+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error


THE popular notion of an Idiot would
probably be found to vary very little, essentially,
in different places, however modified
by local circumstances. To the traveller in
France or Italy, the name recalls a vacant
creature all in rags, gibbering and blinking in
the sun with a distorted face, and led about
as a possession and a stock-in-trade by some
phenomenon of filth and ugliness in the form
of an old woman. In association with Switzerland,
it suggests a horrible being, seated
at a châlet door (perhaps possessing sense
enough to lead the way to a neighbouring
waterfall), of stunted and misshapen form,
with a pendulous excrescence dangling from
his throat, like a great skin bag with a weight
in it. In the highlands of Scotland, or on
the roads of Ireland, he becomes a red-haired
Celt, rather more unreasonable than usual,
plunging ferociously out of a mud cabin, and
casting stones at the stranger's head. As a
remembrance of our own childhood in an
English country town, he is a shambling
knock-kneed man who was never a child,
with an eager utterance of discordant sounds
which he seemed to keep in his protruding
forehead, a tongue too large for his mouth,
and a dreadful pair of hands that wanted to
ramble over everythingour own face included.
But in all these cases the main idea
of an idiot would be of a hopeless, irreclaimable,
unimprovable being. And if he be
further recalled as under restraint in a
workhouse or lunatic asylum, he will still
come upon the imagination as wallowing in
the lowest depths of degradation and neglect:
a miserable monster, whom nobody may put
to death, but whom every one must wish dead,
and be distressed to see alive.

Until within a few years, it was generally
assumed, even by those who were not given
to hasty assumptions, that because an idiot
was, either wholly or in part, deficient in
certain senses and instincts necessary, in
combination with others, to the due performance
of the ordinary functions of lifeand
because those senses and instincts could not
be suppliedtherefore nothing could be done
for him, and he must always remain an object
of pitiable isolation. But, a closer study of
the subject has now demonstrated that the
cultivation of such senses and instincts as the
idiot is seen to possess, will, besides frequently
developing others that are latent within him
but obscured, so brighten those glimmering
lights, as immensely to improve his condition,
both with reference to himself and to society.
Consequently there is no greater justification
for abandoning him, in his degree, than for
abandoning any other human creature.

This important truth, a conviction of which
led to the establishment of Institutions for
the care and education of idiots, receives daily
and hourly confirmation from the experience
of those Institutions. We will lay some of
their results before our readers, but will first
beg to present the great leading distinction
between Idiocy and Insanity as being:—that
in the Insane certain faculties which once
existed have become obliterated or impaired;
and that, in Idiots, they either never existed
or exist imperfectly. DR. VOISIN in his
learned French treatise, defines idiocy to be
"that particular state in which the instincts
of reproduction and preservation, the moral
sentiments, and the intellectual and perceptive
powers are never manifested, or that
particular state in which the different essentials
of our being are only imperfectly developed."

DR. ABERCROMBIE, in his interesting book
on the Intellectual Powers, has this
passage on idiocy: " It is a simple torpor of the
faculties, in the higher degrees amounting
to total insensibility to every impression;
and some remarkable facts are connected with
the manner in which it arises without bodily
disease. A man mentioned by Dr. Pinel,
was so violently affected by some losses in
trade, that he was deprived almost instantly
of all his mental faculties. He did not take
notice of anything, not even expressing a
desire for food, but merely taking it when it
was put into his mouth. A servant dressed
him in the morning, and conducted him to a
seat in his parlor, where he remained the
whole day, with his body bent forward, and
his eyes fixed on the floor. In this state he
continued nearly five years, and then recovered
completely and rather suddenly. The account
which he afterwards gave of his condition
during this period was, that his mind was
entirely lost, and that it was only about two
months before his final recovery, that he
began to have sensations and thoughts of any