Museums of Madness: Social Organization of Insanity in 19th by Andrew T. Scull

By Andrew T. Scull


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Additional info for Museums of Madness: Social Organization of Insanity in 19th Century England

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In France, the royal authorities, fearful that the poor and the vagrant might be a threat to their power, sought, from the mid-17th century onwards, to confine the idle and the dissolute on a broader scale. Hôpitaux généraux, the first of which was established by royal decree in Paris in 1656, soon absorbed a sizeable fraction of these marginal populations, some of whom undoubtedly were mad. Beginning in 1764, when the hôpitaux généraux proved unable to contain all the beggars and whores, a parallel set of institutions, the dépôts de mendacité, were created, and these too took in numbers of lunatics whose families refused to care for them.

Here, too, there was no consensus on what was going on. Many called epilepsy ‘the sacred disease’. As a Hippocratic text of this title scornfully noted: Men regard its nature and cause as divine from ignorance and wonder, because it is not at all like to other diseases . . it appears to me [however] to be nowise more divine nor more sacred than other diseases, but has a natural cause [blocked phlegm] from which it originates like other affections. Still another variant form of madness discussed by the learned was hysteria, characterized by fits, choking sensations, and mental aberrations – a disorder of women that some saw as a form of possession, and others viewed as still another illness brought on by the peculiarities of the female constitution, her moister, looser, more fragile body, and, most especially, her rampaging womb.

Making use of the vital weapon of people’s ‘desire for esteem’, their need to look well in the eyes of others, the mentally disturbed could be induced to collaborate in their own recapture by the forces of reason. Under the direction of a benevolent paterfamilias, and within the confines of a therapeutic environment, inmates could be encouraged and induced, in the words of William Tuke’s grandson Samuel, ‘to struggle to overcome their morbid propensities . . [and to confine] their deviations within such bounds, as do not make them obnoxious to the family’.

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