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different degrees of intellect in others, and that she soon
regarded, almost with contempt, a new-comer, when, after a few
days, she discovered her weakness of mind. This unamiable part of
her character has been more strongly developed during the past
'She chooses for her friends and companions, those children who are
intelligent, and can talk best with her; and she evidently dislikes
to be with those who are deficient in intellect, unless, indeed,
she can make them serve her purposes, which she is evidently
inclined to do. She takes advantage of them, and makes them wait
upon her, in a manner that she knows she could not exact of others;
and in various ways shows her Saxon blood.
'She is fond of having other children noticed and caressed by the
teachers, and those whom she respects; but this must not be carried
too far, or she becomes jealous. She wants to have her share,
which, if not the lion's, is the greater part; and if she does not
get it, she says, "MY MOTHER WILL LOVE ME."
'Her tendency to imitation is so strong, that it leads her to
actions which must be entirely incomprehensible to her, and which
can give her no other pleasure than the gratification of an
internal faculty. She has been known to sit for half an hour,
holding a book before her sightless eyes, and moving her lips, as
she has observed seeing people do when reading.
'She one day pretended that her doll was sick; and went through all
the motions of tending it, and giving it medicine; she then put it
carefully to bed, and placed a bottle of hot water to its feet,
laughing all the time most heartily. When I came home, she
insisted upon my going to see it, and feel its pulse; and when I
told her to put a blister on its back, she seemed to enjoy it
amazingly, and almost screamed with delight.
'Her social feelings, and her affections, are very strong; and when
she is sitting at work, or at her studies, by the side of one of
her little friends, she will break off from her task every few
moments, to hug and kiss them with an earnestness and warmth that
is touching to behold.
'When left alone, she occupies and apparently amuses herself, and
seems quite contented; and so strong seems to be the natural
tendency of thought to put on the garb of language, that she often
soliloquizes in the FINGER LANGUAGE, slow and tedious as it is.
But it is only when alone, that she is quiet: for if she becomes
sensible of the presence of any one near her, she is restless until
she can sit close beside them, hold their hand, and converse with
them by signs.
'In her intellectual character it is pleasing to observe an
insatiable thirst for knowledge, and a quick perception of the
relations of things. In her moral character, it is beautiful to
behold her continual gladness, her keen enjoyment of existence, her
expansive love, her unhesitating confidence, her sympathy with
suffering, her conscientiousness, truthfulness, and hopefulness.'
Such are a few fragments from the simple but most interesting and
instructive history of Laura Bridgman. The name of her great
benefactor and friend, who writes it, is Dr. Howe. There are not
many persons, I hope and believe, who, after reading these
passages, can ever hear that name with indifference.
A further account has been published by Dr. Howe, since the report
from which I have just quoted. It describes her rapid mental
growth and improvement during twelve months more, and brings her
little history down to the end of last year. It is very
remarkable, that as we dream in words, and carry on imaginary
conversations, in which we speak both for ourselves and for the
shadows who appear to us in those visions of the night, so she,
having no words, uses her finger alphabet in her sleep. And it has
been ascertained that when her slumber is broken, and is much
disturbed by dreams, she expresses her thoughts in an irregular and
confused manner on her fingers: just as we should murmur and
mutter them indistinctly, in the like circumstances.
I turned over the leaves of her Diary, and found it written in a
fair legible square hand, and expressed in terms which were quite
intelligible without any explanation. On my saying that I should
like to see her write again, the teacher who sat beside her, bade
her, in their language, sign her name upon a slip of 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 exquisite,
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 certainly had not seen
her for many months. My hand she rejected at once, as she does
that of any man who is a stranger to her. But she retained my
wife's with evident pleasure, kissed her, and examed 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
of her teacher touching her lips, she immediately desisted, and
embraced her laughingly and affectionately.
I had previously been into another chamber, where a number of blind
boys were swinging, and climbing, and engaged in various sports.
They all clamoured, as we entered, to the assistant-master, who
accompanied us, 'Look at me, Mr. Hart! Please, Mr. Hart, look at
me!' evincing, I thought, even in this, an anxiety peculiar to
their condition, that their little feats of agility should be SEEN.
Among them was a small laughing fellow, who stood aloof,
entertaining himself with a gymnastic exercise for bringing the
arms and chest into play; which he enjoyed mightily; especially
when, in thrusting out his right arm, he brought it into contact
with another boy. Like Laura Bridgman, this young child was deaf,
and dumb, and blind.
Dr. Howe's account of this pupil's first instruction is so very
striking, and so intimately connected with Laura herself, that I
cannot refrain from a short extract. I may premise that the poor
boy's name is Oliver Caswell; that he is thirteen years of age; and
that he was in full possession of all his faculties, until three
years and four months old. He was then attacked by scarlet fever;
in four weeks became deaf; in a few weeks more, blind; in six
months, dumb. He showed his anxious sense of this last
deprivation, by often feeling the lips of other persons when they
were talking, and then putting his hand upon his own, as if to
assure himself that he had them in the right position.
'His thirst for knowledge,' says Dr. Howe, 'proclaimed itself as
soon as he entered the house, by his eager examination of
everything he could feel or smell in his new location. For
instance, treading upon the register of a furnace, he instantly
stooped down, and began to feel it, and soon discovered the way in
which the upper plate moved upon the lower one; but this was not
enough for him, so lying down upon his face, he applied his tongue
first to one, then to the other, and seemed to discover that they
were of different kinds of metal.
'His signs were expressive: and the strictly natural language,
laughing, crying, sighing, kissing, embracing, &c., was perfect.
'Some of the analogical signs which (guided by his faculty of
imitation) he had contrived, were comprehensible; such as the
waving motion of his hand for the motion of a boat, the circular
one for a wheel, &c.
'The first object was to break up the use of these signs and to
substitute for them the use of purely arbitrary ones.
'Profiting by the experience I had gained in the other cases, I
omitted several steps of the process before employed, and commenced
at once with the finger language. Taking, therefore, several
articles having short names, such as key, cup, mug, &c., and with
Laura for an auxiliary, I sat down, and taking his hand, placed it
upon one of them, and then with my own, made the letters KEY. He
felt my hands eagerly with both of his, and on my repeating the
process, he evidently tried to imitate the motions of my fingers.
In a few minutes he contrived to feel the motions of my fingers
with one hand, and holding out the other he tried to imitate them,
laughing most heartily when he succeeded. Laura was by, interested
even to agitation; and the two presented a singular sight: her
face was flushed and anxious, and her fingers twining in among ours
so closely as to follow every motion, but so slightly as not to
embarrass them; while Oliver stood attentive, his head a little
aside, his face turned up, his left hand grasping mine, and his
right held out: at every motion of my fingers his countenance
betokened keen attention; there was an expression of anxiety as he
tried to imitate the motions; then a smile came stealing out as he
thought he could do so, and spread into a joyous laugh the moment
he succeeded, and felt me pat his head, and Laura clap him heartily
upon the back, and jump up and down in her joy.
'He learned more than a half-dozen letters in half an hour, and
seemed delighted with his success, at least in gaining approbation.
His attention then began to flag, and I commenced playing with him.
It was evident that in all this he had merely been imitating the
motions of my fingers, and placing his hand upon the key, cup, &c.,
as part of the process, without any perception of the relation
between the sign and the object.
'When he was tired with play I took him back to the table, and he
was quite ready to begin again his process of imitation. He soon
learned to make the letters for KEY, PEN, PIN; and by having the
object repeatedly placed in his hand, he at last perceived the
relation I wished to establish between them. This was evident,
because, when I made the letters PIN, or PEN, or CUP, he would
select the article.
'The perception of this relation was not accompanied by that
radiant flash of intelligence, and that glow of joy, which marked
the delightful moment when Laura first perceived it. I then placed
all the articles on the table, and going away a little distance
with the children, placed Oliver's fingers in the positions to
spell KEY, on which Laura went and brought the article: the little
fellow seemed much amused by this, and looked very attentive and