Preferred Citation: Plann, Susan. A Silent Minority: Deaf Education in Spain, 1550-1835. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1997 1997.

Chapter 5 The War of Independence Disrupts the Teaching Background and Conflict, 1805–1814

Chapter 5
The War of Independence Disrupts the Teaching
Background and Conflict, 1805–1814

Who can possibly calculate the utility brought to a kingdom by just one man dedicated to public or private teaching?
—José Miguel Alea

During its first few years of existence, the Royal School benefited greatly from the contributions of two men: a deaf art teacher, Roberto Prádez, distinguished himself for his exemplary participation and zealous devotion to his students, while his hearing colleague, José Miguel Alea, undertook the empirical study of deaf people and their language. But an inept head teacher and a chronic lack of funds hampered the establishment's efforts, until Spain's war of independence brought about the closing of the school. The students, abandoned by their "enlightened" sponsors, suffered mightily, and deaf education in Spain all but ceased to exist.

In the spring of 1805, just a few months after the inauguration of the Royal School for Deaf-Mutes, a remarkable young deaf man presented himself to the Friends of the Country. Roberto Francisco Prádez was a prize-winning artist who desired to teach students at the Royal School either reading and writing, or drawing.[1] Members of the board of directors were quick to recognize the advantages of a deaf instructor. Prádez, they concurred, would be "much more appropriate than any other, in


view of the conformity of organization that exists between him and those he would teach."[2] Angel Machado, the teaching assistant, was already teaching writing, but the Friends of the Country agreed that drawing would be extremely useful for their charges, noting that it was regularly taught in foreign deaf schools. And when the king turned down the Economic Society's request of a stipend for Prádez, citing a scarcity of funds,[3] Prádez was undaunted and volunteered to teach for free.[4] His offer was gladly accepted, and thus began a distinguished career that would span more than three decades at the Madrid institute.

Roberto Prádez was deaf from birth and his speech was, as he himself described it, "unintelligible."[5] Nevertheless, he had no trouble communicating with hearing people, for the Friends of the Country observed that the new art teacher "perceives by the movement of the lips the majority of words addressed to him, he understands perfectly whatever is said to him in writing or in the manual alphabet, and he responds in one way or the other with complete appropriateness."[6] Tiburcio Hernández, a member of the school's governing board destined to play an important role in the years to come, elaborated on Prádez's lipreading abilities: "The deaf-mute Don Roberto Prádez answers anyone who speaks to him, and I have taken the trouble to experiment [to see] if while I was seated below [the level of his gaze] and he was standing he could understand me. I have seen that he understands even this way, and the most he does is look more closely so he can see what the mouth reveals naturally upon speaking; but he does not need to inspect the inside [of the mouth]."[7]

Prádez had been born in Saragossa in the early 1770s to a family he would later describe as "distinguished."[8] His father, Pedro Prádez, was the builder of the Imperial Canal of Aragon, the greatest public work of eighteenth-century Spain.[9] The family was of French origin, for the senior Prádez had been born in Béziers, in the Languedoc region of France, and his wife's maiden name, Gautier, suggests that she too was French, or of French descent.[10] Their son Roberto had been educated at home—on one occasion he attributed his instruction to "his caring mother," and on another, to both his parents.[11]

History does not record the methods by which Prádez was instructed, but it is possible that the family may have learned something of deaf education in France. The Friends of the Country would state with pride that Prádez had never been outside the kingdom[12] —if Spanish teachers of deaf people were rare in the day, it seems that educated deaf Spaniards


were even rarer, and such a man was understandably cause for celebration—but never once would they mention how he had come by his instruction. This is especially odd considering that José Miguel Alea, in his 1795 letter to the Diario de Madrid concerning Gregorio Santa Fe, had gone so far as to proclaim that a statue should be erected in honor of the boy's teacher, Diego Vidal—and along with it, one to Pedro Ponce.[13] If the teacher was French, and quite likely a woman at that, apparently the less said, the better.

As a young man, Prádéz himself recorded some details of his early life.[14] He had been orphaned "at a tender age ... bereft of means by which to subsist, and with only an elementary education," which he had attained by dint of "extraordinary effort." Convinced that because of his deafness and poor speech, he could not aspire to a position in life that corresponded to his "distinguished birth," and desiring nothing more than an "honest occupation with which to provide for his subsistence," he turned to the study of art, entering the Academy of Fine Arts of San Carlos, in Valencia, in 1789. He was sixteen years old and had no other means of support than what "his poor sisters" could provide. At the Academy of San Carlos he studied drawing and engraving under the direction of Manuel Monfort for some seven years.[15] But the young artist knew the best teachers were to be found in Madrid, not in Valencia. So in 1797 he journeyed to the Spanish court, where, at the age of twenty-four, he was accepted to study with a well-known professor of engraving, Don Fernando Selma, of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando.[16]

As the attentive reader will have noticed, there are a number of remarkable parallels between the lives of Roberto Prádez and Gregorio Santa Fe, the deaf youth whose story José Miguel Alea published in the Diario . Prádez, like Santa Fe, had been born in the early 1770s and had been educated in Saragossa.[17] Both men were deaf from birth, and both were orphaned at a young age and thus reduced to poverty. In their early twenties both made their way to Madrid to study art, arriving within two years of each other (Santa Fe in 1795 and Prádez two years later), and while in the Spanish capital both would become acquainted with José Miguel Alea—Santa Fe at the theater, Prádez at the Royal School for Deaf-Mutes. Yet history has left no mention of the two having ever met. And only Roberto Francisco Prádez would go on to a distinguished career as an educator of deaf students.

But we are getting ahead of our story, for before Prádez arrived at the Economic Society offering his services as a teacher, he would first


spend some years at the Royal Academy of San Fernando. In 1798, one year after enrolling there, he solicited a scholarship from Charles IV. Asked to comment on this request, Prádez's teacher, Fernando Selma, commended his pupil's "diligence and good judgment," noting "the interest I have in his further development," and adding, "how gratifying to me are his skills."[18] The academy, for its part, also supported Prádez's petition, stating that "because of his diligence, conduct, and natural circumstances, he deserves His Majesty's royal compassion while he masters the art of engraving."[19] Charles IV apparently agreed, for he awarded the deaf artist a scholarship of nine reales per day, which would continue throughout his years at art school.[20] Informed of the king's decision, the academy directed Fernando Selma to see to his disciple's progress.[21]

In the summer of 1799 Prádez entered a contest sponsored by the academy. In the category of engraving there were but two contestants, Prádez, and his schoolmate Esteban Boix, whose studies in Madrid were supported by the Academy of Fine Arts of Barcelona.[22] The competitors were fairly evenly matched. Prádez was then twenty-seven years old, Boix was two years younger, and both had entered the academy around the same time.[23] Both participants had copied in advance a portrait of the Virgin by Anton Raphael Mengs that hung in the king's oratory at the royal palace.[24] On the day of the contest, they were given two hours in which to draw a statue of the Greek youth Antinoüs, antiquity's ideal of masculine beauty. At the close of the contest the judges selected the winner by secret ballot: Prádez won handily, with thirteen votes to Boix's seven.[25] A few days later Crown Prince Ferdinand awarded the deaf artist his prize, a gold coin of one ounce, which Prádez accepted on bended knee, as he kissed the hand of his future sovereign.[26]

Not everyone was pleased with the outcome of the contest. There were complaints that Prádez's teacher, Fernando Selma, had assisted his disciple too much. Some even suggested that he had gone so far as to touch up Prádez's engraving of the Virgin.[27] To these cries of foul, Selma, who had been specifically entrusted with Prádez's professional growth, responded indignantly:

I understand the academy is displeased because I have taken too much interest in carrying out their commission. The academy saw fit to charge me with the direction and teaching of the disciple Don Roberto Prádez. I have tried to lead him on the path I consider most advantageous for his progress.... I have helped him to the extent I consider normal; just as in all the academy's


contests it has been customary to practice regularly with the disciples who have taken part in them. If the contestant Don Esteban Boix did not know how to take advantage of the help that has been liberally offered him, it is his own fault. Boix may know more than Prádez, but Prádez has shown more intelligence, both in the work prepared in advance and in the extemporaneous work done in the judges' presence.[28]

The matter was not laid to rest until members of the academy, desirous of rewarding Boix's diligence and talent and encouraging him in his studies, decided unanimously to award him a special prize, equal to his rival's.[29]

Prádez had convincingly demonstrated his talents in the engraving competition and had earned his teacher's praise, but these successes notwithstanding, his fortunes at the art school soon declined. To the academy's consternation, he sometimes went for months without presenting any work,[30] and his instructors' reactions to what he did submit—an engraving of Hernán Cortés, a drawing of Saint John the Evangelist, sketches of hands, eyes, lips, noses, and so on—were lukewarm at best.[31] The deaf artist was now working for private commission,[32] out of economic necessity, no doubt—a few years after enrolling at the school he found himself "totally destitute of means by which to subsist, and faced with having to beg"[33] —and these outside assignments most likely left little time for the academy. He was no longer studying under Fernando Selma's direction,[34] and by 1801 the master engraver had revised his appraisal of his former pupil: "What can be determined of his talent is that, if he applies himself a great deal, and if whoever directs him contributes an equal amount of care, it will be possible to obtain an average teacher," he wrote, concluding, in apparent contradiction of his earlier judgment, that "since he is a deaf-mute, he lacks ideas, and it is impossible to make him comprehend various principles of the Art."[35] (When mentors sour on their mentees, they easily revert to old stereotypes about deaf people, so it seems.) Three years later Selma's assessment had not improved: "His diligence could be much greater; his subsistence I do not consider possible with only what the works he is capable of executing can produce, and it is even less possible for him to progress in his profession."[36]

Although Prádez's scholarship was renewed for one last time in August 1804,[37] his name does not appear in the records of the academy after that year, and the following spring he introduced himself to the Royal School. There it seems he participated fully in the life of the institution almost from the moment of his arrival. He plunged into teaching


daily art classes, and his appreciative students were reported to be "benefiting from [the lessons] and receiving this instruction with the greatest pleasure."[38] Together with head teacher Loftus, Prádez designed a curriculum for the school,[39] and in the company of Loftus and the teaching assistant, Angel Machado, he presided over the students' examinations.[40] The art teacher's role expanded rapidly, and in 1808 he was put in charge of teaching penmanship, at his own suggestion.[41] The following year found him standing in on occasion for the head teacher, and by 1810 he was teaching the children to write, count, and do arithmetic.[42]

Shortly after the deaf artist joined the Madrid school, the Friends of the Country convened the first public examination of their students.[43] Such displays, which were also held for the Economic Society's "patriotic schools," served to call attention to the fledgling establishment, showcasing deaf learners' achievements and proving that they could indeed be educated, and thus furthering the cause of their instruction. Examinations were conducted in the town hall, with the Friends of the Country, including the honorary women's section, or Damas de Honor, and of course the school's governing board, all in attendance. Over the years, the audience also included members of the nobility, the royal family, and the king himself.[44] After a speech by the society's director, students were examined first individually, then in pairs, writing on a blackboard their responses to questions posed by fellow students and members of the audience. They did simple arithmetic and wrote the names of objects shown to them; they transcribed words spelled in the manual alphabet or represented by signs, conjugated verbs, declined nouns, and formed sentences; they transformed active sentences into passives and identified the parts of speech. The students had also been taught some speech, and this skill too was proudly exhibited as scholars pronounced a few words "with a fair amount of clarity."[45] Little time was dedicated to articulation, however, for the Friends of the Country considered it "more useful" to instruct their charges in "other much more important subjects." Speech, they agreed, was merely "an adornment, more appropriate to surprise and astonish the public, than useful to deaf-mutes themselves."[46]

The first public examination ended with the presentation of star student Juan Machado, who was, according to one newspaper account, "in an admirable state of instruction." He performed exercises similar to his companions', then went on to display his prowess at geography and arithmetic. Young Machado was endowed with a natural quickness coupled with an innate ability to comprehend, and for two years before the


school opened he had lived at his teacher's side, benefiting from his undivided attention. For these reasons, it was reported, the boy "gave such proof of his progress that he left not the least doubt as to the possibility that these unfortunate beings could come to be eminent men in all branches of the arts and sciences."[47] After such a virtuoso performance, who could doubt the educability of deaf-mutes?

But despite the success of the first public examination, despite the society's justifiable pride in its star pupil and in its new art teacher, all was not well at the Royal School, for problems soon arose between the governing board and the head teacher, Lieutenant Colonel Loftus y Bazán. The board objected to Loftus's harsh treatment of the children and accused him of favoring Juan Machado over the others so that none might surpass his first disciple.[48] Loftus, for his part, complained that he could not modify his teaching methods without the consent of José Miguel Alea, who was responsible for the theoretical aspects of instruction.[49] Things came to a head in 1808 when members of the board, convinced of the lieutenant colonel's "defect of aptitude and docility" and his "ineptitude for the post," determined to solve the problem by doing away with the position of head teacher altogether.[50] Because the school was faced with a shortage of funds, the move was billed as an economy measure, but the intent was clearly to get rid of Loftus. To replace him the board named José Miguel Alea, who had volunteered to take over the teaching for free.[51] Loftus countered by proposing to stay on without pay, but his offer was turned down, and the job now fell to the altruistic abate .

The man who had publicized Gregorio Santa Fe's story and had advocated public education of deaf Spaniards had been born half a century earlier, in 1758, in the port of Lastres, Oviedo, on Spain's rugged northwestern coast.[52] As a youth he served for many years at the side of Pedro de Quevedo y Quintano, the renowned bishop of Orense.[53] (Quevedo would eventually be named Inquisitor General and regarded by the Spanish people as successor to the infamous Torquemada.)[54] The late 1780s found Alea residing in the Spanish court. He was by now an abate, an unbeneficed clergyman of minor orders, with eleven years of higher education under his belt, having studied literature at the University of Santiago in Galicia and mastered four living languages, along with Latin, the language of the Church.[55]

The Spanish countryside was at this time suffering from a shortage of parish priests, while the towns contended with a glut of unbeneficed priests, canons, and hangers-on in minor orders. The abate Alea was part


of the problem. Many abates were from families of limited means, or they were segundones, males born after the first son and thus destined not to inherit.[56] To such men the Church held out the promise of access to higher learning and a life of study and scholarly pursuits. But the Church gave the abates no real function, and consequently, many were obliged to earn their living as secretaries, librarians, or tutors to wealthy families. They had only probationary orders and could still choose to withdraw from the Church. As long as these men remained abates, however, they were forbidden to marry. Dressed in black clerical garb cut similarly to lay apparel, the abate was a familiar figure on the tertulia scene.

In Madrid Alea supported himself by working as a translator at the official Bureau of Interpretations, a known center of Spaniards sympathetic to the ideas of the Enlightenment where he had presented himself in 1788, and by freelance translating of Latin, French, or Portuguese works of literature, religion, politics, jurisprudence, and history. These translations he published sometimes under his own name and sometimes under the pseudonym Jayme Albosía de la Vega.[57] Throughout his work he revealed a concern for the precise use of language—the definitions he proposed for the Spanish terms genio (genius), ingenio (creative or inventive faculty), and talento (talent) have since been adopted by the Royal Spanish Academy, whose self-appointed task it is to "cleanse, define, and give splendor" to the Spanish language[58] —and to the art of translation he brought a keen sensitivity and a self-conscious awareness of his craft.[59] The translator, Alea maintained, should never change the syntax of a language or introduce foreign words for which there exist equivalents in his own language, but neither should he oppose admission of those words to which usage, necessity, and even fashion have granted acceptance, in the absence of suitable terms in the native tongue. The best course, he concluded, was to be neither despot nor slave to the original. Thus in translation Alea was willing to embrace innovation, albeit of foreign origin, but never uncritically.[60] In the future he would chart a similar course in matters of deaf education as well.

In 1789 Alea, while still employed as a translator, sought to be appointed priest of Santa Mara de Cortegada, some seventy kilometers from Lugo, in northwestern Spain; two years later he was selected for the post.[61] The benefice he would receive was substantial, and in truth his motives for wanting to be ordained appeared to be more pecuniary than spiritual, for when in 179 he sought either an appointment to one of the libraries of the court or else a pension from the Church that would


allow him to become a priest, he expressed no preference for one calling over the other, commenting only that either way he would be able to pay his creditors.[62] So it is perhaps not surprising that once chosen for the position in Santa María de Cortegada, he was in no hurry to leave Madrid and assume his pastoral duties in this remote rural village, and when the appointment was contested by another candidate, the presbyter Vicente Rafael Tavoada, Alea paid the challenger half his benefice for serving in his stead while the appeal was underway. This arrangement seemed to suit both parties, and the matter dragged on for years while Alea remained in the Spanish capital, where he could prepare himself for work more to his liking without fulfilling his pastoral obligations or having to relocate to Santa María de Cortegada. Tavoada, for his part, was content to wait and let Alea support him, for it would be simply a matter of time until the appointee obtained other employment, and then the position would fall to the challenger.[63] The bishop of Lugo, Felipe Peláez, wanted the newly designated priest to serve his congregation even though the appointment was under appeal; he complained that the parishioners were suffering without a pastor and he went so far as to accuse the two litigants of collusion, but until the final decision was pronounced, there was no way to oblige the recalcitrant Alea to take up residence in Santa María de Cortegada.[64]

While the appeal was under consideration, Alea applied for a passport to study classical Arabic in Rome. His eventual goal was to obtain work in the royal libraries translating manuscripts on the arts and sciences that had flourished in Spain during the period of Moorish domination, and he proposed to use his ecclesiastical benefice to support himself for however long it might take to master the language.[65] Over his bishop's objections, Alea was granted a passport in 1793, with the understanding that if he won the appeal, he would have to return to Spain and reside in his parish, or else renounce the benefice.[66] The would-be traveler never departed for Rome, however, because a declaration of war between Spain and France made the journey too dangerous.[67] In 1796 a decision was finally pronounced in favor of the challenger, Vicente Tavoada. Alea promptly appealed the ruling, but eventually he accepted the verdict and withdrew his claim to the benefice—most likely because by this time he had landed a post in Madrid at the newly created Royal Medical School.[68] By 1799 he had been made librarian there—a position he would hold through 1807—and around this same time he was employed in the section of English literature in the Royal Library as well.[69]


During these years Alea continued to translate various works, among them the biography of the celebrated naturalist the count of Buffon,[70] and it was because of one of his translations that he became acquainted with Charles IV's influential secretary of state, Manuel Godoy. (According to Blanco White, with whom Alea fraternized at Quintana's tertulia, Godoy "had the whole government and patronage of the country in his hands.")[71] Alea had prepared a Spanish edition of Jacques Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's celebrated novel Paul et Virginie, complete with "instructive notes" on physics, geography, mythology, and botany, and with a classification of the novel's exotic flora according to the system devised by the eminent Swedish botanist Linnaeus.[72] (After nearly two centuries, this version is still one of the best Spanish translations of Saint-Pierre's work.) He soon learned that his rights had been challenged by another translator. Alea appealed to the crown, Godoy took his part, and as a consequence, the learned abate was granted exclusive rights of publication. Alea claimed to have gone before the throne "with no other recommendation than the truth of the facts," emphasizing that prior to the dispute, he had never met the secretary of state and had done nothing to court his favor.[73] From this time on, however, he would be a fervent devotee of the Prince of Peace, and when his version of Paul et Virginie appeared, it was dedicated to his newfound benefactor.[74] In the coming years Alea would receive still other favors from Godoy, and in acknowledgment he would dedicate two more works to him.[75]

By the time he was appointed to replace Lieutenant Colonel Loftus at the Royal School, Alea had already given ample proof of his dedication to the cause of education. His views on the topic had been set forth in an article published in 1804 in Variedades de ciencias, literatura y artes, a scholarly journal founded by Quintana and his literary friends, to which Alea was one of the principal contributors.[76] Giving voice to the widespread sentiment of his day, Alea maintained that "nothing is so necessary to a kingdom as the education of its youth."[77] He opposed the system of rote learning frequently employed in Spanish schools, holding it to be young scholars' "cruelest tyrant," and arguing that they should be taught to analyze instead.[78] Alea had done more than just write about teaching, however; he had also tried his hand at it, for together with his contertulio and fellow cleric Blanco White, he was responsible for religious instruction at the Instituto Militar Pestalozzi, which had been founded in 1806 at the instigation of Manuel Godoy, and modeled on the principles of the Swiss educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi.[79]


In addition to being a passionate promoter of education, Alea was a student of the philosophy of the French Enlightenment.[80] Like de l'Epée and Sicard, the scholarly abate was well acquainted with philosophical or general grammar, whose goal it was to enunciate the linguistic principles that govern all languages. Such general principles might be ascertained, philosophers agreed, through the study of language development in children, "savages," and persons deaf from birth. In 1800 Alea published a Spanish version of Des Tropes, by the renowned philosophical grammarian César Chesneau Du Marsais, in which he set out to apply to the Spanish language principles of general grammar formulated by the French author.[81] Ever the enlightened citizen, Alea stated that he had undertaken this work for "the common good, which is the object that should be proposed by one who writes for the instruction and felicity of his fellows, and especially those who live with him under the same government."[82] In 1803 another grammarian and teacher of deaf people, the abbé Sicard, would prepare a corrected and augmented version of Des Tropes .

Alea published a second volume, a Spanish adaptation of Du Marsais's Logique, in 1801, and a few years later the abate was himself writing a book on general grammar applied to Spanish, although he interrupted this work to translate Sicard's manual for the Royal School and apparently never completed it.[83] Striking a healthy balance between patriotic pride in his fellow Spaniards' achievements and admiration for the foreigners who had surpassed them, Alea remarked that as a general grammarian, Du Marsais was "superior in every respect,"[84] but nevertheless, he asserted, the study of philosophical grammar had its roots in the sixteenth-century Spaniard Francisco Sánchez de las Brozas, "El Brocense," whose Minerva the abate termed an "aurora of light."[85] Although El Brocense had been unappreciated in his day, subsequent authors—Arnauld, Duclos, Harris, Beauzée, Thurot, and Du Marsais himself—were indebted to "the immortal Spanish philosophical grammarian," Alea argued, concluding that in this respect, "something similar to what occurs in our foreign trade has happened to us Spaniards, when giving the abundant and essential raw materials of our soil, we later receive them manufactured by the greater industry and application of those who purchased them."[86] Alea, who would soon translate Sicard's manual for the Royal School, could scarcely fail to notice that in the land of Ponce de León, Ramrez de Carrión, and Bonet, something along these same lines was occurring with deaf education as well.[87]


In the introduction to his translation of Du Marsais, Alea solicited his readers' comments: "Those who, endowed with superior enlightenment, may note in our collection any faults that are of true transcendence in literature, shall have the right to expose them to the public with the zeal required by the good of the national enlightenment, and with the propriety owed to true philosophy," he wrote, adding, "In these terms we will answer so much more gladly the objections of others, as with more moderation and greater force of reasoning they attempt to show us that, through our ignorance or oversight, public instruction is defrauded in some essential point."[88] Shortly after the first volume appeared, a resident of Seville took the author up on his invitation. This reader praised the newly published work as "classic and most appropriate for primary instruction," but he also raised several points of criticism, which he phrased most diplomatically, before signing off as "Don P. de C."[89] Because his respondent had not revealed his identity, Alea was unable to answer him personally, so he arranged for P. de C.'s letter to appear in the Diario de Madrid, and along with it his pledge to include both the letter and a reply in the second volume of his translation of Du Marsais.[90] This he did "for the progress of science itself," he explained, "so that even my oversights or my faults will serve as a lesson to others, just as the history of others' shipwrecks instructs navigators."[91] And when the second volume appeared, the abate made good his promise, including in it his critic's letter, responding eloquently to his objections, and above all, praising him for the tact with which they had been proffered, for P. de C., he noted, had employed "that spirit of moderation and of criticism that knows how to note the defects of a work without exasperating the author's pride."[92] Examples of such measured criticism—and such gracious reply—were rare, as this frequenter of Quintana's tertulia knew all too well. At a time when hostilities between Madrid's two rival literary circles often erupted in sarcastic diatribes, this genteel epistolary encounter with P. de C. moved the translator of Du Marsais to hope that their behavior would serve as a model for future critics. The abate wished to formulate "general laws of the art of criticism," and until such rules were established, he considered it the obligation of all men of letters to confess the faults they might commit through ignorance or distraction. "I shall not stray one iota from this principle when, in the course of the literary tasks that occupy me, I have need to criticize others," he vowed, "in which case the interests of literature and the public good will be my norm, and the means of which I shall avail myself [will be] reason and decency."[93] In the years to come,


the man who would institute rules for the "art of criticism" would be true to the literary guidelines he proposed.

This is not to say that in his personal life the abate was himself a paragon of moderation and restraint, however. A contemporary related that after Quintana's tragedy El duque de Viseo opened at Madrid's Príncipe theater, the slightly built Alea and a fellow clergyman, who because of his bulk more resembled a prize fighter than a man of God, engaged in a discussion of the work's merit that was anything but moderate or restrained. The year was 1801, the same year Alea pledged in print to be guided in his criticism by reason and decency, and the debate occurred at the Café de San Luis, a favorite meeting place of members of the Royal Guard located on a sidestreet off the Calle del Carmen. While Alea lauded Quintana's play, his companion censured it mercilessly. The disagreement grew more and more heated until at last the smaller man lunged impetuously at his powerful interlocutor, landing a punch that bloodied his full, round face. After waiters separated the two combatants, who amused passersby mistook for rascals attempting to leave without paying their bill, the exalted literary critics retreated to their respective dwellings.[94]

Matters of personal conduct aside, Alea's devotion to the cause of education and his predilection for philosophical grammar dovetailed in his work on behalf of deaf Spaniards, and in the years since he had penned his letter to the Diario de Madrid first advocating their instruction, he had continued to labor on their behalf. Indeed, by the early 1800s he was Spain's most authoritative writer on the subject of deaf people and their education. In 1803 he authored a primer for deaf-mutes, and around this same time he offered to translate for free all foreign works the Royal School's governing board deemed necessary.[95] In 1806 he finished a Spanish version of Sicard's manual—he had employed it himself to instruct a deaf child from Asturias, Josef González[96] —and his efforts were rewarded when the grateful Friends of the Country made him a socio de mérito, an "outstanding member," in recognition of his many contributions to the Royal School.[97]

During these same years Alea published an article in Variedades de ciencias, literatura y artes in which his knowledge of what we now call linguistics was brought to bear on deaf education.[98] The abate was intrigued by a question that had long preoccupied philosophers, namely, the relation between language and thought, and he shared their belief that unschooled deaf subjects (like children and "savages"), if carefully observed, could shed light on the matter. Two authors in particular had


aroused Alea's curiosity—along with his skepticism: the French ideologue Destutt de Tracy, who held that there could be no abstract thought without "artificial signs" (and perhaps without speech), and the Spaniard Ramón Campos, who had given Alea an unpublished manuscript in which he examined the capacities of persons deaf from birth and argued that without speech, it was impossible to instill ideas into the human understanding.[99] Motivated by his reading of these two philosophers and determined to put their claims to the test, Alea set out to ascertain the nature of ideas in those deaf from birth, then published the results of his study, which he hoped would both contribute to the philosophy of language and advance the theory of human understanding.

Convinced that questions such as those raised by Campos and Destutt de Tracy could be settled only by empirical observation—"Philosophy is nothing without facts, and facts are nothing without philosophy," he contended[100] —he took in four deaf children: two boys, ages five and twelve, and two girls, both eleven years old.[101] The youngsters, all of them deaf from birth and poor, resided continuously with their benefactor, returning to their parents' homes only on holidays. By the time Alea wrote his article documenting the results of his experiment, he had spent fifteen months teaching them through the medium of manual signs and writing. As might be expected, the man who favored analysis over rote learning eschewed Bonet's approach, in which at least in the initial stages, mindless memorization and production of speech sounds took precedence over comprehension. Alea did, however, give his pupils lessons in articulation according to Bonet's Arte, which Godoy had loaned him from his private library. And the results? "My mutes learned to read and write in short time," their teacher reported, although he made no mention of their progress in articulation, leaving us to surmise that their speech training had been less than successful.[102] But the most important result was that the tutor-empiricist was now persuaded that deaf children were as capable of generalizing and forming abstract ideas as were their hearing counterparts. "Aristotle reputed them to be incapable of thinking," Alea wrote, repeating the familiar misattribution, "a hasty judgment he no doubt would not have made had he lived but three days with any deaf-mute."[103]

Around this same time, Alea also translated the first part of the introduction to Sicard's manual for deaf students and published it in 1804, along with critical comments, in Variedades .[104] The French teacher had painted an extremely dismal and self-serving portrait of the unschooled deaf child, describing him as "a statue whose senses it is necessary to


open and direct one by one," "a kind of walking machine, whose organization is inferior to that of the beasts," and a "fierce and maleficent animal."[105] Indeed, Sicard went so far as to question whether deaf children were capable of feeling affection for anyone, even their own parents. "I am inclined to believe," he wrote, "that no feeling of affection toward another ever enters their soul, not even that one which nature has engraved in the beasts with respect to their progenitors," adding that he wondered whether "the sweet caresses of maternal love, to which other children are so sensitive, penetrate the heart of deaf-mutes" (52–53). It is not surprising, then, that the Frenchman should consider sadness the "habitual state" of the deaf child's spirit (53).

When this pathetic soul first arrived at school, he was, according to Sicard, "like a newborn child; his expression is that of a simpleton, his eyes are dull, and he has an air of stupidity" (112). Moreover, the French abbé would have us believe, the unschooled deaf youngster was entirely bereft of any means of communication, and consequently any impression he received would of necessity be fleeting, since he had no signs with which to retain it, and for that same reason he lacked the ability to combine ideas and to reason. The deaf child, this author maintained, brought to the task of learning only a "blank slate" (116). Of course, this was where the teacher came in, for it was he who held the key to this piteous creature's rehabilitation.

José Miguel Alea had expressed some of these same sentiments years earlier in his 1795 letter to the Diario de Madrid, asserting that "it is impossible for a deaf-mute to have an exact idea of what a father and mother are, since these two ideas of relation can only be communicated to them by the ear," and alleging that "without doubt they are always sad and melancholy in the midst of their fellows."[106] By now, experience had shown him otherwise, and he emphatically refuted Sicard's assessment of the uninstructed deaf child. "I have observed attentively and with just this purpose young deaf-mutes," he wrote, "and I have found in them ideas anterior to all artificial instruction, sentiments that presuppose compound ideas, and even certain principles of mental abstraction. The sagacity of a three-year-old deaf-mute girl whose mother left her for some days in my house, in the company of my four mutes, made me think differently than I had thought until then along with Sicard. This girl," Alea continued, "had not been reared in Madrid, like my [pupils], but rather in Foncarral, and this was cause for me to observe her more attentively. I should add that certain actions of the youngest of my mutes, a five-year-old boy, had already made me begin to doubt,"


he confessed.[107] When the beliefs he had held up to that point proved irreconcilable with the facts, Alea had no difficulty reassessing his position: "If the facts oblige us to be less dogmatic about a matter that is by the very nature of things obscure, why not do so with frankness and candor? True experimental philosophy consists in accommodating our reasoning to the facts, and not the facts to our reasoning," he wrote.[108]

Alea believed his experiment revealed certain truths about deaf people, from which there followed inescapable conclusions. The study demonstrated, according to its author, that deaf children were not blank slates before entering school but rather, they were capable of forming and combining ideas before receiving instruction, and this fact, he held, should "encourage the hopes of parents and governments so that, convinced of what mutes themselves contribute to their instruction, they will confirm more each day the possibility of teaching them, and thus restoring them to society." Of course, if deaf children were actually something more than automatons when they arrived at school, then not all their accomplishments could be attributed to instruction; hence, the teacher of deaf students should no longer be regarded as a magician who imbued them with ideas.[109] And this was just fine with Alea: "It is true that the teaching will then be less mysterious and consequently more general, but this is what it should be, and nothing else," he explained. If in the cold light of the facts deaf children's instruction was demystified, that was no reason to vacillate. "What is certain is that deaf-mutes become civilized and acquire morality much more by means of this artificial education," he observed, "and no other consideration is necessary for affording them the best."[110]

Before assuming the position of head teacher, Alea would publish one more article concerning deaf people, namely, a reply to the philosopher Ramón Campos's book El don de la palabra (The gift of the word).[111] This was the work Campos had shown to Alea while it was still in manuscript form, and the claims made there, together with those of the French ideologue Destutt de Tracy, had inspired the abate to undertake his study of the four deaf children. Alea assumed he had silenced Campos with his 1803 article in Variedades, in which he cast doubt on the writer's conclusions (along with those of Destutt de Tracy), implying that his theory was falsified by empirical observation. To the considerable surprise of this friend of deaf Spaniards, however, Campos had not been deterred from publishing his work, and when El don de la palabra appeared in 1804, Alea hastened to rebut the author's claims, proceeding according to "the most rigorous logic."[112]


Campos had written that the formation of general ideas and memory were not operations of thought, but rather, the effect of the "gift of the word." And concerning the ability to abstract, which for Alea meant to conceive of a quality as separate from the individual in which it existed, Campos maintained that this too was "performed by way of words without the intervention of thought."[113] Alea's reply to this startling assertion was simple. Did not the inventors of abstract words conceive of the abstraction before coming to think of the words with which to express it?

Since the author of El don de la palabra held that general ideas and abstractions could be acquired only through words, for him it followed that the "language of action," that is, sign language, was not sufficient for the operation of abstraction, nor was it possible to instill any abstract or general idea in deaf people, not even those who had been instructed in spoken languages. In response to these contentions, Alea reproached Campos for not having heeded "the lessons of experience,"[114] noting that his claims flew in the face of "the facts which all learned Europe recognizes as evident, and which are as clear and as demonstrated as the light of the sun and the truths of mathematics" (41). Deaf people, Alea wrote, have the ability to think abstractly as soon as they learn a language such as Spanish, which has an abundance of abstract and general terms, and he was convinced that "there is no philosophy capable of proving otherwise, nor any experience that disproves this faculty in deaf-mutes" (292–293). But what was more, he argued, even before they were taught, "deaf-mutes, although they lack the means of communication provided by speech, nevertheless have their signs, and not just natural signs, but also truly artificial ones with which they express grandly a multitude of ideas of various kinds" (37). This claim he supported with empirical evidence: "The deaf-mutes we have observed, even before giving them a single lesson, expressed with their own appropriate gesture the general ideas of roundness, height, etc."—demonstrating that they were indeed capable of abstract thought prior to receiving formal instruction. "And it could not be otherwise," Alea concluded, "given the inherent organization of man, which is as suitable for the language of action in deaf-mutes as it is for speech in those who hear" (44–45).[115] Thus, Alea recognized that deaf and hearing people alike are biologically endowed with an innate linguistic capacity, which can manifest itself as well in signs as in speech.

Alea found in uninstructed deaf people's mathematical skills further proof of their ability to formulate abstract ideas. "Is it not evident," he


asked, "that there are deaf-mutes who have learned by themselves to count and manipulate numbers without the aid of their names or the symbols of arithmetic? Then it is clear," he continued, "that deaf-mutes form abstract ideas that have riot been suggested to them by instruction" (47). By way of illustration, he related, "One of my mutes already counted up to a considerable quantity when he came into my care. I have later examined other [deaf] adults in this court who had never been taught by any teacher, and I was surprised to see the long mental calculations they know how to do" (47 n.1). Moreover, he observed that unschooled deaf people had highly developed powers of imagination and of memory—as was widely acknowledged in his day—and this for him disproved Campos's claim that the language of action was not sufficient to prompt the operation of these faculties (104–105).

Alea's description of untaught deaf people is especially instructive, for it provides us with a rare glimpse of what these individuals were really like. In contrast to other authors, the abate based his account on empirical observation, rather than on the unsubstantiated allegations of a detractor like Campos, or the self-serving exaggeration of a teacher-savior like Sicard, and he chided both men for not having done the same. "We are ever more astounded that Sicard in the first part of his introduction considered them less than animals," Alea mused, and as for Campos's claims, the abate dismissed them as simply "contrary to experience" (105, 48).

Deaf children, Alea had by now concluded, learn in the same way as hearing children, and for this reason he advocated teaching them in essentially the same fashion. To impart the meaning of a given sign, he suggested, it was only necessary to demonstrate the sign in a context that would allow the deaf child to deduce its sense. "In no other way do hearing children learn the meanings of the thirty or forty thousand words of which our language is composed," Alea wrote, "that is, by learning the articulated sound (and the mutes seeing the gesture) and by acquiring at the same time understanding of the significance, because of the indicatory symbols and the circumstances in which the sound is proffered, and afterwards in his spirit the same meaning is excited each time the sound is repeated" (102). As the medium of instruction the abate now advocated a combination of signs, writing, and speech, although he also believed in the efficacy of signs alone, or of lipreading in conjunction with writing (231).

Extrapolating from his observations of deaf children and adults, Alea went on to formulate conclusions about the relation between language


and thought, and about the role of speech. He reasoned that if deaf people think, express themselves, and even form abstract ideas without the intervention of speech, it followed that all people think before learning a language, and that even without speech they are capable of forming complete ideas, and they possess the tools for abstraction as well.[116] Regarding sign language, Alea recognized that it served the same function as speech: "Language, be it signed or spoken, serves to give form, metaphysically speaking, to our ideas," he wrote (39). Like other philosophers of the day, he considered manual language to be our first means of communication, bestowed on us by nature, and he believed it was capable of the same degree of subtlety and sophistication as oral languages: "This language is meager in the beginning, but it increases gradually with the need to express the ideas born of experience.... Consequently it can reach the state of a real language, like any of those known today," he affirmed (98–99). Given the appropriate conditions, the evolution of such a language would be inevitable: "If there existed in our day a nation of deaf-mutes that, like our own and others, had passed through all the conditions and revolutions the human species has experienced, this nation would possess a sign language that would astound us with its resourcefulness, its analogy, its subtlety, and its subordination above all to the metaphysical generation of ideas," he wrote, adding, "This would necessarily occur given these circumstances. [Deaf-mutes] would have deposited ... in these signs, not just ideas perceptible to the senses but also an infinity of abstract and general ideas that the need to observe would engender in their thought, given the successive situations of the nation, the same as ours" (46). Alea's remarks about the potential of signed languages to reach a degree of complexity and sophistication comparable to that of spoken languages have been borne out repeatedly in deaf communities around the world and confirmed by numerous linguistic studies.

But despite the high esteem in which he held manual language, the abate still considered speech to be superior to signs, in part because of the difficulty of representing signs in writing. While not ruling out the possibility of devising a writing system, he nevertheless maintained that manual signs could not be transcribed "with the facility and precision of meaning with which we write articulated signs [i.e., words] representative of ideas and not objects"—an uncharacteristically hasty judgment from an author normally inclined to approach such questions empirically (46–47).[117] Alea also believed that speech afforded greater case of communication, considering the spoken word to be "the instrument


most suitable by its nature to analyze the delicate, swift, and fleeting operations of our spirit."[118] When it came to rapidity and the effortless expression of ideas, Alea rightfully awarded the advantage to speech over methodical sign, which was the manual system he had in mind.[119] Methodical signing is a slow, cumbersome, inefficient manner of communication at best, and deaf children, even those exposed exclusively to such a system, inevitably modify and streamline it so that it more closely resembles real sign language, dispensing with superfluous articles, prepositions, morphological markers, and so on. But when natural sign languages are compared with their spoken counterparts, the two modes of communication convey propositions at comparable rates.[120]

In his article Alea took issue with a number of Campos's assertions, but the abate confessed that above all else, it had been that writer's slander of deaf schools that had moved him to write his response. Campos could find nothing good to say about these institutions—which was not surprising, given his low opinion of the students who populated them. "The ostentatious schools for the deaf from birth are institutions more laudable for their intent than for their usefulness," he declared, "since in addition to laboriously teaching them to read badly, speak badly, and write badly, they are given in place of the energetic language nature inspires in them a limp and plodding language, which although it improves them for the commerce of daily life, does not for this reason further exercise their thought, or expand their powers of reasoning."[121] What was more, teaching deaf pupils to read, write, and speak actually deprived them of the "natural energy of their thought," Campos contended.[122] The author of these lines knew well that reports of the achievements of Europe's numerous deaf schools could give the lie to these assertions, but for this inevitability he had a ready answer: "It is hard for a teacher to give up the desire to have labored fruitfully, or to humiliate himself by confessing to having deceived himself in what he undertook solemnly believing it to be attainable. These circumstances," he suggested, "should perhaps render suspect accounts of the successful teaching of deaf-mutes."[123] Alea, however, knew better: "The author's doubts are entirely unfounded," he retorted, for "the good schools for deaf-mutes are as useful for the cultivation of their understanding as those of hearing children."[124] Not wishing to countenance such allegations with his silence, lest these erroneous views take hold in the popular mind, the abate had composed his reply "to avoid this harm to deaf-mutes, more than because of the literary aspects the question presents."[125]


In his refutation of Campos, Alea shunned sarcasm in favor of reason, moderation, and decency, adhering to the guidelines for criticism he himself had proposed several years earlier. He revealed a generosity of spirit toward his opponent when he acknowledged that the errant author had raised objections to deaf people's capacity for abstract thought never before considered, saluting his originality and commenting at one point that this writer's "distraction"—a euphemism at best—when seen in a man of talent, "should make us all tremble upon taking up the pen," since we are all capable of such blunders.[126] And even while condemning Campos's faulty reasoning, the tactful abate managed to attribute it to creativity: "It is typical of creative persons with fertile imaginations to deduce consequences elegantly, once they have adopted a speculative principle," he wrote, "but these consequences need to be proven with experience, for which effort they are not wont to have the necessary patience[,] and on the other hand they shrink from doing it[,] so as not to find themselves obliged to dissemble the species of geometric form in which ... they have set forth [these consequences], and of which they are entirely enamored."[127]

The differences between Alea and Campos went far beyond their respective positions on deaf people's intellectual capacity and the relation between language and thought, however, as was made clear in other writings by the two authors. When he presented Alea with the as yet unpublished manuscript of El don de la palabra, Campos had only recently returned to Madrid after a four-year stint in an Inquisitorial prison in Malaga, where he had drafted a treatise that may further illuminate his view of deaf people. (The Inquisition had pronounced him a "foolhardy blasphemer, a scandalous heretic, and unworthy of inhabiting this world,"[128] but his incarceration may have actually been politically motivated.)[129] The work Campos composed in the castle of San Lorenzo was De la desigualdad personal en la sociedad civil, "On personal inequality in civil society."[130] In it the author examined inequalities among individuals and among societies and concluded that "from the savage to the cultured man, from the beggar to the magnate, there is a progressive gradation of morality and rationality, such that the dignity and intrinsic value of the individual is not the same in these different classes; and the political distinctions corresponding to the natural differences of birth, wealth, sex and occupation are the means nature employs to cultivate and improve the species."[131] No doubt for such a philosopher, the "natural difference" between deaf and hearing people might easily be yet another of nature's devices, similarly destined to "cul-


tivate and improve the species." Campos had nothing specific to say about deaf people in this work, however, but for another group viewed as marginal by European society, black Africans, he expressed a special disdain, proclaiming that there could be no comparison between "the barbarian scum of Africa and the flower of the cultured Europeans," nor between "the blacks and slaves in the colonies and the refined people of the mother nations."[132]

Where Campos saw differences in the inherent worth of individuals, Alea focused instead on the common organization inherent to our species (an attribute that deaf people, he noted, shared with the hearing).[133] His views on blacks, in particular, contrasted sharply with Campos's, for far from seeing them as the "scum" of humanity, Alea saw simply "men created by God." He maintained that "only an ignorance of the laws of nature, and the impudent science of the Scholastics, could attempt to exclude black people from the human species," and he expressed satisfaction that "already European sovereigns ... have issued many decrees full of humanity, so they will be treated as useful vassals endowed with reason."[134] (It is worth bearing in mind that when Alea penned these thoughts, Spain was deeply involved in the slave trade, through her Cuban colony.) In light of the drastic divergence between the two men's views of humankind—where one saw differences in intrinsic worth, the other saw a common biological endowment—it is surely not surprising that they should hold different views of deaf people as well.

When José Miguel Alea succeeded Juan de Dios Loftus y Bazán as teacher at the Royal School in August 1808, in all of Spain there was no one better prepared for the task. The erudite abate had both theoretical and practical knowledge about deaf education, and he was well-informed about the language of signs.[135] He was a member of the governing board at the Royal School, and he had already stood in for the head teacher on more than one occasion. These credentials notwithstanding, his tenure as Loftus's replacement would be short-lived, for the disgruntled lieutenant colonel, less than six months after his suspension, managed to arrange an audience with the Minister of the Interior, and a few days later he was reinstated by royal order.[136]

Tensions between the governing board and their intractable employee began anew. Board members complained that for some time, Loftus had either attended to his teaching with a complete lack of seriousness or had failed to appear in class at all. The head teacher countered that he could not instruct the students for lack of chalk, and for this reason


he had stopped going to the school.[137] "It seems incredible that this teacher is so ignorant of his job that he does not see that students can be taught with pen and paper if there is no chalk," Alea shot back, "and even if there is a total lack of writing material, he should have them review what they already know in the manual alphabet.... It is not possible to explain how Mr. Loftus seeks to deduce from the lack of chalk the absolute independence of his person during class hours, if not by saying that in addition to not knowing how to teach, he professes not even the slightest love for his students."[138]

The board also found fault with Loftus's methods, charging that he overburdened students' memories with vast quantities of words whose meanings they did not know, that his approach did no more than obfuscate the understanding, and that in fact he taught with no system at all. Moreover, the Friends of the Country now wished to implement speech training, as described by Bonet, but Loftus utterly neglected this area. And any dialogue concerning methodology was out of the question, for according to the board, "Loftus thought that after Ponce, Bonet, de l'Epée, and Sicard, the teaching of deaf-mutes was a talent reserved to him alone," and he seemed to regard any attempt to discuss such matters as "an outrage." This attitude the members attributed to Loftus's "military character," adding that while he had at first feigned submission, in reality he would never accede to any plan other than his own. They were convinced that "although the regulations ... state that he is an employee and under the authority of [the governing board], he could never conceive of the possibility that a military man of rank might be subordinate as head teacher to men of another social class."[139] But worst of all was Loftus's mistreatment of the students. José Miguel Alea noted that they complained "all with one voice" that the head teacher and his assistant punished them cruelly, and in reality, the board of directors had known as much since the opening of the establishment.[140]

Loftus too conceded that there were problems with the students, but according to his account, it was he and his assistant who were being made to suffer at the hands of the children. He claimed that during the five-odd months he was suspended from the school, the pupils had been given free reign, they had grown accustomed to being idle, and now they were resentful. They believed they answered directly to the governing board, and thus the teacher and the assistant were helpless to correct their faults and were subject to their scorn and derision.[141] If threatened with punishment—deprivation of food or being made to kneel in the classroom were the only ones Loftus would admit to administer-


ing—they threatened to run away, or they became so arrogant that they were on the verge of striking their instructors. The children declared that they would not obey the teacher and his assistant, proclaiming in their language of signs that they shat on them, and that if punished they would complain to the board. Yet Loftus could impose no penalty, for even if the offenders were ordered to go without part of their food, the cook saw to it that they were fed, and when the punishment was not exacted, the students ridiculed whoever had attempted it. This cook, Loftus charged, was no more than a busybody who supplied the school board with a continuous stream of gossip about the head teacher and his assistant, and this she did, he claimed, because she was "supported, favored, and visited" by some of its members.[142]

By now, the situation was clearly out of hand. One student had gone so far as to throw a stick at the assistant, striking him in the eyebrow;[143] another, José Hernández, when scolded for not doing his work, had raised his hand to the teacher, menacing him with an inkwell. Loftus announced that the offender would be confined to his room and would go without food, but young Hernández retorted that the cook would give it to him anyway, and then he threatened to go to the board, enumerating on his fingers the name signs students used for each member. In the end he was left unpunished, as Loftus put it, "to avoid vexation."[144]

This state of affairs had come about, according to the lieutenant colonel, because the governing board had abrogated his authority; therefore, he desired to be free of its oversight, and to answer only to the Minister of the Interior and to the king.[145] Within the Royal School he would settle for nothing less than absolute power; he insisted that employees should recognize him as head of the institution and obey him, and students should be aware that their reward or punishment depended on him alone.[146] To his mind nothing else would do, for as he hastened to point out, he was a decorated military man, hence "distinguished among persons of status," and to be disobeyed and even insulted by those of lower rank caused him to live in a "state of vexation."[147]

The power struggle between members of the governing board and Lieutenant Colonel Loftus finally came to an end in the winter of 1811, when the head teacher resigned, declaring that after six years of "this job and [this] painful work," he was "tired of contending with children, and more so those of this class."[148] José Miguel Alea then volunteered once again to take over the teaching at no charge, as he had done upon Loftus's suspension three years earlier. As before, his offer was gratefully accepted, and he was named acting teacher.[149]


Thus, Lieutenant Colonel Loftus departed from the Royal School and from the pages of deaf history. His assistant, Angel Machado, also left the establishment, although apparently he continued to teach deaf children. In 1815 in an advertisement in Barcelona's Diario he offered to tutor deaf students.[150] As for Angel Machado's deaf son Juan, the "living document" to whom Loftus owed his position at the Madrid institute, his problems at the Royal School had begun early on. In 1809 the board declared that because of his numerous absences, he would be barred from class, "should he present himself." In 1835 he reappeared at the school, only to be denied work as a typesetter in the newly established print shop;[151] we do not encounter his name again until nearly two decades later, when at the age of sixty-one, he applied for a teaching position at the municipal deaf school in Barcelona. He explained that he had been a student at the Royal School from 1804 through 1808 and that he had studied at the deaf school in Bordeaux from 1815 until 1820. He stated that he knew Spanish and French, he knew arithmetic and he could reckon, and for many years, he said, he had taught deaf children in cities throughout Spain, including Madrid, Seville, Ronda, and Jerez de la Frontera, among others. The job in Barcelona went to a hearing man, however, Miguel Rispa y Segarra, who had been trained at the Madrid school, and at this point Juan Machado disappears from the historical record.[152]

When Lieutenant Colonel Loftus left the Royal School in 1811, he did so with the intent of resuming his military career.[153] He could not have chosen a better moment, for during the past three years the nation had been at war. Under the Treaty of Fontainebleau, French troops had partially occupied Spain in 1807, supposedly for the purpose of launching a joint war against Portugal, and in the spring of the following year Napoleon had lured Charles IV and Crown Prince Ferdinand to Bayonne, where he forced them both to abdicate in favor of his brother Joseph. Around this same time an uprising against the French presence began in Madrid, then spread quickly to become a popular rebellion. For the next six years, Spanish soldiers and guerrillas, along with English troops under the duke of Wellington, fought throughout the peninsula against the occupying forces of "el rey José." The war of independence—now regarded as history's first example of total war because the rules of conventional warfare were ignored and any means of inflicting harm on the enemy was considered acceptable—affected virtually every


aspect of Spanish life. The nation's administrative structure ceased to exist, the economy was paralyzed, and intellectual activity came to a halt. In Madrid the citizenry suffered great hardships, and in the year 1811 alone, more than twenty thousand madrileños perished from hunger and infectious disease. As the price of a loaf of bread soared to thirteen reales, the populace ate all existing animals, beginning with those that were edible, then turning to those that were not, and many people died in the streets from malnutrition.[154]

The Royal School for Deaf-Mutes was not spared from the general misery, and before peace could be restored, the establishment would close its doors and deliver its students to institutions of charity. The school had been allocated funds from the bishoprics of Cadiz and Sigüenza, but from the beginning remittances were often late. What sums did arrive were frequently incomplete, and after 1808 payments stopped altogether.[155] In an effort to keep the institution alive, members of the governing board resorted to feeding the young scholars in their homes;[156] but by 1811 the society's resources were exhausted. For some time there had been no funds with which to pay the staff, and by the winter of 1811 Roberto Prádez, the deaf art teacher, and a hearing servant, Antonio Ugena, were both reported to be "without exaggeration, stark naked."[157] Faced with financial crisis, the Friends of the Country proposed to lodge the students in a charitable establishment, and so put an end to their housing expenses.[158] Salaried positions at the school were also eliminated, for by this time the one post the society judged indispensable, that of head teacher, was held by José Miguel Alea, who had agreed to teach without compensation. Thus it was arranged that on the night of April 30, 1811, a ragtag band of six deaf students, accompanied by Roberto Prádez, moved to the municipal school of San Ildefonso, known also as the Niños Doctrinos.[159]

What had at first seemed a solution soon proved to be yet another problem, however, for as the Friends of the Country so delicately put it, the students were "badly received" at San Ildefonso and in truth, conditions there were lamentable. 'The deaf youngsters were denied access to the school's refectory, their meals were prepared in a low-class public inn, and as the Friends of the Country would note, "it says enough about the quality that no member has the right to inspect or correct ... this wretched food."[160] Not even water from the school's fountain was available to the children, and they were obliged to fetch their own from a public fountain in the neighborhood. Out of fear that the deaf youths might exert a negative influence on younger hearing students,


the most rigorous segregation was enforced between the two groups, and the door connecting the deaf boys' quarters to the rest of the establishment was nailed shut from the outside.[161] In these circumstances, one observer remarked, "it is not strange that they amuse themselves by ruining their quarters, throwing in the privy whatever they have at hand, after having broken it to bits and filled its drain with bones, rocks, and debris."[162] The deaf students were barefoot, clad only in dirty rags, and the society warned that "there will come, and soon, the day of their total nudity."[163]

There were by now two adults from the Royal School housed with the deaf pupils at San Ildefonso: the art teacher Roberto Prádez, and the servant Antonio Ugena. In the summer of 1811 Prádez provided an account of conditions at the municipal school. The children were given no breakfast and very little supper, and each day, he wrote, there was less food. And a complaint to the innkeeper who prepared it brought only excuses:

He responded (with deceit) that it was not his fault, [and] that if the mid-day meal was somewhat scanty, it was also better prepared, and [as for] the meat and salt pork, there seems to be little because it disintegrates in the kettle after the bones have been removed from the meat, when really it is just the opposite, because most days the meat and salt pork are so hard that one's teeth creak upon biting into it, and furthermore, as if that weren't enough, there is no lack of bone: in spite of this and in spite of having told him to put in more salt pork and more meat, of the former he puts in the same as before, but of the latter he has now started (in order to make us see how much meat he puts in) to include so much bone in the stew that an experiment on a scale ... revealed that on one day, of three pounds of meat in the midday meal and supper, there was a good pound and a half of bone.[164]

The meager rations soon took their toll, as Prádez related: "One begins to see and experience in the deaf-mutes a weakness and stomach pains so excessive that they do not permit them to write, draw, or attend class most days."[165]

In the face of such miserable conditions, the Friends of the Country complained to the Minister of the Interior. "The society is not accusing anyone," they wrote, "but it feels obligated to denounce this scandal against the beneficence of the government." This protest was accompanied by a thinly veiled ultimatum: "If no remedy is possible, the society will be obliged to request to be exempted from the anguish such mis-


fortune causes it at every turn."[166] Either help these children, the document's authors clearly implied, or we too will wash our hands of them.

Around this time, the Friends of the Country began to reexamine their commitment to deaf education. In April 1811 the school board had agreed to cease functioning;[167] the following September the question was raised "whether it suits [our] interests that the society continue to be in charge of teaching the deaf-mutes or not."[168] In the ensuing debate members concluded,

We have committed the error of directing [the instruction of deaf students] solely toward literary knowledge, neglecting what they will most need, which is to be able to support themselves and learn a trade that could provide for their future subsistence. The few that remain today are no longer children, and they find themselves no less in need of assistance and the charity of others than when they were in their infancy: and so if we continue in this fashion, our efforts will only produce lifelong beggars, who will increase the burden of the state, and perhaps the work of the criminal courts.[169]

To these men, who were already predisposed to getting out of the business of deaf education, the solution was obvious: "It is necessary," they proclaimed, "to regard as a chimera the desire to make of [the deaf students] sages or sublime artists. In all times and with all possible assistance, it would be a marvel to produce even one of the former, and a few examples of the latter." The answer, as they now saw it, was to abandon these lofty ideals and apprentice the deaf boys out to learn a trade. In this way they would be made self-sufficient, and at the same time the problem of their support would be resolved, for it was expected that during their apprenticeship they would live in the their masters' homes, where they would do double duty as servants.[170]

This plan was apparently never implemented, however. By November 1811 the Friends of the Country, now totally bereft of funds with which to provide for their pupils' urgent needs or pay the school's employees, wished only to unburden themselves of these obligations, and they urged the government: to persuade the municipality of Madrid, or for that matter any other body, to assume responsibility for their charges.[171] By January 1812 talk had turned to lodging the students in the Hospicio, the poorhouse;[172] the move was finally effected in May of that year.[173] (It had been only "with the greatest difficulty and [after] much effort" that the Friends of the Country had managed to "get rid of the ruinous administration of that establishment," according to Tiburcio Hernández, the society's censor .)[174] The founders' official



Figure 11.
The Hospicio of San Fernando. From Miguel Granell
y Forcadel,  Historia de la enseñanza del Colegio Nacional de Sordomudos
desde el año 1794 al 1932
 (Madrid: Colegio Nacional de
Sordomudos, 1932). Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid.

explanation was that the students had been installed in the poorhouse "so that through this establishment they can be destined to the ends to which they may be useful according to the fiscal situation." In practice, this translated as teaching them to weave.[175]

At the Hospicio the deaf Youths were "reduced to an exceedingly scanty ration, suffering continuous hunger, sicknesses of the stomach, and nudity," according to Antonio Ugena, who along with Roberto Prádez had accompanied them there.[176] Eventually they were obliged to beg in the street.[177] There they joined countless others in a "spectacle of desperation and anguish," as one eyewitness recounted:

Men, women, and children of all walks of life, abandoning their miserable dwellings, dragging themselves dying to the street to implore public charity, to snatch even a vegetable stem that normally would be thrown in the garbage, a piece of moldy cracker, a potato, a broth some wretched shopkeeper might offer them to forestall for an instant their wasting away and their death ... infinite numbers of people expiring in the middle of the street and in broad daylight, the laments of women and children beside the cadavers of their parents and siblings laid out on the sidewalks, which were hauled away twice a day in carts from the parishes; the prolonged, universal, and piteous groan of supreme agony of so many miserable ones.... The very atmosphere, impregnated with foul-smeling gases, seemed to spread a funereal shroud over the entire population.[178]

The grisly scenes were immortalized by Francisco Goya, the celebrated artist who by this time had himself become deaf as the result of



Figure 12.
Francisco Goya, "Cartloads for the cemetery." Reproduced in
Philip Hofer,  The Disasters of War by Francisco Goya y Lucientes  (New York:
Dover Publications, 1967).


Figure 13.
Francisco Goya, "It is no use shouting." Reproduced in Philip
Hofer,  The Disasters of War by Francisco Goya y Lucientes  (New York: Dover
Publications, 1967).


an illness, in a series of engravings known as the "Disasters of War."[179]

By the summer of 1812 three deaf students had died: Domingo Pérez, Manuel Muñoz, and José Hernández, who in better times had threatened Lieutenant Colonel Loftus with an inkwell. The others were in imminent danger of suffering the same fate.[180] Before the establishment would reopen, the majority would succumb to hunger and exposure.[181]

At the outbreak of the war of independence, some Spaniards in the occupied territories had aligned themselves with the French. A sizable number of those who sided with the intruder did so out of convenience, motivated, for instance, by the desire to remain with their families or to continue in their jobs under the new government; others, however, did so out of patriotism and idealism, for they were convinced that their country's best hope for salvation lay in the possibilities of reform offered by the French monarch. Indeed, many of Spain's most talented and enlightened citizens, horrified at the excesses of the anti-French riots of 1808, were persuaded that the invader held the key to their nation's regeneration, and thus they chose willingly to collaborate. The afrancesados, or "Frenchified" Spaniards, included writers, journalists, cultured bureaucrats, reformists, radical intellectuals, and members of the liberal clergy; among their ranks was the abate José Miguel Alea. His views on government were clear—" Despotism is, in my view, one of the primary causes (perchance the only one) of all the disturbances experienced and suffered by the nations that destiny subjected to its yoke," he declared[182] —and most likely he saw in the French government of occupation Spain's best shot at enlightened rule.

During the reign of Joseph Bonaparte, Alea was appointed Royal Archivist;[183] he served as literary collaborator to the official Gaceta de Madrid,[184] and he became an intimate advisor to Spain's French king.[185] And during these years Alea was put in charge of instruction at the Royal School. To judge from the record, however, it seems doubtful that he did much actual teaching. The year 1810 found him in Seville, where he headed a special committee sent to survey paintings that had been confiscated from Sevillian convents and churches by representatives of the occupation government. The best of the canvases were to be transported to the Alcázar, Seville's ancient Moorish palace, and the task of selection had been entrusted to none other than José Miguel Alea.[186]


In the fall of 1811 the abate was reported to be "indisposed" and unable to attend to his teaching, and August 1812. found him again absent from Madrid.[187] Deaf education in Spain did not cease entirely during the war years, however, but after the closing of the Royal School in 1811, it appears that what teaching did occur must be credited in great measure not to Alea but to Roberto Prádez, who had remained with the students first at the municipal school of San Ildefonso and then at the Hospicio. Although Alea was nominally in charge of instruction, during this period he seems to have spent more time collaborating than teaching. In truth, his greatest contribution to the advancement of deaf Spaniards was as an enlightened linguist who publicized and promoted their cause, and as an author and translator of texts for their instruction, rather than as a classroom teacher.

The war of independence came to an end when French troops, defeated in March 1813 at the battle of Vitoria, withdrew from Spanish soil. The retreating soldiers were followed across the Pyrenees by twelve thousand Spanish families who had served the French king. The émigrés included prominent writers, distinguished men of science and the professions, the nation's most able bureaucrats, and at least one friend of Spanish deaf people, the abate José Miguel Alea.[188]

Alea established residence in Marseilles, where he taught Spanish and Portuguese language and literature at the Collège Royal, the Ecole Spéciale de Commerce, and the Institution Méry-Combaz, and continued his lifelong work as a translator.[189] He would never again teach deaf students, but he continued to write on the topic of their education. Prompted by a literary contest sponsored by the Royal Academy of Sciences that was announced in Parisian newspapers in September 1817, the former head teacher of the Royal School composed a eulogy to the abbé de I'Epée.[190] In his essay Alea defended a thesis he had presented before the Friends of the Country some twenty years earlier, namely, that the system of methodical signs should be considered as the true model for general elementary instruction.[191] The point was not that hearing children should learn sign language—although Alea espoused its virtues as a universal means of communication and advocated its use as such by all nations—but rather, that the pedagogical principles of the abbé de l'Epée's method should be observed. Instruction should be characterized by a spirit of analysis, and by a progression from the


simple to the complex and from the known to the unknown, with the reduction of complex ideas to their most basic elements, and without omission of intermediate steps. Eventually Alea decided against entering the contest, however, because, as he later explained, he was convinced someone else would surely write on this same topic. Only when he discovered that no one had done so did he consider publishing his essay. But before taking that step, he first submitted his manuscript to the Academic Circle of Marseilles, of which he was by now an honorary member. The society pronounced his work superior to that of the winner, Sicard's godson and protégé Roch-Ambroise Bébian, and that of the runner-up, a certain M. Bazot.[192] In view of this judgment Alea determined to publish his essay. When it appeared in print in 1824, the author was at work on a dictionary of analogical signs, which he said was by then "well advanced."[193]

Afrancesados who at the conclusion of the war had quit Spain for France were allowed back in 1820, but José Miguel Alea was not among those who returned, and apparently he never again set foot in the country of his birth.[194] He was listed among the personnel of the Collège Royal in Marseilles up through 1830, and his life: ended around that time in his adopted homeland.[195] There the abate reportedly died in poverty and by his own hand, drowning himself in a river.[196] Spanish deaf people would not have another champion of his intellectual stature for the remainder of the nineteenth century.

Alea had been his nation's most eloquent supporter of deaf education and its foremost authority on the subject. He had brought the plight of deaf Spaniards to the attention of the general public, defending their language and their schools and effectively refuting age-old prejudices concerning their capacity for abstract thought. He had set the stage for the scientific investigation of their language acquisition and their instruction. And he had played a leading role in the first decade of life of the institution destined to spread their instruction throughout the kingdom.

But during Spain's war of independence Alea had cast his lot with the supporters of Joseph Bonaparte, and for this, there was a price to pay. For years after that conflict, Spaniards who had sided with the intruder were regarded as traitors. As nationalistic pride reasserted itself, "patriotism" took precedence over pedagogy, and the French approach to deaf instruction, to which Alea had been sympathetic, was rejected out of hand. Thus, the abate's work was swept aside and ignored, as much because of its French methodological orientation as because of the


author's conduct during the war. But in truth, when it came to deaf education, Alea was a balanced, patriotic Spaniard, well aware of his nation's tradition and proud of it, as evidenced by his praise of the early Spanish teachers, and the accolades he bestowed on the deaf youth Gregorio Santa Fe and his enigmatic tutor Diego Vidal. Furthermore, he was not uncritical of the French abbés, and when it was time to teach articulation, he looked to the work of his countryman Juan Pablo Bonet. But balance and discernment counted for naught in the face of his historic imprudence, and during the postwar period, the foundations he had laid for the empirical study of deaf education, sign language, and language acquisition were lost. Indeed, for decades after his departure from his homeland, the name of José Miguel Alea was conspicuously absent from certain Spanish accounts of the history of deaf education.[197] And when the Madrid school reopened in 1814, it threw out the French manualist approach and went back to the rigid, oralist pedagogy of Bonet's Arte .

With men like Roberto Prádez and José Miguel Alea on board, the future of the Royal School had seemed bright indeed. But the establishment got off to a slow start and was soon derailed by the war of independence. The conclusion of that conflict found Spain's leading expert on deaf education on the other side of the Pyrenees, leaving us to wonder what might have been, had the work begun by the abate Alea been allowed space and time to develop.


Chapter 5 The War of Independence Disrupts the Teaching Background and Conflict, 1805–1814

Preferred Citation: Plann, Susan. A Silent Minority: Deaf Education in Spain, 1550-1835. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1997 1997.