Here is an extract from the 20th annual report of the London Society for Teaching the Blind to Read, published in 1858, along with a poem by a blind man about living with sight loss.
The organisation’s name changed to incorporate ‘royal’ in 1952 on command of the Queen.
1858 Annual Report
The prosperity vouchsafed to this Institution, for a long period, has been maintained by a gracious Providence during the last year.
Persons deprived of the faculty of sight, amounting in number to an average of 60 – namely, 31 males and 29 females – have been under instruction.
All have been taught the method of reading and writing adopted by the Society. Here the chief study of the pupils has been the Word of God. And yet useful knowledge has not been neglected – that which stimulates the mind into salutary activity, and infuses something of the refreshment and contentment issuing from the proper exercise of the rational faculties of the human soul.
Thus they have been instructed in geography and arithmetic, by ingenious and effective contrivances; and have received oral instruction, in other departments of useful knowledge. By this addition, some knowledge of the works of God have been brought within their reach, sufficient, it may be, to rescue them, from that stagnation of mind, or barren frivolity of spirit, to which they are unavoidably exposed, who are deprived of excitements of the visible world operating through the organ of sight.
The majority of the pupils, of both sexes, have also been instructed in music, and have made very satisfactory progress. A desire to give them some compensation for the loss of one bodily faculty, by the careful cultivation of another, and to enable such as might have a musical talent to qualify themselves eventually for organists, led the managers of this Institution, from an early date to pay special attention to this part of their studies.
To elevate it in the esteem of the pupils themselves, and to secure, on the part of the public, a wider sympathy in the welfare of this Institution, the monthly concerts have been kept in vigorous and successful operation. Many visitors can bear witness to the interesting character of this exhibition. It may be added that one of the blind youths has recently succeeded in securing a situation, as organist, in a church, in the vicinity of the metropolis. Four or five others are nearly qualified for similar employment – a fact which serves to testify the great desire of the Committee to make the pupils of this Institution useful members of society, and may induce their friends to take an interest in procuring, eventually, situations for these youths.
The Committee continue to sympathise with blind persons, who, from various causes, cannot enter any Institution; and have begun to employ agents to teach them to read in their own houses…
Some difficulties still embarrass the path of this Institution; but, in confronting them, the Committee fall back on the faith which prompted them at first, and still sustains them. They see indeed that the old friends of the Society, who cooperated at its foundation, are passing away…
The Committee, therefore, must make an appeal, from time to time, for new supporters, to come forward and give their personal service to the Institution, if possible; or at least to advocate the cause with others, and to bestow and secure generous donations and subscriptions. And shall this appeal, made in the faith of the divine goodness, so often displayed in influencing the hearts of men, be made in vain?
Shall we luxuriate in the beauty of God’s visible works and rejoice in their refreshing exhilarating influence in the approaching spring, and not be touched, when we reflect on the deprivations of the blind? Not be moved by such thoughts as these with which Nature, with genius, one inspired the life of a blind man?
“With the year
Seasons return; but not to me returns
Day, nor the sweet approach of ev’n or morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom, or summer’s rose,
Or flocks or herds, or human face divine;
But clouds instead, and ever-during dark
Surrounds me; from he cheerful ways of men
Cut off, and for the book of knowledge fair,
Presented with a universal blank
Of Nature’s works, to me expunged and razed,
And Wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.”