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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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That which most essentially constitutes idiocy, is the absence of moral volition, superseded by a negative will; that in which the treatment of an idiot essentially consist is, in changing his negative will into an affirmative one, his will of loneliness into a will of socia-bility and usefulness; such is the object of the moral training.


The idiot wishes for nothing, he wishes only to remain in his vacu-ity. To treat successfully this ill will, the physician wills that the idiot should act, and think himself, of himself and finally by himself. The incessant volition of the moral physician urges incessantly the idiot out of his idiocy into the sphere of activity, of thinking, of labor, of duty and of affectionate feelings; such is the moral treat-ment. The negative will of the idiot being overcome, scope and encouragement being given to his first indications of active volition, the immoral tendencies of this new power being repressed, his mix-ing with the busy and living word is to be urged on at every opportunity. This moral part of the training is not something separate, but is the necessary attendant; and super-addition upon all the other parts of the training, whether we teach him to read, whether we play with him the childish game, let our will govern his, if we will enough for himself, he shall become willing too.


The importance of this, the moral treatment, has led to inquire into its origin. Long before the physician had conceived the plan of correcting the false ideas and feelings of a lunatic by purgatives, or the cranial depressions of an idiot by bleeding, Spain had produced several generations of monks, who treated, with the greatest success, all kinds of mental diseases, without drugs, by moral training alone. Certain regular labors, the performance of simple and assiduous duties, an enlightened and sovereign volition, watching constantly over the patients -- such were the only remedies employed. "We cure almost all of our lunatics," said the good fathers, "except the nobles, who would think themselves dishonored by working with their hands." Last and fatal word of an expiring aristocracy, -- "Idleness or death," cried she, even in her insanity, and soon the people answered, "Die, then, for those alone who labor have a right to Life and Liberty."


Is it not a strange thing to contemplate! -- These men, withdrawn from the world and from human science, without other knowledge than that of the Christian charity, -- but in the fullness of their only and holy duty, giving to the insane, calmness in the place of fury, atten-tion in the place of dementia, useful labor in the place of impulse to destruction; thus, in fact, driving out the demons from these wander-ing souls. They knew nothing, these poor monks who said to their patients -- "In the name of God the creator and orderer, control thy actions. -- In the name of God, the great thinker of the universe, con-trol thy thoughts. -- In the name of God, the great lover, control thy passions." These poor monks knew only to act in virtue of their faith, and we -- who have with the sublime but blind faith, the reason for its exercise, we do no better than they did, only we know why and how we do it, when we apply their treatment to the idiot.


Thus, thanks to the idiots, that which was, in the hands of the monks of Spain, a divine mystery, is become a fundamental principle of anthropological science. Such is the origin, partly divine and partly human, of the treatment and education of idiots, though we can clearly see that God is at the bottom of this and of all our great discoveries.

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