Imagini ale paginilor

brought to a high degree of improvement in such a community, as it probably would be, it may be doubtful whether a language of sounds would ever be originated among them, as its necessity would not be felt. But in such a community the condition of the blind would be far more deplorable, and their education far more impracticable than that of the deaf and dumb is among us. As the ear could not supply to them in the situation supposed, the place of the eye, their condition would be precisely that of the deaf, dumb and blind, those most affecting, but happily rare examples, that show us what a helpless thing the human soul, despite its boasted powers and its immortal destiny, becomes by cutting off the usual nerves of communication with the external world, and with kindred minds. In these considerations we may find an additional motive for believing that speech is not a human invention as some have held, and that all that is has been planned by infinite wisdom, with a view to the greatest good of the greatest number.

We shall presently recur again to the idea of a deaf-mute community, which we have introduced in this place to enable the reader to conceive more clearly why the privation of hearing is, under ordinary circumstances, a doom so terribly severe to a social intelligence. The ability to hear words is of no value where there are no words to hear, and he who should be cast alone on a desert island, or placed in such a community as we have just supposed, would, in consequence of that ability, have no advantage whatever over a deaf mute. But the real misfortune of the latter, and it is indeed one of a magnitude not readily conceivable, consists in his being cut off from the ordinary social and intellectual intercourse of his fellow men. He thus finds himself, in every moral and intellectual point of view, thrown back into that state of nature from which society has been gradually emerging during thousands of years. That traditional knowledge, the fruit of the experience and meditations of successive generations, which accumulates in the memory of a child who hears without a sensible effort on his part, by merely listening to remarks made sometimes to him, far oftener accidentally in his hearing, is to the deaf child, except when placed in a community of deaf mutes, a treasure inaccessible-a book sealed.

It would be aside from our present purpose to give a dissertation on the characters of the uneducated deaf and dumb.

Let it suffice to say, that they are such as might be expected from minds constituted like our own, but not like our own cultivated and improved. That is to say, that they display the traits of untaught childhood, or of tribes little advanced in knowledge, not as many, by a strange propensity to degrade their own species, would have us believe, of apes or monkies. Such an opinion is not surprising in the vulgar, who are accustomed to think the power of speech the only difference between man and the ape; but we cannot restrain our surprise and indignation, when we find it gravely asserted and maintained by men in other respects sensible and intelligent, even by not a few who have aspired to the first rank in philosophy. Strange to say, some eminent teachers of the deaf and dumb, who ought, of all men, to have known better, either judging from particular instances of early neglect and seclusion, or influenced by a desire to magnify their own success, have lent the sanction of their names to opinions degrading their uninstructed fellow-man to the level of the brutes that perish. It is certain that the deaf mute receives a mind and a heart by nature, in which the seeds of warm affections, and even of bright talents, are as frequently implanted as in the minds and hearts of speaking children, and need only as diligent cultivation to quicken them into as vigorous growth. Education has, in many instances, wonderfully improved his mental faculties, because those faculties were formed capable of improvement. The teacher can no more create a mind, where a mind is wanting, than the workman can manufacture a watch without the steel, the brass, and the silver.*

But it may be asked, if there is no original inferiority, why have not the deaf and dumb, instructed for years with unwearied pains, by men of liberal education and of eminent ability, been raised, as a body, to the intellectual rank of their well educated fellow-men? To which we reply that very many, perhaps the greater number so educated, notwithstanding the scantiness of the period usually allowed for a task so arduous, have attained this rank,-so far as a knowledge of facts and principles, phenomena and causes is concerned ;

* Tales of the Deaf and Dumb, with Miscellaneous Poems, by John R. Burnet. Newark, 1835.

but, from their generally imperfect knowledge of written ianguage, the world cannot judge of the extent of their acquire


Instruction in written language is, in fact, the only real difficulty in their education. For all other purposes it might be sufficient, if those deaf mutes, whom the accident of birth scatters abroad at a distance from each other, seldom admitting of the mutual improvement of the dialect of gestures devised by each solitary mute for himself, should be collected in communities, or rather drawn together in particular towns and villages, in which there should be a sufficient proportion of deaf mutes to make their language generally intelligible for the purposes of business, of social intercourse, and it might easily be, even of public deliberative assemblies. In such a community the language of gestures might, in the space of a few generations, attain to a degree of perfection much greater than it has attained, even in the oldest existing institution, whose pupils seldom remain long enough to improve, to any considerable extent, the language they find in use, and moreover have their attention, during their limited term of study, occupied with a very different language,—a language, whose importance as a means of communication with the world in which they are to live, is too great to permit its being neglected for the improvement of one of which the use will have to be, in most cases, discontinued when they leave the schools. Yet, notwithstanding these disadvantages, the sign dialects of our schools are abundantly sufficient, not only for social intercourse, but for public instruction whether in history, science, morals, or religion.

In such a community the deaf mute, in every sense of the word a stranger in the world beside, would feel himself at home. He might not only rival his fellows in mechanical skill and physical endurance, but the wide arena of the mind would be open to him. He might not only excel as a painter, or a sculptor but even as an orator, for the language of pantomime in the hands of a master, is the most eloquent of all languages. Thus he could acquire all that power over the minds of his fellow-men, which eloquence never fails to give. Minds would be trained, and their faculties sharpened by free competition and collision with equal minds. Each individual would bring his own experience, the fruits of his own meditations, to swell the common mass of still accumulating in

tellectual wealth. In short, though such a community would no doubt exhibit much that would be peculiar, yet, even though writing should be unknown, the present intellectual degradation of the deaf and dumb would by no means be one of its characteristics. And no doubt, some mode of writing would in time come into use, better adapted to the circumstances of the deaf and dumb, than the tedious and complicated characters for words now in use.

With many of the educated deaf, and with some of their teachers, the formation of such a community has been a favorite project. But for that end, all the ties of early associations, of business, of country, home and kindred, must be broken up. It would be too much to expect such sacrifices from many of the families accidentally containing deaf mute children; and if these children should be taken from their natural protectors, without regard to the yearnings of parental and fraternal affection, and settled for life in a community of deaf mutes exclusively, marriages would take place among them, when of suitable age, as certainly as in any other community; and a multitude of children would soon grow up, able to hear with few exceptions, for deafness is rarely hereditary, but,-like those children mentioned by Herodotus, whom an ancient king of Egypt, desirous of ascertaining what was the original language of mankind, caused to be brought up in seclusion by dumb persons-without any spoken language, because there was no spoken language for them to learn. The project of a deaf mute community on a large scale, is therefore generally considered an Utopian scheme. It is at present, and will long continue necessary to place the deaf mute child, for a limited number of years, in an institution, where all the facilities of intellectual development afforded by a deaf mute community are provided during the term of his stay; and where, moreover, he will be taught, as far as practicable, a language universally intelligible among those to whose society he will return.

The causes which make the perfect acquisition of a written language so peculiarly difficult for the deaf and dumb, and their instruction in it a task so long and wearisome, are not generally understood. Strange to say, many people confound this case with that of children learning to read and write in ordinary schools. The latter, already masters, for all necessary purposes, of their mother tongue, have only to learn

twenty-six characters representing the elementary sounds of words already familiar. When the value of these characters is once well fixed in the memory, the only remaining difficulties are those arising from an irregular orthography. To the deaf mute, on the other hand, not only the characters representing words are strangers, but the sounds of the words themselves have not, and for him never can have any existence. When he has become familiar with the form of every letter in the alphabet, he is not a step further advanced towards a knowledge of words, than the English child who has learned the Hebrew alphabet, is thereby advanced towards a knowledge of the words of that language. In each case it is necessary to explain the value of each individual word, and the laws of construction, in the study of a foreign language, often present much greater difficulties than the nomencla


The Hebrew is here selected, because its alphabet, its words, and its syntax being all radically different from our own, it affords a good illustration, though still an inadequate one, of the difficulty of the acquisition of a written language, by those who, though living among the people by whom that language is spoken, have never heard a word of it, and to whom therefore, it is as truly a foreign language as the Hebrew is to us.

A still better illustration would be the case of an European or American attempting to learn from books the Chinese written language; yet in that we are told, there are only about two hundred and fourteen radical characters, and, these being once well fixed in the memory, it becomes comparatively an easy task to understand and remember the thirty-three thousand characters formed by combinations of these. But if we examine the English language, we shall find several thousand words, primitives to us, though very many of them may be compounds or derivatives in the languages whence they were taken. Each of these primitive words must be retained by a direct effort of the memory, unassisted by any associations with other words, in our language, previously known; and in the case of the deaf and dumb, they must be recollected, as we recollect the Chinese characters, by their appearance on paper, unaided by any associations of their parts with the sounds of words. To this class of learners, our written words must appear as a jumble of letters, each by itself sig

« ÎnapoiContinuă »