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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 will be seen that she uses language which seems to imply considerable religious instruction, but it would not be fair to suffer such inference to be drawn, because she has not received what is usually considered religious instruction ; that is, she has not been indoctrinated into any particular creed or form of religious belief. Faith she has in God, ay! and love, too, -- that love which casteth out fear. Her veneration, which showed itself spontaneously, has been so directed upward to the Creator and Governor of all things, that she lives in consciousness of his protecting presence and loving care. His laws are his angelic messengers, ever hovering over us, -- not armed with whips and scorpions, to avenge themselves, but charged to win us upward by love and persuasion. Laura begins to understand and revere those laws, and thus her religious nature is developed without the aid of catechism. More than once it has been seen that the thought of God's presence and love, occurring in moments of irritation and discontent, has soothed her into placid peace and content. She often says, with a joyful and loving look, "our Father gives us all these things."


In childhood, while her mind was beginning to grow up towards the light of knowledge, and to put forth its timid tendrils to twine around some points of belief; which should be its support through its after growth, then I wished that those tendrils should cling only to what was firm and durable. I tried to keep out of her reach all pestilent catchwords and sectarian shibboleths. I tried to train her up according to what seemed to me the will of her Creator, whether written in a book or manifested in nature; but I did not care that she should know too early the name which men give to their notions of his attributes, whether it be Jove, Jehovah, or God. Having full faith in the religious nature of man, I could no more doubt that, with the growth of her mind, the religious capacities and dispositions would show themselves, than I could doubt that an acorn I had planted would grow to be an oak rather than a hemlock. I was not anxious to pull it up to look at its roots, or to twist and bend its twigs that it might grow in any particular form. I wished to encourage in her the growth of those virtues which seem to be the elements out of which the religious character is afterwards formed, -- veneration, trust, and love; conscientiousness, ideality, hope, and the like. As for the particular form of belief which she should adopt, I had less care.


I supposed that when, by the action of her perceptive faculties, her acquaintance with facts should become sufficiently extensive, then her mind would begin to put forth its higher powers, and generalize the knowledge that had been furnished to it. I wished to avoid the common error of giving a creed first, and the elements out of which faith ought to be formed afterwards, when the form of belief was fixed. I trusted that the free elements of thought would crystallize around certain natural points of belief; and I did not care to hasten the process by introducing any artificial nucleus to give special form to the future faith. Nor was my trust disappointed. It was a source of the highest satisfaction and pleasure to find, that, as causality began to work, these inferences were formed naturally: -- Women make bread, and clothes, and the like; men make tables, and chairs, and desks, and houses; but no woman nor man makes the sun to shine, the rain to fall, the grass to grow; therefore there must be a superhuman power. I do not mean to say that, at any particular time, and in any concrete form, she stated this inference; but I do say, that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, her mind passed through this process, and underwent these changes; that no one directly aided its progress, or shaped the form of her belief, but that alone and unguided she sought God, and found him in the Creator.


It was a touching and beautiful sight to see this young soul, that had lain so long in utter darkness and stillness, as soon as the obstacles were cleared from its path, begin to move forward and upward, to seek and to own its Creator, God! It was as if the lost Pleiad, brought back again to her native sphere, and under her native influences, should begin to move onward with graceful sweep, and, joining her sister stars, renew her circling homage around the central throne of light. Her intellect had done part of its work; it had brought God to her mind.


It would have been most interesting to watch the further progress of her mental development; to see, as her moral nature began to be active, with what moral attributes she would clothe the Creator, whose existence she had, as it were, discovered.


I should have been willing to bear the clamorous reprobation that was already beginning to rise from those who considered me as standing between her and what they called religion, and thus perilling her soul, because my faith in the correctness of my principles was as firm as theirs in their own, and my interest in Laura's well-being not less than theirs. I had, moreover, the full permission of Laura's parents to do as I thought best in the education of her who had become in some sense my child. But circumstances arose which obliged me to confide her to the care of others. She has had the guidance of an intelligent and virtuous woman, who has an earnest religious nature, without any bigoted attachment to the outward form in which the religious nature of other persons happens to manifest itself. It will be seen by Laura's manner of writing and talking, that she has adopted notions common to Liberal Christians, though I must say they are not more definite or firm than those of most young persons.

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