From Entertaining Literary Curiosities, Consisting of Wonders of Nature and Art; Remarkable Characters; Fragments, Anecdotes, Letters, &c. &c. &c., by William Jefferson; London: Printed by J. G. Barnard, Snow Hill, for Crosby and Co. Stationers’ Court; 1808; pp. 1-13.
Part I. Prodigies
An Account of a French lady blind from her infancy, who can read, write, and play at cards
A YOUNG Gentlewoman, of a good family in France, Mademoiselle de Salignac, born at Xaintonge,* now in her 18th year, lost her sight when only two years old: her mother having been advised to lay some pigeon’s blood on her eyes, to preserve them in the small pox; whereas, so far from answering the end, it ate into them.
Nature, however, may be said to have compensated for the unhappy mistake, by beauty of person, sweetness of temper, vivacity of genius, quickness of conception, and many talents which alleviate her misfortune. She plays at cards with the same readiness as others of the party: — she first prepares the pack allotted to her, by pricking them in several parts, yet so imperceptibly, that the closest inspection can scarce discern her indexes; she sorts the suites, and arranges the cards in their proper sequence, with the same precision and nearly the same facility as they who have their sight: all she requires of those who play with her, is to name 2 every card as it is played, and these she retains so exactly, that she frequently performs some notable strokes, such as show a great combination and strong memory. The most wonderful circumstance is, that she should have learnt to read and write: but even this is readily believed, on knowing her method. — In writing to her, no ink is used, but the letters are pricked down on the paper, and by the delicacy of her touch, feeling each letter, she follows them successively, and reads every word with her finger end. She herself makes use of a pencil, as she could not know when her pen was dry: her guide on the paper is a small thin ruler, and of the breadth of her writing. On finishing a letter, she wets it, so as to fix the traces of her pencil, that they are not obscured or effaced; then proceeds to fold and seal it, and write the directions: all by her own address, and without the assistance of any other person. Her writing is very straight, well cut, and the spelling no less correct.
To reach this mechanism, the indefatigable cares of her affectionate mother were long employed, who accustomed her daughter to feel letters cut in cards or pasteboard, which brought her to distinguish an A from a B, and thus the whole alphabets, and afterwards to spell words; then by the resemblance of the shape of the letters to delineate them on paper; and lastly to arrange them so as to form words and sentences. She has learnt to play on the guitar, and has even contrived a way of pricking down the tunes as an assistance to her memory. So delicate are her organs, that in singing a tune, though new to her, she is able to name the notes. In figure dances she acquits herself extremely well, and in a minuet, with inimitable ease and gracefulness. As for the works of her sex, 3 she has a masterly hand: she sews and hems perfectly well, and in all her works she threads the needle for herself, however small. By the watch, her touch never fails telling her exactly the hour and minute.
* [Elf.Ed. Xaintonge is an older spelling for present-day Saintonge, France.]
MR. BEW, in the Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester, gives the following remarkable case. — John Metcalf became blind at a very early age, so as to be entirely unconscious of light and its various effects. This man passed the younger part of his life as a waggoner, and occasionally as a guide in intricate roads, during the night or when the tracks were covered with snow. Strange as this may appear to those who can see, the employment he has since undertaken is still more extraordinary. His present occupation is that of a projector and surveyor in highways, in difficult and mountainous countries. His abilities in this respect are so great, that he finds constant employment. Maps of the roads over the Peak in Derbyshire have been altered by his directions, particularly in the vicinity of Buxton; and he is at this time constructing a new one betwixt Wilmslow and Congleton.
Morning Chronicle, 1787.
An extraordinary Account of Richard Carrol, commonly called Blind Dick.
IT is something remarkable, that the parents of this unfortunate person were transported during his 4 infancy, by which means he was put into St. Luke’s Workhouse. — His playing upon a fife at that place attracted the notice of one of the overseers so far, that he procured an able master to teach him the violin; but he not liking confinement, soon eloped from his patron, and subsisted by playing in Moorfields, and at public-houses.
His first adventure as a marauder was as singular as any other trait of his character; as he actually, in concert with a lame man, robbed the Workhouse where he had been brought up, of several beds, &c. that had been put out to air in the yard. He soon afterwards ran a race with another person that had lost his sight, named BLIND JOB; which he won by a considerable distance. A habit of betting and gaming had so far initiated him into a course of dissipation, that at length he could resist no opportunity of pilfering, to enable him to attend the skittle-grounds; at which he was such an adept, that he could tell, by the sound of the pins, how many had fallen, &c. He once, after fiddling with a bunter’s garland, decamped with the box. He also kept company with a blind girl, till, by the quickness of his ear, he discovered a rival in the room, by hearing him breathe. He was afterwards a cicesbio to a lady of easy virtue near St. Catharine’s, till he was detected in packing up the household furniture for a removal. In February, 1782, he was detected in cutting the velvet out of a loom belonging to a weaver near Moorfields; for which he was capitally convicted, but received his Majesty’s clemency, on condition of being imprisoned three years in Newgate. — Near the expiration of this period, in consequence of some wanton provocation, he stabbed one of the prisoners in the belly, for which he was again imprisoned two years. It 5 is also singular, that he procured an affluent subsistence in Newgate, by taking pledges of wearing apparel. &c, of which he was a competent judge by mere feeling; and was frequently employed by the prisoners in better circumstances to play Macpherson’s and other flash tunes, of which he was a tolerable performer.
MR. STANLEY, organist of St. Andrews, though blind almost from his birth, plays at whist as well as most men. His naming the number of persons in a room on entering it; his directing his voice to each person in particular, even to strangers when they have once spoken; his missing any person absent; his telling who that person is; his conceptions of youth, beauty, symmetry, and shape, are such wonderful attainments as are perhaps all peculiar to himself, and very extraordinary.
Annual Register, 1762.
The wonderful Learned Boy, of Lubeck, in Germany.
CHRISTIAN HENRY HEINEKEN, was born at Lubeck, on February 6, 1721, and died there June 17, 1725, after having displayed the most amazing proofs of intellectual talents.
He had not completed his first year of life, when he already knew and recited the principal facts contained in the five books of Moses; with a number of verses on the creation. — In his fourteenth month he knew all the history of the Bible. — In his thirtieth month the history of the nations of antiquity, geography, anatomy, the use of maps, and nearly 6 8000 Latin words. — Before the end of his third year, the history of Denmark, and the genealogy of the crowned heads of Europe. — In his fourth year, the doctrines of divinity, with their proofs from the Bible; ecclesiastical history; the institutions; 200 hymns, with their tunes; 80 psalms; entire chapters of the Old and New Testaments; 1500 verses and sentences, from ancient Latin classics; almost the whole Orbis Pictus of Comenius, whence he had derived all his knowledge of the Latin tongue; arithmetic; the history of the European empires and kingdoms: could point out in the maps whatever place he was asked for, or passed by in his journeys; and recite all the ancient and historical anecdotes relating to it. His stupendous memory caught and retained every word he was told: his ever-acting imagination used, at whatever he saw or heard, instantly to apply, according to the laws of association of ideas, some examples or sentences from the Bible, or geography, profane or ecclesiastical history, the Orbis Pictus or form ancient classics. At the court of Denmark he delivered twelve speeches, without once faltering; and underwent public examinations on a variety of subjects, especially the history of Denmark. He spoke German, Latin, French, and Low Dutch; was exceedingly good-natured, and well-behaved, but of a most tender, delicate bodily constitution, never eating any solid food, but chiefly subsisting on nurse’s milk. He was celebrated, says this account, all over Europe, under the name of the Learned Boy of Lubeck. He died at the age of four years, twenty days, and twenty-one hours; and his death was recorded in a number of periodical papers.
Westminster Magazine, 1780.7
The Wonderful Child.*
IN the year 1530, Maria Cardenio,† a native of Leghorn, having been pregnant for thirty-four years, was then delivered of a male child, two feet and an inch long. When first born, it had all the appearance of a grown person, having a complete set of teeth, a remarkable fine head of hair, and his beard, though little to be perceived when born, grew so amazing fast, that before he was a week old it was near half an inch long, at which time he was shaved. At ten days old he talked plain, refused the breast, and asked why he was not served with flesh meat as well as the rest of the family. His intellects were as surprising as his person; for at a month old he could read prose and verse with tolerable propriety, set a violin or guitar with great exactness, play several tunes on either of them with wonderful correctness, and wash, comb, and shave himself with incredible neatness.
During this period, young Cardenio had not grown above two inches in height, but his body and limbs were then arrived to the exactest proportion. At that time, we are told, Father Guezander, (a Jesuit of the order of St. Francis) a man famous for learning and piety, took charge of the boy’s education, and not long after carried him to Rome, where he presented him to Pope Leo the Tenth, who was so struck with the singularity of the circumstance, that he ordered Guezander proper apartments in his pontifical palace, also the use of the library, for the completing the education of this wonderful child. At three months old he was grounded in the Italian and Latin languages, had 8 made some progress in Greek, and seemed capable of learning the most abstruse science. He discovered a great inclination towards the study of astronomy and geography; but the Holy Fathers intending him a deeper study, (which was, the mysteries of the Romish religion) not only refused him any assistance in his favourable studies, but also deprived him of every book that could give him the least instruction in those sciences. This noncompliance and restriction of the Holy Fathers did not agree with the turbulent spirit of young Cardenio, who till then had never experienced a refusal, but on the contrary every one seemed ready to comply with all his requests: ethicks, and the oriental languages, were, he said, very pleasing and instructive, particularly when accompanied with arts and sciences; but as he was debarred from the latter, he was resolved, he said, not to be very diligent in acquiring a greater knowledge of the former. — He therefore applied himself at all opportunities to cultivate the art of drawing and painting, in which he soon became a proficient. This pleasing art being also rejected by the Pope, as well as his tutor, turned the boy (who was naturally of a thoughtful, sullen disposition) so stupid and sulky, that he refused the Pope in person to translate a passage in the third book of Homer’s Iliad. — This exasperated his Holiness to such a degree, that he ordered his tutor to correct him; to shun which Cordenio accidentally got a fall, and fractured one of his thigh bones, which baffled all the efforts of the faculty to cure: so that after languishing about three weeks, it turned to a mortification, which soon put a period to his existence. — Thus the world were deprived of the greatest genius, added to the greatest curiosity that nature could ever boast of.9
When Emanuel Cordenio died, he was no more than two feet four inches high, and only five months and thirteen days old; notwithstanding which he was well grounded in the Latin and Italian languages, and made a considerable progress in Greek, knew the use of the globes, could play upon several instruments of music, and had acquired so great a proficiency in the art of painting, that one of his pieces (respecting the Virgin Mary, with our Saviour in her arms) now in the possession of the Grand Duke, is admired by the best masters.
N. B. It is strange that none of our English authors have taken any notice of this remarkable child; the more so, as Thomas Cromwell, afterwards Earl of Sussex, was at Rome on an embassy during the above period, and not only saw but conversed with this wonderful boy.
Travels through Europe, by Mr. Hamilton.
* [Elf.Ed. The last lines at the bottom of page 8 were cut off when the book was trimmed. Thanks to the great kindness of Miranda Midlane, who used her copy of the book and told me what the missing words were. How very nice of her! She works at Scrivener’s Books and Bookbinding Shop, in Derbyshire, England, which has another copy of this rare book.]
† [Elf.Ed. The name Cardenio is spelled twice with an e, and twice with an o: Cordenio. Since I can find no information on this person on the internet, I have kept both spellings of the word.]
The Admirable Crichton.
THE person of Crichton was eminently beautiful; but his beauty was consistent with such activity and strength, that in fencing he would spring at one bound the length of twenty feet upon his antagonist; and he used his sword in either hand with such force and dexterity, that scarce any one had courage to engage him.
He was born in Perthshire, studied at St. Andrew’s, in Scotland, and went to Paris in his twenty-first year, and affixed on the gate of the college of Navarre a kind of challenge to the learned of that university, to dispute with them on a certain day, offering to his opponents, whoever they should be, the choice of ten languages, and all the faculties and sciences. On the day appointed, 300 auditors assembled; 10 when four doctors of the church, and fifty masters, appeared against him; and one of his antagonists confesses, that the doctors were defeated; that he gave proofs of knowledge above the reach of man; and that a hundred years passed without food or sleep would not be sufficient for the attainment of his learning. After a disputation of nine hours, he was presented by the president and professors with a diamond and a purse of gold; and dismissed with repeated acclamations. From Paris he went to Rome, where he made the same challenge, and had, in the presence of the Pope and Cardinals, the same success. Afterwards he contracted at Venice an acquaintance with Aldus Manutius, by whom he was introduced to the learned of that city. He visited Padua, where he engaged in another disputation; beginning his performance with an extemporal poem, in praise of the city and the assembly then present, and concluded with an oration equally unpremeditated in commendation of ignorance.
He afterwards published another challenge, in which he declared himself ready to detect the errors of Aristotle, and all his commentators, either in the common forms of logic, or in any his antagonist should propose, in a hundred different kind of verses.
These acquisitions of learning, however stupendous, were not gained at the expence of any pleasure in which youth generally indulges; or by the omission of any accomplishment, in which it becomes a gentleman to excel. He practised, in great perfection, the art of drawing and painting; he was an eminent performer in both vocal and instrumental music; he danced with uncommon gracefulness; and on the day of his disputation at Paris, 11 exhibited his skill in horsemanship before the court of France; where, at a public match of tilting, he bore away the ring upon his lance fifteen times together. He excelled likewise in domestic games of less dignity and reputation; and in the interval between his challenge and disputation at Paris, he spent so much of his time at cards, dice, and tennis, that a lampoon was fixed upon the gate of the Sorbonne, directing those that would see this monster of erudition, to look for him at the tavern.
So extensive was his acquaintance with life and manners, that in an Italian comedy, composed by himself, and exhibited before the court of Mantua, he is said to have personated fifteen different characters, in all which he might succeed without great difficulty, since he had so much power of retention, that once hearing an oration of an hour, he would repeat it exactly, and in the recital follow the speaker through all his variety of tone and gesticulation. Nor was his skill in arms less than in learning, or his courage inferior to his skill: there was a prize-fighter at Mantua, who, travelling about the world, according to the barbarous custom of that age, as a general challenger, had defeated the most celebrated masters in many parts of Europe; and in Mantua, where he then resided, had killed three that appeared against him. — The Duke repented that he had granted him his protection; when Crichton, looking on his sanguinary success with indignation, offered to stake fifteen hundred pistoles, and mount the stage against him. The Duke with some reluctance consented, and on the day fixed, the combatants appeared: their weapons seem to have been the single rapier, which was then introduced in Italy. The prize-fighter advanced with great violence and fierceness, and Crichton 12 contented himself calmly to ward his passes, and suffered him to exhaust his vigour by his own fury. — Crichton then became the assailant, and pressed upon him with such force and agility, that he thrust him thrice through the body, and saw him expire: he then divided the prize he had won among the widows whose husbands had been killed.
The Duke of Mantua having received so many proofs of his various merits, made him tutor to his son Vicentio di Gonzago, a prince of loose manners and turbulent disposition. On this occasion it was, that he composed the comedy in which he exhibited so many different characters with exact propriety. But his honour was of short continuance; for as he was one night, in the time of carnival, rambling about the streets with his guitar in his hand, he was attacked by six men masked: neither his courage nor skill in this exigence deserted him: he opposed them with such activity and spirit, that he soon dispersed them, and disarmed their leader, who throwing off his mask, discovered himself to be the Prince, his pupil. — Crichton falling on his knees, took his own sword by the point, and presented it to the Prince, who immediately seized it, and, instigated, as some say, by jealousy, according to others, only by drunken fury and brutal resentment, thrust him through the heart.
Thus was the admirable Crichton brought into that state, in which he could excel the meanest of mankind only by a few empty honours paid to his memory. — The court of Mantua testified their esteem by a public mourning. The contemporary wits were profuse in their encomiums; and the palaces of Italy were adorned with pictures representing him on horseback, with a lance in one hand, and a book in the other.
Caledonian Magazine, Perth, Feb. 6th, 1784.13
A Letter from the Right Reverend Dr. Wilcocks, Bishop of Rochester, then Chaplain to the English Factory at Lisbon, (respecting a Young Woman in the territory of Elvas, in Portugal, who speaks without a tongue,) to a learned and ingenious Gentleman, dated Lisbon, September. 3, 1707.
The Conde D. Ericeyra, a nobleman of letters, and curious in natural knowledge, brought from the country a young woman without a tongue, who yet speaks very well. She is seventeen years old, but in stature not exceeding one of seven or eight: I was with her at the Conde’s house, and made her pronounce every letter in the alphabet; which she can do distinctly except Q, which she calls Cu, (after the common pronunciation of all her country people.) She hath not the least bit of a tongue, nor any thing like it, but the teeth on both sides of her jaws turn very much inward, and almost meet. She finds the greatest want of a tongue in eating, for as others, when they eat, move their meat about with their tongue, she is forced to use her fingers. She pretends to distinguish tastes very well; but I believe doth it imperfectly. Her voice, though very distinct, is very hollow, and like that of old people who have lost half their teeth.
Universal Magazine, 1748.
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