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.

 

 

 

 

                                                                        Paul Hostovsky