AN ESSAY on the EDUCATION OF THE BLIND; or,
An Explication of the different Means, confirmed by successful Experiments, to render them capable of Reading by the Assistance of Touch, and of printing Books, in which they may obtain the Knowledge of Languages, of History, of Geography, of Music, &c. of performing the different Offices necessary in mechanical Employments, &c.
DEDICATED TO THE KING, By M. HAUY,
Interpreter to his Majesty, the Admiralty of France, and the Hotel de Ville, of the City of Paris; Member and Professor of the Academical Office for Writing, in which Ancient and Foreign Characters are taught to be read and ascertained.
Printed in the Original by BLIND CHILDREN, under the Superintendance of M. Clousier, Printer to the King, and sold for their Benefit at the House where they are educated, in the Street called Rue Notre Dame des Victoires.
Under the Patronage of the Academy of Sciences.
To the KING OF FRANCE.
The Protection with which your Majesty honours distinguished Talents ascertains your Claim to their Reverence and Respect. But when their Productions have a Tendency to console the Miseries of suffering Humanity, they have still a more powerful Title to attract the Attention of Louis the Beneficent. It was under the Influence of Sentiments inspired by a Title so amiable, which is deeply engraven on all the Hearts of France, that I conceived the Desire of presenting to your Majesty the Fruits of my Labours; if they have any Value, they will owe it to the double Advantage of appearing under a Patronage so august, and of becoming Vehicles to the Bounty expected from their Sovereign, by the Young and unhappy, who have been early deprived of the Benefit of Light, with all its numerous and important Resources.
I am, With the profoundest Respect, Sire, Your Majesty's most humble, most obedient, and most faithful Subject and Servant,
AMONGST the unfortunate, who have been deprived, whether from the instant of their birth, or by some early accident in the course of their lives, of that organ which most sensibly contributes to our enjoyment of the delights and advantages arising from society, there have been found some who, by the pregnancy of their genius, and the force and perseverance of its exertions, have found out for themselves certain employments, which they were able to execute, and by these pursuits have proved successful in alleviating the miseries of a situation, in itself so afflicting. Some of them, full of penetration, have enriched their memories with productions of genius, and have imbibed from the charms of conversation or from reading, at which they were happily present, knowledge of a nature and extent which it was impossible for them either to acquire or collect from their own internal resources alone, or from the precious repositories in which it was confined. Others, endued with a dexterity, which might do honour to the most enlightened artist, have performed mechanical tasks with an exactness, neatness, and symmetry, which could only have been expected from hands informed and regulated by the advantage of sight. But in spite of these happy dispositions in the blind, these marvellous exhibitions, which ought rather to be called prodigies, than natural events, could only be, in the persons by whom they were displayed, the slow results of indefatigable industry and obstinate application, and seemed alone to have been reserved for a small number amongst them, who were peculiarly prerogatived by nature, whilst the rest of their brethren appeared consigned by destiny to idleness, languor and dependence, without a possibility of escaping from a durance so horrible in its nature, and so permanent in its continuance. Thus with respect to all social utility and importance, people in these unhappy circumstances were to be accounted dead members, even in those societies where their existence was protracted, and its exigencies supplied; and the most part of them victims at once to the double calamity of blindness and indigence, had no other portion assigned them but the miserable and sterile resource of begging, for protracting, if we may so speak, in the horrors of a dungeon the moments of a painful and burdensome existence. It is to be essentially serviceable to this class of suffering mortals that I have invented a General Plan of Institution, which, by principles and utensils proper for their use, might facilitate to some of these what they could not otherwise accomplish, without almost insuperable difficulty, and render practicable to others, what it appeared impossible for them to execute. I felt the difficulty of this enterprise in its full extent, that it was too arduous to be performed by myself alone; I have therefore been assiduous in my researches for support and assistance. Beneficent characters have, on all hands, exerted themselves with ardour, that they might co-operate in promoting this labour of love. They have laid the foundation of a fabric whose structure will at once reflect honour on their own hearts and on the age which their lives adorn. Each of them indeed, with a laudable emulation, seems to have disputed with me for the cordial pleasure of perfecting and finishing a monument so congenial and so grateful to humanity; and I confess it with delight, if it was permitted to any to claim an honour from such an undertaking, it is they more than any one else, who have a just claim to that honour. I shall therefore avoid, in the sequel of this work, every expression which may seem to imply any design of appropriating that merit to myself; and I shall there speak only in the person of those who have insured their unalienable right to my gratitude, whether they have contributed to the maturity of this plan by the exertions of their understanding, or by any other means.
An ESSAY On The EDUCATION OF BLIND CHILDREN.
The Intention of this Plan.
Before we give an account of the motives of our institution, let us be permitted to say a few words on that readiness which we declare ourselves to possess, not only to answer all the objections which may be urged against us, but even to enter into a minute detail of all the circumstances, whose solution the public have a right to expect from us. Though there is scarcely any invention, which has not, by its novelty, excited the clamour of envy and of ignorance, we are bold enough to flatter ourselves that our plan has nothing to fear from the malignity of their attacks. The nature of our design; the wisdom of the age in which we live, the humanity of our countrymen, all these circumstances conspire to assure us, that we shall only have to resolve, in the sequel of this work, such difficulties as may be proposed by a wise and well-intended criticism; a criticism rather designed to favour our attempts, than to discourage us in their prosecution. It is with this hope that we are determined to answer every objection which shall appear to us, either as lying against the motives or plan of cultivation, which we have proposed for the blind. We will do more, we will endeavour to dissipate, in the imagination of our readers, every prepossession, even in our favour, which may deceive those who have not been present at our probationary exhibitions, and to whom the too zealous partizans of our plan may have represented as marvellous and unaccountable, such circumstances as are its natural and proper effects. In offering thus a faithful delineation of our method, considered in its proper point of view, it is our intention to leave no impressions on the minds of the public with respect to our establishment, but such real and just ideas as they ought to entertain: to teach the blind reading, by the assistance of books, where the letters are rendered palpable, by their elevation above the surface of the paper, and by means of this reading, to instruct them in the art of printing, of writing, of arithmetic, the languages, history, geography, mathematics, music, &c. to put into the hands of these unfortunate people such arts and occupations as are merely mechanical; spinning, for instance, knitting, book-binding, &c. From such an institution, two objects are in view, both of which benevolent men will own to be of importance.
First, To employ those among them who are in easy circumstances, in an agreeable manner. Secondly, To rescue from the miseries of beggary, those to whom fortune has been parsimonious of her favours, by putting the means of subsistence in their power; and, in short, to render useful to society their hands, as well as those of their guides.
SUCH is the end pursued by our institutions.
Answer to the Objection against the Utility of this Plan.
THE public has done us the justice unanimously to agree, that we have accomplished the first object of our institution, in presenting an amusement to the blind who share the bounties of fortune; and if any doubt have arisen, it can only be concerning the possibility of realising the hopes which we have given of blending in our establishment the useful with the agreeable. "In teaching your blind," say the objectors, "all the parts of education which you propose, can you have conceived the project of peopling the republic of letters and arts with men of learning, professors, and artists, each of whom, though blind, shall be capable of making a distinguished figure in these conspicuous departments, or can they even be certain of deriving the means of subsistence each from the labours of his own vocation?" No, we never pretend that those of the blind who even discover the most shining parts, shall enter into competition, either in the liberal sciences, or mechanical arts, with scholars or artisans who are blessed with the use of sight, even when their talents rise not above mediocrity; but when any or all of these provinces are not properly supplied with persons who, to the advantage of sight add professional abilities, the blind, may then exert their powers, whether natural or acquired, as well in promoting private as public utility; and in this view, it requires no mighty effort of courage to recommend them to the public benevolence and attention; and though their talents should not be sufficient to pre engage the general taste in their favour, or the necessity of employing them, so considerable as to open a resource for their exigencies, yet the force of humanity alone may be adequate to produce an effect so desirable. How often have we already seen beneficence ingenious in prescribing tasks to these unhappy labourers, that it might have an opportunity of supplying their indigence without wounding their delicacy. This is what at first occurs as an answer to the objection urged against the general utility of our plan, till our readers be convinced by a detail of this work, and still more effectually by experience, to what degree our scheme of education may be carried, and how essentially it may contribute to the subsistence of those among the blind who are born in the depth of want and obscurity.
Of Reading, as adapted to the Practice of the Blind.
READING is the only method of adorning the memory, so that it may command the stores which it has imbibed, with facility, promptitude, and method. It is, as it were, the channel through which every different kind of knowledge is communicated to us. Without this medium, literary productions could form nothing in the human mind but a confused heap of disarranged and fluctuating ideas. To teach the blind therefore to read, and to form a library proper for their use,must constitute the object of our first care. Before our time, various, but ineffectual experiments had been tried; sometimes, by the assistance of characters moving upon a board and raised above its surface (a); at other times, by the use of letters formed upon paper with the puncture of a pin (b), the principles or elementary characters of reading had been rendered obvious to the perception of the blind.
(a) It is without doubt, by these means that the blind man of Puiseaux, of whom M. Diderot speaks in his letter on the blind, page 8. taught his son to read. (b) We have seen some words thus marked by punctures upon cards in the hands of Mlle. Paradis. This virtuosa is 20 years of age; she was born in Vienna in Austria, the place of her ordinary residence. A kind of apoplexy deprived her suddenly of her sight, at the age of two years. She has principally applied herself to music, and constituted in 1784, at Paris, the chief pleasures of the spiritual concert.
Already had the wonders of the art of writing, which before had appeared chimerical, been realised. Already, under their touch, which was now found a substitute for vision, had the conceptions of the blind assumed a body. But these gross and imperfect utensils only presented to the blind the possibility of attaining and enjoying the pleasures and advantages of reading, without affording them the proper means for acquiring them. We had no difficulty in exploring them; their principles had existed for a long time, and were daily exhibited to our eyes. We had observed, that a printed leaf, issuing from the press, presented to the eye on the contrary side, the letters higher than its surface, but reversed both in their position and in their order.
We ordered typographical characters to be cast of the form in which their impression strikes our eyes, and by applying to these a paper wet, as the printers do, we produced the first exemplar which had till then appeared of letters whose elevation renders them obvious to the touch, without the intervention of sight. Such was the origin of a library for the use of the blind.
AFTER having successfully employed characters of different sizes, according as we found the touch of our pupils more or less delicate and susceptible, it appeared proper to us, at least during the first periods of our progress, to confine ourselves to that type which has been used in printing the greatest part of this work. This character appears to us as proper medium amongst those which can be felt and distinguished by different individuals who are deprived of sight, according to the various degrees of tactile nicety with which nature has endued them; or at least according to the degrees of sensibility which diversities of age or occupation may have left them. It will be easily conceived, that when these means are found, there is no more difficulty in teaching a blind person the principles of reading, than in teaching one, whose visual powers are in their highest perfection, and that the blind may pass, by an easy transition, from the perception of typographical to that of written characters. We do not here speak of characters written in the manner of those who see; for all our endeavours to form characters rising to the touch by the assistance of ink have proved abortive. We have therefore substituted in their place impressions made upon strong paper, with an iron pen, whose point is not slit. It is unnecessary to mention, that in writing to the blind we do not make use of ink, that the character is deeply impressed, distinctly separated, a little larger than common, and nearly of the same kind with those now in the hands of our reader; that, in short, we never write but on the side of the paper contrary to that which is read, and in such a manner that the position and order of the letters may appear proper when the page is turned. These precautions being scrupulously observed, the blind may read tolerably letters from their correspondents who see, those formed by their own hands, or by the hands of others in similar circumstances. (c) They will do more, they will equally distinguish, on the same paper, musical characters and others, rendered sensible by our method of procedure, as we shall immediately show in the sequel.
(c) M. Weissenbourg, a boy dwelling at Manheim, having become blind between the seventh and eighth year of his age, celebrated for the knowledge which he has acquired, has preserved the faculty of writing; but this advantage, which is only an object of curiosity, will become of real utility, if, as we hope, he adopts our method.
Answer to various Objections against the Method of Reading proposed for the Blind.
1. "The elevation of your characters will doubtless be very soon depressed," says an objector, "and of consequence no longer perceptible to the blind by touch." No person is ignorant of the acuteness of that sense in several individuals, who from their infancy have been obliged to use it, in order to supply the want of that which nature has denied them. A surface which appears the smoothest to our eye, presents to the fingers of the blind inequalities which escape the notice of that organ, though by its assistance those who see exult in being able to perceive the remotest stars that adorn the spacious concave of heaven; and when our pupils distinguish a typographical character by feeling, which may elude even a microscopic eye, when between the thickness of two given objects, if the one differs from the other only by the fourth part of a French line, they can clearly perceive that difference; when, in short, they read a series of words, after the elevation of the letters is depressed, what have we to fear from the frequent use of their books, except the absolute destruction of the volumes themselves, a misfortune to which those who see are equally liable?
2. "Your books," it is objected, "are too voluminous. You swell a 12mo to the enormous and unwieldy size of a folio; and by thus altering its convenient form, you render it less portable and useful." We might satisfy ourselves with answering to this objection that our art of printing is yet in its infancy, but progressive, and may perhaps one day become perfect, as that which is obvious to the sight has already done; that it may likewise have its Elzivers, its Barbous, its Peters, its Didot, &c. And since its commencement, how many and how important are the obligations which it already owes to M. Clousier printer to the King, who assists us by his advice with as much zeal as disinterestness?
We add, that, during the interval between its present and its more perfect state, we are employed in adapting a method of epitomising, which will considerably diminish the size of our volumes. Of this we hope to give the first specimen, in a work which will be immediately printed after this is finished. (d) Besides, we will make a selection of authors, nor shall any one enter into our press, but such works as by their reputation have merited that distinction; so that, on one hand, if by the magnitude of our characters we enlarge our volumes, on the other, we shall lessen them by a judicious abridgement; and perhaps one day the library of the blind may become the library of taste and learning.
(d) Examples of these abbreviations, within the capacity and reach of all readers, are in the Treatises of Philosophy, in the Dictionaries, the new Methods and other Elementary Books of Education.
3. "But confess then, that your blind scholars read slowly, and that the spirit of the most animated composition will evaporate beneath their fingers, while the words are languidly pronounced without energy and without emotion." Our pupils, it is true, read in slow succession; besides the little practice, which an institution so lately begun allows them in reading, they have the disadvantage of only perceiving one letter at once, as readers who see themselves must do, were their eyes obliged to traverse an opening between each letter, equal to the space occupied by one typographical character in this work.
But we hope that after frequent practice in reading, and in making use of the abbreviations we have mentioned above, our blind pupils will proceed with greater quickness. Besides, we have never entertained the ambition of qualifying them to be readers for princes, or to declaim in public with all the graces of oratory. Let them only, by means of reading, learn the elements of science; let them find in this exercise an effectual remedy against that intolerable melancholy, which corporeal darkness, and mental inactivity united in the same person, are too apt to produce; these ends attained, will fully accomplish our wishes.
4. "But what good purpose will it serve to teach the blind the letters? Why instruct them in the art of printing books for their peculiar use? They never will be able to read ours. And, from the knowledge which they will acquire by reading, will any considerable advantage result to society?" Permit us, in our turn, to ask you, To what purpose is it that books are printed amongst all the people who surround us, and exclusively intended for the peculiar use of each? Do you read the language of the Chinese, that of Malabar, or of Turkey? Can you interpret the Peruvian Quipos, and so many other tongues indispensably necessary to those who understand them? Should you then be transported to China, to the banks of the Ganges, to the Ottoman empire, or to Peru, you will there be precisely in the same predicament with one of our blind pupils. With regard to the utility which the knowledge of a blind man in reading may produce to society, without deviating from the sentiment expressed near the end of the following page of this work, we may with pleasure appeal for its reality to the experiment so often repeated under our own eyes, and of which the public itself has been a witness in our exhibitions, we mean the experiment of a blind child teaching one who saw to read (c ).
(c) According to the proposal made in advertisements, annunciations, and various intimations on the 3d of December 1786, page 3204, in the first article of demands, on the 5th of the same month we caused one of our blind to begin teaching a child who saw to read. During the lessons the master had beneath his fingers a white book, printed in relief for the blind, whilst the other had under his eyes the same edition in black. This child gave, for the first time, proofs of his advancement in the exercises performed by the blind at Versailles, during the Christmas holidays in the same year.
We appeal for its reality to the example of the blind person at Puyseaux (f).
(f) This blind person, as we have said before, note 11. gave to his son lessons in reading.
We appeal to you, in short, ye tender and respectable parents, born to a liberal share of fortune's favours, whose son is just entered into the world, but shall never see the light of heaven; what a sensible satisfaction it is to us to find ourselves in a capacity to alleviate the transports of your grief! Yes, our plan of education bids fair on one hand to restore to your son, already tenderly loved, the dearest prerogative of intellectual existence; on the other, to furnish you with the means of gratifying those desires with which your taste for learning and genius inspires you, to procure him an education worthy of a child born in a distinguished rank. And you men of learning, who enlighten us by your exertion of corporeal sight, if the fatigues of unremitted labour for our instruction should one day extinguish that organ, permit us at that unhappy crisis to offer you the means, at once of continuing the benefit of your lessons to us, and to you the enjoyment of an advantage of which they are in some measure the agreeable fruits. Homer, Belisarius, and Milton, afflicted with blindness, would with pleasure have consecrated to the service of their country those years of their lives which followed that catastrophe.
Of the Art of Printing, as practiced by the Blind for their peculiar use.
The analogy which the manner of reading adapted to the blind, has with their method of printing, having reduced us to the necessity of giving by anticipation, in detail, some circumstances which relate to the origin of their art of printing, it remains for us to explain the principal operations of that art, as adapted to their practice. It will be much the same case with respect to the mechanical operations of printing among the blind, as with those who see. It is doubtless impossible for every individual to have an exclusive possession of it (g).
(g) One knows how easy it is to abuse printing in all respects; and not satisfied with the rectitude of our intentions, and the indulgence with which people have honoured our infant printing; the productions of which bear a character of originality easily distinguishable, we have formed to ourselves an inviolable rule not to suffer any thing printed to issue from us without the sanction of M. Clousier, printer to the King, and which has not been executed under his eyes, or those of some person commissioned by him.
The necessity of habitually knowing and practicing the different branches of that art, the multiplicity and high price of the utensils requisite for its execution, the civil privileges with which its professors must be endued, all these conspiring obstacles limit its pursuit to a society of the blind, solely formed and intended for its practice. It is in our academy for their education where we hope to constitute the chief place, (if we may use the expression), from whence will issue such typographical productions, for instance, as are proper for the use of all the blind who in their misfortune shall have the sweet consolation of being born within the dominions of our Monarch (b).
(b) Till establishments similar to ours be formed in other nations, it will be a pleasure to us to cause to be printed in relievo, and in other languages, by our blind pupils, books destined for the use of strangers who are deprived of sight.
Let us proceed to the manner in which our blind pupils perform their typographical labours. We have given to their cases the order of the alphabet, so as to preserve, immediately under their hands, the characters which they shall have most frequent occasion to use. We preferred that distribution under the apprehension that the blind would be less clever than we have really found them. It is upon the same principle that we make them set their types in a case lined with a copper bottom, and pierced with several lines of small holes, from whence, by the assistance of a pointed instrument, they bring out the types which are to be changed. It is upon the same principle that we cause to be adjusted, in the inside of these cases, iron rulers, (moveable by means of their screws), one at the side, and the other at the bottom of the page, to keep the lines in it regular. It is, in short, upon the same principle that we raise these cases horizontally in longitude upon four feet, of which the two that support the upper end of the page are one half lower than those upon which the under end rests; so that without making use of a composing-stick, the blind compositor may place the words at proper distances, and that they may not be inverted whilst he is composing the remainder of the page.
The way in which the typographical characters of the blind present themselves, naturally indicates that the arrangement ought to be made from left to right, as we have observed in chap. 3d. And in order to make reading easy to the blind, at least in the first periods of their education, it may prove a happy expedient to leave spaces between the words, and even sometimes between the letters. It is easy to see that when one prints in relievo, he cannot print on the other side without being in danger of destroying the former impression, by tracing which with their finger only, the blind can read. Likewise, for preserving the pages in the same order that they have in books for the use of those who see, the blind are obliged to paste together, back to back, by their extremities, the four pages of a sheet coming from the press; and then the arrangement of the cases is made in an order different from that of persons who see. Thus the leaves being pasted, they form them into books, by simply stitching and covering them with pasteboard, without beating them.
The office of the ordinary printing-press is easily done, by help of a cylindrical press, which is moved by a lever from one extremity to the other, along two bars of iron, between which are placed the forms, or pages that are set, after the manner of printers (i).
(i) This press is the invention of Sieur Beaucher, chief lock-smith. It has amply and successfully accomplished our wishes, as to the facility with which it is managed without any great effort by a blind child, and by which it admits the mechanism which we have adapted to it. We believe, however, that a perpendicular pressure given to the whole leaf, at the same instant, will leave behind it a more solid impression; we hope to find this in a press of another kind, which the Sieur Beaucher has described to us.
We may employ with success the same process for printing in relievo for the use of the blind, musical characters, geographical maps, the principal strokes of designing, and, in general, of all the figures of which the knowledge may be obtained by means of touch. It is upon account of these last objects above all, that we hope the admirable discovery of M. M. Hoffman will be precious to the blind; we share by anticipation their sentiments of gratitude towards those estimable artists (k).
(k) Although in pages 8 and 14 of this work we have not repeated the names of some of the distinguished printers whom we have heard celebrated, we cannot forbear to confess, that according to our manner of thinking, there are many others who appear to us to exercise their employment with eclat. We even perceive, in those who compose the body of this society, a general emulation. And obliged, by the nature of our institution, to serve a kind of apprenticeship to this art, we would quote with pleasure a considerable number of well-known productions from different presses which leave no further improvement to be wished; as well for the neatness of the characters, as for the choice of paper, and which have served us as models in the study of printing which we had to go through. Besides, far from erecting ourselves as judges in opposition to persons who cultivate the arts and sciences, whether from situation or taste, we praise even attempts that have not been crowned with success.
To the press of which we have spoken a little above, we have thought it proper to add a kind of tympanum, by the assistance of which, the blind may, at their pleasure, tinge with black, copies of an edition perfectly similar to those which they print on white paper for their own private use.
This procedure, which is equally applicable to music, to geographical maps, or to designs, &c. puts the blind artist in a capacity, not only of giving an account to himself of all the productions which he wishes to convey to those who see, but likewise easily to direct their studies by the similarity of copies, on the supposition of his being employed to give them lessons.
On the Art of Printing, as practiced by the Blind for the Use of Those who See.
If we have been happy enough to discover the means of rendering printing useful to the blind for their own use; if it is to us that they owe the advantage of henceforth possessing libraries, and of taking from books formed on purpose for themselves, notions of letters, of languages, of history, of geography, of mathematics, of music, &c. we are not the first who dared to try to make them impress their ideas upon paper by help of typographical characters. We have seen in the hands of Mademoiselle Paradis (l) a letter printed by her in the character called Pica, and in the German language, full of sentiments the most delicate, as well as the best expressed.
(l) This production was executed by the assistance of a little press which M. de Kempellan, the inventor of the automatic chess player, had formed for her.
This attempt gave birth in my mind to the idea of applying the blind to the art of printing for the use of those who see; it has succeeded with us in every kind of work, whether with large or common types, as one may judge by the different specimens which they have exhibited, and which are to [be] found at the end of this work, if they can possibly be procured.
After our manner of proceeding, the blind, formed according to our institution, compose a typographical plate in imitation of these models, with so much more ease as they are almost continually of the same form; it suffices to write for them the subject with a pen of iron, of which the top is not split, or with the handle of a pen-knife, as we have shown above in the 3d chapter.
After having exercised the blind upon the different branches of the art of printing, in the manner of those who see, there are found few kinds in which they have not succeeded. We have seen them successively compose, adjust, impress, moisten the paper, touch it, print, &c. &c. (m).
(m) If there is any operation among the blind which requires to be directed by those who see; it is printing for the use of these last we acknowledge. This speculation has been often repeated to us upon other different branches of our institution. But have not clear-sighted persons who labour at the press themselves need of a guide, to whose skill they are obliged to pay deference? And in the other states of life do we not see persons more enlightened, directing those who are less, whilst those are in a situation to conduct people less experienced than they? 'Tis thus that, in the day of battle, the general of an army gives orders, the intention of which his subaltern officers are ignorant. It was thus that the pilot conducts to the end of their voyage the learned academicians who are unskilled in the are of navigation.
We appeal, besides, to competent judges in that affair, and we refer our readers to the report of M. M. the printers, which agrees with that of the Academy of Sciences.
CHAP. VII. Of Writing.
The example of Bernouilli, who had taught a young blind girl to write, and that of M. Weissenbourg, who, deprived of sight from seven years of age, has procured for himself the advantages of fixing also his ideas upon paper by writing, have encouraged us to try the means of putting the pen into the hands of our pupils. But always occupied in our real point of view, that is to say, in rendering our institution in every respect useful to those individuals who were its objects, we have thought that it could not but be curious to cause the blind to write, if they could arrive at reading their own hand; this is what engaged us in causing to be made for their use a pen of iron, the top of which was not split, and with which writing without ink, and supported with a strong paper, they produce upon it a character in relievo which they can afterwards read, in passing their fingers along the elevated lines on the back of the page. This elevation, however slight it may appear, is always sufficient, especially if care is taken to place below the paper upon which the blind write a soft and yielding surface, such as several leaves of wastepaper, of pasteboard, or of leather. With respect to the proper mechanism of teaching the art of writing to those who are born blind, it is by no means difficult to be executed; you have only to teach your pupil to trace, with a pointed instrument, the characters ranged in form of lines. But instead of directing the process of this pointed instrument by means of characters in relievo, as M. Weissenbourg has done, it is better to conduct it by letters graven hollow on some plate of metal. We have, besides this precaution, taken that of giving our printed letters the form of written, in order early to accustom the blind pupil to catch the resemblance. At last, when he has acquired the habit of distinguishing their forms, there remains nothing more for him to write straight but to place upon his paper a frame, internally furnished with small rising lines, parallel to the direction of the writing, and distant from one another about 9-10ths of an inch. These parallel lines serve to direct his hand, whilst he transports it from left to right, in order to trace the characters.
CHAP. VIII. Of Arithmetic.
We have admired the ingenious tablets of Saunderson (n), and those of M. Weissenbourg (o); the reason why we have adopted neither of these methods was from another view, viz. that we might preserve, without interruption, the strictest analogy possible between the means of educating the blind and those who see, we have thought that the manner of these last ought to be preferred. Likewise when our pupils calculate, one may follow their operations, step by step.
(n) The arithmetical table of Saunderson was formed by a board divided into small squares, placed horizontally, and separated one from the other at equal distances; each little square was pierced with nine holes, viz. one on the midst of each side. It was by the different positions of the pegs uniformly placed in different holes that Saunderson could express any kind of number.
(o) We have seen, in the hands of Mlle Paradis, arithmetical tables which we believe to have been those of M. Weissenbourg. But without a particular study, one cannot follow the operations which are performed by the help of these tables. We do not know if our pupil could operate with equal swiftness and certainty by these means as he could by those of persons who see, and we have no other merit but that of rendering them palpable to him.
We have caused to be made for them to this end, a board pierced with different lines of square holes, proper for receiving moveable figures and bars for separating different parts of an operation.
We have added, to render this board more useful, a case composed of four rows of little boxes, containing all the figures proper for calculation, and which are placed at the right hand of the blind person while he operates. The only difficulty which occurred was to represent all the possible fractions, without multiplying the characters which express them. We have thought of causing to be cast 10 simple denominators in the order of the figures 0, 1, 2, &c. even to 9 inclusively; and likewise 10 simple numerators in the same order, moveable, in order to be adapted at the head of the denominators. By means of this combination, there is not a fraction which our pupils cannot express.
One may see from what has been said, that our method has a double advantage.
1. A father of a family, or a tutor, can easily direct a blind child in the study of arithmetic. 2. This blind child, when once instructed, may also conduct, in his turn, the arithmetical operations performed by a child who sees.
The blind have, besides, so great a propensity for calculation, that we have often seen them following an arithmetical process, and correcting its errors, by memory alone.
CHAP. IX. Of Geography.
We owe to Madame Paradis the knowledge of geographical maps for the use of the blind. She herself had it from M. Weissenbourg: but we are astonished that neither the one nor the other has carried to a higher degree of perfection, the utensils which contribute to the study of that science.
They mark the circumference of countries by a tenacious and viscid matter, covering the different parts of their maps with a kind of sand mixed with glass, in various manners, and distinguish the order of towns by grains of glass of a greater or lesser size.
We are satisfied with marking the limits in our maps for the use of the blind, by small iron wire rounded; and it is always a difference either in the form or size of every part of a map, which assists our pupils in distinguishing the one from the other.
These means we have chosen in preference, on account of the ease which they afford us of multiplying, by the assistance of the press, the copies of our original maps for the use of the blind. It will, besides, be more apt than any other to offer itself to the execution of details the most delicate which can affect the touch of these individuals; and the first of our pupils have brought themselves to such admirable perfection in the use of geographical maps, that people see them with surprise, at our exhibitions, distinguish a kingdom, a province, an island, the impression of which is presented to them, independent of other parts of a map, upon a square piece of paper.
CHAP. X. Of Music.
In tracing the plan of the education of the blind, we have at first looked upon music only as an appendage fit for relaxing them after their labour. But the natural propensity in the greatest number of the blind for this art; the resources which it can furnish to several among them for their sustenance; the interest with which it inspires those who deign to be present at our exhibitions, have all forced us to sacrifice our own opinion to the general utility.
The blind have natural propensities for this art. A considerable number of them, deprived of the means of living, seize with eagerness, through necessity, an employment towards which their inclination had already so powerfully attracted them. It is only the want of instruction, without doubt, which reduces some of them to the necessity of wandering in the streets, from door to door, grating the ear by the aid of an ill-tuned instrument, or a hoarse voice, that they may extort an inconsiderable piece of money, which is frequently given them with an injunction to be silent (p).
(p) If the taste and inclination which certain blind persons have shown for the violin, or for such instruments as can easily be joined with it, were directed by art, perhaps they might make use of it for gaining more decently their livelihood. An estimable citizen*, who approves all the parts of our institution, without discovering for any of them a particular predilection, suggested to us in the course of one of our exhibitions, that one might usefully employ in the train[ing] [of] blind musicians at festivals.
*Mr. Thierry, Author of the Traveller's Almanack.
Others less unfortunate, and giving themselves up by choice to an instrument which affords them more resource, follow the career of Couperin, of Balbatre, of Sejan, of Miroir, of Carpentiers (q). (q) All the world knows the merit of Mr. Chauvet, blind organist of Notre Dame de Bonne-Nouvelle. They quote in France several other blind people, whose talents ascertain the utility of this study for our pupils. How comfortable for us will it be one day to have extracted from this art of harmony the means of subsistence for a part of those unfortunate people, and to have seen them become, by a happy choice, the instruments of beneficence.
Our institution will furnish all of them with assistance, whether in the study or practice of their art. Before our time, teachers of the blind were obliged to make them comprehend, by playing them over and over, the small pieces of music which they wished to execute. We have caused to be cast musical characters proper to represent upon paper all its possible varieties, by elevations on its surface in the manner of those which we have devised to represent words (r).
(r) It has been objected to us with propriety, that our blind pupils cannot execute and feel the musical characters at the same time, which people who see call performing at sight, but this never was the end which we proposed. What matters it though they perform a piece of music by heart, provided they perform it correctly and faithfully.
By the assistance of our printed music, then the blind pupil may learn at present the principles of that art, and impress on his memory the different pieces of music with which he wishes to enrich it (s).
(s) No person is ignorant how faithful and sure are the memories of the blind, and with what readiness they furnish them. It is likewise known, what a clear conception the greatest number of them discover in difficult operations of mind; talents so astonishing, that one would almost doubt whether nature was more parsimonious in her gifts with respect to them, or anxious to recompence them for those which she has refused.
He may likewise form to himself a library of taste, composed of the most enchanting musical productions; and in short he himself may transmit to us the fruits of his own genius (t).
(t) Mlle Paradis, who was employed in the study of composition during her continuance in Paris, and who then fought the means of figuring the cords, learned with pleasure that we were making trials on the same subject. We regret that her abrupt departure to go and reap under another climate the fruits of her talents, did not leave us time to offer her the result of our procedures, to assist her in fixing upon paper the matter of her study.
With respect to the music introduced into our particular exhibitions, we beg of our readers only to consider it as a decent recreation, which we have seen ourselves obliged to grant to our pupils. Our institution is, in its origin, a kind of work-house, the different artists and labourers of which amuse their toils from time to time with harmony. And we have, with less reluctance, permitted them to execute some little pieces, even in their public exercises, that the most part of the beneficent people, who have deigned to be present at them, have shown the most lively and sensible compassion on hearing their performances.
CHAP XI. Of the Occupations relative to Manual Employments, or Handicrafts.
Before the birth of our institution, some of the blind, doubtless fatigued with that wretched inactivity to which their deplorable situation seemed to condemn them, made efforts to shake it off. (u) Convinced of their fitness for several manual employments, we had no other anxiety but that of selection such tasks as were proper for them.
(u) Amongst the blind, who not having 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 work-houses 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.
Convinced of their fitness for several manual employments, we had no other anxiety but that of selecting such tasks as were proper for them. We applied them with success to spinning. (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.
(x) Blind children, who are under instruction in the house of our institution, spin by the assistance of the ingenious machine invented by the 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 order.
Their labours at the Boisseau (y), in making small walking 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.
(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 well as by giving animation to the individual figures it contains.
CHAP. XII. 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 matter. 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 professor 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 arithmetic. In short, there wants nothing but maps in relievo to direct their studies in geography; and so of other things (y).
(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 every thing 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.
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 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 Abbé 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 inflexions 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 conservation 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 eloquent 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.l' Abbe de l'Epée; 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 we could not extricate ourselves, to consecrate the leisure which the instruction of the blind left us to that of a young man found upon the coast of Normandy, 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 talk alone for M. l'Abbe de l'Epée. We propose to ourselves to give the history of this unfortunate young man. The composition of it shall be done by him, and the print by blind children. The whole shall 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 unfortunate young man.
CHAP XIII. 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 mathematics, 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).
(a) It was certainly a desirable and a 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 our 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, which can be executed by the blind, and which are at the end of this volume.
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 inculcate 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 sill 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 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.
An HISTORICAL SUMMARY Of the 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 day.
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 f 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 solicitations 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. Madamoiselle 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.
François le Sueur, struck with blindness in consequence of convulsions 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 and 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 followed with success. They demanded of us to see the result of our proceedings; we seized the favourable circumstance of an Academical 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 administration 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 Vergennes, M. le Baron de Breteuil, Mr. Comptroller 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; depositaries 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 cloyster, afar 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 instruct 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 obligations 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!
Very soon did our institution acquire a new degree of importance in the eyes of the public. Then they ceased to believe that the power of receiving by touch the education which we proposed, was restricted to an individual alone favoured with the propensities 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 establishment 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 experience, by the emotions of a heart disposed to favour the good, the public have been eager from all quarters to contribute to the expence of rearing a house which we have built for suffering nature.
The Royal Academy of Music performed on the 19th of February 1786, for the benefit of blind children, a concert, in which the audience were divided on one hand between the noble disinterestedness 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 Correspondence, disputed among themselves with emulation the agreeable 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 emulation, 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 advantage 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 shew 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.
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