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Origin Of The Treatment And Training Of Idiots

Creator: Edward Seguin (author)
Date: 1856
Publication: American Journal of Education
Source: Available at selected libraries

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When Guersant offered me the perilous honor of continuing the unfinished labor of Itard, I was just recovering from an illness, thought at one time to be mortal. However, the desire of sending my name to the ears of one whom I expected never to see again, gave me strength to attempt the enterprise. Itard communicated to me the details of what he had done with his first pupils, and I studied all that had been attempted or performed after him.


Gall, giving a strong impulse to the investigation of the functions of the brain, had called up the question of the cause of idiocy: a skillful theorist, he thought he had discovered in idiots proofs of the truth of his system of phrenology. The authors who succeeded him, Georget, Fsquirol, Lelut, Foville, Calmeil, Leuret, Pritchard, seem, on the contrary, to have studied idiocy only to use its phenomena for the destruction of the system of Gall, but not for the benefit of the poor idiots, whom they declared incurable. With their single polemical object in view, they spent thirty years in measuring and weighing the heads of living and dead idiots, and they arrived at the following conclusions --


1. No constant relation exists between the general development of ti1e cranium and the degree of intelligence.


2. The dimensions of the anterior part of the cranium, and especi-ally of the forehead, are, at least, as great among idiots as among others.


3. Three-fifths of idiots have larger heads than men of ordinary intelligence.


4. There is no constant relation between the degree of intelligence and the weight of the brain.


5. The different degrees of idiocy are not measurable by the weight of the brain.


6. A cranium, perfectly formed, often encloses a brain imperfectly formed, irregular, &c.


7. Sometimes the brain of idiots presents no deviation in form, color, and density from the normal standard; it is, in fact, perfectly normal.


All these anatomo-psychological facts they professed to have estab-lished;* but, of the education and treatment of idiots, not a new word was uttered during thirty-five years. At the end of that time my first labors were performed in the studio of Itard, where he bestowed on me the most valuable gift an old man can offer to a young one, -- the practical result of his experience.


*See compendium of practical medicine, by Monneret et Fleury.


Itard was often sublime during these interviews, when a prey to horrible sufferings, symptoms of his fatal malady, he discussed with me the highest questions. his features would contract, and his body writhe in his anguish, but his mind never lost his clearness and pre-cision for a moment. I there learned the secret of his influence over the idiots, as I did that of his weakness in philosophy, till the time when he died at Passy, in 1838.


The desire of knowing if mental medicine had no better remedies than his writings, for my first patients, induced me to conduct them to Esquirol, to whom we went every week. Esquirol, the oracle of the mental medicine, had nothing to teach me; but, he was a man of exquisite tact, and lie gave me most excellent counsels upon the appli-cation of the processes which I suggested to him. His approbation encouraged me in my efforts, while I was maturing in my mind the theory which he never knew.


This theory, my only superiority over my predecessors, is no more separated from the men of our times, than were my early experiments from the men of the preceding generation.


The "new Christianity," by St. Simon, the oral and written lessons of his now lamented disciple, Olinde Rodrigue; the "philosophy of history," by president Buchez; the "encyclopaedic review," by Carnot and Charton; the "popular encyclopaedia" of Pierre Leroux and Jean Reynaud, -- my familiarity with all these, except the first, -- such are the living springs whence I drew the elements of my initiation to the mysteries of the laws of philosophical medicine.


The bases of these laws are these: unity of God, manifested in his three principal attributes; unity of man in his three manifestations of being; the idiot, like other men, a likeness of God, infirm in the modes of expression of his trinity. 1st. Infirm in his mobility and sensibility. 2d. Infirm in his perception and his reasoning. 3d. In-firm in his afflictions and will. One and triple infirmity, reparable in the individual, as it was in the human race, for the idiot by a proper training, for mankind under the sweet, but terrible lessons which his-tory records.


Is it not worthy of the spirit of the nineteenth century, thus to make the idiot, -- this creature which, up to the present time, has been looked upon with disgust, -- serve to enlighten the science of anthro-pology, to prove that the true theory of man's nature is derived from a better knowledge of the Divinity, and thus to withdraw one of those veils spread between us and our Creator, called mysteries now, but which the future generations will recognize as truths.


But, it is not sufficient to have discovered the true philosophical principle; it is necessary to apply it. In this application, pure prac-tical work, tested only by experience and comparison, all that was not historically and chronologically in its place, was recognized as false, useless, and impossible. After such an elimination of every arbitrary means of instruction and progress, the treatment of the idiot then followed the same march which the education of the human race had been pursuing during the lapse of ages. So, the first necessity of a people and of an individual, is that of an active and sensitive force, by which man is enabled to go, act, combat, and triumph. This necessity caused, for the primitive races, the introduction of athletic sports and exercises; traces of which we find even on the monuments of Thebes and Luxor. Upon these gymnastics of the primitive peoples, was founded the first steps in the education of idiots.

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