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Diary Of Laurent Clerc's Voyage From France To America In 1816

Creator: Laurent Clerc (author)
Date: 1816
Publisher: American School for the Deaf
Source: Available at selected libraries
Figures From This Artifact: Figure 2  Figure 3  Figure 4  Figure 5  Figure 6  Figure 7  Figure 8  Figure 9  Figure 10  Figure 11  Figure 12  Figure 13  Figure 14

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To Mr. Guy B. Holt of Hartford, great-great-grandson of Laurent Clerc, we are indebted for this extremely interesting diary written by Laurent Clerc on his initial voyage to our country from France in 1816. This diary has been preserved in the Clerc family for five generations.


It may be surprising to our readers that Laurent Clerc was able to master the English language in such short time, but a complete reading of his diary will enable the reader to fully appreciate Clerc's wonderful intellect and wide knowledge.


This diary also brings to light the wonderful companionship that Thomas H. Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc entertained for each other.


It is truly a remarkable writing and should enthrall all who are interested in the history of deaf education.


Printed at the American School for the Deaf


West Hartford, Connecticut




Laurent Clerc was born in La Balme, France, on the 26th of December, 1785, to a family of superior lineage. His father, Joseph Francis Clerc, a notary public profession, was the mayor of La Balme from 1780 to 1814. His mother, Elizabeth Candy was the daughter of Mr. Candy of Crimieu, also a notary public.


It happened that when Laurent was about a year old, he was left alone in a chair by the fireside, and fell into the fire, which, it is believed resulted in the loss of the senses of hearing and smell. His right cheek was burned so badly in this accident that a permanent scar remained. When Laurent was seven years old, his mother, hearing that there was a certain physician in Lyons, a city not far from La Balme, who could cure deafness, took him there. Treatment was began immediately, but after two weeks of daily injections of various liquids into the ear, Laurent returned home with his mother still as deaf as before.


Laurent's early childhood was unexceptional, he indulged in the usual pastimes of children. His formal education did not commence until he was about twelve years old, when his uncle, Laurent Clerc, took him to Paris and placed him in the Royal Institution for the Deaf, where, for most of the eight years of his pupilage, he was under the personal instruction of the Abbe Sicard. He was gifted with uncommon mental powers and soon distinguished himself so well as a scholar that, upon completion of his course of study, he was appointed an assistant teacher in the Institution. In the process of time, the good Abbe, noting his ability, placed him in charge of the highest class in the school.


During the political upheavel in France in the spring of 1815, the Abbe Sicard, accompanied by his two teachers, Massieu and Clerc, journeyed to London and gave several public lectures in that city, explaining his method of teaching the deaf, which he illustrated by the attainments of the two deaf teachers who had been his pupils. It so chanced that Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet had been in London at that time and had attended one of these public exhibitions. At the conclusion of the lecture he was introduced to the Abbe Sicard and his assistants and was cordially invited to visit the Institution at Paris. Dr. Gallaudet was quick to accept the invitation and in the spring of 1816 journeyed to Paris.


Gallaudet was a daily visitor at the school and began by attending the lowest class and progressing upward until he came to the highest class which was in charge of Clerc. Clerc had, therefore, a great opportunity to see him often and to converse with him and they soon became good friends. Gallaudet was very anxious to learn the sign language and the methods of teaching employed by Clerc, but the latter informed him that it would take at least six months to acquire a tolerable amount of signs, and a year of method's study before he would be qualified to teach. Dr. Gallaudet was most impatient to be back in America to carry on his work, so at his earnest request, Mr. Clerc who had meantime been instructing him in the use of signs, consented to come to this country and introduce the French system of educating the deaf. The good Abbe Sicard was most, reluctant to part with his prize teacher, but, recognizing the needs of the deaf in America finally wrote to Gallaudet saying: "I have with pleasure made the sacrifice you demanded of me."


With Mr. Gallaudet, Mr. Clerc left France on the 18th of June, 1816, in the ship "Mary Augusta". Owing to adverse winds and frequent calms, the voyage lasted fifty-two days. During that time, Clerc taught Gallaudet method of signs for abstract ideas and Dr. Gallaudet taught Clerc the English language. They made arrangements for the journeys they expected to undertake for the collection of funds for the institution they were about to establish; they reformed certain signs which they thought would not well suit American manners and customs. They arrived in New York on the 9th of August. After visiting dignitaries in New York and New Haven for a time, they made their way to Hartford and set to work.

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