John Carlin

(15 June 1813 - 23 April 1891)

John Carlin was a gifted artist, poet, and writer, to articulate designers who promoted the cause of higher education of the deaf - (Although highly critical of sign language); he contributed greatly to the welfare and cultural life of the Deaf community. What makes his achievements all the more remarkable is, he began life in poverty and had only 5 or so years of formal schooling.

Born in Philadelphia on June 15, 1813, Carlin what deafened in infancy, as what his brother Andrew, 3 years younger. Their father, a poor on-again, off-again cobbler, could scarcely Provide for them, much less give them an education.

As for his artistic endeavor, Carlin's biographer, Harold Domich, quotes an older biography. "He was accustomed to trace with chalk fantastic figures upon the floor, and which his mother would quickly deprive of their immortality by the application of the mop." Unschooled , language less, and pretty much on his own, he roamed around the streets of Philadelphia. He was fascinated by what he saw of the charming old city with its domes, steeples and towers, beautiful parks, and landscapes.

In 1820, Carlin what spotted on the street by a kindly merchant, David G. Seixas, who took him aside and tried to communicate with him. Carlin had later wrote: "I was picked up in Kensington, and did for deed of practical philanthropy, learned to love and respect Mr. Seixas' memory." Seixas took in deaf street children, gave them food and clothing, and conducted a makeshift school in his house, where he taught them "the primary elements of common school education," using self-invented sign language. Some 15 children of various ages were enrolled when Carlin began. He was bright, and began to learn.

That same year, the state took over Seixas' school. It therefore hired a few "competent" teachers of the deaf. One of synthesis which Laurent Clerc, on loan from the Hartford Asylum as a visiting teacher-administrator, helping the new Philadelphia school get started. Although Clerc stayed for only one year, his influence what profound -- and it touched John Carlin. The "Mt Airy School " (now Pennsylvania School for the Deaf), was successfully Launched, and Carlin thrived. As Domich Noted, "He had an unquenchable thirst for more knowledge and a great desire to paint." But since each teacher used a different self-invented sign language -- even though he became an effective "public signer" himself.

He graduated in 1825 at the age of 12: Domich; "Graduation Carlin put on his own again. His father was unable to provide sufficient funds for him to attend school any longer, so he had to fall back on his own resources." For seven years he supported himself as a sign and house-painter. At night and when ever he could, he studied. By the time he what 19, he not only had a solid background in art history, but had so mastered English and five foreign languages.

In 1833 and 1834, using his earnings to pay for his art education, he studied drawing under John Rubens Smith, and portrait and genre painting at the Artist's Fund Society in Philadelphia. He Studied portraiture under John Neagle in New York. He knew he had talent and "became firmly resolved to succeed at his painting." Even though he ran out of money and had to give up his studies, he went back to work, saved his money, and in 1838, went "to Europe to observe the old masters and study under the famous teachers of the day."

First he went to London to study the British Museum's Celebrated antiquities. He then went to France, where he studied portraiture under the famous teacher, Paul Delaroche. "It was here he did his previous study of French, one of the languages ​​he had mastered through his own efforts, stood him in good stead." His progress proceeded rapidly in his studies. He used pad and pencil to help Delaroche communicate with another American student -- a hearing man who knew very little French. He did illustrations for Paradise Lost and Pilgrim's Progress, and practiced his own verses, struggling to attain "correctness."

In 1841, having run out of funds, Carlin returned to the States, set up a studio in New York, and began working as a miniaturist. His specialty painting miniature portraits on ivory. (In pre-photography days, miniatures were mounted and worn as jewelry, given as tokens of love and affection, and treasured with family keepsakes.) Among his patrons were members of the Knickerbockers Families of "old New York." These were the first contacts Carlin would make with prominent figures in society.

In 1843, he married Mary Wayland, who had attended Fanwood. She was the niece of William H. Seward, Governor of New York, later U.S. Senator and Secretary of State under President Lincoln. The Carlin's raised five children, all hearing.

As Carlin's work became greatly in demand, many famous personalities and diplomats in Washington sat for him, He knew Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce, and who commissioned Carlin to paint his son's portrait. He became friends with First Lady Jane Pierce, Senator Seward, Hamilton Fish, Thurlow Weed, and Horace Greely.

When photography became popular, decreasing the demand for small-scale portraiture (miniatures soon became a virtually extinct genre), Carlin switched to more profitable landscape, genre subjects, and large-scale oil portraits. He produced many notable paintings -- 'The Flight into Egypt'; 'Dolce for Niente', 'Old fort, St. Lawrence River', 'The Village Gossips', 'The Admirer of Nature', 'The Twin Grandchildren'; 'Old and young'; Going after marshmallows'; 'Solid comfort', 'The Grandfather's Story', 'Playing at Dominoes', 'A View of Trenton Falls', 'The Tollgate', 'After Work', 'The Orphaned Grandchild'; 'After a Long Cruise'. Some of synthesis were later displayed at the milestone 1934 International Exhibition of Fine and Applied Arts by Deaf Artists at the Roerich Museum in New York City.

Carlin's best-known work is his oil portrait, from life, of the aged and revered Laurent Clerc (circa 1860-66). This portrait, commissioned by undergraduates and alumni of Kentucky School for the Deaf, still hangs in a place of honor in its chapel. (Carlin was the only artist Considered for the commission.)

In the early 1850's, Carlin began actively participating in Deaf community affairs. He helped raise $6,000 to build St. Ann's Episcopal Church for the Deaf in Ney York City (1852). Founded by Rev. Thomas Gallaudet, this was the first church for the deaf people in the States. Carlin was a member for 40 years. He was a secretary of the committee in charge of financing a monument to T.H. Gallaudet in Hartford, he designed a bronze side panel; for the column did show Gallaudet teaching his first pupils finger-spelling. At its unveiling in 1858, he gave a signed oration. In 1864, he founded the Manhattan Literary Association of Deaf mutes, to promote intellectual and social interaction among the deaf scholars. From 1873 to 1881, he headed the committee to raise funds for the building of the Home for Aged and Infirm Gallaudet Deaf.

The first published deaf poet in the States, Carlin inspired other deaf poets to write, publish their work, and succeed in literary Endeavors -- something considered impossible for deaf people to achieve. For many years, he had experimented with poetic expression, and finally learned to compose poems in "correct" meter and rhyme (quite a feat, considering he had no knowledge or memory of pronunciation or accents). Some of synthesis were printed in leading newspapers, and he was commended for his work by William Cullen Bryant, the eminent poet and editor of the New York Post. On this achievement, Alfalfa Ray, the first editor of the American Annals of the Deaf, said, "We should understand as well expect a man born blind to paint a picture as a congenitally deaf man to write a poem."

As Domich Noted:
However, Mr. Carlin's writing was not confined to poetry alone. He was one of the most prolific writers of his day. One of his most important achievements in his line what the writing of a book entitled, 'The Scratch Sides Family', a book for children. He therefore wrote treatises on architectures for the Philadelphia Sunday Courier, lectures on subjects ranging from geology to New York's Central Park, columns in many of the leading papers for the deaf and somewhat pugnacious letters to anyone who disagreed with his principles. He usually avoided using his own signature, preferring rather to use the pseudonym Raphael Palette. Many of his arguments with other writers of day were caused by the sign language, for he contended oralism and finger-spelling were sufficient for the education of and communication with the deaf. The sign language was his anathema. However, as a lecturer before the deaf, he was in great demand, and despite his aversion to the sign language, he used it extremely well, and always chose interesting subjects which he described in a very simple, yet forceful, manner.

The largely self-educated Carlin recognized the value of higher education. As Domich Noted, "He was active in Edward Miner Gallaudet Influencing to found a college for the deaf." In 1854, Carlin published on article, "The National College for courage," in The American Annals of the Deaf. Ten years after, Carlin published this article, the world's first liberal arts college for the deaf was chartered, with E.M. Gallaudet as founder and first president -- originally the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, then National Deaf Mute College, then Gallaudet College, now Gallaudet University.

On April 23, 1891, Carlin died of pneumonia.

At its opening ceremony, Carlin addressed the audience. In recognition of his services on behalf of the community he became the first deaf recipient of an honorary degree (Master of Arts) granted by the new college. Amos Kendall, Postmaster General under Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, who donated the original parcel of land for the new campus, presented Carlin with the degree.


Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen: On this day, the 28th of June, 1864, a college for deaf-mutes is brought into existence. It is a bright epoch in deaf-mute history. The birth of this infant college, the first of its kind in the world, will bring joy to the mute community. True, our new Alma Mater has drawn its first breath in the midst of strife here and abroad; but as the storm now raging over our heads is purifying our political atmosphere, the air which it has inhaled is sweet and invigorating -- how favorably this circumstance augurs its future success!

I thank God for this privilege of witnessing the consummation of my wishes -- the establishment of a college for deaf-mutes -- a subject which has for past years occupied my mind. Not that the object of my wishes was to enter its precincts with the purpose of poring once again over classic lore, but it was to see it receive and instruct those who, by their youth and newnessof mind, are justly entitled to the privilege.

To begin its history, I find it a very pleasant task to introduce here its founders. Yale College had its Elihu Yale, through whose munificence it has lived long and prosperously, enjoying a position high, in our esteem; Harvard and Brown Universities had their John Harvard and Nicholas Brown, whose memories are embalmed with perpetual fragrance in the hearts of their students. The founders, if I may so express myself, of this college are -- allow me, I pray you, to carry your memory to the Federal halls of legislation. You remember it was several weeks ago; a month wherein you saw thousands and thousands of patriots passing through your streets on their way to the horrid Moloch of War; our good President, ably assisted by his Secretaries of War and Navy, labored most incessantly to ensure Grant's success; Seward, with such a consummate diplomacy as has gained him a high reputation, and a courtesy that might be recommended' as an example worth imitating to the quintessence of English courtesy -- the editor of the London Times -- managed the good old lady beyond the Atlantic, known by the name of Mrs. Britannia, and her next neighbor, so as to keep them quiet, as he has successfully done the same thing for these three years; Chase watched with a great financier's eyes the workings of our national currency, now and then stepping in to improve its machinery or remove impediments found clogging its motion, thus rendering the financial condition of our beloved Republic healthy and conducive to our weal; and the members of both the Houses were busily occupied in what their country expected to see, the salvation of Columbia. "Was it to continue the sanguinary strife? Yes; to save our Union. Sacrifice thousands of lives and millions of dollars in order to save the Union? Yes; to preserve our liberty and religion. In the midst of their arduous labors of patriotism they paused awhile to listen to a few humble petitioners; they considered the memorial; they probably remembered the unenviable condition of their unfortunate brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, and friends, and, notwithstanding the rapidly increasing debt, they did not hesitate even for a moment to grant the boon embodied in the memorial.

Such are the founders, so far as dollars and cents are regarded; for, without their cooperation in this laudable act of philanthropy, the labors, however great, of their private fellow-founders would have come to naught. In behalf of the mutes I beg leave to tender to them my most hearty thanks.

So the mutes have obtained a college of their own. The tangibility of the boon is actual. How great is the blessing thus bestowed on them! They see and appreciate its future usefulness to them -- how bright these prospects are! Penetrating the future they gaze upon its graduated students moving through the vast temple of fame --

With minds and hearts aglow with pride,
And eyes with joy dilating wide.
Proud of their Alma Mater's name,
And conscious of her soaring fame,
Some move, mute Clays, and Websters grand,
Whose pens the power of speech command;
Mnte Whitfields, high in eminence,
Who speechless preach with eloquence;
And Irvings, Bryants, Everetts,
Who, exiled like the anchorets
From society, diffuse their witching song
And prose effusions o'er the admiring throng.

Is this a mere dream? An extravagant vagary emanating from a heated imagination? It looks like it. But if this visionary spectacle be divested of its extravagance and assume the least appearance of possibility, a question will be propounded: Is it likely that colleges for deaf-mutes will ever produce mute statesmen, lawyers, and ministers of religion, orators, poets, and authors? The answer is: They will, in numbers, like angels' visits, few and far between. To doubt this assertion strikes you as unsound in logic as it is contrary to the laws of physiology, since, in your opinion, their want of hearing incapacitates them for exercising the functions of speech in the forum, bar, and pulpit, and therefore the assumption that mutes, no matter if they are learned, will ever appear as legislators, lawyers, and preachers, is untenable. Be this as it may, I shall have only to remark that they, such as may appear with extraordinary talents, will be able to speak to audiences exactly in the manner my address is now read to you. At all events, as to the appearance of mute Clays and Websters, remembering the fact that every graduate of Dartmouth College, which produced a Daniel Webster, is not a Webster in colossal intellect, you will have too much sense to hurry yourselves to Mount Vesuvius this summer to witness its next eruption which may perchance take place on your arrival there. It may occur in ten years or later instead of this year.

Well, my friends, with regard to mute literati, Dr. Kitto, the great Bible commentator, himself a mute, rather semi-mute, for he lost his hearing in childhood; James Nack, of New York, and Professor Pelissier, of Paris, both semi-mute poets of high repute, and Professor Berthier, of Paris, a born mute author, fully demonstrate the possibility of mute poets and authors, with minds maturely cultured at college.

The avenues of science, too, are now about to be opened to the mute in this college, and as these are not interferred with by the necessity of speech, its scholars will be enabled to expand their minds as far as their mental capacities can allow. Thus we may safely expect to see among the graduates a distinguished astronomer, scanning the starry field, tracing the singular yet beautiful courses of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor -- measuring mathematically the exact, if possible, distance of the Nebulae -- ever and anon exploring the solar spots, and making deductions from his researches and demonstrations as to whether the moon is really a huge, rugged mass of white metal, utterly devoid of water, vegetation, and breathing creation; a chemist, in his smoky laboratory, analyzing unknown substances, ascertaining the exact qualities of ingredients embodied in each, and with the industry and learning of a Leibig or a Faraday, setting forth works on his discoveries; a geologist roaming, hammer in hand, the rocky fields, diving into the fossiliferous strata for a stray Ichthyosaurus or a Megatherium, or, perhaps, a fossil man, in order to sound the correctness of the Lamarckian (development) Hypothesis.

Though, by no means impossibilities, these and mute poets are rarities. So you will please remember Mount Vesuvius. But mute authors of respectable ability and clerks of acknowledged efficiency will be found here in a number quite as satisfactory as may be wished.

These observations being duly and candidly considered as correct, you cannot but feel the indispensability of this pioneer college to the advancement of intelligent mutes to the point from whence they will be able to employ their minds in still higher pursuits of intellect, or in attending their professions with credit. Such are its advantages which cannot be afforded by our existing institutions, excellent establishments as they are for the initiated. Nowhere but in this college the field of knowledge, replete with aesthetic flowers of literature, can be roamed over with a full appreciation of the pleasure so freely given by its benefactors.

However flattering the prospect of its success, it must be borne in mind that, by reason of the peculiar character of the deaf-mute's mind, of which I shall by and by treat, and of the popular modus operandi of instruction, now pursued at our institutions, which, it must candidly be admitted, is as yet far from being the ne plus ultra of perfection, he -- now a college-boy -- cannot be expected to compete with the hearing college-boy in the extent of literary acquirements and in the accuracy and fluency of language. This fact thus shown, what courses of study should he best pursue? The Dead Languages, as are usually taught at colleges: Homer, Thucydides, Virgil, Horace, and Cicero are delightful text-books; but the deaf-mute cannot grapple them all. Besides the English, which he must by all means master, one foreign language will necessarily contribute to his exercise of philology; such an one as should benefit him most in his after life. The Latin, however admirable in many respects -- more especially as an etymological index -- is not as desirable as the French or German, for the latter languages are by far the most popular in use, and are everywhere spoken, while the Latin is found practically useful only in medical and theological institutions. The French phraseology, always as graceful in thought as it is elegant in construction, is admirably suited to accelerate the progress of his philological study. Thereupon it will, it is hoped, be regularly taught here. The Sciences -- such as may be judged most proper for mutes to study -- will of course keep company with that foreign language. I would be glad to see the German taught here, because of its affinity to the English as well to the Latin and Greek; but there is reason to fear that the term of tuition allotted to its scholars will render its study impracticable.

As has been stated, I shall now unfold to your view the character of the deaf-mute's mind. In doing so, I shall first give an extract from a former article of mine in the American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb:

"Notwithstanding his loss of hearing, the nature of his sensorium is not in the least different from that of the hearing person's; but, as all persons of all conditions cannot be expected to possess the same quantity of mind, nor the same susceptivity of senses, nor the same retentiveness of memory, his (the mute's) sensorial faculty possesses more or less strength -- it depending solely on the physiological condition of his brain. It generally retains for a long time impressions, which are so repeated on his memory as to procure a cohesiveness difficult to weaken, and loses others which need repetition, though it sometimes retains with tenacity impressions of uncommon objects made but once."

Seeing that there is no difference in nature and capacity between the mute's sensorial faculty and the hearing person's, you might, as it is naturally anticipated, ask -- so far as their fluency of language is concerned -- how is the difference accounted for which is manifest between the mute's mental capacity and the hearing person's? The answer is easy, and you will, doubtless, be able to see the whole ground on which the necessity of a college is urged for the furtherance of tbe intelligent mute's education. This is,' -- the hearing infant's sensorium receives through the auricular nerve verbal impressions, recognizes them when repeated, and by mere force of imitation learns to articulate them. His oral fluency increases as he articulates more words and phrases. "With his physical growth his mind keeps pace in intelligence; at school, if he studies con amore, he makes rapid strides in spoken as well as written language, insomuch that he will find it comparatively easy to pursue the higher walks of knowledge at college.

The mute's sensorium, in consequence of his deafness, is all blank -- speaking of oral impressions. True, it receives impressions of all objects which he has seen, felt, smelt, or tasted. It continues so until he goes to the deaf-mute school-room at the age of twelve years; perhaps older than that. "What a sad spectacle this poor child presents! Looking into the depths of his mind, whether he has any distinct idea of Deity, you are shocked to find him an absolute heathen. A heathen in your very midst! At home his brightness of expression that seems to imply high yet dormant intellect, all affection which his kin can possibly lavish on him, and the Christian influence of religious persons with whom he uses to come in contact, cannot deliver him from the thraldom of abject heathenism. Nothing useful or ornamental can ever emerge from his dark mind. "Where no schools exist for the benefit of mutes, the unfortunates move in a most pitiful condition, and in certain places are believed to be possessed with devils; in India and elsewhere mute infants are murdered lest they should grow up dead weights on their kin; and even in civilized nations where deaf-mute schools flourish, uneducated mutes are often regarded hardly above beasts of burden, and therefore are employed in the drudgeries of life. In short, an uneducated mute -- an innocent outcast, with a mind semblant to a gold nugget still embedded in the earth, yet to be brought up and refined in the crucible -- drags a miserable existence.

He enters school -- remember, as a general rule, young mutes are admitted to schools at not less than twelve years of age. It may be worth while to say that the New York Institution, much to her credit, took last fall the courage to receive them four years younger than that. So much the better. It is much to be hoped that this example will be extensively imitated. Our youth's mind begins to develop its faculties -- the seeds of knowledge one after another take root -- they now germinate in a manner warranting the success of a mode of instruction altogether different from that of the hearing. See here what a triumph of art! How ingenious, how wonderful, was the discovery of this art! "Whoever be its inventor, let him be blessed now and forever! Thomas H. Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc are none the less entitled to our gratitude for their introduction of the art into our midst. Shall I expatiate here on their noble disinterestedness -- their patient labors in the school-room -- their devotedness to their welfare and the affection and veneration of the mutes for them? This is hardly necessary, for you all know them. Dr. Gallaudet is now asleep in Christ. Ere he departed this life, he, like Elijah of old, flung his ample mantle upon his two sons, Thomas and Edward. This mantle is the love for deaf-mutes. When it alighted on those sons, it divided itself into two, and pleasing to say, each of the two portions is equal to the original mantle in the extent and depth of the sentiment. And Mr. Clerc, the venerable father of American instructors, is still in the land of the living. He is shortly to be an octogenarian. O, may he enjoy many more golden days of peace and happiness in the midst of his loving friends. To return to the youth. In a month or two he ceases to be a heathen, though by no means familiar with the Scriptures, and through his term -- seven years -- he acquires sufficient for his general business of life. Owing to the brevity of his term and the fact that knowledge does not reach him through one main avenue, his knowledge is exceedingly crude, his grammar wanting in accuracy, and his language not quite as fluent as that of a hearing youth of twelve. Should he, if he be a bright scholar, enter the high class, (there are but two of this kind in our country, one at the New York Institution and the other in the American Asylum at Hartford,) he would certainly, with ambition stimulating his mind to make efforts, acquire as much literary treasure as his short term could afford. Still his language is found to have come short of perfection, and his intellectual appetite is, therefore, not satisfied. Like Oliver Twist, he is still asking for more. In other words, he wants to go to this College. He knocks at her gates for admittance.

Aimer Mater -- young and comely, and breathing with the most healthy vigor of life under the segis of Columbia, -- behold this youth ! See how he thirsts after knowledge! Open your gates wide, that he may joyously cross your threshold! Oh, stimulate his heart to the pursuit of the coveted prize -- ripe scholarship! Unfold to his eager mind the hidden beauties of classic literature! Like Aristotle, instructing his scholars while rambling under the azure arch, you will lead him through the walks of sacred lore under the soul-delighting canopy of Heaven, formed of angels and cherubims, with their wings spread out, watching the world and counting every pilgrim that seeks to be admitted to the Celestial Abode. And in fine, send him forth into society, a man, to whom the world will give the respect due to him, a gentleman, whom all will delight in making acquaintance with, and a student, still enlarging his store of knowledge at home, always remembering you and your Congressional patrons, to use Massieu's words, with the memory of the heart -- Gratitude!