One of the great things about working in a college library is that student research projects often send us digging into parts of the collections we probably wouldn’t have explored otherwise. Earlier this week I talked with a vision-impaired student who had consulted our twentieth-century braille edition of Worsdworth in the past. The published bibliography, The Amherst Wordsworth Collection, includes entries for two other editions of Wordsworth produced for blind readers in the nineteenth century.

Matthew Arnold’s edition of Wordsworth in braille
Matthew Arnold’s edition of Wordsworth in braille.

Before we go any further, I must give all the credit to the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston for their excellent summary of the history of Books for the Blind, a corner of printing history I had never explored before. Thanks to their site, we can situate the two nineteenth-century works within a wider context. The 1891 edition is printed under the auspices of the Perkins School with Boston Line Type, based on a system developed by Samuel Gridley Howe in 1835.

Wordsworth printed in Boston Line Type, 1891.

The Howe Memorial Press was named to honor the inventor of the Boston Line Type, a system of raised letterforms that can be read by touch as well as by sight. Here is a stanza from the poem “There is an Eminence” in Boston Line Type:

“There is an Eminence” in Boston Line Type, 1891.

In contrast to the Perkins School, Dr. Simon Pollak started using braille at the Missouri School for the Blind in 1860. We hold an 1896 edition of Wordsworth printed with the Missouri Braille system:

Wordsworth in Missouri Braille, 1896. Printed in St. Louis.

We are grateful to the person who took the time to add the title page information in ink, since this volume is entirely in Missouri Braille. As a bonus, the Missouri edition had a loose broadside tucked in the front with samples of multiple writing systems for the blind:

Alphabets for an Exhibit
Alphabets for an Exhibit, 1934

Although it’s difficult to make out in this image, the alphabets are Boston Line, “Moon’s Type,” New York Point, American Braille, and “Braille’s Type.”

Beyond simply holding copies of these items, there are clues to a closer connection between the Wordsworth collection and the Perkins School for the Blind. Both the 1891 and the 1896 editions have bookplates that indicate they were once part of the Perkins School library:

The final image that includes “Presented by Perkins Institution” suggests that the school may have given the volumes either to Cornelius Patton, who then gave them to Amherst, or they were donated to Amherst to add to Patton’s Wordsworth collections.

Archives holds one other item related to the Perkins School: The Life and Education of Laura Dewey Bridgman, the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Girl:

Laura Dewey Bridgman, 1878

First published in 1878, this biography of the first deaf-blind student at Perkins to learn to read and write includes a facsimile of her first letter:

Laura Dewey Bridgman.


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