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We will not weary the reader's patience with an elaborate preliminary, nor with apologies for offering the present work to the public. We have been induced to enter the arena of bookmakers, by a desire to disseminate a more correct and extended knowledge of blindness, and its effects upon mental and physical development, than the reading public has hitherto possessed. In this way we hope to remove some of the most formidable obstacles that hedge up the way to usefulness and independence, for all who are placed in this condition; a condition to which, by the vicissitudes of life, every person is exposed, and in whose dark and inauspicious night more than five hundred thousand of our race are at present enshrouded. In almost every State of our Union, as well as in those of Europe, Charity, with her angelic hand, has raised up, within the present century, institutions dedicated to the sacred purpose of giving the light of science, and a knowledge of some of the useful arts, to those who behold not the beautiful earth and the serene sky. But sad experience has taught us, that until society in general better understands and appreciates the abilities of
the blind, all the knowledge and skill we can acquire at these establishments, are not available as means of selfsupport, but tend only to awaken a keener sense of our privation and dependence. To illustrate : A young man graduates at one of our institutions for the blind, after receiving a thorough course of instruction in the theoretical and practical sciences. Elated with the hope of henceforth being able to earn for himself a respectable livelihood, as a teacher of music or of some other science, he hears of a vacant situation, and he makes the necessary application, but is informed that, as he cannot see, he cannot, of course, discharge the requisite duties. The next time an opportunity offers he determines to go in person, say a hundred miles, and in winter, too, to show that he is qualified. If a knowledge of music is required, he performs with proficiency; if literature, philosophy, or mathematics, he is ready and clear, and proves himself competent to the discharge of all the duties of the employment which he seeks. But the idea that one who can see is more serviceable than one who cannot, still erects an impenetrable wall between him and success. And thus the prejudice which his condition creates, opposes him on every side.
Without hesitation we say, that all the most painful disadvantages with which we have been obliged to contend under the absence of sight, have arisen entirely from ignorance, on the part of community, of our capa. bilities and resources. And why all this incredulity and want of confidence? Does not history introduce us to scores of individuals, who have triumphed over all the difficulties of blindness, and have become the most illustrious performers and instructors of their age? Reader, peruse our work with candor, then answer.
It is not surprising that under such formidable opposition and depreciating influences, the blind themselves have, generally speaking, lost sight of the examples which their illustrious predecessors set before them, and have adopted the degrading sentiment of can't do anything." Having lost all confidence in themselves, they beg without shame or compunction of conscience, and advert only to their sightless eyes as an excuse for choosing this disgraceful method of protracting life, when we need not the sagacity of a philosopher to discover that, in ninety-nine hundredths of these cases, their dependence might be more justly attributed to a want of industry and an enterprising spirit, and perhaps a little kindly encouragement on the part of community. Notwithstanding the magnanimous efforts that have been made to elevate the social, moral and intellectual condition of this class, we find an appeal to sympathy painfully prevalent in almost all their transactions with society.
We need but turn to the Prefaces of most of the literary productions of the blind, to discover how much they have countenanced the ignorance and prejudice so prevalent among the public, for the sake of obtaining sympathy where they despaired of inspiring confidence, though eminently deserving. For example, we quote the following: “Any one familiar with the process of composing, and particularly of writing verses, will understand how great the advantages of being able to commit to paper, for preservation or correction, the passages interrupted from day to day, and how immense the labor of bearing them, in fragments or in whole, in the memory, through all delays and interruptions. Such thoughts disarm our criticism, where seeming haste has marred the rhythm or measure of a line, or left some link of fancy loose.”
Such remarks are as erroneous as they are depreciating. Had not Homer, Ossian, Milton, Blacklock, and scores of others, composed and sung their immortal verses while their vision was muffled, deep and dark as the drapery of night, we might be constrained to use metaphysical arguments to expose the inconsistency and vagueness of such methods to obtain favor, and ward off criticism. But they seem now uncalled for. Those who hew and carve poetry, as a toy-maker whittles out his articles, may find a supply of stationery a sine qua non. But a true poetic spirit or genius seems never to have depended upon such agents. We utterly abominate and detest every remark or insinuation that tends to hold up in the light of sympathy the literary efforts of a class, who have in every age won the fairest laurels, and enriched the commonwealth of letters. It has been our object in the present work, to point out to the blind, and the public in general, the achieving abilities of our order.
Reason as well as experience proclaims to us, in tones unmistakable, that until the efforts of the blind are weighed in the balance of merit, it is impossible for us to succeed in any undertaking. Sympathy, like the atmosphere, surrounds us on every side, but like this, it is too light to sustain life. To acknowledge that our present work may have faults and imperfections, is only to admit that it has been produced by human agency. But we certainly cannot ask to have them excused or loved in consequence of our peculiar condition. No: attribute them to our ignorance, carelessness or stupidity, but we pray thee, reader or critic, attribute them not to blindness, for this we must deem rather an advantage than an inconvenience in the art of composition.
Our subject is one of which so many false notions have
been entertained and disseminated by speculative writers, that we have deemed it expedient to give the facts we wish to illustrate in connection with the lives of some of the most distinguished of our class, as we could in such connections best guard against being misunderstood. The characters we have chosen are from almost every age, country, occupation and class of society; so that, though we have dealt somewhat largely in biography, we hope that the facts, trials and triumphs presented may still produce an agreeable variety. The questions so frequently asked with touching pathos, by those who lose their sight in mature life,-“Is there benevolence in this world ? Must charity supply my wants ? Will there be always some hand to lead me? Have the blind ever a home in any heart ? Does anything ever cheer them ? Are their lives always useless ? Is there anything they can do ?”— these interrogatories are, we think, herein fully answered. To accomplish this work, we have spared no time, pains nor expense. All the information relative to the sightless condition, that could be obtained from the records of our Institutions for this class, was, through the kindness of their Principals, placed at our command; and we have imported from Europe for this purpose, numerous valuable works written by the blind, never before possessed by an American public. From these writings, as from many others of our class, we have made a sufficient number of extracts to put beyond question the literary taste and capacity of our order.
It is frequently not uninteresting to the reader, to know something of the author whose thoughts he is perusing. But upon the history of our lives we shall say but little. The principal scenes of life's drama in