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paper twice or thrice. In doing so, I observed that she kept
her left hand always touching and following up her right, in
which, of course, she held the pen. No line was indicated by
any contrivance, but she wrote straight and freely.

She had, until now, been quite unconscious of the presence of
visitors ; but having her hand placed in that of the gentleman
■who accompanied me, she immediately expressed his name upon
her teacher's palm. Indeed her sense of touch is now so exqui-
site, that having been acquainted with a person once, she can
recognise him or her after almost any interval. This gentleman
had been in her company, I believe, but very seldom, and cer-
tainly had not seen her for many months. My hand she rejected
at once, as she does that of any man who is a strang-er to her.
But she retained my wife's with evident pleasure, kissed her,
and examined her dress with a girl's curiosity and interest. She
was merry and cheerful, and showed much innocent playfulness
in her intercourse with her teacher. Her delight on recognising
a favourite playfellow and companion — herself a blind girl — who
silently, and with an equal enjoyment of the coming- surprise,
took a seat beside her, was beautiful to witness. It elicited from
her at first, as other slight circumstances did twice or thrice
during my visit, an uncouth noise which was rather painful to
hear. But on her teacher touching her lips, she immediately
desisted, and embraced her laughingly and affectionately."

We learn from the further account of Mr Dickens, that there


iR-as in this institution a boy named Oliver Caswell, who had
been deaf and blind since he was a few months old, and was now
at thirteen years of ag-e in a state resembling- that of Laura
Bridg-man. By the same kind attentions, he was learning- to read
by the touch, and to communicate his ideas by the hng-ers. With
respect to Laura, adds our author in conclusion, Dr Howe " is
occupied now in devising- means of imparting to her higher
knowledge, and of conveying to her some adequate idea of the
Great Creator of that universe in which, dark, silent, and scent-
less though it be to her, she has such deep delight and glad


Of the performances of persons who have been blind from
early infancy — their remarkable tact in finding their way unas-
sisted, their accurate memory of events and places, their skill
and taste in music, their dexterity in many operations in science
and art, and their acquirements in other respects, numerous
anecdotes might be related. The following will be read with a
deg-ree of interest, as exemplifying the abilities of this unfor-
tunate class of individuals : —

John Mctcalf. — The case of this person has always been
spoken of as bordering on the marvellous, though as he did not
lose his si^ht till he was six years of ag'e, and after he had been
at school two years, the wonder is considerably lessened. John
was the son of poor parents, and was born at Knaresborough in
Yorkshire in 1717. After recovering from the disease which
deprived him of sight, he continued to take part in boyish sports
with his companions as formerly, roamed fearlessly over fields,
walls, and ditches, learned to ride on horseback, to take a hand at
whist, bowls, and other g-ames. Swimming was another of his
accomplishments, and he performed feats in this department
which astonished everybody. On one occasion, when two men
were drowned in the Nidd, he was employed to dive for their
bodies, and succeeded in bring-ing up one of them.

Music, the usual resource of the blind, was not neglected by
Metcalf. Before he reached the age of sixteen, he had acquired
such proficiency on the violin, as to be engaged as a performer
both at Knaresboroug-h and at Harrowsrate, where he was much
liked and caressed. With his earning's as a musical performer,
he boug-ht a horse, and not only rode frequently in the hunting-
field, but ran his horse for small plates at York and elseAvhere.
On one occasion he engaged, for a considerable stake, to ride his
own horse three times round a circular course of a mile in leng-th
against another party. As it was believed that Metcalf would
never be able to keep the course, large odds were taken against
him ; but by the ingenious plan of stationing persons with bells
at different jDoints, he not only kept the circle, but won the race.



At the age of twenty-one, John Metcalf was six feet one inch
and a half in height, and extremely robust in person. He was
so lively in spirits, and so quick in his motions, that few per-
ceived his want at a casual glance ; nor durst any one presume
so far upon his defects as to ill-use or insult him. Not deterred
by his privation, he paid his addresses to Miss Benson, the
daughter of a respectable innkeeper at Ilarrovvgate, to whom he
was married. After assuming* this serious engagement, he con-
tinued to perform during- every season at Harrowgate, increasing
his income by keeping a chaise or two for hire. Being indefa-
tigable in his search for means of bettering the condition of his
family, he also travelled, at intervals of professional leisure, to the
coast for fish, which he brought to the markets of Leeds and
Manchester. Such was his quickness and ingenuity, that no ac-
cident ever happened to himself or his horses on these journeys.

When the rebellion broke out in 1745, Metcalf's stirring spirit
led him to join the Eng-lish army as a musician, and he remained
with them up till the victory of Culloden. He then returned
home, but not until he had formed a plan of future employment
from what he had learned — for we can scarcely say observed —
in Scotland. He adopted the idea that a number of the cotton
and worsted manufactures of the north would sell well in Eng-
land, and accordingly he made one or two journeys back to
Scotland for these stuffs, which he disposed of in Yorkshire.
Among a thousand articles, he knew exactly what each cost him,
from a peculiar mode of marking. Still this trafficking did
not prove suitable for a permanent line of life, and in 1751 he
commenced driving a stage -wagon, twice a- week in summer
and once in winter, between York and Knaresborough. This,
employment apparently drew his attention to the subject of
roads, and fixed him in the pursuit which finally gained him
his chief celebrity, and proved a source of no slight advan-
tage to his country. During his leisure hours he had studied
mensuration in a way peculiar to himself, and when certain
of the girth and length of any piece of timber, could re-
duce its contents to feet and inches, or could bring the
dimensions of any building into yards and feet. In short, he
had formed for himself accurate and practical modes of mensu-
ration. At this time it chanced that a new piece of road, about
three miles long, was wanted between Fearnsby and Minskip.
Being well acquainted with the locality, he proposed to contract
for it, and his offer was accepted. The materials for the road
were to be taken from one quarry, and there, with his wonted
activity, he erected temporary houses, hired horses, fixed racks
and mangers, and set the work a-going with great spirit. He
completed the road much sooner than was expected by the trus-
tees, and in every way to their satisfaction.

Thus commenced the most remarkable portion of this man's
life. Metcalf soon undertook other road contracts, and, strange



to say, succeeded in laying' down good lines where others were
hopeless of success. In Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, and
Derbyshire, during- a period of nearly forty years, he pursued
the employment of road-making* and bridge-building, being by
far the most noted and esteemed follower of such occupations in
those parts. The large bridge at Boroughbridge, and various
others, might be named as proofs of his abilities and success. An
anecdote is told which will exhibit the ingenious way in which
he overcame difficulties which staggered other surveyors. Among
the numerous roads for which he contracted was one on the Man-
chester line between Blackmoor and Standish-Foot. The original
surveyor took the new line over deep marshes, which, in the
opinion of the trustees and all concerned, seemed only passable
by cutting or digging the earth till a solid bottom was found.
This plan appeared to Metcalf tedious and expensive, and he
attempted to prove to the trustees that such was the case ; but
they were iixed in their orig'inal views, and only permitted the
blind road-maker to follow his own way, on condition that he
should afterwards execute their plan if his own failed. Metcalf
began to his task. The worst part of the line was on Standisli
Common, where a deep bog existed, v/hich it seemed impossible
to cut a road through. Metcalf set his men to work in cuttino-
a line, and draining- off the water, as far as that was possible. So
little progress, however, was at first made, that everybody
laughed at the poor blind man, Avho, it was thought, would have
g-iven up the task in despair had he had his eyes like other
people. Nevertheless he proceeded unweariedly, until he had
levelled the bog across, and he then ordered his men to collect
heather or ling, and bind it in round bundles which they could
span with their hands., These bundles were laid down close
together on the cut line, and successive bundles laid over them
again, after which they were covered and pressed down with
stones and gravel. The issue was, that this portion of the road,
when completed, was so remarkably firm and good, that it needed
no repairs for twelve years, Avhile other parts required frequent
repairs. Even in winter it was perfectly dry.

It was Metcalf's custom, in making purchases of wood, hay,
or stones, to span the articles with his arms, and then calculate
the amount mentally. Having learned the height, he could tell
with great accuracy what number of square yards were contained
in a stack of grain, of any value between one and five hundred
pounds. His memory was astonishing', and it was no doubt
principally by this faculty that he was enabled to traverse so
many towns, and ride along so many roada. While in York, on
one occasion, a friend of his, the landlord of the George inn,
asked him as a personal favour to guide a g-entleman towards
Harrowgate. This place lay in Metcalfs own way, and he
agreed to the request upon condition that his blindness was
kept a secret from the gentleman. The pair accordingly started,



both on horseback, and Metcalf taking' the lead. By a little
dexterity, Metcalf contrived to pass some g'ates without leading"
to a suspicion of the truth, and finally the travellers entered a
forest beyond Knaresborough, where there was as yet no turn-
pike. Evening came on, and by asking* his companion if he
saw lights in particular directions, INIetcalf brought the journey
to a safe close, thoug'h in those days a man with all his eyes about
him might well have stra^'ed from the path. On landing* at the
Granby inn, the two travellers took some warm liquor, after which
Metcalf retired. Having noticed some difficulty on the part of
his companion in lifting- the glass, the gentleman remarked to the
landlord that his guide had surely taken drink since his arrival.
^' I judg'e so," added he, " from the appearance of his eyes."' " Eyes !
bless you, sir, don't you know that he is blind ?" " Blind ! " cried
the traveller; "surely that cannot be; he acted as my guide." " I
can assure jou, sir, he is as blind as a stone ; but you shall judge
for yourseli'." Metcalf was called in, and his late companion, yet
trembling with agitation, exclaimed, " Had I known your con-
dition, sir, I would not have ventured wnth you for a hundred
pounds ! " " And I," said Metcalf, " would not have lost my
way for a thousand ! "

The nicety of touch which Metcalf had acquired was very
wonderful. He could play at cards with no other guide ; and
when persons were by on whom he could depend, he frequently
played for serious stakes, and won through the advantage of his
"uncommon memory. Even when no friend was near him, it
would have been very difficult for an opponent to have taken
unfair advantage, such was his acuteness of ear and powers of
observation. One occasion is mentioned where he won eighteen
gmineas from strangers at cards.

In the summer of 1788, Mr Metcalf lost his wife, who had
brought him four children. He had before this realised a hand-
some sum by his road and bridge contracts, but he lost consider-
ably in his old days by some cotton speculations into which he
was led by his enterprising spirit. In 1792, he gave up his
extensive eng-agements, and settled at Spotsforth, near Wetherby,
in his native county. Here, having' retained as much of his
fortune as to secure a comfortable independence, he spent his
latter days in happy ease in the bosom of his family. He died
in the year 1802.

Of the attainment of skill in the arts by the blind, we have
perhaps a still more remarkable case in that of the late Mr Strong
of Carlisle. Although. blind from birth, he acquired a thorough,
knowledg-e of diaper weaving-, and was an adept in various mecha-
nical arts ; among other things, he constructed many articles
of household furniture, and the model of a loom with a tigure
working it. The following anecdote is related of him while a
boy of fifteen years of age. He concealed himself one afternoon



in tlie cathedral during- the time of service ; after the congreg-a-
tion was gone and the doors shut, he got into the organ-loft,
and examined every part of the instrument. This had engaged
his attention till about midnight, vs^hen, having* satisfied himself
respecting the g'eneral construction, he proceeded to try the tones
of the different stops and the proportion they bore to each other;
this experiment was not to be conducted in so silent a manner.
In short, the noise alarmed the neighbourhood, and some people
went to see what was the matter, when Joseph was found playing-
the organ. The next day he was taken before the dean, who,
after reprimanding* him for the step he had taken in order to
gratify his curiosity, gave him leave to play it whenever he
pleased. In consequence of this, he set about making a chamber
organ, which he completed without the assistance of anybod}^.
He sold this instrument to a mechanic in the Isle of Man, where
it is still to be seen. Soon after this he made another, on which
he played both for amusement and devotion.

In Scotland some interesting cases of blind persons arriving
at dexterity in the arts could be produced. We have seen many
figures of fair proportions and of delicate finish come from the
hand of a blind man — his only instruments being the blades of
a common pocket-knife. The daily work of another whom we
knew was the fashioning of, ornamental spoons, paper-folders,
and the like, by which he gained for himself a more than com-
fortable livelihood. We believe the Laurencekirk snuff-boxes
were originally executed by a blind man, and certainly nothing
could surpass them for accuracy of form and beauty of finish.
What is more wonderful, there is (or was lately) residing in a
country town in Scotland, a blind person who follows the pro-
fession of an optician. This respectable individual grinds and
polishes lenses of all shapes with the most perfect accuracy, and
fits them to the exact focal distances with an aptitude which
could not be surpassed by any one possessing the most perfect
vision. That a person altogether blind is thus able to supply a
customer with exactly the kind of spectacles he requires, is surely
a fine instance of the compensatory powers in the human faculties
and energies. The ingenious individual to whom we refer pos-
sesses a touch so delicate that he can detect not only the most
minute flaw on the surface of a lens, but can tell where the form
departs in the least from the required convexity or concavity.
We have likewise heard it mentioned that he can by feeling
distinguish decided colours in cloth, such as black, red, green, or
blue, from others of a fainter tint.

There are, we believe, few districts in England and Scotland
which have not produced proficients on the violin who were
blind ; and in a like manner Ireland can show its illustrious
catalogue of blind performers on the national harp. Among the
most remarkable harp players of a past age, was the famous
Hempson, who died in 1807 at the age of 112, having been bora



in 1695. Hempson lost his sig-ht when three years old, and bein_^
taug-ht the harp while still a youth, he devoted himself with
extraordinary ardour to the playing- of the old national airs.
Travelling- from place to place with his harp, and playing" at the
houses of the nobility and gentry, where he was very acceptable,
he visited most parts of Ireland and Scotland; and in 1745 had
the honour of playing' before Prince Charles Stuart at Holyrood.
Latterly, when no long-er able to travel, he lived in the house of
his daughter ; and such was his attachment to his harp, that he
kept it constantly beside him in bed. A gentleman who visited
him in 1805, when he was 110 years of age, mentions that,
gratified with a call from an old friend, he started up in bed,
and tuning the ancient companion of his wandering's, played
some of the tine old airs of Ireland with indescribable feeling
and delicacy. Hempson left fcAV successors, the national instru-
ment having gone almost out of use in Ireland. There is still,
however, one blind Irish harper — we might call him the last of
the minstrels — Mr Patrick Byrne, who makes a livelihood by
playing to parties, and for this purpose he travels, like Hempson,
throug'h different parts of Eng'land and Scotland, as well as his
own country. Bja-ne is a well-informed, modest, and agreeable
man, and is a delig'htful performer on his instrument. Such is
his coniidence in himself, that he walks everywhere without a
guide : he successfully gropes his way through the streets of the
largest cities to the houses he intends to visit.

Of all the exploits in the way of travelling by blind persons,
we imagine none excels those of Mr James Holman, usually
fityled the blind traveller. Mr Holman was bred to the naval
profession, in which he had hopes of gaining distinction, when
at twenty-five years of age his prospects were irrecoverably
blig'hted by an illness leading' to loss of sight. After the distress-
ing feelings which accompanied the first shock of his bodily pri-
vation had in some degree subsided, the active mind began to
seek for occupation and amusement, and finally pitched on loco-
motion. Acquiring an insatiable thirst for moving about, and if
not seeing", at least hearing from description on the spot what each
place and scene was like, he began to travel into foreign countries.
Thus, between 1819 and 18-21 he travelled through France, Italy,
Savoy, Switzerland, parts of Germany bordering on the Rhine,
Holland, and Belgium, of all which countries he has published a
lively description. In 1827 he undertook a far grander expedition
— a voyag'e round the world, which occupied him till 1832. What
lie heard and felt during- this hazardous enterprise, which took
him through Africa, Asia, Australia, and America, has also been
described in a published narrative extending to several volumes.

Nothing more striking'lj^ exemplifies the pliaiicy of the human
faculties than the pleasure which this unfortunate gentleman
derives from his examinations of remote and obscure parts of the
globe, in the midst of numerous dangers and difBculties. Speak-



ing of an exploring* expedition on the coast of Africa in v/liicli
he was concerned, and which required him to march for several
days inland to visit a tribe of natives, he observes — " I have ever
throughout life, but pei'haps more particularly since the loss of
my sig-ht, felt an intense interest in entering into association
with human nature, and observing- human character in its more
primitive forms : this propensity I have previously had opportu-
nities of enjoying in some of the countries most remote from
European knowledg'e, amidst the wilds of Tartary and the deserts
of Siberia ; and I can refer to the indulgence of it many of my
more pleasurable emotions. I believe the intensity of my enjoy-
ment under the system I have adopted equals, if not surpasses,
what other travellers experience who journey with them open.
It is true I see nothing visibhj ; but, thank God, I possess most
exquisitely the other senses, which it has pleased Providence to
leave me endowed with ; and I have reason to believe that my
deticiency of sight is in a considerable degree compensated by a
greater abundance of the powers of the imagination which en-
ables me to form ideal pictures from the description of others,
which, as far as my experience goes, I have reason "to believe
constitute fair and correct representations of the objects they
were originally derived from." We may safely aver that after
the success which has attended Mr Holman's efforts, no man
need be afraid to travel over the world blindfold.

It may have been remarked by those who have given attention
to the physical disabilities of the blind, the deaf, and the dumb,
that blindness alone is much less a disqualification in point of
mental aptitude than congenital deafness. The difference arises
from the impossibility of conveying intelligence to the mind by
spoken language. The blind can be made to comprehend many
things by means of oral communication, which the deaf cannot
readily acquire by any species of literature. Spoken language
is the means pointed out by nature to communicate ideas, to
express emotions and sentiments of every kind ; literature, at
best, is only an auxiliary, and fails to convey the refinements of
expression, the delicacies of feeling, utterable by the tong'ue.
On this account, it may be doubted if the most accomplished
deaf and dumb scholar can be made to possess a nice perception
of philosophical reasoning, or be able to write with force, elo-
quence, and precision. In ordinary circumstances, deaf-mutes,
even after lengthened instruction, fail to write with grammatical
accuracy ; so much do they lose by never having heard spoken
language, and their ignorance of the value of sounds. We have
seen, in the foregoing notices, that blindness does not prevent
the attainment of a certain proficiency in arts requiring a know-
ledge of the beautiful and the exact in form. The deaf-mute
from birth, however, rarely attains this distinction. We hear
of a hundred blind musicians and poets for one congenitally
deaf painter; sculptor, or author.



Among- tlie long: roll of blind poets who have g-ained a death-
less fame for their effusions, two distinguished names will readily
occur to remembrance — those of Homer and Milton. Happily
for themselves these renowned followers of the Muses had not
been always blind, and having made good use of their eyes in
youth, they had little difficulty in presenting finished pictures
of natural scenery and other visible objects of creation which are
to be found in their compositions. Blind Plarry, an eminent
Scottish poet of the era of Chaucer, was less fortunate, as he was
blind from birth, yet has presented many vivid descriptions of
natural scenery. Dr Blacklock, the early friend and patron of
Burns, blind from infancy, left behind him poetical compositions
remarkable for their taste and feeling. But of modern blind
poets none has excelled Carolan, the celebrated Irish musician
and lyrical writer. A piece which he composed in his native
Irish on the death of his wife — an event he did not long survive
— has been generally admired. From a translation we extract
the foUowinsr lines.


" Once every tlionglifc and every scene was gay,

Friends, mirth, and music, all my hours employed —
Now doomed to mourn my last sad j'ears away,

My life a solitude, my heart a void !
Alas, the change ! — to change again no more —

For every comfort is with Mary lied ;
And ceaseless anguish shall her loss deplore,

Till age and sorrow join me with the dead.

Adieu each gift of nature and of art,

That erst adorned me in life's early prime !
The cloudless temper, and the social heart !

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 37 of 59)