A New Method: The Story of Louis Braille
Chapter 2. Louis Braille
Louis Braille was born January 4, 1809, in Coupvray, France, a small country village about twenty-five miles east of Paris. He lived with his mother, Monique, his father, Simon-René, his two older sisters, Monique-Catherine and Marie-Céline, and his older brother, Louis-Simon. Their home was a stone cottage in the village.
Coupvray is located in the Brie region of France, a fertile area of gentle hills, orchards, and vineyards. The village today is much as it was in 1809. There are family homes, farmhouses and farmyards, cobblestone streets, the village square, the town hall, and St. Pierre Church.
Six hundred and ten people lived in Coupvray in 1809, the year Louis Braille was born. They worked at trades such as doctor, midwife, tailor, locksmith, rope-maker, weaver, and harness-maker. They tended gardens and kept a few animals to provide food for the table, and cultivated vineyards which lay just outside the village.
Simon-René Braille was the harness-maker. He was a master craftsman and was known throughout the region as a skillful and honest worker. His workshop was attached to the house, and Louis liked to watch him while he cut and shaped the leather into harnesses, reins, saddles, and collars for the villagers’ horses.
One day when Louis was three years old, he went into the workshop. He picked up a sharp tool and tried to cut a piece of leather as he had seen his father do. The tool slipped and plunged into his right eye. The left eye also became inflamed, and by the time he was five, Louis was totally blind.
In those days blind people faced a miserable future, usually as beggars or side show performers. Only those from wealthy families had any hope of an education and the possibility of meaningful work.
Simon-René and Monique Braille were deeply concerned for their young son and did all they could to help him. It is said that Louis’ father taught him the alphabet by guiding his fingers over strips of wood into which upholstery nails had been pounded in the shapes of the letters. When Louis understood the letters, his father guided his hand and taught him to write.
At about the same time Simon-René was teaching his son the alphabet, the Abbé Palluy, priest of St. Pierre Church in Coupvray, began instructing Louis about the ways of nature. He taught Louis to identify the songs of the birds, the cries of the animals, and the fragrances of the flowers. He taught him why the seasons change and why night becomes day. And he taught Louis about God.
Louis began attending school in Coupvray when he was seven years old. He surprised the teacher by his ability and intelligence. In spite of his blindness, he soon was at the head of the class. He was an exceptionally bright little boy.
The Abbé Palluy, concerned for Louis’ future, learned of a special school in Paris where blind children were educated and taught a trade. A scholarship was arranged, and Louis was accepted as a student.
In 1819, just six weeks after his tenth birthday, Louis and his father traveled by stagecoach to Paris. There, Louis entered the Royal Institute for Blind Youth where he would live, study, work, and later teach.
Next: Chapter 3. The Royal Institute for Blind Youth