The World I Live In Part 4

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There is a consonance of all things, a blending of all that we know about the material world and the spiritual. It consists for me of all the impressions, vibrations, heat, cold, taste, smell, and the sensations which these convey to the mind, infinitely combined, interwoven with a.s.sociated ideas and acquired knowledge. No thoughtful person will believe that what I said about the meaning of footsteps is strictly true of mere jolts and jars. It is an array of the spiritual in certain natural elements, tactual beats, and an acquired knowledge of physical habits and moral traits of highly organized human beings. What would odours signify if they were not a.s.sociated with the time of the year, the place I live in, and the people I know?

The result of such a blending is sometimes a discordant trying of strings far removed from a melody, very far from a symphony. (For the benefit of those who must be rea.s.sured, I will say that I have felt a musician tuning his violin, that I have read about a symphony, and so have a fair intellectual perception of my metaphor.) But with training and experience the faculties gather up the stray notes and combine them into a full, harmonious whole. If the person who accomplishes this task is peculiarly gifted, we call him a poet. The blind and the deaf are not great poets, it is true. Yet now and again you find one deaf and blind who has attained to his royal kingdom of beauty.

I have a little volume of poems by a deaf-blind lady, Madame Bertha Galeron. Her poetry has versatility of thought. Now it is tender and sweet, now full of tragic pa.s.sion and the sternness of destiny. Victor Hugo called her "La Grande Voyante." She has written several plays, two of which have been acted in Paris. The French Academy has crowned her work.

The infinite wonders of the universe are revealed to us in exact measure as we are capable of receiving them. The keenness of our vision depends not on how much we can see, but on how much we feel. Nor yet does mere knowledge create beauty. Nature sings her most exquisite songs to those who love her. She does not unfold her secrets to those who come only to gratify their desire of a.n.a.lysis, to gather facts, but to those who see in her manifold phenomena suggestions of lofty, delicate sentiments.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Copyright, 1907, by The Whitman Studio

The Little Boy Next Door

To face page 120]

Am I to be denied the use of such adjectives as "freshness" and "sparkle," "dark" and "gloomy"? I have walked in the fields at early morning. I have felt a rose-bush laden with dew and fragrance. I have felt the curves and graces of my kitten at play. I have known the sweet, shy ways of little children. I have known the sad opposites of all these, a ghastly touch picture. Remember, I have sometimes travelled over a dusty road as far as my feet could go. At a sudden turn I have stepped upon starved, ign.o.ble weeds, and reaching out my hands, I have touched a fair tree out of which a parasite had taken the life like a vampire. I have touched a pretty bird whose soft wings hung limp, whose little heart beat no more. I have wept over the feebleness and deformity of a child, lame, or born blind, or, worse still, mindless. If I had the genius of Thomson, I, too, could depict a "City of Dreadful Night" from mere touch sensations. From contrasts so irreconcilable can we fail to form an idea of beauty and know surely when we meet with loveliness?

Here is a sonnet eloquent of a blind man's power of vision:


Thou tall, majestic monarch of the wood, That standest where no wild vines dare to creep, Men call thee old, and say that thou hast stood A century upon my rugged steep; Yet unto me thy life is but a day, When I recall the things that I have seen,-- The forest monarchs that have pa.s.sed away Upon the spot where first I saw thy green; For I am older than the age of man, Or all the living things that crawl or creep, Or birds of air, or creatures of the deep; I was the first dim outline of G.o.d's plan: Only the waters of the restless sea And the infinite stars in heaven are old to me.

I am glad my friend Mr. Stedman knew that poem while he was making his Anthology, for knowing it, so fine a poet and critic could not fail to give it a place in his treasure-house of American poetry. The poet, Mr.

Clarence Hawkes, has been blind since childhood; yet he finds in nature hints of combinations for his mental pictures. Out of the knowledge and impressions that come to him he constructs a masterpiece which hangs upon the walls of his thought. And into the poet's house come all the true spirits of the world.

It was a rare poet who thought of the mountain as "the first dim outline of G.o.d's plan." That is the real wonder of the poem, and not that a blind man should speak so confidently of sky and sea. Our ideas of the sky are an acc.u.mulation of touch-glimpses, literary allusions, and the observations of others, with an emotional blending of all. My face feels only a tiny portion of the atmosphere; but I go through continuous s.p.a.ce and feel the air at every point, every instant. I have been told about the distances from our earth to the sun, to the other planets, and to the fixed stars. I multiply a thousand times the utmost height and width that my touch, and thus I gain a deep sense of the sky's immensity.

Move me along constantly over water, water, nothing but water, and you give me the solitude, the vastness of ocean which fills the eye. I have been in a little sail-boat on the sea, when the rising tide swept it toward the sh.o.r.e. May I not understand the poet's figure: "The green of spring overflows the earth like a tide"? I have felt the flame of a candle blow and flutter in the breeze. May I not, then, say: "Myriads of fireflies flit hither and thither in the dew-wet gra.s.s like little fluttering tapers"?

Combine the endless s.p.a.ce of air, the sun's warmth, the clouds that are described to my understanding spirit, the frequent breaking through the soil of a brook or the expanse of the wind-ruffled lake, the tactual undulation of the hills, which I recall when I am far away from them, the towering trees upon trees as I walk by them, the bearings that I try to keep while others tell me the directions of the various points of the scenery, and you will begin to feel surer of my mental landscape. The utmost bound to which my thought will go with clearness is the horizon of my mind. From this horizon I imagine the one which the eye marks.

Touch cannot bridge distance,--it is fit only for the contact of surfaces,--but thought leaps the chasm. For this reason I am able to use words descriptive of objects distant from my senses. I have felt the rondure of the infant's tender form. I can apply this perception to the landscape and to the far-off hills.




I HAVE not touched the outline of a star nor the glory of the moon, but I believe that G.o.d has set two lights in mind, the greater to rule by day and the lesser by night, and by them I know that I am able to navigate my life-bark, as certain of reaching the haven as he who steers by the North Star. Perhaps my sun s.h.i.+nes not as yours. The colours that glorify my world, the blue of the sky, the green of the fields, may not correspond exactly with those you delight in; but they are none the less colour to me. The sun does not s.h.i.+ne for my physical eyes, nor does the lightning flash, nor do the trees turn green in the spring; but they have not therefore ceased to exist, any more than the landscape is annihilated when you turn your back on it.

I understand how scarlet can differ from crimson because I know that the smell of an orange is not the smell of a grape-fruit. I can also conceive that colours have shades, and guess what shades are. In smell and taste there are varieties not broad enough to be fundamental; so I call them shades. There are half a dozen roses near me. They all have the unmistakable rose scent; yet my nose tells me that they are not the same. The American Beauty is distinct from the Jacqueminot and La France. Odours in certain fade as really to my sense as certain colours do to yours in the sun. The freshness of a flower in my hand is a.n.a.logous to the freshness I taste in an apple newly picked. I make use of a.n.a.logies like these to enlarge my conceptions of colours. Some a.n.a.logies which I draw between qualities in surface and vibration, taste and smell, are drawn by others between sight, hearing, and touch. This fact encourages me to persevere, to try and bridge the gap between the eye and the hand.

Certainly I get far enough to sympathize with the delight that my kind feel in beauty they see and harmony they hear. This bond between humanity and me is worth keeping, even if the idea on which I base it prove erroneous.

Sweet, beautiful vibrations exist for my touch, even though they travel through other substances than air to reach me. So I imagine sweet, delightful sounds, and the artistic arrangement of them which is called music, and I remember that they travel through the air to the ear, conveying impressions somewhat like mine. I also know what tones are, since they are perceptible tactually in a voice. Now, heat varies greatly in the sun, in the fire, in hands, and in the fur of animals; indeed, there is such a thing for me as a cold sun. So I think of the varieties of light that touch the eye, cold and warm, vivid and dim, soft and glaring, but always light, and I imagine their pa.s.sage through the air to an extensive sense, instead of to a narrow one like touch.

From the experience I have had with voices I guess how the eye distinguishes shades in the midst of light. While I read the lips of a woman whose voice is soprano, I note a low tone or a glad tone in the midst of a high, flowing voice. When I feel my cheeks hot, I know that I am red. I have talked so much and read so much about colours that through no will of my own I attach meanings to them, just as all people attach certain meanings to abstract terms like hope, idealism, monotheism, intellect, which cannot be represented truly by visible objects, but which are understood from a.n.a.logies between immaterial concepts and the ideas they awaken of external things. The force of a.s.sociation drives me to say that white is exalted and pure, green is exuberant, red suggests love or shame or strength. Without the colour or its equivalent, life to me would be dark, barren, a vast blackness.

Thus through an inner law of completeness my thoughts are not permitted to remain colourless. It strains my mind to separate colour and sound from objects. Since my education began I have always had things described to me with their colours and sounds by one with keen senses and a fine feeling for the significant. Therefore I habitually think of things as coloured and resonant. Habit accounts for part. The soul sense accounts for another part. The brain with its five-sensed construction a.s.serts its right and accounts for the rest. Inclusive of all, the unity of the world demands that colour be kept in it, whether I have cognizance of it or not. Rather than be shut out, I take part in it by discussing it, imagining it, happy in the happiness of those near me who gaze at the lovely hues of the sunset or the rainbow.

My hand has its share in this multiple knowledge, but it must never be forgotten that with the fingers I see only a very small portion of a surface, and that I must pa.s.s my hand continually over it before my touch grasps the whole. It is still more important, however, to remember that my imagination is not tethered to certain points, locations, and distances. It puts all the parts together simultaneously as if it saw or knew instead of feeling them. Though I feel only a small part of my horse at a time,--my horse is nervous and does not submit to manual explorations,--yet, because I have many times felt hock, nose, hoof and mane, I can see the steeds of Phoebus Apollo coursing the heavens.

With such a power active it is impossible that my thought should be vague, indistinct. It must needs be potent, definite. This is really a corollary of the philosophical truth that the real world exists only for the mind. That is to say, I can never touch the world in its entirety; indeed, I touch less of it than the portion that others see or hear. But all creatures, all objects, pa.s.s into my brain entire, and occupy the same extent there that they do in material s.p.a.ce. I declare that for me branched thoughts, instead of pines, wave, sway, rustle, make musical the ridges of mountains rising summit upon summit. Mention a rose too far away for me to smell it. Straightway a scent steals into my nostril, a form presses against my palm in all its dilating softness, with rounded petals, slightly curled edges, curving stem, leaves drooping. When I would fain view the world as a whole, it rushes into vision--man, beast, bird, reptile, fly, sky, ocean, mountains, plain, rock, pebble. The warmth of life, the reality of creation is over all--the throb of human hands, glossiness of fur, lithe windings of long bodies, poignant buzzing of insects, the ruggedness of the steeps as I climb them, the liquid mobility and boom of waves upon the rocks.

Strange to say, try as I may, I cannot force my touch to pervade this universe in all directions. The moment I try, the whole vanishes; only small objects or narrow portions of a surface, mere touch-signs, a chaos of things scattered at random, remain. No thrill, no delight is excited thereby. Restore to the artistic, comprehensive internal sense its rightful domain, and you give me joy which best proves the reality.




BEFORE my teacher came to me, I did not know that I am. I lived in a world that was a no-world. I cannot hope to describe adequately that unconscious, yet conscious time of nothingness. I did not know that I knew aught, or that I lived or acted or desired. I had neither will nor intellect. I was carried along to objects and acts by a certain blind natural impetus. I had a mind which caused me to feel anger, satisfaction, desire. These two facts led those about me to suppose that I willed and thought. I can remember all this, not because I knew that it was so, but because I have tactual memory. It enables me to remember that I never contracted my forehead in the act of thinking. I never viewed anything beforehand or chose it. I also recall tactually the fact that never in a start of the body or a heart-beat did I feel that I loved or cared for anything. My inner life, then, was a blank without past, present, or future, without hope or antic.i.p.ation, without wonder or joy or faith.

It was not night--it was not day.

But vacancy absorbing s.p.a.ce, And fixedness, without a place; There were no stars--no earth--no time-- No check--no change--no good--no crime.

My dormant being had no idea of G.o.d or immortality, no fear of death.

I remember, also through touch, that I had a power of a.s.sociation. I felt tactual jars like the stamp of a foot, the opening of a window or its closing, the slam of a door. After repeatedly smelling rain and feeling the discomfort of wetness, I acted like those about me: I ran to shut the window. But that was not thought in any sense. It was the same kind of a.s.sociation that makes animals take shelter from the rain. From the same instinct of aping others, I folded the clothes that came from the laundry, and put mine away, fed the turkeys, sewed bead-eyes on my doll's face, and did many other things of which I have the tactual remembrance. When I wanted anything I liked,--ice-cream, for instance, of which I was very fond,--I had a delicious taste on my tongue (which, by the way, I never have now), and in my hand I felt the turning of the freezer. I made the sign, and my mother knew I wanted ice-cream. I "thought" and desired in my fingers. If I had made a man, I should certainly have put the brain and soul in his finger-tips. From reminiscences like these I conclude that it is the opening of the two faculties, freedom of will, or choice, and rationality, or the power of thinking from one thing to another, which makes it possible to come into being first as a child, afterwards as a man.

Since I had no power of thought, I did not compare one mental state with another. So I was not conscious of any change or process going on in my brain when my teacher began to instruct me. I merely felt keen delight in obtaining more easily what I wanted by means of the finger motions she taught me. I thought only of objects, and only objects I wanted. It was the turning of the freezer on a larger scale. When I learned the meaning of "I" and "me" and found that I was something, I began to think. Then consciousness first existed for me. Thus it was not the sense of touch that brought me knowledge. It was the awakening of my soul that first rendered my senses their value, their cognizance of objects, names, qualities, and properties. Thought made me conscious of love, joy, and all the emotions. I was eager to know, then to understand, afterward to reflect on what I knew and understood, and the blind impetus, which had before driven me hither and thither at the dictates of my sensations, vanished forever.

I cannot represent more clearly than any one else the gradual and subtle changes from first impressions to abstract ideas. But I know that my physical ideas, that is, ideas derived from material objects, appear to me first an idea similar to those of touch. Instantly they pa.s.s into intellectual meanings. Afterward the meaning finds expression in what is called "inner speech." When I was a child, my inner speech was inner spelling. Although I am even now frequently caught spelling to myself on my fingers, yet I talk to myself, too, with my lips, and it is true that when I first learned to speak, my mind discarded the finger-symbols and began to articulate. However, when I try to recall what some one has said to me, I am conscious of a hand spelling into mine.

It has often been asked what were my earliest impressions of the world in which I found myself. But one who thinks at all of his first impressions knows what a riddle this is. Our impressions grow and change unnoticed, so that what we suppose we thought as children may be quite different from what we actually experienced in our childhood. I only know that after my education began the world which came within my reach was all alive. I spelled to my blocks and my dogs. I sympathized with plants when the flowers were picked, because I thought it hurt them, and that they grieved for their lost blossoms. It was two years before I could be made to believe that my dogs did not understand what I said, and I always apologized to them when I ran into or stepped on them.

As my experiences broadened and deepened, the indeterminate, poetic feelings of childhood began to fix themselves in definite thoughts.

Nature--the world I could touch--was folded and filled with myself. I am inclined to believe those philosophers who declare that we know nothing but our own feelings and ideas. With a little ingenious reasoning one may see in the material world simply a mirror, an image of permanent mental sensations. In either sphere self-knowledge is the condition and the limit of our consciousness. That is why, perhaps, many people know so little about what is beyond their short range of experience. They look within themselves--and find nothing! Therefore they conclude that there is nothing outside themselves, either.

However that may be, I came later to look for an image of my emotions and sensations in others. I had to learn the outward signs of inward feelings. The start of fear, the suppressed, controlled tensity of pain, the beat of happy muscles in others, had to be perceived and compared with my own experiences before I could trace them back to the intangible soul of another. Groping, uncertain, I at last found my ident.i.ty, and after seeing my thoughts and feelings repeated in others, I gradually constructed my world of men and of G.o.d. As I read and study, I find that this is what the rest of the race has done. Man looks within himself and in time finds the measure and the meaning of the universe.

The World I Live In Part 4

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