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A trial now going on before an examining court in this city has painfully turned the attention of the public to that most mysterious of all moral phenomena, mental derangement. There is no disease in the whole range of the physician's practice which has been investigated with more acuteness or care, and yet there seems to be none in the understanding of which less progress has been made. Upon the occurrence of every new case in which it becomes necessary to give insanity in evidence, physicians are consulted and examined, and yet, out of the multitudinous reports of such examinations which have been published, no result of sufficient clearness to lead to the establishment of a principle has been arrived at. It is as hard now to decide when a person is mad as it ever has been. To every man who is fond of psychological studies, cases involving the investigation of this subject present peculiar attractions. The cunning of madmen, and the care with which they keep up the appearance of sanity when attempts are made to prove them what they really are, have become proverbial. No real madman will ever admit that he is insane, let the consequences of its being proved that he is not so be as terrible as they may. John Hadfield, who shot at King George III., and was tried for treason, bitterly protested against having the plea of insanity put in for him, and denied that he was insane to the last. To outward appearance, indeed, he was a perfectly sane man. He made no denial of what he had done, but justified the attempt, and only regretted that it had not succeeded. It fell up his counsel to prove that he had long been known as a cracked man. His skull had been fractured by the cut of a sabre in a charge of cavalry (he was a soldier), and it was in evidence that he had never been right since he had left the hospital. Lord Erskine, in this case, made one of his most famous speeches. It was his object to show that Hadfield was mad, and that his calm deportment and rational conversation afforded no proof to the contrary. Most mad men are so, until the clue is found and the right key touched. He mentioned several cases, which had fallen under his own observation, wherein the madman had successfully resisted for hours all attempts to make him show off. In one case, a brother had been confined by his brother as a lunatic. He appealed to the Lord Chancellor, and was brought up before him. Erskine was employed by the brother of the madman, and exhausted his ingenuity in cross-examination without being able to make anything of the case. The Chancellor was on the point of setting the lunatic free, when the physician who had attended him came into court, and whispered to Erskine that he (the madman) believed himself to be the Saviour of mankind ! Upon this, Erskine immediately altered his demeanor, apologised to the madman, and humbly begged his forgiveness, pleading, in apology, his entire ignorance of what an exalted personage he had been dealing with. The poor innate, thrown entirely off his guard raised himself up, extended his hands in the stride of one addressing a multitude, and said, in deep and solemn tones, "I am the resurrection and the life." Of course the secret was out — the man was remanded — and before he could be carried from the court, gave way to a Various burst by rage and raved like the madman that he really was. An amusing case is related, among the old traditions of the city, to have once occurred in a certain court. A father, who had been confined by his son as a lunatic, wrote a most eloquent letter to the Judge, in whose court the son was a practitioner. The Judge called upon the son in open court, read the letter to him in the hearing of the whole bar, and pronounced it impossible for a man who could write such a letter to be bereft of his senses. "I should be of the same opinion," replied the son," did I not hold in my hand two other letters, written by the same individual, one to King George III. and the other to the Emperor Napoleon, each of which is infinitely superior, both as to style and material, to that which your Honor has just read." We recollect to have read, several years ago, in a magazine, a review of a work upon insanity, by Sir Henry Halford, in which he treated upon the extreme difficulty of detecting lunacy when the lunatic was determined to conceal the state of his faculties. Sir Henry had a wide practice in cases of the kind for more than thirty years, and had seen all manner of tests applied. Among them all he says he never found but one to succeed invariably, and that one was what he calls the "Shakespearian test. " It is explained in the address of Hamlet to his mother, when he is endeavoring to remove the impression, under which she labored, that he was mad. He says: ‘ --"put me to the test,
And I the matter will reword, which madness.
Would gambol from."
’ To "reword the matter" is to repeat what he had said before. Sir Henry says that no madman can do this; at least, that he had never seen one who could. Shakespeare, it seems, knew more about madness than all the doctors that had ever treated it. It is probable that this treatise of Sir Henry Halford may be well known to the profession here. If it be, we should think it would be worth while to apply this test, after reading more about it, and understanding it better than we can pretend to do after so great a lapse of time since we read it. The experiment would be curious and harmless, even though it might be productive of no good. Sir Henry Halford was a physician of great learning and skill, and was knighted by George IV. for his professional eminence.
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