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Life Of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet

Creator: Edward Miner Gallaudet (author)
Date: 1888
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, New York
Source: Available at selected libraries
Figures From This Artifact: Figure 2

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1815 -- 1816.


Interest in Deaf-Mutes -- Alice Cogswell -- An Invitation From Citizens of Hartford to Undertake the Education of the Deaf in America -- A Tour to England, Scotland and France to Gain Information -- Difficulties and Hindrances in Great Britain -- Success in France -- Temporary Pastorate in Paris.


DURING the winter of 1814-1815 Mr. Gallaudet remained mostly at his father's home in Hartford; preaching occasionally, and waiting for some decided indication of Providence as to the path of duty. There was no marked improvement in the state of his health.


Among his papers, one, entitled "A Reverie," bears internal evidence of having been written about this period, and closes as follows, after a reference to the importance of the then novel work of preaching the gospel to heathen nations:


Before the millennium arrives will one language prevail and swallow up the rest, or will mankind agree to form a universal language? Would not such a project be pregnant with incalculable advantages? How shall it be accomplished? What shall this universal language be? Is there already one, provided by Nature herself, easy of acquisition, universal in its application, and which demands neither types nor paper? Has such a language yet eluded the research of the profoundest philosophers, and is it left for some happy genius yet to find it? As is often the case, just when the mind is ready to light upon some most wonderful discovery, the capricious fancy disdains the dull process of beating out truth upon the anvil of experiment -- and my reverie ended.


Again can it be said in telling the story of this life that "we are such stuff as dreams are made on," for the fulfillment of his "reverie" came to Mr. Gallaudet when this possible "universal language" demanding "neither types nor paper" was realized in the language of signs which played so important a part in his work of teaching the deaf.


One of Peter Wallace Gallaudet's nearest neighbors in Hartford was Dr. Mason Fitch Cogswell -- a physician of high professional and social standing. Among Dr. Cogswell's children was a lovely daughter nine years of age, on whom the blight of total deafness had fallen some years before, the result of a severe attack of spotted fever. As is not uncommon in such cases a loss of speech followed the loss of hearing, and before she had completed her fourth year this child was practically dumb as well as deaf. Her parents and family friends did what they could, in a very imperfect way, to develop her intelligence. But while their efforts were by no means fruitless, they did not succeed, as time went on, in establishing any clear and effective means of communicating thought. The child gained nothing of verbal language from the teachings of her zealous and loving friends.


It was during one of Mr. Gallaudet's vacations, while a student at Andover, that his attention was directed to the deaf child of his neighbor. His first interview with her was in his father's garden, where she was at play with his younger brothers and sisters.


One (1) who married, a few years later, a sister of Alice Cogswell, writes thus of this meeting:

(1) Lewis Weld, who was Mr. Gallaudet's successor as principal of the institution for deaf-mutes at Hartford.


His compassionate interest in her situation, with a strong desire to alleviate it, was immediate and deep. He at once attempted to converse with and instruct her, and actually succeeded in teaching her the word hat before she left the garden where the interview took place.


Another, (2) writing of this memorable incident, says:

(2) Henry Barnard, LL.D. Tribute to Gallaudet. Hartford: 1852.


Following up this first step in such methods as his own ingenuity could suggest, and with such lights as he could gather from a publication of the Abbe Sicard which Dr. Cogswell had procured from Paris, Mr. Gallaudet, from time to time, succeeded in imparting to her a knowledge of many simple words and sentences, which were much enlarged by members of her own family, and especially by her first teacher, Miss Lydia Huntley -afterwards well-known as the poetess Lydia H. Sigourney-. This success encouraged her father in the hope, that instead of sending his child, made more dear to him by her privations, away from home, to Edinburgh, or London, for instruction in the schools of Rev. R. Kinniburgh, or Dr. Watson, that a school might be opened in Hartford.


As Mr. Gallaudet's acquaintance with Alice Cogswell continued, there grew up, to quote Mr. Weld again, "a very intimate intercourse with the child and her father's family, during intervals of relaxation from professional studies, extending through several years, which resulted in her acquiring, chiefly through his agency, so much knowledge of very simple words and sentences, as satisfied her friends that she might learn to write and read, and that Mr. Gallaudet, of all the circle of their acquaintance, was the person best qualified to undertake her instruction."


It was during Mr. Gallaudet's winter in Hartford, after his graduation at Andover, that his interest in Alice Cogswell began to take practical shape, and that he induced her parents to place her under the direct instruction of Miss Huntley.

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