Library Collections: Document: Full Text

Idiocy: And Its Treatment By The Physiological Method

Creator: Edward Seguin (author)
Date: 1907
Publisher: Teachers' College, Columbia University
Source: Available at selected libraries

Previous Page   Next Page   All Pages 

Page 3:


If we turn our attention from these monuments of philanthropy to the filiation of the abstract idea realized by their erection, we see a spectacle more imposing still. That idea of finding modes of training, natural and yet powerful enough to bring into physiological activity impaired functions, and even atrophied organisms, did not come directly into the human mind. Like nearly all discoveries, it came by side-views of the problem, till a man looking at it in full face solved it by a mighty effort.


Thus the institutions for deaf mutes of Paris, Gröningen, Bordeaux, Hartford (Conn.), etc., have been cumbered from their beginning with applications for the admission of idiots, and have kept the record of the improvement of some of them, educated side by side with the deaf, by the ordinary process of teaching; trials dear to charity, like those of private individuals, but deprived of philosophical import. On the other hand, how often children, rendered artificially idiotic or imbecile by ill-treatment and isolation in many forms, have excited the pity of their age, and thereby were made recipients of the care of the most philosophical minds. Everybody will discriminate between these two antecedents; the former doing good to individuals, the latter preparing the way for the discovery.


The record of these latter children is scant as well as imperfect, extending to a period in which scientific observation was nearly unknown. We owe to the great Linnaeus a list of ten of these phenomena which he, curiously enough, considered as forming a variety in the genus Homo. We are indebted to Bonaterre, Professor of Natural History in the Central School of the Department of Aveyron, France, for his quotation of it, for curious researches upon each one of these ten savages, and for his own notice of the eleventh, "The Savage of the Aveyron." We transcribe from our own copy of that extremely rare pamphlet.


1st. Juvenis Lupinus Hessensis. 1544. (A young man found in Hesse among wolves.)


2d. Juvenis Ursinus Lithuanus. 1661. (A young man found among bears in Lithuania.)


3d. Juvenis Ovinus Hibernus. Tulp. Obs. IV. (A young man found among wild sheep in Ireland.)


4th. Juvenis Bovinus Bambergensis. Camerar. (A young man found among herds of oxen near Bamberg.)


5th. Juvenis Hannoverianus. 1724. (A young man found in Hanover.)


6th. Lueri Pyrenaici. 1719. (Two boys found in the Pyrenees.)


7th. Puella Transisalana. 1717. (A girl found in the Dutch Province of Over-Yssel.)


8th. Puella Campanica. 1731. (A girl found in Champagne and since named Mile. Leblanc.)


9th. Johannes Leodisensis. Boerhaave. (John of Liege.)


10th. Puella Karpfensis. 1767. (The girl of Karpfen.)


11th. Juvenis Averionensis. Anno Reipublicce Gallicce octavo. (The savage of the Aveyron, in the year eighth of the French Republic.)


It would be curious, but unprofitable, to follow the scanty traces of method and education left in the legends concerning the ten first cases. "Such was," says Itard, "in those remote times the defective march of studies, the mania of explanation, the uncertainty of hypothesis, the exclusiveness of abstract thinking, that observation was set at naught, and these precious facts were lost for the natural history of man." But the rooted faith in which Itard himself was an adept, that if a true savage -- meaning a savage, savage even to savage tribes -- could be found, his education would evidence the natural springs of the human mind, obliterated in us by artificial culture; that faith, which lighted before the psychologist the same Ignis Fatuus that the philosopher's stone raised before the alchemist, gives a sure guarantee that none of the means those times could afford were spared to develop the faculties long dormant in these unfortunates, under the cover of animal instinct and habit. But we have to come to the eleventh case, that of the Savage of the Aveyron, to emerge from fiction into history; there we begin to feel that we are on scientific ground. The first part of his biography, written previously to his education by the man of clear and simple talent already named, Prof. Bonaterre, and the second and third parts by his inimitable teacher, constitute the most complete record of any such case.


Prof. Bonaterre represents his protégé as unused to our food, and selecting his aliments by the smell, like the savages of Ireland, Hanover, and Liege; lying flat on the ground, and immersing his chin in the water to drink, as did the girl of Chalons in Champagne; and like her tearing all sorts of garments and trying constantly to escape; walking often on all fours, like the boys of Ireland, Hesse, and Bamberg; fighting with his teeth, like the savages of Lithuania and Bamberg; giving few marks of intelligence, like the Lithuanian child; having no articulate language, and even appearing devoid of the natural faculty of speech, like the savages of Ireland, Lithuania, and Hanover; kind, complaisant, and pleased at receiving caresses, like the girl of Over-Yssel. The Professor also thought that, (1) "a phenomenon like this would furnish to philosophy and natural history important notions on the original constitution of man, and on the development of his primitive faculties; provided that the state of imbecility we have noticed in this child does not offer an obstacle to his instruction."

(1) Bonaterre; Notice Historique sur le Sauvage de l'Aveyron. Paris. 1799. P.50.

Previous Page   Next Page

Pages:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  39  40  41  42  43  44  45  46  47  48  49  50  51  52  53  54  55  56  57  58  59  60  61  62  63  64  65  66  67  68  69  70  71  72  73  74  75  76  77  78  79  80    All Pages