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MUTES AND BLIND. - Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 3 
Retrospect of Western Travel in Three Vols (London: Saunders and Otley, 1838). Vol. 3.
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MUTES AND BLIND.
“Another noble response to the battle-cry of the Prince of Peace, summoning his hosts to the conquest of suffering and the rescue of humanity.”—Rationale of religious Inquiry.
“Vicaria linguæ manus.”
“Protected, say enlightened, by the ear.”
Some weeping philosophers of the present day are fond of complaining of the mercenary spirit of the age, and insist that men are valued (and treated accordingly) not as men, but as producers of wealth; that the age is so mechanical, that individuals who cannot act as parts of a machine for creating material comforts and luxuries, are cast aside to be out of the way of the rest. What do such complainers make of the lot of the helpless in these days? How do they contrive to overlook or evade the fact that misery is recognized as a claim to protection and solace, not only in individual cases, which strike upon the sympathies of a single mind, but by wholesale,—unfortunates as a class being cared for on the ground of their misfortunes? Are deformed and deficient children now cast out into the wastes to perish? Is any one found in this age who is of Aristotle's opinion, that the deaf and dumb must remain wholly brutish? Does any one approve the clause of the code of Justinian by which deaf-mutes are deprived of their civil rights? Will any one now agree with Condillac that the deaf and dumb have no memory, and consequently are without, reasoning power? If every one living is wiser than to believe these things, he owes his wisdom to the benevolent investigation which has been made into the condition of these isolated and helpless beings; an investigation purely benevolent, as it proceeded on the supposition that they were irremediably deficient. The testimony of their best benefactors goes to prove this. The Abbé de l'Epée, Sicard, Guyot of Groningen, Eschke of Berlin, Cæsar of Leipsic, all began their labours in behalf of the deaf and dumb with the lowest notion of the capabilities of the objects of their care, and the humblest expectations as to what could be done for them. Sicard acknowledged a change of views when his experience had become enlarged. He says, “It will be observed that I have somewhat exaggerated the sad condition of the deaf and dumb in their primitive state, when I assert that virtue and vice are to them without reality. I was conducted to these assertions by the fact that I had not yet possessed the means of interrogating them upon the ideas which they had before their education; or that they were not sufficiently instructed to understand and reply to my questions.”* It should be remembered, to Sicard's honour, and that of other benefactors of the deaf and dumb, that their labours were undertaken more in pity than in hope, in benevolence which did not look for, though it found reward. None were more astonished than they at the revelation which took place of the minds of the dumb, when the power of expression was given them; when, for instance, one of them, Peter Desloges, declared, with regard to his deaf and dumb acquaintance, “There passes no event at Paris, in France, or in the four quarters of the globe, which does not afford matter of ordinary conversation among them.” The deaf and dumb are prone to hyperbolical expression; of which the above sentence may be taken as an instance; but it is founded in fact.
The benevolence which undertook the care of this class of unfortunates, when their condition was esteemed hopeless, has, in many cases, through a very natural delight at its own success, passed over into a new and opposite error, particularly in America, where the popular philosophy of mind comes in aid of the delusion. From fearing that the deaf and dumb had hardly any capacities, too many of their friends have come to believe them a sort of sacred, favoured class, gifted with a keener apprehension, a more subtle reason, and a purer spirituality than others, and shut out from little but what would defile and harden their minds. Such a belief may not be expressed in propositions, or allowed on a full statement; but much of the conversation on the condition of the class proceeds on such an idea; and, in my own opinion, the education of deaf-mutes is and will be materially impaired by it. Not only does it give rise to mistakes in their treatment, but there is reason to fear bad effects from the disappointment which must sooner or later be occasioned. If this disappointment should act as a damper upon the exertions made in behalf of the deaf and dumb, it will be sad: for only a very small number are yet educated at all, in any country: and they are far more numerous than is generally supposed. In 1830 the total number of deaf and dumb, of all ages, in the United States, was 6106. Of a teachable age the number was 2000; of whom 466 were in course of education. The number of deaf-mutes in Europe at the same time was 140,000. It is of great importance that the case of so large a class of society should be completely understood, and rescued from one extreme of exaggeration, as it has been from the other.
When at New York, I paid a visit one morning, in company with a clergyman, to the mother of a young lady who was deaf and dumb; and for whose education whatever advantages were obtainable by money and pains had been procured. My clerical friend shared, I believe, the popular notions about the privileged condition of the class the young lady belonged to. Occasion arose for my protesting against these notions, and declaring what I had reason to think the utmost that could be done for deaf-mutes, in the present state of our knowledge. The clergyman looked amazed at my speaking thus in the presence of the mother; but I knew that experience had taught her to agree with me; and that her tenderness made her desire that her daughter's situation should be fully understood, hat she might receive due allowance and assistance from those who surrounded her. The mother laid her hand on mine, and thanked me for pleading the cause of the depressed against those who expected too much from them. She said that, after all that could be done, the knowledge of deaf-mutes was generally confined and superficial; their tastes frivolous; their tempers wilful and hasty; their whole mental, state puerile: and she added that, as long as all this was not allowed, they would be placed in positions to which they were unequal, and which they did not understand, and would not be so amply provided as they might be with enjoyments suited to their condition.
This is not the place in which to enter upon the interesting inquiry into the principles of the education of the deaf and dumb; a deep and wide subject, involving matters important to multitudes besides the class under notice. Degerando observed that the art of instructing deaf-mutes, if traced back to its principles, terminates in the sciences of psychology and general grammar. A very superficial view of the case of the class shows something of what the privation really is, and consequently, furnishes hints as to the treatment by which it may be in part supplied. Many kind-hearted people in America, and not a few in Europe, cry out, “They are only deprived of one sense and one means of expression. They have the infinite human spirit within them, active and irrepressible, with infinite objects in its view. They lose the pleasures of the ear; they lose one great opportunity of spiritual action, both on the world of matter, and on human minds: but this is compensated for by the activity of the soul in other regions of thought and emotion; and their contemplation of their own objects is undisturbed, in comparison with what it would be if they were subject to the vulgar associations with which we have to contend.”
It is true that the deaf from birth are deficient in one sense only, while they are possessed of four: but the one in which they are deficient is beyond all estimate the most valuable in the formation of mind. The eye conveys, perhaps, more immediate and vivid pleasures of sense, and is more requisite to external and independent activity; so that, in the case of the loss of a sense after the period of education, the privation of sight is a severer misfortune, generally speaking, than the loss of hearing. But, in the case of deficiency from birth, the deaf are far more unfortunate than the blind, from the important power of abstraction being in them very feeble in its exercise, and sadly restricted in the material on which it has to work. The primary abstractions of the blind from birth will be less perfect than those of other children, the great class of elements from visual objects being deficient: but when they come to the second and more important class of abstractions. — when from general qualities of material objects they pass on to the ideas compounded from these, their disadvantages disappear at each remove; till, when intellectual and moral subjects open before them, they may be considered almost on equal terms with the generality of mankind. These intellectual and moral ideas, formed gradually out of lower abstractions, are continually corrected, modified, and enlarged by intercourse with the common run of minds, alternating with self-communion. This intercourse is peculiarly prized by the blind, from their being precluded from solitary employments and amusements; and the same preclusion impels them to an unusual degree of self-communion; so that the blind from birth are found to be, when well educated, disposed to be abstract in their modes of thought, literal in their methods of expression, and earnest and industrious in the pursuit of their objects. Their deficiencies are in general activity, in cheerfulness, and in individual attachments.
The case of the deaf from birth is as precisely opposite as can be imagined, and much less favourable. They labour under an equal privation of elementary experience; and, in addition, under an almost total absence of the means of forming correct abstractions of the most important kinds. Children in general learn far less of the most essential things by express teaching than by what comes to them in the course of daily life. Their wrong ideas are corrected, their, partial abstractions are rectified and enriched by the incessant unconscious action of other minds upon theirs. Of this kind of discipline, the deaf-mute is deprived; and the privation seems to be fatal to a healthy intellectual and moral growth. He is taught expressly what he knows of intellectual and moral affairs: of memory, imagination, science, and sagacity: of justice, fortitude, emotion, and conscience. And this through imperfect means of expression. Children in general learn these things unconsciously, better than they learn anything by the most complete express teaching. So that we find that the deaf-mute is ready at defining what he little understands; while the ordinary child feelingly understands what he cannot define. This power of definition comes of express teaching, but by no means implies full understanding. Its ample use by the deaf and dumb has led to much of the error which exists respecting their degree of enlightenment. They are naturally imitative, from everything being conveyed to them by action passing before the eye: and those who observe them can scarcely avoid the deception of concluding that the imitative action, when spontaneous, arises from the same state of mind which prompted the original action. It is surprising how long this delusion may continue. The most watchful person may live in the same house with a deaf-mute for weeks and months, conversing on a plain subject from time to time, with every conviction of understanding and being understood, and find at length a blank ignorance, or an astounding amount of mistake existing in the mind of his dumb companion, while the language had been fluent and correct, and every appearance of doubt and hesitation excluded. There need be no conceit and no hypocrisy, all this time, in the mind of the deaf-mute. He believes himself in the same state of mind with those who say the same thing: and has no comprehension that that which is to him literal is to them a symbol. While nothing can be easier than to conduct the religious education of the blind,—since all the attributes of Deity are exercised towards them, in inferior degrees, by human invisible beings, it is difficult to ascertain what is gained by deaf-mutes under a process of instruction in religion. No instance has been known. I understand, of a deaf-mute having an idea of God prior to instruction. For a long time, at least, the conception is low,— the idea pictorial; and if it ceases to be so, the teacher cannot confidently pronounce upon it; the common language of religion being as easily accommodated by superficial minds to their own conceptions, as adopted by minds which mean by it something far higher and deeper. A pupil at Paris, who was considered to have been effectually instructed in the first principles of religion, was discovered, after a lapse of years, to have understood that God was a venerable old man, living in the clouds; that the Holy Spirit was a dove surrounded with light; and that the devil was a monster, dwelling in a deep place. Life, with its truths conveyed under appearances, is to them what German and other allegorical stories are to little children. They perceive and talk glibly about the pictorial part, innocently supposing it the whole; while they are as innocently supposed, by unpractised observers, to perceive the philosophical truth convoyed in the picture.
It is often said that, if the blind have the advantage of communication with other minds by conversation, the deaf have it by books. This is true; but, alas! to books must be brought the power of understanding them. The grand disadvantage of the deaf is sustained antecedently to the use of books; and though they gain much knowledge of facts, and other advantages, by reading, books have no power to remedy the original faulty generalization by which the minds of deaf-mutes are kept narrow and superficial. If a remedy be ever found, it seems as if it must be by rendering their intercourse by the finger-alphabet and writing much more early than it is, and as nearly as possible general. If it could be general, and take place as early as speech usually does, they would still be deprived, not only of all inarticulate sounds, and the instruction which they bring, but of the immense amount of teaching which comes through the niceties of spoken language, and of all that is obtained by hearing conversation between others: but still, the change from almost total exclusion, or from intercourse with no minds but those suffering under the same privation, and those of three or four teachers, to communion with a variety of the common run of persons, would be so beneficial that it is scarcely possible to anticipate its results. But the finger-alphabet is not yet practised, or likely to be practised, beyond the sufferers themselves and their teachers and families: and before a deaf and dumb child can be taught reading and writing the mischief to his mind is done.
As for the general intellectual and moral characteristics of deaf-mutes, they are precisely what good reasoners would anticipate. The wisest of the class have some originality of thought; and most have much originality of combination. They are active, ingenious, ardent, impressible, and strongly affectionate towards individuals; but they are superficial, capricious, passionate, selfish, and vain. They are like a coteric of children, somewhat spoiled by self-importance, and prejudiced and jealous with regard to the world in whose intercourses they do not share. So far from their feeling ashamed of their singularity, generally speaking, they look down upon people who are not of their coterie. It is well known that deaf and dumb parents sometimes show sorrow that their children can hear and speak,—not so much from a selfish fear of alienation, as from an idea that they themselves are somehow a privileged class. The delight of mutes in a school is to establish a sign-language which their teachers cannot understand; and they keep up a strong esprit de corps. This is maintained among other means, by a copious indulgence in ridicule. Their very designations of individuals are derived from personal peculiarities, the remembrance of which is never lost. If any visitor folds his arms, sneezes, wears a wig, has lost a tooth, or, as in the case of Spurzheim, puts, his hand up for a moment to shade his eyes from the sun, the mark becomes his designation for ever.
Much has been said and written about whether people always think in words. Travellers in a foreign country are surprised to find how soon and constantly they detect themselves thinking in the language of that country. Degerando took pains to ascertain how deaf-mutes think. The uninstructed can, of course, know nothing of words. It seems that their thoughts are few, and that they consist of the images of visual objects passing merely in the order of memory,— i.e., in the order in which they are presented. As soon as the pupils become acquainted with language, and with manual signs of abstract ideas, they use these signs as we do words. Degerando Clearly ascertained that they use gesticulation in their private meditations; a remarkable fact.
The first efforts towards erecting an institution for the education of the deaf and dumb in America, were made in 1815, at Hartford. Connecticut. This institution, called the American Asylum, from its having been aided by the General Government, has always enjoyed a high reputation. I lament that I was prevented seeing it, by being kept from Hartford by bad weather. The Pennsylvania Institution followed in 1821; and the New York Asylum, opened in 1818, began to answer the hopes of its founders only in 1830. These two I visited. There are two or three smaller schools in different parts of the Union, and there must yet be many more before the benevolent solicitude of society will be satisfied.
The number of deaf-mutes in Pennsylvania was, at the period of the last census, seven hundred and thirty; six hundred and ninety-four being whites, and thirty-six persons of colour. As usual, it is discovered on inquiry, that in a large majority of cases the hearing was lost in childhood, and not deficient from birth; so that it is to the medical profession that we must look for a diminution of this class of unfortunates. The number of pupils in the Institution, in 1833, was seventy-four; thirty-seven of each sex; and of deaf-mute assistants six. The buildings, gardens, and arrangements are admirable, and the pupils look lively and healthy.
They went through some of their school exercises in the ordinary manner, for our benefit. Many of them were unintelligible to us, of course; but when they turned to their large slates, we could understand what they were about. A teacher told a class of them, by signs, a story of a Chinese who had fish in his pond, and who summoned the fish by ringing a bell, and then fed them by scattering rice. All told it differently, as regarded the minor particulars; and it was evident that they did not understand the connexion of the bell with the story. One wrote that the fishes came at the trembling of the bell: but the main circumstances were otherwise correct. They all understood that the fishes got the rice. When they were called upon to write what smooth meant, and to describe what things were smooth, they instanced marble, the sky, the ocean, and eloquence. This was not satisfactory: the generalization was imperfect, and the word eloquence meaningless to them. Nor did they succeed much better in introducing certain phrases, such as “on account of,” “at the head of,” into sentences; but one showed that he knew that the President was at the head of the United States.—Then the word “glorious” was given, and their bits of chalk began to work with great rapidity. One youth thought that a woman governing the United States would be glorious: and others declared Lord Brougham to be glorious.—The word “cow” was given; and out of a great number of exercises, there was not one which mentioned milk. Milk seemed almost the only idea which a cow did not call up. The ideas appeared so arbitrarily connected as to put all our associations at fault. One exercise was very copious. The writer imagined a cow amidst woods and a river, and a barn, whence the thought, by some imperceptible link, fastened upon Queen Elizabeth dress, which was glorious, as was her wisdom; and this, of course, brought in Lord Brougham again. He is the favourite hero of this institution. Prior to our visit, a youth of sixteen, who had been under instruction less than four years, was desired to prepare a composition, when he presented the following
“Lord Chancellor Brougham remains in the city of London. He is the most honourable man in England, for his mind is very strong, excellent, and sharp. I am aware that I am beneath Brougham in great wisdom and influence. It afforded me great pleasure to receive a letter from Brougham, and I read in it that he wanted me to pay a visit to him, with astonishment. Soon after, I came to the conclusion that I would go to London and visit Brougham. I prepared all my neat clothes and some other things in my large trunk. After my preparation, I shook hands with all my relations and friends living in the town of C., and they looked much distressed, for they thought that I would be shipwrecked and eaten by a large and strong fish. But I said to them, I hope that I should reach London safely, and that I should return to the United States safely. They said yes, with great willingness, and they told me that I must go and see them again whenever I should return from London to the United States. I sailed in a large ship and saw many passengers, with whom I talked with much pleasure that I might get much advantage of improvement. I slept in the comfortable cabin, and it was agreeable to me to stay in it. I saw the waves very white, with great wonder, and I was astonished at the great noise of the storm, which was so gloomy that I could not endure the tempest of it. I perceived the country of England and I hoped I would reach there in great safety. Many passengers were much pleased to arrive at the country. I met Brougham unexpectedly in the street, and he went with me to his beautiful house, and I talked with him for a long time. He asked me to tarry with him several months, because he wished to converse with me about the affairs of the Institution and the pupils and teachers. He said that he loved all the pupils because he pitied them who were deaf and dumb, so that he wished that all of the pupils could go to his house and be at the large feast. I walked with Brougham through the different streets of London, and I saw many interesting curiosities and excellent houses. I had the pleasure of seeing William IV, in the palace by the favour of Brougham, and he was delighted to talk with me for a long time. At length Brougham parted with me with great regret. I reached the United States and I found myself very healthy. I went to my relations and friends again, and they were much pleased to talk with me about my adventures, the matter of London, and the character of Lord Chancellor Henry Brougham. I was struck with vast wonder at the city of London. I have made my composition of the fable of Brougham.”
A pretty little girl told the pupils a humorous story by signs; and her action was so cloquent that, with little help from the teacher, we were able to make it all out. It was a story of a sailor and his bargain of caps; and the child showed a knowledge of what goes on on board a ship which we should scarcely have expected from her. Her imitation of heaving the lead, of climbing the rigging, and of exchanging jokes upon deck, was capital. It was an interesting things to see the eyes of all her companions fixed on her, and the bursts of laughter with which they greeted the points of the story.
The apparatus-room is full of pretty things; and the diversity of the appeals to the eye is wonderful. A paper sail is enclosed in the receiver, from which the air is exhausted in the view of the pupils. As they cannot hear the air rushing back, the fluttering of this paper sail is made use of to convey the fact to them. The natural sciences afford a fine field of study for them, as far as they occasion the recognition of particular facts. The present limited power of generalization of the learners, of course, prevents their climbing to the heights of any science; but an immense range of facts is laid open to them by studies of this nature, in which they usually show a strong interest. The Philadelphia pupils are lectured to by a deaf and dumb teacher, who passes a happy life in the apparatus-room. He showed us several mechanical contrivances of his own; among the rest, a beautiful little locomotive engine, which ran on a tiny rail-road, round two large rooms. The maker testified infinite glee at the wonder and interest of a child who was with us, who raced after the engine, round and round the rooms, with a grave countenance, for as long as we could stay.
In the girls' work-room there were rows of knitters, straw-plaiters, and needle-women. The ingenuity they put into their work is great. The nicety of the plaiting of dolls' straw-bonnets cannot be surpassed; and I am in possession of a pair of worsted gloves, double knitted, of the size of my thumb-nail, of which every finger is perfect in its proportions. Perhaps this may be the class of American society destined to carry on the ingenuity of handiworks to perfection, as the Shakers seem to be appointed to show how far neatness can go.—One little girl, who was knitting in the work-room, is distinguished from the rest by being able to speak. So the poor little thing understands the case. She can speak two words, “George” and “brother,” having become deaf when she had learned this much of language. She likes being asked to speak, and gives the two words in a plaintive tone, much like the inarticulate cry of a young animal.
I visited the New York Institution in company with several ladies, two of whom were deaf and dumb, and had been pupils in the school. One of these had married a teacher, and had been left a widow, with three children, the year before. She was a most vivacious personage, and evidently a favourite among the pupils. The asylum is a large building, standing on high ground, and with great advantages of space about it. It contains 140 out of the 1066 deaf-mutes existing in the State of New York. The pupils are received up to the age of 25 years; and there was one of 27 from North Carolina, who was making great progress. The girls' dormitory, containing 80 beds, was light, airy, and beautifully neat; the small philosophical apparatus, museum, and library, were in fine order, and a general air of cheerfulness pervaded the Institution.
I had had frequent doubts whether nearly all the pupils in these asylums were perfectly deaf: on this occasion, I caused my trumpet to be tried on several, and found that some could hear, and some imitate the sounds conveyed through it. The teachers rather discouraged the trial, and put away all suggestions about the use of these means of getting at the minds of their pupils. They were quite sure that the manual methods' of teaching were the only ones by which their charge can profit. It is natural that, wedded as they are to the methods which to a certain extent succeed in the asylum, they should not like any interference with these: but surely the guardians of these institutions should see that, while so few out of the large number of deaf-mutes can be provided with education, those few should be of a class to whom no other means are open. The totally deaf should be first served, in all reason and humanity. And those who have any hearing at all should have the full advantage of the remains of the sense. The most meagre instruction by oral language is worth far more than the fullest that can be given by signs and the finger alphabet. In their case, the two should be united, where it is possible; but especially the car should be made use of as long as there are any instruments by which it may be reached. My own belief is that there are, in these institutions and out of them, many who have been condemned to the condition of mutes who have hearing enough to furnish them with speech, imperfect to the listener, perhaps, but inestimable as an instrument of communication, and of accuracy and enlargement of thought. I would strongly urge upon the benevolent under whose notice the cases of deaf young children may come, that they should try experiments with every car-trumpet that has been invented, before they conclude that the children are perfectly deaf, and must therefore be dumb.
I may mention here that I some time ago discovered, by the merest accident, that I could perfectly hear the softest notes of a musical snuff-box by putting it on my head. The effect was tremendous,—at first intolerably delicious. It immediately struck me that this might be a resource in the case of deaf-mutes. If the deafness of any was of a kind which would admit of the establishment of means of hearing any thing, there was no saying how far the discovery might be improved. The causes and kinds of deafness vary almost as the subjects; and there might be no few who could hear as I did, and with whom some kind of audible communication might be established. I wrote to New York, and begged two of my friends to go out to the asylum with musical boxes, and try the effect. Their report was that they believed none of the pupils could hear at all by this method. But I am not yet fully satisfied. So few of them have the slightest idea of what hearing is, they show that their notion is so wide of the mark, and they are so inexpert at giving an account of their feelings, that I have not given up the matter yet. At any rate, no harm can be done by offering the suggestion to any who may be disposed to take it up.
We went to the New York asylum without notice, and walked immediately into one of the class-rooms, where the pupils were at a historical lesson, each standing before a slate as tall as himself. In a minute, while the five ladies of our party were taking their seats, an arch-looking lad wrote down in the middle of his lesson about Richard I, and John, that I was there, describing me as the one next the lady in green, and giving a short account of me, for the edification of his companions. It was almost instantly rubbed out, before it was supposed we had seen it. We could not make out by what means he knew me.
The lessons here were no more satisfactory than elsewhere, as to any enlargement or accuracy of thought in the pupils. I doubt whether the means of reaching their wants have yet been discovered; for nothing can exceed the diligence and zeal with which the means in use are applied. Their repetition of what they had been taught was so far superior to what they could bring out of their own minds, as to convince us that the reproduction was little more than an act of memory. They told us the history of Richard I, and John with tolerable accuracy; but they gave us the strangest accounts of the seasons of the year that ever were seen. A just idea occurred, however, here and there. A boy mentioned swimming as a seasonable pleasure; and others fruits: and one girl instanced “convenience of studying” as an advantage of cool weather. In geography, but little if any progress had been made; and the arithmetic was not much more promising. Every thing that can be done, is zealously done, but that all is very little. The teachers declare that the greatest difficulty is with the tempers of their pupils. They are suspicious and jealous; and when they once get a wrong idea, and go into a passion upon it, there is no removing it: no possibility of explanation remains. They are strongly affectionate, however, towards individuals; and, as we could bear witness, very sudden in their attachments. We doubtless owed much to having two deaf and dumb ladies in our party: but, when we went away, they crowded round us to shake hands again and again, and waved their hats and kissed their hands from the windows and doors, as long as we remained in sight.
Among the exercises in composition which are selected for the annual Report of this institution, there is one which is no mere recollection of something read or told, but an actual account of a piece of personal experience; and so far superior to what one usually sees from the pens of deaf-mutes that I am tempted to give a portion of it. It is an account, by a lad of fifteen, of a journey to Niagara Falls.
“And soon we went into the steam-boat. The steam-boat stayed on the shore for a long time. Soon the boat left it and sailed away over the Lake Ontario. We were happy to view the Lake, and we stayed in the boat all night. The next morning we arrived at Lewiston, and after breakfast we entered one of the stages for Niagara Falls. About 12 o'clock we arrived at Niagara Falls and entered Mr. B.'s uncle's house. I was soon introduced to Mr. B.'s uncle, aunt and cousins, by himself. After dinner, we left the house of his uncle for the purpose of visiting the Falls, which belong to his uncles, Judge and General Porter, and we crossed the Rapids; but we stopped at a part of the bridge and viewed the Rapids with a feeling of interest and curiosity. The Rapids appeared to us beautiful and violent and quarrelsome. Soon we left it, and went to one of the islands to see the Falls. When we arrived in a portion situated near the Falls, we felt admiration and interest, and went near the river and saw the Falls. We felt much wonder. The Falls seemed to us angry and beautiful. We stayed in the part near the Falls for a long time, and felt amazement. We went into the staircase and descended, and we were very tired of descending in it, and we went to the rock to view the Falls. The Falls' are about 160 feet in height. We saw the beautiful rainbow of red, green, blue, and yellow colours. One day we went to the river and crossed it by means of a ferry-boat, and left it. We went to the Canada side, and arrived at Table Rock. Mr. B. dressed himself in some old coarse clothes, and then he descended and went under the sheet of the Falls. I felt earnest and anxious to go into it. In a few minutes he returned to me, and soon we went back to the river and crossed the river, and came home, and soon sat down and dined. We went to the island and found some plant whose name I did not know. I had never seen it. When we were on the United States side, we could see Canada. One day we again went to the ferry to cross the river, and went to Table Rock. We dressed ourselves in some old clothes, and entered under the Falls with curiosity and wonder. We stayed at Niagara Falls a week. I wonder how the water of the Niagara River never is exhausted.”
That so much power of expression as this can be attained is, to those who reflect what grammar is, and what a variety of operations is required in putting it to use at all, a great encouragement to persevere in investigating the minds of the deaf and dumb, and in teaching them, in the hope that means may at length be found of so enlarging their intercourses at an early age as to create more to be expressed, as well as to improve the mode of expression. Those who may aid in such a conquest over difficulty will be great benefactors to mankind. Greater still will be the physicians who shall succeed in guarding the organ of hearing from early accident and decay. It should not be forgotten by physicians or parents that, in the great majority of cases, the infirmity of deaf-mutes is not from birth.
The education of the blind is a far more cheering subject than that of the deaf and dumb. The experiments which have been made in regard to it are so splendid, and their success so complete, that it almost seems as if little improvement remained to be achieved. It appears doubtful whether the education of the blind has ever been carried on so far as at present in the United States; and there is one set of particulars, at least, in which we should do well to learn from the new country.
I am grieved to find in England, among some who ought to inform themselves fully on the subject, a strong prejudice against the discovery by which the blind are enabled to read, for their own instruction and amusement. The method of printing for the blind, with raised and sharp types, on paper thicker and more wetted than in the ordinary process of printing, is put to full and successful use at the fine institution at Boston. Having seen the printing and the books, heard the public readings, and watched the private studies of the blind, all the objections brought to the plan by those who have not witnessed its operation appear to me more trifling than I can express.
The pupils do the greater part of the printing,—the laying on the sheets, working off the impressions, &c. By means of recent improvements, the bulk of the Books, (one great, objection) has been diminished two-thirds: the type remaining so palpable that new pupils learn to read with ease in a few weeks. Of course, the expense is lessened with the bulk; and a further reduction may be looked for as improvement advances, and the demand increases. Even now the expense is not great enough to be an objection in the way of materially aiding so small a class as the blind.
I have in my possession the alphabet, the Lord's prayer, some hymns, and n volume on grammar, printed for the use of the blind: and six sets of all that has been printed at the Boston press, with the exception of the Testament, are on the way to me.* It is my wish to disperce this precious literature where it may have the fairest trial; and I shall be happy to receive any aid in the distribution which the active friends of the blind may be disposed to afford.
The common letters are used; and not any abbreviated language. I think this is wise; for thus the large class of persons who become blind after having been able to read are suited at once; and it seems desirable to make as little difference as possible in the instrument of communication used by the blind and the seeing. It appears probable that, before any very long time, all valuable literature may be put into the hands of the blind; and the preparation will take place with much more case if the common alphabet be used, than if works have to be translated into a set of arbitrary signs. It is easy for a, blind person, previously able to read, to learn the use of the raised printing. Even adults, whose fingers ends are none of the most promising, soon achieve the accomplishment. An experiment has been made, on a poor washerwoman, with the specimens I brought over. She had lost her sight eight years; but she now reads, and is daily looking for a new supply of literature from Boston, which a kind friend has ordered for her.
It will scarcely be believed that the objection to this exercise which is most strongly insisted on, is that it is far better for the blind to be read to than that they should read, to themselves. It seems to me that this might just as well be said about persons who see; that it would save time for one mem ber only of a family to read. While the others might thus be saved the trouble of learning their letters. Let the blind be read to as much as any benevolent person pleases: but why should they not also be allowed the privilege of private study? Private reading is of far more value and interest to them than to persons who have more diversified occupations in their power. None could start this objection who had seen, as I have, the blind at their private studies. Instead of poring over a book held in the hand, as others do, they lay their volume on the desk before them, lightly touch the lines with one finger of the right hand, followed by one finger of the left, and, with face upturned to the ceiling, show in their varying countenances the emotions stirred up by what they are reading. A frequent passing smile, an occasional laugh, or an animated expression of grave interest passes over the face, while the touch is exploring the meaning which it was till lately thought could enter only through the eye or the ear. They may be seen going back to the beginning of a passage which interests them, reading it three or four times over, dwelling upon it as we do upon the beauties of our favourite authors, and thus deriving a benefit which cannot be communicated by public reading.
One simple question seems to set this matter in its true light. If we were to become blind to-morrow, should we prefer depending on being read to, or having, in addition to this privilege, a library which we could read for ourselves?
As to the speed with which the blind become able to read, those whom I heard read aloud about as fast as the better sort of readers in a Lancasterian school; with, perhaps, the interval of a second between the longer words, and perfect readiness about the commonest little words.
Alphabetical printing is far from being the only use the Boston press is put to. The arithmetical, geometrical, and musical signs are as easily prepared: and there is an atlas which far surpasses any illustrations of geography previously devised. The maps made in Europe are very expensive, and exceedingly troublesome to prepare; the boundaries of sea and land being represented by strings glued on to the lines of a common map, pasted on a board. The American maps are embossed; the land being raised, and the water depressed; one species of raised mark being used for mountains, another for towns, another for boundaries; the degrees being marked by figures in the margin, and the most important names in the same print with their books. These maps are really elegant in appearance, and seem to serve all purposes.
“Do you think,” said I, to a little boy in the Blind School at Philadelphia, “that you could show me on this large map where I have been travelling in the United States?”
“I could, if you'd tell me where you have been,” replied he.
“Well, I will tell you my whole journey; and you shall show my friends here where I have been.”
The little fellow did not make a single mistake. Up rivers, over mountains, across boundaries, round cataracts, along lakes, straight up to towns wont his delicate finger, as unerringly as our eyes. This is a triumph. It brings out the love, of the blind pupils for geography; and with this, the proof that there are classes of ideas which we are ignorant or heedless of, and which yield a benefit and enjoyment which we can little understand, to those to whom they serve instead of visual ideas. What is our notion of a map, and of the study of geography, putting visual ideas out of the question? The inquiry reminds one of Saunderson's reply, from his death-bed, to the conversation of a elergyman, who was plying the blind philosopher with the common arguments in Natural Theology: “You would fain have me allow the force of your arguments, drawn from the wonders of the visible creation; but may it not be, that they only seem to you wonderful? for you and other men have always been wondering how I could accomplish many things which seem to me perfectly simple.”
The best friends and most experienced teachers of the blind lay down, as their first principle in the education of their charge, that the blind are to be treated in all possible respects like other people; and these respects are far more numerous than the inexperienced would suppose. One of the hardest circumstances in the lot of a blind child is that his spirits are needlessly depressed, and his habits made needlessly dependent. Form his birth, or from the period of his loss of sight, he never finds himself addressed in the every-day human voice. He hears words of pity from strangers, uttered in tones of hesitating compassion; and there is a something in the voices of his parents when they speak to him, which is different from their tone towards their other children. Everything is done for him. He is dressed, he is fed, he is guided. If he attempts to walk alone, some one removes every impediment which lies in his way. A worse evil than even helplessness arises out of this method of treatment. The spirits and temper are injured. The child is depressed when some one is not, amusing him, and sinks into apathy when left to himself. If there is the slightest intermission or abatement of tenderness in the tone in which he is addressed, he is hurt. If he thinks himself neglected for a moment, he broods over the fancied injury, and in his darkness and silence nourishes bad passions. The experienced students of the case of the blind hint at worse consequences still, arising from this pernicious indulgence of the blind at home. Unless the mind be fully and independently exercised, and unless the blind be drawn off from the contemplation of himself as an isolated and unfortunate, if not injured being, the animal nature becomes too strong for control, and some species of sensual vice finishes the destruction which ill-judged indulgence began.
In the New England Institution at Boston, the pupils are treated, from the time of their entrance, like human beings who come to be educated. All there are on an equality, except a very few of the people about the house. The teachers are blind, and so all have to live on together on the same terms. It is a community of persons with four senses. It is here seen at once how inexpressibly absurd it is to be spending time and wasting energy in bemeaning the absence of a fifth power, while there are four existing to be made use of. The universe is around them to be studied, and life is before them to be conquered; and here they may be set vigorously on their way. At first, the pupils bitterly feel the want of the caressing and pampering they have been used to at home. Some few, who have come in too late, are found to have been irretrievably incapacitated by it: but almost all revive in a surprisingly short time, and experience so much enjoyment from their newly-acquired independence, their sense of safety, their power of occupation, the cessation of all pity and repining, and the novel feeling of equality with those about them, that they declare themselves to have entered upon a new life. Many drop expressions resembling that of one of the pupils, who declared that she never thought before that it was a happy thing to live.
Their zeal about their occupations appears remarkable to those who do not reflect that holiday is no pleasure to the blind, and idleness a real punishment, as it is the one thing of which they have had too much all their lives. They are eager to be busy from morning till night: and the care of their teachers is to change their employments frequently, as there is but little suspension of work. They have a play-ground, with swings and other means of exercise; but one of the greatest difficulties in the management is to cause these to be made a proper use of. The blind are commonly indisposed to exercise; and in the New England Institution, little is done in this way, though the pupils are shut out into the open air once, and even twice a-day in summer; the house doors actually closed against them. They sit down in groups and talk, or bask in some sunny corner of the grounds, hurrying back at the first signal to their books, their music, their mat and basket making, sewing, and travels on the map.
Another great difficulty is to teach them a good carriage and manners. Blind children usually fall into a set of disagreeable habits while other children are learning to look about them. They wag their heads, roll their eyes, twitch their elbows, and keep their bodies in a perpetual see-saw, as often as they are left to themselves; and it is surprising how much time and vigilance are required to make them sit, stand, and walk like othor people. As all directions to this purpose must appear to them purely arbitrary, their faith in their instructors has to be drawn upon to secure their obedience, in these particulars; and the work to be done is to break the habits of a life; so that it really seems easier to them to learn a science or a language than to hold up their heads and sit still on their chairs. The manners of the blind usually show a great bashfulness on the surface of a prodigious vanity. This is chiefly the fault of the seeing with whom they have intercourse. If their compassionate visitors would suppress all tears and sighs, make an effort to forget all about the sense that is absent, and treat them, on the ground of the other four, as they would treat all other pupils in any other school, the demeanour of the blind would nearly cease to be peculiar. Their manners are rectified easily enough by the only method which can ever avail for the cure of bad manners: by cultivating their kindly feelings and their self-respect, and by accustoming them to good society.
The studies at the institution at Boston are appointed according to the principles laid down in the valuable Report of the gentleman, Dr. Howe, who studied the case of the blind in Europe, and who is now at the head of the establishment under our notice. Among other principles is this, “that the blind can attain as much excellence in mathematical, geographical, astronomical, and other sciences, as many seeing persons, and that he can become as good a teacher of music, language, mathematics, and other sciences: all this and yet more can he do.” The ambition, from the very beginning of the enterprise, was far higher than that of rescuing a few hundreds of blind persons from pauperism and dependent habits: it was proposed to try how noble a company of beings the blind might be made; and thus to do justice to the individuals under treatment, and to lift up the whole class of the sightless out of a state of depression into one of high honour, activity, and cheerfulness. The story, besides being a pleasant one, is a fair illustration of American charity, in its principles and in its methods: and I will therefore give it in brief. I do not believe there exists, in American literature, any work breathing a more exhilarating spirit of hopefulness, a finer tone of meek triumph, than the Reports of the New England Institution for the Education of the Blind.
It appears to be only about five-and-forty years since the education of the blind was first undertaken: and it is much more recently that any just idea has been formed by any body of the actual number of the blind. Even now few are aware how numerous they are. The born-blind are far fewer than those who lose their sight in infancy. Taken together, the numbers are now declared to be, in Egypt, one blind to every three hundred: in Middle Europe, one to every eight hundred: in North Europe, one in a thousand. In the United States, the number of blind is supposed to be eight thousand at the very least.
The announcement of this fact caused a great sensation in New England. The good folks there who had been accustomed to bestow their kindness each on some sightless old man or woman, or some petted blind child in his own village, had not thought of comparing notes, to ascertain how many such cases there were; and were quite unaware of the numbers who in towns sit wearing their cheerless lives away by their relations' firesides: no immediate stimulus of want sending them forth into the notice of the rich and the philanthropic.
The first step was the passing of an act by the legislature of Massachusetts, incorporating trustees of the New England Asylum for the Blind. These trustees sent Dr. Howe to Europe, to study the similar institutions there, and bring back the necessary teachers and apparatus. Dr. Howe's Report on his return is extremely interesting. He brought over a blind teacher from Paris, who, besides being skilled in the art of communicating knowledge, is learned in the classics, history, and mathematics. With him came a blind mechanic from Edinburgh, who instructs the pupils in the different kinds of manufacture, on which many of them depend for subsistence.
Six young persons were taken at random from different parts of the State of Massachusetts, and put under tuition. They were between the ages of six and twenty years. At the end of five months, all these six could read correctly by the touch; had proceeded further in arithmetic than seeing children usually do in the time; knew more of geography; had made considerable attainment in music; and offered for sale moccasins and door-mats of as good quality and appearance as any sold in the shops of Boston. The legislature testified its satisfaction by voting an annual appropriation of 6000 dollars to the institution, on condition of its boarding and educating, free of cost, twenty poor blind persons from the State of Massachusetts.
The public was no less delighted. Every one began to inquire, what he could do. Money was given, objects were sought out; but some rallying point for all the effort excited was wanted. This was soon supplied. A wealthy citizen of Boston, Colonel Perkins, offered his mansion and out-buildings in Pearl Street as a residence for the pupils, if, within a given time, funds were raised to support the establishment. This act of munificence fully answered the purposes of the generous citizen who performed it. Within one month, upwards of fifty thousand dollars were contributed, and placed to the credit of the institution. The legislatures of three other New England States have made appropriations for the object; an estate joining Colonel Perkins's has been purchased, and thrown into a play-ground; the establishment contains five officers and about fifty pupils; and it is in contemplation to increase the accommodations so as to admit more. The funds are ample, and the means of instruction of a very superior kind.
The business of the house is carried on by the pupils, as far as possible; and mechanical arts are taught with care and diligence; but the rule of the establishment is to improve the mental resources of the pupils to the utmost. Those who cannot do better, are enabled to earn their livelihood by the making of mats, baskets, and mattrasses: but a higher destination is prepared for all who show ability to become organists of churches, and teachers of languages and science. I saw some of the pupils writing, some sewing, some practising music, some reading. I was struck with an expression of sadness in many of their faces, and with a listlessness of manner in some; but I am aware that, owing to the illness of the director, and some other circumstances, I saw the establishment to great disadvantage. I believe, however, that not a few of its best friends, among whom may perchance be included some of its managers themselves, would like to see more mirthful exercises and readings introduced in the place of some of the exclusively religious contemplations offered to the pupils. The best homage which the guardians of the blind could offer to Him whose blessing they invoke is in the thoroughly exercised minds of their charge; minds strong in power, gay in innocence, and joyous in gratitude.
The institution which I had the best means of observing, and which interested me more than any charitable establishment in America, was the Philadelphia Asylum for the Blind. It was humble in its arrangements and numbers when I first went; but before I left the country, it seemed in a fair way to flourish. It is impossible to overrate the merits of Mr. Friedlander, its Principal, in regard to it. The difficulties with which he had to struggle, from confined space, deficient apparatus, and other inconveniences resulting from narrow means, would have deterred almost any one else from undertaking anything till better aid could be provided. But he was cheered by the light which beamed out daily more brightly from the faces of his little flock of pupils, and supported by the intellectual power which they manifested from period to period of their course. Of the eleven, he found, to his delight, that no fewer than “six were endowed with remarkable intellectual faculties, and three with good ones; while, with regard to the remaining two, the development of their minds might still be expected.” A larger dwelling was next engaged; the legislature showed an interest in the institution; and I have no doubt it is by this time flourishing.
Mr. Friedlander and the matron, Miss Nicholls, had succeeded in rectifying the carriage and manners of nearly all their pupils. As to their studies, the aim is as high as in the New England Institution, and will, no doubt, be equally successful. The music was admirable, except for the pronunciation of words in the singing. It was a great pleasure to me to go and hear their musical exercises, they formed so good a band of instrumentalists, and sang so well. There were horns, flute, violins, and the piano. As for humbler matters, besides the ornamental works of the girls, the fringes, braids, lamp-stands, &c., I saw a frock made by one of them, during the leisure hours of one week. The work was excellent, the gathers of the skirt being stocked into the waistband as evenly and regularly as by a common mantua-maker. The girls hair was dressed like that of other young ladies, only scarcely a hair was out of its place; and each blind girl dresses her own hair. They peel potatoes with the utmost accuracy, and as quickly as others. But, with all this care, their cultivation of mind is the most attended to. The girls stand as good an examination as the boys in mental arithmetic, geography, and reading aloud.
Before I left Philadelphia, the annual meeting of the public in the Music Hall, to witness the progress of Mr. Friedlandcr's pupils, took place. I was requested to write the Address to be delivered by one of the blind, in the name of the rest; and now I found what the difficulty is to an inexperienced person, of throwing one's self into the mind of a being insuch different circumstances, and uttering only what he might say with truth. I now saw that the common run of hymns and other compositions put into the mouths of the blind become no less cant when uttered by them, than the generality of the so-called religious tracts which are written for the poor. The blind do not know what they miss in not receiving the light of the sun; and they would never spontaneously lament about it: nor would they naturally try to be submissive and resigned about privations which they are only by inference aware of. Their resignation should be about evils whose pressure they actually feel. To a blind child it is a greater pain to have a thorn in its foot than not to have eyes: to a blind man it is a greater sorrow not to have got his temper under control than to be shut out from the face of nature. The joy of the sightless should, in the same manner, be for the positive powers they hold, and the achievements they grasp, and not for what others call compensations for what they do not miss. To bear all this in mind, and to conceive one's thoughts accordingly; to root out of the expression of thought every visual image, and substitute such, derived from other senses, as may arise naturally from the state of mind of the blind, is no easy task; as any one may find who tries. It led me into a speculation on the vast amount of empty words which the blind must swallow while seeking from books their intellectual food. We are all apt in reading to take in, as true and understood, a great deal more than we verify and comprehend; but, in the intercourses of the blind, what a tremendous proportion does the unreal bear to the real which is offered them!
I saw at the Deaf and Dumb Asylum at Boston one of those unhappy beings, the bare mention of whose case excites painful feelings of compassion. I was told that a young man who was deaf, dumb, and blind was on the premises; and he was brought to us. Impossible as it was to hold communication with him, we were all glad when, after standing and wandering awkwardly about, he turned from us, and made his way out. He is not quite blind. He can distinguish light from darkness; but cannot be taught by any of the signs which are used with his deaf-mute companions. His temper is violent, and there seems to be no way of increasing his enjoyments. His favourite occupation is piling wood; and we saw him doing this with some activity, mounted on the wood pile.
It is now feared that the cases of this tremendous degree of privation are not so few as has been hitherto supposed. In a Memorial of the Genoa Deaf and Dumb Institution, it is stated that there are seven such cases in the Sardinian States on the main land of Italy: and the probability is that about the same proportion, as in other kinds of infirmity, exists among other nations. Copious accounts have been given of three sufferers of this class; and a fourth, Hannah Lamb, who was accidentally burned to death in London, at the age of nine years, has been mentioned in print. The three of whom we have been favoured with copious accounts are James Mitchell, who is described to us by Dugald Stewart; Victoria Morisseau, at Paris by M. Bébian; and Julia Brace, at Hartford, (Connecticut) by Mrs. Sigourney. All these have given evidence of some degree of intellectual activity, and feeling of right and wrong; enough to constitute a most affecting appeal to those who are too late to aid them, but who may possibly be the means of saving others from falling into their state. The obligation lies chiefly on the medical profession. Every enlightened member of that profession laments that little is known about the diseases of the car and their treatment. Whenever this organ, with its liabilities, becomes as well understood as that of sight, the number of deaf-mutes will doubtless be much reduced; and such cases as that of poor Julia Brace will probably disappear. At least the chances of the occurrence of such will be incalculably lessened.
The generosity of American society, already so active and extensive, will continue to be exerted in behalf of sufferers from the privation of the senses, till all who need it will be comprehended in its care. No one doubts that the charity will be done. The fear is lest the philosophy which should enlighten and guide the charity should be wanting. Such sufferers are apt to allure the observer, by means of his tenderest sympathies, into the imaginative regions of philosophy. Science and generosity equally demand that the allurement should be resisted. If observers will put away all mere imaginations respecting their charge; if they will cease to approach them as superior beings in disguise, and look upon them as a peculiar class of children, more than ordinarily ignorant, and ignorant in a remarkable; direction, facts may be learned relative to the formation of mind and the exercise of intellect, which may give cause to the race of ordinary men to look upon their infirm brethren with gratitude and love, as the medium through which new and great blessings have been conferred. By a union of inquirers and experimenters, by the speculative and practical cordially joining to work out the cases of human beings with four senses, the number might perhaps be speedily lessened of those who seeing see not, and who hearing hear not, nor understand.
[*]“Théorie des Signes, pour servir d'introduction à l'étude des langues.” Avertissement.
[*]I have just received the following works, printed at the Boston press for the use of the blind. I shall be thankful for assistance in getting them into use,—in securing a fair trial of them by blind pupils:—