Author Topic: John Michael Asquith  (Read 143 times)

Dani1923

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John Michael Asquith
« on: September 04, 2020, 04:35:17 PM »

What happened to John Michael Asquith?
I read recently that he had some sort of disability. Did he have autism? Was he sent away to a hospital or an asylum, the unfortunate case for autistic people back then?
And John died in May 1937, a month before JMB, at age 26. How did he die?

Dani1923

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Re: John Michael Asquith
« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2020, 09:42:00 PM »
Here’s a picture of Cynthia and John.

https://www.mediastorehouse.com/mary-evans-prints-online/lady-cynthia-asquith-son-john-14415514.html

andrew

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Re: John Michael Asquith
« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2020, 02:20:35 PM »
In the non-PC 70s, Nico referred to John in a letter to me as Cynthia's "oldest (dotty) son". According to Nicola Beauman's excellent 1987 biography, Cynthia was wholly unsuited to the task of bringing up a difficult child, and - in common with many another privileged mother - farmed him out to a series of nannies, none of whom had much success with a boy who longed for his frequently absent mother.

Autism - or the milder form known as Asperger's Syndrome - was first described by Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger during WW2. In the 1950s the so-called "refrigerator mother theory" emerged as an explanation for autistic behaviour. This hypothesis was based on the idea that it stemmed from "the emotional frigidity, lack of warmth, and cold, distant, rejecting demeanor of a child's mother."  Although there may well have been other contributing factors, both genetic and environmental, this sounds to me like the root cause of John's un happy life, and an apt description of Cynthia herself.

In 1920, at the age of 9, John was sent to a boarding school for backward children. Nicola Beauman quotes the headmaster's report when John left in 1926, aged 16:

"The Asquith family knows there is mental disorder as well as a very marked deficiency and until the age of 10 years when John came to this school he had had no continuity of teaching, management or control and was thoroughly spoilt and out of hand. ... The trouble recently has been that he shows a great deal of nervous irritation and bad temper and screams with no provocation whatever. A severe nosebleed often follows these attacks and seems to relieve his feelings. He will repeat all the bad words and nasty names he knows (which fortunately is a limited list). He would throw things and be destructive but wouldn’t be harmful to others or himself barring an accident – and I have never known him retaliate even if another child is aggressive. He has very few interests but seems to like the sight and sound of life around him. Music pleases him and motoring and he can play cricket. He walks well, talks very little, can wash and dress himself under supervision, and there is no trouble with regard to food. Until the recent mental changes he could be relied on to behave well and was usually cheerful and content."

The school doctor reported that "dementia precox [= schitzophrenia] is supervening upon his amentia [= congenital mental disability]".

In August 1926, John was admitted to the Crichton Royal Institution near Dumfries in Scotland, where regular sedatives were given to the inmates. A long and detailed report was made upon John's arrival. "Personal history: His father says that he was the first baby, that the labour was difficult and instrumental and that the head was very dented after birth. General type, appearance and condition: Pale, anaemic looking youth, childish and feeble minded. Has many mannerisms. Given to screaming at times. His physical health appears to be sound, his mental state simple and childish“.

By 1930 he was reported as being“more enfeebled, idle, apathetic, and uninterested, walks like an old man. Masturbates. Won’t speak.“ By 1932 there was little change except “much enfeebled in mind“ and by 1934 he was “demented and idle… Cannot converse“.

By March 1937, when he was nearly 26, John appeared “to be weaker physically… Slight cough“.  On 21 May, Cynthia received a telegram stating that John had "collapsed this AM" and had died of a heart attack.

Cynthia wrote in her diary: “I can only be deeply thankful about John - it is the most blessed thing that could have happened, but inevitably it takes one back to old delights and old despair and that’s what had long been frozen.“  In my view, this entry speaks volumes about Cynthia, as does the photo linked by Dani1923.
« Last Edit: September 05, 2020, 02:31:30 PM by andrew »

Dani1923

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Re: John Michael Asquith
« Reply #3 on: September 08, 2020, 03:32:52 AM »
Thank you for the info Andrew! It’s tragic that John had to go through that! I think the exceptionally poor treatment I’m sure he received at the institution was a major cause of his early death. If he was treated with the care and respect that is done for autistic children and adults today, he would have lived a much longer life.
Cynthia’s letter about John’s death reminds me of Queen Mary of Teck’s letters about the death of Prince John, who was also autistic, basically saying the exact same thing, that she was glad that Prince John was no longer suffering (from his epilepsy, which caused his death), but she did later say in her diary: “miss the dear child very much indeed."