Creative Person of the Week

5 Nov

Reading Paul’s poem sparked my interest in Francois Le Sueur and here’s what I found:

Francois Le Sueur: St. Ovid’s Fair was one of Paris’s lively and popular religious street festivals since the 1600.s.  In 1771, a young man named Valentin Haüy visited St. Ovid’s Fair and stopped at a cafe for lunch. What he saw there would change not only his own life, but the lives of millions of blind people, forever.

At the festival that year, a group of eight blind men from the Quinze-Vingts were performing a slapstick comedy act, pretending to be what many other blind people actually were–musicians. They wore dunce caps and huge cardboard glasses. A ninth man in a red dress and donkey’s ears hung from the ceiling and beat time, suspended on a perch.

The act was a hit. An almanac published, “One could not have an idea of the success which this joke obtained,” but Haüy felt “a very different sentiment” and was so sickened by the performance that he could not finish his lunch.

Haüy became acquainted with Abbé de l’Epée, founder of the first school for the deaf (also in Paris), and learned the manual alphabet. Haüy’s own idealism and energy would prove extraordinary, and so, initially, would his luck. In the spring of 1784, while on a walk, he encountered the perfect student.  In the most popular version of the story, as Haüy departed church after services in 1784, he pressed a coin into the hand of a young blind boy begging near the entrance of the church. The boy instantly called out the denomination, believing Haüy had accidentally given him too large a sum. Haüy then had a startling insight: The blind could learn a great deal, perhaps even reading, using the sense of touch. There is some evidence the young beggar had heard of Haüy’s interest in educating the blind and by some means was able to put himself in the path of opportunity.

However they met, the beggar, 17-year-old François Lesueur, became Haüy’s first pupil. François had been blind since infancy and had spent much of his short life begging on the streets to support his family. Haüy made up François’ lost earnings from begging while he taught him to read by using wooden letters he moved around to form words. François was a very quick study and also the source of a major new insight. While looking for some object on Haüy’s desk, François ran his hand over a funeral card on which the printed letter “o” was struck unusually hard, raising it enough to decipher by touch. Within six months his mastery of the basic elements of primary education stunned France’s top scholars and scientists when Haüy brought him for a demonstration at the Royal Academy.  Through continuing events and funding from the Academy, the first school for the blind was formed.  More than 20 years later, this was the school a young Loius Braille attended.  (Excerpt taken from


2 Responses to “Creative Person of the Week”

  1. Paul Hostovsky November 6, 2011 at 11:57 AM #

    Thanks for sharing that. I first learned about Le Sueur in the book, Louis Braille: A Touch Of Genius, published by the National Braille Press in Boston. It’s full of interesting stories about blind people and the history of braille. For example, another story in the book tells how when Louis Braille died, he was virtually unknown and the braille system had not caught on. He was buried in his home town of Coupvray. But a few years later, the braille system caught on and began to spread like wildfire, eventually throughout the world. That’s when the big-wigs from Paris decided they wanted to disinter Louis and move his remains up to the Pantheon in Paris. They fought about it with the Coupvray village elders and finally they compromised: Braille’s hands would remain in Coupvray, while the rest of him was sent up to Paris. Can you imagine?!

  2. visionthroughwords November 7, 2011 at 8:01 AM #

    So much more to do and learn but we’ve come a long way, and with gratitude to people like these.

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