
country people home to shudder in the darkness, had not a very practical
deaf man been moved to investigate. He heard nothing of the explanation,
and but little of the roaring; he only saw a couple of undersized
creatures, exceedingly dirty and not particularly interesting. The “love
song” gave them no glamour for him. So he idly lifted a curtain which
hung at one corner of the tent, and, lo, the fountain of sound was
revealed at its true source. A hot and perspiring fat man was working
industriously at the pedal of a “wind machine,” a device resembling
an old-fashioned parlor organ. Here was the real explanation of those
primitive cries proving the deep affection which the “Wild Man of
Borneo” felt for his mate. The deaf man pulled the curtain completely
down and exposed the humbug.

Well, it broke up the show! Next to the fury of a woman scorned is the
wrath of a crowd of country people who have paid their money for a
thrill only to find themselves served with a very thin trick. They see
no humor in the situation, and an exposure of this sort is a cruel blow
at their pride and judgment. People with humor and philosophy would have
laughed at the joke and polished it up for the benefit of their friends,
but this hard-headed, serious folk could only find relief by pulling
down the tent. In a far larger way this is what the solid, unreasoning
and unimaginative element of a population will do to a state or a
national government when some political trick has been exposed.

It was the “wild man” himself who saved the situation in the circus
tent, and tamed the outraged audience. He pulled off his wig and beard
and shed the claws which were fitted to his fingers like gloves. Then
there stood revealed a small Irishman with a freckled, good-natured

“Sure,” he said, “the game’s up and I’m glad, because it’s a tiresome
job. I’ve worked on a farm in my day, and I’d like to do it again. If
any of you farmers here will give me a job, I’ll take it.”

“And me, too!” said the “mate”; when “her” frowsy head dress came off
there was a red-haired young fellow of pleasant countenance. They both
got farm jobs and lived in that community for several years. The “mate”
finally married a farmer’s daughter!

It has been said that the primary effect of sound is the creating of
moods; psychologists have spent much time in analyzing the connection
between sound and fear and kindred emotions. It is easy enough to
realize that sight must inform or directly affect the intellect. Theater
managers prove the necessity of supplementing sight with sound when they
obtain a full play of emotion by giving the audience appropriate music,
which they stress during emotional passages. Perhaps what we _are_ is
determined by what we see, while what we _feel_ is decided by what we
hear. The deaf are frequently termed hard-hearted and even cold-blooded.
I have known deaf persons actually to smile at cases of grief or injury
which seemed tragic to those who could hear what the unfortunate victims
were saying. They saw only the physical contortions. Suppose you with
good ears and I in my silence, walking together, meet a little crying
child. I can only observe the outward signs of distress; I see her tears
and watch the little chest rise and fall with her sobs. My sympathy can
be only vague and general—I may even smile to myself over the shallow
sorrows of childhood. It will pay you to stoop over and hear the whole
story, to catch every tone of the little, grief-stricken voice. I have
no means of offering intelligent consolation, perhaps you can explain
the trouble away or offer a quick diversion.

There are hundreds of instances where the deaf have undergone battles,
shipwrecks or other frightful adventures with composure, while their
companions were stumbling or jabbering with fear. These latter would
tell you that the most horrible part of their experience was the cries
of the suffering who faced death in agony and fear. The mere spectacle
of the suffering did not upset the cool judgment of the deaf.

It seems evident that sound also has a greater stimulating effect upon
the emotions of animals than do the other senses. A friend who has
studied this subject says:

“I have imitated different animals many thousand times, and can easily
deceive them at their own game, but cannot long deceive the average
person. A dog relying on sight, smell and hearing—and maybe a little, a
very little reasoning—although he may be very brave—can easily be made
to flee in terror by the right sort of growling and noises connecting
first wonder, then anger or terror. He hears a very ferocious dog, but
can neither see nor smell him; here is something new, which he cannot
reason out—he curls his tail, gives a frightened yelp, registers fear
in other ways and runs with all his might.

“Recently I was out hunting wild turkeys, and had nearly induced one to
come near to me when a stick fell from a tree, and without waiting to
reason, away he went. My call would not deceive a person, but any sort
of an amateur squawk easily deceives a gobbler. Not long ago, a friend
of mine, while calling a gobbler, called also a wildcat who was trying
to get the gobbler for breakfast. Animal sight may be ultra-human, but I
am very sure that animal hearing is not.”

Doubtless we all rely on hearing to keep us informed concerning the
fear instinct. Children hear a great deal subjectively, aided by their
fears plus imagination. I am almost prepared to state that deafness is
connected with fearlessness above the average, but I am not yet sure
of my ground. Any defect of the five senses strengthens in a measure
the remaining channels, and deafness cannot but assist concentration
in those persons of studious contemplative habit, since it closes
one avenue of interruption. I have noticed that with those of a
philosophical turn plus strong will—or won’t—deafness saves nerve
fatigue, from hearing many noises or remarks.

I have observed the habits of several deaf cats and dogs, and have
noted instances of exceptional bravery, and evidences of a new sense,
probably the substitute for the one they have lost. Some of my own
experiences also show how sound dominates physical fear.

During my Winter in a large lumber camp of Northern Michigan I found how
far life can swing from the ideal republic even in this country. The
snow had shut in our little community for the Winter. The majority of
our choppers were French Canadians and Swedes, strains of humanity which
are completely unlike until whiskey breeds in both a desire to fight
and kill. In some way the Canadians had obtained a supply of “white
whiskey” (a mixture of grain alcohol and water) at Christmas, and the
entire outfit prepared to celebrate gloriously. The boss prepared to
follow Grant’s famous plan of campaign. He cut off the enemy’s base of
supplies by locking the door of the cook’s shanty and refusing to feed
the rioters. This brought the revolution to a head. A crowd of savage
men gathered in front of the buildings with their axes, and threatened
to cut the doors out and to kill the few of us who were left on guard.
After it was all over I was told that the cursing and the threatening of
these rum-crazed men was frightful, but as I could not hear a syllable
of it I walked up to them, entered the group and talked the situation
over with French Charlie, Joe the Devil and the Blue Swede. The rest
of my side expected to see me chopped into pieces, but most men who
threaten before they act will talk a full dictionary before they kill.
These drunken men were so astonished at a deaf man’s disregard of their
threats that they were diverted from their anger, and I was able to make
terms with them. I probably should not have dared to go near them if I
had received the curses and threats direct.

Years later a sudden cloudburst in the hills above our farm filled the
streams to overflowing. The little river near our home jumped out of
its bed and spread over the road—a rushing, roaring, shallow sheet of
water. I had to cross that part of the road in order to get my train,
and I took a steady horse, with one of the little boys in the buggy
with me. At the edge of this overflow we found a group of excited men
who were listening to the roaring, and were afraid to venture over. I
used my eyes calmly and observed that the bridge was quite sound, and
the water was too shallow to be really dangerous. So in I drove with my
boy—who was white with terror—while most of the men tried to stop me.
The old horse waded calmly and safely, and we crossed without trouble.
The water never reached the hub of the wheel! Yet on the other side men
stood half paralyzed _because they heard the roaring water_ and stopped
to listen. On the other side my boy said, “But you never would have done
it _if you could hear that water_!”

As I look from the silent land out into the busy world I see men
hesitate, falter and fall back at terrors which appear to me imaginary.
They _stop to listen_—and are lost. Like my boy on the edge of the
river, they hear the roaring water and become unfit for calm judgment,
or keen analysis of actual danger. Most people with good hearing stop
too frequently to listen. A scarecrow may have been making a noise like
a fighting man! If you listen long enough to the tales of a liar you
will come to regard him as a lion.

A friend of mine relates a strange adventure which befell him on a New
York subway train. He was a “strap-hanger” in a crowded express car
rushing up town. As is the habit of the deaf he forgot the throng around
him and let his mind become absorbed in the business he was engaged
in. This is the privilege of us deaf; we may be near enough to a dozen
men to touch them with our hands, yet the mind can take us miles away
from all distractions. This man was rudely shaken from his oblivion by
a great commotion in the car. The passengers rushed forward past him,
stumbling over each other in their eagerness to get away to the front
of the train. Two so-called “guards” fled with the rest. The deaf man
did not join the stampede because he had no idea what it was all about,
and long experience of the vagaries of people who can hear had taught
him the wisdom of keeping out of the rush. He glanced over his shoulder
and saw that the back of the car was empty save for one man, who stood
quite near to him. This was a thick-set individual with a small,
bullet-shaped head, set firmly on a bull neck. He had a heavy red face,
and small, deep-set eyes, but his most singular feature was his right
ear—it did not look human at all, but resembled a small cauliflower.
The eyes of the deaf are quick to seize upon the most unusual or
conspicuous part of an object—my deaf friend noted first of all that
cauliflower ear.

Its owner advanced and shook his fist menacingly, shouting words which
only served to increase the confusion of the stampeders. The deaf
man merely hung to his strap and over his shoulder shouted into the
cauliflower ear:

“Oh, shut up! Give us a rest!”

The “guard” who was trying to jam through the door nearly fell with
astonishment. As the man continued to approach from behind, the deaf man
turned and pointed a finger at him.

“I can’t hear a word you say, and I don’t know who you are—but shut up,
and stop your noise!”

The antagonist glanced sharply at him—then the deaf man read on his

“Don’t you know who I am?”

“No, and I don’t care!”

“Can’t you hear what I say?”

“No, and I don’t want to! Mind your own business!”

The bullet-headed man uttered one short expressive word and sat down.
At Forty-second Street two good-sized policemen appeared, but they
waited for reinforcements before arresting the disturber. However, he
went willingly, casting back a look of mingled fear and admiration at
the deaf man. My friend did not know he was a hero until he learned
that the belligerent gentleman was a champion middle-weight boxer, very
drunk and very ugly. He had threatened to clean out the crowd—hence the
sudden stampede. This deaf man tells me that if he had really known to
whom the cauliflower ear belonged he would have been the first man out
of the car. As it happened he gained a reputation for being the only man
who ever told a “champ” to shut up, and then cooled him off by shaking a
finger. I have known many deaf men who have escaped from such situations
most marvelously uninjured.

Yet while the deaf man is smiling at most of the terrors which approach
him from without, he falls an easy prey to those which attack from
within. Imagination will often lead a sensitive man into untold misery.
Our hardest struggles come when we must strangle the imps of depression,
our personal devils. They come with evil suggestion, frequently with
actual voices, eager to poison the will and paralyze the courage. I have
no doubt that Whittier’s great poem beginning:

 “_Spare me, dread angel of reproach_”

was written as the result of subjective audition. I suppose the average
person can never know how close the deaf are driven to temporary
insanity in their struggles to overcome doubts and imaginary fears.
Sometimes the fear concentrates upon the idea that they will lose sight
as well as hearing! Or perhaps doubt of wife, children or friends will
present itself forcibly. Little incidents, a feeling that people are
laughing at their expense, some unintentional slight, a misunderstanding
or a rude nervous shock, any of these may start the hateful imps which
live in one part of the brain at their fearful work of poisoning the
mind and the will. At times the deaf man finds it almost impossible to
wrench free from these accursed influences.

Some readers become so completely absorbed in books that they cannot
take the mind from a sad or an exciting story. I have known deaf men to
enter into such a story as George Eliot’s “Mill on the Floss” so that
they lived through the lives of the various characters and found that
they could not shake off the depression. Usually I can tell when the
author is deaf by the general character of the story. The dialogue is
as a rule unnatural and the tone is apt to be gloomy. Music, or light,
aimless conversation would clear the mind and make the reader remember
that it is only a story—but to the deaf man, deprived of these aids,
the tragedy depicted on the printed page becomes shockingly real.
The best remedy for me is to “read in streaks.” Whenever I find that
a book is liable to have this powerful effect on me I do not read
continuously, but after a few chapters I take up something in lighter
vein, or even a serious volume of solid thought. Some of us deaf acquire
a morbid desire to read sad or sombre literature. This mistake should
be overcome even if it requires a supreme effort. If one can acquire
faith in the Bible and reverence for its teachings it will give greater
comfort to the deaf than will any other book. I place Shakespeare next,
then Milton and the other great poets. But let a deaf man read what
interests him, if it be nothing but the local paper. If he lives in the
country let him become a correspondent for his local paper, and join
the hunt for local news. He should leave out of his list all tales of
depression and sin. The deaf person should make a point of reading half
a dozen of the “best sellers” each year. They are likely to be stories
of human nature, and they will undoubtedly contain natural dialogue;
these elements are sadly needed by the deaf, yet they are the least
likely to come into the silent world.

Of course you will contend, and truly, that it is supremely foolish
for grown men and women to give way to imaginary fears and doubts. Yet
the very absurdity makes it harder to bring cool reason into the fight
against these imps. As Claude Melnotte in “The Lady of Lyons” puts it:

 “It is the sting of such a woe as mine
   To _feel I am a man_!”

Again, my best remedy is to force the mind backward into familiar
incidents which clearly show that these fierce lions of the imagination
are at best mere scarecrows. There is one favorite adventure which
usually serves to lift the spell.

Many years ago a certain young man met a certain young woman, and the
young man was soon completely certain that here was “the only girl”.
Ever since the world began young men have singled out young women by a
process of selection, not usually scientific or always safe or sane;
yet life has continued for many centuries with upward tendencies as
a result. This young man’s ancestor, the cave man, would doubtlessly
have taken a club (if he had been big enough), knocked down the male
members of the family, and dragged the young woman off to his own hole
in the rocks. The race has progressed since then, and the family must be
approached in a more gentle manner. This young woman had a wide choice.
She was bright and lively and pretty, with a long string of attendants.
The man was serious-minded and poor, with prospects far from the best.
His hearing was failing, and he knew that deafness was inevitable. He
had reasoned out the whole situation with the greatest care. Here was
the “only girl,” but the cold future lay on ahead. Have the deaf a
right to marry? Is it fair to ask anyone to share the results of such
an affliction? What he did was to go straight to the “only girl” with
the truth. Probably the imps of depression had begun to talk to him
even then. No doubt he made his future chances seem harder than he might
have done. It is said that John G. Whittier made the same blunder of
exaggerated honesty when he offered marriage to another “only girl.” The
girl rejected him and Whittier never married. But in our case the “only
girl” said that she would “think it over.”

Then came the lawn party. The young man was a little late, and dancing
had begun when he came and looked through the window. Those were the
good old Southern days when we swung about in the old-fashioned waltz;
the happy days before the war were still in mind, and we danced to such
plaintive tunes as “Old Kentucky Home,” and “Nellie Was a Lady.” The
young man outside saw the “only girl” dancing with Henry. Henry was a
good fellow, bright and clean; his mother was the richest woman in town.
When the music stopped the couple came out onto the lawn. The waiting
young man saw them find seats under a tree, back from the lights, where
they sat down to talk earnestly. The watcher could think of but one
probable topic for conversation. Once as he walked down a path under a
lamp they looked at him and he saw the “only girl” smile. He lost all
interest in the party. He walked on out along the lonely country road,
and like Philip Ray of Enoch Arden, “had his dark hour alone.”

The imps came to him in the dark, but he mastered them and reasoned it
out to a great peace. “It is better so. Henry can give her an easier
life. She will be happier here in her old home town. I must fight for a
place in the world, and she is not a fighter. I am handicapped. In the
years to come, as a deaf man I shall be worse off than a man with one
leg. I really have no right to ask her to share an uncertainty with me.
Henry is the better man—and yet, she is the ‘only girl.’ I cannot stay
here. I’ll go back North!”

The deaf spend less time on regrets after the struggle than do those who
can hear. So the young man walked back to the house with a great peace
in his heart. The “only girl” was sitting on the steps, one of a group
of happy young people. And Henry came walking across the lawn straight
to the deaf man. The latter braced himself and held out his hand to the
rival—for what did it matter after all if the “only girl” could be
satisfied? But Henry got in ahead. He put out his hand impulsively and

“Old man, I congratulate you! She has told me all about it. She’s not
for me. She says she admires a self-made man, and that’s more than I can
ever be. Mother took the job off my hands too early!”

This is undoubtedly the best antidote for my fears and imaginary
vagaries, and I like to pass it in mental review. And this lady who sits
at the other side of the fire! I wonder how much of it _she_ remembers?
Does it have the effect of an antidote for her? She is writing
something for me now. No doubt she is remembering that night long
ago—the music and the moonlight and all the rest of it. Here is proof
of the power of mental communication. The good lady passes the message
over to me. Let me rub my glasses a moment in pleasant anticipation. I

“You went away this morning without leaving me any money. I must have
ten dollars to pay a few little bills!”

Remembering happier days appears to be a special privilege of the deaf!



  The Terror that Flieth by Night—’Gene Wilson in the Dark
  Silence—How He Fought off Insanity—Childhood Fears—The
  Cat in the Garret—The Blind and the Deaf at the Dark
  Railroad Station—A Georgia Experience.

The sense of utter helplessness and the heart chill which envelop a deaf
person suddenly plunged into darkness are indescribable. For example, of
course, I know perfectly well that the darkness does not of itself carry
evil or extra danger; I have come through it repeatedly without harm,
yet in spite of all that I can think or do I invariably experience an
instant of paralyzing fear. Persons who have never known perfect hearing
do not feel the full terror, I think, but there is tragedy in the sudden
withdrawal of light for those who have gradually, perhaps imperceptibly,
come to substitute eyes for ears. They may recover their mental poise
after a moment of mental struggle but for a brief space, before they can
adjust the mind, they will come close to insanity. I can assure you that
at such a time the moments are hours.

I know of at least one deaf man, a farmer, who will vouch for the truth
of my statements, though you with good ears may contend that it is
fantastic to be so affected. ’Gene Wilson had come to depend on his wife
and children as interpreters in his communications with others. Many a
deaf person has lost the habit of listening, of paying close attention,
through his perfect confidence in the family interpreter. In any case,
many men of middle-age are inclined to shirk the responsibility of
effort if they can find some one willing to assume it. The deaf man
loses his _will to hear_ if not his actual hearing, the man of middle
years thus is inviting old age; both by effort could extend the “years
of grace.” ’Gene Wilson had sent a car load of potatoes to the city and
had followed to sell them, with his wife and little girl. During the
crowded noon hour he attempted to cross Broadway at Forty-second Street.
A policeman stood on guard to direct the traffic, but ’Gene did not
understand the signals. He tried to run across just as a big car started
uptown—of course the policeman shouted, but ’Gene could not hear him.
The driver could not stop in time and the deaf man was smashed to the
ground, where he lay stunned and bleeding. There was the usual call for
an ambulance, and ’Gene was hurried to a hospital. The deaf do not cry
out when injured or frightened; probably they lose the habit of this
form of expression since they do not hear others use it. Instead there
comes a whirling, a roaring of the head and a sort of mild paralysis of
the brain, but when this clears away it leaves the mind most acute and
active. ’Gene Wilson lay in this half-dazed condition, conscious only of
a fearful pounding at his brain. The doctors questioned him, but he did
not hear. They finally put him down as idiotic or at least half-insane.
Several deaf friends have told me how this label was attached to them
when they met with accidents while among strangers. One can scarcely
blame hurried, over-worked hospital doctors and nurses for paying scant
attention to such cases, and the afflicted must suffer.

So they bandaged poor ’Gene’s head in such a way that his eyes were
covered. What difference could seeing make to a half-wit? How were those
doctors to know how much more the blessed sunshine meant to this deaf
man than it could possibly mean to them? And then ’Gene’s mind suddenly
cleared. His head was racked by pain and the roaring still sounded in
his ears, but he remembered back to the moment before the accident—and
now he found himself suddenly helpless, in the darkness. He forgot the
usual caution of the deaf and shouted! The nurses came running and tried
to make him understand, but a new terror possessed him. He tore at the
bandages which covered his eyes, but strong hands held him back; he
fought with all his power, lying there in the darkness and the silence,
but how were the nurses to understand that he was only fighting for the
sunshine? None of their explanations pacified him, so they strapped his
arms securely to the bed and held him a prisoner. Who knows what their
report might have been?

’Gene Wilson tells me that a full thousand years of torment were crowded
for him in the next half-hour. He thinks that Dante missed one act
in his description of life in the infernal regions! ’Gene says that
frightful shapes stepped out of the shadows and seemed to lead him along
a lonely road, up close to a great house with transparent sides through
which he could look upon the grotesque shapes which dwelt therein.
Part of his mind seemed to know that it was the home of insanity.
Faces peered at him through the windows; some stared in a stupor of
melancholy, others showed grinning deviltry or hateful sneering, and
all were waiting to welcome him! And all around poor ’Gene were kindly
souls eager to help him and to draw him away from the awful place, but
he could not make them understand that he was not insane—only deaf.

“You may believe it or not,” says ’Gene, going on with his story, “but
as I stood there struggling to get rid of those shapes at my sides my
mind searched for a strong, sane picture which should counteract the
spell of the evil ones. Suddenly there came to me the Twenty-third
Psalm, which as a boy I had committed to memory. It had been lying
forgotten at the back of my mind, but at that awful moment it returned
complete and distinct. I lay there quietly, repeating the words over and

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in
green pastures, He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my
soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort

I told ’Gene that here was evidence of the subconscious mind throwing up
something which had been buried deep into it years before.

“I know nothing about that,” said he; “but as I lay there repeating
those words over and over a great peace came to me. The shapes at my
side disappeared, and I could walk away from that frightful place. Then
I felt a hand on my head which somehow I recognized, and another smaller
hand caught at my thumb. They loosened those hateful bandages and let
in the light. Then I saw—as I seemed to know I should—my wife sitting
beside me, and the little girl holding my hand.”

I could assure ’Gene that I completely believed his story, for I have
also felt the strong emotions and imaginings which stir the deaf at
such times. Always the head noises grow louder when light is withdrawn
from our hearing eyes, and the voices which go with subjective hearing
become more pronounced. Probably the deaf are more sensitive to
subconscious thought than are those who hear well; we are deprived of
much of the sound which stimulates many trains of conscious thought.
Also we deaf must naturally deal with the past where most subconscious
thought is buried. I believe that the deaf hold very closely to memories
and associations of childhood—our long, quiet hours of reflection are
largely filled with remembering the most vivid impressions we have

Perhaps this accounts for some of the terror which the darkness brings.
Many of us remember the horrible shapes which peopled the black night
around our beds, and lurked in shadowy corners, often emerging to
dance grotesquely in the moonlight. When I was the “boy” on a New
England farm there was only one room in the house which was reasonably
warm in Winter, but at eight o’clock the old farmer would point with
unmistakable significance to the tall clock in the corner, and there
was nothing for me to do but to rush through the cold parlor, up the
colder stairs into the still colder attic, where my bed was in the
shadow of the great central chimney. Needless to say, I undressed in
bed. Then down under the covers I lay and trembled at the snap of the
frost. Once a piece of plaster fell from the unfinished wall above me
and struck my shoulder; again “Malty,” the gray cat, crawled in through
a hole in the roof and sprang upon my bed, striking terror to my soul,
though she really came as an old friend. The appearance of this unknown
crawling thing on my bed inspired a frenzy of fear—but I knew that
it would do me no good to scream or call for help. My aunt was deaf,
while my uncle slept like the proverbial log; both log and deaf ear
are alike, unresponsive to sound. Also, I realized that the journey
downstairs with my story would have been unprofitable (and freezing!).
I should have been sent back with a scolding and perhaps a blow. My
own little children sometimes waken in the night with some of these
vague terrors, and I have known them to run through the dark to their
mother’s bed, where they are always taken in. My old folks were not
cruel or even consciously unkind; they merely lived in an arid region
where understanding and imagination could not come. They knew nothing
of ghosts and goblins, so why should a child fear them? Darkness was
really a good thing, if one didn’t waste lamp oil. So I lay alone with
the terrors until sleep banished them. I could not see that they must be
futile, since such an unsubstantial foe as sleep could master them.

Of course, thousands of grey-haired persons can recall just such
terrifying childhood situations. Usually as we grow older the memories
fade away, though they are never entirely lost; they are probably
waiting in the subconsciousness for darkness and a worried mind to bring
them forth. They are clearer to the deaf, and nearer to the surface of
consciousness; hence they are more easily roused to play their strange
tricks upon us. It seems strange to me that novelists have rather
neglected this strong emotion of fear, and it is particularly remarkable
that they have seemed to slight the mighty struggle to overcome it,
which all deaf people know.

Some years ago I planned to visit a New England town to attend a college
celebration. I had never been in this particular locality before, but
I supposed I should find a large town with full hotel accommodations,
so I took a night train. At about eleven I alighted at the railroad
station, and, to my astonishment, found myself in complete darkness.
The train made but a brief stop; it hurried off like a living thing,
glad to escape from the lonely place. I watched the last glimmer of its
rear light disappear around a distant curve, and then I was completely
wrapped in a dense, inky blackness, through which I could feel the moist
fingers of a thick, creeping fog. They seemed to clutch at my face and
throat. For an instant the old wild terror seized me, and then there
came an impulse to rush through the blackness desperately—anywhere—to
escape the clinging things which seemed to be reaching for me. But I
stood still, and finally there came to me a sort of amused sense of
adventure—I remembered the night in the hotel when I wandered about the
dark passage and ran into a drunken man. The fight sobered him, and as
he led me back to my room he thanked me, for he said that his wife was
waiting up for him.

Now my first thought was to locate the railroad station. That would at
least prove a starting point; but I had absolutely no idea in which
direction to start, for I could not even tell whether any buildings at
all were near. The last light on the train had traveled east, but I had
turned around several times since I watched it out of sight. I dared
not call out; I remembered the deaf man who was shot and nearly killed
under similar circumstances. Being lost in the darkness, he called for
help, not knowing that he was near a farmhouse. The farmer heard him and
pointed a gun from the window, calling:

“What do you want? Stand still or I’ll fire!”

The deaf man continued to advance; the farmer fired at random and shot
him down. I knew better than to call out in the darkness. I did not even
dare walk freely about, for I know of a man who in the darkness about a
railroad station ran into a mowing-machine; another became entangled in
a roll of barbed wire. These incidents stayed in my mind quite vividly,
and I will confess that I got down on my hands and knees and crawled
carefully in what I hoped was the direction of the station. Foot by foot
I crept along, and at last I came up against what I took to be a picket
fence. Then a dull light began to glow down the track. The midnight
freight rumbled by, and its headlight showed the station behind me. I
had crossed the road in my travels, and now I slowly recrossed it. With
arms outstretched, I ran into the building. I carefully groped my way
around it, much as a blind man would have felt his way along a wall.
But he would travel with greater confidence, trusting to his ears to
warn him of approaching danger. I passed one corner and proceeded to the
other side, but suddenly there came to me a feeling that _someone was
near me in the dark_! I cannot describe the uncanny, “crawly” sensation
which envelops a deaf person when he senses an unseen presence. I
suffered acutely until I actually ran into a man who also seemed to be
feeling his way along the wall. He told me afterward that he had spoken
to me several times, but, of course, I did not answer. Happily he had no
pistol or he would have fired. As it was, each clutched the throat of
the other, and we struggled like two wild animals. I had the stronger
grip, and I think I know the vulnerable point in the throat. At any
rate, his hand dropped, and I knew from the quiver inside his throat
that he was gasping for breath.

Then I told him who I was and what was my trouble. After a little
fumbling I got my hearing device into working order and held up the
mouthpiece to his month. At first he thought it was a pistol, but I
reassured him, and he told me his story. Like myself, he had come on
the late train, expecting to find a town, and a good hotel near the
station. And it happened that he was nearly blind; he retained only part
of the sight in one eye. He told me that he had heard me walking about
in the dark and had called loudly. There we were—a man nearly blind and
a deaf man, stranded in this lonely place. If ever two human beings had
need of each other, we were the men, yet a moment before both of us were
ready to fight when co-operation was the only possible hope for us. This
is not unlike the larger struggles that go on in the world.

We agreed to graft the blind man’s ears upon my eyes, and together we
made our way slowly along the road. Our hope was to start up some dog
at a farmhouse, rouse the family by any means, and plead for lodging.
Finally, far down the road I saw a moving light. I judged it to be a
lantern in the hand of a farmer going to the barn for a last look at the
cattle before retiring. I know that New England habit. So I called and
the blind man listened. The light stopped moving at my call, and a big
voice roared back:

“What do you want at this time of night?”

I explained as best I could, but it was hard to convince that farmer.

“Too thin! I’ve heard such tales before! Stop where you are till I come

The lantern moved back to the house, and we waited in the road. Soon
three lights appeared and moved towards us. That farmer had called
up his son and the hired man, and as they moved down the road in our
direction I thought of “The Night Watch”—a fine picture I had seen
at an exhibition. The farmer carried a shotgun, the boy had an old
musket, and the hired man brandished a pitchfork. When we came within
range of the lantern, the farmer ordered us to hold up our hands while
we explained; the hired man meanwhile advanced with his pitchfork
extended as if to throw half a haycock on a wagon. These men could not
be blamed for their caution, for, as we later learned, thieves had been
busy in the neighborhood. We finally convinced the belligerents that
we were harmless. The farmer left us under the guard of the hired man
while he went to his barn and harnessed a horse. Then he carried us to
the distant town, where we routed out a sleepy landlord and ended our
adventure. But the farmer gave us a bit of homely advice.

“If I was a deaf man, or if I had only half an eye, I’d stay at home
when night comes.”

“But in that case you would miss a good deal of life—many adventures,
and many new friends.”

“Well, maybe that’s so; I hadn’t thought of that.”

He departed shaking his head over the advantages of adventurous blood,
but I think he possessed a dash of it himself.

A friend of mine tells a Georgia experience of deafness and darkness.
Long after dark he reached the small town where he was to spend the
night. However black true “pitch” may be, there never was anything
darker than that portion of the atmosphere which surrounded the railroad
station as this deaf man stepped off the train. Finally a light appeared
from behind the station. It proved to be a dim lantern in the hands of a
colored man so black that his face seemed to make a shadow in the dark.
Conversation with the deaf regarding details is not satisfactory under
such conditions. The colored man held his lantern up near to his face
and talked, but his mouth was too large and open to make lip-reading
easy. The deaf man did finally grasp the fact that this agent of the
night represented the leading hotel in town. So, under his guidance my
friend found his way to an old closed carriage. The colored man hung his
lantern on a spring, roused his sleepy mule, and off they started over a
succession of humps and mud holes. Finally, after one tremendous bump,
the lonely lantern went out and the carriage halted. The deaf man could
distinguish ahead only two luminous spots of light; they were the eyes
of the mule, who, instead of running as a horse might have done, merely
looked reproachfully at his driver. The colored man had no matches, but
he drove on through the blackness, placidly trusting to the mule for
guidance. Now there are times in the life of every deaf man when he
must either aspire to philosophy or retire into insanity. My friend,
inside of that rickety carriage, smiled at the thought which entered
his mind. Ages before one of his stone age ancestors had crouched far
back on his bed of leaves, shrinking in terror at the evil spirits which
the darkness was hiding. Here he was in the silent darkness after all
the long ages, but he was serene in soul because hundreds of years of
artificial light had brought to him their message of courage and faith.

The “hotel” proved to be an old-fashioned Southern mansion, rambling
and shaky, fronted by large unpainted columns which sagged a bit,
with windows that rattled and big echoing halls in which old memories
congregated. My friend was tired, and after a light supper he asked
to be taken to his room. The landlord, a grave and dignified man, who
limped a little from a wound received at Gettysburg, took up a lighted
candle and led the way to a big corner room at the back of the house on
the first floor. He put the candle and the matches down on the bureau
and then pulled out a revolver, which he placed beside the candle.

“We have been having a little trouble with some of our niggers,” he
said. “They steal. Keep your windows fastened, and put your watch and
money under your pillow. If anyone should get in, fire first and inquire
afterward. That is our plan. Good-night.”

This deaf man hardly knows how to fire a modern revolver. It is
doubtful if he could come anywhere near to a barn door in sunlight, to
say nothing of the inky blackness which encompassed that house. However,
he obediently put his valuables under the pillow, placed the big
revolver carefully on the chair beside his bed, blew out the light and
retired. In such a situation it seems to me that keen, quick ears would
have been a misfortune. And this deaf man, being philosophical as well
as very weary, fell asleep before he could fully realize the surrounding

How long he slept he cannot now tell, but he suddenly woke with a start
and sat up in bed, _knowing_ that someone was within a few feet of
him. I know that both the blind and the deaf have a curious faculty
of divining the presence of others in the silence of the darkness. My
friend knew that somewhere in the silent darkness human beings were
going through some stealthy performance. He reached for the revolver,
_but the chair upon which he had placed it was not there_! As quietly
as possible he groped his way to the bureau and found the matches. _But
it was impossible to light them._ He scratched at least a dozen until
they broke in two, but they would not ignite. The candle was in his
hand, but the light within, which he craved, could not be produced.
Alone in the silent blackness, a numb terror fell upon the heart of
the deaf man. He was as helpless as his remote ancestor, shrinking
into his primeval black cave. He was even in a worse situation, for
the cave man had hearing with which to note the approach of his enemy.
The modern man would not know how near was the lurking enemy until he
felt the clutching hand. He dared not cry out or grope for help through
that rambling house—the landlord had stipulated that questions be
asked _afterward_! Finally, urged on by that mysterious instinct of
the deaf, he groped his way along the hall until he reached the corner
window. This he opened, and he stood there waiting for the terror to
reveal itself. Suddenly he perceived that someone had passed close to
him through the outside darkness—he even felt a slight movement of air
as something passed by; he thought a human hand was laid on the window
sill for an instant. With eyes strained to the limit of tension and ears
quickened a little by terror, the deaf man realized that a door near
him had gently opened. Then came a dim sound and the air waves of a
struggle, and the deaf man knew that someone was creeping back past him
through the darkness. As startling as would have been a nail driven into
his heart came the thud and the shock of a quick blow on the side of the
house nearest him—a low, stifled cry penetrated even his dull ears.
Then off again crept a human form, feeling its way along the house.

No, the deaf man did not dream all this. It all happened just as I
relate it. Out in that silent blackness a tragedy had been enacted.
After a time the deaf man cautiously put his hand out of the window
down toward the place where that quick blow had fallen. His reaching
fingers slowly crept down past the sill to the wooden post upon which
the house was built. There they encountered a soft, warm, sticky smear,
which coated the top of the post. The fingers did not dare to close. The
horror-stricken, lonely man held his right hand rigid and suffered one
of those crises when either philosophy or insanity must come to the aid
of the deaf. He determined to keep his mind clear. Finally he became
aware that light was coming; off in the east a crimson streak appeared
along the sky; the wind was blowing the mists away. Little by little
the light gained. The man looked at his hand, and, as he had feared,
it showed a red stain. The light grew, and he finally gained courage
to look out of the window. The post was covered with blood. There was
still visible the mark of a blow of an axe. Just back from the corner
was a small house, within which a rooster was crowing—half a dozen hens
were on their way out for the day’s wanderings. In the door of a small
cook-house in the backyard a fat colored woman was picking a Plymouth
Rock chicken. The deaf man glanced once more at the house post and saw
on the ground beside it the head of a rooster!

It was a thoughtful man who washed his hands and looked about the room.
The revolver still lay on the chair where he had placed it; he had
evidently put his hand out on the wrong side of the bed. There was the
candle and there were the matches—untouched; near at hand was a _box of
toothpicks_, half of them broken in pieces, with scratches on the box.

Later the deaf man sat out in the gallery, watching the sun rise, his
mind busy with strange matters as he waited for breakfast. At length the
landlord appeared.

“I hope, sir, you rested well. I feared you might be disturbed. We
wanted to give you a taste of fried chicken, Georgia style, so the
nigger killed one this morning. I hope it did not disturb you, sir.”



When a man becomes convinced that he is definitely headed for the
silence, he must make up his mind whether he is to be a grouch or a
gentleman. The word “grouch” has not yet been fully accepted by the
guardians of good English, but it seems to me one of the most expressive
words in the language. Perhaps that is because I have spent much time
in trying to escape from the condition which might probably carry this
label. The deaf man may, if he will, excel all others in playing the
part. Here is one case in which he may certainly pose as a star. It
is hardly possible for a grouch to be a gentleman, and it is quite
inconceivable that the gentleman should wish to be a grouch. Yet, if
left to himself, the deaf man will naturally come to play the part,
and it is certainly the one part in the great adventure of life which
he can handle to perfection. The grouch wraps himself in a mantle of
gloom and tries to throw the skirts of it all around his fellow-men.
The gentleman, when under the spell of affliction, struggles to light
a candle of faith and hope within him that will make his whole life
luminous as he walks among men. It costs most of us a struggle in our
efforts to throw off depression and appear content with life, and the
struggle will be long and constant, but it is worth while, and so in
this last chapter I would like to briefly review some of the rules of
life which have come home to me during my sojourn in silence. I have
found in my own case that I paid very little attention to the rules and
regulations of the trouble, but, at any rate, those of us who have been
over the ground like to nail up the danger signal when we can.

The deaf should remember that they are in a way abnormal. We cannot be
like other men. It could not well be otherwise when we realize that we
are deprived of what is perhaps the most important of the senses. It
seems to me far better to face the fact that we cannot well conceal our
handicap. Usually when we mingle with others in everyday life every
person within 100 feet of us will know sooner or later that we are deaf.
Some of the worst blunders which the deaf man can make are those which
come from pretending that he can hear. We shall receive better treatment
and be freer from disappointment if we frankly admit our handicap and
throw ourselves upon the generosity of our friends, or even of strangers.

I suppose that curiosity causes more real torture to the deaf man than
anything else. Some of the deaf are exceedingly curious. They must know
what others are talking about, and they often pester their companions
almost beyond endurance in an effort to learn all the trivial details
of small conversation. They bring themselves to believe that most
conversation going on about them refers to something in which they are
vitally interested, and in this way they come to imagine all sorts of
disagreeable things. This idle curiosity leads to endless grief and
trouble. Forget it! That brief advice is peculiarly applicable to the
deaf, for it is much harder for them to forget things than for those
whose minds are constantly diverted by sound. One of the greatest
troubles of the average deaf man is that he cannot forget the things
which annoy except by driving them out of the brain by new suggestions,
or by forcing himself to think of happier and more interesting things.
That is why every deaf person should have some harmless or interesting
hobby which he can always mount and spur into speed whenever the imps
of the silence come out of their holes. Yet, there is such a thing as
riding a hobby so hard that the rider loses his hat, and the deaf man
makes a very ridiculous John Gilpin when his hobby runs away with him.

Above all things, we must believe in the loyalty and affection of our
family and companions. Remember that they are human, perhaps more so
than we are. We can easily become a nuisance to them. They may perhaps
show their annoyance for the moment, but at heart they are true, and
we should never lose faith in them, if we can possibly avoid it. I
think, too, it is a mistake to allude to our trouble as an affliction,
as too many of us are tempted to do. It is a handicap, and often a very
serious one. Yet, we may easily find people with real afflictions,
worse than ours, and we well know that we would not readily change
our identity if such a thing could be done. I find that successful
teachers of lip-reading insist that deafness should never be spoken
of as an affliction. It is a handicap, perhaps, but the surest way to
make it worse is to go about classing the deaf with afflicted people;
and the intelligent deaf scarcely, if ever, speak of those who are deaf
and dumb. That is a term to be avoided, for education or scientific
treatment is ending that condition. The entire life of the deaf, if they
hope to enjoy even ordinary happiness, must be built on the sunshine
theory; always search for the bright side. In all our life there is
nothing so destructive of character as self-pity. Far better look
about for undoubted advantages of life in the silence, and train our
rebellious spirits to work patiently under the yoke. In that way we
may easily gain new strength of character and greater power from our
trouble. I like to repeat the statement over and over that I have found
this a good world. It is well filled with kindly people, who on the
whole are ready to give every man with a handicap a fair start if they
can only be made to realize that he is willing to fight the good fight
with cheerfulness and without complaint.

I have found it well to go out among my fellow-men and take my chances
on getting through. Some people seem to think that deafness should shut
them away from travel or society. I cannot agree with that. I think we
should move about among people. It is, I grant, a peculiar sensation
at times to realize the appalling loneliness of a crowd. You stand in
groups of people, see them move about, know that they are talking and
laughing; you can reach out your hand and touch them; yet, for all that,
you are living in another world apart from them. It gives one at times
an uncanny feeling to realize such a situation, yet I think it is well
for us to seek our fellows in this way, and live among them. It gives
us opportunity for the finest study of character, and if we would only
think so, there are few things more interesting or exciting than the
attempt to locate strangers in occupation or habit by their appearance.
Some deaf people seek to hide themselves, and shun society and travel
through fear of ridicule or accident. This is, I believe, a mistake. So
long as one has eyes of reasonable strength which may be trained for
quick and close observation, it is far better for the mind and spirit
to get out among men. When you go on a journey, always plan to carry a
flashlight lantern and an abundant supply of paper and pencils. You are
quite sure at some point of your travels to find yourself in darkness
along the way, and there is little hope for the deaf man in the dark.
Unless you are expert at lip-reading, my advice would be to insist upon
having the message written out. With the very deaf attempts to make them
hear or to communicate by signs are little better than wide guesses.
In all my experiences I have never found but two people who refused
to write the information when I called for it. One was an impatient,
selfish man, and the other a woman, who evidently feared that certain
young men would laugh at her if she made herself conspicuous with a
deaf man. In one of these cases a bystander, seemingly ashamed of the
discourtesy shown me, volunteered to help me, and was ready to fight
the man who had refused. Oh, I shall have to repeat it once more! I
have found this a good world to live in. It is filled with people who
at heart are kindly and sympathetic. Many of the fancied rebuffs which
we experience are due to the fact that people do not understand how to
communicate with us. Above all things, the deaf man should never lose
his nerve. He should always believe that he is the favorite “child of
fate,” sure to come through every obstacle. Then let him go bravely and
confidently on his way, supremely sure that he will be cared for.

The problem of occupation is the vital one for the deaf. What can we do
to earn a living when our hearing fails? There is without question a
prejudice against the deaf which it is hard to overcome. We who live in
the silence cannot quite understand why people seem to fear us, and are
evidently uncomfortable when we come near. We are as harmless as anyone,
and we are capable of giving good service, but we realize only too well
that society in general seems to class us among the undesirables. I know
of one woman who is struggling to support and educate two children. She
is an admirable cook, good housekeeper, clean, quick and efficient, yet
no one wants to employ her because she is deaf. One would think that
her condition would be something of an advantage in a household where
there are family secrets to be kept. But, no matter how capable this
woman may be, most people seem afraid to employ her. The fact is that
the condition of deafness is a distinct advantage in many cases—for
example, the faithful deaf helper will not be liable to change
frequently. He will stay by his employer, yet most deaf people come face
to face with prejudice which society shows them.

I know of a clergyman who filled his pulpit acceptably until deafness
drove him from it. One might think without bitterness that a man of
God with a trouble of this sort might in his daily life come closer to
what his people need, but his congregation would not have it so, and
he was retired. For some years the old man lived in the town, sawing
and splitting wood for a living. The woodpile he built was a sermon on
neatness and honest labor, and he went happily on through life. Someone
asked him how he could be cheerful at such labor, and his answer was:
“I put joy in my job.” There are deaf men in all walks of life. Some
are highly successful as teachers, editors, salesmen, watchmen and
other lines where one would suppose that perfect hearing is more than a
necessity. In general a deaf man must take the work that comes to him.
He cannot always choose, but he can usually dignify any job, and excel
at it if he will keep his courage and put his mind to it. He should
remember that spirit of the old minister who, when retired from his
pulpit, took up the saw and axe, and was cheerful because he put joy in
the job.

The moving picture show is a wonderful help to the deaf. Here he is on
terms of equality with all men. In this remarkable world of the movies,
where the villain is always punished and the virtuous always emerge
with roses and a crown, the deaf man may find much of that optimism
which seems like an electric light to the soul. It is the height of
enjoyment for him to see pictures illustrating some favorite book thrown
on the screen, and that enables him to make a mental comparison with
his own conception of the characters in the story. The fact is that
the life of the ambitious deaf is one long effort to keep cheerful
and bright-minded, and thus steer away from depression. To that end
he should soak his mind with all possible poetry and humor and good
literature. In fact, let him take in anything that will frame pleasant
pictures on the walls of his mind, and it is a blessing ranking close to
a godsend to be able to sleep when other aids in the struggle against
depression fail. There will surely come times after the work has been
laid aside when all the wakeful philosophy will fail to keep the spirit
bright. Then the ability to lie down and sleep becomes a genuine
heavenly gift; for in sleep the head noises and troubles are forgotten,
when we may even hear music and voices of friends. And do you know
that in that thought lies one of the most curious and pathetic things
connected with the life of the deaf? We wonder just how the voices of
wife and son or friends actually sound. In real fact they may croak like
ravens or scream like a door that needs oiling, but to us in imagination
they are musical and full of sympathy. I think that of all the curious,
mysterious things which come to us in this world of silence there is
nothing sadder or more remarkable than this unsatisfied desire to listen
to the actual tones which ring in the voices of those we love.

It is without doubt true that the deaf are closer to subconscious
thought than those who have perfect hearing. It seems to be easier for
us to go back to childhood or to raise into the mind memories of other
days. It often becomes a wonder to me that old friends forget so many of
the scenes and sayings of youth. I presume they have more to distract
their attention. It seems to me that the useless or trivial conversation
which most people indulge in must in time dilute or distort memory and
drive away the pictures of youth. With the deaf these pictures seem
to grow clearer with each year, and this, I take it, is one of the
compensations which accompany the trouble. For as we march along the
road and reach a hill from which we begin to see the end, I think it
must be a lonely road which those must travel who have forgotten the
pictures and companions of their youth. It is practically impossible for
the deaf to weep as others do. They are for the most part denied what I
may call the healing balm of tears, unless there can occur some great
shock, some volcanic eruption of emotion which breaks down the dam and
lets in the flood upon a dry desert of lonely years. But the deaf man
who has kept his mind cleanly occupied and his spirit bright may find in
happy memories a joy of life which others rarely know.

 “Sometimes when night pulls down the shade after a weary day,
   I sit beside my open fire and watch the shadows play.
   Then memory takes me by the hand, and happily we go
   Back to the kindly days of youth—when I was Mary’s beau.

   Oh! Mary! In those golden years, when you and I were young,
   When all the symphonies of youth by hopeful lips were sung,
   When every avenue of life led out to rosy skies,
   And fortune’s fingers dangled there the gifts that all men prize!

   Old Time is kind. He hides the years which bear the loss and stain,
   And only those which shine with love and happiness remain.
   As one may find a violet beneath the Winter’s snow,
   I go back to the kindly years—when I was Mary’s beau.

   I was a chunky farmer boy—her father lord of lands.
   She was a little village queen—I only had my hands.
   Yet in the pure democracy of our New England town
   Youth never could be quite denied—love beat the barriers down.

   Yet she was wise—to reign a queen—one must keep step with wealth.
   And Mary knew full well that I had nothing but my health.
   To me she played a sister’s part—but settled down with Joe,
   I went out West with but a dream that I was Mary’s beau.

   I’ve journeyed East, I’ve journeyed West—I’ve had my hour of life.
   I’ve lingered in the pleasant ways—I’ve faced the storm and strife.
   Fame, wealth, have missed me and yet they will envy me I know,
   Those days back in the golden years—when I was Mary’s beau.

   No, no, dear wife, deny me not these fair old dreams of youth,
   You well may smile, for life has taught the patience and the truth.
   Time tried, long tested, up the hill we’ve journeyed side by side,
   Or drifted in the ebb and flow of fortune’s fateful tide.

   The years may come, the years may go, yet love will find the test.
   Youth’s dreams are good, yet that which lives on life’s hard road
     is best,
   And so you grant me my romance—perhaps I do not know,
   You, too, are thinking of the days when you were Henry’s beau.

   And so I sit beside the fire when night pulls down the blind,
   And wander back to youth once more with all my cares behind.
   The winds of trouble rage outside, we care not how they blow,
   Back in those golden days of youth—when I was Mary’s beau.”

       *       *       *       *       *


1. Silently corrected simple spelling, grammar, and typographical errors.

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