Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/648

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dispel the delusion, are so paralyzed or diseased that they can not be exercised. A few years ago, during the trial of an insane man in Chicago, it was asked whether there could be, strictly speaking, such a condition as partial insanity—that is, whether a man could be perfectly sane and responsible as regards all subjects except one or two. A very celebrated physician endeavored to maintain that it was impossible, because, he said, if one part of the brain was diseased, the whole organ, being in sympathy with that part, would be diseased also. It seems to me that, practically, this physician was mistaken. If the brain is the organ of the mind, there seems no reason why, notwithstanding one portion of that organ may be in an abnormal state, the other parts may not perform their functions well enough. I have certainly seen insane men whose opinions in reference to certain subjects it would be safer to trust than those of some men that have never been suspected of insanity. The question of responsibility is, of course, what gives insanity, from a legal view-point, its chief interest. It is certainly a mistaken idea that no insane person is responsible. It does not obtain in the asylums, at any rate; for discipline is very often maintained there by a system of rewards and punishments. If a patient misbehaves, he is informed that a repetition of his offense will put him back in some ward where his surroundings will not be so pleasant. This threat is seldom without avail, especially if the patient has once already had an experience of the penalty. This would seem to show that he knows good from evil, and has self-control enough to restrain himself from wrong-doing. There are some insane patients, though, of course, that have passed beyond the possibility of all self-control. It is plainly impossible to furnish any general rule by which to decide when a man is responsible and when not.

Insanity does not change a person's character so much as is usually believed. A distinguished English physician has said that, if there be anything in this world that is immutable, it is character. We meet with illustrations of the truth of this assertion almost every day. "Conversion" is believed, by many excellent church-people, to work a complete change for the better in a man's moral nature. But has any one ever seen a mean, close-fisted, narrow-minded man become, in consequence of conversion, liberal and generous? I trow not; and so even insanity seldom alters a man's nature much. For instance, the insane man may imagine people are plotting to kill him; he fancies he hears threats, and thinks he sees motions to carry them into execution. Now, if he be naturally a timid man, and a non-combatant, he will run, and try to escape; but if he is courageous by nature, and inclined to fight, he will act just as he would were all the circumstances really just as his disordered imagination pictures them. Compare the number of murders committed by insane men with those committed by men under the influence of alcohol, and the latter, in