17.5 – To a beautiful and interesting Girl, Deaf and Dumb

With engagement activities in Bristol, preparations for a workshop, archive visits, bank holidays and some leave time, May has been extremely busy.

But, back from the archive, and with well over 10,000 photos of data now, we’re in a position to take stock and start to share some of what we’ve found.

A lot of what we’ve got is text, and we’ll have to extract information from there as it’s useful. But some things we can bring you straight from the archive. Like this, from the 1873 edition of the ‘Magazine intended chiefly for the Deaf and Dumb’, a poem entitled “To a beautiful and interesting Girl, Deaf and Dumb”.

Poem in four stanzas.

The poem reads:

To a beautiful and interesting girl, Deaf and Dumb

Thou dwellest in a happier land,
A better land than ours.
Fair mute, as thou doest radiant stand
Amid the silent hours.

Their downy pinions fall between
The world’s loud strife and thee:
O, sheltered by that halcyon screen,
What peace like thine can be.

Diviner than the calm we find,
Where woodland shadows glide,
Seems the soft rapture of thy mind,
While wandering by our side.

While steals to us sweet song of bird,
Or the far city’s hum,
Fair mute, to thee, by us unheard,
Do angels whispering come?
(Jan 1873, p.15.)

We don’t know who wrote the poem, but they were clearly hearing… and (for me at least) there’s some suggestion that they were rather taken with the girl in question.

What really strikes me, though, about this poem is the way that the ‘nature’ of the girl is imagined. Her reality is ‘happier’, ‘better’, ‘radiant’, ‘sheltered’, ‘Divine’ even… separated from the hearing world by a ‘halcyon screen’ of silence that may be so blessed that it even allows her to hear angels.

‘Hear’ angels? Who can presumably whisper past the limits of language, or perception, directly into her mind.

Perhaps this is an accurate reflection of what the author understood Deaf people’s reality to be in 1873. Perhaps it is actually a way of rendering Deaf realities somewhat ‘other worldly’, or exotic and so making them an object of difference. Perhaps it’s simply a whimsical expression of affection.

But it’s certainly quite different from the language of ‘affliction’ that often appears in descriptions of Deaf people from the same period.

14.4 – Behold – an image

Somewhat to my shame, it’s been a week since we posted here. The time’s been filled with a May bank holiday, and with the kind of writing of proposals and admin and preparation that take up a lot of an academic’s time.

Anyway – this morning, as we discussed what evidence we have, and what evidence we don’t, we were – again – sad that we didn’t have a picture of the space that seems to have been most Deaf-controlled; the downstairs of St Saviour’s.

Then we realised that there was one source that might have a picture that we hadn’t explore yet – the Americans who went through St Saviour’s on the way to the 1900 Paris Congress.

Contacting Joan Naturale at RIT gave us a link to the Silent Worker, and to this article, which gives us a picture.

Image of the lecture room underneath the st saviour's sanctuary

The picture appears to have been taken from the stage (pointing south), so the alcove at the far end would have been where the stairs from the Street Entrance come into the room.

It’s well lit, there are thin pillars (cast iron?), paintings on the wall which – if the descriptions are right will be by Deaf artists – and… is that a snooker table on the right?

Oh, we are delighted!

Thanks Joan – and thanks to the Silent Worker who preserved this for us!