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Πας άφρων μαίνεται. . « Il y a à parier que toute idée publique, toute convention reçue est une sottise, car elle a convenue au plus grand nombre.”
CHAMPFORT. The stoics had a notion, which does not seem very far from the truth, that all persons who have not a controul over their passions are mad ; and that every foolish or immoral action is a symptom of insanity. However mortifying this doctrine may prove to certain grave and dictatorial personages, it would puzzle a casuist to draw the line in such a way as to suit all cases. So instinctively indeed is the notion inherent in men's minds, that it colours their ordinary discourse, and embodies itself in their popular adages. Hence, it may be concluded, has arisen the practice, so frequent in civilized states, of treating the insane like criminals, and whipping, chaining, and starving them, in order to make them wiser for the future.
Dr. Butler, bishop of Durham, once asked Dean Tucker whether he did not think it possible that whole communities of men might be seized with a fit of madness. This is so possible, or rather so much matter of fact, that the question should rather have been started whether communities are not always insane ; and do not pass incessantly in something like a cycle, through all the different phases of mental malady of which the individual is susceptible. As far as recorded history extends, the lucid intervals of civilized societies have been “ few and far between,” and generally of a very questionable character. The Spartans were manifest madmen; the insatiable ambition and lust of dominion of the Romans are decisive symptoms of insanity; the Crusaders were furious lunatics; the Cromwellians were religiously mad; the people in Charles the Second's day were mad with debauchery; the Jacobites were political madmen ; the South-sea speculators were avariciously mad; the last generation was revolution mad, and we are legitimate mad. In all ages and in all climes, there has not been wanting, in every nation, from forty thousand to four hundred thousand madmen ready to be shot, or run through the body, or sunk in the sea, or blown up into the air, for the mere amusement of the spectators, and the gain of about a dozen or so of other madmen, whose hallucination is the lust of mismanaging public affairs.
This wholesale species of lunacy is not, however, the subject of present consideration. There is so much more to be got by flattering the “ mentis gratissimus error" of the day, and helping nations forward in the prosecution of their insane desires, than in checking or contradicting them, that this branch of inquiry is not worth investigation. In this respect great communities
VOL. II. NO. VII.
“n'entendent pas raillerie," and whoever presumes to be wiser or better than the rest, is sure to be himself treated as a madman, shunned, persecuted, shut up, chained, or fixed in the pillory perhaps, and may think himself very well off if he is not placed under a regimen which terminates on the scaffold.
Neither is it much to the purpose to dwell upon certain insane trains of ideas, which, for a while epidemic, continue, notwithstanding all curative efforts, to infect the reasoning faculty of individuals for a long series of ages. Such are alchemy, witchcraft, judicial astrology, and the like. It may, however, be worth while to notice an insane notion, very operative in life, and the source of much misery, namely, the unreasonable belief in the existence of a metaphysical personage called “luck,” a being of such surprising attributes as to reverse the order of nature, and to make things certain, that, if not impossible, are barely within the sphere of possibility. Madmen, under the influence of this insane impression, abound round the gamingtables at Paris ; where they are seen eagerly staking their money, under the notion that this ens of their imagination will counteract the pull of the table, and disarm the banker of the odds which the law of the game gives him over the punters. If the lottery were not one of the props of the throne and the altar, and so highly esteemed by the first moralists of the day, we might instance the English madmen who play half-crowns against shillings, and pit their luck against the 19,999 chances which stand between them and the great prize.
Having said thus much, en passant, of epidemic insanity, return we now to those sporadic cases which more properly belong to our subject. And in the first place one cannot but be struck at the apparent contradiction of our laws; which, distinguishing between madman and madman, take from the lunatic the management of his estate, although his mania may be that of accumulation; while they suffer another, whom they consider as a fool, to continue the master of his property, notwithstanding his daily waste of his means in the gratification of the most insane and disorderly propensities. Seneca notices the same absurdity in the Roman code. Insanire omnes stultos diximus : nec tamen omnes curamus elleboro; his ipsis quos vocamus insanos, et suffragium et jurisdictionem committimus."
There is something remarkably selfish in this disposition of our legislators, who thus shrink from the trouble and expense of country mad-houses and "chanceries upon a scale adequate to this class of patients; and because the unfortunates don't bite or do mischief, (being, as it is usually expressed, “nobody's enemy but their own") suffer them to go at large in society and ruin their health and fortune, for the exclusive benefit of quackdoctors and usurers.
This oversight of the law appears the more singular, when we reflect on the great care which it has taken of the interests of another species of madmen, called in the technical jargon of legal science infants. If two persons of this description are mad enough to marry without consent of parents, no matter how suitable the match, or how long they may continue to live together, the interests of their children's children are sacrificed, to protect the parents from themselves. This notion is so exquisitely absurd, so injurious to society, and so unjust in practice, that we cannot but conclude the pertinacity with which it has gotten possession of certain brains is a decisive proof of their being, touched. Madness has been divided into erroneous sensitive impressions and erroneous notions concerning the properties of things. Upon either of these counts it would be no difficult process to convict a vast number of one's acquaintance of insanity, who are by a gross abuse left at large to the misguidance of their several hallucinations. Among the most common of these cases take the following :
Biddy is affected with such an impression of her own personal charms, that during twenty years she has treated the whole sex with an excessive disdain, and has actually refused two unexceptionable matches, which might have made her happy through life. The disease, as is usually the case, has gained ground by its continuance, and is now so rooted, that no admonitions of her toilet-glass can effect any change in her dress or pretensions: the symptoms, however, are so far altered, that the cold and haughty disdain of her younger life is now dropped for a certain anxious, fluttering, fidgety restlessness, when in mixed company, that renders her very troublesome to her neighbours. Biddy never was pretty; and now her perceptions of herself have become totally at variance with sound discretion, and produce an incongruity in all she says or does. Among the most striking overt acts of her insanity are noticeable, a smile, which continues to shew her teeth, notwith
tanding the total disappearance of that lustre and whiteness that once rendered them rather agreeable ; a pair of low-cut stays, exhibiting --- nothing ; short petticoats, shewing too much ; a turned-up hat with a plume, cherry-coloured ribbons ; and an insuperably craving desire to waltz. How say you, gentlemen of the jury ?---guilty or not guilty ?
A nobleman who, from respeet, cannot be named, is grievously afflicted with an insane impression that he has a good voice, and the absurd notion that he has a taste for music. In all other respects this worthy individual is rational and consistent. He has, nevertheless, injured his fortune by entertaining foreigners, has sung and played bimself into Coventry, and has broken up three musical charities, by singing louder than the professional performers hired to bring a congregation.
T. T., the son of a small but respectable farmer, succeeded, at his father's death, to an estate, upon which he might have liver very comfortably, but for his misfortune in going mad. His hallucination consists in imagining himself a genius. Every year this unfortunate gentleman suffers a severe paroxysm of his disorder, which gets no remission till he has printed, at his own expense, one or two volumes of prose or verse. These, like æther and opium, though they give temporary relief, ultimately aggravate the malady; and so disordered are his sensitive impressions on this subject, that, though his warehouse is full and his purse empty, he does not perceive that no one purchases or reads his productions.
T. W. has a young and beautiful wife, and a lovely family of infants dependent on him for support. His nervous system is so deranged, that the application of spirituous and fermented fluids to his gustatory nerves excites the most exaggerated and false impressions of pleasure, producing an inordinate and insane avidity for this indulgence. The wretched man is not conscious that he has lost the confidence of his employers; he does not even see the goal that yawns to receive him; and he is totally insensible to a swelling in his right side, a swollen pair of legs, and the jaundice, which discolours his skin. Common sense is sufficient to shew that the gentleman is stark mad.
Whoever has given the slightest attention to this branch of nosology, will remark the extreme modesty with which the foregoing cases have been selected: the more grievous alienations of mind being passed over, which are usually given in charge to the masters of penitentiaries and the public executioner. Of such cases, indeed, it must be admitted, that if the practice is not successful, it is by no means from the want of severity in the administration of remedies.
Enough, however, has been shewn, in the lawyer's phrase, to make out a case for going before parliament and soliciting its attention, in an humble petition, in behalf of those unhappy maniacs who are eminently unfit for the management of themselves. The object of such a petition should be, to establish a number of district boards, similar to those which existed under the income-tax acts, for inquiring into the condition of each individual's vovs, and reporting on his fitness to be left at large ; and to provide a suitable number of places of safe custody, especially in the vicinity of our Universities, for undertaking the cure of such cases as are not wholly desperate : all others to be consigned to prisons, workhouses, and penitentiaries, which should henceforward bear the appellation of “ hospitals for incurables.” To one or other of these places should be immediately confined : Ali persons who spend more money on a vixen mistress than an amiable wife. 'All bachelors of sixty who want to marry their maids. All persons who have ventured more than three times unsuccessfully in the lottery. All incorrigible sots. All men who, having the means of an honourable livelihood, submit to the degradation of a patron. All men going in debt without a certainty of being able to pay. All young tradesmen beginning life, attorneys' clerks, &c. &c. who keep a dog-cart, or go more than once a week to the half-price at the theatre. All quarrelsome persons and professional duellists, without discrimination. All persons given to practical jokes. All private actors above ( ) years of age. All persons going to law, who can settle their case by arbitration. All persons convicted of admiring —'s hexameters, —'s tragedies, 's speeches in parliament or at the bar---(the blanks to be filled up by a jury of critics.)
CHUCKLING over some black-letter jest in the British Museum the other day, I looked round for a sympathetic phiz, to which I might communicate my mirth:-in vain-every eye was fixed to the page, and desperately poring. 'Twas impossible for me, brimming over with some of the gooduns of George Peele, to betake myself again to his right merry and conceitede jestes', till my risible impulses had somewhat subsided; so leaving my eyes to themselves, they involuntarily began to study the physiognomy, or as Lavater would have it, the pathognomy of my mute companions. The first glance distinguished them in two classes, but what were the differences and characteristics of each, I could not discover for some time, till after a long and eager gaze a kind of film, the axlus os apiv ETNEV seemed to depart and leave my vision free. I could then clearly perceive the fluid, which, according to the Cartesian doctrine, conveys the impressions from the page to the brain. From some of the volumes, which I discovered to be in the old and the black letter, it arose, rich like incense, exhilarating the features and enlivening the eye; every thought that it communicated seemed to generate associations ad infinitum, while around the mouth of the reader there played a happy and dimpling consciousness, that he imbibed the genuine nectar—the bottled Falernian of old days. From those, which I found to be the moderns, and which were comparatively few, it was a pale and unsubstantial vapour, in which hung the hebetated aspect of the reader, like a rake in his good behaviour over some hot tea, anxious to sip and finish, and with the appearance of weariness almost amounting to slumber: scarcely an idea was borne up by the fluid; and it seemed to be rather an opiate to relieve from thought, than any thing calculated to excite it.
When I recollected myself, however, and perceived that George Peele was evaporating to no purpose, being too much taken up with my discovery to pay him any attention, I closed