FOR several weeks past it has been scarcely possible to take up a paper without seeing such startling headlines as "Triplets, and all Crazy," "Three Daughters become Maniacs," etc. In fact, so much publicity has been given to the rather unusual number of cases of communicated insanity that have recently occurred in New York, Buffalo, and Philadelphia that the subject has become one of general interest and one upon which accurate information should be given.
The fact that an insane person can, under certain conditions, produce the same form of insanity in another previously sane, or infect him as it were, is indisputable. The French were the first to recognize this fact, and several cases have been reported in L'Encéphale, and other journals, under the term folie à deux. It has also been called folie simultanée by Régis, and folie imposée by Falret.
Although folie à deux is not an unusual occurrence, folie à trois is quite uncommon, and still rarer, although not unknown, is the evolution of insanity with like symptoms in whole families. Dr. Cramer, in the Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie, reports a most interesting example of the latter kind where a mother and daughter becoming insane, and possessed with delusions of persecution, impressed the same delusions upon the father and five grown-up children. Thus the same form of insanity was imposed upon a family of eight.
Dr. Ireland, in his interesting book The Blot upon the Brain, shows how powerful an influence the insane mind has had upon the sane in the history of religious imposture. He calls attention to the fact that there are people still living who remember Joanna Southcott, who claimed that when sixty years of age she would give birth to the Messiah, and who succeeded in making nearly a hundred thousand people in England believe in her statements.
Brothers, of whose insanity there is no doubt, infected many, and even some among the educated, with his claims to inspiration; and John Thoms, of Canterbury, as late as 1838 collected quite a number of followers whose faith was great enough to make them believe that they would be invulnerable against the attacks of the militia. As a result, Thoms and nine of his credulous followers fell victims to the bullets of the soldiers. But even then all faith was not lost, for many believed that he would rise again within a month. Such psychical epidemics, Kirchhoff believes, are gradually evolved by a sort of "waking suggestion" like the process of suggestion during hypnosis.