|Chapter Title||Chapter III. BOSTON.|
|Newspaper Title||The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||American Notes for General Circulation|
BY CHARLES DICKENS.
In all the public establishments of Ame- rica, the utmost courtesy prevails. Most of our departments are susceptible of con- siderable improvement in this respect, but the Custom-house, above all others, would do well to take example from the United States, and render itself somewhat less odious and offensive to foreigners. The servile rapacity of the French officials is sufficiently contemptible ; but there is a surly boorish incivility about our men, alike disgusting to all persons who fall into their hands, and discreditable to the nation that keeps such ill-conditioned curs snarling about its gates. When I landed in America, I could not help being strongly
impressed with the contrast their Custom-
house presented, and the attention, polite- ness, and good humour, with which its officers discharged their duty.
As we did not land at Boston, in con- sequence of some detention at the wharf, until after dark, I received my first im- pressions of the city in walking down to the Custom house on the morning after our arrival, which was Sunday. I am afraid to say, by the way, how many offers of pews and seats in church for that morn- mg were made to us, by formal note of invitation, before we had halt finished our first dinner in America ; but if I may be allowed to make a moderate guess, with-
out going into nice calculations I should say, that at least as many sittings were proffered us as would have accommodated a score or two of grown up families. The number of creeds and forms of religion to which the pleasure of our company was requested, was in very fair proportion.
Not being able, in the absence of any change of clothes, to go to church that day, we were compelled to decline these kindnesses, one and all ; and I was re-
luctantly obliged to forego the delight of hearing Dr. Channing, who happened to preach that morning for the first time in a very long interval. I mention the name of this distinguished and accomplished man (with whom I soon afterwards had the pleasure of becoming personally ac- quainted), that I may have the gratification of recording my humble tribute of admi-
miration and respect for his high abilities and character, and for the bold philan- thropy with which he has ever opposed himself to that most hideous blot and foul disgrace—Slavery.
To return to Boston. When I got into the streets upon this Sunday morning, the air was so clear, the houses were so bright and gay, the signboards were painted in such gaudy colours ; the gilded letters were so very golden ; the bricks were so very red, the stone was so very white, the blinds and area railings were so very green, the nobs and plates upon the street doors so marvellously bright and twinkling, and all so slight and unsubstantial in appearance—that every thoroughfare in the City looked exactly like a scene in a pantomime. It really happens in the business streets that a tradesman, if I may venture to call anybody a tradesman, where every body is a mer- chant, resides above his store, so that many occupations are often carried on in one house, and the whole front is covered with boards and inscriptions. As I walked along, I kept glancing up at these boards, confidently expecting to see n few of them change into something ; and I never turned a corner suddenly without looking out for the clown and pantaloon, who, I had no doubt, were hiding in a doorway or behind some pillar close at hand. As to Harlequin and Columbine, I discovered immediately that they lodged (they are always looking after lodgings in a pantomime) at a very small clockmaker's, one story high, near the hotel ; which, in addition to various symbols and devices, almost covering the whole front, had a great dial hanging out—to be jumped through, of course.
The suburbs are, if possible, even more unsubstantial looking than the city. The white wooden houses (so white that it makes one wink to look at them), with their green jalousie blinds are so sprinkled and dropped about in all directions, with- out seeming to have any root at all in the ground, and the small churches and chapels are so prim and bright, and highly varnished, that I almost believed the whole affair could be taken up piecemeal, like a child's toy, and crammed into a little
The city is a beautiful one, and cannot fail, I should imagine, to impress all strangers very favourably. The private dwelling houses are, for the most part, large and elegant ; the shops, extremely good , and the public buildings handsome. The state-house is built upon the summit of a hill, which rises gradually at first, and afterwards by a steep ascent, almost from the water's edge. In front is a green enclosure, called the common. The site is beautiful, and from the top there is a charming panoramic view of the whole town and neighbourhood. In addition to a variety of commodious offices, it con- tains two handsome chambers ; in one the House of Representatives of the State hold their meetings ; in the other, the Senate. Such proceedings as I saw here, were conducted with perfect gravity and decorum, and were certainly calculated to inspire attention and respect.
There is no doubt that much of the intellectual refinements and superiority of Boston, is referable to the quiet influence of the University of Cambridge, which is within three or four miles of the City.
The resident professors at that university are gentlemen of learning and varied at- tainments, and are, without one excep- tion that I can call to mind, men who would shed a grace upon, and do honour to, any society in the civilized world. Many of the resident gentry in Boston and its neighbourhood, and I think I am not mistaken in adding, a large majority of those who are attached to the liberal professions there, have been educated at this same school. Whatever the defects of American universities may be, they dis-
seminate no prejudices ; rear no bigots ; dig up the buried ashes of no old super- stitions ; never interpose between the people and then improvement ; exclude
no man because of his religious opinions ; above all, in their whole course of study and instruction, recognise a world, and a broad one too, lying beyond the college
It was a source of inexpressible pleasure to me to observe the almost unperceptible, but not less certain effect wrought by this institution among the small community of Boston, and to note at every turn the humanising tastes and desires it has engendered ; the affectionate friendship to which it has given rise ; the amount of vanity and prejudice it has dispelled. The golden calf they worship at Boston is a pigmy compared with the giant effigies set up in other parts of that vast counting-
house which lies beyond the Atlantic ; and the almighty dollar sinks into something comparatively insignificant, amidst a whole Pantheon of better gods.
Above all, I sincerely believe that the public institutions and charities of this capital of Massachusetts are as nearly per- fect, as the most considerate wisdom, benevolence, and humanity, can make them I never in my life was more affected
by the contemplation of happiness, under circumstances of privation and bereave- ment, than in my visits to these establish-
It is a great and pleasant feature of all such institutions in America, that they are either supported by the State or assisted by the State ; or (in the event of their not needing its helping hand) that they act in concert with it, and are emphatically the people's. I cannot but think, with a view to the principle and its tendency to elevate or depress the character of the industrious classes, that a Public Charity is immeasurably better than a Private Foundation, no matter how munificently the latter may be endowed.
In our own country, where it has not, until within these latter days, been a very popu- lar fashion with governments to display any extraordinary regard for the great mass of the people, or to recognise their existence as improveable creatures, private charities, unexampled in the history of the earth, have arisen, to do an incalcu- lable amount of good among the destitute and afflicted. But the government of the country, having neither act nor part in them, is not in the receipt of any portion of the gratitude they inspire, and offering very little shelter or relief beyond that
which is to be found in the workhouse and
the jail has come, not unnaturally, to be looked upon by the poor rather as a stern master, quick to correct and punish, than a kind protector, merciful and vigilant in
the hour of need.
The maxim that out of evil cometh good, is strongly illustrated by these establish- ments at home ; as the records of the Prerogative Office in Doctors' Commons can abundantly prove. Some immensely rich old gentleman or lady, surrounded by needy relatives, makes upon a low average, a will a-week. The old gentleman or lady, never very remarkable in the best of times for good temper, is full of aches and pains from head to foot ; full of fancies and ca- prices ; full of spleen, distrust, suspicion, and dislike. To cancel old wills, and invent new ones, is at last the sole bu- siness of such a testator a existence ; and relations and friends (some of whom have been bred up distinctly to inherit a large share of the property, and have been, from their cradles, specially disqualified from devoting themselves to any useful pursuit, on that account) are so often and so unexpectedly and summarily cut off, and reinstated, and cut again, that the whole family, down to the remotest cousin, is kept in a perpetual fever. At length it becomes plain that the old lady or gentle- man has not long to live, and the plainer this becomes, the more clearly the old lady or gentleman perceives that every- body is in a conspiracy against their poor old dying relative ; wherefore the old lady or gentleman makes another last will —positively the last this time—conceals the same in a China teapot, and expires next day. Then it turns out, that the whole of the real and personal estate is divided between half a dozen charities ; and that the dead and gone testator has in pure spite helped to do a great deal of good, at the cost of an immense amount of evil passion and misery.
The Perkins Institution and Massachu- setts Asylum for the Blind, at Boston, is superintended by a body of trustees, who make an annual report to the Corporation. The indigent blind of that State are admitted gratuitously. Those from the adjoining State of Connecticut, or from the States of Maine, Vermont, 0r New Hampshire, are admitted by a warrant from the State to which they respectively belong ; or, failing that, must find security among their friends, for the payment of about twenty pounds English for their first year's board and in- struction, and ten for the second. "After the first year, say the trustees, an account current will he opened with each pupil, he will be charged with the actual cost of his board, which will not exceed two dollars per week ;" a trifle more than eight shillings English, "and he will be credited with the amount paid for him by the State, 0r by his friends, also with his earnings over and above the cost of the stock which he uses, so that all his earn- ings over one dollar per week will be his own. By the third year it will be known whether his earnings will more than pay the actual cost of his board ; if they should, he will have it at his option to re- main and receive his earnings, or not. Those who prove unable to earn their own livelihood will not be retained, as it is not desirable to convert the establishment into
an alms house, or to retain any but work- ing bees in the hive. Those who by physical or menial imbecility are disquali- fied for work, are thereby disqualified from being members of an industrious commu- nity, and they can be better provided for
in establishments fitted for the infirm.
I went to see this place one very fine winter morning ; an Italian sky above,
and the air so clear and bright on every side, that even my eyes, which are none of the best, could follow the minute lines and scraps of tracery in distant buildings. Like most other public institutions in America, of the same class, it stands a mile 0r two without the town, in a cheerful healthy spot ; and is an airy, spacious, handsome edifice. It is built upon a height commanding the harbour. When I paused for a moment at the door, and marked how fresh and free the whole scene was—what sparkling bubbles glanced upon the waves, and welled up every mo- ment to the surface, as though the world below, like that above, were radiant with the bright day, and gushing over in its fulness of light ; when I gazed from sail to sail away upon a ship at sea, a tiny speck of shining white, the only cloud upon the still, deep, distant blue—and, turning, saw a blind boy with his sightless face addressed that way, as though he too had some sense within him of the glori- ous distance ; I felt a kind of sorrow that the place should be so very light, and a stranger wish that for his sake it were darker. It was but momentary, of course, and a mere fancy, but I felt it keenly for
The children were at their daily tasks m different rooms, except a few who were al- ready dismissed, and were at play. Here, as in many institutions, no uniform is worn ; and I was very glad of it, for 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 per- sonal appearance even among the blind, or the whimsical absurdity of considering charity and leather breeches inseparable companions, as we do, requires no com-
Good order, cleanliness and comfort, pervaded every corner of the building. The various classes, who were gathered round their teachers, answered the ques- tions put to them with readiness and in- telligence, and in a spirit of cheerful con- test for precedence which pleased me very much. Those who were at play, were gleesome and noisy as other children. More spiritual and affectionate friendship appeared to exist among them, than would be found among other young persons suf-
fering 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 workshops for blind persons whose education is finished, mid
who have acquired a trade, but who can- not pursue it in an ordinary manufactory because of their deprivation. Several peo- pie were at work here, making brushes, mattresses, and so forth ; and the cheerful-
ness, industry, and good order discernible in every other part of the building, ex- tended 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 pur- pose, and listened with manifest delight to a voluntary on the organ, played by one of themselves. At its conclusion, the per- former, 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 condi-
tion unquestionably was ; and I saw that one blind girl, who (being for the time de- prived of the use of her limbs, by illness)
sat close beside me with her face towards
them, wept silently the while she listened.
It is strange to watch the face 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 ex- pressed with the lightening'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
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
Long before I looked upon her, the help
had come. Her face was radiant with in-
telligence and pleasure. Her hair, braided by her own hands, was bound about a head whose intellectual capacity and develop- ment were beautifully expressed in its graceful outline, and its broad open brow ; her dress, arranged by herself, was a pat- tern of neatness and simplicity ; the work she had knitted lay beside her ; her wri-- ting-book was on the desk she leaned upon.
From the mournful ruin of such bereave- ment 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 eye- lids. 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 com-
munication 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 frag- ments 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 pre-
sent 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 perfectly
"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 al- most entirely destroyed ; and, conse- qently, that her taste was much blunted.
" It was not until four years of age that the poor child's bodily health seemed re- stored, 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 or 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 com- municating 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
"At this time, I was so fortunate as to hear of the child, and immediately hasten- ed 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 4 th of October, 1837, they brought her to the
" For a while, she was much bewildered ; and after waiting about two weeks, until she became acquainted with her new lo- cality, and somewhat familiar with the inmates, the attempt was made to give her knowledge of arbitrary signs, by which she could interchange thoughts with
" 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 na- tural 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 individu- al thing, or to give her a knowledge of let- ters, by combination of which she might ex- press 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 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
" 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 hey upon the key, and the label spoon upon the spoon. She was encouraged here by the natural sign of approbation, patting on the
" The same process was then repeated with all the articles which she could handle ; and she very easily learned to paste 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 look 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 percep- tion of any relation between the things.
" After a while, instead of labels, the individual letters were given to her on detached bits of paper : they were arranged side by side so as to spell book, key, &c. ; then they were mixed up in a heap and a sign was made to her to arrange them herself, so as to express the words book, key, &c. ; and she did so.
" Hitherto, the process had been me- chanical, and the success about as great as teaching a very knowing dog a variety of tricks. The poor child had sat in mute amazement, and patiently imitated every thing her teacher did ; but now the truth began to flash upon her : her intellect began to work : she perceived that here was a way by which she could herself make up a sign of anything that was in her own mind, and show it to another mind ; and at once her countenance lighted up with a human expression : it was no longer a dog, or parrot : it was an im- mortal spirit, eagerly seizing upon a new link of union with other spirits ! I could almost fix upon the moment when this truth dawned upon her mind, and spread its light to her countenance ; I saw that the great obstacle was overcome ; and that henceforward nothing but patient and per- severing, but plain and straightforward,
efforts, were to he used.
" The result thus far, is quickly related, and easily conceived ; but not so was the process ; for many weeks of apparently unprofitable labour were passed before it
" When it was said above, that a sign was made, it was intended to say, that the action was performed by her teacher, she feeling his hands, and then imitating the
" The next step was, to procure a set of metal types, with the different letters of the alphabet cast upon their ends ; also a board in which were square holes, into which holes she could set the types ; so that the letters on their ends could alone be felt above the surface.
" Then, on any article being handed to her, for instance, a pencil, or a watch, she would select the component letters and arrange them on her board, and read them with apparent pleasure.
" She was exercised for several weeks
in this way, until her vocabulary became extensive : and then the important step was taken of teaching her how to represent the different letters, by the position of her fingers, instead of the cumbrous apparatus of the board and types. She .accomplished this speedily and easily, for her intellect had begun to work in aid of her teacher, and her progress was rapid.
" This was the period, about three months after she had commenced, that the first report of her case was made, in which it is stated that ' She has just learned the manual alphabet, as used by the deaf mutes, and it is a subject of delight and wonder to see how rapidly, correctly, and eagerly, she goes on with her labours. Her teacher gives her a new object, for in- stance, a pencil, first, lets her examine it, and get an idea of its use, then teaches her how to spell it by making the signs for the letters with her own fingers : the child grasps her hand, and feels her fingers, as the different letters are formed ; she turns her head a little on one side, like a person listening closely ; her lips are apart; she seems scarcely to breath ;
and her countenance, at first anxious, gra- dually changes to a smile, as she compre-
hends the lesson. She then holds up her tiny fingers, and spells the word in the manual alphabet ; next, she takes her types and arranges her letters ; and last, to make sure that she is right, she takes the whole of the types composing the word and places them upon or in contact with the pencil, or whatever the object may be.
"The whole of the succeeding year was parsed in gratifying her eager inquiries for the names of every object which she could possibly handle ; in exercising her in the use of the manual alphabet ; in extending in every possible way her knowledge of the physical relations of things ; and in proper
care of her health.
"At the end of the year a report of her case was made, from which the following
is an extract.
" 'It has been ascertained beyond the possibility of doubt, that she cannot see a ray of light, cannot hear the least sound, and never exercises her sense of smell, if she have any. Thus her mind dwells in darkness and stillness, as profound as that of a closed tomb at midnight. Of beauti- ful sights, and sweet sounds, and pleasant odours, she has no conception ; neverthe- less, she seems as happy and playful as a bird or a lamb ; and the employment of her intellectual faculties, or the acquire- ment of a new idea gives her a vivid plea- sure, which is plainly marked in her ex- pressive features. She never seems to re- pine, but has all the buoyancy and gaiety of childhood. She is fond of fun and frolic, and when playing with the rest of the children, her shrill laugh sounds loudest of the group.
" 'When left alone, she seems very happy, if she have her knitting or sewing, and will busy herself for hours : if she have no occupation, she evidently amuses herself by imaginary dialogues, or by re- calling past impressions ; she counts with her fingers, or spells out names which she has recently learned in the manual alpha- bet of the deaf mutes. In this lonely self-communion, she seems to reason, re- flect, and argue: if she spell a word wrong with the fingers of her right hand, she instantly strikes it with her left, as her teacher does, in sign of disapproba- tion ; if right, then she puts herself upon the head, and looks pleased. She some- times purposely spells a word wrong with the left hand, looks roguish for a moment and laughs, and then with the right strikes
the left, as if to correct it.
"'During the year she has attained great dexterity in the use of the manual alphabet of the deaf mutes ; and she spells out the words and sentences which she knows, so fast and so deftly, that only those accustomed to this language can follow with the eye the rapid motions of her fingers.
'"But wonderful as is the rapidity with which she writes her thoughts upon the air, still more so is the ease and accuracy with which she rends the words thus written by another ; grasping their hands in hers, and follow- ing every movement of their fingers, as letter after letter conveys their meaning to her mind. It is in this way that she con- verses with her blind playmates, and no- thing can more forcibly show the power of mind in forcing matters to its purpose, than a meeting between them. For if great talent and skill are necessary for two pantomimes to paint their thoughts and feelings by the movements of the body, and the expression of the countenance, how much greater the difficulty when darkness shrouds both, and the one can hear no sound !
" 'When Laura is walking through a passage way, with her hands spread before her, she knows instantly every one she meets, and passes them with a sign of re- cognition : but if it be a girl of her own age, and especially if it be one of her favourites, there is instantly a bright smile of recognition, and a twining of arms, a grasping of hands, and a swift telegraphing upon the tiny fingers ; whose rapid evolu- tions convey the thoughts and feelings from the outposts of one mind to those of the other. There are questions and an- swer, exchanges of joy or sorrow, there are kissings and partings just as between
little children with all their senses.'
" During this year, and six months after she had left home, her mother came to visit her, and the scene of their meet- ing was an interesting one.
" The mother stood some time, gazing with overflowing eyes upon her unfortunate child, who, all unconscious of her presence, was playing about the room. Presently Laura ran against her, and at once began feeling her hands, examining her dress, and trying to find out if she knew her ; but not succeeding in this, she turned away as from a stranger, and the poor woman could not conceal the pang she felt, at finding that her beloved child did
not know her.
" She then gave Laura a string of beads which she used to wear at home, which were recognised by the child at once, who, with much joy, put them around her neck, and sought me eagerly to say she understood the string was from
" The mother now tried to caress her, but poor Laura repelled her, preferring to be with her acquaintances.
" Another article from home was now
given her, and she began to look much in- terested ; she examined the stranger much closer, and gave me to understand that she came from Hanover ; she even endured her caresses, but would leave her with in- difference at the slightest signal. The distress of the mother was now painful to behold ; for, although she had feared that she should not be recognised, the painful reality of being treated with cold indiffer- ence by a darling child, was too much for
woman's nature to bear.
"After awhile, on the mother taking hold of her again, a vague idea seemed to flit across Laura's mind, that this could not be a stranger ; she therefore felt her hand very eagerly, while her countenance assumed an expression of intense interest ; she became very pale, and then suddenly red ; hope seemed struggling with doubt and anxiety, and never were contending emotions more strongly painted upon the human face : at this moment of painful uncertainty, the mother drew her close to her side, and kissed her fondly, when at once the truth flashed upon the child, and all mistrust and anxiety disappeared from her face, as with an expression of exceed- ing joy she eagerly nestled to the bosom of her parent, and yielded herself to her
"After this the beads were all un- heeded ; the playthings which were offered to her were utterly disregarded ; her play- mates, for whom but a moment before she gladly left the stranger, now vainly strove to pull her from her mother ; and though she yielded her usual instantaneous obedience to my signal to follow me, it was evidently with painful reluctance. She clung close to me, as if bewildered and fearful ; and when, after a moment, I took her to her mother, she sprang to her arms, and clung to her with eager joy.
" The subsequent parting between them, showed alike the affection, the intelligence, and the resolution of the child.
" Laura accompanied her mother to the door, clinging close to her all the way, until they arrived at the threshold, where she paused, and felt around, to ascertain who was near her. Perceiving the matron, of whom she is very fond, she grasped her with one hand, holding on convulsively to her mother with the other, and thus she stood for a moment : then she dropped her mother's hand, put her handkerchief to her eyes ; and turned round, clung sobbing to the matron ; while her mother departed, with emotions as deep as those
of her child.
" It has been remarked in former re- ports, that she can distinguish 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 com- panions, those children who are intelli- gent, 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 she 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 art 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 soliloquized 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 relation of things. In her moral character it is beautiful to behold her continual glad- ness, her keen enjoyment of existence, her expansive love, her unhesitating con- fidence, her sympathy with sufferings, her conscientiousness, truthfulness, and hope-
Such are the few fragments from the simple but most interesting and instruc- tive history o' Laura Bridgman. The name of her great benefactor and friend, who unites it, is Doctor 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 lo 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 uncon- scious of the presence of visitors ; but, having her hand placed in that of the gen- tleman who accompanied me, she imme- diately expressed his name upon her teacher's palm. Indeed her sense of touch is now so exquisite, that having been ac- quainted with a person once, she can recog- nise 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 retailed my wife's with evident plea- sure, 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 inter- course with her teacher. Her delight on recognising a favorite playfellow and com- panion—herself a blind girl—who silently, and with an equal enjoyment of the coming surprise, look 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 em- braced 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 anx- iety 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 con- tact 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 in- timately 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 pos- session of all his faculties, until three years and four months old. He was then at- tacked by scarlet fever : in four weeks be- came 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 examina- tion of every thing he could feel or smell in his new location. For instance, tread- ing 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 other cases, I omitted several steps of the process before employed, and commenced at once with the finger lan- guage. Taking therefore, several articles having short names, such as key, cup, mug, &c, and with Laura for an auxili- ary, I sat down, and taking his hand, placed it upon one of them, and then with my own, made the letters k-e-y. 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, in- terested even to agitation ; and the two presented a singular sight ; her face flushed and anxious, and her fingers twining in among ours so closely as to follow every motion, but so lightly 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 suc- ceeded, 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 half a dozen letters in half an hour, and seemed de- lighted 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, 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 imita- tion. He soon learned to make the letters for hey, pen, pin ; and by having the object repeatedly placed in his hand, he at least perceived the relation I wished to establish between them. This was evident, because, when I made the letters pin, or pen, or cups, he would select the article.
" The perception of this relation was not accompanied by that radiant flash of intelligence, and the glow of joy, which marked the delightful moment when Laura first perceived it. I then placed all the articles upon the table, and going away a little distance with the children, placed Oliver's fingers in the position to spell key, on which Laura went and brought
the article : the little fellow seemed to be much amused by this, and looked very attentive and smiling. I then caused him to make the letters bread, and in an in- stant Laura went and brought him a piece : he smelled at it ; put it to his lips ; cocked up his head with a most knowing look ; seemed to reflect a moment ; and then
laughed outright, as much as to say, ' Aha ! I understand how something may be made out of this.'
"It was now clear that he had the ca-
pacity and inclination to learn, that he was a proper subject for instruction, and needed only persevering attention. I therefore put him in the hands of an in- telligent teacher, nothing doubting of his rapid progress."
Well may this gentleman call that a delightful moment, in which some distant promise of her present state first gleamed upon the darkened mind of Laura Bridg- man. Throughout his life, the recollection of that moment will be to him a source of
pure, unfading happiness ; nor will it shine least brightly on the evening of his days of Noble Usefulness.
The affection that exists between these
two—the master and the pupil—is as far removed from all ordinary care and regard, as the circumstances in which it has had its growth, are apart from the common occurrences of life. He 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 and silent and scentless though it be to her, she has such a deep delight and glad enjoyment.
Ye who have eyes and see not, and have ears and hear not ; ye who are the hypo- crites of sad countenances, and disfigure your faces that ye may seem unto men to fast ; learn healthy cheerfulness and mild contentment from the deaf, and dumb, and blind ! Self-elected saints with gloomy brows, this sightless, earless, voiceless, child may teach you lessons you will do well to follow. Let that poor hand of her's lie gently on your hearts ; for there may be something in his healing touch akin to that of the Great Master whose precepts you misconstrue, whose lessons you pervert, of whose charity and sym- pathy with all the world, not one among you in his daily practice knows as much as many of the worst among those fallen
sinners, to whom you are liberal in nothing but the preachment of perdition.
As I rose to quit the room, a pretty little child of one of the attendants came
running in to greet its father. For the
moment, a child with eyes, among the sightless crowd, impressed me almost as
painfully as the blind boy in the porch had done, two hours ago. Ah ! how much brighter and more deeply blue, glowing and rich though it had been be- fore, was the scene without, contrasting
with the darkness of so many youthful lives within !