« ForrigeFortsæt »
entirely restored ; and yet in what a condition was she placed-deaf, dumb, blind, and possessing only a slight consciousness of smell and taste! Every avenue of communication with the external world might be said to be gone, except feeling. The deprivations having taken place when she was an infant of two years of age, she consequently retained no recollection of having either seen or heard ; and as her eyes were destroyed, any hope of restoring vision was out of the question.
What a situation was hers !' observes Dr Howe, in the account of poor Laura's case. "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; 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 commụnication with the world were cut off, it began to manifest itself through the others. 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.
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 a 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 anything. 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 Perkins Institution and Massachusetts Asylum for the Blind, at Boston, over which Dr Howe presided.
'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 shewed her perception of this similarity by laying the label ke y 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 bo o k 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 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 for her to arrange them herself, so as to express the words book, ke y, &c.; and she did so. Hitherto the process had been mechanical, 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 everything 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 shew 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 immortal 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 persevering, but plain and straightforward efforts were to be 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 was effected.
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 motion. 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 deafmutes ; 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 instance, 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 breathe; and her countenance, at first anxious, gradually changes to a smile as she comprehends 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 passed 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 beautiful sights, and sweet sounds, and pleasant odours, she has no conception; nevertheless she seems as happy and playful as a bird or a lamb; and the employment of her intellectual faculties, or the acquirement of a new idea, gives her a vivid pleasure which is plainly marked in her expressive features. She never seems to repine, 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 recalling past impressions. She counts with her fingers, or spells out names of things which she has recently learned in the manual alphabet of the deaf-mutes. In this lonely self-communion she seems to reason, reflect, 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 disapprobation; if right, then she pats herself upon the head, and looks pleased. She sometimes purposely spells a word wrong with the left hand, looks roguish for a moment and laughs, and then with the right hand 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 reads the words thus written by another, grasping their hands in hers, and following every movement of their fingers, as letter after letter conveys their meaning to her mind. It is in this way that she converses with her blind playmates, and nothing can more forcibly shew the power of mind in forcing matter 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 them both, and the one can hear no sound!”
During this year, and six months after she had left home, her mother came to visit her, and the scene of their meeting 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 her home.
"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 interested; she examined the stranger much closer, and gave me to understand that she knew she came from Hanover; she even endured her caresses, but would leave her with indifference 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 indifference by a darling child was too much for woman's nature to bear.
‘After a while, on the mother taking hold of her again, a vague idea seemed to fit across Laura's mind that this could not be a stranger ; she therefore felt her hands 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 exceeding joy, she eagerly nestled to the bosom of her parent, and yielded herself to her fond embraces.
‘After this the beads were all unheeded; the playthings offered her were utterly disregarded; her playmates, 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 shewed 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 turning round, clung sobbing to the matron, while her mother departed with emotions as deep as those of her child.
“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 soliloquises in the finger language, slow and tedious as it is. But it is only when alone that she is quiet ; for if she become 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