Chapters in the History of the Insane in the British Isles
by Daniel Hack Tuke
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Transcriber's Note:

Greek has been transliterated and appears as phrase. Italics are represented with underscores. Superscript letters are surrounded by curly brackets, as in y{t}.

For detailed information about the corrections and changes made, see the end of the text.







"I might multiply these instances almost indefinitely, but I thought it was desirable just to indicate the state of things that existed, in order to contrast the Past with the Present."—EARL OF SHAFTESBURY.



(The rights of translation and of reproduction are reserved.)







I think it was Pascal who said that the last thing an author does in making a book is to discover what to put at the beginning. This discovery is easily made in the present instance.

I wish to state that the range of this book, as its title implies, is mainly restricted to the salient points of the historical sketch it attempts to pourtray. To have written a complete History of the Insane in the British Isles would have necessitated the narration of details uninteresting to the general reader. Hence, as the periods and the institutions of greatest importance have alone been brought into prominence, others have been inevitably thrown into the shade. Thus Bethlem Hospital has occupied much space as the centre around which gathers a large amount of historic interest, having been with our forefathers almost the only representative for many centuries of the attempt to provide for the insane in England—the outward symbol of nearly all they knew on the subject. To the Retreat at York, again, considerable attention has been devoted in this history, as the cradle of reform which made the year 1792 the date of the new departure in the treatment of the unhappy class, on whose behalf the various charitable and national acts recorded in this volume have been performed.

Lincoln and Hanwell also, which in the course of time were the scenes of redoubled efforts to ameliorate the condition of the insane, have received in these pages a large, but certainly not too large, measure of praise; and the writer would have been glad could he have conveniently found space for a fuller description of the good work done at the latter establishment.[1]

Of no other malady would the history of the victims demand so constant a reference to legislation. In the chapter devoted to it, the Earl of Shaftesbury has formed the central figure, honourably distinguished, as have been several other members of the legislature in the same cause, both before and after the year 1828, when as Lord Ashley he seconded Mr. Gordon's Bill, and first came publicly forward in support of measures designed to advance the interests of the insane. A laborious and sometimes fruitless examination of Hansard, from the earliest period of lunacy legislation, has been necessary in order to present a continuous narrative of the successive steps by which so great a success has been achieved.

No one knows so well as the historian of an important and extended movement like this, the deficiencies by which its recital is marred, but I trust that I have at least succeeded in supplying a want which some have long felt, in placing before the British reader the main outlines of a history with which every friend of humanity ought to be acquainted. Its interest, I need hardly urge, extends far beyond the pale of the medical profession, and no one who has reason to desire for friend or relative the kindly care or the skilful treatment required for a disordered mind, can do otherwise than wish gratefully to recognize those who, during well-nigh a century, have laboured to make this care and this treatment what they are at the present day.

In conclusion, it remains for me to express my obligations to those who have in various ways rendered me assistance in the prosecution of this work. In addition to acknowledgments made in the following pages, I have pleasure in thanking Dr. McDowall, of Morpeth, for the use of manuscript notes of works bearing on the first chapter; as also Mr. S. Langley. I have to thank Mr. Coote, of the Map Department at the British Museum, and Mr. F. Ross, for help in preparing the chapter on Bethlem Hospital; also Dr. W. A. F. Browne of Dumfries, and Dr. Clouston of the Edinburgh Royal Asylum, for valuable information utilized in the chapter on the history of the insane in Scotland. Lastly, in the preparation of this, as of other works, I am greatly indebted to the ever-willingly rendered assistance of Mr. R. Garnett, of the British Museum Reading Room.



[1] The reader is referred to Dr. Conolly's "The Treatment of the Insane without Mechanical Restraints" (1856) for more details.



I. Medical and Superstitious Treatment of the Insane in the Olden Time 1

II. Bethlem Hospital and St. Luke's 45

III. Eighteenth-Century Asylums—Foundation of the York Retreat 92

IV. Course of Lunacy Legislation 147

V. Lincoln and Hanwell—Progress of Reform in the Treatment of the Insane from 1844 to the Present Time 204

VI. Our Criminal Lunatics—Broadmoor 265

VII. Our Chancery Lunatics 285

VIII. Our Idiots and Imbeciles 299

IX. Scotland 321

X. Ireland 393

XI. Progress of Psychological Medicine during the last Forty Years: 1841-1881 443

Conclusion 502

Appendices 507

Index 537



Among our Saxon ancestors the treatment of the insane was a curious compound of pharmacy, superstition, and castigation. Demoniacal possession was fully believed to be the frequent cause of insanity, and, as is well known, exorcism was practised by the Church as a recognized ordinance. We meet with some interesting particulars in regard to treatment, in what may be called its medico-ecclesiastical aspect, in a work of the early part of the tenth century, by an unknown author, entitled "Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England," or, as we should say, "Medicine, Herb Treatment, and Astrology." It forms a collection of documents never before published, illustrating the history of science in this country before the Norman Conquest.[2] It clearly appears that the Saxon leeches derived much of their knowledge directly from the Romans, and through them from the Greeks, but they also possessed a good deal of their own. The herbs they employed bespeak considerable acquaintance with botany and its application to medicine as understood at that day. The classic peony was administered as a remedy for insanity, and mugwort was regarded as useful in putting to flight what this Saxon book calls "devil sickness," that is, a mental malady arising from a demon. Here is a recipe for "a fiend-sick man" when a demon possesses or dominates him from within. "Take a spew-drink, namely lupin, bishopwort, henbane, cropleek. Pound them together; add ale for a liquid, let it stand for a night, and add fifty libcorns[3] or cathartic grains and holy water."[4] Here, at any rate, we have a remedy still employed, although rejected from the English Pharmacopoeias of 1746 and 1788—henbane or hyoscyamus—to say nothing of ale. Another mixture, compounded of many herbs and of clear ale, was to be drunk out of a church-bell,[5] while seven masses were to be sung over the worts or herbs, and the lunatic was to sing psalms, the priest saying over him the Domine, sancte pater omnipotens.

Dioscorides and Apuleius are often the sources of the prescriptions of the Saxons, at least as regards the herb employed. For a lunatic it is ordered to "take clove wort and wreathe it with a red thread about the man's swere (neck) when the moon is on the wane, in the month which is called April, in the early part of October; soon he will be healed." Again, "for a lunatic, take the juice of teucrium polium which we named polion, mix with vinegar, smear therewith them that suffer that evil before it will to him (before the access), and shouldest thou put the leaves of it and the roots of it on a clean cloth, and bind about the man's swere who suffers the evil, it will give an experimental proof of that same thing (its virtue)."[6]

It is greatly to be regretted that the virtues ascribed to peony, used not internally, but in the following way, are not confirmed by experience. "For lunacy, if a man layeth this wort peony over the lunatic, as he lies, soon he upheaveth himself hole; and if he have this wort with him, the disease never again approaches him."[7]

Mandrake, as much as three pennies in weight, administered in a draught of warm water, was prescribed for witlessness; and periwinkle (Vinca pervinca) was regarded as of great advantage for demoniacal possession, and "various wishes, and envy, and terror, and that thou may have grace, and if thou hast this wort with thee thou shalt be prosperous and ever acceptable."

Then follows an amusing direction: "This wort shalt thou pluck thus, saying, 'I pray thee, Vinca pervinca, thee that art to be had for thy many useful qualities, that thou come to me glad, blossoming with thy mainfulnesses; that thou outfit me so, that I be shielded and ever prosperous, and undamaged by poisons and by wrath;' when thou shalt pluck this wort, thou shalt be clean from every uncleanness, and thou shalt pick it when the moon is nine nights old, and eleven nights, and thirteen nights and thirty nights, and when it is one night old."[8]

For epilepsy in a child a curious charm is given in this book, used also for "a dream of an apparition." The brain of a mountain goat was to be drawn through a golden ring, and then "given to the child to swallow before it tastes milk; it will be healed."[9]

Wolf's flesh, well-dressed and sodden, was to be eaten by a man troubled with hallucinations. "The apparitions which ere appeared to him, shall not disquiet him."[10]

Temptations of the fiend were warded off by "a wort hight red niolin—red stalk—which waxeth by running water. If thou hast it on thee and under thy head bolster, and over thy house doors, the devil may not scathe thee, within nor without" (lviii.).

Again, we have a cure for mental vacancy and folly: "Put into ale bishopwort, lupins, betony, the southern (or Italian) fennel, nepte (catmint), water agrimony, cockle, marche; then let the man drink. For idiocy and folly: Put into ale cassia, and lupins, bishopwort, alexander, githrife, fieldmore, and holy water; then let him drink."

Although hardly coming under my theme, I cannot omit this: "Against a woman's chatter: Taste at night fasting a root of radish, that day the chatter cannot harm thee."

For the temptations of the fiend and for night (goblin) visitors, for fascination, and for evil enchantments by song, they prescribed as follows:—"Seek in the maw of young swallows for some little stones, and mind that they touch neither earth nor water nor other stones; look out three of them; put them on the man on whom thou wilt, him who hath the need, he will soon be well."

The ceremonial enjoined in making use of a salve against the elfin race and nocturnal goblin visitors (nightmare) is extremely curious. "Take the ewe hop plant (probably female hop), wormwood, bishopwort, lupin, etc.; put these worts into a vessel, set them under the altar, sing over them nine masses, boil them in butter and sheep's grease, add much holy salt, strain through a cloth, throw the worts into running water. If any ill tempting occur to a man, or an elf or goblin night-visitors come, smear his forehead with this salve, and put it on his eyes, and where his body is sore, and cense him with incense, and sign him frequently with the sign of the cross; his condition will soon be better" (lxi.).[11]

There is no doubt that in these prescriptions a distinction was made between persons who were regarded as possessed and those supposed to be lunatics. For the latter, however, the ecclesiastical element came in as well as the medical one. Herbs were prescribed which were to be mixed with foreign ale and holy water, while masses were sung over the patient "Let him drink this drink," say they, "for nine mornings, at every one fresh, and no other liquid that is thick and still; and let him give alms and earnestly pray God for his mercies." The union of ale and holy water forms an amusing, though unintentioned, satire on the jovial monk of the Middle Ages. I may remark that the old Saxon term "wood" is applied in these recipes to the frenzied. It survives in the Scotch "wud," i.e. mad.[12] Thus for the "wood-heart" it is ordered that "when day and night divide, then sing thou in the Church, litanies, that is, the names of the hallows (or saints) and the Paternoster." This was, as usual, accompanied by the taking of certain herbs and drink. In some instances, a salve was to be smeared on the temples and above the eyes. Medicated baths were not omitted in their prescriptions. Thus for a "wit-sick man," as they call him, they say, "Put a pail full of cold water, drop thrice into it some of the drink, bathe the man in the water, and let him eat hallowed bread and cheese and garlic and cropleek, and drink a cup full of the drink; and when he hath been bathed, smear with the salve thoroughly, and when it is better with him, then work him a strong purgative drink," which is duly particularized. It is unnecessary to give more of these quaint prescriptions, one of which is a drink "against a devil and dementedness" (an illustration, by the way, how the one idea ran into the other); those which I have given will suffice to show the kind of pharmacopoeia in use, with the Saxon monk-doctor, for madness. But did their treatment consist of nothing more potent or severe than herbs and salves and baths? It would have been surprising indeed had it not. And so we find the following decidedly stringent application prescribed:—"In case a man be lunatic, take a skin of mere-swine (that is, a sea-pig or porpoise), work it into a whip, and swinge the man therewith; soon he will be well. Amen."[13]

Before taking leave of this interesting book I think that the impression left on the mind of the reader in regard to the circumstances under which it was written, will be clearer, if I cite the following description by the editor:—"Here," he says, "a leech calmly sits down to compose a not unlearned book, treating of many serious diseases, assigning for them something he hopes will cure them.... The author almost always rejects the Greek recipes, and doctors as an herborist.... Bald was the owner of the book, Cild the scribe. The former may be fairly presumed to have been a medical practitioner, for to no other could such a book as this have had, at that time, much interest. We see, then, a Saxon leech at his studies; the book, in a literary sense, is learned; in a professional view not so, for it does not really advance man's knowledge of disease or of cures. It may have seemed by the solemn elaboration of its diagnoses to do so, but I dare not assert there is real substance in it.... If Bald was at once a physician and a reader of learned books on therapeutics, his example implies a school of medicine among the Saxons. And the volume itself bears out the presumption. We read in two cases that 'Oxa taught this leechdom;' in another, that 'Dun taught it;' in another, 'some teach us;' in another, an impossible prescription being quoted, the author, or possibly Cild, the reedsman, indulges in a little facetious comment, that compliance was not easy."[14]

Some light is thrown on the treatment of the insane in early English days by a study of the "Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages," published under the direction of the Master of the Rolls. The inference to be drawn, however, is only that which we might have drawn already from what I have stated. It is observed by Mr. Brewer, the editor of one of these works, written by Giraldus of Wales, who was born 1147, "For the sick, if medicine was required, there was none to be had except in the monastery; and in this country, at all events, the monks were the only medical practitioners."[15] That at that time chains were employed for the insane is incidentally shown by the following story. Walter Mapes, chaplain to Henry II., when living in Gloucestershire, in the Forest of Dean, fell ill. The abbot of a Cistercian house visited him, and used his utmost efforts to induce him to become a monk of their order. Mapes, who was well known to be inimical to Religious Orders, thereupon called his clerks and attendants (he was a canon and archdeacon), and said, "If ever in my sickness, or on any other occasion, I ask for this habit, be certain that it arises not from the exercise of my reason, but the violence of my disease, as sick men often desire what is foolish or prejudicial. But should it ever so happen that I resolutely insist on becoming a monk then bind me with chains and fetters as a lunatic who has lost his wits, and keep me in close custody until I repent and recover my senses." ("Tanquam furibundum et mente captum catenis et vinculis me statim fortiter astringatis, et arcta custodia," etc.[16])

That at this period the influence of the moon in producing lunacy was recognized (as, indeed, when and where was it not?) is proved by observations of the above writer, Giraldus of Wales, in his "Topographica Hibernica," vol. v. p. 79. "Those," he observes, "are called lunatics whose attacks are exacerbated every month when the moon is full." He combats the interpretation of an expositor of Saint Matthew, who said that the insane are spoken of by him as lunatics, not because their madness comes by the moon, but because the devil, who causes insanity, avails himself of the phases of the moon (lunaria tempora). Giraldus, on the contrary, observes that the expositor might have said not less truly that the malady was in consequence of the humours being enormously increased in some persons when the moon is full.

The name of Giraldus is associated with a celebrated holy well in Flintshire, that of St. Winifred, said to be the most famous in the British Isles. At her shrine he offered his devotions in the twelfth century, when he says, "She seemed still to retain her miraculous powers." The cure of lunacy at this well is not particularized, but it is highly probable from the practice resorted to, as we shall see, at others in Britain.[17]

I may here say that there is not much to be found in Chaucer (1328-1400) bearing in any way upon the insane, though he occasionally uses the word "wodeness" for madness, and "wood" or "wod" for the furiously insane.[18] So again in an old English miscellany of the thirteenth century, translated from the Latin, we read—

"Ofte we brennen in mod And werden so weren wod;"

that is to say, "Oft do we burn in rage and become as it were mad."

I have, in examining that curious book, the "Vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman," written in 1393 by William Langland,[19] found one or two passages having reference to my subject which are worth citing. The author, after saying that beggars whose churches are brew-houses may be left to starve, adds that there are some, however, who are idiotic or lunatic. He also says that men give gifts to minstrels, and so should the rich help God's minstrels, namely, lunatics. This is one of the rare instances in which the insane are spoken of in kindly terms by the old writers, although it would be quite unfair to regard what was doubtless harsh treatment as intentionally cruel. Piers the Plowman speaks of men and women wanting in wit, whom he styles "lunatik lollares," that is, persons who loll about, who care for neither cold nor heat, and are "meuynge after the mone." He says that—

"Moneyless they walke With a good wil, witless, meny wyde contreys Ryght as Peter dade and Paul, save that they preche nat."

In many instances mistaken kindness, in others ignorance and superstition, guided the past treatment of the insane. When residing in Cornwall some years ago, I was interested in the traditions of that once isolated county, and heard of a practice long since discontinued, which illustrates this observation. It was called "bowssening" (or ducking) the lunatic, from a Cornu-British or Armoric word, beuzi or bidhyzi meaning to baptize, dip, or drown.[20] There were, it seems, many places where this custom was observed in Cornwall, but the one I now refer to was at Altarnun, and was called St. Nun's Pool. It is situated about eight miles from Launceston. Though the name of this saint gives the impression of her being a nun, it appears that she was a beautiful girl, with whom Cereticus, a Welsh prince, fell in love. According to tradition, she was buried at Altarnun. The church was afterwards dedicated to St. Mary. The water from the pool was allowed to flow into an enclosed space, and on the surrounding wall the patient was made to stand with his back to the water, and was then by a sudden blow thrown backwards into it. Then (to quote a graphic description which has been given of it), "a strong fellowe, provided for the nonce, tooke him and tossed him up and downe alongst and athwart the water, untill the patient by forgoing his strength had somewhat forgot his fury. Then was he conveyed to the church, and certain masses sung over him, upon which handling, if his right wits returned, St. Nunne had the thanks; but if there appeared small amendment, he was bowssened againe and againe while there remayned in him any hope of life, for recovery." Men who had actually witnessed this treatment of lunacy related this narrative to Carew, the author of the "Survey of Cornwall," published in 1769, and he gives an explanation of the custom which is no doubt erroneous, but is curious for other reasons. "It may be," he says, "this device took original from the Master of Bedlam, who (the fable sayeth) used to cure his patients of that impatience by keeping them bound in pools up to the middle, and so more or less after the fit of their fury" (p. 123). The present Master goes further, and keeps them up to the neck in a prolonged warm bath!

The Vicar of Altarnun, Rev. John Power, in response to my inquiries, has been good enough to ask the oldest men in the parish whether they remembered the well being so used, but they do not. At the corner of a meadow there is still an intermittent spring, flowing freely in wet weather. The tank which was formerly on the spot has gone, the farmers having removed the stone in order to mend the fences, and consequently much of the water has been diverted into other channels, emptying itself into the river St. Inny, which runs a few hundred yards in the valley below. It seems probable that the working of a large stone quarry in the hills above has cut off the main current of the spring.

To Carew's account Dr. Borlase adds that in his opinion "a similar bowssening pit has existed at a well in St. Agnes' parish." Among other Cornish wells which had healing virtues assigned them was St. Levan's, and the insane, no doubt, partook of them. "Over the spring," says Dr. Boase, "lies a large flat stone, wide enough to serve as a foundation for a little square chapel erected upon it; the chapel is no more than five feet square, seven feet high, the little roof of it of stone. The water is reckoned very good for eyes, toothache, and the like, and when people have washed, they are always advised to go into this chapel and sleep upon the stone, which is the floor of it, for it must be remembered that whilst you are sleeping upon these consecrated stones, the saint is sure to dispense his healing influence." Madron Well attained a great celebrity for healing diseases and for divining. "Girls dropped crooked pins in to raise bubbles and divine the period of their marriage."[21]

Mr. W. C. Borlase, M.P., informs me that at St. Kea, near Truro, within the walls of the church, was a stone to which, within the memory of an old gentleman who died only about two years ago, an inhabitant of the parish, on becoming insane, was chained. He adds that just as Altarnun is Nun's altar, the parish of Elerky is derived from St. Kea's altar (Eller or Aller-ke).

Scotland was still more remarkable than Cornwall for its lunacy-healing wells and extraordinary superstitions, surviving also to a much later period; in fact, not yet dispelled by civilization and science. Every one has heard of St. Fillan's Well (strictly, a pool) in Perthshire, and knows the lines in "Marmion"—

"Then to Saint Fillan's blessed well, Whose spring can frenzied dreams dispel, And the crazed brain restore."

This well, derived from the river of that name in the vale of Strathfillan, and consecrated by the saint who, according to tradition, converted the inhabitants to Christianity,[22] has been ever since distinguished by his name, and esteemed of sovereign virtue in curing madness.

There was an abbot living in the Vale of St. Fillan in 1703. "He is pleased," says Pennant, in his "Tour in Scotland" (vol. ii. p. 15), "to take under his protection the disordered in mind; and works wonderful cures, say his votaries, unto this day." It was, he says, a second Bethesda. He wrote in 1774.

Mr. Heron, the author of a "Journey through Part of Scotland," made in the year 1793, observes that in his day "about two hundred persons afflicted in this way are annually brought to try the benefits of its salutary influence. These patients," he continues, "are conducted by their friends, who first perform the ceremony of passing with them thrice round a neighbouring cairn; on this cairn they then deposit a simple offering of clothes, or perhaps of a small bunch of heath.... The patient is then thrice immerged in the sacred pool; after the immersion he is bound hand and foot, and left for the night in a chapel which stands near. If the maniac is found loose in the morning, good hopes are conceived of his full recovery. If he is still bound, his cure remains doubtful. It sometimes happens that death relieves him during his confinement from the troubles of life."[23]

An Englishman who visited the spot five years afterwards (1798) says the patient was fastened down in the open churchyard on a stone all the night, with a covering of hay over him, and St. Fillan's bell put over his head. The people believed that wherever the bell was removed to, it always returned to a particular place in the churchyard next morning. "In order to ascertain the truth of this ridiculous story, I carried it off with me," continues this English traveller. "An old woman, who observed what I was about, asked me what I wanted with the bell, and I told her that I had an unfortunate relation at home out of his mind, and that I wanted to have him cured. 'Oh, but,' says she, 'you must bring him here to be cured, or it will be of no use.' Upon which I told her he was too ill to be moved, and off I galloped with the bell." To make this story complete, I should add that the son of this gentleman, residing in Hertfordshire, restored to Scotland this interesting relic, after the lapse of seventy-one years, namely, in 1869.

At Struthill, in Stirlingshire, was a well famous for its healing virtues in madness. "Several persons," says Dalyell, "testified to the Presbytery of Stirling in 1668, that, having carried a woman thither, they had stayed two nights at an house hard by the well; that the first night they did bind her twice to a stone at the well, but she came into the house to them, being loosed without any help; the second night they bound her over again to the same stone, and she returned loosed; and they declare also, that she was very mad before they took her to the well, but since that time she is working and sober in her wits." He adds that this well was still celebrated in 1723, and votive offerings were left; but no one then surviving knew that the virtues of the stone were in request. The chapel itself was demolished in 1650, in order to suppress the superstitions connected with this well.[24]

The virtues of St. Ronan's Well were renowned of old, and are still credited. The lunatic walks round the Temple of St. Molonah, whose ruin near the Butt of Lewis remains. He is sprinkled with water from the well, is bound, and placed on the site of the altar for the night. A cure is expected, if he sleep; if not, the fates are considered adverse, and he returns home. My authority, Dr. Mitchell, records a case of recovery.

There is in Ross-shire a small Island on Loch Maree, called Inch or Innis Maree, where is a famous well, bearing the name of this saint,[25] who lived at the beginning of the eighth century. This well was celebrated for its virtues in the cure of mental disorders. Pennant, the author already quoted, visited it in 1769, and gave a graphic description of the superstitious practices connected with its supposed sanctity. "The curiosity of the place," he writes, "is the well of the saint, of power unspeakable in cases of lunacy. The patient is brought into the sacred island, is made to kneel before the altar where his attendants leave an offering in money; he is then brought to the well and sips some of the holy water; a second offering is made; that done, he is thrice dipped in the lake, and the same operation is repeated every day for some weeks; and it often happens, by natural causes, the patient receives relief, of which the saint receives the credit. I must add that the visitants draw from the state of the well an omen of the disposition of St. Maree; if his well is full they suppose he will be propitious; if not, they proceed in their operations with fears and doubts, but let the event be what it will, he is held in high esteem."[26]

This practice was, no doubt, closely connected with the belief of the inhabitants that the insane were possessed. "To preclude the demon from lurking in the hair, a special water was sometimes used; the patient was plunged over head and ears in a bath of Gregorian water,[27] and detained there just up to the drowning point."[28] Dr. Mitchell (Commissioner in Lunacy in Scotland) has given a most interesting account of similar Scotch customs associated with their treatment of their insane, practised from time immemorial, and therefore illustrating the proceedings of a remote antiquity, pagan as well as Christian. But I must content myself with a very brief reference to his descriptions. Writing of the island of Maree in 1862, he states that about seven years before a furious madman was brought there; "a rope was passed round his waist, and with a couple of men at one end in advance, and a couple at the other behind, like a furious bull to the slaughter-house, he was marched to the Loch side and placed in a boat, which was pulled once round the island, the patient being jerked into the water at intervals. He was then landed, drank of the water, attached his offering to the tree, and, as I was told, in a state of happy tranquillity went home."[29]

Whittier has expressed in verse the virtues of the well of St. Maree, as Scott those of St. Fillan:—

"And whoso bathes therein his brow, With care or madness burning, Feels once again his healthful thought And sense of peace returning.

"O restless heart and fevered brain, Unquiet and unstable, That holy well of Loch Maree Is more than idle fable."

Of another place, the island of Melista, in the Hebrides, it is stated that, according to tradition, no one was ever born there who was not from birth insane, or who did not become so before death. "In the last generation, three persons had the misfortune for the first time to see the light of day on this unlucky spot, and all three were mad. Of one of them, who is remembered by the name of Wild Murdoch, many strange stories are told. It is said that his friends used to tie a rope round his body, make it fast to the stern of the boat, and then pull out to sea, taking the wretched man in tow. The story goes that he was so buoyant he could not sink; that they 'tried to press him down into the water;' that he could swim with a stone fastened to him; that when carried to the rocky holms of Melista or Greinan, round which the open Atlantic surges, and left there alone, he took to the water and ran ashore; and that when bound hand and foot, and left in a kiln, by a miracle of strength he broke his bonds and escaped. It is thus they are said to have treated him during his fits of maniacal excitement; and there are many still alive who saw it all, and gave a helping hand.... The further story of Wild Murdoch will astonish no one. He murdered his sister, was taken south, and died in an asylum, or, as the people say and believe, in the cell of a gloomy prison, under which the sea-wave came and went for ever."[30]

Curious ancient superstitions besides those connected with wells still survive in the "land o' cakes." The same observant writer says that in the north of Scotland they literally sacrifice a cock to a nameless but secretly acknowledged power, whose propitiation is sought in the cure of epilepsy. On the spot where the patient falls a black cock is buried alive, along with a lock of the patient's hair, and some parings of his nails. Let it not be supposed that this was done in some outlandish part of the world. Dr. Mitchell assures us that this sacrifice was openly offered recently in an improving town to which the railway now conveys the traveller, and which has six churches and ten schools for a population of about four thousand. If such things are done in the green tree, what must have been done in the dry? We may safely read the past in the present. In fact, Dalyell[31] states that in 1597 the "earding of ane quik cok in the grund" was regarded as a cure of madness.

He also records the fact that a Scotch empiric of the seventeenth century professed the cure of those "'visseit with frenacies, madness, falling evil (epilepsy), persones distractit in their wittis, and with feirful apparitiones, etc., and utheris uncouth diseases; all done be sorcerie, incantation, devellische charmeing.' Above forty persons are enumerated for whom he had prescribed, for which he was strangled and burnt as too familiar with Satan."[32] The same author relates that a poor woman having become frantic, the alleged author of the malady came, and "laying hands on hir, she convaleschit and receivit hir sinsis agane."[33] This was in 1616.

Insane persons were sometimes treated with holy water, to which salt was added, with the idea that the devil abhorred salt as the emblem of immortality (we have already had to notice this use of salt among the Saxons). Hence it was "consecrated by the papists, as profiting the health of the body, and for the banishment of demons." A certain remedial "watter," used in Scotland by wise women or herbalists, is supposed to have contained the same ingredient. Elspeth Sandisone, in 1629, was bereft of her senses. One Richart was thus accused of having tried to cure her. "Ye call the remedie 'watter forspeking,' and took watter into ane round cape and went out into the byre, and took sumthing out of your purse lyk unto great salt, and did cast thairin, and did spit thrie severall times in the samen; and ye confest yourself when ye had done so, ye aunchit in bitts, quhilk is ane Norne terme, quhilk is to say ye blew your braith thairin and thairefter ye sent it to the said Elspeth with the servand woman of the hous, and bad that the said Elspeth sould be waschit thairin, hands and feit, and scho sould be als holl as ever scho was."[34]

I may give here a curious illustration of insanity being induced, not cured, by superstition in Scotland. John Law's servant "rane wode" when John Knox had retreated to St. Andrews during the civil contentions of his later years. The story is thus quaintly told in Bannatyne's "Journal" (p. 309). John Law of that city, being in Edinburgh Castle in January, 1572, "the ladie Home wald neidis thraip in his face that he was banist the said toune because that, in the yarde reasit (rose) sum sanctis, among whome cam up the devill with hornis, which when his servant Ritchart saw, rane wode, and so deit."[35]

But I must not dwell longer on the treatment of lunatics by the Highlanders, or the superstitions of Scotland in this connection, and will now say a few words in reference to Ireland.

It would be easy to narrate the stories which in Ireland connect popular superstition with the treatment of the insane, but I will only refer to one. The reader may have heard of the "Valley of the Lunatics," or Glen-na-galt, in that country. It is situated in Kerry, near Tralee. It was believed, not only in that county, but in Ireland generally, that all lunatics would ultimately, if left to themselves, find their way to this glen to be cured.[36] In the valley are two wells, called the "Lunatic's Wells," or Tober-na-galt, to which the lunatics resort, crossing a stream flowing through the glen, at a point called the "Madman's Ford," or Ahagaltaun, and passing by the "Standing Stone of the Lunatics" (Cloghnagalt). Of these waters they drink, and eat the cresses growing on the margin; the firm belief being that the healing water, and the cresses, and the mysterious virtue of the glen will effectually restore the madman to mental health.

Dr. Oscar Woods, the medical superintendent of the District Lunatic Asylum, Kilkenny, informs me that the superstition has nearly died out since this asylum was opened, about thirty years ago. Dr. Woods gives a different etymology, namely, bright, for galt; the valley in that case deriving its name in contradistinction to that on the other side of the hill, Emaloghue, on which the sun scarcely ever shines. He thinks the superstition arose from persons labouring under melancholy going from the sunless to the bright valley. "Why this place," wrote Dr. C. Smith in 1756,[37] "rather than any other should be frequented by lunatics, nobody can pretend to ascertain any rational cause, and yet no one truth is more firmly credited here by the common people than this impertinent fable." He, however, says that having regard to the awful appearance of these desolate glens and mountains, none but madmen would enter them! Recurring to the meaning of the word galt, a gentleman in Ireland, a professor of Irish, states that geilt is a mad person, one living in the woods, and that gealt is the genitive plural. It is interesting to find, also, from the same source, that the Irish word for the moon is gealach, indicating a probable etymological connection.

As to the origin of this superstition, it appears to be of very ancient date. It is stated[38] that the Fenian tale, called "Cath Finntraglia," or "The Battle of Ventry," relates how Daire Dornmhar, "the monarch of the world," landed at Ventry to conquer Erin, and was opposed in mortal combat by Finnmac-Cumhail and his men. The battles were many and lasted a year and a day, and at last the "monarch of the world" was completely repulsed, and driven from the shores of Ireland. In the battle, Gall, the son of the King of Ulster, only a youth, who had come to the help of Finnmac-Cumhail, "having entered the battle with extreme eagerness, his excitement soon increased to absolute frenzy, and, after having performed astounding deeds of valour, fled in a state of derangement from the scene of slaughter, and never stopped till he plunged into the wild seclusion of this valley." The opinion is that this Gall was the first lunatic who went there, and that with him this singular local superstition originated, followed as it has been by innumerable pilgrimages to the beautiful "Valley of Lunatics" and its wells.

A visitor to this valley in 1845 writes: "We went to see Glenagalt, or the 'Madman's Glen,' the place, as our guide sagely assured us, 'to which all the mad people in the world would face, if they could get loose.' After pursuing for miles our romantic route, we came to the highest part of the road, and turned a hill which completely shut out Glen Inch; and lo! before us lay a lovely valley, sweeping down through noble hills to Brandon Bay. The peak of the mighty Brandon himself ended one ridge of the boundary, while high, though less majestic, mountains formed the other; and this valley so rich and fertile, so gay with cornfields, brown meadows, potato gardens, and the brilliant green of the flax, so varied and so beautiful in the bright mingling of Nature's skilful husbandry, was the 'Madman's Glen.' I felt amazed and bewildered, for I had expected to see a gloomy solitude, with horrid crags and gloomy precipices. Not at all; the finest and richest valley which has greeted my eyes since we entered the Highlands of Kerry is this—smiling, soft, and lovely.

"We took our leave of fair Glenagalt, and assuredly if any aspect of external nature could work such a blessed change, the repose, peace, and plenty of this charming valley would restore the unsettled brain of a poor unfortunate."[39]

The late Professor Eugene O'Curry, in his work on the "Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish," published in 1873, makes no reference to madness, idiocy, or possession. He refers to a sort of witchcraft under the head of divination, where he gives an instance of a trance produced by magical arts; of the mad rage of the hero, and of how, in the midst of that rage, he was caught, as it were, by the hands and feet, through Druidical incantations.[40]

Returning to England, let the reader imagine himself in London in the early and middle part of the sixteenth century. There, in St. Giles's, might have been seen a physician, Dr. Borde, who, born in 1490 in Sussex, had made some practice in the metropolis, including that of mental disorders. He had been a Carthusian monk, but was "dispensed of religion," studied medicine, and followed the medical profession, first at Glasgow, and then in London. What, it may be asked, would have been his method of caring for lunatics? The answer may be found in a curious book which he wrote, entitled "A Compendious Rygment or a Dyetry of Helth," and published in 1542.[41] There are several references, of much interest, to insanity. One chapter of the book is headed, "An order and a dyett for them the whiche be madde and out of theyr wytte." In it the doctor says, "I do advertyse every man the whiche is madde or lunatycke or frantycke or demonyacke, to be kepte in safegarde in some close house or chamber where there is lytell light; and that we have a keeper the whiche the madde man do feare." The remainder is conceived in quite a kindly spirit. The patient is to have no knife or shears; no girdle, except a weak list of cloth, lest he destroy himself; no pictures of man or woman on the wall, lest he have fantasies. He is to be shaved once a month, to drink no wine or strong beer, but "warm suppynges three tymes a daye, and a lytell warm meat." Few words are to be used except for reprehension or gentle reformation.

This, then, is the way in which a well-intentioned doctor would take care of a lunatic in the reign of Henry VIII. We wish that all the treatment pursued had been as considerate. That it was not so we shall see; but I would first add the curious experience of Dr. Borde in Rome, which he visited, and where he witnessed the treatment of a lunatic which was very singular, and founded on the vulgar notion of his being possessed. He says that to a marble pillar near St. Peter's, persons supposed to be possessed, that is, insane, were brought, and said to be cured. A German lady was the patient when the English physician was the spectator, and he describes her as being taken violently by some twenty men to the pillar, or rather into it, for it appears to have contained a chamber; "and after her did go in a priest, and did examine the woman in this manner. 'Thou devil or devils, I adjure thee by the potential power of the Father and the Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the virtue of the Holy Ghost, that thou do show to me for what cause thou doest possess this woman?'" What words were answered, Dr. Borde says he will not write, "for men will not believe it, but would say it were a foul and great lie." What he heard made him afraid to tarry, lest the demons should have come out of her and entered into him. We are not left in doubt as to his belief in the possession of lunatics. "I considering this," he says, "and weke of faith and afeard crossed myself and durst not hear and see such matters for it was so stupendous and above all reason if I should write it." It is certainty a pity that the worthy doctor did not stay longer to watch, and to record in his graphic language, the effect of the treatment.

From the same motives lunatics in Great Britain were bound to holy crosses. Sir David Lyndsay, in his poem called "Monarche," written nearly four hundred years ago, says—

"They bryng mad men on fuit and horsse, And byndes theme to Saint Mangose Crosse."

To this cross (at Lotherwerd, now Borthwick, county Edinburgh), says an old writer, Jocelin, a monk of Furness, "many labouring under various disorders, and especially the furious and those vexed with demons, are bound in the evening; and in the morning they are often found sane and whole, and are restored to their liberty."[42]

The resort to pillars of churches is illustrated by what an Augustine Canon of Scone says, in a work on the rule of his foundation (Paris, 1508), for he protests against the desecration of churches, with the exception of curing lunatics in the way I have just described, as being bound to the church pillars.

Nearly a hundred years after Dr. Borde wrote, that remarkable work was published, "The Anatomy of Melancholy," by Burton. Some quaint lines and a rough engraving on the title-page illustrate but too well the treatment of the insane familiar to him, although not a physician; it seems worse, instead of better, than that of the doctor of St. Giles.

"But see the madman rage downright With furious looks, a ghastly sight! Naked in chains bound doth he lie And roars amain, he knows not why."

The first edition of Burton's work was published in 1621, five years after the death of Shakespeare, who speaks, in "As You Like It" (Act iii. sc. 2), of madmen deserving "a dark house and a whip," and in "Twelfth Night" makes Sir Toby say of Malvolio (Act iii. scene 4), "Come, we'll have him in a dark room and bound." The medical treatment of melancholia contained in Burton consists mainly of herbs, as borage, supposed to affect the heart, poppies to act on the head, eupatory (teazel) on the liver, wormwood on the stomach, and endive to purify the blood. Vomits of white hellebore or antimony, and purges of black hellebore or aloes, are prescribed.

The famous "Herbal" of Gerarde, published in 1597, gives various remedies for madness, but they are, unfortunately, copied for the most part from Dioscorides, Galen, and other ancient writers. They are so far of interest that they show what was accepted as the best-known drug practice at the time in England in mental disorders. Under "A Medicine against Madnesse" we have rhubarb and wild thyme, the latter being "a right singular remedie to cure them that have had a long phrensie or lethargie." He is here only following Aetius, and when he says, "Besides its singular effects in splenetical matters, it helpeth any disease of melancholy," he appears to follow Galen. Feverfew is said to be "good for such as be melancholike, sad, pensive, and without speech." Syrup made of flowers of borage "comforteth the heart, purgeth the melancholy, and quieteth the phrenticke or lunaticke person." Hellebore, of course, has its virtues recognized. Black hellebore, or the Christmas rose, "purgeth all melancholy humors, yet not without trouble and difficultie, therefore it is not to be given but to robustious and strong bodies as Mesues teacheth. It is good for mad and furious men, for melancholy, dull, and heavy persons, for those that are troubled with the falling sickness (epilepsy)," and "briefely for all those that are troubled with blacke choler, and molested with melancholy."[43]

Gerarde strongly commends "that noble and famous confection Alkermes, made by the Arabians," containing the grains of the scarlet oak (Ilex coccigera). "It is good against melancholy deseases, vaine imaginations, sighings, griefe and sorrow without manifest cause, for that it purgeth away melancholy humors" (p. 1343). Poultices applied to the head, of mustard and figs, are recommended for epilepsy and lethargy. Gerarde adopts from Apuleius the virtues of double yellow and white batchelor's buttons, hung "in a linnen cloath about the necke of him that is lunaticke, in the waine of the moone, when the signe shall be in the first degree of Taurus or Scorpio."

Such are the principal remedies for insanity given by Gerarde, original and second hand.

Returning to Burton, it should be said that among the causes of the disease he distinctly recognizes the same uncanny influence that his contemporaries Coke and Hale regarded as a legal fact—I mean witchcraft. After saying that "many deny witches altogether, or, if there be any, assert that they can do no harm," of which opinion, he adds, "is our countryman (Reginald) Scot (of Kent),[44] but of the contrary opinion are most lawyers, physicians, and philosophers," he proceeds, "They can cause tempests, etc., which is familiarly practised by witches in Norway, as I have proved, and, last of all, cure and cause most diseases to such as they hate, as this of Melancholy among the rest."[45]

It may be asked, What was the medical knowledge or practice at the time of Coke and Hale, to which they would turn for direction when insanity came before them in the courts of law? and I think a correct reply would be best obtained by taking this wonderful book of Burton's, the works of Sir Thomas Browne, who gave evidence before Hale, and what may be called the case-book of the celebrated Court physician, Sir Theodore de Mayerne. A Genevese, he settled in England in 1606, and was regarded as the highest authority in mental and nervous affections. A medical work of his was translated into Latin by Bonet. Mayerne's treatment was certainly of a somewhat cumbrous character, and his patients must have had an unusual and commendable amount of perseverance if they pursued it thoroughly. The drugs probably cured in part, at least, from the duty entailed upon the patients of collecting the numerous herbs which were ordered for the composition of the mixture, and Sir Theodore truly and naively remarks to one of his patients, "It will take some time before you have mixed your medicine." It is clear that he was under the influence of the old belief in the connection between the liver and insanity, and the paramount importance of getting rid of the black bile. Of one case he asserts that the root of all the griefs wherewith the patient has been afflicted is a melancholy humour, generated in the liver and wrought upon in the spleen. This humour is stated to be mixed in the veins, and so extended to the brain, which this offensive enemy of nature doth assault as an organical part. Hence, he says, it happens that the principal functions of the soul do act erroneously. His treatment consisted of emetics, purges, opening the veins under the tongue, blisters, issues, and shaving the head, followed by a cataplasm upon it, the backbone anointed with a very choice balsam of earthworms or bats. One prescription for melancholia contains no less than twenty-seven ingredients, to be made into a decoction, to which is to be added that sine qua non, the ever precious hellebore. Other remedies were prescribed; in some cases the "bezoartick pastills," composed of an immense number of ingredients, including the skull of a stag and of a healthy man who had been executed. The commentary triumphantly made by this lover of polypharmacy in the case in which this medicine was administered, runs thus:—"These things being exactly performed, this noble gentleman was cured." With certain modifications, the general treatment here indicated was that in fashion at the period to which I refer, and was based on a strong conviction of the presence of certain peccant humours in the body, affecting the brain, which required elimination.

Mayerne, of whom there is a portrait in the College of Physicians, was physician to more crowned heads than has fallen to the lot of probably any other doctor, namely, Henry IV. of France, James I. of England, his queen, Anne of Denmark, Charles I., and Charles II. He introduced calomel into practice. Dying in 1654/5, he was buried in the church of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, where a monument was erected to his memory.[46]

The royal author of the book on Demonology (first published in 1597)—the high and mighty Prince James—gives sundry learned reasons why witches are not to be regarded as mad, and why, therefore, the plea of insanity should be rejected in the legal tribunals. Written in the form of a dialogue between Philomathes and Epistemon, the latter, who personates the king, says, "As to your second reason (that Witchcraft is but very melancholique imagination of simple raving creatures), grounded upon Physicke, in attributing the confessions or apprehensions of Witches to a natural melancholique humour, any one that pleased physikally to consider upon the natural humour of Melancholy, according to all the physicians that ever writ thereupon, shall find that that will be over short a cloake to cover their knavery with."[47]

James is very wroth with Reginald Scot and Wierus[48] for their opposition to the prevalent belief, and urges, as proof of the existence of witches ("which have never fallen out so clear in any age or nation"), daily experience and their confessions. Reginald Scot had dared to write, in his "Discovery of Witchcraft" (1584): "Alas, I am sorry and ashamed to see how many die who being said to be bewitched, only seek for magical cures, whom wholesome diet and good medicines would have recovered.... These affections tho' they appear in the mind of man, yet are they bred in the body and proceed from the humour which is the very dregs of the blood; nourishing those places from whence proceed fear, cogitations, superstitions, fastings, labours, and such like."

It is striking to observe how much more enlightened this writer was than a physician to whom I have already referred, Sir Thomas Browne. His famous sentence, in which he gives full credence to witches, makes us obliged to admit that when so distinguished a man entertained such superstitious notions, we cannot be much surprised if contemporary judges regarded many of the really insane as witches, although they had before them the enlightened opinions of Reginald Scot.

The history of incubi, or "night-comers," is doubtless, to a large extent, a narrative of the hallucinations, delusions, and automatic thoughts of the insane, although to what extent would be a difficult question to determine, because some were assuredly frightened into the confessions which they made; and, further, it is hard to say how much of a certain belief was due to the current popular ignorance and credulity, and how much to actual mental disease. Still the ignorant opinions of an age find their nisus and most rapid development in persons of weak or diseased mind, and they form the particular delusion manifested; and at a period when witches are universally believed in, there must be some reason why one believes he or she has had transactions with Satan, and another does not believe it. It is, indeed, impossible to read the narratives of some of the unfortunate hags who were put to death for witchcraft, without recognizing the well-marked features of the victims of cerebral disorder. In this way I have no doubt a considerable number of mad people were destroyed. Their very appearance suggested to their neighbours the notion of something weird and impish; the physiognomy of madness was mistaken for that of witchcraft, while the poor wretches themselves, conscious of unaccustomed sensations and singular promptings, referred them to the agency of demons. Strangely enough, even an inquisitor—Nider, who died in 1440—gives many instances of persons whose symptoms he himself recognized as those not of possession, but of madness.

It is hardly necessary to say that the treatment of the unfortunate lunatics and epileptics who were judged to be witches by James I. was nothing else than death, and he thus coolly comments on this punishment: "It is commonly used by fire, but that is an indifferent thing, to be used in every country, according to the law or custom thereof."[49]

I cannot pass from this subject without doing honour to two men who abroad, no less than Reginald Scot in Britain, opposed the immolation of lunatics—Wierus, physician to the Duke of Cleves, who wrote a remarkable work in 1567, and appealed to the princes of Europe to cease shedding innocent blood; and Cornelius Agrippa,[50] who interfered in the trial of a so-called witch in Brabant, having sore contention with an inquisitor, who through unjust accusations drew a poor woman into his butchery, not so much to examine as to torment her. When Agrippa undertook to defend her, alleging there was no proof of sorcery, the inquisitor replied, "One thing there is which is proof and matter sufficient; for her mother was in times past burnt for a witch." When Agrippa retorted that this had reference to another person, and therefore ought not to be admitted by the judge, the inquisitor was equal to the occasion, and replied that witchcraft was naturally engrafted into this child, because the parents used to sacrifice their children to the devil as soon as they were born. On this Agrippa boldly exclaimed, "Oh, thou wicked priest, is this thy divinity? Dost thou use to draw poor guiltless women to the rack by these forged devices? Dost thou with such sentences judge others to be heretics, thou being a greater heretic than either Faustus or Donatus?" The natural consequence was that the inquisitor then threatened to proceed against the advocate himself as a supporter of witches; nevertheless, he continued his defence of the unhappy woman, who, whether a lunatic or not, was delivered, we read, by him "from the claws of the bloody monk, who, with her accuser, was condemned in a great sum of money, and remained infamous after that time to almost all men."

Scot, who cites this case, shows great familiarity with examples of melancholy and delusion, and from his work have been derived many of the best known illustrations of the latter, including the delusions of being monarchs, brute beasts, and earthen pots greatly fearing to be broken. The old story of the patient who thought Atlas weary of upholding the heavens and would let the sky fall upon him, is narrated by this author, as well as that of the man who believed his nose to be as big as a house.

It comes then, to this—to revert to the question, what was the medical knowledge or practice at the time of Coke and Hale, to which they would turn for direction when insanity came before them in the Courts of Law?—that when the lawyers went to the doctors for light they got surprisingly little help. They had better have confined themselves to reading the old Greek and Roman books on medicine, of which the medical practice of that period was but a servile imitation, and not have added, from their belief in witchcraft, the horrible punishment of lunatics, which in our country extended over the period between 1541 and 1736, when the laws against witchcraft were abolished. The last judicial murder of a witch in the British Isles (Sutherlandshire) was in 1722.

Leaving now the insane who were punished as witches, I pass on to remark that in Percy's "Reliques of Ancient English Poetry," it is stated that the English have more songs and ballads on the subject of madness than any of their neighbours. "Whether," the writer proceeds, "there be any truth in the insinuation that we are more liable to this calamity than other nations,[51] or that our native gloominess hath peculiarly recommended subjects of this class to our writers, we certainly do not find the same in the printed collections of French and Italian songs." Half a dozen so-called mad songs are selected. These refer to much the same period as that we have been considering; and, in fact, we come upon the "Old Tom of Bedlam," or Cranke or Abram man, who "would swear he had been in Bedlam, and would talk frantickly of purpose," so notorious in connection with the beggary which endeavoured to make capital out of the asylum most familiar to our ancestors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In this light the Bedlam beggars appear in "King Lear"—

"The country gives me proof and precedent Of Bedlam beggars, who, with roaring voices, Stick in their numb'd and mortify'd bare arms Pins, wooden pricks, nails, sprigs of rosemary;"

and these enforce their charity by lunatic "bans," that is, by licences to beg under the badge of the Star of Bethlehem.

Some doggerel from the most ancient of the Percy "Reliques" will serve for a sample of the rest:

"Forth from my sad and darksome cell, Or from the deepe abysse of Hell, Mad Tom is come into the world againe, To see if he can cure his distemper'd braine."

Tom appears to have brought away with him some of his fetters, then sufficiently abundant in Bedlam:

"Come, Vulcan, with tools and with tackles, To knocke off my troublesome shackles."

This method of treatment—by fetters—has not, it may be well to state, survived, like immersion, in the practice of the present Master of Bedlam.

We learn from Shakespeare how "poor Tom that eats the swimming frog, the toad, the tadpole, the wall-newt and the water [newt]; ... swallows the old rat, and the ditch-dog;" and "drinks the green mantle of the standing pool," was "whipped from tything to tything, and stocked, punished, and imprisoned....

Mice, and rats, and such small deere Have been Tom's food for seven long yeare."[52]

Whipping-posts were very common in the reign of Henry VIII., and we suppose long before; certainly also much later. About the middle of the seventeenth century an old poet, John Taylor, once a waterman on the Thames, and hence called the "Water Poet," wrote:

"In London, and within one mile, I ween, There are of jails and prisons full eighteen, And sixty whipping-posts and stocks and cages."

The whipping-post was sometimes called the "tree of truth." There is a curious passage in Sir Thomas More's works, in which he orders a lunatic to be bound to a tree and soundly beaten with rods.

"There was a tree in Sir Thomas More's garden, at which he so often beat Lutherans, that it was called the 'tree of troth,'" says Burnet. This was not the tree at which he had the poor lunatic flogged, for he says that was in the street.

"It was a good plea in those days to an action for assault, battery, and false imprisonment, that the plaintiff was a lunatic, and that therefore the defendant had arrested him, confined him, and whipped him."[53]

Whipping-posts may still be seen in some villages in England, in the vicinity of stocks. Of course they were largely employed for idle vagabonds, but many really insane people suffered. The following item from the constable's account at Great Staughton, Huntingdonshire, illustrates the custom of whipping wandering lunatics:—"1690/1. Paid in charges, taking up a distracted woman, watching her and whipping her next day, 8s. 6d."[54]

Let me here refer for a moment to the "brank."

The "brank" or "scold's bridle" was very probably used in former days for lunatics—an instrument of torture which has received much elucidation from my friend Dr. Brushfield, the late medical superintendent of Brookwood Asylum. Indeed, it is certain that it, or a similar gag, called the "witch's bridle," was employed for these unfortunate suspects, of whom so many, as we have good reason to conclude, were insane or hystero-epileptics. In the church steeple at Forfar one was preserved, within recent times, with the date 1661.[55] Archdeacon Hale many years ago suggested that the "brank" was used to check noisy lunatics of the female sex; and in reference to this, Dr. Brushfield remarks: "Medical officers of asylums can always point out many female patients who, if they had been living a couple of centuries back, would undoubtedly have been branked as scolds. One of the female lunatics in the Cheshire Asylum gave me, a few days since, a very graphic account of the manner in which she had been bridled some years ago whilst an inmate of a workhouse."[56]

No doubt, in addition to branks and whipping-posts, the pillory and stocks, and probably the ducking-stool, were made use of for unruly and crazy people, who nowadays would be comfortably located in an asylum.

What now, let us ask in conclusion, are the practical inferences to draw from the descriptions which I have given respecting the popular and medical treatment of lunatics in the good old times in the British Isles?

In the first place, we see that the nature of the malady under which the insane laboured was completely misunderstood; that they often passed as witches and possessed by demons, and were tortured as such and burnt at the stake, when their distempered minds ought to have been gently and skilfully treated. Some, however, were recognized by the monks as simply lunatic, and were treated by the administration of herbs, along with, in many instances, some superstitious accompaniment, illustrating, when successful, the influence of the imagination.

Further, the medical treatment, so far as it made any pretension to methods of cure, was either purely empirical, or founded upon the one notion that descended from generation to generation from the earliest antiquity—that there was an excess of bile in the blood, and that it must be expelled by emetics or purgatives.

Again, there was the more violent remedy of flagellation, one always popular and easy of application; equally efficacious, too, whether regarded as a punishment for violent acts, or as a means of thrashing out the supposed demon lurking in the body and the real cause of the malady. And there was, of course, as the primary treatment, seclusion in a dark room and fetters.

To anticipate what belongs to subsequent chapters, we may say here that when the insane were no longer treated in monasteries, or brought to sacred wells, or flogged at "trees of truth," they fared no better—nay, I think, often worse—when they were shut up in mad-houses and crowded into workhouses. They were too often under the charge of brutal keepers, were chained to the wall or in their beds, where they lay in dirty straw, and frequently, in the depth of winter, without a rag to cover them. It is difficult to understand why and how they continued to live; why their caretakers did not, except in the case of profitable patients, kill them outright; and why, failing this—which would have been a kindness compared with the prolonged tortures to which they were subjected—death did not come sooner to their relief.


[2] Collected and edited by the Rev. Oswald Cockayne, M.A., 1865. Published under the direction of the Master of the Rolls.

[3] Corn or seed to cure bewitching (Saxon). Supposed to be the seeds of "wild saffron."

[4] Op. cit., vol. ii. p. 137; Leech Book, I. lxiii.

[5] That is, a small bell used in the church, probably the acolyte's. St. Fillan's was twelve inches high. See postea.

[6] Op. cit., vol. i. p. 161.

[7] Op. cit., p. 171.

[8] Op. cit., pp. 313-315.

[9] Op. cit., p. 351 ("Medicina de quadrupedibus" of Sextus Placitus).

[10] Op. cit., p. 361.

[11] Op. cit., vol. ii. pp. 343, 143, 343, 307, and 345.

[12] Wodnes (Saxon) signifies madness. "Ance wod and ay waur," i.e. increasing in insanity. (See Jamieson's Scotch Dictionary, 1825: "Wodman = a madman.")

[13] Op. cit., vol. ii. p. 335.

[14] Preface to vol. ii. p. xix.-xxiii.

[15] Vol. iv., preface, p. xxxiv.

[16] Vol. iv. p. 225.

[17] In Chambers's "Book of Days," in an article on "Holy Wells," it is added to the above statement that in the seventeenth century St. Winifred could boast of thousands of votaries, including James II.

[18] In the "Miller's Tale," the carpenter is befooled into looking like a madman. "They tolden every man that he was wood," etc. (Percy Society's edition, vol. i. p. 152).

[19] Early English Text Society, vol. iii. p. 163. See also Clarendon Press Series, edited by Mr. Skeats. London, 1866.

[20] "Archaeologia Britannica," by Ed. Lhuyd, 1707. The Armoric word for mania is diboelder or satoni; the Cornish, meskatter; the British, mainigh, among others.

[21] These passages from Dr. Borlase and Dr. Boase will be found in the valuable address at the Royal Institution of Cornwall, by W. C. Borlase, F.S.A., 1878 (Journal of the Institution, 1878, No. xx. pp. 58, 59). It forms a little work on Cornish Saints, and from it is derived the statement made in regard to St. Nonna or Nun.

[22] Honoured both in Scotland and Ireland on account of his great sanctity and miracles, he "exchanged his mortal life for a happy immortality in the solitude of Sirach, not far from Glendarchy, Scotland. His mother, Kentigerna, was also a woman of great virtues, and honoured after her death for a Saint" ("Britannia Sancta, or Lives of British Saints," 1745, p. 20).

[23] Vol. i. p. 282.

[24] "Darker Superstitions of Scotland," p. 82. Macfarlane, "Geographical Collections," MS., vol. i. p. 154.

[25] Dr. Mitchell has clearly shown that St. Maree is a corruption of Maelrubha, who came from Ireland, and not of Mary, as stated by Pennant.

[26] "Tour in Scotland and the Hebrides," vol. i. p. 332, edit. 1774.

[27] Or Gringorian water. In what respect it was special I do not know, but holy water is said to have been so called because Gregory I. recommended it so highly. "In case," says Rabelais, "they should happen to encounter with devils, by virtue of the Gringoriene water they might make them disappear" ("Gargantua," i. 43). See Brewer's "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable."

[28] "On Various Superstitions in the North-West Highlands and Islands of Scotland, especially in Relation to Lunacy," by Arthur Mitchell, A.M., M.D., 1862; from the "Proceedings of the Antiquarian Society of Scotland," vol. iv. The aphorism of Boerhaave, relating to the treatment of lunatics, quoted by this writer, is entirely in keeping with the practice described in the text, "Praecipitatio in mare, submersio in eo continuata quamdiu ferre potest, princeps remedium est."

[29] Op. cit., p. 15.

[30] Mitchell, op. cit., p. 18. He adds it was Murdoch's "calamity to live among an unenlightened people, a thousand years removed from the kindly doctrines of the good Pinel." "I am not here detailing what happened in the Middle Ages. It is of the nineteenth century—of what living men saw that I write." In the Inverness Courier, August 31, 1871, is an extraordinary account of dipping lunatics in Lochmanur, in Sutherlandshire, in the district of Strathnaver, at midnight: "About fifty persons were present near one spot.... About twelve (affected with various diseases) stripped and walked into the loch, performing their ablutions three times. Those who were not able to act for themselves were assisted, some of them being led willingly, and others by force. One young woman, strictly guarded, was an object of great pity. She raved in a distressing manner, repeating religious phrases, some of which were very earnest and pathetic.... These utterances were enough to move any person hearing them. Poor girl! What possible good could immersion be to her?... No man, so far as I could see, denuded himself for a plunge.... These gatherings take place twice a year, and are known far and near to such as put belief in the spell. But the climax of absurdity is in paying the loch in sterling coin.... I may add that the practice of dipping in the loch is said to have been carried on from time immemorial, and it is alleged that many cures have been effected by it" (Correspondent of the Courier, who witnessed the scene on the 14th of August, 1871).

[31] "Darker Superstitions of Scotland," p. 190.

[32] Op. cit., p. 60; from "Trial of Alexander Drummond in the Kirktown of Auchterairdour," July 3, 1629.

[33] Op. cit., p. 61, "Trial of Marable Couper," June 13, 1616.

[34] Op. cit., p. 98.

[35] Dalyell, p. 550.

[36] Joyce's "Irish Names of Places," vol. i. p. 172.

[37] "Ancient and Present State of the County Kerry," p. 196.

[38] Joyce's "Irish Names of Places."

[39] "Letters from the Kingdom of Kerry, in the year 1845." Dublin, 1847.

[40] Vol. ii. p. 226. On witchcraft in Ireland see the "Annals of Ireland," translated from the original Irish of the Four Masters, by Owen Connellan, Esq. Dublin, 1846.

[41] His "Breviary of Helth" was published in 1547.

[42] This cross was made of sea sand, in the sixth century, by St. Kentigern, called also St. Mungo. A collegiate church was erected there in 1449. He healed the maniacal by the touch. See "The Legends of St. Kentigern," translated by Rev. William Stevenson, D.D., Edinburgh, 1874; and Notes and Queries, April 21, 1866.

[43] Page 976, ed. 1633. According to modern botanists, black hellebore is not, as was for long supposed the Helleboros melas of Hippocrates. Of several species growing in Greece, the medicinal virtues of Helleborus orientalis resemble most nearly those of the classic descriptions of H. niger. See "The British Flora Medica," by B. H. Barton, F.L.S., and T. Castle, M.D., 1877, p. 203.

[44] Scot was born near Smeeth, 1545. He was educated at Oxford, and lived on his paternal estate. He was the son of Sir John Scot, of Scot's Hall. Died 1599. His famous work, "The Discovery of Witchcraft, proving the common opinions of Witches contracting with Divels, Spirits, or Familiars to be but imaginary conceptions; wherein also the lewde unchristian practices of Witchmongers in extorting Confessions, is notably detected; whereunto is added a Treatise upon the nature and substance of Spirits and Divels," was published in 1584. This is the title of the second edition, which differs slightly from the first.

[45] Op. cit., p. 72.

[46] "Medical Councils," 1679; "Opera Medica," 1703.

[47] Edit. 1616. James says he wrote it "chiefly against the damnable opinions of Wierus and Scot, the latter of whom is not ashamed in public print to deny that there can be such a thing as witchcraft, and so maintains the old error of the Sadducees in the denying of spirits."

[48] Johann Wierus, born at Grave on the Meuse, Brabant, published his work against the prevalent view of witchcraft in 1567. See "Histoires, Disputes, et Discours des Illusions, et Impostures des Diables, des Magiciens infames, Sorciers, etc. Par Jean Wier, 1579." He died 1588, at Tecklenburg. His works were printed in one volume in 1660.

[49] Op. cit., p. 234.

[50] Henry Cornelius Agrippa was born in 1486, at Cologne, and was the contemporary of Paracelsus. Agrippa was the master of Wierus. He was Town Advocate at Metz and secretary to the Emperor Maximilian. Imprisoned for a year at Brussels, on the charge of magic, and ceaselessly calumniated after his death. See Plancey's "Dict. Infern.," art. "Agrippa," and Thiers' "Superst." (vol. i. pp. 142, 143). See his Memoir, by Professor Morley, 1856. He was a doctor of medicine as well as law. He himself believed in witchcraft.

[51] As in Hamlet. "There" (England) "the men are as mad as he."

[52] "King Lear," Act iii. sc. 4.

[53] Lord Campbell's "Lives of the Lord Chancellors."

[54] Notes and Queries, vol. vi. p. 327, No. 153. A more extraordinary entry occurs under the same date: "Paid Thomas Hawkins for whipping 2 people y{t} had the small-pox, 8d." Under date 1648: "Given to a woman that was bereaved of her witts the 26 of Aprill, 1645, 6d." (Op. cit., No. 242, July 22, 1854).

[55] According to Dr. Brushfield, torture was practised in Scotland after it was used for the last time in England in 1640. No specimens of the "brank" are known to exist in Ireland or Wales.

[56] "Obsolete Punishments," Part I., "The Brank," by T. N. Brushfield, M.D., 1858, p. 20.



The chief point of interest in the subject to which this chapter has reference, centres in the questions where and what was the provision made for the insane in England at the earliest period in which we can discover traces or their custody?

Many, I suppose, are familiar with the fact of the original foundation in 1247 of a Priory in Bishopsgate Street, for the Order of St. Mary of Bethlem, but few are aware at what period it was used for the care or confinement of lunatics, and still fewer have any knowledge of the form of the building of the first Bethlem Hospital—the word "Bethlem" soon degenerating into Bedlam.

Before entering upon the less known facts, I would observe that an alderman and sheriff of London, Simon FitzMary, gave in the thirty-first year of the reign of Henry III., 1247, to the Bishop and Church of Bethlem, in Holyland, all his houses and grounds in the parish of St. Botolph without Bishopsgate, that there might be thereupon built a Hospital or Priory for a prior, canons, brethren, and sisters of the Order of Bethlem or the Star of Bethlem, wherein the Bishop of Bethlem was to be entertained when he came to England, and to whose visitation and correction all the members of the house were subjected.[57]

The following is the wording of the original grant, slightly abridged:—"To all the children of our Mother holy Church, to whom this present writing shall come, Simon, the Son of Mary, sendeth greeting in our Lord, ... having special and singular devotion to the Church of the glorious Virgin at Bethelem, where the same Virgin brought forth our Saviour incarnate, and lying in the Cratch,[58] and with her own milk nourished; and where the same child to us being born, the Chivalry of the Heavenly Company sange the new hymne, Gloria in excelsis Deo ... a new Starre going before them. In the Honour and Reverence of the same child, and his most meek mother, and to the exaltation of my most noble Lord, Henry King of England, ... and to the manifold increase of this City of London, in which I was born: and also for the health of my soul, and the souls of my predecessors and successors, my father, mother and my friends, I have given, and by this my present Charter, here, have confirmed to God, and to the Church of St. Mary of Bethelem, all my Lands which I have in the Parish of St. Buttolph, without Bishopsgate of London, ... in houses, gardens, pools, ponds, ditches, and pits, and all their appurtenances as they be closed in by their bounds, which now extend in length from the King's high street, East, to the great Ditch, in the West, the which is called Depeditch; and in breadth to the lands of Ralph Dunnyng, in the North; and to the land of the Church of St. Buttolph in the South; ... to make there a Priory, and to ordain a Prior and Canons, brothers and also sisters, who in the same place, the Rule and Order of the said Church of Bethelem solemnly professing, shall bear the Token of a Starre openly in their Coapes and Mantles of profession, and for to say Divine Service there, for the souls aforesaid, and all Christian souls, and specially to receive there, the Bishop of Bethelem, Canons, brothers, and messengers of the Church of Bethelem for ever more, as often as they shall come thither. And that a Church or Oratory there shall be builded, as soon as our Lord shall enlarge his grace, under such form, that the Order, institution of Priors, &c. to the Bishop of Bethelem and his successors shall pertain for evermore.... And Lord Godfrey, Bishop of Bethelem, into bodily possession, I have indented and given to his possession all the aforesaid Lands; which possession he hath received, and entered in form aforesaid.

"And in token of subjection and reverence, the said place in London shall pay yearly a mark sterling at Easter to the Bishop of Bethelem.

"This gift and confirmation of my Deed, & the putting to of my Seal for me and mine heirs, I have steadfastly made strong, the year of our Lord God, 1247, the Wednesday after the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist."

From this it appears that Simon Fitzmary's land extended from the King's Highway on the east (Bishopsgate Street without) to the fosse called Depeditch on the west. The land of Saint Botolph Church bounded it on the south, and the property of a Ralph Dunnyng on the north. The author of "The History of St. Botolph" (1824), Mr. T. L. Smartt, suggests that the old White Hart Tavern is a vestige of the hostelry. If not forming part of the original hospital, it certainly led to it. Among the tokens in the British Museum I find "Bedlem Tokens E.{K.}E. at Bedlam Gate, 1657," and the "Reverse at the White Hart." At an early period Bethlem is styled "Bethlem Prison House," and the patients, "who sometimes exceeded the number of twenty," are called prisoners. One token at the British Museum is G.{H.}A. "at the Old Prison."

A considerable portion of this site is occupied at the present day by Liverpool Street, and the railway stations which have sprung up there.

The topographer in search of the old site finds striking proofs of the changes which six hundred years have brought with them—the steam, and the shrill sounds of the Metropolitan, North London, and Great Eastern Railways; while Bethlem Gate, the entrance to the hospital from Bishopsgate Street, was, when I last visited the spot, superseded by hoardings covered with the inevitable advertisement of the paper which enjoys the largest circulation in the world. Depeditch is now Bloomfield Street. The name of Ralph Dunnyng, whose property is mentioned in the charter as bounding Bethlem on the north, is, I suppose, represented, after the lapse of six centuries, by Dunning's Alley and Place.

There was a churchyard on the property, which was enclosed for the use of adjoining parishes by Sir Thomas Rowe, Lord Mayor of London, at a much later period (1569)—no doubt the ground where the inmates were buried. The Broad Street Railway Station booking-office is situated upon part of its site. In connection with this, I may refer to a statement in Mr. Buckland's "Curiosities of Natural History," to the effect that a skeleton, on which fetters were riveted, was found in 1863, in St. Mary Axe, by some workmen engaged in excavations. Mr. Buckland states, on the authority of Mr. Hancock, that Sir Thomas Rowe gave ground in St. Mary Axe, for the use of Old Bethlem Hospital and certain adjoining parishes. Mr. Buckland, therefore, concluded that the skeleton was that of a man who had been a patient in Bedlam, and buried in his chains. He was on one occasion good enough to place them at my disposal, but as I can find no evidence that Sir T. Rowe did more than what I have above stated, I think there is no connection proved between the skeleton in irons and Bedlam.

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