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UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries


Information on the UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries


Sign alphabet exhibition – The Invited Alphabet

H Dominic W Stiles2 August 2013

The invited alphabet; or, Address of A to B; containing his friendly proposal for the amusement and instruction of good children by R.R. London, B.Tabart, 1809.

Who the author, R.R. was, is unknown, despite speculation.

The invited alphabet describes a manual alphabet suitable for use by deaf children though not specifically aimed at them.  “The art of spelling on the fingers has been dignified by the name Dactylology.”

A said to b

Sign alphabet exhibition – The life and adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell

H Dominic W Stiles29 July 2013

Although the exhibition is now over, I thought I would put up the last few items we had sent to be displayed on the blog.  A book that had to be omitted from the exhibition for reasons of space:

The life and adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell. In one volume. To which are added, The Dumb Philosopher, and everybody’s business is Nobody’s Business, [by Andrew Moreton]. Oxford: Printed by D.A. Talboys for Thomas Tegg… London. 1841. Attributed to Daniel Defoe

Duncan Campbell (c.1680–1730) was a Deaf soothsayer, who claimed to have been born in Lapland, probably to enhance his mystical credentials.  He was taught to read by a “learned divine of the University of Glasgow”, following the method of John Wallis.

The life and adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell has been frequently attributed to Daniel Defoe, “with little evidence […] but the views expressed on the supernatural in the work directly contradict arguments Defoe presents elsewhere, and Defoe is unlikely to have written for his enemy Edmund Curll.”  In fact the anonymous writer was probably William Bond, who then lived in the same house as Campbell in Exeter Court on the Strand.

A follow up to this book, Secret Memoirs of the Late Mr Duncan Campbell, appeared after he had died in 1732, clearly as a way of promoting Campbell’s wife’s business selling his talismans and potions.


T. F. Henderson, ‘Campbell, Duncan (c.1680–1730)’, rev. David Turner, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2005 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/4494, accessed 13 June 2013]


Sign alphabet exhibition – Joseph Watson’s Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb

H Dominic W Stiles5 July 2013

A set of two volumes unfortunately left out of the exhibition for reasons of space;

Instruction of the deaf and dumb; or, A theoretical and practical view of the means by which they are taught to speak and understand a language, containing hints for the correction of impediments of speech. Together with A vocabulary; illustrated by numerous copperplates, representing the most common objects necessary to be named by beginners printed by Darton and Harvey, 1809. by Joseph Watson, 1809

Plate 1Joseph Watson (1765-1829) worked for Thomas Braidwood (1715-1806) from 1784, and became headmaster of the London Asylum for the Deaf & Dumb in the Old Kent Road (see earlier blog posts for more on this institution).

Plates 3 001

In Instruction of the deaf and dumb Watson wrote that “Persons born deaf are, in fact, neither depressed below, nor raised above, the general scale of human nature, as regards their dispositions and powers, either of body or mind.”  He considers what language is, and describes how he goes about “communicating a knowledge of language to the naturally deaf and dumb.”  The second part of the work, sometimes printed in a separate volume (1810), has lists of vocabulary and plates designed to encourage a child to acquire an understanding of written & spoken language.

Plates 1 001The illustrations in the volume of plates are delightful glimpses in everyday life in Georgian England.  Individual pictures are not labelled, so this meant children were not restricted to learning one set term for an object or scene.  One copy we have is so well used that most of the plates are loose.  Plate one above shows various types of people; plate 6 show agricultural workers; plate 7 shows watchmen, a highway robbery and dust cart men.  Some of them have been annotated by a child – in plate 69 behind the hedge, a hunter holding a gun can be seen!

Sign alphabet exhibition – Education for the people

H Dominic W Stiles4 July 2013

Education for the people. By Mrs Hippisley Tuckfield, London, Taylor and Walton, 1839.

Charlotte Hippisley Tuckfield, née Mordaunt (1777-1848) was the wife of Richard Hippisley Tuckfield, of Devon.  They inherited property at Little Fulford and Charlotte had the lodge at nearby Posbury House converted into a training centre for school teachers.  This later became part of the University of Exeter.

Published initially in The Cottager’s monthly visitor, (1824-6), in Education for the people, Charlotte Hippisley Tuckfield devoted the fourth section of the book to the education of deaf children.  It takes the form of a series of letters.



Hippisley TuckfieldThrough the left hand page you can just make out Selwyn Oxley’s hideously spidery handwriting, which is in most of the historical books!

Sign alphabet exhibition – Vox oculis

H Dominic W Stiles4 July 2013

Vox oculis subjecta: A dissertation on the most curious and important art of imparting speech and the knowledge of language to the naturally deaf and, consequently, dumb. With a particular account of the academy of Messrs. Braidwood of Edinburgh, and a proposal to perpetuate and extend the benefits thereof  by a parent. London, Benjamin White, 1783

The anonymous author was in fact Francis Green (1742-1809) whose son attended Thomas Braidwood’s Edinburgh school.  Green, who was born in Boston, served in the British army as an officer for nine years.  Remaining a loyalist in the War of Independence he left for Britain in 1780, where his eight year old son was educated in Braidwood’s Academy for the next six years.  Returning to Halifax, Nova Scotia and later Medford, Massachusetts, Green continued his interest in deaf education, translating works of the Abee de l’Epee into English.

“Man as a social being has an irresistible propensity to communicate with his species, to receive the ideas of others, and to impart his own conceptions” Green says in the introduction to Vox oculis subjecta.  In the first part he surveys the natural capacity of humans for language, quoting extensively from authors such as Holder and Bulwer, before going into a description of how Braidwood’s school worked in the second part.

Winzer, Margret A. The History of Special Education: From Isolation to Integration. RNID WLG

Sign alphabet exhibition – A Collection of the Most Remarkable Definitions and Answers of Massieu and Clerc

H Dominic W Stiles4 July 2013

A collection of the most remarkable definitions and answers of Massieu and Clerc, Deaf and Dumb, to the various questions put to them, at the public lectures of the Abbé Sicard, in London; to which are joined The manual alphabet of the Deaf and Dumb, the Abbé’s Introductory Discourse, and a letter explanatory of his system With notes and an English translation by J.H. Sievrac. London, printed four Massieu & Clerc by Cox & Baylis, 1815 by M. Laffon de Ladebat with notes and an English translation by J.H. Sievrac 1815

Jean Massieu (1772 –1846) was born Deaf and became a teacher of the Deaf.  Louis Laurent Marie Clerc (1785 –1869),”The Apostle of the Deaf in America” was taught by Massieu and l’Abbé Sicard (1742-1822)Moving to the U.S.A. with Thomas Gallaudet, Clerc co-founded the school in Conneticut which is now The American School for the Deaf.

massieu clercThe author, André-Daniel Laffon de Ladebat (1746 –1829), philanthropist & banker, was himself a remarkable man.  He was a protestant French noble who joined the revolution as a moderate, but fell out with both Napoleon and later the restored Bourbons.  An early slavery abolitionist, in 1788 he wrote Discourse on the Necessity and the Means of Abolishing Slavery in the Colonies.

After an introductory lecture by Sicard, A collection of the most remarkable definitions and answers of Massieu and Clerc, Deaf and Dumb takes the form of a series of questions posed by various members of polite society answered by Massieu and Clerc, which illustrate their eloquence & high level of education.

IMGP0815One of our copies of this book, not in this exhibition, has a letter from Sicard inside the front cover – see below.  This copy was owned by Charles Rhind (here written ‘Rhynd’ by Selwyn Oxley) who we covered in an earlier post.

Very kindly, a translation has been made for us by Lucas Rivet-Crothers (with some additions by Mike Gulliver):

Comme tout le monde sait, mon respectable collègue, que toute votre vie se passe en bonnes œuvres et que par conséquent je ne dois ni ne puis l’ignorer, je puis donc sans indiscrétion vous adresser un des membres d’une famille nombreuse, une des plus dignes d’estime et d’intérêt que je connaisse qui deviendront le sauveur de la sienne si vous daigner lui procurer une place quelconque, quelque médiocre qu’elle fut, il fut dans sa première jeunesse dans les hôpitaux militaires, l’appui, le soutien, la consolation des infortunés confiés à ses soins. Son père, son frère, ses sœurs, tous les siens se sont montrés toujours des modèles de toutes les vertus civiles et religieuses. Permettez lui de vous entretenir, quelques instants, de leur fâcheuse position et daigner descendre jusqu’à lui et vous ne ferez pas sans en etre touché et sans lui tendre une main bienfaisante en protectrice…
To my esteemed colleague: As everyone knows, your life has been spent in good works, and this is something that I must not, indeed cannot, ignore. And so, without any feeling of discomfort, may I recommend to you a member of a large family (one of the most worthy of esteem and interest that I know) who would be the saviour of that family if you could provide him with a position, however humble it might be. In his younger years, he worked in military hospitals where he was a support and a consolation to those unfortunate enough to find themselves in his care. His father, his brother, his sisters, all of his kin have shown themselves to be models of civil and religious virtue. Converse with him for only a few minutes and he will tell you of the difficult position in which they find themselves. Engage with him and you will assuredly be moved by his predicament, and find yourself extending to him your protection and goodwill.

Click for a larger image.

Sicard letter 001



Sign alphabet exhibition – Digiti-lingua

H Dominic W Stiles3 July 2013

Digiti-lingua, or, The most compendious, copious, facile, and secret way of silent Converse ever yet discovered.  Shewing, how any two persons may be capable, in half an hours time, to discourse together by their fingers only, and as well in the dark as the light… By a person who has conversed no otherwise in above nine Years. The figures curiously engraved on copper plates. London, P.Buck, 1698.  Anonymous 1698.

[The second illustration of the manual alphabet (fig. 2) has been cut out of this copy; it is reproduced in Quarterly Review of Deaf Mute Education, 1889, 2, between p.40-41, in an article by Farrar on the history of manual alphabets.]

digiti front pages

The anonymous author was “obliged (thro’ an unfortunate impediment) to these, or some such like methods of Converse, for now near ten years last past”.  He critiques the “pretty piece of Ingenuity, intituled Sermo Mirabilis” as slower and less easy to follow, saying “All that can be done by the directions given in Sermo Mirabilis, may be more quick, free, and easily done, by the Alphabets here delivered, and much more”.

I have photographed the whole text as a pdf here (lower quality as I am limited to 9MB ‘uploads’ unfortunately) Digiti lingua.


Sign alphabet exhibition – Sermo Mirabilis

H Dominic W Stiles3 July 2013

Sermo mirabilis, or, The silent language whereby one may learn in the space of six hours, how to impart his mind to his Friend in any Language, English, Latin, French, Dutch, &c. tho never so deep and dangerous a Secret, without the least Noise, Word or Voice; and without the Knowledge of any in the company. Being an art kept secret for several ages in Padua, and now made published only to the wise and prudent, who will not expose it, as a Prostitute, to every Foolish and Ignorant Fellow.  by Monsieur La Fin, once secretary to His Eminence, Cardinal Richlieu. London, Tho. Salusbury, 1692. Charles La Fin 1692


Charles de la Fin or La Fin(?fl.1640s-1690s?) used different parts of the body to indicate letters, so ‘L’ was represented by the Lip, ‘W’ by the wrist etc. The vowels were the same as in modern British fingerspelling, indicated by the thumb and fingers. La Fin describes in his book how he taught a young gentleman the art, who was then able to use it to woo a lady in the presence of her family.

La Fin was, according to the book’s title page, sometime secretary to Cardinal Richelieu (d.1642), and according to a book called More good and true news from Ireland where a letter of 1641 from him to his brother James appears, he was “page to the young Prince of Orange” who was later to become William II, Prince of Orange, father of William III King of England.  His brother James was secretary to the exiled French Duke of Valette.  I cannot be certain but it seems that this Charles is the same person as the author of Sermo mirabilis, although this book was written some fifty years later.

The dedication to William and Mary shows La Fin to have been a firm supporter of the House of Orange.

I have photographed the whole thing available as a pdf here Sermo mirabilis – see if you find this system usable!



Sign alphabet exhibition – Didascolocophus

H Dominic W Stiles2 July 2013

Didascolocophus : or the deaf and dumb mans tutor, to which is added a discourse of the nature and number of double consonants: both which tracts being the first (for what the author knows) that have been published upon either of the subjects. Oxford, printed at the Theater, 1680 by George Dalgarno 1680

Dalgarno (c.1616–1687) was born in Aberdeen but spent much of his life teaching at a private grammar school in Oxford.  In Didascolocophus, (‘teacher of the deaf’) Dalgarno fits the language of the deaf into his general scheme for a theory of signs, what he calls ‘sematology’.

Etymology:  < Greek σηματ-, σμα sign + -logy

Dalgarno’s knowledge of and work on ‘brachygraphy’ – shorthand – brought him into contact with some of the people who later formed the nucleus of the Royal Society, such as Seth Ward, Bishop of Salisbury and John Wallis, who devised a method for teaching deaf people.

Dalgarno was buried in the parish of Mary Magdalen, Oxford.


David Cram, ‘Dalgarno, George (c.1616–1687)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/7023, accessed 2 July 2013]

Sign alphabet exhibition – Chirologia

H Dominic W Stiles2 July 2013

As we have contributed a number of items to the DCAL sign alphabet exhibition 2nd- 25th of July, in the UCL north cloisters, we will be putting up some information about the items on the blog over the next days, based on the display label notes, with some pictures.

The first book has featured in a blog entry before:

Chirologia; or, The naturall language of the hand. Composed of the speaking motions and discoursing gestures thereof. Whereunto is added Chironomia; or, The art of manuall rhetoricke. Consisting of the naturall expressions, digested by art in the hand, as the chiefest instrument of eloquence, by historicall manifesto’s, exemplified out of the authentique registers of common life, and civill conversation, with types, or chirograms. A long-wish’d for illustration of this argument. By J.B., Gent. Philochirosophus… London, printed by Tho. Harper, 1644. by John Bulwer  1644

Bulwer (bap. 1606, d. 1656), was a doctor, who lived around Gray’s Inn in London.

One of only 31 known copies, Chirologia (which means ‘hand discourse’) was the first book in English that was devoted to the language of sign and gesture. It is possible that our copy belonged to the Deaf University of London graduate Abraham Farrar, as there is a note in Ephphatha (p.860 Winter 1925) says he is selling his collection of books, including his copy of Bulwer for £200.

Etymology:  < French chirologie, < Greek χειρο  –hand + -λογία – discourse.

“As the tongue speaketh to the ear, so the gesture speaketh to the eye.”  So Francis Bacon quoted King James in his introduction to The Advancement of Learning.  Aristotle had omitted gestures from his Organon & Bacon saw the close relationship between gestures & the mind.  Bacon’s gentle criticism of Aristotle here was the inspiration for Bulwer to write his Chirologia, a term he introduced into English.  It has been said of Bulwer that “his works more nearly approach modern psychology in character than those of his illustrious philosophical contemporaries.”

(Graham Richards, ‘Bulwer, John (bap. 1606, d. 1656)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/3934, accessed 12 June 2013])

Bulwer’s social circle seems to have been around Gray’s Inn, a short walk from the Action on Hearing Loss Library. He was buried in the nearby church of St.Giles in the Fields. This would have been the previous building on the site, the present building dating from 1730-34.

In The Comely Frontispiece: The Emblematic Title-page in England, 1550-1660, by Margery Corbett, the engraving by William Marshall is explained –

Standing on the plinth, l., six-breasted Nature with one hand pressed to her bosom gushes milk.  […]

Readers must have found it over-elaborate and even puzzling. […]  The theme, however is clear: the contrast between natural Language, left, unkempt and without graces, and right, Language rendered comely by gesture and deportment.  The two combine in the Well of Chiroscopy, the wisdom of the hand.

Nature speaking, as mother of natural language, is portrayed as Ephesian Artemis […] Her foot, placed on the wheel of Fate or Fortune, is intended to signify that the gifts of fortune are the same as the gifts of nature or may supplement them. […] The presence of the tree behind her is explained by the tradition that the oracle at Dodona gave her answers by rustling the leaves of an old oak tree, ‘Dodona’s Oak’, and thus spoke in the words of Nature.

Polyhymnia was the muse of eloquence.

The full text is available here.

Click for a larger size.