Autism in History II
Bill Long 8/18/06
Who Was, in Fact, Hugh Blair?
The 29 witnesses, about half of them for each side, tell similar stories when they describe the kind of person Hugh Blair was. Some of the more memorable features of Hugh are: (1) he would consent to being led around by boys even as young as 3 or 4 years old, doing what they ordered him to do; (2) he would come and go during family meals, often eating with the servants or leaving the table before thanks had been said after the meal; (3) he was very friendly to cats and dogs, even permitting them to share in his food; (4) he normally wore the same clothes each day, with no attention to cleanliness or fashion; (5) he slept by himself in the garret of the farmhouse, even in the mostly bitingly cold days of winter; (6) he would often wear his hat or his wig backwards; (7) he would wash his wig, let it dry on a branch and then sit mesmerized for long times while he watched the water drip from the wig; (8) he would be regular in his religious attendance, always having to sit in the same pew each time; (9) he could recite the Lord's Prayer and showed astonishing ability to recite page after page of the catechism, though he made no distinction between questions and answers. That is, he would recite the question with as much care as the answer, even though a questioner was supposed to put the question to him; (10) he would attend every funeral in the town, standing unobtrusively with a suitably somber countenance; (11) he would sometimes dance and comport himself with the most inappropriate motions and movements, even to the extent of exposing his genitals if he was asked to do so; (12) he would often appear deaf to people meeeting him for the first time, since he didn't respond to questions posed to him, but often would look to the side; (13) he had no difficulty in speaking, but he would often simply repeat what had been said to him; (14) he had seemingly no awareness of the "value" of things--he would tear pieces off any fabric, even his mother's expensive swanskin blanket, to mend a hole in his pants; (15) he would often present people gifts of things that were of no value whatever--such as a pile of twigs; (16) he would engage in tasks that had little purpose, such as gathering stones from a stream bed, making piles, moving the piles, and then putting them back in the stream; (17) he could read, and often would read the Old and New Testaments. I think these things give you a full enough description into the mental and physical world of Hugh Blair.
Hugh's Written Answers
On two occasions the court wanted Hugh to answer questions. It became frustrated on one occasion because Hugh would simply repeat the instructions of the judge back to the court, and so we have a record, with Hugh's actual handwriting, of the court's instructions. We also have the record of his testimony--a record that is confusing to me. That is, the book (p. 90) says it that the following (next essay, actually) were answers to interrogatories put to Hugh Blair by the commissaries of Edinburgh on July 16, 1747. Two difficulties with this are: (1) the fact that H & F tell us that the final disposition of the case was made in June 1747; and (2) the issue of how it is that Hugh is testifying because normally in legal cases of the 18th century the interested parties could not testify. So, these confusions need to be clarified for me at some level...
In any case, on p. 60 we have Hugh's "holographic" (i.e., handwritten) answers to questions put to him by the judges in Edinburgh. Because of Hugh's unsatifactory replies and apparent hearing and speaking difficulties, they permitted him to write answers to their questions. Here are their questions, followed by Hugh's answers.
Question: "Answer the following question. What brought you to Edinburgh?"
Answer: "Answer the following question
what brought you to Edinbrugh" (notice spelling of city)
Question: "Your are not to coppy what is set before you but write an answer to this question, what was the reason of your coming to Edinburgh at this time."
Answer: "you are not to coppy what this set before you but write an answer to this question what was the reason of your coming to edinbrugh at this time."
Hugh Blair's "hand" is steady, clear and distinct. He spells "Edinburgh" as "Edinbrugh" in both instances, and has interpreted an "is" in the second question as a "this." Actually, Hugh is on pretty good grounds for so doing because the court had put another letter at the beginning of the word "is" but then has scratched it out. Perhaps Hugh felt that he had to "add" the letter that was scratched out and since the word "this" appeared in the next line, "this" would be the appropriate word in his first line.
The final essay gives the record of additional answers by Hugh to questions posed by the judges.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long