Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/598

This page has been validated.
580
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

One sort of treatment used for those accused of witchcraft will also serve to show this—the "tortura insomniæ." Of all things in brain-disease, calm and regular sleep is most certainly beneficial; yet, under his practice, these half-crazed creatures were prevented, night after night and day after day, from sleeping or even resting. In this way temporary delusion became chronic insanity, mild cases violent, torture and death ensued, and the "ways of God to man" were justified.[1]

But the most contemptible creatures in all those centuries were the physicians who took sides with religious orthodoxy. While we have on the side of truth a Flade sacrificing his life, a Loos his hopes of preferment, a Bekker his position, and a Thomasius his ease, reputation, and friends, we find, as allies of the other side, a troop of eminently respectable doctors mixing Scripture, metaphysics, and pretended observations to support the "safe side" and to deprecate interference with the existing superstition, which seemed to them "a very safe belief to be held by the common people."[2]

Against one form of insanity both religions were especially cruel. Nothing is more common in all times of religious excitement than strange personal hallucinations, involving the belief, on the part of the insane patient, that he is a divine person: in the most striking representation of insanity that has ever been made, Kaulbach shows, at the center of his wonderful group, a patient drawing attention to himself as the Saviour of the world.

Sometimes, when this form of disease took a milder hysterical character, the subject of it was treated with reverence, and even elevated to sainthood: such examples as St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Siena in Italy, St. Bridget in Sweden, St. Theresa in Spain, St. Mary Alacoque in France, and Louise Lateau in Belgium, are typical. But more frequently such cases shocked public feeling, and were treated with especial rigor: typical of this is the case of Simon Marin, who in his insanity believed himself to be the Son of God, and was on that account burned alive at Paris and his ashes scattered to the winds.[3]

  1. See Kirchhoff, as above.
  2. For names and arguments used by creatures of this sort, see Diefenbach, "Der Hexenwahn vor und nach der Glaubensspaltung in Deutschland," pp. 342-346. A long list of these infamous names is given on p. 345.
  3. As to the frequency among the insane of this form of belief, see Calmeil, ii, 257; also Maudsley, "Pathology of Mind," pp. 201, 202, and 418-424; also Rambaud, "Histoire de la Civilisation en France," ii, 110. For the peculiar aberrations of the saints above named and other ecstatics, see Maudsley, as above, pp. 71, 72, and 149, 150. Maudsley's chapters on this and cognate subjects are certainly among the most valuable contributions to modern thought. For a discussion of the most recent case, see Warlomont, "Louise Lateau," Paris, 1875.