THE term idiots savants is applied to all such idiots, imbeciles, or feeble-minded as exhibit special aptitudes of one kind or another, always out of proportion to their intellectual development in other directions, and often remarkable as compared with similar accomplishments or faculties in normal individuals.
There are many cases of the kind recorded in literature, and it Is not at all uncommon to hear of idiots in our newspapers and museums who are exhibited as musical prodigies, "calculating boys," and the like. Beyond the fact of the existence of such curiosities, and the record of their deeds, there has been little or nothing written in explanation of these phenomena. The psychology of the condition is exceedingly obscure, and even were the physiological processes which underlie special aptitudes understood, there would still remain the mystery of the manifestation of particular talents or faculties in minds otherwise blank or defective. It is the aim of this brief paper rather to present the nature of the facts which we have to consider, and to indicate lines of study that might be pursued with advantage, than to add any material knowledge to the psychology or etiology of the condition.
In the first place, then, let us inquire concerning the kinds of aptitudes which may be developed to an unusual degree in mentally deficient individuals. The aptitudes may be summarized as follows:
Arithmetical faculty, musical faculty, special memories, imitative faculty, modeling faculty, delineative faculty, faculty for painting, aptitude for games (draughts, etc.), aptitude for buffoonery.
This is not a classification, but merely an arrangement for examination of the instances cited under each heading. Some of these captions really include others. Thus, special memories would cover usually the musical faculty. The imitative faculty should include possibly the repetition of musical airs and compositions, drawings and paintings from objects, as well as imitations of gestures and actions. Arithmetical faculty is a qualification which perhaps encompasses too much, since this aptitude in the mentally defective is generally restricted to calculation only. The term "musical faculty" also is to be understood in a limited sense, since the musical prodigies of this description rarely exhibit more than a phenomenal memory for musical compositions.