Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/448

This page has been validated.



human mind to retain distinct images of figures more complicated than rectangles or squares. In the case of curved lines, the mind has a tendency to refer all arcs to circles, since a circle forms as definite a conception as a square. The fact that it is made up of an infinite number of straight lines has significance only to a geometer.


THE relation between modern civilized life and insanity cannot be regarded as finally determined while a marked difference of opinion exists in regard to it among those who have studied the subject; nor can this difference be wondered at by any one who has examined the data upon which a conclusion must be formed, and has found how difficult it is to decide in which direction some of the evidence points. Statistics alone may prove utterly fallacious. Mere speculation, on the other hand, is useless, and indeed is only misleading. It is a matter on which it is tempting to write dogmatically, but where the honest inquirer is quickly pulled up by the hard facts that force themselves on his attention. Nothing easier than to indulge in unqualified denunciations of modern society; nothing more difficult than a cautious attempt to connect the social evils of the present day with the statistics of lunacy. Nothing easier than to make sweeping statements without proof, nothing more difficult than to apportion the mental injury respectively caused by opposite modes of life; totally diverse social states of a nation often leading to the same termination—insanity. These are closely bound together in the complex condition of modern civilized society. No doubt if we care for truth, and avoid rash assertions, we do it at the expense of a certain loss of force and incisiveness. Dogmatic statements usually produce more effect than carefully-balanced and strictly logical positions. Honesty, however, compels us to speak cautiously, and to confess the difficulties to which we have referred.

We shall not enter at length into the question which is at once raised by an inquiry into the relation between modern life and insanity—whether lunacy is on the increase in England. Twenty years ago there was one lunatic or idiot officially reported to 577 of the population; the latest returns place it as high as one in 370. Were we to go further back, the contrast would be far greater. That the increase of known cases of insanity has been very great, no one, therefore, disputes. Further, that the attention paid to the disease; the provision made for the insane; the prolongation of their lives in asylums, and the consequent accumulation of cases, and other circum-