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Eleventh Annual Report Of The Trustees Of The Perkins Institution And Massachusetts Asylum For The Blind

Creator: Samuel Gridley Howe (author)
Date: 1843
Source: Perkins School for the Blind

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IN drawing up an account of the progress of our interesting pupil, during the past year, I shall rather aim to give information to the general readers of our annual report, and to those numerous persons who watch with interest the progress of the experiment of her education, than to detail any new facts.


Her health has been excellent during the year, uninterrupted indeed by a single day's illness. Several medical gentlemen have expressed their fears that the continual mental excitement which she manifests, and the restless activity of her mind, must affect her health, and perhaps endanger the soundness of her mental faculties; but any such tendency has been effectually counteracted by causing her to practice callisthenic exercises, and to take long walks daily in the open air, which on some days extend to six miles. Besides, she has a safeguard in the nature of her emotions, which are always joyful, always pleasant and hopeful; and there is no doubt that the glad flow of spirits which she constantly enjoys, contributes not only to her physical health, but to the development of her mind. There is a great difference produced, even physically, by the habitual indulgence of different emotions. Let two children of quick parts be put to study -- the one stimulated by emulation, by pride, and by envy, and the other by love of his parents, by regard for his teacher, and above all, by the natural relish for new truth and the delight which results from a pleasant activity of the perceptive faculties, and the difference, even in the physical effects, will, after a time, be perceptible. Ambition, envy, and pride, while they may stimulate to powerful mental efforts, are accompanied with little pleasure, and that not a healthful one; they leave behind lassitude and dissatisfaction; the child craves something more, he knows not what; but joy, that oxygen of the moral atmosphere, is generated only by the action of the generous and noble sentiments.


Laura generally appears, by the quickness of her motions and the eagerness of her gestures, to be in a state of mind which in another would be called unnatural excitement. Her spirit, apparently impatient of its narrow bounds, is as it were continually pressing against the bars of its cage, and struggling, if not to escape, at least to obtain more of the sights and sounds of the outer world. The signs by which she expresses her ideas are slow and tedious; her thoughts outstrip their tardy vehicle, and fly forward to the goal; she evidently feels desirous of talking faster than she can and she loves best to converse with those who can interpret the motion of her fingers when they are so rapid as to be unintelligible to a common eye. But with all this activity of the mental machinery, there is none of the wear and tear produced by the grit of discontent; every thing is made smooth by the oil of gladness. She rises uncalled at an early hour; she begins the day as merrily as the lark; she is laughing as she attires herself and braids her hair, and comes dancing out of her chamber as though every morn were that of a gala day; a smile and a sign of recognition greet every one she meets; kisses and caresses are bestowed upon her friends and her teachers; she goes to her lesson, but knows not the word task; she gaily assists others in what they call housework, but which she deems play; she is delighted with society, and clings to others as though she would grow to them; yet she is happy when sitting alone, and smiles and laughs as the varying current of pleasant thoughts passes through her mind; and when she walks out into the field, she greets her mother nature, whose smile she cannot see, whose music she cannot hear, with a joyful heart and a glad countenance; in a word, her whole life is like a hymn of gratitude and thanksgiving.


I know that this may be deemed extravagant, and by some considered as the partial description of a fond friend; but it is not so I; and fortunately for others, (particularly because this lesson of contentment should not be lost upon the repining and ungrateful,) she is as a lamp set upon a hill, whose light cannot he hid. She is seen and known of many, and those who know her best will testify most warmly in her favor.


The general course of instruction pursued during the past year, corresponding as it does with that detailed in former reports, needs not to be here repeated for the information of those to whom this report is immediately addressed; but as great public interest is excited in this case, and as inquiries are continually made respecting the processes by which instruction is conveyed to her mind, it may be well to explain some of them, even at the risk of repetition, and of saying what may seem to those familiar with the theory of teaching the deaf and dumb not only trite but worthless. Let me therefore say here, that should any of the theoretical views of deaf-mutism propounded in these reports, be deemed unsound by those better acquainted with the subject, it is to be considered that our Institution is not one whose object it is to teach deaf-mutes; the cases which have been treated of are those where mutism is complicated with blindness, and which have come under its care simply because its method of instruction seemed nearest adapted to such cases; -- cases nearly hopeless, and which, it is believed, have never before been successfully treated.

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