Guillié, Essai sur l’instruction des aveugles, 1817


A fine copy of a book printed by the blind with charming pictures of blind students engaged in a range of crafts including printing.

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GUILLIE, Sebastien (1780–1865)

Essai sur l’instruction des aveugles, ou exposé analytique des procédés employés pour les instruire.

Paris: imprimé par les aveugles, et se vend à leur bénéfice, à l’Institution, rue Saint-Vicotor, no 68, 1817.

8vo, pp. [9] 10–224, first leaf blank, half title on p. [3]. Woodcut alphabet on p. 110, typeset diagram of playing cards on p. 211.

22 intaglio plates: frontispiece and plates Pl. 1–21, frontispiece and Pls 1, 2, 4, 6 and 15 line engravings signed ‘Dubois del et Sc.’, the remainder crayon etchings signed ‘Julie Ribault del, Azelie Hubert Sculp.’ (bound throughout the text according to the page numbers engraved on the plates). 

Condition: 210 x 133mm, untrimmed. Light foxing but a good fresh copy. 

Binding: Original glazed pink boards, green morocco lettering piece, gilt bands. A little rubbed. 

First edition. A second edition was published in 1819 and a third in 1820. There was an English translation in 1819. References. Becker Collection 169; Albert, Norton and Huertes 945; Wellcome III, p. 180.

A good uncut copy in the original pink glazed boards of an important work on the education of the blind, including printing for blind and sighted readers. The book was itself printed by the blind. A long section is devoted to methods of reading and writing for the blind and there are woodcut reproductions of Valentin Haüy’s raised letters.

The plates include details of raised letters like type to be set in grooved boards, and the calculating board invented by the blind English mathematician Nicholas Saunderson. The others are charming illustrations of blind men and women playing musical instruments and engaged in a variety of crafts including printing, weaving and basket-making. These are by Julie Ribault (1799–c.1839), a portrait and genre painter who exhibited at the Paris Salons from 1810, winning a second class medal in 1824. Her watercolour ‘Pierre-Joseph Rédoute’s school of botanical drawing in the Salle Buffon in the Jardin des Plantes’ exhibited at the Paris Salon for 1830 is in the Fizwilliam Museum, Cambridge. I have not found any information on the printmaker, Azelie Hubert.

‘Guillié established the first ophthalmological clinic in France and became director of the Institution Royale des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris. The Institution, founded by Haüy in 1785, was the first such school for the blind in the world. The author chronicles the philanthropic deeds directed toward the blind up to that time and describes the first attempts at special graphic methods for the use of the blind. Of particular interest is the account of his methods of instructing the blind in various crafts. The plates show blind craftsmen engaged in a variety of skilled occupations. Guillié endeavoured to understand and encourage the communication which he observed between blind and deaf-mute children at the time when the two institutions were united (p. 170–77).’ (Becker.)