From History

Blind Louis Braille gave reading to the blind

At four o’clock in the morning on January 4, 1809, in Coupvray, France, Louis was born as the fourth child of his mother, Monique, and his father, Simon, a leatherworker. The pair formed a sturdy middle-class couple, devout and prosperous. Louis showed himself to be a bright-eyed child, prying into everything. One day, when no one was looking, he took up a sharp knife and tried to cut a piece of leather. The blade slipped, gouging one of his eyes. The wound became dangerously infected, that the infection spread to his good eye. Louis was blind!

However, Father Jacques Palluy saw young Louis’s potential and began to teach him and later got Louis admitted to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth. At the institute, Louis proved to be an apt pupil. In addition to his regular subjects, he learned to play the piano. Playing religious music on the organ would become one of the joys of his later life.

Captain Barbier had introduced a system of raised dots to the Royal Institute. It had serious flaws. Young Louis was still just a boy, but he set out to solve the problems of Barbier’s system. The captain was reluctant to accept suggestions from a boy, so Louis began to experiment at night. At fifteen, he created the world’s first better system for blind reading, and at nineteen years of age, he developed a Braille system of writing music. At twenty, he was a teacher at his school.

In writing about his system, Louis never sought glory, happy to remind his readers how much he owed to Captain Barbier. Deeply modest, Louis hid his many acts of kindness and charity. These were often sacrificial. For instance, he gave up a position he loved, playing the organ for a church, simply because another blind person needed it more than he did. Louis developed tuberculosis in young manhood. As he lay dying, he said, “God was pleased to hold before my eyes the dazzling splendors of eternal hope. After that, doesn’t it seem that nothing more could keep me bound to the earth?” He asked for final communion about midday on January 6, 1852, and died later that evening.

Ajith Philip
Perth, Australia

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