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country, On one of these occasions, an Irish soldier, who knew nothing of Belfast, had left his wife in lodgings, on a dark winter evening, whilst he went to the sergeant to get his pay. Having lost his way, he applied to Wilson to direct him home, remembering nothing of his wife's whereabout, but that " after turning one or two corners, he had seen a church." This was a sufficient clue for the blind youth, and he led him through intricate passages, and over the stepping stones of a ditch, to his own door, the soldier innocently observing that Wilson's eyes were better than his own!
Far more surprising is the following anecdote: “Being invited by a friend to spend an evening at his house, I had scarcely sat down when three gentlemen entered; and the conversation turning on the news of the day, I was requested by my friend to repeat the names of as many of the ships of the British navy as I could recollect, telling me at the same time that he had a particular reason for making the request. I commenced, and
friend marked them down as I went along, until I had repeated 620, when he stopped me, saying I had gone far enough. The cause of the request was then explained. One of the gentlemen had wagered a supper that I could not mention 500; he, however, expressed himself much pleased at his loss, having been, as he acknowledged, highly entertained by the experiment."
Who, after this, will be disposed to deny that the Memory in most individuals must be very indifferently educated ? Blindness has certainly no power to change the nature of this faculty, which, indeed, in ordinary cases, is reached chiefly by means of the eye. It might be well, therefore, to study the causes which, in blind persons, render it so astonishingly effective, with a view to school it up to a higher point in all.
Wilson now began to write verses; but says he, “I could never produce any thing in that way which pleased myself.” Sound and sensible critic! Yet among his failures, we find such lines as his · Verses on the Richmond Institution,' copied in the poetical department of our present number. Composed by one destitute of sight, of learning, and even of an intelligent friend who could correct them, we are disposed to think more favorably of these verses than their author. Our admiration, however, rests less on their intrinsic merit than their value psychologically considered ; and we fully concur in Wilson's estimate of their marketable worth.
“ At this time,” says our author, “ I turned my attention to a new occupation, and fixed on that of an itinerant dealer; for this purpose I borrowed a few pounds from a friend, with which I purchased a stock of such hardware articles as might suit the country people.
“ Being at the bottom of fortune's wheel, every new revolution might raise me, but could not possibly depress me lower; and hence I commenced my peregrinations in the country.
“ I found the occupation ill-suited to my circumstances; I was exposed to many inconveniences, and experienced much fatigue and distress, both of body and mind. The want of sight made it difficult for me to steer my course aright, and I was often exposed both to hardships and danger. Many a time have I heard the thunder roll over my head, and felt the teeming rain drench me from head to foot, while I have unknowingly passed by a place of shelter, or stood like a statue, not knowing which way to turn though within a few paces of a house. Still, however, while reflecting on all these circumstances, and on the sympathy which I was sure to meet with after my sufferings, I have been often led to conclude that the balance was in my favour, when compared with many who enjoyed the use of every sense; there is no rose without its thorn, neither is there any state without its comforts."
“In the year 1800, there was an institution established in Belfast, for the purpose of instructing those who were deprived of sight, in such employments as were suited to their unfortunate situation; it was styled, “The Asylum for the Blind.' I was entered on the books of the Institution as an apprentice, and continued in it, until within a few months of its dissolution. When I left the Asylum, I proposed working on my own account, and having acquired a partial knowledge of the upholstery business, I was soon employed. My friends exerted themselves on this occasion to promote my interest, and though there were several individuals who had learned the business in the same Asylum, and who could work better than I, yet I generally had the preference. Many of my friends
went so far as even to contrive work for me, for which they had not immediate use, merely to keep me employed. Although my pecuniary circumstances were not much improved, yet I now experienced a greater share of happiness than I had ever enjoyed before. I was in a situation that afforded me better opportunities of acquiring knowledge than I had ever possessed, previously to this time. I also met with much friendship from many to whom I was but very little known; and when it was understood that I was desirous of information, I generally received assistance in this way, even where I could not have expected it; either the lady of the house in which I was employed, or one of the children, generally read to me while I was at work. Thus I improved my mind, while labouring for my support; time glided pleasantly away, no room being left for idle speculations or gloomy forebodings.
“In 1803, a number of young men formed a Reading Society in Belfast, and, although they were all mechanics, yet some of them were also men of taste, and possessed considerable talents. Into this society I was admitted a member, at the same time that I was kindly exempted from the expense attending its regulations. One of the members was a man of the most extraordinary character I had ever known; and, therefore, I attached myself to him. To good-nature, he united an original genius, good taste, and great sensibility; and, had an early education been his lot, or had his mind been sufficiently expanded by study, he would have become an ornament to society; but he was totally devoid of ambition, and never had a wish to rise above the rank of an humble mechanic. This man proposed to read to me, if I would procure books; our stated time for this employment was from nine o'clock in the evening until one in the morning, in the winter season, and from seven until eleven, in the summer: when I was not particularly engaged, I frequently attended him at other intervals. At breakfast he had half an hour allotted to him, at dinner a whole hour, and every minute of this was filled up, for he generally read to me between every cup of tea. By this means, I committed to memory a vast collection of pieces, both in prose and verse, which I still retain, and which have been, until the present hour, a never-failing source of amusement to me.
The more I heard read, the more my desire for knowledge increased, while I learned, at the same time, that “the more a man knows, he finds he knows the less.'
“So ardent and steady was my desire for knowledge at that time, that I could never bear to be absent a single night from my friend; and often, when walking in the country, where I could have been comfortably accommodated, I have travelled three or four miles, in a severe winter night, to be at my post in time. Pinched with cold, and drenched with rain, I have many a time sat down and listened for several hours together, to the writings of Plutarch, Rollin, or Clarendon. For seven or eight years we continued this course of reading; but to give a catalogue of the authors we perused in that time, would be foreign to my present purpose : suffice it to say, that every book in the English language, which we could procure, was read with avidity. Ancient and Modern History, Poetry, Biography, Essays, Magazines, Voyages, Travels, &c. were among our studies."
The friends of Wilson now advised that he should marry, and his reasons against such a proposal, forcible as they were, were eventually overruled. His inability to provide for a family, and his fear of involving another in his trials, were the chief motires urged against the measure. “ It was enough for me," says he, touchingly, “to suffer alone. I could not think of entailing misery on others." His wife proved a treasure. “We have now lived,” he says, “thirty-six years together, happy in each other's society; and though we have had many trials in the course of that time, such as the loss of children, bad health, and distressed circumstances, a murmur has never escaped her lips. In our pilgrimage here below, these little crosses are necessary—they teach us to know ourselves.”
Mr. Wilson received great kindness and attention from the wealthier residents in his neighbourhood, through whose endeavours he added greatly to his stock of information. “To a few select friends," says he, referring to these literary attainments, “ I repeated, to their entire satisfaction, an epitome of the history of England, from the Norman conquest till the peace in 1783, including invasions, conspiracies, insurrections, and revolutions; the names of all the kings and queens, the
year of their accession, the length of their reigns, and the affinity each had to his predecessor, together with the names and characters of all the great statesmen, heroes, philosophers, and poets, who flourished in the different reigns. In consequence of this and similar rehearsals, I was termed, “The Living Book,' and 'A Walking Encyclopædia;' to others, my knowledge, in such circumstances, appeared as a prodigy, but to myself it proved a source of consolation, and beguiled many a tedious hour."
Though not entirely depending on his literary labors for support, the augmentation they afforded to his very scanty income was most acceptable. “The profits,” he says, “ arising from my publications were very small ;-they did little more than satisfy the demands of the printer and paper manufacturer. I wished above all things, to select a subject on which I could employ my mind more extensively than it had hitherto been engaged, and having devoted much of my time to the study of biography, I found, on acquaintance with this useful branch of history, that there were many, in all ages and in every country, who had laboured under the same calamity with myself, and who had eminently distinguished themselves by their attainments in literature and science. I thought, if these were collected together, and moulded into a new form, it might not only become an amusing, but a useful work, so far as it would show what perseverance and industry could do, in enabling us to overcome difficulties apparently insurmountable. It concerned not me at what time of life, or by what cause they lost their sight, provided that they distinguished themselves after they became blind. My chief object was to prove the energy of the human mind, under one of the greatest privations to which we are liable in this life.”
The result was the very interesting volume already noticed, * a fourth edition of which was printed in 1838, since which period we have no account of our author.
No one who has read but little on the subject can have any adequate idea of the resources of the blind. They can do every
* Biography of the Blind, or the lives of such as have distinguished themselves as poets, philosophers, artists, &c., by James Wilson, who has been blind from his infancy. Birmingham, sold only by the author.