The Algerine captive; or, The life and adventures of Doctor Updike Underhill: six years a prisoner among the Algerines. [Three lines from Shakespeare] : Vol. I[-II]. : Published according to act of Congress.
Tyler, Royall, 1757-1826., Humphreys, David, 1752-1818, dedicatee.
Page  81


He, from thick films, shall purge the visual ray,
And on the sightless eye ball pour the day.


The Author commences the Study of Physic, with a celebrated Physician and Occu|list: A Philosophical Detail of the Ope|ration of couching for the Gutta Serena, by his Preceptor, upon a young Man, born Blind.

THE next spring, I entered upon my studies, with a physician, not more justly celebrated for his knowledge of the materia medica, than for his pecu|liar dexterity and success, in couching for the gutta serena, and restoring persons, even born blind, to sight. The account of a cure he performed, after I had been with him about a year, may not be unac|ceptable to the lovers of natural research. Page  82 The subject was a young man, of twenty two years of age, of a sweet disposition, amiable manners, and oppulent connex|ions. He was born stone blind. His blindness was in some measure compen|sated, by the attention of his friends; and the encreased power of his other or|gans of perception. His brothers and sisters enriched his mind, by reading to him, in succession, two hours every day, from the best authors. His sense of feel|ing was astonishingly delicate, and his hearing, if possible, more acute. His senses of taste and smelling, were not so remarkable. After the customary saluta|tion, of shaking hands, with a stranger, he would know a person, by the touch of the same hand, several years after, though absent in the interim. He could read a book or news paper, newly printed, tol|erably well, by tracing, with the tip of his finger, the indents of the types. He ac|quired a knowledge of the letters of the Page  83 alphabet early, from the prominent let|ters on the gingerbread alphabets of the baker. He was master of music, and had contrived a board, perforated with many gimblet holes; and, with the assistance of a little bag of wooden pegs, shaped at top, according to his directions, he could prick almost any tune, upon its being sung to him. When in a large company, who sat silent, he could distinguish how many persons were present, by noting, with his ear, their different manner of breathing. By the rarity or density of the air, not perceivable by those in company, he could distinguish high ground from low; and by the motion of the summer's breeze, too small to move the loftiest leaf, he would pronounce, whether he was in a wood or open country.

He was an unfeigned believer, in the sal|utary truths of christianity. He had imbib|ed its benevolent spirit. When he spoke of religion, his language was love to God, Page  84 and good will to man. He was no zeal|ot, but, when he talked of the wonders of creation, he was animated with a glow of enthusiasm. You observed, the other day, as we were walking on this plain, my friend, addressing himself to me, as I was intimate in the family, that you knew a certain person, by his gait, when at so great a distance, that you could not dis|cern his features. From this you took oc|casion to observe, that you saw the master hand of the great Creator, in the obvious difference that was between man and man: not only the grosser difference between the Indian, the African, the Esquimeaux, and the white man; but that which dis|tinguishes and defines accurately, men of the same nation, and even children of the same parents. You observed, that as all the children of the great family of the earth, were compounded of similar members, features, and lineaments, how wonderfully it displayed the skill of the Page  85 Almighty Artist, to model such an infinite variety of beings, and distinctly diversify them, from the same materials. You added, that the incident, you had noticed, gave fresh instance of admiration; for you was now convinced that, if even all men had been formed of so near resemblance, as not to be discerned from each other, when at rest; yet, when in motion, from their gait, air, and manner, they might readily be distinguished. While you spoke, I could perceive, that you pitied me, as being blind to a wonderful opera|tion of creative power. I too, in my turn, could triumph. Blind as I am, I have discovered a still minuter, but as certain a distinction, between the children of men, which has escaped the touch of your eyes. Bring me five men, perfect strangers to me; pair the nails of the same finger, so as to be even with the fingers' ends, let me touch, with the tip of my finger, the nails thus prepared. Tell me each person's Page  86 name, as he passes in contact before me, bring the same persons to me one month afterwards, with their nails paired, in the same manner, and I will call every one by his right name. For, be assured, my friend, that artist, who has denied to me that thing called light, hath opened the eyes of my mind, to know that there is not a greater difference between the African and the European, than what I could dis|cover, between the finger nails of all the men of this world. This experiment he afterwards tried, with uniform success. It was amusing, in a gayer hour, to hear him argue the superiority of the touch to the sight. Certainly, the feeling is a no|bler sense, than that you call sight. I in|fer it from the care nature has taken of the former, and her disregard to the latter. The eyes are comparatively poor, puny, weak organs. A small blow, a mote, or a straw may reduce those, who see with them, to a situation as pitiable as mine; while Page  87 feeling is diffused over the whole body. Cut off my arm, and a sense of feeling re|mains. Completely dismember me, and, while I live, I possess it. It is coexistent with life itself.

The senses of smelling and taste are but modifications of this noble sense, distin|guished, through the inaccuracy of men, by other names. The flavour of the most delicious morsel is felt by the tongue; and, when we smell the aromatic, it is the effluvia of the rose, which comes in contact with the olfactory nerves. You, that en|joy sight, inadvertently confess its inferi|ority. My brother, honing his penknife, the other day, passed it over his thumb nail, to discover if the edge was smooth. I heard him, and inquired, why he did not touch it with his eyes, as he did other objects. He confessed that he could not discover the gaps, by the sight. Here, the superiority of the most inaccurate seat of the feeling, was manifest. To conclude, Page  88 he would archly add: in marriage, the most important concern in life, how many miserable, of both sexes, are left to deplore, in tears, their dependence on this treach|erous thing, called sight. From this dan|ger, I am happily secured, continued he, smiling and pressing the hand of his cou|sin, who sat beside him; a beautiful blooming young woman, of eighteen, who had been bred with him, from child|hood, and whose affection for him, was such that she was willing, notwithstanding his blindness, to take him as a partner for life. They expected shortly to be married. Notwithstanding his accuracy and verac|ity upon subjects, he could comprehend; there were many, on which he was misera|bly confused. He called sight the touch of the eyes. He had no adequate idea of colours. White, he supposed, was like the feeling of down; and scarlet he resembled to the sound of martial music. By passing his hands over the porcelain, earthern, or Page  89 plaister of Paris images, he could readily conceive of their being representations of men or animals. But he could have no idea of pictures. I presented him a large picture of his grand father, painted with oil colours on canvass; told him whose resemblance it was. He passed his hand over the smooth surface and mused. He repeated this; exclaimed it was wonder|ful; looked melancholy; but never asked for the picture again.

Upon this young man, my preceptor operated successfully. I was present during the whole process, though few were admitted. Upon the introduction of the couching instruments, and the re|moval of the film from the retina, he ap|peared confused. When the operation was completed, and he was permitted to look a|round him, he was violently agitated. The irritability of the ophthalmic muscles faint|ly expressed the perturbation of his mind. After two and twenty years of total dark|ness, Page  90 to be thus awakened to a new world of sensation and light; to have such a flood of day poured on his benighted eye ball, overwhelmed him. The infant sight was too weak, for the shock, and he fainted. The doctor immediately intercepted the light with the proper bandages, and, by the application of volatiles, he was reviv|ed. The next day, the dressings were removed. He had fortified his mind, and was more calm. At first, he appear|ed to have lost more than he had gained, by being restored to vision. When blind, he could walk tolerably well, in places familiar to him. From sight, he collected no ideas of distance. Green was a colour peculiarly agreeable to the new born sight. Being led to the window, he was charm|ed with a tree in full verdure, and extended his arms to touch it, though at ten rods dis|tance. To distinguish objects within reach, he would close his eyes, feel of them with his hands, and then look earnestly upon them.

Page  91 According to a preconcerted plan, the third day, his bandages were removed, in the presence of his parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and of the amiable, lovely girl, to whom he was shortly to be mar|ried. By his request, a profound silence was to be observed, while he endeavour|ed to discover the person of her, who was the object of his dearest affection. It was an interesting scene. The company obeyed his injunction. Not a finger mov|ed, or a breath aspirated. The bandage was then removed; and, when he had re|covered from the confusion of the instant effusion of light, he passed his eye hasti|ly over the whole group. His sensa|tions were novel and interesting. It was a moment of importance. For aught he knew, he might find the bosom part|ner of his future life, the twin soul of his affection, in the fat scullion wench, of his father's kitchen; or in the person of the toothless, palsied, decriped Page  92 nurse, who held the bason of gruel at his elbow.

In passing his eye a second time over the circle, his attention was arrested, by his beloved cousin. The agitations of her love|ly features, and the evanescent blush on her cheek, would have at once betrayed her, to a more experienced eye. He pas|sed his eye to the next person, and imme|diately returned it to her. It was a mo|ment big with expectation. Many a finger was raised to the lips of the spectators, and many a look, expressive of the silence she should preserve, was cast towards her. But the conflict was too violent for her delicate frame. He looked more intense|ly; she burst into tears, and spoke. At the well known voice he closed his eyes, rushed towards her, and clasped her in his arms. I envied them their feelings; but I thought then, and do now, that the sensations of my preceptor, the skilful hu|mane operator, were more enviable. The Page  93 man who could restore life and usefulness, to the darling of his friends, and scatter light in the paths of an amiable young pair, must have known a joy never surpas|sed; except, with reverence be it spoken, by the satisfaction of our benevolent Sa|viour, when, by his miraculous power, he opened the eyes of the actually blind, made the dumb to sing, and the lame and impotent leap for joy.