Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Braidwood, Thomas

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593423Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 06 — Braidwood, Thomas1886Alexander Gordon

BRAIDWOOD, THOMAS (1715–1806), teacher of the deaf and dumb, was born in Scotland in 1715, and educated at Edinburgh University. He was some time assistant in the grammar school at Hamilton, and afterwards opened a mathematical school in Edinburgh. In 1760, a boy named Charles Sherriff, born deaf, and hence mute, was placed with him to learn writing. In a few years Braidwood taught him to speak. About the end of 1768 some lines purporting to be by this lad, on seeing Garrick act, appeared in the London newspapers (reprinted in 'Gent. Mag.' 1807, p. 38), and called attention to the case. 'A.,' in 'Gent. Mag.' 1807, pp. 306-6, says the verses were really written as a means of getting an introduction to Garrick by Caleb Whitefoord. Sherriff became a successful miniature painter in London, Bath, Brighton, and the West Indies. Lord Monboddo reports of him (Orig. and Prog. of Language, 1773, i. 179) that he 'both speaks and writes good English;' on the other hand 'A.' (as above) nays he never could understand Sherriff whom he knew well. Encouraged by his success with Sherriff, Braidwood dedicated himself to the teaching of the mute. His only mechanical appliance was a small silver rod 'about the sixe of a tobacco-pipe,' flattened at one end, and having a bulb at the other. This he employed to place the tongue in the right positions. From about 1770 he was assisted by his kinsman, John Braidwood. Dr. Johnson visited the institution in 1773 at Edinburgh; he calls it a 'subject of philosophical curiosity … which no other city has to show; a college of the deaf and dumb, who are taught to speak, to read, to write, and to practise arithmetic' He set a sum, and 'wrote one of his sesquipedalia verba,' which was pronounced to his satisfaction. He says of Braidwood's pupils that they 'hear with the eye.' The number of scholars was 'about twelve.' Arnot says (Hist. of Edin. 1779, p. 426) the pupils were 'mostly from England, but some also from America.' Francis Green mentions that there were 'about twenty pupils' in 1783. Braidwood was then about to remove his academy to London, the king having, according to Green, promised 100l. a year from his private purse to help to make it a public institution (pp. 183-4), He established himself at Grove House, Mare Street, Hackney, where be died on 24 Oct. 1806, in his ninety-first year. John Braidwood, his coadjutor, was born in 1756, married in 1782 the daughter of Thomas Braidwood, and died 24 Sept. 1798 at Hackney of a pulmonary complaint, leaving a widow, two sons, Thomas and John, and two daughters. The academy was continued by the widow and sons.

[Weeden Butler in Gent. Mag. January 1807; Green's Vox Oculis subjecta; a Dissertation on the most curious and important Art of imparting Speech and the Knowledge of Language to the naturally Deaf and (consequently) Dumb, with particular account of the Academy of Messrs. Braidwood of Edinburgh, and a proposal to perpetuate and extend the benefits thereof, by a Parent, London. 1783. 8vo (see Biog. Dict. of Living Authors. 1816, p. 136); Johnson's Works. 1806. ii. 337 seq.; Boswell's Life of Johnson (ed. Croker and Wright), 1859, v. 152; Annual Register for 1810, p. 372; references given above.]

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