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It is a very interesting and instructive fact, that, among those who in every age have been distinguished for their scientific and literary attainments, appear the names of men who, during their whole lives, were compelled to contend with obstacles which to common minds seem utterly impossible to be overcome. But of all the disadvantages to which a human being can ever be subjected in the pursuit of knowledge, the privation of one or more of the senses, must be admitted as the most appalling. For the senses are the avenues by which the mind obtains its knowledge of the material world; and it would seem that when one of these is rendered useless, the mind could at most be but imperfectly developed. And yet, if history is to be credited, there have been in almost every age blind men, (we mention blind men, because sight is regarded as the most important of the senses,) whose misfortune has only served to stimulate them to greater exertions in the acquisition of knowledge. All that we really know of the greatest poet the world has ever produced, is, that he was a blind man; and the
1 It will be interesting to the reader to know, that the author of this article is, himself, a subject of the privation which he describes.-Ed. 1
immortal author of the Paradise Lost was subjected to the same calamity. We might multiply instances of these, to an extent which would astonish those who have never given any attention to the subject. We could show that, not only in poetry, but in almost every other department of literature, in the sciences, and in the cultivation of many of the arts, blindness really constitutes no impediment.
We propose, however, in this article, to confine our observations to one who would, probably, have been a remarkable man under any circumstances; whose wonderful powers no misfortune, however great, could entirely prevent from making an impression, in whatever avocation he might have been called to exercise them. No one can read the life of Sanderson, without being more de impressed with the power of mind to subject matter to its purposes, and without feeling convinced that there is, in the mighty energies of a well-directed intellect, a force which no mere physical misfortune can withstand. It is to be deeply regretted, that a full and adequate biography of Sanderson has not yet been given to the world. A mere sketch of his life was published in the appendix to his work on Fluxions; and a short, but very interesting account of him, contained in a work published by the Society in England for the Dissemination of Useful Knowledge, is all we know of one of the greatest men of the last century. Lord Brougham, in a labored effort, has attempted to vindicate Voltaire from the obliquy to which his untiring efforts to overthrow Christianity had consigned him; and Carlyle, with, we think much more commendable zeal, has endeavored to redeem the name of Cromwell from the reproaches heaped upon it by a corrupt aristocracy, and a degraded priesthood. And may we not hope that some one of the great minds of our day, will yet do justice to the memory and merits of Sanderson? All that we can do in this paper, is to give something like a connected statement of the facts of his life, collected from the sources mentioned above; and to make a few observations upon the method by which he was enabled to substitute other senses for the one of which he was deprived. We may, in this way, testify, in our humble manner, gratitude for his example, and admiration for his success.
Nicholas Sanderson was born at the village of Thurston, in Yorkshire, England, in 1682.2 "He was only a year old, when he was deprived, by small-pox, not only of sight, but even of his eyes themselves, which were destroyed by abscess." It was fortunate for Sanderson that he lost his sight at this early age; since those persons who become blind in infancy, or who were born blind, always possess advantages over those who have had the use of their eyes until they have arrived at maturity. Sanderson, when very young, displayed a fondness for knowledge, which, instead of being suppressed, as in most blind persons of that day, was encouraged by his parents, who sent him to a free school, at Penniston, in the neighborhood of his native place. It was probably here, where, for the first time, he had to contend with those who possessed the advantages of vision, that the energy and perseverance, to which he owed his success in after life, first manifested themselves. It is not very difficult to conceive of the method, which must have been pursued by his master, in imparting to the mind of his blind pupil the elements of knowledge. He must have had the lesson read to him frequently, until his memory was enabled to retain it. It is possible that he was assisted in the study of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and the higher mathematics, by contrivances similar to those made use of by Abbe Hauy, and which are now employed in the institutions for the education of the blind, in Europe, and in this country. For the most part, however, his instruction must have been oral. His knowledge of the languages, in which he attained great proficiency, could only have been acquired by the assistance of an amanuensis. We are informed that, at the age of sixteen, Sanderson could read, or understand when read to him, works written in the Greek and Latin languages, with as much ease those written in his native tongue. There are several Latin compositions of great merit, written by him, still But it was probably in mathematics that he most excelled. His successor in the University of Cambridge,
2It may be interesting to the reader to know, that in just one hundred years from the birth of Sanderson, Abbe Hauy, prompted by Sanderson's example, made the first efforts in Europe to educate the blind.
asserts that Sanderson surveyed the whole coast of Scotland. Of course, it is meant that he performed the mathematical process, employing another person's eyes in making the necessary observations. The faculties upon which he most depended in acquiring his education, are those which, in the minds of most blind persons, predominateand concentration. These faculties are, memory, by no means, the most important of those with which God has endowed us; but the process best calculated to develope them, is that which is best suited to invigorate all the other mental powers. The necessity, under which a blind person labors, in acquiring a knowledge of men and things, early renders his memory very retentive; and if he pursues its cultivation through life, it compensates him, in a very great degree, for the want of that sovereign organ, upon which others rely, by which they are enabled to recur to books, and take cognizance of facts in the world around them. Abercrombie mentions a blind man, who could repeat, verbatim, any part of the Bible to which his attention was directed; and he also relates many other wonderful facts, showing the extent and capability of this faculty. If we bear in mind the fact, that it is by sight alone that we obtain our knowledge of all those objects by which we are not immediately surrounded, — that, although the principal use of the eye is to make us acquainted with colors, yet we actually make use of it to obtain a knowledge of motion, form, space, &c., — we shall be able to appreciate more fully the difficulties which must have beset the path of Sanderson. But, unattracted by surrounding objects, he could the better concentrate his naturally energetic mind upon whatever subject he desired to investigate; and this, together with his powerful memory, of which we have already spoken, enabled him not merely to compete with his schoolmates, but actually to surpass them. The father of Sanderson held a place in the excise of his native county; his income was, therefore, not sufficient to enable him to give his son a liberal education, or to provide him with the means of fully gratifying his love of knowledge. When he had reached his twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth year, he was still without a profession. His own wish was to go to the university; but the limited circumstances of his father