For Deaf Awareness Week we recall the groundbreaking work of Juan Pablo Bonet (dates unknown) and his ReducciĂłn de las letras y arte para enseĂ±ar a ablar los mudos [âSimplification of letters and art of teaching the dumb to speakâ].
The engraved title page by Diego de Astor shows the mottoes: âSic natura vincula solvit artisâ and âIta ars naturae vincula solvitâ (âAs Nature loosens the chains of Art [we might say, âinventionâ] so Art loosens the chains of Nature] and an emblem of a hand of art picking the lock which nature has placed on the tongue of a dumb man. In another emblem a mother bird (nature) has undone the grille which âartâ had put over the entrance to her nest.
Bonetâs method was first to teach the written letters; then teach the hand signs for the letters; then teach the pronunciation of the letters. Bonet comments that the pupil learns to lip-read by himself and the teacher must not take credit for this.
Bonet was of the first teachers to devise and record in print a sign alphabet, and his system has had some influence on modern sign languages. However, he was also typical of his age in believing that signing was only a step towards an ideal of oralism rather than a valid form of communication in itself.
There was only one edition of the ReducciĂłn in its time and bibliographically speaking itâs striking to me that various English-speakers are known to have owned copies of this first and only edition.
In the British Library we have three copies:
One (71.a.18) is from the Kingâs Library and therefore canât be traced back before George III (1738-1820).
Samuel Pepys had a copy (now in Cambridge, 1396(2)) (Gaselee 16; Knighton p. 136).
And not far away from the BL, in Gordon Square, Dr Williamsâs Library has had a copy since 1727 (1038.H.11; Catalogus 1727, p. 46). I maintain that this copy belonged to Dr William Bates (1625-99), owner of 97 Spanish books. He was a contemporary of Pepys but they donât seem to have known each other.
Bates didnât write his name in this copy, but he did sign a similar work in English, John Bulwerâs Philocophus: or, The Deafe and Dumbe Mans Friend, Exhibiting the Philosophicall verity of that subtile art, which may inable one with an observant eie, to heare what any man speaks by the moving of the lips ...(London, 1648) [Dr Williamâs Library 1064.R.13]
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance collections
Stephen Gaselee, The Spanish Books in the Library of Samuel Pepys (Supplement to the Bibliographical Societyâs Transactions ; no. 2 ) ([London], 1921). Ac.9670.bba.
Catalogue of the Pepys Library, Supplementary series, I, Census of Printed Books, ed. C. S. Knighton (Cambridge, 2004) YC.2005.b.109
Simplification of the Letters of the Alphabet and Method of teaching Deaf-Mutes to speak ... Translated from the original Spanish by H. N. Dixon ... with a historical introduction by A. Farrar. ([Harrogate], 1890). 8310.cc.38
Bibliothecae quam vir doctus, & admodum Reverendus, Daniel Williams, S.T.P. Bono publico legavit, catalogus (London, 1727). 125.d.8.
Barry Taylor, âLos libros espaĂ±oles del Dr. William Bates (1625-1699) en la Dr. Williamsâs Library de Londresâ, in El libro espaĂ±ol en Londres: la visiĂłn de EspaĂ±a en Inglaterra (siglos XVI al XIX), ed. NicolĂĄs Bas and Barry Taylor (Valencia, 2016), pp. 13-60. YF.2017.a.19281