Page images
PDF
EPUB

REMARKABLE SENSE OF HEARING.

95

pursuits. Maintaining an uncheckered cheerfulness, his animated conversation and large sympathies made him the soul of every circle in which he chanced to

move.

His other senses, and those intellectual faculties which seem to lie next the senses, afforded him an almost ample substitution for eyesight. The fine hearing and delicate touch of the blind have passed into an adage. These Saunderson possessed in their highest perfection. The sound of his footfall in a room enabled him to form a closely proximate notion of the dimensions and character of the apartment. Having once crossed a threshold, so distinct

. was his individualization of every locality, that he would always know it again, even after the lapse of many years. The reverberation of his tread enabled him to judge with wonderful accuracy as to the character of objects from five to twenty yards distant. Thus he was able to distinguish a tree from a post at the distance of five yards; of a fence from a house at fifteen or twenty yards. From my own experience I have never been able to decide, nor am I able to state upon the testimony of others deprived of sight, whether this intelligence be derived through the ear, or through the delicate nerves of the face, which, thrilling through the vibrations of the atmosphere, receive and impart to the brain sensations unnoticed by those who use their eyes. I am, how

, ever, strongly inclined to the opinion that there is such a refined susceptibility of the skin and nerves, as to amount almost to a supplemental sense. Whatever may be the ground for this opinion, it is certain that Saunderson was conscious of objects, the perception of which by a blind man will seem quite incredible to many. It is related upon good authority that when out in the garden with his pupils, they making observations of the heavenly bodies, he was able to tell quickly and certainly as they, when a cloud obscured a star or hid the disk of the sun.

Though a rayless gloom encompassed him, he shed light upon the path of others. His ringing laugh it did one good to bear. Constant industry gave dig. nity to his days—to his nights, repose. Deprived of the imperial sense, he bore his loss with fortitude, and performed his part with courage; and when scarcely past the noon of life, went down to the grave lamented by all who knew him.

One can readily imagine that a man destitute of vision, through necessity and practice should come to great readiness and power in the combination of numbers. Such of the blind as have been moderately endowed with capacity, and have been persevering in their efforts, have almost invariably shown great skill in the mathematics. Simply as regards distinction and great attainment in the pure science, I know not why its disciples might not as well all be blind. But when a man with darkened orbs passes from the realms of abstraction into nature, to become a student of her marvels, to observe her cunning arts, to note and explain her mysteries, he sets himself a task, the performance of which seems to be hopeless. Such was the province selected by Francis Huber, a Genevese born about 1750. At the age of seventeen, he lost his sight by gutta serena.

At first his misfortune threatened to crush him, because he had lost not only the light of the outer world, but as he feared,

[blocks in formation]

.

the light of his inner life—the woman he loved. The daughter of a Swiss syndic, Marie Aimée Lullin, had not only station, but beauty, intelligence, wit, and accomplishments. Many were the suitors who thronged around her, and the father was bitterly opposed to her union with the blind youth; but what is parental hostility or toil, or privation to a generous woman, when to the throb of affection is added the claim of sympathy ?" His infirmity insured him the prize, and that won, he was made happy for life. During the forty years of their married life, her love deepened and strengthened, her devotion knew not an hour's suspension. She was his reader, his secretary, his observer. During the wars, she would make him aware of the position of the armies by sticking pins in the map, to denote the different bodies of troops. When they came into a strange locality she would arrange a ground plan that he might become familiar with the features through the touch. At her death he said he had never before known the pressure of his misfortune. During his lifetime he used to say, “my blindness is not so much of a calamity after all. But for it I never could have known how much a man can be beloved. Moreover," he would add, “ to me my wife is always young, fair, and pretty; there are no grey hairs, crow's feet, or wrinkles, and that is a great matter.”

Huber's father was a man of sprightly intellect, and brilliant conversation, with a decided predilection for natural history. These traits were inherited by the son. His taste for natural history was confirmed by the study of such works as fell in his way. The treatises of Reaumer and Bonnet upon the bee,

[ocr errors]

deeply interested him in that wonder of the insect world. He commenced his observations to verify some statements which he had read, and then to fill some blanks which had been left by other naturalists. His habitual residence in the country was favorable to this pursuit, and thenceforth his life was devoted to it.

He carried on his observations through the eyes of his wife-of a faithful servant whom he trained for the purpose, and subsequently of his son. His sagacity directed their attention to points which they had overlooked; his intelligence suggested new methods of inquiry, whilst his imaginative conception of the whole subject was so clear and precise, that he was able to detect the slightest error, and suggest the means of remedy. “I am much more certain of what I declare to the world than you are,” said he, one day, to a friend, “for you publish what your own eyes only have seen, while I take the mean among many witnesses.” The publication of his first observations appeared in 1792 in the form of letters to Col. Bonnet under the title of “ Nouvelles Observations sur les Abeilles.' This work made a strong impression upon many naturalists, not only from the novelty of its facts, but from their rigorous exactness, and the amazing difficulty which the author overcame with so much ability. But his investigations were neither relaxed by the flattering reception of his first publication, which might have been sufficient to gratify his self-love, nor even by his separation from his faithful servant.

The origin of the wax was at that time a point in the history of bees much disputed by naturalists. By

[ocr errors]

HIS INVESTIGATIONS IN BEES.

99

some it was asserted, though without sufficient proof, that it was fabricated by the bee from the honey. Huber, who had already happily cleared up the ori. gin of the propolis, confirmed this opinion with re. spect to the wax, by numerous observations; and showed very particularly (what baffled the skill of all naturalists before him) how it escaped in a laminated form from between the rings of the abdomen.

During the course of his observations with Bernens (his servant), his wife and sons for assistants, he instituted laborious researches to discover how the bees build their storehouses. He followed step by step the whole construction of those wonderful hives, which seem by their perfection, to resolve the most delicate problems of geometry; he assigned to each class of bees, the part it takes in this construction, and traced their labors from the rudiments of the first cell, to the completed perfection of the comb. He made known the ravages which the sphinx atropos produces in the hives; he made ingenious inquiries respecting the locality and history of the bee's senses ; he discovered that they consume oxygen gas like other animals, and how, by a particular motion of their wings, they renovate the atmosphere in the hive.

Since the days and brilliant achievements of Huber, naturalists have not been able to add any considerable discovery to the history of bees. The second volume of his observations was published in 1814, and was edited in part by his son.

But his valuable contributions to science were not the only tributaries to his fame. As a writer he possessed more than ordinary merit. The elegance of

« PreviousContinue »