Universal Translator

Showing posts with label Helen Keller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Helen Keller. Show all posts

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Twain to Keller: "...All Ideas Are Second-Hand..."

When she was 11-years-old, Helen Keller wrote a story called The Frost King.  The story was published in The Goodson Gazette, a journal on deaf-blind education. Keller was accused of plagiarism after someone accused her story of being very similar to Margaret Canby’s Frost Fairies.  There was then a tribunal to discover if she had knowingly plagiarized Canby’s story.  Ultimately, young Keller was acquitted.  However, it had been discovered that Keller had been read the story when she was very young by using finger spelling.  However, some came to Keller’s defense saying that she had adapted her own story out of the story by Canby.  Anne Sullivan said, “all use of language is imitative, and one's style is made up of all other styles that one has met.”  Margaret Canby herself stated that Keller's version was superior to her own.  Keller never wrote fiction again.

Mark Twain read about the event in Keller’s autobiography, and sent the following letter of support:


St. Patrick's Day, '03

Dear Helen,—

must steal half a moment from my work to say how glad I am to have your book, and how highly I value it, both for its own sake and as a remembrance of an affectionate friendship which has subsisted between us for nine years without a break, and without a single act of violence that I can call to mind. I suppose there is nothing like it in heaven; and not likely to be, until we get there and show off. I often think of it with longing, and how they'll say, "There they come—sit down in front!" I am practicing with a tin halo. You do the same. I was at Henry Roger's last night, and of course we talked of you. He is not at all well;—you will not like to hear that; but like you and me, he is just as lovely as ever.

I am charmed with your book—enchanted. You are a wonderful creature, the most wonderful in the world—you and your other half together—Miss Sullivan, I mean, for it took the pair of you to make a complete and perfect whole. How she stands out in her letters! her brilliancy, penetration, originality, wisdom, character, and the fine literary competencies of her pen—they are all there.

Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that "plagiarism" farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul—let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances—is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men—but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington's battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite—that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.

Then why don't we unwittingly reproduce the phrasing of a story, as well as the story itself? It can hardly happen—to the extent of fifty words except in the case of a child; its memory-tablet is not lumbered with impressions, and the actual language can have graving-room there, and preserve the language a year or two, but a grown person's memory-tablet is a palimpsest, with hardly a bare space upon which to engrave a phrase. It must be a very rare thing that a whole page gets so sharply printed on a man's mind, by a single reading, that it will stay long enough to turn up some time or other to be mistaken by him for his own. No doubt we are constantly littering our literature withdisconnected sentences borrowed from books at some unremembered time and now imagined to be our own, but that is about the most we can do. In 1866 I read Dr. Holmes's poems, in the Sandwich Islands. A year and a half later I stole his dedication, without knowing it, and used it to dedicate my "Innocents Abroad" with. Then years afterward I was talking with Dr. Holmes about it. He was not an ignorant ass—no, not he; he was not a collection of decayed human turnips, like your "Plagiarism Court;" and so when I said, "I know now where I stole it, but whom did you steal it from," he said, "I don't remember; I only know I stole it from somebody, because I have never originated anything altogether myself, nor met anyone who had."

To think of those solemn donkeys breaking a little child's heart with their ignorant rubbish about plagiarism! I couldn't sleep for blaspheming about it last night. Why, their whole lives, their whole histories, all their learning, all their thoughts, all their opinions were one solid rock of plagiarism, and they didn't know it and never suspected it. A gang of dull and hoary pirates piously setting themselves the task of disciplining and purifying a kitten that they think they've caught filching a chop! Oh, dam—

But you finish it, dear, I am running short of vocabulary today.

Every lovingly your friend,


(Source: www.lettersofnote.com; Mark Twain's Letters, Vol. 2 of 2; Image: Mark Twain, via.)

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Helen Keller's Letter to German Students in 1933

Helen Keller
Helen Keller was born on June 27, 1880 in the small town of Tuscumbia, AlabamaIn 1882 when she was 18 months old, she fell ill and was struck blind, deaf and mute. Beginning in 1887, she made incredible progress with her ability to communicate with the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Keller went on to college, graduating in 1904. She was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.  In 1915 she founded, with George Kessler, the Helen Keller International (HKI) organization, which is devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition. In 1920, Keller helped found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  She became a world-renowned author and speaker.  She was a radical in her time - a socialist, a pacifist, a women’s rights activist, an early supporter of the NAACP, and an advocate for free availability of birth control. She was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.  She was inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in 1971.

Americans learned in May 1933 that students in German universities planned to burn a long list of books deemed “un-German.” Finding out her books were among those to be burned, Helen Keller wrote this open letter to the students.

Transcript of letter, as it was published by the Associated Press on May 9, 1933:
"To the student body of Germany:
History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas. Tyrants have tried to do that often before, and the ideas have risen up in their might and destroyed them.
You can burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe, but the ideas in them have seeped through a million channels and will continue to quicken other minds. I gave all the royalties of my books for all time to the German soldiers blinded in the World War with no thought in my heart but love and compassion for the German people.
I acknowledge the grievous complications that have led to your intolerance; all the more do I deplore the injustice and unwisdom of passing on to unborn generations the stigma of your deeds.
Do not imagine that your barbarities to the Jews are unknown here. God sleepeth not, and He will visit His judgment upon you. Better were it for you to have a mill-stone hung around your neck and sink into the sea than to be hated and despised of all men.
                                                                                               Helen Keller"