The Guilty River
5. He Betrays Himself
The confession was entitled, "Memoirs of a Miserable Man." It began abruptly in these
"I acknowledge, at the outset, that misfortune has had an effect on me which frail
humanity is for the most part anxious to conceal. Under the influence of suffering, I have
become of enormous importance to myself. In this frame of mind, I naturally enjoy
painting my own portrait in words. Let me add that they must be written words because it
is a painful effort to me (since I lost my hearing) to speak to anyone continuously, for any
length of time.
"I have also to confess that my brains are not so completely under my own command as I
"For instance, I possess considerable skill (for an amateur) as a painter in water colors.
But I can only produce a work of art, when irresistible impulse urges me to express my
thoughts in form and color. The same obstacle to regular exertion stands in my way, if I
am using my pen. I can only write when the fit takes me--sometimes at night when I
ought to be asleep; sometimes at meals when I ought to be handling my knife and fork;
sometimes out of doors when I meet with inquisitive strangers who stare at me. As for
paper, the first stray morsel of anything that I can write upon will do, provided I snatch it
up in time to catch my ideas as they fly.
"My method being now explained, I proceed to the deliberate act of self-betrayal which I
contemplate in producing this picture of myself.
"I divide my life into two Epochs--respectively entitled: Before my Deafness, and After
my Deafness. Or, suppose I define the melancholy change in my fortunes more sharply
still, by contrasting with each other my days of prosperity and my days of disaster? Of
these alternatives, I hardly know which to choose. It doesn't matter; the one thing needful
is to go on.
"In any case, then, I have to record that I passed a happy childhood--thanks to my good
mother. Her generous nature had known adversity, and had not been deteriorated by
undeserved trials. Born of slave-parents, she had not reached her eighteenth year, when
she was sold by auction in the Southern States of America. The person who bought her
(she never would tell me who he was) freed her by a codicil, added to his will on his
deathbed. My father met with her, a few years afterwards, in American society--fell (as I
have heard) madly in love with her--and married her in defiance of the wishes of his
family. He was quite right: no better wife and mother ever lived. The one vestige of good