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The branch of biography which the following pages exhibit, has not, until now, been entered on as a distinct subject. In all preceding works, the lives of the blind have been classed and confounded with those of others; and though individuals have been pointed out as objects of admiration and astonishment, yet no work has appeared in which they have been considered in a proper point of view, as a class of men seemingly separated from society; cut off from the whole visible world, and deprived of the inost valuable faculty that man can possess; yet, in many
instances, overcoming all those difficulties which would have been thought insurmountable, had not experience proved the contrary.
In the pursuit of knowledge, the blind have been very successful, and many of them have acquired the first literary honours, that their own, or foreign universities could confer. If they have not excelled, they have equalled many of their contemporaries, in the different branches of philosophy, but more particularly in the science of mathematics, many of them having been able to solve the most abstruse problems in algebra. In poetry, they have been equally distinguished. Two of the greatest men that ever courted the muses, laboured under the deprivation of sight Homer, the venerable father of epic poetry, and Milton, the inimitable author of “ Paradise Lost.” In philosophy, Saunderson and Euler were eminently distinguished. The former lost his sight when only twelve months old, but was enabled, by the strength of his comprehensive genius, to delineate the phenomena of the rainbow, with all the variegated beauty of colours, and to clear up several dark and mysterious passages, which appeared in Newton's Principia. And though the latter did not lose his sight until he arrived at the years of manhood, yet, after that period, he was able to astonish the world by his labours in the rich fields of science, where he earned those laurels which still continue to flourish in unfaded bloom. He had the honour of settling that dispute which had so long divided the opinions of philosophers in Europe, respecting the Newtonian and Cartesian systems, by deciding in favour of Newton, tu the satisfaction of all parties. The treasures of his fertile genius still enrich the academies of Paris, Basle, Berlin, and St. Petersburgh.
In mechanics, the blind have almost surpassed the bounds of probability, were not facts supported by evidence of unquestionable authority. Here, we find architects building bridges, drawing plans of new roads, and executing them to the satisfaction of the commissioners. These roads are still to be seen in the counties of York and Lancaster, where they have
been carried through the most difficult parts of the country, over bogs and mountains. Indeed, there are few branches of mechanics in which the blind have not excelled.
It was of trifling importance to me, at what time of life or by what cause, the subjects of these memoirs lost their sight, provided they distinguished themselves after they became blind. My principal object was, to exemplify the powers of the human mind, under one of the greatest privations to which man is exposed in this life. It was partly with a view of rescuing my fellow sufferers from the neglect and obscurity in which many of them were involved, that I was induced to commence the present work,—an undertaking attended with immense toil and laborious research. This will readily be allowed, when it is considered that I had often to depend on the kindness of strangers, for the loan of such books as were requisite for my purpose, and also to supply the place of a reader or amanuensis. However, after surmounting the various difficulties with which I had to contend, the work made its appearance in 1820, in one volume, 12mo. The reception it met with from the public, was gratifying to my feelings, and far exceeded my expectations.
The present edition is very much improved and enlarged; many new and interesting subjects being added, which I hope will meet with the approbation of my kind friends, and generous subscribers.