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two reasons. Firstly, because I am sure that nothing but senseless
custom and want of thought would reconcile us to the liveries and
badges we are so fond of at home. Secondly, because the absence of
these things presents each child to the visitor in his or her own
proper character, with its individuality unimpaired; not lost in a
dull, ugly, monotonous repetition of the same unmeaning garb:
which is really an important consideration. The wisdom of
encouraging a little harmless pride in personal appearance even
among the blind, or the whimsical absurdity of considering charity
and leather breeches inseparable companions, as we do, requires no
Good order, cleanliness, and comfort, pervaded every corner of the
building. The various classes, who were gathered round their
teachers, answered the questions put to them with readiness and
intelligence, and in a spirit of cheerful contest for precedence
which pleased me very much. Those who were at play, were gleesome
and noisy as other children. More spiritual and affectionate
friendships appeared to exist among them, than would be found among
other young persons suffering under no deprivation; but this I
expected and was prepared to find. It is a part of the great
scheme of Heaven's merciful consideration for the afflicted.
In a portion of the building, set apart for that purpose, are work-
shops for blind persons whose education is finished, and who have
acquired a trade, but who cannot pursue it in an ordinary
manufactory because of their deprivation. Several people were at
work here; making brushes, mattresses, and so forth; and the
cheerfulness, industry, and good order discernible in every other
part of the building, extended to this department also.
On the ringing of a bell, the pupils all repaired, without any
guide or leader, to a spacious music-hall, where they took their
seats in an orchestra erected for that purpose, and listened with
manifest delight to a voluntary on the organ, played by one of
themselves. At its conclusion, the performer, a boy of nineteen or
twenty, gave place to a girl; and to her accompaniment they all
sang a hymn, and afterwards a sort of chorus. It was very sad to
look upon and hear them, happy though their condition
unquestionably was; and I saw that one blind girl, who (being for
the time deprived of the use of her limbs, by illness) sat close
beside me with her face towards them, wept silently the while she
It is strange to watch the faces of the blind, and see how free
they are from all concealment of what is passing in their thoughts;
observing which, a man with eyes may blush to contemplate the mask
he wears. Allowing for one shade of anxious expression which is
never absent from their countenances, and the like of which we may
readily detect in our own faces if we try to feel our way in the
dark, every idea, as it rises within them, is expressed with the
lightning's speed and nature's truth. If the company at a rout, or
drawing-room at court, could only for one time be as unconscious of
the eyes upon them as blind men and women are, what secrets would
come out, and what a worker of hypocrisy this sight, the loss of
which we so much pity, would appear to be!
The thought occurred to me as I sat down in another room, before a
girl, 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, inclosed 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 soul might 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, whose intellectual capacity and
development were beautifully expressed in its graceful outline, and
its broad open brow; her dress, arranged by herself, was a pattern
of neatness and simplicity; 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, there had slowly risen up this
gentle, tender, guileless, grateful-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 enclosure, made by school-desks and
forms, writing her daily journal. But soon finishing this pursuit,
she engaged in an animated conversation 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 have extracted a few disjointed fragments of her history, from an
account, written by that one man who has made her what she is. It
is a very beautiful and touching narrative; and I wish I could
present it entire.
Her name is Laura Bridgman. 'She was born in Hanover, New
Hampshire, on the twenty-first of December, 1829. She is described
as having been a very sprightly and pretty infant, with bright blue
eyes. She was, however, so puny and feeble until she was a year
and a half old, that her parents hardly hoped to rear her. She was
subject to severe fits, which seemed to rack her frame almost
beyond her power of endurance: and life was held by the feeblest
tenure: but when a year and a half old, she seemed to rally; the
dangerous symptoms subsided; and at twenty months old, she was
'Then her mental powers, hitherto stinted in their growth, rapidly
developed themselves; and during the four months of health which
she enjoyed, she appears (making due allowance for a fond mother's
account) to have displayed a considerable degree of intelligence.
'But suddenly she sickened again; her disease raged with great
violence during five weeks, when her eyes and ears were inflamed,
suppurated, and their contents were discharged. But though sight
and hearing were gone for ever, the poor child's sufferings were
not ended. The fever raged during seven weeks; for five months she
was kept in bed in a darkened room; it was a year before she could
walk unsupported, and two years before she could sit up all day.
It was now observed that her sense of smell was almost entirely
destroyed; and, consequently, that her taste was much blunted.
'It was not until four years of age that the poor child's bodily
health seemed restored, and she was able to enter upon her
apprenticeship of life and the world.
'But what a situation was hers! 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:- they, 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 locomotion; 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 everything herself. She
even learned to sew a little, and to knit.'
The reader will scarcely need to be told, however, that the
opportunities of communicating with her, were very, very limited;
and that the moral effects of her wretched state soon began to
appear. Those who cannot be enlightened by reason, can only be
controlled by force; and this, coupled with her great privations,
must soon have reduced her to a worse condition than that of the
beasts that perish, but for timely and unhoped-for aid.
'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 strongly-marked, nervous-sanguine
temperament; a large and beautifully-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 with the inmates, the attempt was made to give
her 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 commenced herself, or to teach her the purely
arbitrary language 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 any thing. The former
would have been easy, but very ineffectual; the latter seemed very
difficult, but, if accomplished, very effectual. 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, distinguished that the crooked
lines SPOON, differed as much from the crooked lines KEY, 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
intellectual perception of any relation between the things.
'After a while, instead of labels, the individual letters were