Popular Science Monthly/Volume 33/September 1888/Writing-Machines for the Blind



A NUMBER of philanthropists before Valentin Haüy had thought of various means of facilitating the education of the blind and placing them in relations with seeing persons; but, ingenious as their isolated attempts may have been, the necessary cohesion to constitute them a single whole was lacking in them, and they were destined to disappear with their authors. In the sixteenth century, Lucas, of Saragossa, conceived the idea of tracing the letters of the alphabet in hollows on wood. Moseau, of Paris, in 1640 devised the first characters in relief, but he was not encouraged, and gave up his experiments. The English blind scholar Sanderson constructed the first calculating tablets. Diderot tells of books which were printed by Prault for blind Mile, de Salignac, who died in 1763, but gives no further details on the subject. We are likewise ignorant of the methods followed by Bernouilli, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, for the instruction of Mile. Valdkirk. The obscurity which prevails concerning these essays made in times so near our own shows that they did not become general, either because the methods were not practical

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Fig. 1.—Fac-simile of a Stylographic Inscription in Relief, written by a Blind Man for the Journal "La Nature."

enough, or because they were not pushed with sufficient energy. The methods of Haüy and Louis Braille were more successful.

Valentin Haüy, born in 1745, was a brother of the celebrated mineralogist, to whom we owe the "Crystallography." Struck with the success of the labors of his contemporary, the Abbé de l'Epée, for the deaf-mutes, he resolved to give to the blind also facilities for instruction and means to cultivate their minds. By an inspiration of genius, he conceived what might be asked of the touch, which is so marvelously developed in the blind. Having made some characters in relief representing the letters of the alphabet, he undertook, in 1784, the education of a blind mendicant named Lesueur. The pupil's rapid progress soon made the inventor's name celebrated. This attempt was the origin of the Institution for the Blind in Paris.

Louis Braille, son of an artisan, like Haüy, completed the work of his predecessor. He was born at Compvray in 1809, and lost his sight, when three years old, in consequence of an injury he received from a knife. He entered the Paris Institution for the Blind in 1819, and became distinguished as a pupil, and afterward as a professor. He published, in 1829, his admirable "Anaglyptographie," or method of reading and writing by points in relief. He was inspired to this work by observing the cryptographic system devised in 1819 by Barbier, the artillery-officer, and constructed a method of admirable simplicity. It is equally well adapted to manuscript work and to printing: it can be applied to orthographic writing, to stenography, to mathematics, and to music. It has been used in printing books since 1849, and is still very generally in favor.

The basis of the alphabet is a group of six points arranged in vertical lines of three each, like the six of dominoes, which are

1 . . 4
numbered downward, beginning on the left hand, thus: 2 . . 5
3 . . 6

A first series of ten figures, obtained by a methodical combination of the four upper points, 1, 3, 4, and 5, constitute the fundamental signs.

•  • •  • •  •
•  • •  • •  •
a b c d e f g h i j

Adding point 3 to these characters, we get the signs of the second series, embracing letters from k to t. The addition of the points 3 and 6 furnishes a third series; and a fourth series may be obtained by adding the point 6 to each of the first ten characters. The points 4 and 6 placed before a letter make it capital; and there are signs for the punctuation-marks.

The numerical sign, composed of the points 3, 4, 5, and 6, changes into figures or numbers the signs or groups of signs of the first series which it precedes. Thus, the letter a, preceded by this sign, becomes the figure 1

•  •

the letter b figure 2, etc. The number 1234, for instance, would be written by prefixing the numerical sign to the group of letters a b c d

•  • •  •
•  • 1234
The ordinal numbers are formed by using the points 2, 3, 5, and 6. Fractions are expressed by writing the numerator as a cardinal, and the denominator as an ordinal number. But Braille's numerals are not well adapted to mathematical calculations, for they make the operations too long and difficult. An adaptation of them to music is more convenient, and is strikingly different from the blind-man's notation described by Guillié. It represents the measures by button-molds, the values of the notes by pieces of cork of various thicknesses, a round note by a ring, a black note by a piece of money, rests by thongs of leather, etc., the whole being strung on a long cord.

The characters, printed or written in relief, are read by the inner side of the end of the forefinger of either the right or the left hand, the hands being held open over the page.

The Braille or anaglyptographic writing was done on a paper which was fixed upon a tablet of wood or metal with an undulating surface presenting parallel, horizontal, and equidistant grooves, of a uniform depth, and about as large as a school-slate. The wooden frame of this tablet is bored on the sides with holes at equal distances apart, into which are fastened with pins the ends of a guide. The guide is furnished with two rows of rectangular openings of the size of the generator sign of the Braille alphabet, while the width of the grooves in the plaque is so calculated that the height of the openings in the guide shall correspond with that of the grooves. The blind writer, holding vertically in his hand a stylus with a rounded point, forms in each of the openings one of the signs he desires to write; in consequence of the slight depth of the grooves, the stylus gives to the paper, which should be of suitable thickness, enough relief to make the writing legible without piercing holes in it. After each word the operator should "jump" an opening so as to give the needed space between that and the next word. The two lines finished, he lifts the guide lightly, and slides it along the frame till the pins drop into the next holes, when he is ready to begin two new lines. It should be remarked that the characters are written in hollows, and have to be read in relief. The writer is therefore obliged to write on the reverse of the paper and form the characters from right to left, in order that they may be read from left to right, as is the usual way. Some blind persons have written the equivalent of one hundred Alexandrine lines an hour on the Braille machine. Various forms have been given to instruments on the Braille principle, some of which are represented in the engraving (Fig. 2). In one kind the upper edge of the paper is held in a board which is hinged to the upper end of the frame. In another kind the paper is fixed between two frames which are boxed into one another, so that when one side has been written upon (recto) it can be turned and written upon the other side (verso) in the interlinear spaces. This system vastly increases the capacity of the sheet of paper. There are also pocket tablets, or replets, of which different models are represented in the engraving; they are for the most part strips of undulated zinc, to which are hinged guides bearing several rows of openings.

Signora della Casa, an Italian woman, constructed the apparatus represented in the first figure of our engraving (Fig. 2). A

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Fig. 2—Various Apparatus for writing by the Blind. 1 Signora della Casa's piston-guide. 2. Recto-verso tablet of Laas d'Aguen. 3. Goldberg's Danish tablet. 4. English reglet. 5. Ballu's reglet. 6. Austrian tablet. 7. Braille's tablet. 8. Beaufort's stylograph.

little carriage bearing six buttons, which control as many movable pins, glides along a ruler that is notched at equidistant intervals. When one of the buttons is struck with the finger, the corresponding pin springs out and makes a point on the paper. A spring brings the pin back, and after the writing of each sign, the carriage is slid on a notch along the guide. But this apparatus is not in use, and we mention it only as a curiosity.

When we wish to write to a blind man by the Braille alphabet, we can accustom ourselves to reverse the signs by copying them as they look in a mirror; or we can use a table composed by M. Merricant, of Toulouse, which gives the characters written both ways; or we can learn only the reversed alphabet, and read the writing, if we have occasion to read it, on the hollowed or reverse side of the sheet, or the side on which it is written, which, with the eyes, will be easy enough.

For the use of blind in writing to seeing people, designs have been invented in which the writer traces with a pencil the characters of the usual alphabet, assisting his pencil by guides pierced with openings. In the German system of Hebold, the letters are written in squares that are notched in each side. In the English Moon tablet, which is composed of narrow strips of wood glued

PSM V33 D665 Games for the use of the blind late 19th century.jpg
Fig. 3.—Games for the Use of the Blind. 1. Fortress. 2. Go bang, 3 and 4. Pawns. 5. Chess. 6. Checkers. 7 and 8. White and black checker-pieces. 9 and 10. Needles for the blind (much magnified).

upon cloth, the strips serve as rulers, or guides, along the edge of which the line is written, each one being rolled up when the line is finished, to give place to the next strip at the proper interval for the next line. Pencil-writing has likewise been studied by Guldberg in Denmark, Galimberti in Italy, and Bourgougnon in France. Valentin Haüy devised a method of pencil-writing by placing the paper upon a frame, in the interior of which were stretched parallel cords of catgut; between these cords may be traced signs of corresponding height. In Duphan's instrument narrow strips of cardboard are pasted at equal distances upon a thicker sheet. The paper having been placed upon this widely furrowed tablet, the blind writer feels with the point of his pencil the edges of the strips that are in relief.

None of these systems, however, permit the blind man to revise what he has written. A writing in relief is what is wanted, which should be readable by seeing persons not initiated in the Braille system, and which the blind man too could trace and read with facility. Such a system is provided in the stylography which the Count de Beaufort has invented (Fig. 2, No, 8). The apparatus, or stylograph, is of the simplest character, and can be made at home by almost any one. Cover a sheet of paper with a piece of thick cotton cloth; stretch this sheet over a series of parallel horizontal wires or cords about four millimetres apart; place upon this tablet a sheet of paper, and with the stylus trace the letters of the usual alphabet, rounding the angles and neglecting the connections. The relief of the cords permits the letters to be made of equal height. After a short period of training, lines of letters can be written in intaglio for the blind man to read, by turning the paper over, in relief. If any difficulty is met in writing inversely, let it be done

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Fig. 4.—Styluses. 1. Austrian hollow stylus.?. Stylus for the Goldberg tablet. 3. Ballu's stylus with an effacer. 4. Another model by Ballu, with a wooden effacer. 5 and 6. Common models. 7. Danish form.

in the regular order, and the blind reader, who has been accustomed to reverse his Braille characters, will have but little difficulty in making them out in their inverse shape.

Among other systems of writing for the blind, the most important is the English system, invented by Moon in 1847, and in which the first journal for the blind was printed. The signs are composed of points set very close together, or of lines in relief, reproducing simplified forms of ordinary letters. The Braille system has been introduced into England by Dr. Armitage, and is spreading in the English colonies. Germany, where the usual writing printed in relief was formerly used, definitely adopted the Braille system in 1879. It has been introduced into Russia and the Scandinavian countries. It is used exclusively in Italy, Belgium, end a part of Switzerland, and has been adopted in a few schools in the United States for music, while for the alphabet it has been modified or other systems are used.

The raphigraph is a machine devised by Braille and Foucault to facilitate communication between the blind and seeing people. It consists of a key-board with ten keys ending in needles and acting with a perpendicular movement, which, for the formation of the written signs, is combined with a horizontal governed by the key-board, which moves a crank-screw. The paper is borne upon a carriage which changes place from line to line. Each graphic sign is numbered according to the needles that have to be struck to produce it. To form, for instance, the letter H with this machine, twenty marks have to be made, with as many strokes on the keys, and perhaps half as many displacements of the horizontal. The machine is too complicated to be practical.

Experiments were made by Hassenfratz in 1783, and Challaut in 1820, in using thick inks in writing which should produce a relief on the paper after they had dried; and the Abbé Vitali manufactured an ink which would give relief enough to be felt by the

PSM V33 D667 Calculating instruments for use by the blind.jpg
Fig. 5.—Calculating Instruments for the Use of the Blind. 1. Ballu's tablet: 1' detail of squares, a pin. 2. Oury's tablet: 2' detail of the octagons, red pins.

finger of the blind man. It has not been found convenient for writing, but has been applied with advantage to the drawing of geometrical figures, and for maps. Some of the most successful maps have been prepared by M. Trouillard, who uses linoleum, and indicates the rivers by iron wires, and mountains by more or less prominent undulations. The place of each city, the name of which is indicated by the initial letter in "Braille," is marked by a peg split at the top. A thread attached to the point that indicates Paris, for example, can be fixed for the moment in these splits, as an aid in tracing the railway lines and measuring the distances between the several cities. Laas d'Aguen, in 1847, invented a kind of map which could be reproduced by printing. Previous to his, MM. Pignier and Boher Keller impressed maps in relief on thick paper, in which the meridians and parallels were represented by fine threads, boundaries by round points, mountains by large oval points, and seas and lakes by striæ. This method was adopted by the Moon Society in England and by the British and Foreign Blind Association, the first of which published atlases of terrestrial and celestial maps. M. Kunz, of Illzach, and M. Abel Pifre, of Paris, have published some most excellent maps, the former of which are very cheap, and the latter, the best of their kind, high.

M. Ballu took up some years ago the idea of Sanderson's tablet, for making arithmetical calculations. It is composed of a plaque divided by prominent metallic lines into many little squares pierced by nine holes arranged in threes, and numbered from 1 to 9 (Fig. 5, No. 1, 1'). Pins may be inserted into these holes, the

PSM V33 D668 Plate of the mauler machine.jpg

Fig. 6.—Plate of the Mauler Machine

rounded heads of which project above the surface of the plaque, and indicate the figures from 1 to 9, according to the number of the hole they occupy. The system is simple, but it takes a considerable time to learn it. In Taylor's tablet, the metallic plate is pierced with stellated octagonal holes, in which square pins with beveled ends are set, one of the ends being smooth and the other toothed. As each pin can be disposed in the holes in sixteen different ways, it is easy to see that the system has considerable capacity. But the blind find it difficult to adjust the pins. A case has been made for working in vulgar fractions, in which metallic figures are set in square holes; but the apparatus can hardly be called a practical one. M. Oury has devised a modification of Taylor's tablets which has advantages over both of these instruments (Fig. 5, No. 2, 2'). M. Mauler's writing-machine consists essentially of a horizontal plate, having on its circular border a series of keys, each of which bears one of the

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Fig. 7.—A Blind Man writing with the Mauler Machine.

signs of the Braille alphabet and the corresponding letter of the ordinary alphabet, the two systems being arranged upon two concentric circlets. The plate, turning around a vertical axis, may be fixed at any position for the moment by means of a spring working into a notch. A frame, which turns upon a horizontal axis, supports two rollers upon which the paper is wound, and is moved by a lever which the writer holds in his left hand. Upon this lever slides a little tampon tipped with India-rubber, which may be fixed at will immediately over the line of either of the alphabets of the plate. When the writer has brought the letter he wants in front of him, and has fastened it for the moment in place, he presses the lever down, bringing the paper in contact with the plate, forces the India-rubber-tipped tampon upon the character with such force as to obtain a relief impression of it on the paper. This done, he repeats the operation for his next character, and so on till his writing is done. This machine has the further advantage that the writer can revise his work by going over it with his fingers, and, if he finds that he has anywhere stamped the wrong character, he can bring the proper character under the tampon, insert the paper again at the spot where the wrong character appears, and, by a single application of the tampon, obtain an impression of the right character, and, with the same movement, obliterate the wrong one.—Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from La Nature.

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Fig. 8.

[We add an engraving (Fig. 8) of the writing-machine devised by Prof. E. L. Youmans, the late editor of the "Monthly," during his blindness, which he used with much satisfaction till he recovered his eyesight. The sheet of paper is held in a slit in the roller, upon which it is rolled as it is written upon, a line at a time, leaving a blank for the next line, the proper spacing of which is determined by a ratchet. The pencil is kept in a straight course by means of the bar which is shown beneath the writing. The slide seen near the middle of the bar is used to mark the place where the writer leaves off—as at the end of a sentence.—Editor.]

Prof. Judd claims for paleontology the right to be recognized as a distinct branch of science, because it deals with a class of objects and with objects in conditions with which biological methods alone can not cope. Its objects, besides being largely fragmentary, are in a mineralized condition, for which a peculiar knowledge and skill in petrology are required; it has, in the case of each deposit, to study the conditions under which the materials were laid down; and it has to determine the succession of processes to which the materials have been subjected through the ages since their original accumulation. Processes and knowledge are required in the solution of these problems which are afforded by no other single branch of science.