Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/809

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

but a gigantic hallucination. He continues, in the mean time, to exercise the different functions of life. He eats, but it is a shadow of food that enters a shadow of a stomach; his pulse is only a shadow of a pulse. He is perfectly conscious of the absurdity of his ideas but can not overcome them. Along with this profound intellectual trouble the physical functions have remained perfectly normal. He complains of nothing but a slight pressure on his temples, and about the root of his nose. Deeply sensible of his moral condition, he is afraid he is going mad, and comes of his own accord to ask for a place in an asylum for the insane.

Facts of this kind have been known for a long time. Examples of them may possibly be found m antiquity, but the first authentic observation of one is given by Esquirol. He tells of a young woman brought up in trade, who was tormented by a scrupulous fear of doing wrong to others. Whenever she drew up an account she was apprehensive of making a mistake to the prejudice of some other one. One day, coming out from her aunt's house which she visited frequently, she was distressed lest she might involuntarily carry off in her pockets something belonging to her relative. Then she began to take much time to verify her accounts and bills, for fear that she might commit some error and do wrong to purchasers. At a later stage she was afraid, when she handled money, that something valuable would remain in her finders. It was of no use to tell her that she could not keep a piece of money without perceiving it, or that the contact of her fingers could not change the value of the money she touched. "That is true," she would reply; "my anxiety is absurd and ridiculous, but I can not help it." She had to withdraw from trade. Gradually her apprehensions grew till they domineered over her whole life. Yet she was reasonable, intelligent, and lively.

The subject has since been studied and examined in all its aspects by Parchappe, Trélat, Baillarger, the two Falrets, Delasiauve, Morel, and Marcé. M. Legrand du Saulle published a monograph on it, embodying the results of the labors of his predecessors, in 1875. My colleague, M. Ritti, has published an interesting study upon it in the "Gazette Hebdomadaire," and a very complete article in the "Dictionnaire Encyclopédique"; and Griesinger and Dr. Oscar Berger have published essays upon it in Germany.

Let us pass to the description of the doubting folly (folie du chute). The beginning of the malady is sometimes obscure, but it is rarely abrupt, as in the case we have noticed. Generally the patient, as in the observation of Esquirol, exhibits odd scruples; he attracts attention by his eccentricities, and becomes incapable of any kind of labor; he is afraid of compromising himself, reads and rereads what he has just written, and takes infinite precautions not to make a mistake. A doctor, afflicted with this folly, having carefully examined the patients who consult him, gave them prescriptions that he had compiled with