Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

is checked or depraved, by which half-poisonous fluid are the numerous convulsive and gastric diseases of infancy induced.

The influence of anxiety also constantly lights up those latent germs of constitutional disease, which might otherwise never have been developed. The miliary tubercle of phthisis is thus excited to action, and youth and beauty, till then in seemingly blooming health, are at once doomed to decay, and perish,

But the great source of anxiety and its train of ills is to be sought in those ardent longings for worldly possessions, which are the especial debasements of this age. The Satanic passion of pride, which coils like the serpent in almost unconscious folds around the human heart, being the essence of ambition and of avarice, as it is indeed of almost every feeling which disturbs and darkens, and often destroys the life of man.

When this passion is encouraged in youth, it grows with it, and becomes an integral part of existence—the baneful spring of all our actions. It will require, when years have rolled on, an almost superhuman effort for its control for the metamorphosis or humbling of a soul thus enslaved. Nay, nothing short of the pure light of religion will suffice; a constant leaning on mercy and redemption, and a patient waiting for the fulfilment of the promise.

On the shrine of ambition, man not only sacrifices the nobler sentiments of his soul—his passport to eternal life—but wrecks even his earthly happiness. Even the pride of success soon palls on the sense: the voice of adulation only incites to repeated painful struggles to insure it ; and when all earthly grandeur and power are at length attained, the proud and anxious possessor stalks through his painted halls, fumbles his ingots, or his jewels, or his crosses, and then looks forth on his broad lands and frowning forests, and wonders and deplores (that is, if he CAN moralize) that his heart is not sufficiently capacious to enjoy them according to their splendour or their magnitude.

And Mammon, see how he hugs the miser and the gambler to his dark and agitated bosom. Even while he glares on his victims with his frenzied eye, the infatuated monomaniacs do not, or cannot, or will not see the grin of triumph with which he watches his victims to their doom. We cannot

“ Through the loopbole of retreat, Look out upon the world,”

agitated as it has been, as it is at this moment, with the intense desire of gain, without a thrill of pity and sympathy for the blind votaries of Mammon, who daily and hourly prostrate themselves before the golden image they have themselves set up.

Tranquillity of mind! It were a miracle indeed, if such a condition of brain could be preserved amid the tumult of a stock and share market, in the face of desperate ventures, in which millions may be involved, and families reduced to irretrievable ruin, by the mere dash of the minister's pen; and it were a vain effort to check the headlong course of one on whom the monomania of gaming has taken so deep a hold. Yet while Mammon thus reigns in every alley, the health of the body is sapped, the noble intellect of man is impaired and perverted, the condition of its organ gradually destroyed, the earthly climax of which may be drivelling or raving insanity, involving, alas ! that which is of far more awful import—the extreme peril of the immortal spirit.

On the slaves of pleasure, anxiety is ever an attendant demon. True, the orgies of Bacchus and Venus, during their intense excitement, drown the heart and mind in one voluptuous flood, while the cup of nepenthe, or the lips and arms of beauty throw their spell over the senses; but the deep anxiety of after-thought and feeling can never be compensated by a thousand-fold of such enjoyment. And is the penalty merely transient? Alas, it lasts a lifetime! and, if we may contemplate futurity, the scorpion stings of conscience will continue to wound and agonise, when there is even no death, or grave, or hope of pardon, to yield repose to the soul.

It is deeply painful to reflect on the prolific springs of disorder from these slavish passions; the brain and heart are the especial organs into which their poison is infused. Either the intellect or the senses are reduced to a brutal apathy, or the sensitiveness of the nervous system is so morbidly increased, that, on the slightest disappointment, or social competition even, the whole system is deranged, and there is no philosophy, no piety, to tranquillize a mind so subdued, for irreligion must be the dominant principle of such a life. It is almost a jest to write regarding the health of creatures so debased—they are all disorder; the tottering and restless gait, the dull and downcast eye, the atrophied or bloated body, the depraved organic functions,—all indicate the ravages that sin has made within.

And, then, the national insanity which has of late, in a sort of Titanic imitative monomania, overspread the globe-But we pause; for this gigantic madness should form the subject of a separate article.

Among those emotions which, in contrast, are from the first asthenic, we must only allude to grief and its prototypes, as one fertile source of deep or protracted nervous maladies. The intense degree of grief is allabsorbing. The mind broods over the one subject of its woe, and so reluctant is it to admit another, that it is often annoyed by conversation of friends, or even impression on the senses. Hence the deep mourner retires into lonely seclusion ; and soon may be lighted up a train of feelings as distressing as they are obnoxious to remedy—melancholy. When this sad condition is the result of moral causes, time must, of course, be given; but the maladie imaginaire is often the result of mere corporeal derangement. This we may so far set right; but even then how often do we leave the work half done, and, in disregard of our moral principles, let judgment go by default.

Society and sympathy, wisely managed, will be life itself to the sensitive heart; without them, it will droop and decay. The savage may roam in the desert uninfluenced by its desolation-he is familiar with solitude, he makes it a world of his own; but the cell of a social man is peopled too often, not by congenial spirits, but by spectres that fright the soul from its propriety.

And now may we conclude our remarks on the pathology of nervous maladies, the symptoms, causes, and treatment of which we may learn from other books, or in the schools, by merely glancing at those principles on which prophylaxis so much depends.

If we believe in the irritation or disturbance of mind as a fertile source of the neuroses, we may also believe that the induction of a contrasted state of mind would prove a curative or preventive. This condition would be that which is the antipodes of pride, envy, hatred, and low ambition (which, as Lord Bacon writes, “have no holidays")—that which we term repose-contentment, tranquillity, happiness. By mental repose we do not mean the apathetic state of the thoughtless or the slothful; the dolcè far niente of the useless do-nothing is the mere scum on the surface of the cup of idleness, which contains a poisonous bitter in its dregs. Under the placid condition of mind, not only is the vis medicatrix allowed to exert its potent influence, but the various functions of the body are almost ensured or restored to their former integrity: “To laugh and grow fat” has become a proverb.

Yet to insure this happy mood how multiform are the preceptsamusements and moderate occupation, and those most congenial to the disposition. But this mental election must not be negative; the mind must be brought, not only to forego those perilous pleasures of sense and of sensibility to which luxury and sloth are so naturally prone, but also to act on the subject of its thoughts, not with fatigue and labour, but with that degree of energy which will afford food for immediate reflection, and the memory of which will be the constant spring of tranquil satisfaction. Thus, as Burke has enjoined, "we should live pleasant.” To ensure this, requires often a high degree of self-control, as well as the sympathy of friendship. The greatest caution in conversation is sometimes essential; allusions to subjects which are agreeable, congenial, and consolatory to the invalid, should be adopted, both in conversation and in reading; and objects of beauty and interest should as much as possible be presented to the mind; for it has been observed

XO. V.

I

how influential are odour, and colour, and form, in mitigation of more decided maladies.

The philosophic mind will often be successful in controlling and preserving a tranquil temper; but, under suffering, even philosophy may fail, if uncombined with true and practical religion, in which the Christian and cardinal virtues are conspicuous. Benevolence, charity-indeed, any act by which benefit is conferred on mankind from pure and worthy motives, must succeed in inducing that happy mood which confers on the heart and mind, contentment—which sheds the poppy and the balm over the pillow of health, and constitutes often half the remedy of disease.

But after all, is this lesson so easy in this excited, scientific, artificial age, in which we have wandered so far from our primitive simplicity? We have, in truth, so multiplied our wants, that we become restless if we do not accomplish all the mind can conceive : like Ariel, we would put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes. In short, we must have all that is in posse to be in esse.

Then, have not empiricism, and book-making, and the vaunting of specifics, magnified our imaginary maladies to excess ? Dyspepsia has not certainly diminished, although so many learned tracts, popular and scientific, have been scribbled upon it; nor with all our essays on thoracic pathology, combined even with our moral tracts, have we banished valvular disease or heartache from the breasts of the lieges. Have we, in short, added to our moral happiness by this gigantic march of science ? But we forget we are writing for Paradise, and not for earth : and, however we may hope, we shall never be able, with or without the parallelograms of Robert Owen, to connect the state of our restless world with that of Utopia.

Original Communications and Translations.

EFFECT OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ON THE MIND.*

BY FORBES WINSLOW, M.D.

The important question relative to the influence of what is termed “ solitary confinement” on the minds of criminals is, at this moment, exciting much public attention. It is a subject of great gravity. It is not my purpose, on this occasion, to enter at length into its consideration. I merely now write to raise a feeble voice against a system of treatment which, in my humble opinion, is fraught with much mischief to the minds of those unfortunately exposed to its pernicious influence.

Were I disposed, I could cite the particulars of many cases of incurable insanity which I could most undoubtedly trace to this cause. The advocates of the solitary system of treating prisoners may have it in their power to adduce instances subversive of my view of the question, and be able to point with exultation to numerous cases of persons who have escaped unscathed from the solitary cell. This proves nothing. A man may expose himself with impunity to the influence of a most virulent contagion ; but, because the poison has no effect upon his constitution, it would be most illogical to infer its nonexistence. A man naturally with a strongly constituted mind, united to a vigorous body, may for years be confined in a solitary dungeon, without one ray of light beaming upon his solitude, and his mind may give no indications of diminished power. I am ready to admit, that positive insanity may not develope itself as the effect of solitary confinement. The mind may not be so disturbed as to give rise to “derangement” of the intellect. The perceptive faculties, and even the powers of ratiocination, may present little or no symptoms of disease ; these may be, and often are, even in cases of protracted solitary imprisonment, capable of a healthy exercise. But it should never be forgotten, that the mind may be seriously injured, without its presenting any evidences of delusion or false perception. The absence of such morbid phenomena is often referred to as demonstrative of the position, that the solitary system of treating prisoners is not destructive to the sanity of the human mind.

Such reasoners take as a test of insanity, the presence of false

• This letter was addressed to the Editor of the Times.

« ZurückWeiter »