Category Archives: Helen Keller

Many Persons Have a Wrong Idea of What Constitutes True Happiness. It Is Not Attained Through Self-Gratification but Through Fidelity to a Worthy Purpose

Helen Keller? Apocryphal?
HelenAnne08Dear Quote Investigator: A wise statement about true happiness and its connection to the pursuit of a worthwhile objective has been attributed to the blind social activist Helen Keller. Are you familiar with this saying and is the ascription accurate?

Quote Investigator: Hellen Keller maintained a journal during the years 1936 and 1937 which was published in 1938. The entry dated December 10, 1936 contained the following passage about true happiness. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

Certainly I believe that God gave us life for happiness, not misery. Humanity, I am sure, will never be made lazy or indifferent by an excess of happiness. The order of nature will always necessitate pain, failure, separation, death; and these will probably become more menacing as the complexities and dangerous experiments of a vast world civilization increase. The delicate task will remain ours to ensure God’s gift—joy—to His children. Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose. Happiness should be a means of accomplishment, like health, not an end in itself.

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Notes:

  1. 1938, Helen Keller’s Journal 1936–1937 by Helen Keller, (Journal Date: December 10, 1936; Journal Location: The Manse, Bothwell), Quote Page 57 and 58, Doubleday, Doran & Company Inc., Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans via archive.org) link
  2. 1938, Helen Keller’s Journal 1936–1937 by Helen Keller, (Journal Date: December 10, 1936; Journal Location: The Manse, Bothwell), Quote Page 64, Publisher Michael Joseph Ltd., London. (Verified with scans via archive.org) link

Life Is Either a Daring Adventure or Nothing

Helen Keller? Van Wyck Brooks? Apocryphal?

keller09Dear Quote Investigator: An inspirational adage encouraging boldness and audacity has been attributed to Helen Keller who overcame great adversity:

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.

Is this accurate?

Quote Investigator: Helen Keller did write a closely matching statement; however, the appended phrase “at all” was not present in the original text.

In 1940 Keller published “Let Us Have Faith” and a chapter titled “Faith Fears Not” contained the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. God Himself is not secure, having given man dominion over His works! Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Faith alone defends. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.

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Notes:

  1. 1946 (1940 Copyright), Let Us Have Faith by Helen Keller, Chapter: Faith Fears Not, Quote Page 50 and 51, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans of 1946 reprint of 1940 edition)

Alone We Can Do So Little. Together We Can Do So Much

Helen Keller? Apocryphal?

care06Dear Quote Investigator: A website on education policy began a recent article with a statement attributed to Helen Keller:

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.

No citation was given. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: There is good evidence that Helen Keller did speak this line on multiple occasions. In the early 1920s Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan decided to earn money by performing on the vaudeville circuit. Their finances were precarious, and they had successfully given performances on the Chautauqua circuit in the past.

The comprehensive dual biography “Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy” by Joseph P. Lash released in 1980 included a chapter about this interval spent in show business. The act of Keller and Sullivan “lasted only twenty minutes”, and it included a short speech by Keller though “every word was still a battle to enunciate”. The saying was part of this homily. Boldface has been added to this excerpt: 1

My Teacher has told you how a word from her hand touched the darkness of my mind and I awoke to the gladness of life. I was dumb; now I speak. I owe this to the hands and hearts of others. Through their love I found my soul and God and happiness. Don’t you see what it means? We live by each other and for each other. Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much. Only love can break down the walls that stand between us and our happiness.

The author did not indicate the precise provenance of the speech text, but he did have access to several key repositories, e.g., the Helen Keller archives at the American Foundation for the Blind and the archive at the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf in Washington, D.C.

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Notes:

  1. 1980, Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy by Joseph P. Lash, Chapter: On the Vaudeville Circuit , Start Page 487, Quote Page 489, A Merloyd Lawrence Book: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, New York. (Verified on paper)

I Would Rather Walk With a Friend in the Dark Than Alone in the Light

Helen Keller? Anne Sullivan? Apocryphal?

keller02Dear Quote Investigator: Helen Keller was once asked about the price she would pay to gain the sense of sight. Her reported response was thoughtful and poignant:

I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than walk alone in the light.

What were the circumstances surrounding this quotation? I have been unable to find a solid citation.

Quote Investigator: In the early 1920s Helen Keller and her inseparable teacher Anne Sullivan faced a difficult financial situation, and they decided to earn money via appearances on the vaudeville circuit. The pair had already given performances on the Chautauqua circuit, and hence the experience of exhibiting themselves for remuneration was not alien.

The comprehensive dual biography “Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy” by Joseph P. Lash released in 1980 included a chapter about this interval spent in show business. The act of Keller and Sullivan “lasted only twenty minutes”. A question and answer period allowed Keller to deliver many witty and sharp observations about her life and society. But, she and Sullivan did make advance preparations: 1

Many of her quick sallies were not as spontaneous as they appeared. With businesslike foresight they began to list the questions usually asked, together with answers Helen might give. In the end the list ran to seventeen pages.

A list with dozens of Q&A pairs was given in the biography by Lash. The author did not state the provenance of the list, but he did have access to several key repositories, e.g., the Helen Keller archives at the American Foundation for the Blind and the archive at the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf in Washington, D.C. Here is a small sample of five Q&A pairs. The first concerns President Warren G. Harding:

Q. What do you think of Mr. Harding?
A. I have a fellow-feeling for him; he seems as blind as I am.

Q. What is the greatest obstacle to universal peace?
A. The human race.

Q. What is the slowest thing in the world?
A. Congress.

Q. Do you think women are men’s intellectual equals?
A. I think God made woman foolish so that she might be a suitable companion to man.

Q. Do you desire your sight more than anything else in the world?
A. No! No! I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than walk alone in the light.

The last answer above corresponds to the statement under exploration. So there is good evidence that Keller did communicate this saying. However, variants of this quote were being used in the religious domain many years earlier as discussed below.

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Notes:

  1. 1980, Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy by Joseph P. Lash, Chapter: On the Vaudeville Circuit , Start Page 487, Quote Page 496 to 498, A Merloyd Lawrence Book: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, New York. (Verified on paper)

The Best and Most Beautiful Things in the World Cannot Be Seen Nor Even Touched

Helen Keller? Anne Sullivan? John Macy? Margaret Davidson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The remarkable story of Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan has been told in books, television programs, and movies. Keller who was deaf and blind learned to communicate, obtained a college degree, and became a notable speaker and author. The following poignant words are attributed to her:

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.

Did she write this in one of her books?

Quote Investigator: A nearly identical statement does appear in one of Keller’s books. Intriguingly, the words were not credited to her. The book “The Story of My Life” by Helen Keller was published by 1905, and it included a letter dated June 8, 1891 from Keller to the Reverend Phillips Brooks. She was almost 11 years old when the letter was written, and it contained the following passage [HKAS]:

I used to wish that I could see pictures with my hands as I do statues, but now I do not often think about it because my dear Father has filled my mind with beautiful pictures, even of things I cannot see. If the light were not in your eyes, dear Mr. Brooks, you would understand better how happy your little Helen was when her teacher explained to her that the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor even touched, but just felt in the heart. Every day I find out something which makes me glad.

An extraordinary woman named Anne Sullivan was Keller’s teacher starting in 1887. So, the quotation originated with Sullivan instead of Keller; however, the young girl did embrace the thought it expressed. The statement evolved over time. For example, the phrase “felt in the heart” became “felt with the heart” in the modern version.

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