Tag Archives: Anne Sullivan

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.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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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.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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