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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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Conversing one day lately about a friend who had gone far away, Laura said, "How glad I am that our minds are made to go thousands of miles away, to see our friends, and be with them, though they are so remote!" She sat reflecting a moment, and then said, "Will our minds be alike when they go to heaven, away from our bodies?" meaning, Will they be like in their powers to what they are now? The answer was, Probably they will be. She then added, "I have been thinking how powerful God is. How hard it is to think God has lived for ever. If we were all alike we could not know each other. I think we shall know our friends much better than we do here" (meaning in heaven). "But I have not naturally much trust and confidence in God; Christ had the most confidence in God, he was willing to be killed. Do you think Christ feels like himself now in heaven? Do we think as much of our only Father as we ought to? Does it not give you more love in your heart to think much of Him? It does me." After a pause she asked, "Should you like to live here as long as we live?" -- meaning, to live for ever in this world. The answer was, I am contented and happy here now; to which she rejoined, with much emphasis, "So am I!" This is human nature, alike in the richest prince and poorest peasant. The dying Medici murmured to the priest who pictured the splendors of the heavenly mansion he was about to enter, -- "But I should have been content with the Pitti Palace"; and Laura would not willingly leave a world, to the outward beauties and harmonies of which she is blind and deaf, for any paradise that can be painted to her. She now has faculties for comprehending, and capacities for enjoying, this part of heaven; she has none for the other. It would not be hard to make this world a vale of tears to her, or torture her into a desire to leave it; but at present she is grateful for the boon of existence, and happy in its enjoyment. By and by, when, by retrospection, she can understand what progress is, -- when she has made all she can here, -- then, perhaps, she will more willingly spread the pinions of her soul, and soar to higher states of existence.


She sometimes gives moral and religious advice to persons who are in every way her superiors in mind, with a beautiful simplicity. In a letter to Mrs. Farnham, who was going on a mission of good to California, she wrote: -- "I hope you will be very happy and useful and loving and kind always: and also that you will have reverence and respect for all human beings. I feel in my heart that you will strive to do the duty for God, and it will please Him so much to see you doing the most good to all in the world. I shall wish to hear of your happiness, and the country, &c. so much! You must think of me and ask for my -his?- sympathy and confidence when you are troubled and homesick in mind and heart. You must not think I shall forget you in my life, if I do not write to you frequently," &c.


It may surprise some, who know how many years have been spent in teaching language to Laura, and who read the foregoing specimens of her speech and writing, to hear that much of the labor, even of the last two years, has been upon language, and that her knowledge of it is yet so very imperfect, as to be a great stumbling-block in the way of her progress. Much has been said upon this subject in connection with her history, but I can never recur to that history without perceiving that its most interesting phenomena are so closely connected with the phenomena of the development of language, that they can hardly be considered apart. Her life and experience will be useful, in various ways, to those engaged in instruction, but in none, perhaps, more than by throwing light upon the subject of language, -- the mode in which it is learned, and its importance in the development of the intellect.


Language is important to her, and indeed to all of us, not merely as a vestment to the mind and an instrument of the thought, but important to the moral as well as the intellectual nature. It is not an outright gift from God, to be used or abused, cultivated or neglected, at man's will or whim, but, like all his precious gifts, it is in the nature of a trust, limited by conditions, and attended with responsibilities. These conditions and responsibilities are too often violated and neglected; hence men not only fail to reap all the profits from the use of the trust, but incur the penalties of its abuse. For instance, a great mind generates a great thought, such as those of common strength could neither conceive nor give birth to; he embodies it in words, and sends it forth upon the wings of language for the use of humanity. Without such embodiment it would be worthless to every one but himself, and even with it is useless to those who, having ears to hear, do not understand. The number of those who hear without comprehending is very great, -- greater, sometimes, than those who hear and understand also. Nay, it may be said, with regard even to some of the most precious words of wisdom, that they are comprehended by very few in each generation of those who repeat them over as familiarly as household words. This is often a source of loss, if not of evil. Children hear the words of some sentence which embodies a great truth; they repeat it over as they grow up, they assent to it, they seem to believe it, and yet never fully comprehend it in all its bearings. This is true even of simple propositions asserting concrete truths. For instance, "The earth revolves upon its axis, and around the sun." Many learn this at school, repeat it over ever afterwards, believe it all their lives, and seem to understand it, but form no adequate conception of its meaning. Many die without ever seeing with the mind's eye the bulky globe suspended in space, spinning swiftly around, now in the sunlight, now in the darkness, with its broad continents and towering mountains standing steadfast in their places, and the great ocean bulging out on either side, while the whole rushes forward on its circuit, steering its way among other globes, to come back in a year to precisely the same place from which it started, without having swerved from the path it was bidden to follow. How few there are who, if lifted off the earth and shown the magnificent spectacle, would not exclaim, that they never before comprehended the meaning of the words they had so often uttered, -- "The earth revolves upon its axis, and around the sun." We all know the earth is round, but how many there are, who, if asked which way China lies, would point to the east, rather than down between their legs! How few school-committee men think an artificial globe necessary, and how much fewer are those who would allow a master to take his class to the top of a hill or spire, to point out the coast and islands, mountains and rivers!

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