Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts, 1830-1890

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3. Inherited Legacies: Idiocy and Criminality


Anon., "'Idiots again'", Household Words, 9 ( 15 Apr. 1854), 197-200.

Dickens had surveyed development in the treatment of idiocy in an earlier article, written in collaboration with W. H. Wills, where he approvingly describes the new method of Dr Guggenbühl's mountain clinic in Switzerland, which produced extraordinary improvements in 'idiot' children, transforming them from 'stunted withered skeletons' to children moving 'rapidly towards perfect development' ( "'Idiots'", Household Words ( 4 June 1853), 315). The author of this of this unsigned article (probably Harriet Martineau) also emphasizes the role of moral management and education, but lays more stress on inherited factors.

It used to be thought a very religious and beautiful thing (it certainly was the easiest thing) to say that it pleased God to send idiots, and other defective or diseased children, to try and discipline their parents by affliction, and so on; but religious physicians now tell us (showing reason for what they say) that there is something very like blasphemy in talking so,--in imputing to Providence the sufferings which we bring upon ourselves, precisely by disobedience to the great natural laws which it is the best piety to obey. It is a common saying, that families who intermarry too often, die out; but no account is taken of the miseries which precede that dying out. Those miseries of disease of body and mind are ascribed to Providence, as if Providence had not given us abundant warning to avoid them! Dr. Howe, the wise and benevolent teacher of Laura Bridgman,1 says, in his Report on Idiotcy in

A deaf mute child whose remarkable mental development was widely discussed through the second half of the nineteenth century.


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Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts, 1830-1890


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