Portrait of François Le Sueur
He’s being paid to be here.
After all, he could be out begging,
supporting his mother and two brothers
and three sisters on his blind beggar’s
salary, which was more than you could earn
as a bell ringer, or town crier, or chair caner—
the only other blind professions
in 1784 in Paris. But with begging
there was a kind of blind differential
marked by the white insignia they wore
which gave the blind the special status
of “aristocrats of beggars,” reserving for them
the steps of the churches and Cathedral. Begging
paid higher. Which is why Franҫois Le Sueur,
the first blind student in the first
school for the blind in the world,
is being paid to be here by his teacher,
Valentin Haüy, who is outside the picture.
Haüy paid Le Sueur to teach him—the teacher
paying the student—how to read and write.
He learned in three months. On the desk
are several wooden alphabet blocks,
an embossed print book, embossed
musical score, tactile map, and his hand
face down. Haüy paid Le Sueur daily
what he would have earned in a day
with upturned hand as a blind illiterate beggar
twenty-five years before the birth
of Louis Braille. It was the only way
his mother would let him come to school.