‘The Paralysis of Stuttering’


by Marc Shell
Harvard University Press, 341 pp.,$27.95
Logue Family Archive
King George VI of England during one of his first broadcasts, 1937

Philip Garber Jr., a precocious sixteen-year-old from New Jersey who was taking history courses at the County College of Morris, recently held his hand up for most of his seventy-five-minute history class. He wanted to ask why China’s fifteenth-century explorers had not reached North America, since they had traveled as far as Africa. His teacher never called on him. Although Philip’s classmates reported that his queries did not habitually take up more time than other students’, and that his contributions were marked by insightfulness and wit, his teacher had already asked him not to speak in class because she considered his severe stutter “disruptive.” Philip reported the incident to a college dean, who arranged to have him transferred to another class, taught by a more tolerant instructor, in which Philip has been asking and answering questions freely.

Several decades earlier, Albert, Duke of York, later King George VI of England, had stuttered painfully as a youth, an affliction beautifully documented in the award-winning film The King’s Speech. In good part because he so feared asking and answering questions, he had graduated last in his class at the Royal Naval College on the Isle of Wight. (In one classroom session he had “failed to respond when asked what was a half of a half because of his inability to pronounce the initial consonant of ‘quarter.’”) The duke’s father, George V, had little compassion for his son’s affliction, impatiently ordering him to “get it out” when he could not finish a sentence. Shy and introverted, overshadowed by his outgoing, immensely popular brother David (later King Edward VIII, still later the Duke of Windsor), York suffered from stomach ulcers so severe—most probably triggered by the anxiety caused by his speech disorder—that they had to be treated surgically.

In his twenties, soon after his marriage to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the Duke of York (known as “Bertie” to his intimates) was persuaded by his wife to seek professional help. He sought the services of Lionel Logue, an Australian-born speech therapist recommended by a mutual friend, and went weekly to Logue’s office on Harley Street, the heart of London’s medical establishment. The two men had eighty-two appointments between October 20, 1926, and December 22, 1927. Bertie spent most every moment of his spare time diligently following the daily exercises assigned him by Logue (one of them consisted of sounding out every vowel in front of an open window, and holding each one for fifteen seconds). By the end of that year Bertie had sufficiently allayed his speech impediment to speak fairly fluently at the opening of the Commonwealth Parliament in Canberra, Australia.

Philip and Bertie were in distinguished company: Emperor Claudius I of Rome, Aristotle, Virgil, Demosthenes, Charles Darwin, opera star Robert Merrill, the young Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, actor…

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