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A Mad People’s History of Madness

A Mad People’s History of Madness

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    A Mad People’s History of Madness
    Book Description:

    A man desperately tries to keep his pact with the Devil, a woman is imprisoned in an insane asylum by her husband because of religious differences, and, on the testimony of a mere stranger, "a London citizen" is sentenced to a private madhouse. This anthology of writings by mad and allegedly mad people is a comprehensive overview of the history of mental illness for the past five hundred years-from the viewpoint of the patients themselves.Dale Peterson has compiled twenty-seven selections dating from 1436 through 1976. He prefaces each excerpt with biographical information about the writer. Peterson's running commentary explains the national differences in mental health care and the historical changes that have take place in symptoms and treatment. He traces the development of the private madhouse system in England and the state-run asylum system in the United States. Included is the first comprehensive bibliography of writings by the mentally ill.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7425-3
    Subjects: Psychology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-2)

    In march 1969, after two weeks’ training, I entered a psychiatric ward to begin two years of full-time work as an attendant.

    The head nurse described the patients on her ward as “chronic burnt-out schizophrenics” and proceeded to introduce me to them. I met a patient we might call Andy. He shook my hand, smiled, and said in a childish voice, “I’m glad you’ve come! You better take good care of me, I’m crazy. I’m loony as they come.” He smiled and stared directly into my eyes. “Take good care of me. Look: I can’t move my eyes to the...

  2. 1436 The Book of Margery Kempe
    (pp. 3-18)

    The earliest theories on madness were spiritual, assuming a possession of the mind by an alien deity. By the time of Hippocrates (460–377 B.C.), most bodily illnesses were thought to be the result of material events, of various fluidic or humoral imbalances in the body. Still, madness, abnormalities of behavior, and epilepsy, were generally regarded as the workings of the gods.

    In his treatiseThe Sacred Disease,however, Hippocrates argued for the natural rather than the supernatural origin of epilepsy. “It ... appears to me to be in no way more divine, nor more sacred than other diseases, but...

  3. 1677, 1678 The Diary of Christoph Haizmann
    (pp. 19-25)

    The marks of true demonic possession were clear in the minds of medieval authorities. Possessed persons could not pray, take the Eucharist, or look upon the image of Christ without fear. They were prone to bodily convulsions, uncontrollable grimacing and contortion of the face, rolling of the eyes, and uncontrollable rages of cursing and blasphemy in a voice not their own.¹

    The treatment for possession was the ritual of exorcism performed by a priest. By the seventeenth century, the Church had established a standard formula for exorcism, written into theRituale Romanum.First the priest prays to himself, to gather...

  4. 1714 The Life of the Reverend Mr. George Trosse: Written by Himself, and Published Posthumously According to His Order in 1714
    (pp. 26-38)

    George Trosse was a Presbyterian minister in Exeter during England’s century of religious strife. Having refused to take an oath of conformity to certain Anglican practices, Trosse was for a time liable to prosecution. In 1685 he was indeed arrested for participating in an illegal religious gathering and placed in jail for six months, along with four other Nonconformist ministers. But by the time he wrote hisLife, in the first decade of the eighteenth century, Trosse was a highly esteemed member of the Exeter community, no longer an object of persecution.

    In hisLife,Trosse tells very little about...

  5. 1739 The London-Citizen Exceedingly Injured; Or, A British Inquisition Display’d, in an Account of the Unparallel’d Case of a Citizen of London, Bookseller to the Late Queen, Who Was in a Most Unjust and Arbitrary Manner Sent on the 23rd of March Last, 1738, by One Robert Wightman, a Mere Stranger, to a Private Madhouse, by Alexander Cruden
    (pp. 39-56)

    In general, mad people in medieval Europe were taken care of privately, within the family. The few who had no family ties might be social outcasts, expelled from cities, at times whipped or beaten. Sir Thomas More, in hisApologyeof 1533, tells of a madman who had been in Bedlam and who would at times wander into church services and “make many madde toyes & tryfles” during quiet periods of worship. More had the man bound to a tree and whipped before the whole town, and afterward noted that “it appered well that hys remembraunce was good inough” when...

  6. 1774 One More Proof of the Iniquitous Abuse of Private Madhouses, by Samuel Bruckshaw
    (pp. 57-63)

    Samuel Bruckshaw was a wool merchant in the town of Bourn, near Stamford, in Lincolnshire. In 1769 he bought some property in Stamford and quickly moved in, preparing for business. But soon something went wrong. It appears he overextended his credit and was forced into some kind of bankruptcy in which much of his property was sold, including considerable business stock and his new residence. Bruckshaw was upset about the sale of his home. He insisted that he gave permission only for the disposal of his business stock and refused to sign the note of sale for the property. Finally...

  7. 1816 Memoir of the Early Life of William Cowper, Esq.
    (pp. 64-73)

    At least four times in his life William Cowper (1731–1800), the English poet and hymnist, experienced severe crises of depression which rendered him irrational and at times even suicidal. In 1773, at the beginning of his third crisis, Cowper had a dream which led him to believe that God had forsaken him. Except for three days of respite, Cowper lived in despair for the rest of his life, briefly diverting himself with gardening, caring for pets, taking walks, indulging in conversation, and writing letters and poems. His first volume of poetry (1782) brought him recognition, while his second volume...

  8. 1818 The Interior of Bethlehem Hospital by Urbane Metcalf
    (pp. 74-91)

    Bethlehem Hospital, one of the earliest European asylums, began as a priory, St. Mary’s of Bethlehem, in 1247. It was officially recorded as a “hospital” in 1329, but not until 1403 was it noted that Bethlehem had mad patients. It was never very large. In 1403 there were only six mad patients. Toward the end of Elizabeth’s reign, the last years of the sixteenth century, Bethlehem had only about twenty mad patients.¹ There were a few other similar institutions in Europe during that time, but until the seventeenth century, Bethlehem—known colloquially as Bedlam—was the only significant asylum in...

  9. 1838 and 1840 A Narrative of the Treatment Experienced by a Gentleman, During a State of Mental Derangement; Designed to Explain the Causes and the Nature of Insanity, and to Expose the Injudicious Conduct Pursued Towards Many Unfortunate Sufferers Under That Calamity, by John Perceval
    (pp. 92-107)

    John Perceval (1803–1876) was the fifth son of six sons and six daughters in an English family of some distinction. His father was prime minister until 1812 when he was assassinated in the House of Commons by a madman. Perceval’s early career was in the military. He served for a time in Portugal without seeing battle. In 1830 he resigned his commission and entered Oxford. Soon after, he traveled to Scotland to witness a particular evangelical revival known as the “Row Heresy,” whose members sought communion with God through submission to spontaneous impulse. They often spoke in spontaneous gibberish...

  10. 1849 Five Months in the New-York State Lunatic Asylum, Anonymous
    (pp. 108-122)

    In colonial America and well into the nineteenth century many mad people were kept and cared for at home. Families who could afford to might hire a physician. Unfortunately, home care was never an assurance against ignorant treatment or abuse. Mad people who were confused, violent, or difficult might be chained or locked up in the cellar, outhouse, or attic by their families. In 1849 reformer Dorothea Dix described one extreme instance of such family “care.” An Illinois woman had kept her brother locked up in a rough, open pen, approximately eight feet square. Every one or two weeks she...

  11. 1868 The Prisoner’s Hidden Life, or Insane Asylums Unveiled: As Demonstrated by the Report of the Investigating Committee of the Legislature of Illinois. Together with Mrs. Packard’s Coadjutors’ Testimony, by Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard
    (pp. 123-129)

    In 1860 the Reverend Theophilus Packard committed his wife, Elizabeth, to the Illinois State Asylum at Jacksonville. In fact very little in Elizabeth Packard’s appearance or behavior suggested madness. Her greatest offense seemed to be openly disagreeing with her husband on religious matters within his church. She insisted that she was locked up “for simply expressing religious opinions in a community who were unprepared to appreciate and understand them,” but according to the Illinois commitment law of 1851 Packard’s sanity or madness did not matter: married women could be held in an asylum indefinitely, solely on the authority of their...

  12. 1869 The Trial of Ebenezer Haskell, in Lunacy, and His Acquittal Before Judge Brewster, in November, 1868, together with a Brief Sketch of the Mode of Treatment of Lunatics in Different Asylums in this Country and in England, with Illustrations, Including a Capy of Hogarth’s Celebrated Painting of a Scene in Old Bedlam, in London, 1635
    (pp. 130-135)

    A photograph of Ebenezer Haskell on the frontispiece of his book shows him to be middle-aged, portly, and generally dignified. He is formally dressed, wearing a black coat, white shirt, and a loose black cravat. His eyes are dark and not very expressive, his nose is broad. Most notably, he sprouts a full, curly white beard. The white hair of his head is thin, receding, and combed forward at the temples. His expression is almost blank, with no social smile, just the trace of a slightly quizzical frown and a pensive lowering of the brow.

    In a preface he describes...

  13. 1903 Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, by Daniel Paul Schreber
    (pp. 136-160)

    The last of the great exorcists in the medieval tradition was Father Johann Joseph Gassner (1727–1779).¹ Born in a mountain village of western Austria in 1727, and ordained in 1750, Father Gassner began his career as a country priest in 1758 in a small village in eastern Switzerland. After a few years of ministry Gassner fell ill with severe headaches, dizziness, and other symptoms, which became aggravated during preaching, confession, or performance of the Mass. He believed he was possessed by the Devil and treated himself with prayer and traditional Catholic exorcism.

    When the symptoms disappeared Gassner assumed the...

  14. 1908 A Mind That Found Itself, by Clifford Beers
    (pp. 161-175)

    After Clifford Beers graduated from Yale in 1897 he embarked on a promising business career with a life insurance firm on Wall Street. Eventually, a tendency toward shyness, combined with a morbid fear that he might succumb to seizures and a brain tumor—as his older brother had—left him incapacitated. He came to see suicide as the only solution and on June 23, 1900, jumped from the fourth story window of his home in New Haven. He survived and was hospitalized with broken bones in his feet. In the hospital, for reasons not clear, he became delirious. Lying in...

  15. 1909 The Maniac: A Realistic Study of Madness from the Maniac’s Point of View, by E. Thelmar
    (pp. 176-186)

    The Maniacis an autobiographical story of a journalist’s acute madness, characterized by continual auditory hallucinations, occasional visual and tactile hallucinations, and strange “out of the body” experiences. Most of the time, E. Thelmar believed that she was possessed by demons of “fiends” and that she was in communication with the spirit world. Only when she began to recover did she renounce, at least partially, the various demons, fiends, spirits, and telepathic contacts and conclude that they were unreal and that she had been mad.

    In some ways this account of “demonic possession” is reminiscent of Margery Kempe’s fifteenth-century spiritual...

  16. 1910 Legally Dead, Experiences During Seventeen Weeks’ Detention in a Private Asylum, by Marcia Hamilcar
    (pp. 187-193)

    The British reform legislation of 1845, as we have seen, was aimed both at maintaining a careful system of inspection and control over existing private madhouses (and other institutions), and at reducing their numbers—by establishing a network of public county asylums. It partly succeeded in those aims. Certainly the number of mad-houses continued to diminish into the twentieth century.

    Several serious protests by English mental patients have been written during this century.The Lost Days of My Life,Jane Simpson’s 1958 account of a childhood spent in English homes and asylums, is probably the most alarming. But Marcia Hamilcar’s...

  17. 1918, 1919 The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky
    (pp. 194-202)

    Born in Kiev in 1890 Vaslav Nijinsky was of the fifth generation of a family of dancers.¹ His father, Thomas Nijinsky, traveled with his own troupe of dancers through Russia, and at the age of three Vaslav made his first public appearance in his father’s troupe. At the age of nine he was accepted into the Imperial School of St. Petersburg, one of the greatest ballet schools of the world. There, students and teachers alike recognized him as a prodigy. Two years before scheduled graduation his teachers declared they could teach him nothing more and suggested he graduate early—a...

  18. 1938 The Witnesses, by Thomas Hennell
    (pp. 203-213)

    AlthoughThe Witnessesbegins in sanity and ends in sanity, the body of the work is about the experience of madness. Parts of London, the interiors of a room or an asylum ward are described, but usually the events are not events of the material world. For the most part, the book relates a mental adventure, a travel through the extraordinary universe of a madman’s mind.

    The author-narrator, Thomas Hennell, opens by describing his experiences as a poor, overly sensitive young artist who falls in love and is rejected by the woman he loves, a Miss Clarissa Firestone. He introduces...

  19. 1944 Brainstorm, by Carlton Brown
    (pp. 214-228)

    In an introductory chapter, Carlton Brown says thatBrainstormis a true story but that he has ghostwritten it for a friend who went through an experience of “manic-depressive psychosis” and was unable to transform his own notes, reminiscences, and letters into a final coherent account.¹ Actually, that “friend” was Brown himself.

    Brainstormis a compelling journey of mood and imagination, beginning with simple exuberance and progressing into higher and higher levels of elation until at last the ordinary world takes on extraordinary significance, and the narrator believes himself to be at the very center of that new world—a...

  20. 1945 I Question Anonymous
    (pp. 229-237)

    Nearly all the autobiographical accounts of madness that have been published in this century were influenced by a secularization of the language and metaphor and concept of inner experience brought about by psychoanalysis and modem psychiatry.I Questionmay be an exception. It is a small, confusing book, written by an anonymous patient in a Tennessee asylum and published in 1945 without copyright. It opens with a foreword by psychiatrist Dr. Frank Luton, who says, with some irony, “I can recommend these interesting pages as a faithful record of the beliefs of a man who is sincerely looking for truth.”...

  21. 1946 The Snake Pit, by Mary Jane Ward
    (pp. 238-255)

    While the population of the United States in 1944 had little more than doubled that of 1880, the number of psychiatric patients in state institutions increased twelve times—to more than half a million.¹ The number of institutions increased as well: from 13 in 1830, to 190 in 1945. The trend toward centralization also continued: by 1945 there were 33 federal institutions. But the most notable change over the century was in the size of the institutions themselves. Asylums in the first half of the nineteenth century had capacities of one or two hundred. New York State’s Willard Asylum broke...

  22. 1952 Wisdom, Madness and Folly, by John Custance
    (pp. 256-270)

    Though he had suffered previous bouts of depression and one experience of unusual elation, John Custance’s first severely abnormal mental experience happened in 1938 when he was thirty-eight years old. On Armistice Sunday, he attended a church service commemorating England’s heroic dead. Suddenly he knew the meaning of the millions of war deaths in Europe. They were part of a Divine Plan and Custance realized he was to have a part in that plan. He began to notice unusual physical sensations: “shivers” in the spine and “tingling of the nerves,” and that night he experienced his first “true” hallucination:


  23. 1955 Voices Calling, by Lisa Wiley
    (pp. 271-283)

    Superficially Lisa Wiley’sVoices Callingseems an unremarkable work. It has no medical or psychiatric introduction. The book caused no particular controversy, nor was it particularly successful or even reprinted. The experience of madness described there is not half so dramatic as that in Schreber’s account or many others. It is an obscure psychiatric autobiography, yetVoices Callingis an unusually truthful and unembellished account—a good antidote to the romanticization of madness. It is also one of the most detailed self-studies of schizophrenia covering an extended period of time (two decades). It also renders an unusually clear picture of...

  24. 1964 I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, by Joanne Greenberg
    (pp. 284-295)

    Joanne Greenberg’s immensely popular novel,I Never Promised You A Rose Garden,was first published in 1964 under the pseudonym, Hannah Green. It is the story of an adolescent girl, Deborah Blau, who is hospitalized for something called “schizophrenia.” She is finally cured through the love and therapy of her physician, Dr. Fried. Although much of the novel’s popularity has arisen from the presumption thatRose Gardenis a first-hand account of madness based upon autobiographical experience, I believed the opposite, thatRose Gardenwas simply a well-wrought piece of fiction, based upon historical research, written by a professional novelist....

  25. 1965 Beyond All Reason, by Morag Coate
    (pp. 296-311)

    Beyond All Reasonprovides another example of the psychiatric autobiography used as documentation to support a particular theory of madness. The introduction was written by R. D. Laing, who stresses the need to understand the mad experience from the inside. He then proceeds to give an “existential” interpretation of Coate’s madness.

    Basically Laing rejects the notion that there is such a thing as “mental illness,” feeling that the concept of an “illness” implies an alien disease process which attacks the body or mind from without and which must be treated by a counterattack with the techniques of modem medical science....

  26. 1975 The Eden Express, by Mark Vonnegut
    (pp. 312-326)

    Mark Vonnegut is the son of the novelist Kurt Vonnegut. Mark graduated from college just when his father was becoming famous as an author who was especially popular with the counterculture of the late sixties and early seventies. The son embraced the styles and values of the counterculture wholeheartedly: he renounced the barber, experimented with psychedelic drugs, was once arrested for possession of marijuana, and went to British Columbia to found a self-sufficient farm commune.

    The counterculture emerged as a reaction to the Vietnam war, to apparent secrecy and distance in government, and to what it perceived as the aggressive...

  27. 1976 Insanity Inside Out, by Kenneth Donaldson
    (pp. 327-335)

    A central issue in the psychiatry of our time is that of the civil rights of patients. Kenneth Donaldson, carpenter, factory worker, law student by correspondence, and for fifteen years, “professional patient,” has been intimately acquainted with this issue.

    In 1943, at the age of thirty-four, Donaldson was working as a milling machine operator for the General Electric Company in Syracuse, New York. He began to feel that other workers in the plant were against him, that people were watching him. He heard swearing behind his back and threatening remarks that seemed to refer to him. One day, on the...

  28. Epilogue
    (pp. 336-338)

    The introduction of effective antipsychotic medications in the 1950s, combined with a massive federal program in the following decade and the overdue liberalization of many state commitment laws, produced a complete reversal of the century-long trend toward centralized institutional care in America. Between 1955 and 1975 the number of patients in state psychiatric institutions decreased by two-thirds, from 559,000 to 193,000. That new policy of what was called “deinstitutionalization” has, to a large degree, eliminated many of the visible vices of the institution-cities of mid-century: overcrowding, shortages, and understaffing. But we still must ask whether it has actually improved the...

  29. Appendix I: Ancient and Medieval Visions of Madness
    (pp. 341-347)
  30. Appendix II: Contemporary Models of Madness
    (pp. 348-352)