Page images
[ocr errors][merged small]

We extract what follows from the sixth of these Essays, that on the Kavoos of Aretæus :'

•A young gentleman, twenty-four years of age, who had been using mercury very largely, caught cold, and became seriously ill with fever. His head appeared to be affected on the fifth day, and on the seventh, when I was first called into consultation with another physician who had attended him with great care and judgment from the commencement of his illness, we found him in the highest possible state of excitement. He was stark naked, standing upright in bed, his eyes flashing fire, exquisitely alive to every movement about him, and so irascible as not to be approached without increasing his irritation to a degree of fury. He was put under coercion, and, amongst other expedients, emetic tartar was ordered to be administered to him, in doses of a grain each time, at proper intervals. On the eleventh day of bis disease I was informed that he was become quite calm, and seemed much better. It was remarked, indeed, that he had said, repeatedly, that he should die; that under this conviction he had talked with great composure of his affairs ; that he had mentioned several debts which he had contracted, and made provision for their payment; that he had dictated messages to his mother, who was abroad, expressive of his affection, and had talked much of a sister who had died the year before, and whom, he said, he knew he was about to follow immediately. To my questions, whether he had slept previously to this state of quietude, and whether his pulse had come down, it was ansivered - No; he had not slept, and his pulse was quicker than ever. Then it was evident that this specious improvement was unreal, that the clearing up of his mind was a mortal sign, “a lightening before death,” and that he would die forthwith. On entering his room, he did not notice us; his eyes were fixed on vacancy, he was occupied entirely within himself, and all that we could gather from his words was some indistinct mention of his sister. His hands were cold, and his pulse immeasurably quick,-he died that night.'-p. 96.

In another Essay, entitled · On Shakspeare's test of Insanity,' we tind various cases of the same or a like kind brought forward to illustrate the accuracy with which our great dramatist, and other poets of the first class, have delineated the phenomena of mental disorder. The minute, even technical, study which Shakspeare had bestowed on this painful subject, is indeed apparent ; his delineations of mania, in its various degrees, embody quite as careful a record of realities as Lord Byron's Storm in the Gulf of Lyons, and Siege of Ismael, have been lately proved to do. Sir Henry's text is in these words of Hamlet:

My pulse as yours doth temperately keep time,
And makes as healthful music. It is not madness
That I have utter'd : bring me to the test,
And I the matter will re-word, which madness
Would gambol from.'



We select the following illustration : • A gentleman of considerable fortune in Oxfordshire, about thirtyyears

of age, sent for his solicitor to make his will. He was in habits of strict friendship with him, and stated that he wished to add five hundred pounds a year to his mother's jointure, if she got well, she being then (to the knowledge of the solicitor and himself only) confined as a lunatic; to make a provision for two natural children; to leave a few trilling legacies; and then, if he died childless, to make him, the solicitor, his heir. His friend expressed his gratitude, but added that he could not accept such a mark of his good opinion, until he was convinced that it was his deliberate judgment so to dispose of his property, and that decision communicated to him six months afterwards.

• In about six weeks time the gentleman became deranged, and continued in such a state of excitement for a whole month, (during which he was visited constantly by Sir George Tuthill and myself,) as to require coercion every day. At the expiration of that time he was composed and comfortable. But his languor and weakness bore a proportion to his late excitement, and it was very doubtful whether he would live. On entering his room one day, to my question how he found himself, he answered," Very ill, Sir; about to die ; and only anxious to make my will first." This could hardly be listened to under his circumstances, and he was persuaded to forego that wish for the present. The next day he made the same answer to the same question, but in such a tone and manner as to extort from common humanity, even at the probable expense of future litigation, an acquiescence in his wish to disburthen his mind. The solicitor was sent for, and, having been with him the preceding evening, met us, at our consultation in the morning, with a will prepared according to the instructions he had received before the attack of disease, as well as to those given the last night. He proposed to read this to the gentleman in our presence, and that we should witness the signature of it, if we were satisfied that it expressed clearly his intentions. It was read, and he answered, "yes,”—“yes, "-"yes,” distinctly to every item, as it was deliberately proposed to him. On going down stairs with Sir George Tuthill and the solicitor, to consider what was to be done, I expressed some regret that we, the physicians, bad been involved in an affair which could hardly be expected to terminate without an inquiry in a court of law, in which we must necessarily be called upon to justify ourselves for permitting this good gentleman, under such questionable circumstances, to make a will. It occurred to me then, to propose to my colleague to go up again into the sick room, to see whether our patient could re-word the matter, as a test, on Shakspeare's authority, of his soundness of mind. He repeated the clauses which contained the addition to his mother's jointure, and which made provision for the natural children, with sufficient correctness; but he stated that he had left a namesake, though not a relation, ten thousand pounds, whereas he had left him


five thousand pounds only; and there he paused. After which I thought it proper to ask him, to whom he had left his real property, when these legacies should have been discharged,-in whom did he intend that his estate should be vested after his death, if he died without children ? " In the heir at law, to be sure," was the reply. Who is your heir at law ? “I do not know.” Thus he “gambolled from the matter, and laboured, according to this test, under his madness still.

• He died, intestate of course, four days afterwards. I owe it to the solicitor, the friend, to testify that his conduct throughout was strictly honourable; and I have pleasure in adding, that the heir at law has generously made good the bequest to the mother, and the provision for the natural children, to the extent of more than thirty thousand pounds.'--p. 60.

Sir Henry, whose acquaintance with Greek and Roman literature gives this volume many of its attractions, proceeds from Shakspeare to Horace.—' Twice,' he says, it has occurred to me to find his portraits of madness exemplified to the life.'

One case, that of the gentleman of Argos, whose delusion led him to suppose that he was attending the representation of a play, as he sat in his bedchamber, is so exact, that I saw a person of exalted rank under those very circumstances of delusion, and heard him call upon Mr. Garrick to exert himself in the performance of Hamlet. The passage is the more curious as it specifies distinctly that it was upon this one point only that the gentleman was mad:

" Fuit haud ignobilis Argis, Qui se credebat miros audire trag odos, In vacuo lætus sessor plausorque theatro; Cætera qui vitæ servaret munia recto More; bonus sane vicinus, amabilis hospes,” &c. Epist. lib.ii. 2. 128.

• In another well known case, which justified the Lord Chancellor's issuing a writ de lunatico inquirendo, the insanity of the gentleman manifested itself in his appropriating everything to himself, and parting with nothing. When strongly urged to put on a clean shirt, he would do it, but it must be over the dirty one ; nor would he put off his shoes when he went to bed. He would agree to purchase anything that was to be sold, but he would not pay for it. He was, in fact, brought up from the King's Bench prison, where he had been committed for not paying for a picture valued at fifteen hundred pounds, which he had agreed to buy; and in giving my opinion to the jury, I recommended it to them to go over to his house, in Portlandplace, where they would find fifty thousand pounds worth of property of every description; this picture, musical instruments, clocks, babyhouses, and baubles, all huddled in confusion together, on the floor of hie dining room. To such a case what could apply more closely than the passage

“Si quis emat citharas, emptas comportet in unum,

Nec studio citharæ, nec Musæ deditus ulli;
Si scalpra et formas, non sutor; nautica vela,
Aversus mercaturis : delirus et amens

Undique dicatur merito.”-Sat. lib. ii. 3. 104. ' If the physician were to collect and apply the brief notices of various disorders, which have been thrown out by the great poets of antiquity, he might not only illustrate the truth of the descriptions drawn by those accurate observers of nature, but derive from them some useful hints to assist him in his own observation of disease.'

p. 64.

To return to Hamlet,-his criterion of madness, however excellent as a mark for incoherence of intellect, will scarcely be used in detecting the more intricate forms of this Protean malady. The Prince's testimony in favour of his own perfect sanity is treated with as little ceremony by the commentators, as similar words from the lips of a staring lunatic would be by the phalanx of modern mad-doctors. Some of them, however, are of opinion that the poet means to describe a mind disordered, and that the feigned madness is a part of the plot quite compatible with such a state of intellect; while others see nothing but the assumption of insanity in the inconsistencies of Hamlet. This discrepancy springs from the different notions included by different men in their definitions of madness. In fact, however, madness, like sense, admits of no adequate definition; no one set of words will include all its grades and varieties. Some of the existent definitions of insanity would let loose half the inmates of Bedlam, while others are wide enough to place nine-tenths of the world in strait-jackets. The vulgar error consists in believing the powers of the mind to be destroyed by the malady; but general disturbånce of the intellect is only one form. The aberration may be confined to a few objects or trains of ideas; sometimes the feelings, passions, and even instincts of our nature may assume an undue ascendency over a mind not disjointed, but warped, urging it with resistless force to the commission of forbidden deeds, and to form the most consistent plans for their accomplishment.

Thus, in cases of monomania, a mother is impelled to murder her children-conscious of the atrocity of the act-abhorring it, and even entreating those around her to protect her from herselfas in the instance related by Orfila, where the wretched woman, whenever she washed her children, and saw the water trickling from them, heard a voice whispering in her ear, Laissez le coulerlet it flow-until, after a thousand struggles to banish the horrid suggestion, she plunged the knife. Damien persisted to the last in declaring, that had he been bled that morning as he had

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]


[ocr errors]

wished and requested to be, he never would have attempted the assassination of Louis XV. In another equally well attested instance, a father systematically persecuted his children for many years. During the whole of ihis period he was looked on by the generality as a man of great talent and probity; and it was only after the history of his life had been sifted by several of the best physicians of the day, that a tinge of insanity was perceived to pervade it. He had started with impracticable notions of virtue, and, finding these not realised in the conduct of his children, he conceived a hatred against them, which caused him to persecute his sons, even to destitution, and to accuse his daughters to their husbands of the worst of crimes. In the prosecution of his plans, and in the business of life, he evinced anything but incoherence.

Villemain, in his · Mélanges Historiques,' says, 'Shakspeare has represented feigned as often as real madness ; finally, he has contrived to blend both in the extraordinary character of Hamlet, and to join together the light of reason, the cunning of intentional error, and the involuntary disorder of the soul. Goethe, again, in his Wilhelm Meister, says :

It is clear to me, that Shakspeare's intention was to exhibit the effects of a great action, imposed as a duty upon a mind too feeble for its accomplishment. In this sense, I find the character of Hamlet consistent throughout. Here is an oak planted in a vase, proper only to receive the most delicate flowers. The roots strike out, and the vessel Aies to pieces. A pure, noble, highly moral disposition, but without that energy of soul that constitutes the hero, sinks under a load which it can neither support nor resolve to abandon altogether. All his obligations are sacred to him, but this alone is above his powers! An impossibility is required at his hands-not an impossibility in itself, but that which is so to him. Observe how he shifts, hesitates, advances, and recedes !-How he is continually reminded and reminding himself of his great commission, which he nevertheless, in the end, seems almost entirely to lose sight of, and this without ever recovering his former tranquillity.'

Ingenious and elegant as is this German gloss, we nevertheless think Villemain right in adhering to Malone's opinion. Hamlet, after his father's death, is a totally different being from the hope of Denmark whom Ophelia lauds with such impassioned eloquence, and whom Horatio and Fortinbras both deck with the noblest attributes of our nature. Neither indecision of character nor seigned madness account for Hamlet's actions. His conduct, when he leaps into Ophelia's grave, and the reason he assigns for it, are evidences of a mind diseased. “The bravery of his grief put me into a towering passion,' is the poorest of excuses for disturbing, before the august assemblage, ihe last rites of one whom


[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »