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

Creator: Samuel Gridley Howe (author)
Date: 1850
Source: Perkins School for the Blind

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IT has not been thought necessary to publish every year an account of the mode of instruction pursued with Laura, because there has been no material change from that formerly pursued, and already published. There has been only an application of the same principles of instruction to higher subjects of study. Besides, the great point of interest was the beginning of the process. With her it was the first step that was most difficult and most interesting. When, in the stillness and darkness amid which she was so utterly lost to human fellowship, she began fairly to comprehend and to use arbitrary language, then she got hold of a thread by which her mind could be guided out into the light; she has held on to it firmly, and followed it eagerly, and come out into a world which has been made to her one of joy and gladness by the general welcome with which she has been greeted.


Her progress has been a curious and an interesting spectacle. She has come into human society with a sort of triumphal march; her course has been a perpetual ovation. Thousands have been watching her with eager eyes, and applauding each successful step, while she, all unconscious of their gaze, holding on to the slender thread, and feeling her way along, has advanced with faith and courage towards those who awaited her with trembling hope. Nothing shows more than her case the importance which, despite their useless waste of human life and human capacity, men really attach to a human soul. They owe to her something for furnishing an opportunity of showing how much of goodness there is in them; for surely the way in which she has been regarded is creditable to humanity. Perhaps there are not three living women whose names are more widely known than hers; and there is not one who has excited so much sympathy and interest. There are thousands of women in the world who are striving to attract its notice and gain its admiration, -- some by the natural magic of beauty and grace, some by the high nobility of talent, some by the lower nobility of rank and title, some by the vulgar show of wealth; but none of them has done it so effectually as this poor blind, deaf, and dumb girl, by the silent show of her misfortunes, and her successful efforts to surmount them.


The treatment she has received shows something of Human Progress too; for the time was when a child, bereaved of senses as she is, would have been regarded as a monster, and treated as a burden and a curse, even among the most civilized people of the world; -- she would, perhaps, have been thrown into the river, or exposed upon the mountain to wild beasts. But now there are millions of people by whom it is recognized as a duty, and esteemed as a privilege, to protect and cherish her, or any one in the like situation.


There is something, perhaps, in the rarity of such cases of manifold bereavement, -- something in the fact, that she is the first person who ever came out of such a dark and silent prison to tell us plainly of its condition, -- something of pride in the proof which she gives of the native power of the human soul; but still, bating all this, the amount of tender sympathy in her misfortunes, and of real interest in the attempt to lighten them, which has been shown by thousands of sensitive hearts, is most gratifying to reflect upon.


Every thing that has been printed here respecting her has been reprinted in England; and translations have been made into the Continental languages; so that Laura, without any other claim to notice than the weight of her misfortunes and the effort made to lighten them, enjoys almost a world-wide renown.


There will yet, perhaps, be found for her a biographer who has the qualifications necessary to gather from her story the abundant materials which it furnishes to illustrate many curious mental phenomena, and to draw from it the many beautiful moral lessons which it may be made to teach. Whatever I have written or may write can be regarded only as mémoires pour servir. (1)

(1) My learned friend, Professor Lieber, whose truly philosophic mind saw at once the important light which her ease might afford upon many psychological questions, has paid great attention to it. He has written a most interesting memoir upon the vocal sounds which she utters. This will be published in the Annals of the Smithsonian Institute.


At the period when the last mention was made of her in our Annual Report, she had gained a sufficient knowledge of language to converse freely, by means of the finger alphabet, on all topics which would be understood by girls generally of twelve years old. She had begun to come into relation with a variety of persons; with the teachers and pupils in the school for the blind, all of whom could converse rapidly and easily with her. She had become intimate with several instructed deaf mutes and had formed quite an extensive circle of acquaintance, with ladies for the most part, who had taken pains to learn the manual alphabet, and with whom she was very fond of talking.

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