Long before a blind man went up Mt. Everest, there was John Holman (1786–1857). In A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler, Jason Roberts narrates the astounding story of Lieutenant John Holman, who as a blind man traveled through much of the world on his own, and on very modest means. Holman's service in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars had been cut short by a very painful form of rheumatism, and soon thereafter he was stricken by a sudden onset of total blindness. He achieved an astonishing adjustment to his affliction, considering the times he lived in: he went to university, even studying medicine; and when his rheumatism flared up again, he went to the Continent on the advice of his doctors, the first of his several travels, which included a circumnavigation of the world. With his utmost desire of independence, he succesfully evaded his younger brother who was supposed to accompany him, and from then on, he mostly traveled alone.
The second year of this stay abroad brought him to Rome, where on arrival he was “bounding up Trajan's Pillar, the Palatine Hill, the Tarpeian Rock, and even Monte Testaccio”. Later, because of his short stay, he selected three monuments, St. Peter's, the Capitol, and the Pantheon. He constructed them “haptically”, visiting them over and over again, and wrote: “… by which repetitions I imagine that I gained almost as correct ideas, as if I had actually seen the objects.” (He wrote with the help of a noctograph, a form of stylus for the blind, originally developed for military spys to enable them to write in the dark.)
From Rome, Holman went to Naples and climbed to the summit of Mt. Vesuvius, which at that time was in an erruption cycle, spewing rocks and ashes!
I had listened to an interview of the author, Jason Roberts, on NPR the other day, and on Saturday I ran across the book in the “New Books” section of our library and took it home. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the story, catching a moment here and there. It's very well written and researched, and nicely illustrated.