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the senses may not be reduced to a modification of touch, -as the ear touching or feeling vibrations of the air, the eye touching rays of light,--we say, in common language that the sight is
—we the most important of the senses. This is undeniably the case with regard to the physical world, and all our relations with matter; but it is a question, whether for all the abstract sciences, for the study of the moral and intellectual nature of man, the hearing is not more important; and I shall afterwards show why a person who should be reduced to the alternative of losing his sight or his hearing, ought unhesitatingly to say, let ine be blind rather than deaf; shut up the windows of the body, through which I see only beautiful and curious arrangements of matter, but leave open that wider avenue, through which comes the voice of affection and the action of mind.
When we consider man as a race, we find that the external senses are modified in as many ways as there are individuals ; some have one sense very acute, and another dull; some have a modification of two acute, and three dull; and so on, in an endless combination, equalled only by the variety of physiognomy.
Among the modifications, we find it a law of nature, that a certain proportion of every generation shall be born deaf, or blind. I say a law, because it has the characteristics of a natural law; it applies to all countries and to all ages. We have now to consider blindness, and inquire what is the average proportion of those who are born blind, and how far this proportion is dependent upon an uncontrollable decree of God, or how far He has left it to be decided by man's obedience or disobedience of the natural organic laws. When we have decided this, we are to see how far the powers
be competent to palliate the effects of a circumstance, I will not call it evil,—which he cannot prevent.
There can be no more striking proof of the value of statistical details, than their indispensable necessity in the investigation of blindness and similar infirmities. Had we exact knowl
of man may
edge of the number of congenitally blind persons in several countries and sections of countries, and through a long series of years, we might ascertain how far it was dependent upon man's disobedience of the organic laws of his nature, and how far upon the inserutable, but immutable constitution of things. In the absence of such information, we can only make an approximation to the truth.
As a general rule, then, blindness is more frequent in the equatorial regions, and decreases as we approach the poles. Local causes, however, modify this general rule. Thus Egypt, Abyssinia, and the neighboring regions, are par excellence the countries of the blind. In Egypt, particularly, the proportion of blind to the whole population, is sadly great; sonie writers put as high as one in the hundred, making thirty thousand blind. My own observations induce me to think that the proportion is considerably less, perhaps one in three hundred, or ten thousand to the whole country; though the number of persons with one eye, or distorted eyes, is much greater. In Europe, the proportion generally is about one in fifteen hundred persons; in this country one in about eighteen hundred ; or about seven thousand five hundred to the whole country! Is it possible, you may exclaim ;-can it be, that from seven to eight thousand of our fellow creatures are at this moment, and in our country, sitting in darkness ? Can it be, that this morning's sun, which shines so brightly and cheerily upon us, is to so many thousands around us but a heated, blackened mass? Can it be, that the green and beauteous garb which nature now wears, is to so many but a dark and gloomy pall? Aye! it is but too true; and although, as we shall afterwards see, that the blind are not necessarily the sad and cheerless sufferers we should suppose them to be, it becomes every one to consider how the number may be diminished, or the situation of the whole ameliorated. That the proportion of the blind to the whole population might be diminished by wise social regulations, and by the dissemination of knowledge of the
organic laws of man, there is not a doubt ; but whether the time has come, or ever will come, is another question. At any rate, to so enlightened a body as I have the honor of addressing, suggestions of methods by which the extent of blindness may be limited, will neither be misapplied, nor liable to offend a mawkish sensibility. That the blindness of a large proportion of society is a social evil, will not be denied ; nor will the right which society has to diminish that proportion be questioned. But how ?-in a very simple way,—by preventing the transmission of an hereditary blindness to another generation ;—by preventing the marriage of those who are congenitally blind, or who have lost their sight by reason of a hereditary weakness of the visual organs, which disqualifies them to resist the slightest inflammation or injury in childhood.
I am aware that many people would condemn this proposition, as cruel ; because it might add to the sadness of the sufferers; and that the whole seven thousand five hundred blind would rise up and scout it, as barbarous and unnatural ; for I have experienced the effects of contradiction to the wills of individual blind persons in this respect. But my rule is, the good of the community, before that of the individual ; the good of the race, before that of the community. To give you an instance ;—the city of Boston, with a population of eighty thousand, is represented in the Institution for the Blind, by two blind children only; and I know of but four in the whole population. While Andover, with but five thousand, is fully and ably represented by seven ; and it has three more growing up:
Now, how is this? Why, the blind of Andover are mostly from a common stock; three of them are born of one mother, who has had four blind children. Another of the pupils is cousin, in the first degree, to these three; and two other pupils are cousins in a remote degree. Then, from other places, there are two brothers, who have
a third at home. There is one blind girl, who has two blind sisters at home. Then there are two pairs of sisters.
In the immediate vicinity of Boston, I know a family in which blindness is hereditary; the last generation there were five. Of those five, one is married, and has four children,not one of whom can see well enough to read. And if the others marry, they may increase the number to twelve or twenty.
Now, apply this state of things to the whole country, and have you any difficulty in conceiving how it happens, that there are seven thousand five hundred blind in the United States ? And can you doubt whether or not this great proportion of blind to the whole community, might not be considerably diminished, if men and women understood the organic laws of their nature, -understood that, very often, blindness is the punishment following an infringement of the natural laws of God; and if they could be made to act upon the holy Christian principles that we should deny ourselves any individual gratification, any selfish desire, that may result in evil to the community ?
I would that every individual, whom I have the honor to address, would assist in the education of the blind, so far as to give them just and Christian views of this subject. I would that all should work for society, not for society to-day alone, but for the society of future ages ;-not in any one narrow, partial way, but upon a broad scale; and in every way in which they can be useful. If a person congenitally blind, or strongly predisposed to become so, or one who marries a person so born, or so predisposed, has blind offspring in consequence of it, I ask, is he not as responsible, in a moral point of view, for the infirmity of his children, as though he had put out their
with his own hands? You may suppose, perhaps, that the infirmity of blindness would incapacitate the sufferers from winning the affections of seeing persons; and that with respect to two blind persons, the sense of incapacity to support a family would prevent them from uniting themselves. In the first place, I answer, that seeing people do no better than the blind. Even a blind man may perceive that many marriages are mere matters of course, resulting from juxta position of parties, and rarely matters where the purer affections and higher moral sentiments are consulted. And, in the second place, that incapacity of supporting a family will not weigh a feather in the balance with desire, unless the intellectual and moral nature is enlightened and cultivated. Do we not see, every day, cases of misery entailed upon whole families, because one of the parents had overlooked, or disregarded moral infirmity, which ought to have been a greater objection than any physical defect,—than even blindness or deafness ?
But no process of reasoning is required; for there stand the facts. The blind not only seek for partners in life, but are sometimes sought by seeing persons; and numerous instances have occurred within my knowledge. It is true, that despair of success in any other quarter, or an equally unworthy motive, may induce some to seek for partners among the blind, or the blind to unite with the blind; but still, there is the evil.
My observation induces me to think that the blind, far more than seeing persons, are fond of social relations, and desirous of family endearments. A moment's thought would induce one to conclude, that this would naturally be the case ; a moment's observation convinces one that it is so. Now, I have found among them, some of the most pious, intelligent and disinterested beings I ever knew; but hardly more than one, who was prepared to forego the enjoyments of domestic relations. And how can we expect them to be so, more than seeing people? The fact is, but very few persons in the community give any attention to the laws of their organic nature, and the tendency to hereditary transmission of infirmities. Very few consider, that they owe more to society than to their