The following article first appeared in Vossische Zeitung (Berlin Liberal Daily), December 20, year unknown, and was translated and reprinted as Quidde, Ludwig, Recollections of a Stutterer, in Living Age, 328, February 13, 1926, p. 360-363.
The article talks of experimenting with false cures, of his struggles with fluency during his school years and early adult life, of fluency when role playing, of desensitization, of a holistic approach, of the importance of public speaking opportunities, and more.
A person who knows me only from my speeches in Parliament or on the public platform, or as chairman of the Twenty-third World's Peace Congress, where I had to preside in three languages, may be surprised to know that I was for many years a frightful stutterer. In fact, I was the worst stutterer I ever heard, and in certain situations my weakness almost drove me mad, as it probably did the people who had to listen to me.
By the time I was old enough to take thought of the matter my defect was already firmly fixed upon me. I stuttered because I knew I stuttered and because I was afraid of stuttering. But when some emergency made me forget myself entirely I could oftentimes speak as well as a normal person.
I stuttered far less at home and among my schoolmates than when I was talking with strangers. I was at my worst in a social gathering. It was a torment for me every time we had a dinner party at home, and it was a martyrdom to accept an invitation to a neighbor's. More than once, when I presented myself as a guest at a strange house, servants who did not know me slammed the door in my face with fright when they saw me choking and gasping and unable to utter a word.
My worst, and yet psychologically my most interesting, experience was at school. Oftentimes I could answer a question smoothly and promptly, but more frequently I exploded into a sort of staccato trill -- if such a thing is possible -- that ended only when the teacher called upon some other pupil to answer. My ability or inability to express myself did not depend upon whether or not I knew the answer to the question asked me; but I spoke better when I was so interested in the subject that I forgot my weakness. I did best of all when a question was not addressed to me individually but to the class as a whole, and we pupils competed with each other in giving quick and accurate replies. I had little difficulty in giving an answer that one of my fellow students did not know. But if the teacher stood up in front of me and addressed the question to me directly I was practically incapable of answering him intelligibly.
One of my hardest tasks was to translate orally from other languages. My sheer physical effort on such occasions was so intense that my desk would shake and the perspiration would stand out on my brow. Not did my difficulty bear any relation to how well or how poorly I was prepared. I suppose the teacher suspected that I stuttered to cover up my ignorance, but I can say with a clear conscience, as I look back upon that period of my life, that this was not the case. I should have admitted I did not know my lesson rather than endure the torture of stuttering.
Another interesting aspect of my weakness was that I stuttered comparatively little in mathematics. I happened to be about the only pupil in my particular class who had any gift for this subject, and was often called to the board to demonstrate a theorem or a problem that my classmates could not do. Like most stutterers, I could repeat a poem that I had learned by heart with ease if I could once get over the first word. When that was safely behind me I sailed on smoothly to the end.
So my speeches and recitations in school never troubled me after I once got started, and in fact I was elected anniversary speaker for our literary society. I experienced little difficulty in speaking my parts in school plays and private theatricals. I moved about upon the stage, where I felt myself in an entirely different world, not as Ludwig Quidde the stutterer, but as the character I impersonated -- and in fact with such aplomb that once when another player forgot his lines and the prompter wasn't on hand, I improvised to fill up the gap. But this lasted only as long as I was playing my role. When the piece was over and we young folks stayed behind for a little chat I stuttered as hopelessly as ever. For I was my very worst in the company of young ladies, and avoided them whenever I could; for their giggling and amused glances always put me in a panic.
My first course of treatment was when I was six years old, and at an institution recommended by our family physician. Little rolls of cloth were placed under my tongue and I was drilled in speaking- and reading-exercises. I was the youngest patient and could already read, but could not pronounce the letter c, for example, and did not know whether I should say Tato or Kato. Like most similar treatments, this increased my self-confidence for a time, but the improvement did not last.
When I was about twelve years old another attempt was made to cure me of my habit. The teacher under whom I was placed was a very intelligent, emotional, and rather theatrical and hypnotic person. He made me recite poetry, the more dramatic the better, and seemed to have a pretty high idea of my elocutionary ability. I still retain from that period a lively memory of Buerger's Lenore and the ballad about Edward whose sword was so red. When my course was over I could express myself faultlessly as Hamlet, Mark Antony, Wallenstein, or Jeanne d'arc, and I could repeat to perfection the breathless "Hurre, hurre, hopp, hopp, hopp,' of Lenore's ride. But I stuttered just as badly as ever in ordinary conversation.
During my teens my affliction grew steadily worse. It was not particularly noticeable in the family, but my father's friends kept speaking about it whenever they met him and saying something ought to be done for me. I rebelled against any more 'courses' and 'treatments,' for I was convinced that they were useless. Whenever they were suggested my plea was: 'Let me get through with my examinations. Then I'll devise a treatment for myself, and I won't enter the university until I'm cured.' Chance took me to Aachen in the autumn or 1876, just after I had passed my examinations. A gentleman there had an infallible, secret remedy for stuttering. I had no faith in it, but thought I might as well go there as anywhere, if only to please my family. While I was at Aachen I was also introduced to the director of an institution for the deaf and dumb who really was a great help to me.
But first of all I had to take the infallible, secret cure which a prominent gentleman there, who had formerly stuttered badly himself, had found to work in his case. He treated others without compensation, but under a guaranty that he should be paid a specified sum if the patient ever betrayed the secret. The first time I called on this gentleman I was very late -- an incurable habit of mine. He was obviously irritated, and in my embarrassment I stuttered horribly. He told me to come back the next day in order that his wife might be present. This time I arrived on the dot. He received me quietly and pleasantly, speaking very slowly, and I did not stutter. The longer we talked the more at ease I felt. He was evidently worried because I gave him no opportunity to apply his method. Simply in order to gratify him, I at length stuttered voluntarily. He now insisted that I repeat my words after him. Naturally I did so perfectly. He was triumphant. I left him immensely satisfied with himself, and went my way.
I had convinced myself by this time that all such devices were useful only so long as the patient believed in them. They depended more or less on self-suggestion, though to be sure it is always an advantage for a stutterer to train himself to speak quietly and slowly. But I was too skeptical and critical to profit by these methods.
Nevertheless this visit at Aachen went a long way toward curing me of my affliction. I was completely separated from people who had known me as a stutterer all my life, and I concentrated my entire effort upon mastering my weakness. During the two months I spent at Aachen I did nothing else. I told the family with whom I boarded, the students with whom I chummed, even the waitress who served me at table, just what I wanted them to do, and they very kindly did it. They were never to let me stutter without calling my attention to the fact. On the other hand, they were not to speak to me impatiently, but only slowly and calmly. I conversed not so much for the purpose of expressing my thoughts as in order to drill myself in speaking. I went out room-hunting solely in order to get an opportunity to talk with strangers, and was unscrupulous enough to awaken false hopes that I might become a lodger in the minds of several unsuspecting landladies. I asked my direction on the street, although I knew my way perfectly well. I attended a dancing-school just to practise talking to young ladies. In a sense, I never lived such an insincere life anywhere else as I did at Aachen; but I consoled myself with the thought that the end justified the means.
This proved to great success. I soon reached the point where I never stuttered to the people who had lodgings for rent, or who directed me on the street, or to the young ladies at the dancing-school. But on one occasion when I really lost my way and asked for directions, I did stutter, though not as badly as before.
When I returned to my home in Bremen at Christmas time everybody I knew was surprised at my miraculous recovery. I was regarded as completely cured, and actually on several occasions was taken for another person by merchants who knew me well but who did not think it possible for such a hopeless stutterer to be cured in three months.
I wanted to go back to Aachen for another visit, as I knew that I was not completely sure of myself. I thought up all kinds of difficult situations for a test. But my family persuaded me to enter the university immediately. They imagined I could do the same things there that I could at Aachen. My assertions that I knew what was best for me received no credit. Finally I yielded to them, although with many misgivings -- which themselves were fatal to my purpose. Instead of going to Aachen I went to Strassburg, to my later regret.
I soon learned that my Aachen visit had not been enough. I could not make my fellow students at Strassburg show me the same consideration as my little circle of acquaintances in the former town. The distractions of my new surroundings broke down my self-control. To be sure, I disciplined myself as much as I could. I read Greek with an old scholar as a vocal exercise. I kept a record of my stuttering in order to see what influence drinking, loss of sleep, hard work, or exercise might have upon it. But all this did no good. I began to stutter again almost immediately after I reached the university.
Many of my old student acquaintances still remember me largely on account of that peculiarity. But it was not so bad as it had been formerly. I could often control it by an effort of the will. I had learned, moreover, that my stuttering was not incurable.
Little by little I again began to get the better of my weakness. After our marriage my wife helped me out in critical situations by taking up the conversation in my place, so naturally and tactfully that it was seldom noticed. As I grew older I was less intimidated by strangers and other people.
My public career has also been a great help. As I have said, I did not stutter much in reciting and speaking, even when a boy. By the little device of substituting the first word that came into my head for the first word of my speech or recitation, I could often get through a piece without stuttering at all. I learned to belittle my failing when it did overtake me. When addressing a political convention early in my public career I suddenly began to stutter, but recovered myself by explaining that it was an old weakness that occasionally came back. On the whole, the habit of public speaking has done much to give me confidence in private conversation. Some traces of the affliction remained. At a time when I spoke German with almost perfect assurance I spent two years as secretary of the Prussian Historical Institute in Rome, and there would not infrequently stutter, and stutter badly, when speaking Italian. If I begin to stutter today, I know that I have either overworked or been losing sleep. I take care of myself, and in a few days the weakness disappears. One little thing still bothers me -- to read a list of names, or even a formal resolution. Oddly enough, I am also apt to stutter my own name when introducing myself to a stranger. I often wish I could adopt an alias instead of Quidde. Occasionally I steer clear of that reef by saying 'Doctor Quidde.' In fact, I have intimate acquaintances who have never heard me stutter except when speaking the first sentence that I ever addressed to them.