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The New York Times, March 30, 1906

Humorist Sightless Once - in a Vast German Inn.
Mr. Choate Urges Liberal Contributions, Mr. Gilder Writes a Poem and Helen Keller a Letter.

A new poem by Richard Watson Gilder, a striking letter from Helen Keller, an appeal for funds by Joseph H. Choate, and a funny story by Mark Twain made up the programme of the meeting held in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria last night by the New York State Association for Promoting the Interests of the Blind.

The new Gilder poem was printed on the programmes. Here it is:

"Pity the Blind!" Yes, pity those
Whom day and night inclose
In equal dark; to whom the sun's keen flame
And pitchy night-time are the same.

But pity most the blind
Who cannot see
That to be kind
Is life's felicity.

Mr. Clemens presided over the meeting and told the story of when he was hopelessly blind for a space of about two hours.

"I have a mass of statistics here," he said to the large audience filling the boxes and seats on the ballroom floor, "but I am afraid of them because I was never able to do much with that rugged study, mathematics. I can only figure on the multiplication table up to seven times nine, which is - 84. I can't even figure on the name of the society, it is so long. I would write it out for you to take with you, but I can't spell it, and Andrew Carnegie is somewhere down in Virginia. This association needs $15,000, and we may be able to collect it here. There is no graft in it or I would not be presiding.

"I know what it is to be blind. I was blind once. It occurred after an excursion from Heidelberg to a mediaeval town about twenty miles away. The Rev. Joe Twitchell of Hartford was with me. He is still living. I always like a minister with me on an excursion. He makes a fine lightning rod for such excursions as the one we made. We went up by rail, and circumstances were such as to bring us back on a raft.

"In this ancient town, which had not altered a building or put up a new one in 1,500 years, we had a room for the night which was as large as the beds were small. We had to sleep on our sides in the beds. Twitchell's bed was way down south in that room and mine was furthest north. I couldn't sleep after the light was put out, and finally decided to leave the room and go into the square and sit on the edge of a tinkling fountain.

"Off in the southwest of that room a mouse got busy, and I threw something at it. It pleased the mouse, and it kept on making a noise. I couldn't stand it with the other occasional noises in the room. The darkness of that room lay in great cakes. I got out of bed and clawed around in an endeavor to accumulate my clothes. I got most of the things in the room in a pile, save one sock. I began to hunt that sock. On hands and knees I crawled for three hours.

"I might have concluded that the sock was in the wash and saved myself some adventures, but I did not think of that. I remembered distinctly that there were six chairs and a table in that room before I went to bed, but I butted thirty-six chairs and enough tables to fill the dining room of the Waldorf.

"Finally I decided to stand up in what clothes I had on me. I saw a shadowy form and I had no intention of letting any ghost bite me without a struggle. I took one of the thirty-six chairs and smashed it. It was a mirror. Then I reflected.

"I got back on my hands and knees and traveled a few more miles of this Oklahoma of a bedroom. Finally I reached a wall, and stood up again. I felt a shelf. I was delighted. It was the first encouragement I had received. I was then certain that I had not passed the city limits.

"On the shelf was a pitcher of water. I groped for it and it fell. It fell on Joe Twitchell's face. It nearly drowned Twitchell, but it brought me the glad relief of company. When he struck a match I got back to bed.

"I have never found the sock, but the hours of darkness I experienced in the explorations in that room were not empty hours. They served their purpose. The Rev. Joe Twitchell had longer legs than I, and we both wore pedometers on that trip. As I walk in my sleep, I always wore mine to bed with me. When I got up in the morning I found that I had gained sixteen miles on Twitchell. Again, my reflecting after the mirror incident made me remember to tell the landlord that Twitchell had broken."

Mr. Clemens introduced Mr. Choate, saying that for the forty-seven years he had known him familiarly he had known him as the handsomest man America had ever produced, and he believed he would hold the belt for forty-five years more.

"If I could say the word that would elevate him still higher in the esteem of his people," said Mr. Clemens, "I would say it now, however untruthful it might be."

Mr. Choate said that the Chairman of the meeting had not acted squarely. He and the other speakers had been told just what to say in their speeches, but Mark Twain had rambled off to Nuremberg in his remarks.

"Mr. Clemens and I," he said, "have seen enough money eaten, drunk, and danced away in this room to put the society on its feet. Put your names to the slips on the programme for the contributions. Get enthusiastic about these slips, but do not get hysterical. There has been much said about hysterical attitudes in the last few days, and I don't know whether it would be creditable for you to get hysterical."

In her letter of regret at not being able to attend the meeting Miss Keller wrote:

"Of late our periodicals have been filled with depressing revelations of great social evils. Querulous critics have pointed to every flaw in our civic structure. You once told me you were a pessimist, Mr. Clemens; but great men are usually mistaken about themselves. You are an optimist. If you were not you would not preside at this meeting. For it is an answer to pessimism. It proclaims that the heart and the wisdom of a great city are devoted to the good of mankind; that in this, the busiest city in the world, no cry of distress goes up but receives a compassionate and generous answer."

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