William Chambers.

Chambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) online

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schools, the pallid countenance and delicate health of the school-
boy, commonly laid to the account of over-application to his
book, are due simply to the defective construction of the school-
room. In the dame schools, and the schools for the labouring"
classes, the defective ventilation is the most frequent and mis-

From this, as weU as all other testimony on the subject, it is
clear that society is daily suffering to an indescribable extent by
atmospheric impurity. Great loss of life, occasional or lingering
bad health, poverty from inability to labour, mental depression,
crime, and intemperance, are the well-observed results of this
discreditable state of things.

To assuage as far as possible this enormous evil, very ex-
tensive improvements would be required in the construction of
towns and dwellings generally, and perhaps these may in time
be effected, including more plentiful supplies of water. Mean-
while, the evil may be materially lessened by employers and
public bodies adopting means for ventilating work-rooms,
churches, and other edifices. This may be done in two ways :
The first consists of leading tubes from the unventilated apart-
ments to a large fire or furnace, the natural demand for air by
the fire drawing' off the vitiated atmosphere, while fresh air is
left to enter by numerous small opening's or crevices ; such being,
in fact, the plan pursued for ventilating the houses of parliameni;.
The second process of ventilation may consist in propelling fresh
air into buildings (or into ships) by a small and . cheaply-con-
structed apparatus, lately invented by the benevolent Dr Neil
Arnott ; the vitiated air in this case being expelled by the in-
trusion of what is fresh. A power equal to that of a man or
boy can work the apparatus.*

In workshops, schools, and public rooms, open fire-grates are
preferable to stoves, as they require a continual current of air-
towards them — thus drawing off all impure air, as well as noxious
vapours and dusty particles. Where an open fire is used, a very
equable ventilation may be kept up by a few apertures in the
walls, slanting from the outside upward to the ceiling. The
only thing to be attended to in all cases of artificial ventilation,
is for parties not to sit in the currents so created, the results of
which inadvertence are too frequently colds, rheumatism, and
the like.

With respect to the ventilation of private houses, we offer the
following admonitory hints : —

1. If at all possible, never have more than one bed in a room ;
and let the window of that room be thrown open whenever the
weather will permit.

* Those desirous of applying this ingenious apparatus should communi-
cate with Dr Amott. His address is Bedford Square, London.



2. Let each bed be as open and airy as possible ; that is, have
plenty of room for the air to play over it and about it. Closing"
up the front of the bed, so as to leave only a small open space, as
is the case in many cottag*es in the country, is a plan greatly to
be condemned.

3. The bed should be as open and airy during the day as the
night, for during- the night it absorbs impurities which should
have liberty to escape after the persons rise from it.

4. On rising in the morning, open wide the curtains or doors
of the bed, throw down the bed-clothes, or, what is better,
hang them on screens during the day, and open the window
and door, so that the air may blow freely through the house, and
carry off all impurities in the atmosphere. Such precautions are
especially necessary in the case of newly-built houses, where
moisture and oth'er injurious exhalations are apt to arise from
•the walls, the painting, and wood-work. Indeed, no recent erec-
tion ought to be inhabited till all the apartments have been well-
seasoned by fires and thorough atmospheric exposure.

5. A good housewife will also take care to allow nothing to
remain within doors which may cause a bad smell. All by-
€orners and closets should be regularly swept out, washed, and

6. If the house consist of only one apartment, and be inhabited
by several individuals, it should be limed or whitewashed once
a-year, and every part of the floor and entrance passag-es washed
weekly. All such cleansings should be in the morning", in order
that the house may be quite dry before night.

7. Allow no impurities of any kind to accumulate about the
door or outside of the dwelling : the odours rising from stag-
nant gutters and open drains are a fertile source of fever.

It may be asked, how is it to be known when a house is over-
heated or ill-ventilated. If, on going from an apartment to the
external air, you feel a sudden chill, depend upon it the difference
between the internal and external temperature is too great, and
the former ought to be lowered by gradually admitting more of
the external air. If, again, on coming from the open air, you
are sensible of a stifling musty odour in any apartment, at once
throw open the door or windows, and see for the future that a
continual current be admitted, to prevent such a want of ventila-
tion. Many people, instead of admitting the fresh air, endeavour
to dissipate bad odours by artificial scents, but this is a mere
temporary and injurious expedient. The evil still remains, and
in a few hours it is found that such a practice has been only to
substitute one offensive smell for another.

By attention to these simple but necessarily brief directions, as
regards cleanliness and ventilation, much disease and suffering,
loss of time through ill health, moral deterioration, and other
obvious evils, might be avoided, and a vast amount of comfort
and enjoyment secured.



LL know-ledge is received through the medium of the
senses, usually reckoned live in number — seeing, hear-
ing, taste, smell, and touch or feeling ; such, in fact,
y -, _„ being the agents by which the mind'is excited to re-
^ ceive or communicate ideas. A deprivation of one or more
^^ of the senses, as is well known, ordinarily leads to increased
(^ activity of the others, in consequence of the greater reliance
v3 placed upon them ; nevertheless, it seems evident that any
such deprivation must, less or more, cause a deficiency in the
zntellectual conceptions. A person who has been blind from
earliest infancy can, by no process of feeling, hearing, or smell-
ing, be made to have even moderately correct ideas" of light or
colours ; neither does it appear to us that any one who has been
always deaf can attain to anything like a proper understanding
of sound. Deprivation of hearing from birth may be considered
a double calamity, for it is naturally attended with deprivation
of speech; and hence the deaf-mute, whatever be his acquire-
ments, always excites our warmest compassion.

AVhich of the senses could be most conveniently spared, has
probably been with most persons a subject of occasional con-
sideration, and it is only when the merits of each are compared
that we have a thorough notion of their value. Had we never
possessed eyes, then should we never have beheld the o-lories of
the sun, moon, and stars ; the beauteous earth we tread, fields,
fiowers, colours, the magnificent ocean, or the face of those we
love. Had we been deaf from birth, then should we never have
heard sounds, music, language, nor have been able to hold corn-
No. 52. I


munication by speech ; of the tones of affection we should never
have been conscious. Had we been deficient in taste, we should
have been exposed to injury in eating- that which should be
i*ejected as food ; and along with a deprivation of the kindred
sense of smell, we should have been constantly in a state of diffi-
culty and danger. It would be needless to speculate on the
deprivation of feeling, for we cannot conceive that life should
exist for any length of time with such a deficiency. Great as
we must deplore the misfortune of those who labour under an
iiTemediable privation of any of the senses, we must in as great
a degree admire that Providential care which provides a measure
of compensatory happiness. Although stricken with blindness
and shut out from being a spectator of nature's marvellous
handiwork, how usually superior is the enjoj^ment of har-
monious sounds, how exquisite the love of music ! The deaf,
too, have their enjoyments, and are at least blest with a pleasing
unconsciousness of the loss which they sustain. Lamentable,
indeed, is the fate of those who have been deprived of the two
more important senses — seeing and hearing ; yet that even blind
deaf-mutes, with no other senses to rely upon than smell, taste,
and feeling, may enjoy a qualilied happiness, and be susceptible
of moral cultivation, has been shown in several well-accredited
instances. One of the most remarkable cases of the kind is that
of James Mitchell, the story of whose blameless and interesting
life we propose in the first place to lay before our readers.


James Mitchell was born in the year 1795 at Ardclach, a
parish in the north of Scotland, of which his father was clergy-
man. He was the youngest except one of seven children, and
neither his parents nor his brothers or sisters had any deficiency
in the senses. Soon after birth, his mother discovered that he
was blind, from his manifesting no desire to turn his eyes to the
light. On inspection, it was observed that it was blindness
caused by cataract ; both the lenses were opaque, a cloudy
pearl-like substance resting over the retina or seeing part of
each eye. This was a sufficiently distressing discovery, but how
much greater was the anguish of the poor mother when she soon
after found that her infant was deaf as well as blind ! Excluded
from all ordinary means of direction, the child was guided only
by feeling and natural impulse — an object so helpless as to re-
quire constant and careful attention. Fortunately, his constitu-
tion was otherwise sound : he learned to walk like other children,
by being put to the ground and left to scramble to his feet, hold-
ing by any objects near him.

AV^hile between one and two years of age, he began to e'^'ince
considerable acuteness in touch, taste, and smell, being able by


these to distinguish strano^ers from the members of his own
family, and any little article which was appropriated to himself
from what belong-ed to others. As he advanced in years, various
circumstances concurred to prove that neither the auditory nerves
nor retina were entirely insensible to impressions of sound and
lig-ht, and that thoug-h he derived little information from these
org-ans, he received from them a considerable deg-ree of g-ratifica-
tio'n. A key having" accidentally come into his hand, he put it
to his mouth ; it struck on his teeth. This was to him a most
important discovery. He found that the blow communicated a
vibration through his head, and this, the nearest approach to
sound, was hailed with delight ; henceforth the striking of a key
on his teeth became a daily gratification. As great was the
pleasure he derived from any bright or dazzling object being held
to his eyes. One of his chief amusements was to concentrate the
sun's rays by means of pieces of glass, transparent pebbles, or
similar substances, which he held between his eye and the light,
and turned about in various directions. There were other modes
by which he was often in the habit of gratifying his desire of
light. He would go to any outhouse or room within his reach,
shut the windows and doors, and remain there for a considerable
time, with his eyes fixed on some small hole or chink -which
admitted the sun's rays, eagerly catching them. He would also,
during the winter nights, frequently retire to a corner of a dark
room, and kindle a light for his amusement. Such indeed seemed
to be the degree of pleasure which he received from feasting his
eyes with light, that he would often occupy himself in this man-
ner for several hours without interruption. In this, as well as in
the gratification of the other senses, his countenance and gestures
displayed a most interesting avidity and curiosity. His father
often remarked him employing many hours in selecting from the
bed of the river, which flows within a few yards of the house,
stones of a round shape, nearly of the same weight, and having'
a certain degree of smoothness. These he placed in a circular
form on the bank, and then seated himself in the middle of the

At the age of thirteen his father took him to London, where
the operation of piercing the membrane of each tympanum of
the ear was performed by Sir Astley Cooper, but without improv-
ing his hearing in the least. An operation was also performed
on the left eye by Mr Saunders, but with little or no success.
As there appeared still some hopes of restoring vision, his father
a second time carried him to London in the year 1810, when
fifteen years of age, and placed him under the charge of ]Mr
"NVardrop, an eminent surgeon. Mr AVardrop's account of the
boy is so interesting that we shall give it in his own words.
" This poor boy," says he, " had the usual appearance of strength
and good health, and his countenance Vv'as extremely pleasing,
and indicated a considerable degree of intelligence. On examin-



ing the state of his eyes, the pupil of each was observed to be
obscured by a cataract. In the rig-ht eye the cataract was of a
white colour and pearly lustre, and appeared to pervade the
Avhole of the crystalline lens. The pupil, however, readily dilated
or contracted according to the different degrees of light to which
it was exposed. The cataract in the left eye was not equally
opaque, about one-third of it being dim and clouded, arising as
it appeared from very thin dusky webs crossing it in various
directions, the rest being of an opaque white colour. The pupil
of this eye did not, however, seem so susceptible of impressions
from varieties in the intensity of light as that of the other, nor
did he employ this eye so often as the other to gratify his fond-
ness for lig"ht. I could discover no defect in the organisation of
his ears. It was difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain with
jjrecision the deg'ree of sight which he enjoyed, but from the
preternatural acuteness which his senses of touch and smell had
acquired, in consequence of having- been habitually employed to
collect that information for which the sight is peculiarly adapted,
it may be with confidence presumed that he derived little if any
assistance from his eyes or organs of vision. Besides, the appear-
ances of the disease in the eyes were such as to render it extremely
probable that they enabled him merely to distinguish some colours
and differences in the intensity of light. The organs of hearing*
seemed equally unfit for receiving the impressions of ordinary
sounds as his eyes were those of objects of sig-ht. Many circum-
stances at the same time proved that he was not insensible to sound.
It has been already observed that he often amused himself by
striking hard substances against his teeth, from which he appeared
to derive as much gratification as he did from receiving the im-
pression of light on his eyes. When a ring of keys was given
to him he seized them with great avidity, and tried each sepa-
rately by suspending it loosely between two of his fingers, so as
to allow it to vibrate freely ; and after jingling them among-st
his teeth in this manner, he generally selected one from the
others, the sound of which seemed to please him most. A
gentleman observing this circumstance, brought to him a musical
snuff-box, and placed it between his teeth. This seemed not only
to excite his wonder, but to afford him exquisite delight ; and his
father and sister, who were present, remarked that they had
never seen him so much interested on any former occasion.
"WTiilst the instrument continued to play, he kept it closely
between his teeth ; and even when the notes were ended, he con-
tinued to hold the box to his mouth, and to examine it minutely
with his fingers, his lips, and the point of his tongue, expressing
b^'- his gestures and by his countenance extreme curiosity. Besides
the musical snuff-box, I procured for him a common musical key.
"\Vhen it was first applied to his teeth, he exhibited expressions
of fear mixed with surprise. However, he soon perceived that
it was attended with no harm, so that he not only allowed it to


be renewed, but he soon acquired the habit of striking- it on his
own hand so as to make it sound, and then touching- his teetU
Mith it. One day his father observed him place it upon the
external ear. He has also, on some occasions, been observed to
take notice of, and to appear uneasy with very loud sounds.
Thus, therefore, the teeth, besides being- organs of mastication,
and also serving- as organs of touch in examining- the food in the
mouth, so that the hard and indigestible part may be rejected, in
this boy seemed to be the best channel of communicating- sound
to the auditory nerve. His organs of touch, smell, and taste,
had all acquired a preternatural deg-ree of acuteness, and appeared
to have supplied in an astonishing manner the deficiencies in the
senses of seeing* and hearing. By those of touch and smell, in
particular, he was in the habit of examining- everything within
his reach. Large objects, such as the furniture of a room,
he felt over with his fingers ; whilst those which were more
minute, and which excited more of his interest, he applied to his
teeth, or touched with the point of his tongue. In exercising-
the sense of touch, it was interesting to notice the delicate and
precise manner in which he applied the extremities of his fingers,
and with what ease and flexibility he would insinuate the point
of his tongue into all the inequalities of the body under exami-
nation. But there were many substances which he not only
touched, but smelled during- his examination. To the sense of
smell he seemed chiefly indebted for his knowledg-e of different
persons ; he appeared to know his relations and intimate friends
by smelling- them very slig'htly, and he at once detected strang-ers.
It was difiicult, however, to ascertain at what distance he could
disting-uish people by this sense; but from Vv' hat I %vas able to
observe, he appeared to be able to do so at a considerable distance
from the object. This was particularly striking- when a person
entered the room, as he seemed to be aware of this before he
could derive information from any other sense than that of smell,
except it may be that the vibrations of the air indicated the ap-
proach of some person. In selecting- his food, he was always
guided by his sense of smell, for he never took anything into liis
mouth without previously smelling it carefully. * His taste was
extremely delicate, and he show^ed a great predilection for some
kinds of food, whilst there were others of which he never partook.
He had on no occasion tasted butter, cheese, or any of the pulpy
fruits, but he was fond of milk, plain dressed animal food, apples,
peas, and other simple nutriment. He never took food from any
one but his parents or sister.

But the imperfections which have been noticed in his organs
of sight and of hearing were by no means accompanied with
such defects in the powers of his mind as might be suspected.
He seemed to possess the faculties of the understanding in a
considerable degree ; and when we reflect that his channels of
communication with the external world must have afforded very



slow means of acquiring information, it is rather surprising* how
much knowledge he had obtained. Impressions transmitted
through the medium of one sense might call into being some of
the most important operations of intellect. Facts have been
given to prove that this boy possessed both recollection and
judgment. We are ignorant of the qualities of bodies which in-
fluenced his determinations and his affections. On all occasions,
however, it was clear that he made his experiments on the objects
which he examined with all the accuracy and caution that his
circumscribed means of gaining intelligence could admit. The
senses he enjoyed, being thus disciplined, acquired a preternatural
degree of acuteness, and must have furnished him with informa-
tion respecting the qualities of many bodies which we either
overlook, or are in the habit of obtaining- through other channels.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the boy's mind was his
avidity and curiosity to become acquainted with the different
objects around him. When a person came into the room where
he was, the moment he knew of his presence he fearlessly went
up to him and touched him all over, and smelled him with eag'er-
ness. He showed the same inquisitiveness in becoming acquainted
with everything within the sphere of his observation, and was
daily in the habit of exploring the objects around his father's
abode. He had become familiar with all the most minute parts
of the house and furniture, the outhouses, and several of the ad-
jacent fields, and the various farming utensils. He showed great
partiality to some animals, particularly to horses, and nothing
seemed to give him more delight than to be put on one of their
backs. When his father went out to ride, he was always one of
the first to watch his return ; and it was astonishing how he
became warned of this from remarking a variety of little in-
cidents. His father putting on his boots, and such like oc-
currences, were all accurately observed by the boy, and led him
to conclude how his father was to be employed. In the remote
situation where he resided, male visitors were most frequent ; and
therefore the first thing he generally did was to examine whether
or not the stranger wore boots. If he did, he immediately quitted
him, went to the lobby, found out and accurately examined his
whip, then proceeded to the stable, and handled his horse with
great care and the utmost attention. It occasionally happened
that visitors arrived in a carriage. He never failed to go to the
place where the carriage stood, examined the whole of it with
much anxiety, and amused himself with the elasticity of the
springs. The locks of doors attracted much of his attention ; and
he seemed to derive great pleasure from turning the keys. He
was very docile and obedient to his father and sister, who
accompanied him to London, and reposed in them every con-
fidence for his safety, and for the means of his subsistence. It
has been already noticed that he never took food from any one
but the members of his own family. I several times offered him an



apple, of Avhicli I knew he was extremely fond ; but he ahvays
refused it with signs of mistrust, though the same apple, after-
wards given him by his sister, was accepted greedily. It was
difficult to ascertain the manner in which his mind was guided in
the judgment he formed of strangers, as there were some people
whom he never permitted to approach him, whilst others at once
excited his interest and attention. The opinions which he formed
of individuals, and the means he employed to study their cha-
racter, were extremely interesting. In doing this, he appeared
to be chiefly influenced by the impressions communicated to him
by his sense of smell. When a stranger approached him, he
eagerly began to touch some part of his body, commonly taking
hold o^f the arm, which he held near his nose ; and after two or
three strong inspirations through the nostrils, he appeared to
form a decided opinion regarding him. If this was favourable, he
showed a disposition to become more intimate, examined more
minutely his dress, and expressed by his countenance more or
less satisfaction ; but if it happened to be unfavourable, he sud-
denly went off to a distance with expressions of carelessness or
disgust. When he was lirst brought to my house to have his
eyes examined, he both touched and smelled several parts of my
body ; and the following day, whenever he found me near him,
he grasped my arm, then smelled it, and immediately recognised
me,'^which he signihed to his father by touching his eyelids with
the fingers of both hands, and imitating the examination of his
eyes, which I had formerly made. I was very much struck with
h"is behaviour during this examination. He held his head, and

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 34 of 59)