Please give me a character sketch of Mr. Keith.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Listed in the book Representative Men and Old Families of Southeastern Massachusetts, Merton Spencer Keith, son of Benjamin Keith, was born on January 27, 1851, in North Bridgewater, which is now the city of Brockton. Keith entered Harvard College in 1868 and graduated summa cum laude in 1872 at the head of his class. His highest honors were in ancient languages.

Merton Keith became a teacher and was a member of the faculty at Professor George W. C. Noble's school in Boston. This school was a preparatory school where he worked for thirteen years. After he left this school, Keith became a private tutor who prepared boys for Harvard. About this fine teacher, one of his peers wrote,

Mr. Keith lives for his profession, his whole heart and soul being in his work, and he takes a deep interest in his pupils and their success. 

In Chapter XIX of Helen Keller's The Story of My Life, Mr. Merton Keith became a tutor for Helen. According to Miss Keller, he was instrumental in clarifying much for her. From February to July, 1898, Mr. Keith came from Cambridge to Wrentham twice a week in order to instruct Helen in algebra, geometry, Greek, and Latin. As he did so, Miss Sullivan interpreted his instruction for Helen.

Algebra and geometry were difficult for Helen to comprehend, partly because in her study of geometry she could not see the diagrams and realize the relation of the different parts to one another—even when she used wires that were pinned into position on a cushion. When Mr. Keith began work with Helen, she improved markedly. Helen wrote in her autobiography that his instruction was invaluable to her:

It was not until Mr. Keith taught me that I had a clear idea of mathematics. (Ch. XIX)

For eight months Mr. Keith worked with Helen. Under Mr. Keith's tutelage, Helen found mathematics interesting. She described her tutor as being able to "whittle" problems down so that she could understand, and he kept her interested. He trained Helen in the reasoning process and prevented her from jumping to answers that were inconclusive. Helen wrote of him,

He was always gentle and forbearing, no matter how dull I might be, and believe me, my stupidity would often have exhausted the patience of Job. (Ch. XIX)

With the expert assistance of this fine tutor, Helen Keller was able to pass all her entrance exams for Radcliffe College.

Additional Source: 

J.H. Beers and Co. Representative Men and Old Families of Southeastern Massachusetts. General Books LLC, 2010.

chsmith1957 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Merton Spencer Keith (1851-1920) became Helen’s tutor after she left the Cambridge School for Young Ladies and its principal, Arthur Gilman. She still had much studying to do before she could take the entrance exams to get into Radcliffe College. Helen talks about these challenges in Chapter 19. Mr. Keith, who lived in Cambridge and was a Harvard graduate himself (Class of 1872), became her personal tutor. At first, in early 1898, Helen and Anne Sullivan lived with friends in Wrentham, southwest of Boston. Mr. Keith made the trip here twice a week to teach Helen algebra, geometry, Greek, and Latin. After Helen and Anne moved back to Boston in October 1898, Mr. Keith saw Helen five times a week. He guided her in independent study and took as much time as was necessary for Helen to understand the subject matter. He must have been both an intelligent and patient teacher, for he always had to use Anne Sullivan as an intermediary communicator. This was exactly the kind of instruction and coaching Helen needed at the time. She could study on her own and then interact one-on-one with a tutor, instead of being immersed in a class with other students and only gaining part of the instructor’s attention. It was due to Mr. Keith’s work with Helen that she passed her college entrance exams.