this popular impression seemed to attach to these unfortunates; for, in the absence of the natural human faculties, they seemed scarcely to be human beings. Their inability to make their wants or thoughts known, and to communicate with their fellows, made them apparently mere brute beasts, and they were so often treated as such (being buffeted and pelted from place to place) that their hands became habitually against every man, and every man's hand was against them; most violent conduct being often the result, until their condition was miserable in the extreme.

The earliest recorded attempt to teach the deaf and dumb was made in 1750 by a Spanish monk, of Sahagum, named Pedro de Ponce, who instructed four deaf and dumb pupils in speech-what would now be called the “oral system.”* His example was followed by de Carrion, also in Spain; by Wm. Holder in England, and by Wallis, Professor of Mathematics in Oxford, before the end of the century. By Dr. Amman, also, in Holland, whose system was pursued by Kruse of Leignitz, in Germany, and was perfected by Heinicke, who died in 1790 and is considered as the real founder of the German or “oral system as at present known. .(Rep. Deaf and Dumb Com., 1889, pp. li, lii.)

These attempts were, however, isolated, and were limited in their application to a very small number of pupils, to as few as four only, in the first case mentioned above. But in 1712 was born in France a man who became an ecclesiastic ; and, as the Abbé de l'Epée, was filled with pity for these wretched outcasts from society. In 1740 he began to devise a system by which indefinite numbers might be taught to communicate with each other, and possibly with hearing people also, and by which their intelligence might be cultivated and their moral and religious sentiments evoked; so that they might be raised from the level of dangerous brute beasts, and become elevated and useful members of society. With this object he gradually invented what is now called the "sign language” of the deaf and dumb, and after years of work he was followed by the Abbé Sicard, who brought his system to the still more complete condition in which it still exists in active daily work, in every French and English speaking community. The more the details of this system are studied, the higher is the estimation in which it will be held, and the stronger will become the feeling that its author must have been possessed by little less than inspiration from above to have conceived and executed such a method as it is the object of this paper now to illustrate and explain.*

*“So long ago, however, as A.D. 700, an Englishman, John de Beverley, then Archbishop of York, discovered the possibility of teaching a deaf mute to speak and to understand spoken language by watching the lips of the speaker, and he succeeded in instructing one deaf mute at any rate, in something of the Christian religion” (National Cyclopædia, art. “Deaf and Dumb,” p. 439). But neither teacher nor pupil left a successor, and it was not until after the lapse of above a thousand years that the attempt was successfully revived by the Spanish monk in the case of the four pupils above mentioned.

The first object to be accomplished was to find some medium that could be readily grasped and remembered even by such a vacant and apparently blank mind as that of the ordinary deaf and dumb of his day, and thus to gain some means of mental and practical communion with him and others; and it is in the selection of such media that the first rudiments of his system are to be found. Take, for example, a man, a woman, and a child, as the commonest and most tangible objects to be brought before his mind, or the more abstract and advanced ideas of “day and "night.” What was the simplest sign and the most easily executed, and most easily remembered that could be adopted for the representation of a man? At that date beards were commonly worn, and the Abbé selected this as his type of a man, and the hand pulling a real or imaginary beard is universally understood by every deaf and dumb person of French or English origin as meaning a man.

*"His great object being to impart instruction to the deaf and dumb, he spent his whole income, beside what was contributed by benevolent patrons, in the education and maintenance of his pupils, for whose wants he provided with such disinterested devotion that he often deprived himself of the necessaries of life, restricting himself to the plainest food, and clothing himself in the coarsest apparel. He died in 1789.”—Gates' Dict. Gen. Biog., 4th ed., 1885, p. 391.

But a “woman"-what of her ? At that date ringlets were commonly worn by French women, and the forefinger of each hand making an imaginary corkscrew on the side of the face was the sign for a woman, until ringlets went out of fashion. At the present date the forefinger moved over the side of the face and chin, to indicate the absence of a beard, and therefore a woman,* is the modern sign. The deaf and dumb language has evolved that change out of changed circumstances.

But a child ? A boy is a small man—therefore the sex is indicated by the plucking the beard, and the childish age by stooping down and spreading out the hands about the level of the knees. A girl would similarly be indicated by the imaginary ringlets and the hands held out at the imaginary childish height. A baby would be an imaginary something gently tossed in the arms, or lying in one arm and gently stroked by the other hand, accompanied by looks of affection on some occasions, but possibly by a different expression, if indicating a teething child in the small hours of the morning.

* There is some complexity about the modern sign for “woman.” The finger passing over the smooth face is in some Deaf and Dumb Schools the sign for “girl” not woman, who is represented by the three fingers placed on the palm of the hand or on the forehead, which is the finger-alphabet letter “M.” and generally indicates the “M”-woman—the mother. But in the Liverpool school and some others the children make no distinction between woman in general and mother in particular. Thus, if a lady or any other woman calls at the school to visit it or to see the master, the deaf and dumb messenger informs the master that an “M” wants to see him, as if every

was a “mother" in the estimation of the deaf and dumb child. (See p. 274.)


So much for tangible visible objects, but how were more abstract ideas, such as day and night, to be represented by signs ?

Day is always naturally associated with light, and that with the sun, while night is equally associated with darkness, or with the moon. But the sun, whenever it is visible, is round, and so, more or less, is the human face. The finger, therefore, drawing a circle round the face, is the “sign " for day, or for light, while two fingers closing the eyelids is the sign for darkness, and the fingers passed along one side of the face indicate a crescent (the typical condition of the moon), which therefore represents night.

After the above indication of the principle upon which the Abbé de l’Epée constructed his “sign language" in its most rudimentary stage, we may now give a few more illustrations of this language to show how wonderfully it was constructed for raising the intelligence and cultivating the observing faculties of his poor defective pupils.

Man, woman, child, and baby, have been already considered, but how was nationality to be indicated ? For a man might be of any nation under the sun. The Abbé first symbolised the man, and then looked out for some striking characteristic of the nation that could be easily remembered, and as easily illustrated. For example,

A Scotchman. Sign-1st, a man in the abstract; then work the elbow up and down from the side, and twiddle with the fingers of both hands as if playing the bagpipes ; and finally convert the simple Scotchman into a Highlander by cutting off his garments at the knees by a movement of the hands asunder.

An Irishman. 1st, a man; 2nd, the right arm raised over the head flourishing an imaginary shillelagh, one leg also being raised in triumph.

A Frenchman. 1st, a man; 2nd, French shrug of the shoulders.

An Englishman. What characterises an Englishman in the eyes of others we ourselves should never have guessed. In the Abbé's eyes an Englishman is a handshaking man. Therefore, 1st, a man; 2nd, imaginary handshaking.

An American. Eminently a handshaking man. Therefore, 1st, a man; 2nd, handshaking; and 3rd (to distinguish him from the Englishman), an imaginary hat on one side of his head, with an imaginary depression in the crown—"a billycock."


BAD, &c. Good is always represented by one thumb held up. Very good by two thumbs. Bad or very bad by one or both little fingers turned downwards or outwards.

These signs, therefore, after the sign for the man, woman, or child, indicate their quality.


A horse. The two hands holding imaginary reins, and the imaginary rider rising and falļing in the saddle.

A donkey. The two open hands held up to the sides of the head, and moved gently backward and forward, to represent his ears. A cow.

The two closed hands drawn in a curved direction sideways from the temples, to indicate the projecting unbranched horns.

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