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In Memory Of Edouard Seguin, M.D.

Creator: n/a
Date: 1880
Publication: Proceedings of the Association of Medical Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Persons
Source: Available at selected libraries
Figures From This Artifact: Figure 1




Dr. Edouard O. Seguin died on Thursday, October 28, 1880, at his home, No. 58 West 57th Street, New York. His last illness was acute dysentery of about two weeks' duration. There is every reason to believe that he soon foresaw the fatal issue, as he prepared himself for the end with intelligence and calmness.


Dr. Seguin's last conscious hours were tranquil; no anxiety, or fear, or doubt appeared in his manner and conversation. He passed away peacefully, surrounded by those whom he loved.


On October 31st a large number of the friends of the deceased assembled at the house of his son, Dr. Edward C. Seguin, and a lay funeral service was held. Addresses on the life and character of Dr. Seguin were made, and it is these loving tributes which are now offered to the same friends in print.


The remarks of Dr. Brockett were read by Dr. J. Marion Sims, who also spoke a few words of kindness and affection.


The ceremony was opened by the following explanatory remarks by Dr. E. C. Seguin:


My friends: To some of you it may not be known that my dear father, whose memory you honor by coming here, had been a deliberate and consistent free-thinker throughout his adult life. He was not an atheist, but he rejected all religious theories and practices.


He worshipped truth and honor, and his life was steadfastly guided by moral principles and love for his fellow-men. While holding firmly to his philosophic ideas of life, he was truly respectful of the faith which others were able to exercise, and he never, to my knowledge, made a deliberate attempt to destroy it in his acquaintances.


At the close of such a life, it seemed to his family that to hold a religious service over his remains would be a contradiction. We therefore decided to have a lay service, in which several of my father's old and dear friends will speak to you of his character and his work with words coming from the heart.




AMONG the names inscribed in "The Angel's Book of Gold, as those who loved their fellow-men," there is none more worthy of such record than his, upon whose features, now pale and still, we look for the last time, as we pay him the tribute of love and honor.


Engaged for forty-three years in a philanthropic enterprise of the highest importance, though, so far as he was concerned, wholly unremunerative, Dr. Seguin had held persistently to his great purpose, through evil report and good report, amid obstacles and difficulties which would have utterly discouraged most men; and dedicated his last days, as he had his earliest years of professional life, to the noble work of restoring the arrested development of idiot children, and training them up for a life of greater intelligence.


In all this work of so many long years, there was nothing of self-seeking, no itching for notoriety, no complaining or repining at misfortunes and failures, no sourness or bitterness against the world for its want of appreciation of him. He had none of the traits of the philanthropist by profession; none of the disposition which prompts so many men who imagine that they have done the world some great service, to thrust themselves prominently before the public. He was simply a modest, cultivated and refined gentleman who never seemed conscious of having done anything remarkable. He was, moreover, one of the most benevolent and unselfish of men, and though he could flame out at a white heat at any great wrong or injustice done to others, that must have been the most intimate of his friends who ever heard him allude to any injustice done to himself. His philosophical spirit enabled him to bear patiently the disappointments, and they were many, which befell his most cherished plans, and to wait patiently and cheerfully for a better opportunity.


Edouard Seguin, M.D., was born at Clamecy, department of Nièvre, France, January 20, 1812. He was of excellent family, and his ancestors for several generations had been eminent as physicians, ranking at the head of their profession in the department. Edouard received a very thorough education at the college of Auxerre, and at that of St. Louis in Paris. He then commenced the study of medicine, having the celebrated Itard for his perceptor, and being subsequently associated with Esquirol, the distinguished psychologist and alienist, in his investigations. He had imbibed from his preceptor, Itard, a great fondness for psychological studies, and while reviewing Itard's apparently fruitless experiments and efforts for the instruction of the idiot youth, known as the Savage of Aveyron, his genius led him to the great discoveries which Itard had failed to make, viz.: that idiocy was not the result of deficiency or malformation of the brain or nervous system, but was simply an arrest of mental development, occurring either before, at, or after birth, induced in a variety of ways and by differing causes; that this arrested development could be overcome by appropriate treatment and the idiot restored to society and life, if not to the highest intelligence. This restoration, he believed, could be accomplished by a careful physiological training of all the senses. It is doubtful if Itard was wholly converted to these views, which explained the reason of the failures of Vincent de Paul and others who had attempted, without success, to instruct and improve idiot children; but Esquirol was so much delighted with them, that he obtained for him the opportunity to make experiments to prove his theories, at the Hospice de Bicêtre, and in his first pamphlet associated his own name, already illustrious, with that of the young physician (1838). Dr. Seguin pursued his experiments with great zeal and persistence, but as they were wholly at his own cost, he maintained himself and his pupils by such general practice of his profession as he could command, and by literary labor, being for several years art critic of one of the leading journals of Paris, and also a vigorous and earnest writer of articles on political and politico-economical subjects. He soon became associated with a coterie of the most brilliant young men who had engaged in the literary profession in Paris since the Revolution. Among them were Ledru Rollin, Pierre Leroux, Louis Blanc, Michel Chevalier, the elder Flourens, Jean Reynaud, and Victor Hugo who, though somewhat older, was a welcome member of the group. Of this band of brothers, all of whom in after years attained distinction, Edouard Seguin was the youngest, but not in spite of his modesty, the least brilliant member. They had all accepted the teachings of Saint Simon and his successors, the Père Enfantin and Olinde Rodrigue, in philosophy and political economy, and were strong in their faith of the speedy ascendancy of a republic, founded on the principle of the greatest good to the greatest number.


Of the whole number, we believe, only Louis Blanc and Victor Hugo now remain. The others have mingled largely in political life, and some of them have achieved a great reputation in literature; but none have adhered, with so steady a purpose, to the object they had made the work of their lives, as the brilliant, refined and accomplished young physician who was, at that time, endeavoring to rescue from their filth and degradation the idiot children of the Hospice des Incurables and the Hospice de Bicêtre. After seven years of this patient work, and the publication of two or three pamphlets on the subject, a commission from the Academy of Sciences of Paris, consisting of Messrs. Serres, Flourens and Pariset in 1844, examined, critically and thoroughly, his method of training and educating idiot children, and reported to the Academy, giving it the highest commendation and declaring that up to the time when he commenced his labors (1837) idiots could not be educated or cured by any means previously known or practised, but that he had solved the problem. His work thus approved by the highest scientific authority, Dr. Seguin continued his philanthropic labors in Paris for some years, his school being almost constantly visited by teachers and philanthropists of his own and other nations, and his methods bearing the test of experience, schools for idiots were established very soon, based upon these methods, in England and several countries of the continent. To aid in this good work he prepared and published in 1846 his great treatise, Traitement Moral, Hygiène, et Education des Idiots, et des autres Enfants arrièrés, which was crowned by the Academy, and which has continued to be the standard text-book for all interested in the education of idiots to the present time.


Most of his abundant literary labor during the period between 1839 and 1849 was designed directly or indirectly to benefit his helpless clients, the idiotic children. In 1850, finding that the Prince President with whom in his humble days he had been associated in republican enterprises, which as Louis Napoleon he now found it convenient to persecute, was bitterly hostile to the friends and associates of his youth Dr. Seguin came to the United States, visited and aided by his suggestions in the more complete organization of the School for Idiotic Children in South Boston, the Institution for Feeble-Minded Youth at Barre, Mass. and the Experimental School then just being established by Dr. Wilbur at Albany, all of which owed their existence, wholly or in part, either to his school at the Hospice des Incurables, or to his treatise, or both.


In 1851 he went to Cleveland, Ohio, where he entered upon the general practice of his profession, for which he was eminently qualified. But his heart was too deeply interested for his helpless and unfortunate protégés to permit him to rest without constant and earnest effort for their rescue; and from 1854 to 1857 we find him at the Syracuse Institution, aiding Dr. Wilbur in teaching and training idiotic children, assisting in the establishment of new institutions in Connecticut, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and for a time at the head of the latter institution. In 1857 he revisited France, but soon returned to this country. In 1860 he settled again in the practice of his profession at Mount Vernon, N. Y., from whence he removed to New York. His thorough knowledge and rare skill in his profession, coupled with his pleasant and engaging address, would soon have won for him a large practice either in city or country, but his heart still plead so loudly for the idiot children that he could not give them up. He endeavored to improve the condition of the neglected children of the Idiot Asylum at Randall's Island, and to train teachers for them, visited and noted every step of progress in the various institutions for idiots in the United States, and was constantly in correspondence with European institutions. Meanwhile he had been studying the wider application of his "Physiological Method" to the education of children in general. This was foreshadowed in his able and valuable treatise on "Idiocy and its Treatment by the Physiological Method," New York, 1866, a work which all teachers would do well to study; and in his later publications which, though sometimes on professional topics, yet show conclusively the bent of his intellect toward the favorite topic of education.


Among his later works are: "Idiocy, its Diagnosis and Treatment by the Physiological Method," read before the New York State Medical Society in 1864; "New Facts and Remarks Concerning Idiocy" (1869); "Wunderlich's Medical Thermometry, with large additions," in 1871, followed by "Family Thermometry, a Manual of Thermometry" in 1873, and a large and admirable treatise on "Medical Thermometry and Human Temperature" in 1876. In connection with this subject it should be stated that in 1871 Dr. Seguin invented a medical, or, as he called it, physiological thermometer, making his zero at the normal temperature of health, which deserves to be substituted for the Fahrenheit or Centigrade in every physician's pocket-case, and in the hands of every mother and nurse. Still later came his report as special educational commissioner to the Vienna Exposition, mainly on crèches infant asylums, institutions for deaf-mutes, the blind, idiots and imbeciles, and homes for the aged and infirm in all parts of Europe. This report is one of the ablest and most searching documents in regard to these institutions ever published; a new edition has been called for and published recently at Milwaukee. Its only defect is that the doctor's English is somewhat obscured by French idioms. His French is always admirable.


For four or five years past he has interested himself greatly in the universal introduction of the metric system into medical practice as a means of inducing greater uniformity of practice, more intelligible hospital reports, and a greater measure of success, and has crossed the Atlantic three or four times as a delegate from the American Medical Association to the International Medical Congress, and as an officer of the latter. He had this object much at heart, as a means of alleviating human suffering by a more full, careful, and uniform registry of symptoms and cases all over Christendom; and, as in all his philanthropical enterprises he performed all its duties and journeyings at his own expense. He had also plead most pathetically for an extension of the Kindergarten system to open-air schools in our parks during the favorable season. But the ruling principle was strong to the last.


One of his latest publications, which has been widely circulated in England and France as well as in this country, was his illustrated pamphlet entitled, "Psycho-Physiological Training of an Idiotic Hand and of an Idiotic Eye," a report of a deeply interesting case which had been under his training for several years, and his most recent act in this connection was the establishment, under the joint supervision of Mrs. Seguin and himself, of a physiological day training school in New York City for feeble-minded children and their nurses and teachers. This was just beginning to prove a success when he was called away. He was not yet sixty-nine years of age, and we had fondly hoped that there was yet a long period of usefulness before him, but it was not to be. While apparently in his usual health, a sudden cold brought on dysenteric symptoms, accompanied with extreme exhaustion, and he died after thirteen days' illness.


Dr. Seguin had been twice married; by his first marriage he had one son, Dr. Edward C. Seguin. His second wife survives him and will continue his work. Leaving to others, to whom it more appropriately belongs, the sad but loyal duty of giving expression to their admiration of his work as a teacher, philanthropist, and philosopher, it only remains for me, who had known him most intimately in the beauty of his private and social life, and his wide intellectual culture, to speak briefly of these topics, and especially of those traits which endeared him so greatly to his friends and bound him to them "as with hooks of steel."


His philanthropy was genuine and pervaded his whole nature. He loved his fellow-men intensely, because he saw through all their misfortunes, their weakness, deformities, and disabilities, the capacity for a higher and better life than they were then leading, and he desired to help them to attain to it. There was nothing morbid, nothing sour, nothing selfish, in his philanthropy, as there is in so much of what passes under that name.


He was a man of indomitable patience and forbearance. The blunders, the follies, even the malice of those whom he sought to help, never moved or discouraged him. No impatient word, no complaint ever escaped his lips, at any wrong done to him. The nearest approach to it, and that very rarely, and under the strongest provocation, was that slight shrug of the shoulders, so characteristic of his nationality.


He was always and under all circumstances a gentleman, courteous, manly, and brave; yet gentle and tender as a woman. Like his countryman, the Chevalier Bayard, he was a knight, sans peur et sans reproche. His private life was pure, and without spot or blemish. No public man of our century has maintained a more spotless reputation.


The unselfishness of the man was one of the most remarkable traits of his character. He was the most truly generous man it was ever my good fortune to know, and his generosity was not the lavish expenditure of the careless spendthrift, who flings away his money when he has it, and grumbles when it is gone; on the contrary, it was deliberate, calculated, and often involved serious personal sacrifice of comfort and convenience, which he gladly suffered, if, thereby, he could make any one whom he loved, happier, or give them an additional hour of enjoyment. For himself, his personal wants were few and easily satisfied; but for his friends or his work, nothing was too liberal which might give others pleasure, and delight his own aesthetic taste, in their surprise and admiration.


These gifts were not bestowed, as a rule, upon those who were able to return them in kind; indeed, nothing distressed him so much as to have gifts of value sent him in return; very often, they were bestowed upon the humble and lowly, in whose minds he desired to cultivate the love of the beautiful.


No man could have been more loyal to his friends, than was he. His friendships were not lightly formed; and though sometimes he might have been deceived in regard to the fidelity and loyalty of those whom he had taken to his heart, no one who had enjoyed his friendship was ever deceived in him. His fidelity and courage in defending those whom he loved against all assaults, was an exemplification of his loyal manliness. When he was assailed or abused personally (and there were few so base as to attempt that), he bore it patiently; but let any one assail a dear friend of his and it aroused all the combativeness of his nature. He was always solicitous for the comfort and welfare of his friends, never careful of his own. The most appropriate and truthful inscription on his monument would be, "He loved others better than himself."


This loyalty and devotion to those whom he loved made him a model husband and father. We may not draw aside the sacred veil which envelopes the home now so desolate, in the loss of its head and husband; but I am sure that all who knew our deceased friend well, will agree with me that in the tender care and eager solicitude of his loving heart no sacrifice was too great, no labor too arduous, which might help to preserve the life and health or advance the intellectual culture of that son, whom we recognize to-day as well worthy to maintain the honored name so long upborne in the medical profession on both sides of the Atlantic.


Often called to encounter severe and crushing disappointments, and, perhaps oftener still, in these later years, to suffer sharp physical pain, our dear friend has often excited our admiration by the calm philosophy with which he met the former, and the heroic fortitude with which he endured the latter. More than once have we seen his lips white with anguish, and the manifest tokens of physical suffering on face and brow, yet no moan, no word, no tell-tale gesture even, revealed his physical distress, and he discussed some philosophical topic as calmly as if he was perfectly at ease. Only repeated questioning brought at last the reluctant admission, that he was "somewhat ill."


In all the relations of life, he was ever self-sacrificing, generous, thoughtful of the wishes, and mindful of the interests and feelings of others, eminently loyal and true to those whom he loved, and courteous and considerate even to those who endeavored to injure him. And yet these lovable and gentle traits were combined with a lofty courage and a chivalric spirit, which would not tolerate or succumb to wrong-doing, even in the highest places of power. He was not a dough-face, not in any sense a weak or easily-moulded man; and these decided and positive traits in his character only made his gentleness the more admirable.


Intellectually, I think Dr. Seguin was underrated by the profession, and his casual acquaintances in literary circles. This was mainly due to his extreme modesty.


His mind was essentially philosophic in its character. He had, even in his earliest published writing's a marked tendency to grasp great principles, and develop them in all their bearings. His great discovery and unfolding, when but twenty-five years of age of the fundamental cause of idiocy, and of its proper mode of treatment, a discovery which had escaped the most astute intellects of the preceding centuries, is a case in point. Yet this discovery lay on his mind so perfectly formulated, that the terms in which it was stated in 1837 are the terms in use to-day. His subsequent extension of this idea to the instruction of the young generally, by "the physiological method," a work to the illustration of which he has devoted some of the best years of his life, seems to me the greatest discovery in the methods of education since the time of Aristotle, and, if given to the world, as he hoped to give it, will win for its author a far higher place than that occupied by Pestalozzi or the Moravian Bishop Comenius. Time would fail to allude to many other evidences of his remarkable powers as a thinker and educator; but these must suffice.


His scholarship was extensive, and in some directions profound. He was well up in the literature of most of the continental countries, as well as of that of Great Britain and the United States; in classical literature and the classics generally, he was thoroughly at home; in all art matters he was a connoisseur; he had made the subject of philanthropic enterprises a profound study, as is evident in his "Life of J. R. Pereire." He was greatly the superior, in genius and fertility of resource, of the founders of other charities, such as Huäy, De l'Epeé, Sicard and Braidwood, and in the work to which he devoted his life, lived to see greater suits than any of them. He had won distinction also, in early life, as a poet, and a writer of more ephemeral, but graceful literature. His style in French is admirable, classic, and polished; never turgid or diffuse. Although he wrote much in English, in later life, it was almost to him, in some sense, a foreign language, and he could never quite overcome those French idioms, which marred the elegance, though they did not impair the ability of his writings.


But we must close. Philosopher, scholar, philanthropist, and, above all, loving friend and brother, as we look for the last time on that noble face, now still in death, with the blinding tears chasing each other down our cheeks, we bid thee hail and farewell!




After the eloquent and just tribute to the departed now made by Dr. Wilbur and Dr. Brockett, it would seem proper that I shall be excused at this time from any extended remarks, but my heart incites me to add, in this impromptu manner, my expressions of personal respect always for more than twenty-five years entertained toward Dr. Seguin.


He was my early teacher, through his book upon the education of idiots, and he was my personal and dear friend, whose counsel it was my happiness on many occasions to follow to good issues, and as I stand here in the presence of this inanimate body, I do not feel that he has ceased to be my monitor and my influencer, but by his precepts and teachings I shall always, while reason is mine, have a steady and strong inspiration for my chosen work of educating the unfortunate class of feeble-minded youths.


His friendship and I am sure his love were freely shown toward myself and mine, creating an enthusiasm in me to strive and to attain success in our Institution.


His piquant sayings shadowing the deepest philosophical principles; his pleasant, polite manners showing his love of imparting knowledge to any and all the race; his generosity of nature, and his love of the right always, and his detestation of the wrong; his exquisite taste for the refinements of life in the arts, and the unravelling of the sciences in their abstract and obscure elements, -- all these are qualities and reasons why I should say to-day and here that I loved him -- shall sadly miss him hereafter. He could and did show the relation of one methodical thought and movement with another, thus leading to permanence in education.


He showed that all intellectual progress is the gradual unfolding of all the powers of the mind, whatever those powers may be, whether central or peripheral, forming an original and perfect union.


Dr. Seguin, in the strictest sense, was a gentleman of self-control, and deepest and joyful enthusiasm fed by great principles and profound meditation, even as the deepest green of the leaf and the stateliest growth of the trunk grow up from roots that shoot far down into a strong black mould of earth. And although he may now have ceased to address us more in vocal tones, his influence for the good of the unfortunate and dependent ones will never cease to remotest time.


Dr. Brockett, of Brooklyn, the author of the biographical sketch I have just heard, was the warm personal friend of Dr. Seguin for nearly a third of a century, and he has here briefly and tersely set forth the life-work and character-traits of his friend.


Dr. Sequin did not willingly leave his native country. Politically associated with the leading radicals of his day he would have suffered their lot of expatriation if he had remained till the bursting of the storm that swept so many into exile. He left his beloved France with regret, with a mental protest against the political tendencies of the time, but with the hope that he might find a field of usefulness in our country. He came at an opportune moment, for he had a mission to fulfil of which he knew not.


And he is not the only political foreign exile who, landing on the shores of the New World, has found a field ready for the reaper.


Thus we see that seeming misfortunes are often only blessings in disguise.


Dr. Brockett has shown us how he was instrumental in establishing schools for idiots in various parts of our country, which are living, working monuments of his life-long-labors. All of these here and all of those in the old country had their origin directly or indirectly in the labors of Dr. Seguin in teaching idiot children in the Hospice des Incurables in Paris. The founder and father of this great philanthropic movement lies here dead, but his works live after him. For these beneficent institutions must necessarily multiply in proportion to our growth in population, and each new one will attest the value of his labors.


Much has been accomplished in this direction in our country in the last twenty years, and greater things will be done in the next fifty.


Without Seguin this great monument could not have been. Without Seguin thousands of children would to-day be drivelling idiots, who are now, thanks to his modest labors in the Hospice des Incurables raised in intellectual status and made happy in their institutional life.




I have not known Dr. Seguin as long as some of you, but I have known him long enough to learn his noble traits of character; long enough to love him as well as any of you do, and to mourn him as sincerely.


In 1876 he singled me out to aid him abroad in his work of uniformity in medicine, in the metric system, in thermometry, etc. I told him I was not the man he wanted. But he insisted that I was, and would not let me off. He was so modest, so diffident of his own powers that I came in to supplement his labors by bringing such men to his assistance as he would designate to me. I was simply his servant to do his bidding, and I was never happier than in serving him. But I could have been of no use to him if his views had not commanded the attention and convinced the judgment of those whom he wished as coadjutors.


The metric system and uniformity in thermometry will some day be universally adopted by the profession, and this desired result will be due to the labors of Seguin.


Dr. Seguin had the energy and the enthusiasm of youth in the study of medicine. The very day before he was struck down with his mortal illness he came to see me. Perhaps this was the last visit he ever made to a brother practitioner. He came to show me a new and ingenious device for applying the vapor of chloroform to the cervix uteri for the temporary relief of excessive pain in dysmenorrhoea. I believe his invention a valuable one, and I intend to try it and report it to the profession.


We find no long string of honorary titles attached to the name of Edouard Seguin, -- and why? Because his modesty forbade his friends to obtain them. Governments abroad do not bestow decorations on the most meritorious, unless friends set forth in strong terms the nature and value of labors that would justify it. Universities and colleges do not confer honorary titles on any man, till his friends move in the matter and set his claims to such distinction clearly before them. If Seguin had been desirous of such distinctions, he could have had them easily, for his work was of the highest order.


There is more to live for in this world than the accumulation of riches. How fortunate for humanity that Seguin was not a devotee to mammon. Money-hoarding is wholly incompatible with such labors as his. It is said that he died poor; but he leaves a heritage to science and humanity worth more than millions in gold. That man is rich who by his labors enriches the world's charities. Judged by this standard, no millionaire who has died amongst us lately was richer than Edouard Seguin.