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Mind, Gottfried

Category: Ill or disabled

Gottfried Mind (1768 – 1814) was a Swiss autistic savant who specialized in drawing. Mind's father had come as a joiner and form-cutter to Switzerland from Lipsich, in Upper Hungary. Mind was mostly left to himself because of his 'weak constitution'.

He was helped and taught to draw by a German artist named Legel, Mind 'followed Legel everywhere, and watched him while he worked'. Legel would take him along with him in his walks, or amuse him in his own apartment with exhibitions of prints. In particular, he allowed the boy to turn over Ridinger's Animals, of which Herr Gruner had a collection; some of these Mind tried to imitate with the lead pencil, preferring above all lions. These attempts Legel from time to time corrected, and the youngster at length ventured to draw from nature, like his master, and to draw some sheep, goats, and cats.

Mind was sent to the academy for poor children when he was 8, which Pestalozzi had previously instituted at Neuenhof, near Bern, Aargau. The following short notice about Mind appeared in the account of that institution, published by the Economic Society of Bern in1778:—

"Friedly Mynth of Bossi (Mind of Pizy), of the bailliwick [sic] of Aubonne, resident in Worblaufen, very weak, incapable of hard work, full of talent for drawing, a strange creature, full of artist-caprices, along with a certain roguishness: drawing is his whole employment: a year and a half here: ten years old."

It is not known how long he remained at this academy; somewhere between the years 1780 and 1785, he came to the painter Sigmund Hendenberger at Bern. With him, Mind learnt his art of drawing, and colouring with water-colours.

Mind's education dealt mostly with art; “he could with difficulty be made to write his name, and he had not the slightest idea of arithmetic”.

It was not till after Hendenberger's death that Mind fully developed his peculiar talent for drawing.  In the course of his narrow, indoors life, he worked himself into an almost paternal relation with domestic animals, especially with cats.

While he sat painting, a cat might generally be seen sitting on his back or on his shoulder; many times he kept, for hours, the most awkward postures, that he might not disturb it. Frequently there was a second cat sitting by him on the table, watching how the work went on; sometimes a kitten or two lay in his lap under the table. Frogs (in bottles) floated beside his easel; and with all these creatures "he kept up a most playful, loving style of conversation; though, often enough, any human beings about him, or such even as came to see him, were growled or grunted at in no social fashion".

At the Barengraben (bear-yard) in Bern, Mind passed many a happy hour. The moment he made his appearance, the bears "hastened towards him with friendly grumbling, stationed themselves on their hind feet, and received, impartially, each a piece of bread or an apple out of his pocket".

Mind seldom drew from Nature; his perception recall was so good, that "whatever he had once strictly observed, stamped itself so firmly in his memory that, on his return home, and often a considerable time afterwards, he could represent it with entire fidelity. On such occasions he would look now and then, as it were, into himself; and when at these moments, he lifted his head, his eyes had something dreamy in them".

In late 1813, Mind began suffering from "an increasing disorder in the breast" which left him unable to exert himself. On 17 November 1814, he died of this illness, at the age of 46.


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