Moon, William (DNB01)

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MOON, WILLIAM (1818–1894), inventor of the embossed type known as Moon's type for the blind, was descended from an old Sussex family seated at Rother- field; but he was born at Horsemonden, Kent, on 18 Dec. 1818. He was the son of James Moon of Horsemonden, by his wife, Mary Funnell Moon. During his childhood his parents removed to Brighton, but William remained for some time at Horsemonden. At the age of four he lost the sight of one eye through scarlet fever, and the other eye was seriously affected. He was educated in London, and when about eighteen years old he settled at Brighton with his widowed mother. He was studying with the intention of taking holy orders; but the sight of the remaining eye gradually failed, in spite of several surgical operations. In 1840 he became totally blind. He had previously made himself acquainted with various systems of embossed type, and now began to teach several blind children, who were formed with some deaf mutes into a day school in Egremont Place, Brighton. In Frere's system [see Frere, James Hatley], and the others previously used for teaching the blind, contractions are very extensively used; Moon, after some years' teaching, judged this system to be too complicated for the vast majority of blind persons, especially the aged, and accordingly constructed a system of his own in 1845. He employed simplified forms of the Roman capitals, almost entirely discarding contractions: and after he had constructed his alphabet he found that all the twenty-six letters are only nine placed in varying positions. By the help of friends interested in the blind, type was procured, and Moon began a monthly magazine. His first publication, 'The Last Days of Polycarp,' appeared on 1 June 1847; 'The Last Hours of Cranmer' and devotional works followed. Next he began to prepare the entire Bible, discontinuing the monthly issues for a time. As his supply of type was insufficient for so extensive an undertaking, he tried stereotyping, and after much experimenting succeeded in the invention of a process by which he could produce a satisfactory plate at less than one-sixth of the ordinary price. He put his process into use in September 1848, and the stereotyper then engaged was employed on the work till Moon's death, and is still (1901). The publications have always been sold under cost price, the deficiency being made up by contributions from the charitable public. In 1852, when the greater part of the Bible was still unprinted, a formal report was published, with a defence of Moon's system against objectors, who had sneered at the cost and bulk of his publications; he argued that the Frere and other systems depending upon contractions complicated the notation so far that the books were useless to the majority of the blind. He soon extended his system to foreign languages, beginning with Irish and Chinese; the principal languages of Europe were next employed, and before his death the Lord's Prayer or some other portion of Scripture was embossed in 476 languages and dialects, for all of which the original nine characters are found sufficient. The 'ox-ploughing' succession of lines is adopted. The works printed in foreign languages are almost entirely portions of the Bible; in English a large selection is available, including very many devotional works, some scientific treatises, and selections from Shakespeare, Milton, Burns, Scott, Longfellow, and other standard authors.

Moon met with a girl born blind, who supposed that horses stood upright and walked with two legs : this suggested to him embossed 'Pictures for the Blind,' teaching them by the touch to realise the forms of common objects. He also issued embossed diagrams for Euclid, music, and maps, both geographical and astronomical. He was made a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1852, a fellow of the Society of Arts in 1859, and in 1871 the university of Philadelphia created him LL.D. He warmly advocated home teaching societies for the blind, which by his efforts were founded in many places; and lending libraries of Moon's books exist in eighty towns of the United Kingdom, in Paris, Turin, and various cities of the United States and the British colonies. In furtherance of these objects he often travelled through Scotland, Ireland, and the continent; in 1882 he visited the United States. He received great help, especially in the matter of lending libraries, from Sir Charles Lowther, with whom he became intimate in 1855, and who remained his closest friend, dying only a few days after him. On 4 Sept. 1856 Sir Charles laid the foundation-stone of a new building at 104 Queen's Road, near the Brighton railway station; in these premises, since considerably enlarged, the entire production of the embossed books is still carried on.

In 1885 Moon spent several months in Sweden. As the jubilee of his work approached, a movement for a testimonial to him was originated in Scotland; and on 16 April 1890 he was presented with a chiming clock, purse of 260l., and an illuminated address. His devotion to evangelistic work, of which the publishing was only a portion, brought on a slight paralytic stroke in the autumn of 1892, after which his activity was necessarily lessened. He died suddenly on 10 Oct. 1894, and was buried on the 16th in the extramural cemetery at Brighton, many of his blind pupils attending the funeral and singing over the grave. Some years before his death he had made over the freehold site of his premises to trustees for the continuance of his work in publishing embossed books for the blind.

Moon was twice married—in 1843 to Mary Ann Caudle, daughter of a Brighton surgeon, who died in 1864; and in 1866 to Anna Maria Elsdale, a granddaughter of William Leeves [q. v.], the composer of 'Auld Robin Gray.' By the first marriage he had a son, who was of great assistance to him in arranging his type to foreign languages, and is now a physician in Philadelphia; and a daughter, who now superintends the undertaking that Moon inaugurated.

Moon wrote: 1. 'A Memoir of Harriet Pollard, Blind Vocalist,' 1860. 2. Blindness, its Consequences and Ameliorations,' 1868. 3. 'Light for the Blind,' 1873. He composed a set of twelve tunes to devotional poetry, which were printed both in his embossed type and in ordinary music notation.

[Rutherford's William Moon and his Work for the Blind. 1898 (with portraits); Brighton Herald, 13 and 20 Oct. 1894; Illustrated London News, 20 Oct. 1894 (with portrait); Record, 3 June 1859; information from Miss Moon, who has kindly revised this article.]

H. D.