Perhaps the Most Diminutive Illustrations of Madness
Is it possible that the mentally ill are the victims of unlikely but very real circumstances?
In 1810 Illustrations of Madness was published, the first detailed account of a clinical case of paranoid schizophrenia – the first patient of all those who have believed that someone or something, internal or external, natural or supernatural, earthling or alien, is capable of controlling their body, mind and will. The author, John Haslam, was a London physician who ended his days giving his opinions on the mental health of inmates to the court after the case of James Tilly Matthews, his most famous patient, would ruin his career.
In truth, everybody was a little crazy toward the end of the 18th century. The Napoleonic wars, the French Revolution, the war against England and an era of unprecedented state terror cast a shadow over Europe. While the US prepared for the independence war, the ‘old continent’ confronted its old medical and civil traditions with new ideas and new words to describe them. “Psychiatry” was still not part of the imagination but “melancholy” was on everybody’s lips. Until then, the mad and the undesirable did not enjoy a hierarchy or even a clear classification (as Foucault would demonstrate in his classic History of Madness), and in London’s infamous Bethlem Royal Hospital, known by its patients simply as ‘Bedlam,’ clinical cases and political prisoners were cellmates.
As with the fate of professor Fleschig and Daniel Paul Screber, or Sigmund Freud and the ‘wolf man,’ in the history of clinical psychiatry the names of John Haslam and James Tilly Matthews are inseparable, and have been since 1797, when the latter was tried as a traitor and a madman and sent to ‘Bedlam.’
For his writings, Haslam is not much different from a late 18th century scientist; he wagers everything on his first intuitions and never considers the possibility that the world could be different from the mental make-up that has been built on prejudice. For Haslam, Matthews’ intelligent and detail-focused personality must be in itself a sign of madness.
However, Matthews was not just a political prisoner: he believed that a gang of anarchists controlled his thoughts via a futuristic machine called the air loom. Illustrations of Madness contains many drawings of Matthews which show in great detail and accuracy not only the workings of the loom, but also its physical location in London, its dimensions and the sinister characters that operate it (some of which would serve as a model for the anarchists of J.K. Chesterton).
“Mesmerism” or the belief that animal magnetism could be controlled by mechanical means was used in Matthews’ narrative as the connecting thread that lent form to his paranoia. The evil gang approached people of political and military influence and, without those people realizing it, gave them “mesmerized” solutions to smell, magnetized with impious intentions. According to Matthews, then British Prime Minister William Pitt was wholly under the control of the air loom.
During the more than 10 years that Matthews was interned in ‘Bedlam,’ Haslam was able to witness the development of his exhaustive interior world. Haslam published his account with the (fruitless) hope of gaining fame in the world of psychiatry. But Matthews was analyzed by other doctors, who always considered him to be not only sane, but also very intelligent. One of his diagnoses suggests that Matthews’ paranoia was caused by the authorities’ refusal to let him go. And that his detention in ‘Bedlam’ was not as paranoid as had been believed.
Matthews was a political activist in favor of peace during the French Revolution, trying to bring an end to the war with different methods (undercover but documentable) between Paris and London. After the execution of Louis XVI, Matthews remained in prison in Paris under suspicion of being a British spy. His fear of the guillotine (one of the principal causes of death back then) could have been the reason behind his fear for and fascination with machines.
While in prison he wrote to Lord Liverpool to ask for help, but in vain. After being freed in 1796 he returned to London to confront Pitt’s corrupt government and the House of Commons. He was arrested, tried and sent to ‘Bedlam’ until 1814.
Matthews’ case became known as a result of Illustrations of Madness and he was allowed to teach illustration and drawing. His family managed to get him transferred to a private psychiatric hospital after mental health inspectors criticized ‘Bedlam’s’ standard practices, such as keeping internees chained up and the difficulty of differentiating between the “mad” patients and the drunken jailors. Matthews’ last physician, doctor Samuel Fox, did not find anything strange about his famous patient and Matthews helped him keep his accounting books and until his death carried out small gardening tasks in the Fox Hospital’s London house.
When ancient rituals became religion
The emergence of religions irreversibly changed the history of humanity. It’s therefore essential to ask when and how did ancient peoples’ rituals become organized systems of thought, each with their
Larung Gar, the valley that is home to thousands of Buddhist monks
If we think about the monastic life it is very probable that we think about solitude, seclusion, silence and a few other qualities whose common denominator is the appropriate isolation for mediation
Dialogue with the Dalai Lama on science and spirituality
The Dalai Lama has been interested in science since he was a child. Over the years he’s visited many laboratories and has attended conferences that discuss consciousness from the scientific point of
A New Year's resolution for the earth
Worrisome quantities of waste are generated by human populations. Especially in cities, these have reached unprecedented and alarming levels. A largely uncontrolled practice, it affects everything on
The Dark Mountain Project: or how literature can confront ecocide
One impulse from a vernal wood May teach you more of man, Of moral evil and of good, Than all the sages can. Wordsworth, “The Tables Turned” (fragment) Words are elementary. The only reason we can
Are there no women in the history of philosophy?
Do only men philosophize? This could sound like a silly question, but if we quickly review the names of philosophers, from Aristotle to Slavoj Žižek, it would appear to be an exercise that is
Things that are about to disappear: photography as environmental conservation
Cristina Mittermeier is the founder of the International League of Conservationist Photography (iLCP), and is at the front of a modern movement to use photography with environmental purposes. Her work
Architecture And Music; An Affair That Acts On The Matter
A composition is like a house you can walk around in. — John Cage Perhaps music, more than the art of sound, is the art of time. That’s why its communion with space, and architecture, is so often so
Psycho-geography (On The Ritual Casting of a City)
Mrs. Dalloway walked down the streets of London guided by an “internal tide” that made her stop somewhere, enter a store, turn at the corner and continue her journey, as if she were adrift. La dérive
A Theme Park Inspired by Hayao Miyazaki is About to Open …
One of animation’s most spectacular exponents, Hayao Miyazaki, is the artist who transformed the direction of traditional animation forever.