Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

whom he married about three years since; an amiable young woman, also a mute, of the New York Institution.

Some eight years ago, he published a volume of “ Tales of the Deaf and Dumb, with Miscellaneous Poems,” which was well received by his own countrymen, and favorably reviewed in a Circular of the Royal Institution of Paris.

The views expressed in the present article, as well as the style, evince that the author is capable of close reflection, and has acquired a happy mode of expression.

1. Observations on the Education of the Deaf and Dumb.

Reprinted from the North American Review, (for April,

1834,) Boston, 1834. 2. Quatrieme Circulaire de l'Institut Royal des Sourds

muets de Paris, à toutes les Institutions de Sourds-muets

de l'Europe, de l'Amerique, et de l'Asie. Paris. 1836. 3. Reports of the American Asylum for the Education and

Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, twelfth to twenty-fifth

inclusive. Hartford. 4. Reports of the New York Institution for the Instruction of

the Deaf and Dumb, first to twenty-third inclusive. New

York. 5. Tenth and Thirteenth Annual Reports of the Pennsylva

nia Institution for the Deaf und Dumb. Philadelphia. 1820 and 1833.

The number of those who, by the privation of the sense which serves as the ordinary channel by which knowledge is acquired and thoughts interchanged, are set apart from their fellow-men, and even when placed in the most favorable circumstances, doomed to intelectual and social disadvantages that invest their case with a painful and peculiar interest, is much greater than any one ventured to suppose, before an enumeration of this class of persons had been, in several countries, actually made. These enumerations show one deaf mute, on a general average, to every fifteen hundred souls. We have, therefore, reason to believe that there are not less than half a million of our fellow-beings deaf and dumb.

Though the number known to exist in our own country is not so appalling by its magnitude as that just mentioned, it is still sufficiently large to awaken the most painful emotions in the heart of every philanthropist. The census of 1830 gave six thousand one hundred and six as the number of deaf and dumb persons in the whole Union. By the census of 1840, having increased with the rapid increase of the whole population, they amounted to seven thousand six hundred and fiftynine ; and there are conclusive reasons to believe, as stated in the twenty-third Report of the New York Institution above cited, that in each case the number returned fell short by Inany

hundreds of the actual number in the country. These are our own countrymen, often our own friends and neighbors, sometimes even bound to us by the tenderest ties ;-nor is there one among us who can assure himself that a deaf and dumb child may not be born in his own family ; nay, if he has children yet in infancy, that some of them may not become deaf by sickness or accident, and consequently dumb.

Considerations like these give a high interest to the subject of the present article. We need not expatiate on the sad condition of a deaf mute, abandoned to thread the mazes of this vale of tears, unaided, unsoothed, unenlightened ; for the public mind is, on this point, rather prone to exaggerate than otherwise. Nor is it now necessary, in this section of the Union, to appeal to public sympathy for the means of establishing institutions for the instruction of the deaf and durnb. The Northern and Middle States contain three of the largest and best conducted Institutions in the world, and the Legislatures of nearly all those States have made liberal provision for the education of their deaf and dumb population, and have shown a willingness to extend that provision whenever it shall become necessary. Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia have also established Institutions, believed to be competent for the education of the deaf and dumb of those States respectively. Several other States farther West and South, have either already engaged or have shown a willingness to engage in this work of philanthropy ; and in view of what has been done within a few years, we may indulge the pleasing hope that, in a few years more, the intellectual wants of these our unfortunate fellow-citizens will, in every part of our country, be well supplied.

But though the art of instructing the deaf and dumb has been practised among us with success for a quarter of a cen-tury, and though it has enrolled among its professors the names of several men of distinguished ability as writers-it must be admitted that the reading public is very far from being fully and correctly informed, either with regard to its principles, its processes, the actual degree of success attained, or the causes which have prevented that success from being greater. Several very able and valuable articles have, it is irue, from time to time been given to the public through different periodicals; and the annual reports above cited, those of the New York Institution in particular, present much valuable information, illustrated by enlarged philosophical views, on the theory and practice of the art, and on the statistics of the deaf and dumb. The circulars of the Institution of Paris are also exceedingly valuable, but they are in the hands of very few in this country; nor, when the great extent and population of our country is considered, can the fugitive articles and reports referred to, be said to have attained any thing like a general circulation. It is presumed, however, that few will read these

pages

who are not aware that the first systematic attempts to instruct the deaf and dumb in the language of their countrymen, so far as is now known, were made by Pedro Ponce, a Spanish monk, who died A. D. 1584; and that the benevolent De l'Epée founded at Paris, in the year 1760, and supported for many years from his own scanty fortune, the first institution for the instruction of those, constituting far the larger number, whose families have not the means to pay for their education. Those who feel a curiosity to learn more respecting the history of the art, are referred to the publications cited at the head of this article,--particularly to the North American Review for April, 1834, and to the twenty-first Report of the New York Institution. To the former and to many of the New York Reports, particularly the fifteenth, sixteenth and twentieth, the reader is referred for a sketch of the language of signs, and for many theoretical and practical details, not embraced in the plan of this article.

With regard to the subject we propose more fully to consider, namely, the actual degree of success attained by institutions for the deaf and dumb at this day, and particularly by those in this country, which are believed to have been at least as successful as those in any other country,—very different views may be, and have been taken, according to the particular instances of success which have fallen under the observation of individuals, and to the standard of comparison adopted

[ocr errors]

in each case. To those familiar, from personal experience, with the mental and moral condition of an uneducated and neglected deaf mute, a very moderate degree of success seems almost miraculous ; while those who measure the acquisitions of much the greater number, in written language, the only point on which the world is capable of judging, by the standard of the well educated who hear, not unfrequently form the opinion that the characters of the deaf and dumb are stamped with a very marked degree of mental inferiority, and that, whatever pains may be taken to instruct them, they can never acquire any literary or scientific reputation, nor, as a body, reach the intellectual average of their more favored brethren.

It is, indeed, rather remarkable that the most striking examples which can be produced of the literary capabilities of the deaf and dumb are, for the most part, persons who learned to read before losing their hearing, and whose cases hardly differ from that of a person who should have been, from an early period of life, immured in a library, with but little more than the necessary intercourse with his fellow-men. Such is precisely the case with James Nack, the distinguished deaf and dumb author, and probably the most extraordinary instance which any country can produce of high literary attaininents in a person deprived of hearing in childhood. Cases like that of Nack, however, might occur as well before the possibility of instructing the deaf and dumb from birth was ever thought of, and, from some obscure hints in cotemporary writers, it appears probable they did, -though not perhaps to a degree equally remarkable.

It must be admitted that, while the advantages, both in a moral and intellectual point of view, conferred on so many deaf mutes by the institutions established for their instruction, are immense and incalculable, yet, in the greater number of cases, the degree of success in one point of high importance, instruction in the language of books and newspapers, has been but very moderate; and that, comparatively speaking, but a very small number have attained the ability to derive from reading and writing, that degree of solace and enjoyment which they would afford to a well educated person, accidentally bereft of hearing.

To ascribe the result to any original inferiority of intellect, would be both unjust and absurd. 'l he privation of a sense,

however important, is still but the privation of one means of acquiring knowledge, and affects the faculties of the mind only so far as it restricts ihem in that exercise which is as necessary to the development of the mind as of the body. We have seen that if this privation takes place after the individual has learned to read, if he has free access to books, he is not apt ro exhibit any want of intellectual activity. Neither is the child born deaf, therefore born with any mental inferiority, for if a child born with all its faculties should lose its hearing before the power of speech has been acquired to any extent, it will grow up in character and mental habits utterly undistinguishable from the deaf and dumb who are so by birth. The case just supposed, is so far from uncommon, that it is believed to have occurred with nearly or quite one half of the whole number of the deaf and dumb. The mental peculiarities of deaf mutes must, therefore, be ascribed solely to the peculiar circumstances in which they find themselves placed ; and they differ from other men, only as plants grown from the same seed, and in the same soil, differ, according to the openness or closeness of the situation, the greater or less favorableness of the aspect, and the supply of aliment and of moisture.

Though the deaf and dumb are dumb only because they are deaf, yet their misfortune does not consist in the mere privation of the sense of hearing; for the ideas acquired originally through this sense, namely, ideas of the variations of sound, constitute but a comparatively unimportant part of our stock of knowledge. If the established mode of communication among men were by means of a language of visible signs, whether natural or arbitrary, and if none but natural and imitative cries were used, the privation of hearing would be a matter of small moment, and, even if from birth, would involve no social or intellectual disadvantages. Though the case supposed is an imaginary one, yet the existence of a whole nation using such a language is by no means an impossible event. We have only to suppose that a colony should be planted, whether by accident or design, composed at first, exclusively of deaf mutes, and in a situation which would give them few opportunities for intercourse with the rest of the world. Of their posterity probably much the largest proportion would be able to hear, but would possess no spoken language; and if we suppose the language of gestures to be

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »