René Just Haüy.

An essay on the education of the blind; (Dedicated to the King of France), Paris, 1786 online

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(x) Of the thread which they spun we succeeded in making them
twist pack-thread, and of this pack-thread we made them weave
girths. Their labours at the Boisseau (y) in making small walk-
ing staves of cords, in the working of nets, in sewing, in binding
books, all were tried to our satisfaction ; and we wanted labourers
rather than work ; so many are the kinds of manual employment,
which one may trust to the unfortunate persons who are deprived
of the pleasure of sight.

() Amongst the blind who, not haring the advantage of enjoying the pension of
Quinze-Vingts, are obliged to ask their livelihood in the capital, we have seen several who
occupied themselves in employments relative to handicrafts. The number of these which
we can make the blind exercise in our workhouses is very considerable ; and we are not
afraid to assert, that, if we continue to be favoured, we shall arrive one day at placing all
the blind under shelter from indigence by employing them advantageously.

() Blind children, who are under instruction in the house of our institution, spin by
the assistance of the ingenious machine invented by tne Sr. Hildebrand, a mechanic. One
among them turns a principal wheel which gives to several smaller wheels a motion which
each spinner can stop, quicken or retard, at his pleasure, without disturbing the general

(y) The translator takes here the liberty of retaining the original French word, not
being able to find an English name for the same utensil. Boisseau properly signifies a
bushel, but likewise means an instrument of timber, of a semiglobular form, and about
one foot and a half in length, very light, which is placed upon the knee for working.
They make use of it in plaiting small round cord, or working girdles of silk, or other
works which they call done with the boisseau, to distinguish them from those which are
made upon frames.


After these first trials, we will neglect nothing to put early
into the hands of a blind child, born of indigent parents, an
occupation from which he may one day draw his sustenance. We
will thus extirpate the inclination to beggary ; and we will finish
(if the expression may be allowed us) by grouping our picture, as
Avell as by giving animation to the individual figures it contains.


Of the Manner of Instructing the Blind, and a Parallel of their
Education with that of the Deaf and Dumb.

As we have principally attached ourselves to simplify the means
and the utensils proper for the instruction of the Blind, we flatter
ourselves we have placed their education within the reach and
compass of all the world. This operation, besides that it is easy
in itself, requires more courage than knowledge in a master. We
believe then, that upon this subject we have no particular advice
to give.

By the aid of our books in relievo, every one can teach them to
read. Upon the musical works formed in our press every pro-
fessor of that art may give them lessons. With an iron pen, with
plates and moveable characters, executed according to our models,
the first masters in writing may teach them that art and arith-
metic. In short, there wants nothing but maps in relievo to
direct their studies in Geography ; and so of other things (y).

We cannot conclude this reflection on the degrees of facility
with which the blind may be educated, without drawing a parallel
between it and the method of educating the deaf and dumb.
However surprising to the eyes of the public the result of our
procedure may appear, we are very far from implicitly joining in
that rash admiration of some persons who are very willing to give

(y) We will take pleasure in directing the construction of utensils useful for the
instruction of the blind who are strangers. The books and works of music shall be
furnished by our blind pupils, and sold for their benefit alone. When we shall have put
the last hand to the objects which demand our chief care, we hope to employ ourselves in
their amusements, and in everything which can form a decent and innocent recreation for
the blind. We believe that it ought equally to enter into our views to teach blind children
to walk alone, and without a guide.


this result a preference to the art of instructing the deaf and
dumb : an art, we dare say, incredible to those who have never
been witnesses of the success to which it has been conducted by
the virtuous ecclesiastic, who is its original author ; and with
regard to which, several, even of those who have seen the proofs
of this art, neither know how to estimate its merit or to feel its
difficulties. Let any person in reality follow them step by step ;
let him take the Abbe in the first instant of time, when he
begins to wish to make his first signs understood by his pupil.
Let such a one explain to us by what enchanting and magical
talents he teaches the deaf to distinguish the moods of a verb ; its
tenses, and the inflections of its persons. How will one tell us in
what manner he insinuates into their minds metaphysical ideas ?
By what marvellous secret he makes himself understood by the
motion of his lips alone, and maintains a kind of conversation with
them, extremely expressive, quite silent as it is ; and it will be
agreed, that the talent of impressing the soul with new ideas, in
speaking to the eyes alone, by gesticulations infinitely more elo-
quent than those of all our orators, is much superior to the talent
of awaking in the soul ideas which are already engraven on it, by
causing to concur with the impression of the voice, upon the organ
of hearing, the delicacy of a touch exercised in seizing the nicest
elevations on the surface of a paper. It is a long time since we
have been anxious to pay this tribute to M. 1'Abbe de 1'Epe'e ; we
congratulate ourselves on having this task to perform in such
favourable circumstances, and we flatter ourselves that our readers
will feel all the justice of the deference we pay him (z).

(z) We speak with so much more knowledge of the cause of instructing the deaf and
dumb; and our opinion is so much more agreeable to truth, that obliged, by circumstances
from which wecould not extricate ourselves, to consecrate the leisure which the instruction
of the blind left us to that of a young man found vpon the coast of Xormandy, who is deaf
and almost dumb, we have felt in every step how difficult the enterprise was, beyond the
reach of our powers, and a ta*k alone for M. 1'Abbe de 1'Epee. We propose to oun-elves
to give the history of thi^ unfortunate young man. The composition of it shall be done
by him, and the print by blind children. The whole ^hall be introduced by proposals for
subscription; the benefits arising from which shall be divided into two equal parts, and
given one half to the blind children, and the other to that unf rtunate young man.



Of Languages, History, Mathematics, &c.

IT is chiefly for the study of all these objects, that the books
which we have invented for the use of the blind, will be to them
of immense utility. Elementary works of languages, of mathe-
matics, of history, &c., will be in reality the first foundation of
their library. Those which they can produce themselves, and
which shall merit the public approbation, will be justly entitled to
a place there (a).

We will take particular care to join in their library works
equally fitted to form the heart and cultivate the mind of our blind
pupil, in fixing, as the basis of these studies, the most essential of
all studies that of religion. By the assistance of such principles,
we will inculate the love of his duty, and in particular, gratitude
towards his benefactors. In enlivening his days by the interesting
details of history, we will cause him to know the French, among
whom he will congratulate himself on having received his existence.
We will engrave upon his memory the principal facts of their
history, and the marks of beneficence and humanity which are
mixt with the relation of their achievements. We will cause him,
above all, to remark that, in every period of time, the French have
distinguished themselves by an inviolable attachment to their
Kings ; and from the faithful picture which we will draw to him
of a Monarch, who, formed by himself to inspire that attachment,
includes in his equity and beneficence all the particular motives
which can add to the energy of this hereditary sentiment, he will
feel, as we do, that the most desirable state to which a nation can
arrive, is that where the submission of several millions of people
towards a common master, presents itself under the image of the
respectful tenderness of a large family towards a father who
constitutes its happiness.

(a) It was certainly a desirable and happy thing for Saunderson, author of various
productions, to commit them himself to paper, and without being obliged to depend on the
fidelity of a Secretary, to be able at every instant to render himself an exact account.

One of oar pupils shewing a disposition to poetry, we beg of our readers to permit us to
encourage it in subjoining a specimen of his rising talent, after the models of different
works in printing, wLich can be executed by the blind, and which are at the end of this





Rise, the Progress, and the Actual State of the Institution of the
Blind Children.

MANY respectable persons have carried the concern which they
felt for our institution, even to demand how such an idea could
possibly enter into our mind ; by what means we attempted the
execution of it ; and by what degrees it advanced to the point in
which it is at present. Anxious to satisfy a curiosity so laudable,
we are eager to subjoin here a concise narrative of the rise,
progress, and actual state of our establishment.

A novelty of a kind so singular has attracted for several years
the united attention of a number of persons at the entry of one of
those places of refreshment situated in the public walks whither
respectable citizens go to relax themselves about the decline of

Eight or ten poor blind persons, with spectacles on their noses,
placed along a desk which sustained instruments of music, where
they executed a discordant symphony, seemed to give delight to
the audience. A very different sentiment possessed our soul, and
we conceived, at that very instant, the possibility of realizing, to
the advantage of those unfortunate people, the means of which
they had only an apparent and ridiculous enjoyment : the blind,
said we to ourselves, do they not know objects by the diversity of
their forms ? Are they mistaken in the value of a piece of money ?
Why can they not distinguish a C from G- in music, or an a. from
an /in orthography, if their characters were rendered plain ?

We reflected sometimes on the utility of this undertaking ; there
another observation came to strike us. A young child, full of
understanding, but deprived of sight, listened, with advantage, to
correct the errors of his brother in reading. He even frequently


besought him to read his elementary books to him. He, more
employed in objects of amusement, shut his ears to the solici-
tations of his unhappy brother, whom a cruel disease carried off
very soon.

These different examples soon convinced us how precious it would
' be to the blind to possess the means of extending their knowledge,
without their being obliged to wait for, or sometimes even in vain
to demand, the assistance of those who saw.

If the execution of these means appeared to us possible, it did
not fail at first to present us with some difficulties. We had need
of encouragement, we confess. Mademoiselle Paradis arrived
in this metropolis. She shewed us her attempts, and those of
M. Weissenbourg. We collected those of the blind who lived before
our time ; we put into execution several of their proceedings ; to
these we joined the results of our own, and we formed a general
plan of the Institution. There was only wanting a person upon
whom we might try our first experiments. Providence deigned,
without doubt, to direct our choice upon him.

Francois le Sueur, struck with blindness in consequence of con-
vulsions at the age of six weeks, had not, at the age of seventeen
years and a half, any notion relative to literature. Descended from
a respectable family, but entirely deprived of the advantages of
fortune, and constrained to seek the means of subsistence in the
place frequented by people least easy in their circumstances, although
perhaps the most laborious, the blind youth scarcely enjoyed the
use of reason, when he was afraid of being burdensome to his
parents ; he soon found himself under the necessity of going aud
presenting himself at the gates of our temples, there to crave that
kind of unsubstantial and momentary assistance which is given by
those who enter, which the indigent often obtain with difficulty
from the rich, who industriously avoid their importunities. Full of
joy at the least acquisition, he flies with eagerness to the bosom of
his unhappy family, to divide the fruit of his solicitations, with the
authors of his being, and with three sisters and two brothers,
whereof the last is still upon the breast. It was in the midst of
this hard life, as little calculated 'to inspire as to favour a taste for
the sciences, that our first pupil began his education. Soon did a


noble enthusiasm wholly take possession of him ; he snatched from
the necessity of labouring for his existence, those moments which
he consecrated to study. His efforts were not slow in being fol-
lowed with success. They demanded of us to see the result of our
proceedings ; we seized the favourable circumstance of an Acade-
mical Assembly, where we were appointed to read a memorial.
"We took for its subject certain reflections on the education of the
blind. M. le Noir, then the magistrate, charged with the adminis-
tration of the police, was president of this assembly. He saw our
first attempts, received them with that concern with which he
presently inspired Ministers, protectors of arts and indigence.
M. le Compte de Yergennes, M. le Baron de Breteuil, Mr. Comp-
troller General, and Mr. Keeper of the Seals, were kindly willing to
permit that the young Sueur should perform his exercises in their
presence, and all these respectable witnesses encouraged our first
pupil by their beneficence.

But whilst we were employed in delineating our plan of
education for blind children, already had a company of beneficent
gentlemen, composed of members of the first distinction, for their
birth, their employments, their fortune or their talents ; deposi-
taries of the public benefits of which every one inclines to increase
the mass according to his wealth ; who snatching an interval from
their business or their leisure hours go twice every month to
employ themselves at the bottom of a cloister, far from the public
observation, about the means of diminishing the number of the
unfortunate ; already, I say, had the Philanthropic Society laid
the foundation of this institution. Twelve poor blind children
received from this company each one the assistance of twelve livres
per month. Satisfied with our first trials, they designed to intrust
us with the care of these unfortunate people. We were not
slow in conceiving the hope of adding, to the assistance which
they had given them, the product of their labours. What obliga-
tions have we not to acknowledge to the whole of this respectable
society ? And why is it not permitted to us to name those of its
members, who having neither reputation nor fortune to acquire,
have shared with us, modestly and in silence, the numerous details
into which the education of this establishment leads us ?


f Very soon did our institution acquire a new degree of impor-
tance in the eyes of the public. Then they ceased to believe that
th power of receiving by touch the education which we proposed
was restricted to an individual alone favoured with the propensi-
ties inspired by nature. Of the fourteen blind children instructed
in the first rudiments, there were then found only three whose
progress had been slow ; because enjoying still a weak ray of
light, they obtained at least from touch what remained to them
almost entirely lost from the weakness of their sight.

There remained no more to put the last hand to this establish-
ment but the testimony of the learned upon these means. The
Academy of Sciences has designed to employ itself in examining
^ them, and drew up the report which we have inserted at the end
of this work.

Led by the suffrages of people instructed, by their own experi-
ence, by the emotions of a heart disposed to favour the good, the
public have been eager from all quarters to contribute to the
expense of rearing a house which we have built for suffering

The Eoyal Academy of Music performed on the 19th of Feb-
ruary, 1786, for the benefit of blind children, a concert, in which
the audience were divided on one hand between the noble disin-
terestedness of the members, and on the other between the talents
which they displayed on that occasion.

In short, the Lyceum, the Museum, and the Hall of Corre-
spondence disputed among themselves with emulation the agree-
able satisfaction of seeing, in the midst of their academical
meetings, young blind children lisp out the first elements of
reading, of calculation, &c., and in the scenes of learned emu-
lation, where Genius alone had till then found encouragement,
beneficence has, for the first time, been seen decreeing a crown.

Enthusiasm gained over particular societies ; and the exercises
of blind children were always terminated by some acquisition in
their favour, sent to the house of the Philanthropic Society, who
joining their assistance to what was produced by the funds of the
Institution, distributed the sums to them with the tenderness
which a good mother equally feels for every one of her children.


Thirty of these unfortunate children, with these assistances,
partake the advantages of our institution. Several others, too
young to be set to work, receive no less that relief to which their
sad situation seems to secure them a right. But in the actual
state in which our establishment is, we beg our readers not to
regard it but as a beginning. We hope that their sagacity will
show them, in these first fruits, a pledge of that success which
they promise in the sequel. It is thus that an attentive observer
of the productions of nature sees, that the buds which the spring
causes to shoot forth from all parts of the trees, announces the
fruits which autumn will produce.

SWEET Harmony, from heav'n descend,

Inspire and tune my languid strain ;
To me thy kind assistance lend,

My genius in its flight sustain.
deign, delightful God of day,
To guide and animate my way ;

I seek the sacred vale alone,
My muse, alas ! too apt to fear,
When no bright beams her journey cheer,

Trembling, approaches Helicon.

To barren idleness our days,

By cruel fate were once confined ;
Our woes kind Industry allays,

Once more to social life consign'd :
The various useful tasks and arts,
Which she to us with ease imparts,

Shall soon our ling'ring hours console ;
To cheerful hope once more we rise ;
Our being, erst consum'd in sighs,

Grows less oppressive to the soul.


S OF 1'.l,l\: CIIILDRKN.

Typographies, by which imprest,

The learned's thoughts embodied shine,
Their immortality attest :

Treasures, France, which now are thine.
Eyeless, thank heavVs supreme decree,
We can to late posterity

Transmit the light of every sage ;
Though blind, we can in open day
Truth's venerable form display,

And shew the glories of our age.

Greece, fruitful source of arts refin'd,

To mortals raptur'd and surpris'd,
Gave perfect masters of each kind,

At once beheld and idolis'd.
Yet though their times we justly praise,
Illuru'd by such effulgent rays,

Did then the dumb articulate ?
Or had the hopeless blind been taught,
From tactile signs to construe thought,

To read, to write, and calculate ?

Though Nature from our darken'd eyes,

For ever veils her charms sublime,
The form of earth and ev'n of skies,

By Fancy's aid we figuring climb ;
We trace the rivers to their source,
Of stars we calculate the course ;

From Europe to th' Atlantic shore,
Successive journeys we pursue,
Thanks to the hand whose prudence due

Guides us in Geographic lore.


Dear brethren of affliction, aid

My songs, th' auspicious days to bless,
Which wrap our fate in softer shade,

And tend to make its horrors less.
And while my Muse, with grateful lays,
To sing the virtues all essays,

Which in our zealous patrons glow ;
The gratitude their worth inspires,
Shall burn with unextinguish'd fires,

And in our bosoms ever grow.


Blind, and Pensioner to the Philanthropic
Society of Paris.



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Online LibraryRené Just HaüyAn essay on the education of the blind; (Dedicated to the King of France), Paris, 1786 → online text (page 3 of 3)