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Valentin Haüy

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Founder of the first school for the blind, and known under the endearing name of "Father and Apostle of the Blind"; b. at Saint-Just, in the department of Picardy, France, 13 November, 1745: d. at Paris, 19 March, 1822. He received his early education with his elder brother, Réne, at the abbey school of the Premonstratensians, not far from Saint-Just. Valentin never became a priest. After his preliminary studies he went to Paris, where he applied himself to calligraphy and to modern languages. These he taught for a time, to support himself, until he became attached to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an interpreter of state papers and foreign despatches. The inspiration to devote the remainder of his life to the education of the blind came to Haüy in 1771 after witnessing at a fair, in one of the suburbs of Paris, burlesque performance in which the blindness of sightless beggars was made the object of ridicule and general merriment. "I shall substitute truth for mockery", he said to himself; "I shall teach the blind to read and to write, and give them books printed by themselves." This was no empty boast. The inspiration to do for the blind what the Abbé de l'Epée was then doing for the deaf and dumb became an accomplished fact thirteen years later. In June, 1784 Haüy sought his first pupil at the church door of Saint-Germain des Pres. Francois Lesueur, who was a beggar and blind from birth, was then sixteen years old. Haüy prevailed upon him to give up begging by promising to support his parents. Before the fall of 1786 Haüy had made the discovery of what had only dimly been foreshadowed, the art of printing books in relief for the blind. This discovery, the undisputed triumph of Haüy's ingenuity, solved for all time the most difficult problem in the education of the blind and, with the foundation of the first school for the blind, led to a movement which has resulted in the social and intellectual rehabilitation of the blind througthout the whole civilized world. By 5 December, 1786, Haüy's pupils had embossed from movable letterpress type his "Essai sur l'éducation des aveugles" the first book ever published for the blind (see S.V., EDUCATION OF THE BLIND, V, 308). On 26 December of the same year, twenty-four of Haüy's pupils gave at Versailles in the presence of Louis XVI and the royal family an exhibition of their attainments in reading, writing, geography, arithmetic, handcraft work, and orchestral music. With the patronage of the king, Haüy had also secured for his school the approbation of the Academy of Science and Arts and the support of the Philanthropic Society. During the French Revolution and the subsequent disorganization of the Philanthropic Society, Haüy's school lacked its wonted support. Although the National Assembly, and later on the Convention, had declared it a national institution and had voted for it an annual subsidy, yet so scanty was the help accorded to it that it barely survived the Reign of Terror. In 1801, on a report to Napoleon from Chaptal, Minister of the Interior, the school was merged with the Hospice Quinze-Vingts. A year later, Napoleon relieved Haüy of the direction of the school and granted him a pension of 2000 francs. ln February, 1802, Haüy started a private school in the rue Sainte-Avoye. Through lack of funds, however, the "Musée des Aveugles", his new foundation, never attained much prominence. In 1806, on the invitation of Alexander I, Haüy left for St. Petersburg where he founded, in 1808, a school for the blind, on the model of the National Institution in Paris. On his way to Russia, Haüy had an interview at Charlottenburg with Frederick William III of Prussia. He prevailed upon the king to found an institution for the blind at Berlin, and to appoint Dr. Zeune as its first director. From his arrival at St. Petersburg, 9 Sept., 1806, until his departure, Haüy's devotion and zeal in doing for the blind of Russia what he had done for those of his own native country were put to many a severe test, and rewarded with but scanty gratitude. Weakened with age and infirmity, Haüy wished to die in France. He left St. Petersburg in 1817. On his return to Paris he went to live with his brother, the Abbé Haüy, in whose arms he peacefully expired.

The publications of Valentin Haüy are his "Essai sur l'éducation des aveugles" (Paris, 1786), and "Mémoire historique sur les télégraphes" (Paris, 1810).


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