« ForrigeFortsæt »
was extremely pleasing, and indicated a considerable degree of intelligence. On examining the state of his eyes, the pupil of each was observed to be obscured by a cataract. In the right eye the cataract was of a white colour and pearly lustre, and appeared to pervade the whole of the crystalline lens. The pupil, however, readily dilated or contracted according to the different degrees of light to which it was exposed. The cataract in the left eye was not equally opaque, about one-third of it being dim and clouded, arising, as it appeared, from very thin dusky webs crossing it in various directions, the rest being of an opaque white colour. The pupil of this eye did not, however, seem so susceptible of impressions from varieties in the intensity of light as that of the other, nor did he employ this eye so often as the other to gratify his fondness for light. I could discover no defect in the organisation of his ears. It was difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain with precision the degree of sight which he enjoyed, but from the preternatural acuteness which his senses of touch and smell had acquired, in consequence of having been habitually employed to collect that information for which the sight is peculiarly adapted, it may be with confidence presumed that he derived little if any assistance from his eyes or organs of vision. Besides, the appearances of the disease in the eyes were such as to render it extremely probable that they enabled him merely to distinguish some colours and differences in the intensity of light. The organs of hearing seemed equally unfit for receiving the impressions of ordinary sounds as his eyes were those of objects of sight. Many circumstances at the same time proved that he was not insensible to sound. It has been already observed that he often amused himself by striking hard substances against his teeth, from which he appeared to derive as much gratification as he did from receiving the impression of light on his eyes. When a ring of keys was given to him he seized them with great avidity, and tried each separately by suspending it loosely between two of his fingers, so as to allow it to vibrate freely; and after jingling them amongst his teeth in this manner, he generally selected one from the others, the sound of which seemed to please him most. A gentleman observing this circumstance, brought to him a musical snuff-box, and placed it between his teeth. This seemed not only to excite his wonder, but to afford him exquisite delight; and his father and sister, who were present, remarked that they had never seen him so much interested on any former occasion. Whilst the instrument continued to play, he kept it closely between his teeth; and even when the notes were ended, he continued to hold the box to his mouth, and to examine it minutely with his fingers, his lips, and the point of his tongue, expressing by his gestures and by his countenance extreme curiosity. Besides the musical snuff-box, I procured for him a common musical key. When it was first applied to his teeth, he exhibited expressions of fear mixed with surprise. However, he soon perceived that it was attended with no harm, so that he not only allowed it to be renewed, but he soon acquired the habit of striking it on his own hand so as to make it sound, and then touching his teeth with it. One day his father observed him place it upon the external ear. He has also, on some occasions, been observed to take notice of, and to appear uneasy with very loud sounds. Thus, therefore, the teeth, besides being organs of mastication, and also serving as organs of touch in examining the food in the mouth, so that the hard and indigestible part may be rejected, in this boy seemed to be the best channel of communicating sound to the auditory nerve. His organs of touch, smell, and taste had all acquired a preternatural degree of acuteness, and appeared to have supplied in an astonishing manner the deficiencies in the senses of seeing and hearing. By those of touch and smell, in particular, he was in the habit of examining everything within his reach. Large objects, such as the furniture of a room, he felt over with his fingers; whilst those which were more minute, and which excited more of his interest, he applied to his teeth, or touched with the point of his tongue. In exercising the sense of touch, it was interesting to notice the delicate and precise manner in which he applied the extremities of his fingers, and with what ease and flexibility he would insinuate the point of his tongue into all the inequalities of the body under examination. But there were many substances which he not only touched, but smelled during his examination. To the sense of smell he seemed chiefly indebted for his knowledge of different persons; he appeared to know his relations and intimate friends by smelling them very slightly, and he at once detected strangers. It was difficult, however, to ascertain at what distance he could distinguish people by this sense; but from what I was able to observe, he appeared to be able to do so at a considerable distance from the object. This was particularly striking when a person entered the room, as he seemed to be aware of this before he could derive information from any other sense than that of smell, except it may be that the vibrations of the air indicated the approach of some person. In selecting his food, he was always guided by his sense of smell, for he never took anything into his mouth without previously smelling it carefully. His taste was extremely delicate, and he shewed a great predilection for some kinds of food, whilst there were others of which he never partook. He had on no occasion tasted butter, cheese, or any of the pulpy fruits, but he was fond of milk, plain dressed animal food, apples, peas, and other simple nutriment. He never took food from any one but his parents or sister.
'But the imperfections which have been noticed in his organs of sight and of hearing were by no means accompanied with such defects in the powers of his mind as might be suspected. He seemed to possess the faculties of the understanding in a considerable degree ; and when we reflect that his channels of communication
with the external world must have afforded very slow means of acquiring information, it is rather surprising how much knowledge he had obtained. Impressions transmitted through the medium of one sense might call into being some of the most important operations of intellect. Facts have been given to prove that this boy possessed both recollection and judgment. We are ignorant of the qualities of bodies which influenced his determinations and his affections. On all occasions, however, it was clear that he made his experiments on the objects which he examined with all the accuracy and caution that his circumscribed means of gaining intelligence could admit. The senses he enjoyed, being thus disciplined, acquired a preternatural degree of acuteness, and must have furnished him with information respecting the qualities of many bodies which we either overlook, or are in the habit of obtaining through other channels. Perhaps the most striking feature of the boy's mind was his avidity and curiosity to become acquainted with the different objects around him. When a person came into the room where he was, the moment he knew of his presence he fearlessly went up to him and touched him all over, and smelled him with eagerness. He shewed the same inquisitiveness in becoming acquainted with everything within the sphere of his observation, and was daily in the habit of exploring the objects around his father's abode. He had become familiar with all the most minute parts of the house and furniture, the outhouses and several of the adjacent fields, and the various farming utensils. He shewed great partiality to some animals, particularly to horses, and nothing seemed to give him more delight than to be put on one of their backs. When his father went out to ride, he was always one of the first to watch his return; and it was astonishing how he became warned of this from remarking a variety of little incidents. His father putting on his boots, and such like occurrences, were all accurately observed by the boy, and led him to conclude how his father was to be employed. In the remote situation where he resided, male visitors were most frequent; and therefore the first thing he generally did was to examine whether or not the stranger wore boots. If he did, he immediately quitted him, went to the lobby, found out and accurately examined his whip, then proceeded to the stable, and handled his horse with great care and the utmost attention. It occasionally happened that visitors arrived in a carriage. He never failed to go to the place where the carriage stood, examined the whole of it with much anxiety, and amused himself with the elasticity of the springs. The locks of doors attracted much of his attention ; and he seemed to derive great pleasure from turning the keys. He was very docile and obedient to his father and sister, who accompanied him to London, and reposed in them every confidence for his safety, and for the means of his subsistence. It has been already noticed that he never took food from any one but the members of his own family. I several times offered him an apple, of which I knew he was extremely fond; but he always refused it with signs of mistrust, though the same apple, afterwards given him by his sister, was accepted greedily. It was difficult to ascertain the manner in which his mind was guided in the judgment he formed of strangers, as there were some people whom he never permitted to approach him, whilst others at once excited his interest and attention. The opinions which he formed of individuals, and the means he employed to study their character, were extremely interesting. In doing this, he appeared to be chiefly influenced by the impressions communicated to him by his sense of smell. When a stranger approached him he eagerly began to touch some part of his body, commonly taking hold of the arm, which he held near his nose ; and after two or three strong inspirations through the nostrils, he appeared to form a decided opinion regarding him. If this was favourable, he shewed a disposition to become more intimate, examined more minutely his dress, and expressed by his countenance more or less satisfaction ; but if it happened to be unfavourable, he suddenly went off to a distance with expressions of carelessness or disgust. When he was first brought to my house to have his eyes examined, he both touched and smelled several parts of my body; and the following day, whenever he found me near him, he grasped my arm, then smelled it, and immediately recognised me, which he signified to his father by touching his eyelids with the fingers of both hands, and imitating the examination of his eyes, which I had formerly made. I was very much struck with his behaviour during this examination. He held his head, and allowed his eyes to be touched with an apparent interest and anxiety, as if he had been aware of the object of my occupation. On expressing to his father my surprise at the apparent consciousness of the boy of what was to be done, he said that he had frequently, during the voyage from Scotland, signified his expectation and his desire that some operation should be performed on his eyes ; thus shewing an accurate recollection of his former visit, and a conception of the objects of it. During the first examination, and on several future ones, when I purposely handled the eye roughly, I was surprised to find him submit to everything that was done with fortitude and complete resignation, as if he was persuaded that he had an organ imperfectly developed, and an imperfection to be remedied by the assistance of his follow-creatures.
“Many little incidents in his life have displayed a good deal of reasoning and observation. On one occasion a pair of shoes were given to him, which he found too small, and his mother put them aside into a closet. Some time afterwards, young Mitchell found means to get the key of the closet, opened the door, and taking out the shoes, put them on a young man, his attendant, whom they fitted exactly. On another occasion, finding his sister's shoes very wet after a walk, he appeared uneasy till she changed them. He frequently attempted to imitate his father's farm-servants in their work, and was particửlarly fond of assisting them in cleaning the stables. At one time, when his brothers were employed making basket-work, he attempted to imitate them ; but he did not seem to have patience to overcome the difficulties he had to surmount. In many of his actions he displayed a retentive memory, and in no one was this more remarkable than in his second voyage to London. Indeed, as the objects of his attention must have been very limited, it is not to be wondered at that those few should be well remembered. He seemed to select and shew a preference to particular forms, smells, and other qualities of bodies. He has often been observed to break substances with his teeth, or by other means, so as to give them a form which seemed to please him. He also preferred to touch those substances which were smooth, and which had a rounded form; and he has been known to employ many hours in selecting smooth water-worn pebbles from the channel of the river. He also seemed to be much pleased with some smells, and equally disgusted with others; and this latter feeling he expressed by squeezing his nostrils, and turning his head from whence the smell came. He shewed an equal nicety in the selection of his food.
'He sometimes shewed a good deal of drollery and cunning, particularly in his amusements with his constant companion and friend, his sister. He took great pleasure in locking people up in a room or closet, and would sometimes conceal things about his person or otherwise, which he knew not to be his own property, and when he was detected doing so, he would laugh heartily. That he was endowed with affection and kindness to his own family cannot be doubted. The meeting with his mother after his return from this London visit shewed this very strongly. On one occasion, finding his mother unwell, he was observed to weep ; and on another, when the boy who attended him happened to have a sore foot, he went up to a garret room, and brought down a stool for his foot to rest upon, which he recollected to have so used himself on a similar occasion long before. He seemed fond too of young children, and was often in the habit of taking them up in his arms. His disposition and temper were generally placid, and when kind means were employed, he was obedient and docile. But if he was teased or interrupted in any of his amusements, he became irascible, and sometimes got into violent .paroxysms of rage. At no other time did he ever make use of his voice, with which he produced most harsh and loud screams. It is not one of the least curious parts of his history that he seemed to have a love of finery. He early shewed a great partiality to new clothes ; and when the tailor used to come to make clothes at his father's house (a practice common in that part of the country), it seemed to afford him great pleasure to sit down beside him whilst he was at work ; and he never left him until his own suit was finished. He expressed much disappointment