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Fifteenth Annual Report Of The Trustees Of The Perkins Institution And Massachusetts Asylum For The Blind
Since the Perkins Institution was partly supported by public funds, Samuel Gridley Howe could not endorse any particular religious denomination. Nonetheless, he quietly sought to influence studentsí religious choices, and he openly attempted to guide Laura Bridgman towards his own Unitarian denomination.
Report of the Director to the Trustees upon the Case of Laura Bridgman and other Pupils who receive special Instruction.
BOSTON, January 1, 1847.
IT was stated in the Report about Laura Bridgman which was made in January last, that her health had been failing during several months, and was then very feeble; I am sorry to say that it continued to grow weaker for some time, and has not yet become entirely reestablished.
During the most of the past year she has been weak and sickly. In the spring especially, she became very much emaciated, her appetite failed almost entirely, and she could hardly be persuaded to take nourishment enough to keep her alive.
She was placid and uncomplaining, and though never gay as in former years, she was never gloomy. She appeared to feel no fear or anxiety concerning her health, and when questioned closely about it she would answer that she was very well. Indeed, the change had come over her so slowly and gradually, that she seemed to be hardly conscious of it, and showed surprise when it was alluded to. Sometimes, indeed, when she found that she was wearied by walking half a mile, she was forced to remember her former long walks of five or six miles, and to think about the change.
As she grew thinner, and paler, and weaker, she appeared to be laying aside the garments of the flesh, and her spirit shone out brighter through its transparent veil. Her countenance became more spiritualized, and its pensive expression told truly, that, though there was no gloom, neither was there any gladness, in her heart.
Her intellect was clear and active, and she would fain have indulged in conversation and study about subjects of a serious nature; but she was sensitive and excitable, and the mental activity and craving were perhaps morbid. Be that as it may, however, she was at a fearful crisis in her life, and it seemed to be our first duty to save that. She was therefore not only diverted from all exciting trains of thought, but dissuaded from pursuing her usual course of study. We were very desirous not to alarm her by showing the anxiety which was really felt about her; and this object was gained so effectually, that she probably did not discover her danger. She is always very observant, however; and ascertains the state of mind of those about her by reading parts of the natural language of the emotions, which we never observe, but which are as sure guides to her as the expression of the countenance is to us. It is almost impossible that her companions should feel particularly gay or sad, and withhold the knowledge of it from Laura. The natural language of the feelings is almost infinite. A common observer reads only the page of the countenance; the keener one finds meaning in the tones of the voice, or, looking more closely, reads signs in the very shaking of hands; but Laura not only observes the tones of the finger language, she finds meaning in every posture of the body, and in every movement of a limb; in the various play of the muscles she observes the gentle pressure of affection, the winning force of persuasion, the firm motion of command, the quick jerk of impatience, the sudden spasm of temper, and many other variations which she interprets swiftly and correctly.
With all these means of ascertaining the state of her teacher's feelings, and with the certainty that an untrue answer would never be given to her, Laura would surely have learned that her life was thought to be in some danger, if she had ever been accustomed to dwell upon thoughts of sickness and death; but she had not, and therefore she walked without a shudder upon the brink of the grave.
The result was as I had hoped and expected that it would be, for I was more sanguine than others. The natural strength of her constitution, which had triumphed in that fearful struggle during her infancy, though at the expense of two of the most important organs of sense, had been carefully nurtured by constant exercise, simple diet, and regular habits of mind and body, and it carried her safely through this second trial. After she had been brought so low that it seemed as if the tendency to disease could find no more resistance to overcome, it yielded at last, and then the vital powers began to rally slowly.
When the weather grew warmer, she began a course of sea-bathing, and of exercise upon horseback. These occupied and amused her mind, and strengthened her body; and she continued to grow better through the year, -- very slowly, indeed, but surely. She has now recovered some portion of her lost flesh; and her appetite is so far restored, that she eats a sufficient quantity of bread and milk, but does not like any thing else. She does not wish to change her food at all, but, when meal-time arrives, she sits down cheerfully to her simple bread and milk, morning, noon, and evening; and having finished that, she disregards all the dainties and the fruits with which the capricious appetite of invalids is usually tempted. Her present diet is one of her own choice, and though it is not the best, and its sameness is unwise, we do not insist upon a change while she is manifestly thriving, because it might do more harm than to indulge a caprice of appetite, not uncommon with delicate persons.