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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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Page 11:


Work, painful labor, fatigue, -- such things are not known in dame Nature's school. Pleasure, and not pain, rewards, and not punishments, are the inducements she holds out for mental exercise. There is something wrong when study is a painful task, and enforced by fear of suffering. It shows that the mind of the scholar has been neglected, or that the wrong subject is presented, or presented in the wrong way or at the wrong time.


The end and aim of instruction are to make us wise and good men, -- to bring us to closer union with, and greater love of, God, by knowledge of the manifestations of his presence and the revelations of his goodness, by which we are everywhere surrounded. To suppose that any of the approaches to his presence are over stony soil and through thorny paths, and that we are to be driven by dread of something worse than bleeding feet and torn flesh, is to doubt whether the force by which he draws his children to his bosom is that of love.


The food we eat is not more certainly the means of growth and strength to the body, than is the knowledge we acquire the means of growth and strength to the mind; and the pleasure felt in eating healthy viands is not more natural and certain than that felt in learning, if it only be that the learning is rightly adapted as to time, and quality, and quantity. To give strong meat to babes, -- to stuff the stomach with food out of season, to coax it to carry an overload by making the burden sweet and luscious to the taste, -- is just like what we do when we give children instruction beyond their years, and induce them to take what they dislike, or more than they want.


Laura, by her experience, has enforced the lesson taught by thousands before her, but so often unheeded, that no theory of instruction can be perfect which overlooks the intimate connection and mutual dependence which God has established between the body and the mind. To keep this connection ever in view seems, to some, low and grovelling; but it is only false pride which makes it seem so. In the eye of God, that notes every falling sparrow, there is nothing created great, and nothing little. He gave us the stomach as well as the brain; the one to digest food for the body, the other, thoughts for the mind; and he coupled pleasures and pains, to mark our obedience or violation of the conditions of his gifts. The ills we suffer from abuse of the stomach are not more manifold and manifest, than those which follow abuse of the brain. The plethora or leanness, the risings and sinkings, the flush or the pallor, the craving or the nausea, the pains, the palpitations, the tremors, or whatever other ailments follow abuse of the first, have their counterparts in the consequences which follow abuse of the second; in thick-skinned stupidity or thin-skinned sensibility, in passion or apathy, in weak credulity or weaker skepticism, in timidity or in rashness, in oddities, irregularities, and the manifold forms of monomania and insanity.


Laura's case has been watched, not with the purblind eye of affection only, but with the aid of such light as physiology could give, and it has been seen that the condition of her mind and her affections was closely connected with the condition of her physical system. Let it not be supposed that her usual gentleness, her affectionate disposition, and her cheerfulness, come altogether from a happy constitutional temperament, for it is not so. On the contrary, she inherits a constitutional disposition to irritability and violence of temper. The nervous system is the predominant one in her physical constitution. When this is disordered, its tendency is to destroy the equanimity of her temper, and it requires a mental effort to prevent its doing so. Laura relates how impatient she used at times to be, before her instruction was commenced, and when she sat comparatively alone in her dark and silent prison; -- how at one time, starting with uncontrollable impatience, she threw the kitten from her lap into the fire.


She might have been ruined by hasty and injudicious treatment, or one which did not keep steadily in view the connection between her mental and physical condition. Miss Wight never lost sight of it; for even since her charge of Laura has commenced, there has been more than one occasion when Laura, unstrung of her temper as it were by bodily indisposition, has lost command. Allowance was made for the disturbing physical cause, but not so fully by herself as by others. Her awakened conscientiousness comes along close after the sin, and smites her terrible blows, disproportionate, indeed, to the offence. She has long been accustomed to make strong efforts to preserve an equable temper, and generally with entire success. Sometimes, however, there seems to be a sudden paroxysm, and an irrepressible nervous explosion. She immediately becomes conscious of it, and, if she has shown petulance to her teacher or unkindness to any one, she is sad and self-reproachful for a long time. Such scenes are rare, and, to the best of my knowledge and belief, never disconnected with some derangement of her physical health. Under ordinary circumstances she is removed, it is true, from many of the petty cares and ills of life which try the temper of others, and her mental horizon is as clear as a summer sky. When indisposed, however, it has sometimes been suddenly overcast, a flash seen, and then all has become clear and mild again. It is not very long since a painful scene of the kind occurred. She became intensely nervous and excited, without apparent cause; seemed to become almost beside herself with suppressed temper; grew white, and then, by a sudden movement, like that of an insane person, she struck her teacher a blow. It was over in an instant, and then she sunk as into a collapse. The agony of her self-reproach grew intense, irrepressible, and she ran away to her closet, shut herself in, and was heard for hours sobbing and weeping as though her heart would break. For a long time nothing could comfort her; tenderness and kindness seemed only to add to her distress.

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