This section is from the book "Human Physiology For The Use Of Elementary Schools", by Charles Alfred Lee. Also available from Amazon: Human Physiology, for the Use of Elementary Schools.
9. The property of touch belongs to every part of the body, though the hand is considered as its special organ. The great number of bones of which it is composed, make it susceptible of every variety of motion, by which it changes its form, and adapts itself to the inequalities of the surfaces of bodies. What is called the pulp of the fingers, seems composed chiefly of a tissue of blood vessels and nerves, covered by the cuticle and mucous web, and supported by the nails. The delicacy of touch is vastly improved by education and practice. This is shown in the case of the blind, who often can distinguish by touch the different colours, and even their different shades. This will not appear impossible when we consider that difference of colour may depend on the dispositions, arrangement, and number of the little inequalities which roughen the surface of bodies, even of such as appear the most polished, and thus fit them to reflect certain rays of light, while they absorb the others. That the exercise of this sense is a gratification to the young, is apparent from the eagerness with which the child stretches out his little hands to all the objects within his reach, and the pleasure he seems to take in touching them, in all their parts, and running over all their surfaces*
10. I have already mentioned that the external surface of the body is endowed with this special sensibility, not only that it might furnish us with a knowledge of the characters of external objects, and so lead us to avoid dangers which surround us, but also to be a source of positive pleasure. Though in the acuteness of the other senses many animals surpass man, yet in the exquisite sensibility of his skin, man stands unrivalled. " The skin of man," says Majendie, " is more delicate, fuller of nerves than that of the mammiferae ; its surface is covered only by the epidermis, insensible indeed, but so thin, that it does not intercept sensation, whilst the hairs which cover so thickly the body of quadrupeds, the feathers which clothe that of birds, quite deaden it. The hand of man, that admirable instrument of his intelligence, of which the structure has appeared to some philosophers, to explain sufficiently his superiority over all living species; the hand of man, naked, and divided into many moveable parts, capable of changing every moment its form, of exactly embracing the surface of bodies, is much fitter for ascertaining their tangible qualities, than the foot of the quadruped, inclosed in a horny substance, or than that of a bird, covered with scales too thick not to blunt all sensation."
11. The hand then, is the chief organ of touch, and in the ends of the fingers it resides in the greatest perfection. Thus we see that the blind are able to read with facility by passing their fingers over the letters, which are raised by a particular kind of type. In this manner they acquire a knowledge of geography, arithmetic, reading, and the usual branches of education, not often met with even in those who have the use of their eyes as well as their hands.
12. Buffon, the celebrated naturalist, thought so much of the sense of touch, that he believed the cause, why one person has more intellect than another is, his having made better use of his hands from early infancy. Other philosophers, as Majendie states, have ascribed man's superiority over animals, and his intelligence, to the fact that he possesses a hand. But the hand is only the instrument of the mind, the agent of the will; it can only execute ; the mind must plan. Besides, the idiot has sometimes the sense of touch more delicate than the man of genius, or than the most skilful artist; while some of the most ingenious artists have by no means, the most delicate touch. Galen truly says, that man had hands given him because he was the wisest creature ; but he was not the wisest creature because he had hands.*
13. The following cases prove that hands are not indispensable to genius, and that the human mind can even triumph over the imperfections of the body. A few years since a Miss Biffin was exhibited in London, who was entirely destitute of both upper and lower extremities; and yet she was very intelligent and ingenious. She could hem stitch with the greatest facility, turning the needle very rapidly in her mouth, and inserting it by means of her teeth. She also painted miniatures faithfully and beautifully, holding the pencil between her head and neek. All her motions in fact were confined to the tongue and the lips, and to the muscles of the neck. "
14. In the year 1825 there was a young artist in Paris, who had no hands or arms, and only four toes on each foot; and yet he sketched and painted beautifully with his feet. I have myself seen a young lady, born without arms, who had acquired so much skill in the use of the scissors as to be able, by holding them in her mouth, to cut likenesses, watch papers, flowers, etc. She would also draw and write, and execute all kinds of needle work with her mouth. A boy was not long since exhibited in the museum of this city, who performed all these things with his toes. This shows that other parts of the body besides the fingers, are capable of acquiring great delicacy of touch.
*On this subject Dr. E'liotson remarks, "As philosophers have ascribed the superiority of man's intellect to his hand, and of the elephant's to its trunk, the constructiveness of the beaver to its tail, and the ferocity of the tiger to its teeth and claws, the poor man may be excused who was lately executed at Chelmsford, and left the following directions. " I, Edward Clarke, now in a few hours expecting to die, do sincerely wish, as my last request, that three of my fingers be given to my three children, as a warning to them, as my fingers were the cause of bringing myself to the gallows, and my children to poverty."
15. In animals, the organ of touch varies. In the ape tribe it is similar to that of man. In some quadrupeds it is seated in the lips, snout, or proboscis, as in the horse, the hog, the mole, the rhinoceros, and the elephant. Indeed, the trunk of the elephant comes very near to the human hand in nicety of touch, and delicacy of perception. The bat is remarkable for sensibility of touch. It has been found that if its eyes were destroyed and its ears and nostrils shut up, it would fly through intricate passages, without striking against the walls, and avoid every object placed in its way. This faculty is supposed to be owing to the great delicacy of touch residing in the membrane of the wings, which feels instantaneously any change produced in the resistance of the air,