Copying not Diagnosing: The Case of Hugh Blair of Borgue


  • Laura Seymour Birkbeck University of London and Queen's College Oxford



Hugh Blair, eighteenth-century, neurodivergence, autism, marriage, Idiocy


This article re-evaluates the case of Hugh Blair of Borgue (1747-8) from the standpoint of neurodiversity pride. This case was brought by John Blair against his older brother the laird Hugh Blair of Borgue. John successfully argued that Hugh was an Idiot incapable of marriage. As a result, Hugh’s marriage to Nickie Mitchell was annulled and their children disinherited; John and his descendants now stood to inherit Hugh’s estates. Some modern criticism has suggested that Hugh was autistic. During the court case, Hugh’s life and way of behaving and communicating, were often painfully critiqued. Exploring an autistic reading of Hugh that emphasises his creativity and love of imitation, I argue that attempting to “diagnose” him with autism using modern diagnostic criteria can replicate some of the harsh judgements that the court made against him. I end by suggesting that, as Hugh loved to copy, we might spend some time in our lives imitating Hugh.




How to Cite

Seymour, L. (2024). Copying not Diagnosing: The Case of Hugh Blair of Borgue. Disability Studies Quarterly, 43(2).



Neurodiversity, Past and Present