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nice regarding his dress. On examination, I found his eyes and
his state of vision such as I had been led to expect ; that is, he
can distinguish bright sunshine from darkness, and perhaps
white or brilliant objects from black ones, but this is the whole
extent of his powers ; he cannot disting'uish the lines of form of
bodies, or the lineaments or expressions of the human counte-
nance. The left eye, which had been operated upon, is opaque
and muddy over the whole pupil; with it I conjectured he saw
little or none : in the other eye the opacity of the lens is some-
w^hat circumscribed, especially on the inferior margin, and it is on
this edge of the pupil that I could perceive an opening by which
a few rays of light might enter. His sister thought that his
vision had somewhat improved of late. When an object is pre-
sented to him, if it be bright and glittering, he holds it towards
the inferior edge of this eje ; but immediately after he puts it to
the test of the organs of touch, taste, and smell, which evidently
shows his still very limited extent of vision.

After having satisfied my curiosity regarding' this highly
interesting being, I rose to take leave. He seemed to be sen'sible
of the movement, and also rose. His sister intimated that a
shake of the hand would be acceptable, and I impressed upon
him a most cordial adieu. I could not help thinking how dif-
ferent might have been my interview W'ith this same person had
it pleased God to have endowed him with the use of all his
senses j how I might have been instructed by his intelligence,



amused with his cheerful active fancy, and warmed with tliat
tide of benevolent feeling" and aifection, of all of which so manj'
unequivocal traces were visible, even as it was. But no doubt
his measure of happiness is full, however limited it may appear
to us ; and when the beautiful aspect and soft sounds of another
world burst upon him, they will not be the less relished that he
walked in darkness and in solitude in this."

To his inestimable guide and companion the following* eulo-
g-ium by the late Sir James Mackintosh is appropriately due : — •
" His sister is a young" woman, of most pleasing- appearance and
manners, disting"uished by a very uncommon deg-ree of modesty,
caution, and precision in her accounts of him, and probably one
of the most intellig-ent as well as kindest companions that ever
guided a being* doomed to such unusual if not unexampled priva-
tions. Her aversion to exag"g"eration, and her singular supe-
riority to the pleasure of inspirino; wonder, make it important to
the purposes of philosophy as well as humanity that she should
continue to attend her brother. Separation from her would in-
deed be an irreparable calamity to this unfortunate youth. By
her own unaided ing'enuit}^ she has conquered the obstacles which
seemed for ever to preclude all intercourse between him and other
minds ; and what is still more important, by the firm and gentle
exertion of her well-earned ascendant over him, she spares him
much of the pain which he must otherwise have suffered from
the occasional violences of a temper irritated by a fruitless
struggle to give utterance to his thoughts and wishes."

We now take leave of this unfortunate being, who, as far as we
know, still lives, and turn to the case of a blind deaf-mute, who
has excited a lively interest in this country and in America.


Laura Bridgman was born in Hanover, New Hampshire,
on the 21st of December 1829. For a few months after birth
she w\is a sprightly infant with blue eyes, but being* of a weakly
constitution, and afflicted with severe fits, her parents had little
hope of rearing her. When eighteen months old, her health im-
proved, and she advanced considerably in intellig'ence ; but soon
she relapsed ; disease raged violently during five weeks ; and her
eyes becoming* inflamed, they suppurated, and their contents
w-ere discharged. At the same time she lost the sense of hearing.
She was now, at two years of age, blind and deaf. But this was
not all her misfortunes. The fever having continued to rage,
after a few months her sense of smell was almost destroyed, and
her taste was much blunted. She Avas also so greatly reduced in
strength, that it was a year before she could Avalk unsupported,
and two years before she could sit up all day. It was not until
ehe was four years of age that her health was entirely restored ;



and yet in ■\vliat a condition was she placed — deaf, dumb, blind, and
possessing' only a slig-lit consciousness of smell and taste ! Every
avenue of communication with the external world might be said
to be gone, except feeling. The deprivations having taken place
when she was an infant of two years of age, she consequently
retained no recollection of having* either seen or heard ; and as-
her eyes were destroj^ed, any hope of restoring vision was out of
the question.

" What a situation was hers ! " observes Dr Howe, in the
account of poor Laura's case. " The darkness and the silence of
the tomb were around her ; no mother's smile called forth her
answering smile, no father's voice taught her to imitate his
sounds; brothers and sisters were but forms of matter which
resisted her touch, but which differed not from the furniture
of the house, save in warmth and in the power of locomo-
tion, and not even in these respects from the dog and the cat.
But the immortal spirit which had been implanted within her
could not die, nor be maimed nor mutilated ; and though most
of its avenues of communication with the world were cut off, it.
began to manifest itself through the others. As soon as she
could walk, she began to explore the room, and then the house :
she became familiar with the form, density, weight, and heat of
every article she could lay her hands upon. She followed her
mother, and felt her hands and arms as she was occupied about
the house ; and her disposition to imitate led her to repeat every-
thing herself. She even learned to sew a little, and to knit.

At this time I was so fortunate as to hear of the child, and
immediately hastened to Hanover to see her. I found her with
a well-formed figure, a stronglj'^-marked, nervous-sanguine tem-
perament, a large and beautifullj'- shaped head, and the whole
system in healthy action. The parents were easily induced to
consent to her coming to Boston, and on the 4th of October
1837, they brought her to the institution.*

For a while she was much bewildered, and after waiting about
two weeks until she became acquainted with her new locality,
and somewhat familiar wath the inmates, the attempt was made
to give her a knowledge of arbitrary signs, by which she could
interchange thoughts with others. There was one of two ways
to be adopted ; either to go on to build up a language of signs
on the basis of the natural language which she had already com-
menced herself, or to teach her the purely arbitrary lang-uage in
common use ; that is, to give her a sign for every individual
thing, or to give her a knowledge of letters by combination of
which she might express her idea of the existence, and the mode
and condition of-existence, of anything. The former would have
been easy, but very ineffectual ; the latter seemed very difficult,

* The Perkins Institution and iMassachusctts Asylum for the Blind, at
Boston, over wliicli Dr liov.c presides.



but if accomplished, very eiFectual. I determined therefore to
try the latter.

The first experiments were made by taking articles in common
use, such as knives, forks, spoons, keys, &c. and pasting" upon
them labels with their names printed in raised letters. These
she felt very carefully, and soon of course disting-uished that the
crooked lines sp o o n differed as much from the crooked lines
k e ?/, as the spoon differed from the key in form. Then small
detached labels, with the same words printed upon them, were
put into her hands ; and she soon observed that they were similar
to the ones pasted on the articles. She showed her perception
of this similarity by laying the label key upon the key, and the
label spoon upon the spoon. She was encouraged here by the
natural sign of approbation — patting on the head. The same
process was then repeated with all the articles which she could
handle ; and she very easily learned to place the proper labels
upon them. It was evident, however, that the only intellectual
exercise was that of imitation and memory. She recollected that
the label book was placed upon a book, and she repeated the
process first from imitation, next from memory, with only the
motive of love of approbation, but apparently without the intel-
lectual perception of any relation between the things.

After a while, instead of labels the individual letters were
given to her on detached bits of paper ; they were arranged side
by side so as to spell book, key, &c. ; then they were mixed
up in a heap, and a sign was made for her to arrange them her-
self, so as to express the words book, k e y, &c. ; and she did so.
Hitherto the process had been mechanical, and the success about
as great as teaching a very knowing dog a variety of tricks.
The poor child had sat in mute amazement, and patiently imi-
tated everything her teacher did ; but now the truth began to
flash upon her ; her intellect began to work. She perceived that
here was a way by which she could herself make up a sign of
anything that was in her own mind, and show it to another
mind ; and at once her countenance lighted up with a human
expression. It was no longer a dog or pai'rot ; it was an im-
mortal spirit eagerly seizing upon a new link of union with other
spirits ! I could almost fix upon the moment when this truth
dawned upon her mind, and spread its light to her countenance ;
I saw that the great obstacle was overcome, and that hence-
forward nothing but patient and persevering, but plain and
straightforward efforts were to be used. The result thus far is
quickly related and easily conceived, but not so was the process ;
for many weeks of apparently unprofitable labour were passed
before it was effected.

When it was said above that a sign was made, it was intended
to say that the action was performed by her teacher, she feeling*
his hands, and then imitating the motion. The next step was
to procure a set of metal types, with the different letters of the



alphabet cast upon their ends ; also a board, in which were square
holes, into which holes she could set the types, so that the letters
on their ends could alone be felt above the surface. Then, on any
article being handed to her — for instance, a pencil or a watch —
she would select the component letters and arrang-e them on her
board, and read them with apparent pleasure. She was exercised
for several weeks in this way, until her vocabulary became exten-
sive ; and then the important step was taken of teaching- her how
to represent the different letters by the position of her fingers,
instead of the cumbrous apparatus of the board and types. She
accomplished this speedily and easily, for her intellect had begun
to work in aid of her teacher, and her progress was rapid.

This was the period, about three months after she had com-
menced, that the first report of her case was made, in which it
is stated that ' she has just learned the manual alphabet, as used
hj the deaf-mutes ; and it is a subject of delight and wonder to
see how rapidly, correctly, and eagerly, she goes on with her
labours. Her teacher gives her a new object — for instance, a
pencil — first lets her examine it, and get an idea of its use, then
teaches her how to spell it by making" the signs for the letters
with her own fing-ers. The child grasps her hand, and feels her
fingers as the different letters are formed ; she turns her head a
little on one side, like a person listening closely ; her lips are
apart, she seems scarcely to breathe ; and her countenance, at
first anxious, gradually changes to a smile as she comprehends
the lesson. She then holds up her tiny fing-ers, and spells the word
in the manual alphabet ; next she takes her types and arrang-es
her letters ; and last, to make sure that she is right, she takes
the whole of the types composing the word, and places them upon
or in contact with the pencil, or whatever the object may be.'

The whole of the succeeding year was passed in gratifying her
eag'er inquiries for the names of every object which she could
possibly handle ; in exercising her in the use of the manual
alphabet ; in extending- in every possible way her knowledge of
the physical relations of things; and in proper care of her health.
At the end of the year a report of her case was made, from which
the following is an extract : — ' It has been ascertained, beyond
the possibility of doubt, that she cannot see a ray of light, cannot
hear the least sound, and never exercises her sense of smell, if
she have any. Thus her mind dwells in darkness and stillness
as profound as that of a closed tomb at midnight. • Of beautiful
sights, and sweet sounds, and pleasant odours, she has no con-
ception ; nevertheless she seems as happy and playful as a bird
or a lamb ; and the employment of her intellectual faculties, or
the acquirement of a new idea, gives her a vivid pleasure Mhich
is plainly marked in her expressive features. She never seems
to repine, but has all the buoyancy and gaiety of childhood. She
is fond of fun and frolic, and when playing with the rest of the
children, her shrill laugh sounds loudest of the group.



Wlien left alone, she seems very happy if she have her knit-
ting" or sewing", and will busy herself for hours ; if she have no
occupation, she evidently amuses herself by imaginary dialogues,
or by recalling" past impressions. She counts with her iing-ers,
or spells out names of things which she has recently learned in
the manual alphabet of the deaf-mutes. In this lonely self-com-
munion she seems to reason, reflect, and argue ; if she spell a
word wa'ong with the lingers of her right hand, she instantly
strikes it with her left, as her teacher does, in sig'n of disappro-
bation ; if right, then she pats herself upon the head, and looks
pleased. She sometimes purposely spells a word wrong with the
left hand, looks roguish for a moment and laughs, and then with
the right hand strikes the left, as if to correct it.

During the year, she has attained great dexterity in the use of
the manual alphabet of the deaf-mutes ; and she spells out the
words and sentences which she knows so fast and so deftly, tha*
only those accustomed to this language can follow with the eye
the rapid motions of her fingers. But wonderful as is the
rapidity with which she writes her thoughts upon the air, still
more so is the ease and accuracy with which she reads the words
thus written by another, grasping their hands in hers, and fol-
lowing every movement of their lingers, as letter after letter
conveys their meaning to her mind. It is in this way that she
converses with her blind playmates, and nothing can more
forcibly show the power of mind in forcing matter to its purpose
than a meeting between them.; for if great talent and skill are
necessary for two pantomimes to paint their thoug'hts and feel-
ings by the movements of the body, and the expression of the
countenance, how much greater the difficulty when darloiess
shrouds them both, and the one can hear no sound ! '

During this year, and six months after she had left home, her
mother came to visit her, and the scene of their meeting was an
interesting one. The mother stood some time gazing with over-
flowing eyes upon her unfortunate child, who, all unconscious of
her presence, was playing about the room. Presently Laura
ran against her, and at once began feeling her hands, examining
her dress, and trying to find out if she knew her ; but not suc-
ceeding in this, she turned away as from a stranger, and the
poor woman could not conceal the pang she felt at finding that
her beloved child did not know her.

She then gave Laura a string of beads which she used to wear
at home, which were recognised by the child at once, who with
much joy put them around her neck, and sought me eagerly to
say she understood the string was from her home.

The mother now tried to caress her, but poor Laura repelled her,
preferring to be with her acquaintances. Another article from
home was now given her, and she began to look much interested ;
she examined the stranger much closer, and gave me to under-
stand that she knew she came from Hanover ; she even endured



her caresses, but would leave her with indifference at the sligrhtest
signal. The distress of the mother was now painful to behold ;
for although she had feared that she should not be recognised,
the painful reality of being treated with cold indifference by a
darling child was too much for woman's nature to bear.

After a while, on the mother taking hold of her again, a vague
idea seemed to llit across Laura's mind that this could not be a
stranger ; she therefore felt her hands very eagerly, while her
countenance assumed an expression of intense interest ; she be-
came very pale, and then suddenly red; hope seemed struggling
with doubt and anxiety, and never were contending emotions
more strong-ly painted upon the human face. At this moment
of painful uncertainty the mother drew her close to her side, and
kissed her fondly, when at once the truth flashed upon the
child, and all mistrust and anxiety disappeared from her face, as,
with an expression of exceeding joy, she eag'erly nestled to the
bosom of her parent, and 3'ielded herself to her fond embraces.

After this tlie beads were all unheeded; the playthings offered
her were utterly disregarded; her playmates, for whom but a
moment before she gladly left the stranger, now vainly strove to
pull her from her mother ; and though she yielded her usual in-
stantaneous obedience to my signal to follow me, it was evidently
with painful reluctance. She clung close to me, as if bewildered
and fearful ; and when, after a moment, I took her to her mother,
she sj)rang- to her arms and clung to her with eager joy.

The subsequent parting between them showed alike the affec-
tion, the intelligence, and the resolution of the child. Laura
accompanied her mother to the door, cling-ing- close to her all the
way until they arrived at the threshold, where she paused and
felt around to ascei'tain who was near her. Perceiving the
matron, of whom she is very fond, she grasped her with one
hand, holding on convulsively to her mother with the other, and
thus she stood for a moment ; then she dropped her mothers
hand, put her handkerchief to her eyes, and turiiing round,
clung sobbing' to the matron, while her mother departed with
emotions as deep as those of her child.

Her social feelings and her affections are very strong, and
when she is sitting at work or at her studies, by tlie side of one
of her little friends, she will break off from her task every few
moments to hug and kiss them with an earnestness and warmth
that is touching to behold. When left alone she occupies and
apparently amuses herself, and seems quite contented ; and so
strong seems to be the natural tendency of thought to put on the
garb of languag'e, that she often soliloquizes in xh.Q Jinger hni-
guage, slow and tedious as it is. But it is only when alone that
she is quiet ; for if she become sensible of the presence of any
one near her, she is restless until she can sit close beside them,
hold their hand, and converse with them by signs. In her in-
tellectual character it is pleasing to observe an insatiable thirst



for knowledg-e, and a quick perception of the relations of things.
In her moral character it is beautiful to behold her continual
g"Iadness, her keen enjoj'-ment of existence, her expansive love,
her unhesitating- confidence, her sympathy with suffering-, her
conscientiousness, truthfulness, and hopefulness."

Since this account was given to the world, other reports have
been issued, from which we learn that Laura continues a con-
tented and improving- inmate of the asylum for the blind at
Boston. She now writes a legible hand, and can express all
simple ideas in words, uniting nouns with adjectives and verbs
in a manner perfectly intelligible. She wantes with a pencil in a
grooved line. At first she was puzzled to comprehend the mean-
ing of the process to which she was subjected ; but when the
idea dawned upon her mind, that by means of it she could con-
vey intelligence to her mother, her delight was unbounded. She
applied herself with great diligence, and in a few months actually
wrote a legible letter to her mother, in which she conveyed infor-
mation of her being well, and of her coming home in ten weeks.
It w-as indeed only the skeleton of a letter, but still it expressed
in leg-ible characters a vague outline of the ideas which were
passing in her mind.

We are told that she has latterly improved very much in per-
sonal appearance as well as in intellect ; her countenance beams
with intelligence ; she is always active at study, work, or play ;
she never repines ; and most of her time is gay and frolicsome.
She is now very expert with, her needle, she knits easily, and
can make twine bags and various fancy articles very prettily.
She is very docile, has a quick sense of propriety, dresses herself
with great neatness, and is always correct in her deportment.
In short, it would be difficult to find a child in the possession of
all her senses, and the enjojmient of the advantag-es that wealth
and parental love can bestow, who is more contented and cheer-
ful, or to whom existence seems a greater blessing', than it does
to this bereaved creature, for whom the sun has no light, the air
no sound, and the flowers no colour or smell.

Mr Charles Dickens, who visited the asylum in the course of
his journey in the states a few years ago, mentions, in his
"American Notes," that he had an interview with Laura, whose
condition greatly interested him. We take the liberty of extract-
ing* a few passages from the account of his visit.

"The thought occurred to me," he observes, "as I sat down
before a g-irl blind, deaf, and dumb, destitute of smell, and nearly
so of taste ; before a fair young creature with every human
faculty, and hope, and power of goodness and affection, enclosed
within her delicate frame, and but one outward sense — the sense
of touch. There she was before me, built up, as it were, in a
marble cell, impervious to any ray of light or particle of sound,
with her poor white hand peeping through a chink in the wall,
beckoning to some good man for help, that an immortal soui



miortit be awakened. Long: before I looked upon her, the help
had come. Her face was radiant with intelligence and pleasure.
Her hair, braided by her own hands, was bound about a head
w^hose intellectual capacity and development were beautifully
expressed in its graceful outline and its broad open brow ; her
dress, arranged hy herself, was a pattern of neatness and simpli-
city ; the work she had knitted lay beside her ; her writing-book
was on the desk she leaned upon. From the mournful ruin of
such bereavement, thei'e had slowly risen up this gentle, tender,
guileless, g-rateful-hearted being. Like other inmates of that
house, she had a green ribbon bound round her eyelids. A doll
she had dressed lay near upon the ground. I took it up, and saw
that she had made a green fillet such as she wore herself, and
fastened it about its mimic eyes. She was seated in a little en-
closure, made by school-desks and forms, writing her daily jour-
nal. But soon finishing this pursuit, she eng-aged in an animated
communication with a teacher who sat beside her. This was a
favourite mistress with the poor pupil. If she could see the face
of her fair instructress, she would not love her less, I am sure.

I turned over the leaves of her diary, and found it written in,
a fair legible square hand, and expressed in terms which were
quite intelligible without any explanation. On my saying that
I should like to see her write again, the teacher who sat beside
her bade her, in their language, sign her name upon a slip of

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 36 of 59)