Website of “the Hurdy-Gurdy Band” - a hurdy-gurdy duo. Features a lot of nice historical images of the hurdy-gurdy - but beware the homepage of the site launches into some unrequested hurdy-gurdy playing, so you may want to turn the volume down on your computer!
Festival of traditional musics and folk dances, 13-15 July 2012 La Châtre, France
Instrument-makers, concerts, folk dances and a unique atmosphere, the festival has become THE meeting place of traditional music in Europe. A unique show of instrument makers which welcomes 130 instrument makers from the whole world presenting and selling their instruments: bagpipes, hurdy-gurdies, accordions, wind instruments, percussion and many more…
30 concerts and folk dances are scheduled, providing an opportunity to hear the variety and the wealth of traditional music. Various activities are scheduled during the day, including : dance workshops, presentation of instruments, competitions, folk dances for children, Apérosol, meetings with the musicians.
Over the Water Hurdy-gurdy festival is an annual week-long gathering of hurdy-gurdy players in September of each year in Washington state. As well as offering a fantastic event, they also publish the music for a standard set of bourrees, schottisches, valses and other tunes used as the basis for their jam sessions. You can download PDF or ABC versions of the tunes here.
UK hurdy-gurdy luthier, Chris Allen, hosts a couple of collections of tunes for the hurdy-gurdy on his website here. These include 50 tunes collected by Graham Whyte (aka Jamie Hammond) and a collection of Ukraine and Lemko tunes for hurdy-gurdy from the Werner Icking Music archive.
Richard Haynes Music Services are offering a series of 18th Century pieces for hurdy-gurdy that Richard has transcribed from original scores written on the French violin clef. He makes a nominal charge for the music, which is available for download from his website here. Pieces include:
Barnaby Walters is hosting a sheet music database dedicated to the hurdy-gurdy. To find a tune, use the Search function (and if you don’t enter any particular search string it will return all the tunes in the database). Tunes are returned in abc notation (described in my previous posting) so you’ll need to use an application to render them as a score.
British hurdy-gurdy maker, Mike Gilpin, has compiled a collection of 152 traditional French dance tunes from the Morvan region of France. This is available from his website here for £8.95 plus package and posting (worldwide shipping). Payment by UK cheque or PayPal.
Much of the music available on the Internet is stored in “abc notation”. This format dates from the early 1990’s and is a way of representing complex musical scores using normal text characters - which can then easily be emailed or shown on a web page. ABC notation is not designed to be human readable, and so having downloaded the music you use software to convert the text into a conventional musical score. Fortunately there are many free applications available for Windows, MacOS and Linux. A good starting point is the abc notation home page (maintained by Chris Walshaw, original inventor of the notation) or the official ABC Music project pages on Sourceforge (for the more technical minded).
After a few months of waiting, my new Chris Allen Symphonie arrived this week. It’s a beautiful instrument and so I thought I’d post some photographs and provide some initial impressions. The Symphonie is modeled on the earliest form of hurdy-gurdy, the mediaeval symphonie, which was in use from the 12th Century onwards. Little is known about exactly how they were configured, but this model is based on a modern stringing - with two chanterelles (tuned together in g), and with a drone in G and trompette in C, all strung with oiled gut. The drone and trompette are fitted with capos to allow them to be changed to C and D respectively - allowing the instrument to be played in the keys of Gmaj/Gmin and Cmaj/Cmin.
The instrument is very quiet - a characteristic of Symphonies - with a delicate, sweet tone. It is well suited to practicing in a household shared with others, for accompanying singing or for use in mediaeval reenactments. The trompette reacts very easily and the chien produces a pleasant rasping buzz when it sounds. A tirant allows the sensitivity to be quickly adjusted - a must, particularly when engaging or disengaging the capo.
One of the most delightful aspects of the instrument is the keyboard, which is is beautifully smooth and has a fantastically light and fast response. Although full-sized, it feels small and compact and makes playing around the two-octave range a joy. I found no difficulty playing the full range of notes, with even the highest notes having a clean sound.
The tangents are made from wood and screwed into the key, which should prevent issues of loose tangents and buzzes with humidity changes. The key travel is damped with a green felt strip, and the resulting action is very quiet.
You can play the instrument with or without the lid attached. Playing with the lid on provides a slightly quieter, softer tone, with the chanterelles sounding relatively quieter (compared to the drone and trompette) than with the lid off. With the lid off, you get brighter sounding chanterelles, with less noticeable difference on the trompette and drone. I haven’t yet decided which I prefer.
The strings are tuned with four standard mechanical tuning pegs. There’s no fancy geared tuning pegs on this instrument (in keeping with its mediaeval design) and so I’ve cheated and fitted some violin fine tuners which clip onto the chanterelles and trompette and allow me to easily make fine tuning adjustments. At only €1.60 each, I thoroughly recommend them for any hurdy-gurdy - although you may need to find a good luthier to get hold of them, as most violins use fine-tuners that mount in the tail-piece.
Overall, this is a delightful instrument. If you are after a loud instrument for dance music or playing in sessions, then this is not for you. However, if you want an instrument to accompany singing, to practice without disturbing the family or to carry about whilst dressed as a wandering minstrel, this is the instrument for you.
RootsWorld have a nice review of the album, le maîtres de la vielle baroque(French Music for hurdy-gurdy) online. They say:
Both tackling the hurdy-gurdy repertoire with extensive backgrounds in a variety of musical forms, Loibner and Delfino shed light on some of the gems of the baroque hurdy-gurdy on this album. The composers are hardly commonplace, but on listening to the selections recorded here, the listener must wonder why not. With all the drama and complexity expected of the baroque era, these pieces are sophisticated, subtle, expressive, and utterly charming. Loibner and Delfino match the quality of the compositions with their blend of solid musical-historical knowledge, exceptional technique and innate musicality. From the melancholy yearning expressed in Dupuits’s Oeuvre 3, 1ère, Ariette “Gracieusement” to the vigorously regal Oeuvre 2, 4eme, Allegro “La Bully” by Buterne, Loibner and Delfino demonstrate their mastery of the instrument as well as their strong connection to the music.
RootsWorld have a nice review of Loibner’s album, vielle à roué online. They say:
In Vielle à roué Matthias Loibner’s versatile musicianship is highlighted in thirteen recordings of solo hurdy-gurdy. Ranging from traditional klezmer music to his own compositions, along with arrangements and improvisations, Loibner’s music is at times melancholic, sometimes ecstatic, often stark (for instance the opening track, “Zhe Krevari de Fã” an arrangement of a Savoyard song), and sometimes wistful, as it is on “Förer Frühling”, his impressions of the North Sea island of Föhr. Loibner takes full advantage of the idioms available to the instrument, including lively counter-rhythms played on the “dog” strings, long melodic notes, and haunting drones. At times, as in his own “Katzensilber”, he evokes a Philip Glass-like sound of delicate arpeggiated runs, mesmerizing in the same way that a good performance of Bach’s Prelude in C Major can be. His take on medieval music, as heard on “Salzarello”, an arrangement of a 14th century Italian dance, uses repeated motifs over the constant drones to balance the needs of straightforward dance music with the demands of modern art music listeners.
Matthias Loibner and Natasa Mirkovic-De Ro have released a wonderful recording of Schubert’s Winterreise for voice and hurdy-gurdy. It’s one of my favourite hurdy-gurdy recordings - but don’t take my word for it. Classics Today have written a glowing review of it:
Okay. A new recording of Schubert’s Winterreise. Fine. And a rare venture by a soprano—a Bosnian singer I’ve never heard of—into this song cycle’s near-exclusive male-voice domain. Terrific. And now, who’s the pianist? Wait a minute…there is no pianist. The accompanist is—a hurdy-gurdy-ist? On one hand this is brilliant: taking a cue from the cycle’s last song, the performers re-cast all of the songs to the plaintive, rustic, poignant sound of a real hurdy-gurdy, whose unique voice lends an eerie, earthy character that haunts the singer’s every mood and step and emotion. The droning, the crude yet spot-on articulation of melody, the rudimentary suggestion of Schubert’s harmony—all of this combined with soprano Nataša Mirkovic-De Ro’s extraordinary expressive versatility—adds up to a performance that successfully rethinks, reconstructs, and returns these songs to roots that even Schubert might not have known they had.
Christa Muths sent me this review of Spanish hurdy-gurdy player, Abel Garcia - probably the first hurdy-gurdy player to use it for playing flamenco!
The instrument and the music: the hurdy and flamenco have much in common, says Abel, who is the first hurdy gurdy player to play flamenco. Both, he says, the instrument and the music are of unknown origin and they share another characteristic: nomadism. Just like flamenco, the hurdy is linked to gypsy music and its “migrating personality” is fused with pagan, religion, folk and traditional music of many countries.
Abel’s ethnographic studies led him to investigate gypsy music which started in India and he followed its footprints across the Middle East, eastern and central Europe to the Iberian Peninsula and northern Maghreb. He studied the baglama in Istanbul under Devrim Aydin and Ergan Ogum and Efren Lopez in Spain and continued his musical range by studying Ottoman, Mevlevi, Turkish and also Greek music under Hristos Barbas and Stelios Petrakis.
Abel’s band Krama fuses Flamenco with sounds from Greece, Bulgaria and India. Spyros Kaniaris is the composer of some of the music the band plays and he plays different instruments such as the Flamenco guitar, pontros lira and the Camance. Playing the melody of these songs based on the fusion of Flamenco, Balcanic and Greek sounds forces the hurdy-gurdy player to find new ways to understand and play his instrument.
Abel Garcia also plays the hurdy in the “Compañia de Baile Flamenco Manuel Serena”, where the instrument mingles with the “cante” (vocals), the “toque” (guitar), the cajón flamenco and the dance developed by the company’s director, Manuel Serena.
Abel plays in other bands like ALM, a project with hurdy-gurdies, dolçainas and other string instruments like the lauto, the tar, the santur and the baglama.
Abel is a member of the group Afluencies which was rewarded with the Mediterranean Music Price at the Manresa Festival, and the Ovidi Montlor Price for the best folk album 2010.
Abel music ability covers a very wide range of styles, he collaborates with other Early Music projects like Ensemble Pelegrí (Early music of the three cultures), Longa Organa (oriental medieval music with electronic sound) and Short tale (rock band.)
Abel is also the musical producer of the soundtrack of some theatrical productions. In 2010 he produced the music for the play Miss Julie, by August Strindberg. The hurdy-gurdy is the starting point of the musical composition. Every single sound, melody, atmosphere and special effects come from the wheel and the keys of the hurdy-gurdy, thanks to the sound effects and the creative possibilities of the Loop Station.
Reader Christa Muths sent me a review of possibly the best hurdy-gurdy player in Spain, Marc Egea. All the text that follows is from Christa:
Marc Egea (Barcelona 1973) is the leading Catalan musician and composer playing the hurdy-gurdy.
Marc started playing the hurdy-gurdy when he was 22 and soon recognised its enormous possibilities and followed in the foot steps of the great French hurdy-gurdy master Valentin Clastrier. The hurdy-gurdy, a medieval instrument is widely played across Europe and the US as folk, dance and street music instrument.
Marc writes mainly in Catalan, but also in Spanish and uses in his compositions many of the traditional Catalan and Spanish instruments.
He plays a variety of traditions, types and styles of music and expands his range to Jazz, modern dance tunes, accompaniments to poetry and experimental music.
Before becoming a full time musician Marc studied philosophy at the University of Barcelona and with his band Kalakau he also plays “philosophical” music: these tunes are like meditation and they take you into a world of melody and rhythm as well as thought and reflection. You do not want the music to stop as the melody relaxes while the rhythm carries you to another level of awareness at the same time and the sequence of the music takes you into a world of calm and yet alert reflection.
When combining just the hurdy with his voice his songs create an electrifying field.
He has produced 8 CD’s, the newest one will be released shortly:
2001 - D’aquí, d’allà i de més enllà (hurdy-gurdy solo).
2003 - Les ratlles del món
2005 - Melanocetus (with Enric Canada, Ana Losantos, Franco Molinari, Enrique Tellería y Jordi Vallverdú)
His teaching book how to play the hurdy (Introducció a la viola de roda) was published in 2008 in Catalan, the sequence of the exercises are very helpful to learn to understand the instrument and its range.
Marc is not only an excellent technical musician, but he has a deep feeling for the instrument and for the effects of music and sound.
British Pathé: hurdy-gurdy footage from the 1950’s
Charming 1953 news footage of the International Eisteddfod in Llangollen, Wales, featuring footage of a number of French hurdy-gurdy players accompanying dancers (about 1 minute into the clip). See here.
And more footage, this one from French Week in Jersey - the “hokey kokey of its period”. See here.
and footage from the Paris Exhibition of 1937, including hurdy-gurdy and dancers. See here.
DSL - DOST Symphio(u)n, n. Also: sumphion. [Altered form of ME symphan (Manning), symfan (c1330), e.m.E. cymphan (1509), OF simphoine (OED), f. as SYMPHONY n.] = SYMPHONY n. a. —- Psaltery symphion & claroun … Befor the barne all playit thai; Seven S. 2523. Symphioun; ROLLAND Seven S. 627. Jhonn Robertsoun, thesaurer, to by and delyuer to John Mowatt, blindman, ane symphioun to play vpoun; 1582 Edinb. B. Rec. IV 564. —- With instruments melodious, The seistar and the sumphion [etc.]; BUREL Queen’s Entry 137
Volume III of “London Labour and the London Poor” by Victorian journalist Henry Mayhew has an interesting interview with a French hurdy-gurdy player from London circa 1850 (see pp.171-174). A touching insight into the life of a street musician. You can find the whole book on Google here but what follows is the relevant section:
French Hurdy-gurdy Player, With Dancing Children
“I play on the same instrument as the Savoyards play, only, you understand, you can have good and bad instruments; and to have a good one you must put the price. The one I play on cost me 60 francs in Paris. There are many more handsome, but none better. This is all that there is of the best. The man who made it has been dead sixty years. It is the time that makes the value of it.
“My wife plays on the violin. She is a very good player. I am her second husband. She is an Italian by birth. She played on the violin when she was with her first husband. He used to accompany her on the organ, and that produced a very fine effect.
“The hurdy-gurdy is like the violin - it improves with age. My wife told me that she once played on a very old violin, and the difference between that and her own was curious for sound. She was playing, with her husband accompanying her on the organ, near the chateau of an old marquis; and when he heard the sound of the violin he asked them in. Then he said, ‘Here, try my violin,’ and handed her the old violin. My wife said that when she touched it with the bow, she cried, ‘Ah, how fine it is!’ It was the greatest enjoyment she had known for years. You understand, the good violins all bridge where the bridge is placed, but the new violins sink there, and the tune is altered by it. They call the violins that sink the ‘consumptive’ ones.
“I am Dijon. The vineyard of Clos Nangent is near to Dijon. You have heard of that wine. Oh, yes, of course you have! That clos belongs to a young man of twenty-two, and he could sell it for 2,500,000 francs if he liked. At Dijon the bottles sell for 7 francs.
“My mother and father did not live happily together. My father died when I had three years, and then my mother, who only had twenty years of age, married again, and you know how it often happens, the second father does not love the first family of his wife. Some Savoyards passed through our village, and I was sold to them. I was their slave for ten years. I learned to play the hurdy-gurdy with them. I used to accompany an organ. I picked out note for note with the organ. When I heard an air, too, which I liked, I used to go to my room and follow the air from my memory upon the instrument. I went to Paris afterwards.
“You see I play on only one string in my hurdy-gurdy. Those which the Savoyards play have several strings, and that is what makes them drone. The hurdy-gurdy is the same as the violin in principle. You see the wheel of wood which I turn with the handle is like its bow, for it grates on the string, and the keys press on the string like the fingers, and produce the notes. I used to play on a droning hurdy-gurdy at first, but one night I went into a cafe at Paris, and the gentlemen there cried out, ‘Ah! the noise!’ Then I thought to myself - I had fifteen years - if I play on one string it will not produce so much noise as on two. Then I removed one string, and when I went the next night the gentlemen said ‘Ah, that is much better!’ and that is why I play on one string.
“I used to sing in Paris. I learnt all that of new in the style of romances, and I accompanied myself on the hurdy-gurdy. At Paris I met my wife. She was a widow then. I told her I would marry her when her mourning was over, which lasted nine months. I was not twenty then. I went about playing at cafes, and put by money. But when we went to be married, the priests would not marry us unless we had our parents’ consents. I did not know whether my mother was dead. I hunted everywhere. As I could not find out, I lived with my wife the same as if we had been married. I am married to her now, but my children were all born before marriage. At last I went to the Catholic priest at Dover, and told him my life, and that I had four children, and wished to marry my wife, and he consented to marry us if I would get the consent of the priest of the place where I had lived last. That was Calais, and I wrote to the priest there, and he gave his consent, and now my children are legitimate. By the law of France, a marriage makes legitimate all the children born by the woman with whom you are united. My children were present at my marriage, and that produced a very droll effect. I have always been faithful to my wife, and she to me, though we were not married.
“When my wife is well, she goes out with me, and plays on the violin. It produces a very good effect. She plays the seconds. But she has so much to do at home with the children, that she does not come out with me much.
“My age is twenty-five, and I have voyaged for seventeen years. There are three months since I came in England. I was at Calais and at Boulogne, and it is there that I had the idea to come to England. Many persons who counselled us, told us that in England we should gain a great deal of money. That is why I came. It took three weeks before I could get the permission to be married, and during that time I worked at the different towns. I did pretty well at Dover; and after that I went to Ramsgate, and I did very well there. Yes, I took a great deal of money on the sands of a morning. I have been married a month now - for I left Ramsgate to go to be married. At Ramsgate they understood my playing. Unless I have educated people to play to, I do not make much success with my instrument. I play before a public-house, or before a cottage, and they say, ‘That’s all very well;’ but they do not know that to make a hurdy-gurdy sound like a violin requires great art and patience. Besides, I play airs from operas, and they do not know the Italian music. Now if I was alone with my hurdy-gurdy, I should only gain a few pence; but it is by my children that I do pretty well.
“We came to London when the season was over in the country, and now we go everywhere in the town. I cannot speak English; but I have my address in my pocket, if I lose myself. Je m’elance dans la ville. To day I went by a big park, where there is a chateau of the Queen. If I lose my way, I show my written address, and they go on speaking English, but I do the pointed finger; and when I get near home, then I recognise the quarter.
“My little girl will have six years next February, and the little boy is only four years and a-half. She is a very clever little girl, and she notices everything. Before I was married, shed heard me speaking to my wife about when we were to be married; and she’d say, constantly, ‘Ah, papa, when are you going to be married to mamma?’ We had a pudding on our marriage-day, and she liked it so much that now she very often says, ‘Oh, papa, I should like a pudding like that I had when you married mamma.’ That is compromising, but she doesn’t know any better.
“It was my little girl Eugenie who taught her brother Paul to dance. He liked it very much; but he is young yet, and heavy in his movements; but she is graceful, and very clever. At Boulogne she was much beloved, and the English ladies would give her packets of sugar-plums and cakes. When they dance, they first of all polk together, and then they do the Varsovienne together, and after that she does the Cachuca and the Mazurka alone. I first of all taught my girl to do the Polka, for in my time I like the dance pretty well. As soon as the girl had learnt it, she taught her brother. They like dancing above all, when I encourage them, for I say, ‘Now, my children, dance well; and, above all, dance gracefully, and then I will buy you some cakes.’ Then, if they take a fancy to anything, if it is not too dear, I buy it for them, and that encourages them. Besides, when she says ‘Papa, when shall we go to France and see my little brother who is out at nurse?’ then I say, ‘When we have earned enough money; so you must dance well, and, above all, gracefully, and when we have taken plenty of money we will be off.’ That encourages them, for they like to see me take plenty of money. The little girl accompanies the music on the castanets in the Cachuca. It is astonishing how well she plays them. I have heard grown-up artists in the cafes chantants, who don’t play them as well as she does. It is wonderful in so young a child. You will say she has learnt my style of playing on the hurdy-gurdy, and my movements; but it is the same thing, for she is as clever to other music. Sometimes, when she has danced, ladies come up and kiss her, and even carry her off into their houses, and I have to wait hours for her. When she sees that I gain money, she has much more courage. When the little girl has done dancing with my Paul, then he, when she is dancing alone, takes the plate and asks for money. He is very laughable, for he can already say, ‘If you please, misses.‘ Sometimes the ladies begin to speak to him, he says, ‘Yes! yes!’ three or four times, and then he runs up to me and says, ‘Papa, that lady speaks English;’ and then I have to say, ‘No speak English.‘ But he is contented if he hears anybody speak French. Then he runs up to me, and says, ‘Papa, papa, Monsieur speaks French.’
“My little girl has embroidered trowsers and petticoats. You won’t believe it, but I worked all that. The ends of the trowsers, the trimmings to her petticoats, her collars and sleeves, all I have worked. I do it at night, when we get home. The evenings are long and I do a little, and at the end of the week it becomes much. If I had to buy that it would cost too much. It was my wife who taught me to do it. She said the children must be well dressed, and we have no money to buy these things. Then she taught me: at first is seemed droll to me, and I was ashamed, but then I thought, I do it for my business; and now I am accustomed to do it. You would fancy, too, that the children are cold, going about in the streets dressed as they are, but then the jumping warms them. They would tell me directly if they were cold. I always ask them.
“The day I was married a very singular circumstance happened. I had bought my wife a new dress, and she, poor thing, sat up all night to make it. All night! It cost me five shillings, the stuff did. I had a very bad coat, and she kept saying, ‘I shall be gay, but you, my poor friend, how will you look?’ My coat was very old. I said, ‘I shall do as I am;’ but it made her sad that I had no coat to appear in style at our marriage. Our landlord offered to lend me his coat, but he was twice as stout as I am, and I looked worse than in my own coat. Just as we were going to start for the church, a man came to the house with a coat to sell - the same as I have on now. The landlord sent him to me. It is nearly new, and had not been on more than three or four times. He asked 12s., and I offered 8s.; at last he took 9s. My wife, who is very religious, said, ‘It is the good God who sent that man, to reward us for always trying to get married.’
“Since I have been here, my affairs have gone pretty well. I have taken some days 5s., others 6s., and even 8s.; but then some days rain has fallen, and on others it has been wet under foot, and I have only taken 4s. My general sum is 5s. 6d. the day, or 6s. Every night when I get home I give my wife what I have taken, and I say, ‘Here, my girl, is 3s. for to-morrow’s food,’ and then we put the remainder on one side to save up. We pay 5s. a-week for our room, and that is dear, for we are there very bad! very bad! for we sleep almost on the boards. It is lonely for her to be by herself in the day, but she is near her confinement, and she cannot go out.
“It makes me laugh, when I think of our first coming to this country. She only wore linen caps, but I was obliged to buy her a bonnet. It was a very good straw one, and cost 1s. It made her laugh to see everybody wearing a bonnet.
“When I first got to London, I did not know where to go to get lodgings. I speak Italian very well, for my wife taught me. I spoke to an Italian at Ramsgate, and he told me to go to Woolwich, and there I found an Italian lodging-house. There the landlord gave me a letter to a friend in London, and I went and paid 2s. 6d. in advance, and took the room, and when we went there to live I gave another 2s. 6d., so as to pay the 5s. in advance. It seems strange to us to have to pay rent in advance - but it is a custom.
“It costs me something to clothe my children. My girl has six different skirts, all of silk, of different colours, grey, blue, red, and yellow. They last the year. The artificial flowers on her head are arranged by her mamma. The boots cost the most money. She has a pair every month. Here they are 3s., but in France they are dearer. It is about the same for the little boy; only as he does not work as much as his sister, he is not dressed in so distinguished a style. He is clean, but not so elegant, for we give the best to the girl.
“My children are very good at home. Their mother adores them, and lets them do as they like. They are very good, indeed.
“On Sunday, they are dressed like other children. In the morning we go to mass, and then we go and walk a little, and see London. I have, as yet, made no friends in London. I know no French people. I have met some, but they don’t speak to me. We confine ourselves to our family.
“When I am in the streets with good houses in them, and see anybody looking at the windows, then if I see them listening, I play pieces from the operas on my hurdy-gurdy. I do this between the dances. Those who go to the opera and frequent the theatres, like to hear distinguished music.”
Graham Whyte has posted a wonderful piece on “Old Sarah” - a blind hurdy-gurdy player from London, born in 1786, taken from “London Labour and the London Poor” by Henry Mayhew.
“ I was born the 4th April, 1786 (it was Good Friday that year), at a small chandler’s shop, facing the White Horse, Stuart’s-rents, Drury-lane. Father was a hatter, and mother an artificial-flower maker and feather finisher. When I was but a day old, the nurse took me out of the warm bed and carried me to the window, to show some people how like I was to father. The cold flew to my eyes and I caught inflammation in them. Owing to mother being forced to be from home all day at her work, I was put out to dry-nurse when I was three weeks old. My eyes were then very bad, by all accounts, and some neighbours told the woman I was with, that Turner’s cerate would do them good. She got some and put it on my eyes, and when poor mother came to suckle me at her dinner-hour, my eyes was all ‘a gore of blood.’ From that time I never see afterwards. She did it, poor woman, for the best; it was no fault of her’n, and I’m sure I bears her no malice for it. I stayed at home with mother until I was thirteen, when I was put to the Blind-school, but I only kept there nine months; they turned me out because I was not clever with my hands, and I could not learn to spin or make sash-lines; my hands was ocker’d like”
More here and Google books scan of original article here.