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Visit to a Madhouse.
VISIT TO A MADHOUSE.
.“ Boundless oceans roll Between my love and me, They never, never can divide
My heart and soul from thee.”
was standing in delighted reverie listening to the wild and simple air with which these words were accompanied, and won, dering whence they proceeded, when a passenger anticipated the answer to a question I was just going to put to hiin by pointing to a window in a large building near which we stood. “ Poor thing! said he, it is all her employment, and all her pleasure from morning till night she sings as she says to soothe the spirit of her lost William. She is crazed, and her friends have placed her in this Asylumn to let her have the benefit of the best medical assistance—but I am afraid she will never be better.”
From further conversation with this man, I learned that he was one of the keepers of the asyluin, and upon a polite invitation, I followed him into the house to see its arrangements, and to get a near inspection of the shadings of mind and of character which such a place amply exhibits.
On entering the gate I could not help admiring the union of elegance and simplicity so conspicuous in the exterior of the building. Instead of the gloomy appearance of a prison or a lazaretto, it seemed to combine the tasteful decorations of a mansion-house, with the stately magnificence of a public building. The avenue that led to it was fringed with shrubbery, and one or two of the inmates were amusing theinselves with arranging and watering the flowers--a task in which their whole souls seemed to be absorbed. Upon entering the house, my guide requested me to insert my name in a large album kept for the purpose, and then pointed to a box, which was destined to receive the offerings of charity : I took the bint, and slipped my mite into the treasury, and followed him to the various apartments. I expressed a wish
Visit to a Madhouse.
to him to visit such patients only as had some characteristic pe. culiarities, as I knew that from the extent of the establishment my time would not permit my seeing all its inmates.
We entered a small room in which was a man seemingly about sixty years of age. His appearance was interesting, and notwithstanding the distressful condition to which he was reduced, there was a something in his aspect which seemed to indicate that he had seen better days. The settled melancholy which preyed upon his spirits was visible in the moodiness of his countenance and manner, and care and anxiety seemed to have deepened the furrows which fast advancing age was engraving on his features. We found him sitting in the attitude of deepest dejection; his head was clasped in his hands, and his elbows rested on his knees. On our entrance he started from his seat, and cast his eyes upon us with a withering look of fury and despair. I was proceeding to address him, but the keeper made signs that I should desist. After standing some time with his eyes fixed sternly upon us, his countenance the while betraying the mingled feelings which agitated his breast, and his whole frame seeming to shake under the pressure of overpowering emotion.
Monster, fiend, exclaimed he-hence-away-out of my sight--let not my eyes be polluted by your presence. Yes, see to what
you have reduced me—see to what you have brought your wretched father. Go, monster, go and receive the reward of your crimes. Aye, you shall yet receive its fullest measure. Ah! see your every limb torn to pieces, and your mangled body writhing in the torments of a furnace heated seven times.”
The vehemence with which these words were uttered had entirely exhausted the poor man, and he sunk breathless on his bed. My guide saw the consternation and alarm which I could not help exhibiting, and taking me by the arm, led me from this scene of horror.
“ This man,” said he, “ was once happy under the fairest smiles of fortune; he was admired and courted by a numerous circle of acquaintance, and enjoyed alınost the perfection of human felicity. This calm was however of no long continuance. Deep adversity soon reduced his prospects to ruin and despair. In his distress he applied to those who had formerly addressed him with the warmest professions of friendship and regard, but found with astonishment and grief, that he was forsaken by all. One stroke only was wanting to complete his misery, and re
Visit to a Madhouse.
duce him to the condition in which you have now beheld him. Those who were related to him by the dearest and closest ties, turned a deaf ear to his entreaties. His only son- he who had been the object of his tenderest cares, and on whom his every affection had been centered in indulgent solicitude, would no longer acknowledge his parent, or share with him those essings which he by his means liberally enjoyed. Cruelty like this was not to be borne ; the shock which it gave the unhappy parent unhinged his intellect, and in his old age he became au inhabitant of this Asylum ; where he draws out a miserable existence; a sad monument of the effects of filial ingratitude. Yet he has his intervals of serenity and peaceful recollection : and it is only when visitors, young visitors particularly, such as you, come upon him unexpectedly that his passions are thus excited, as on these occasions he is forcibly reminded of his son.'
While the keeper was giving me this narrative we had walked iato a small room fitted up something like a green-house, frem which we had a complete view of the pleasure grounds belonging to the establishment. There were a number of persons walking and amusing themselves in various ways. A tall, upright figure was very conspicuous in the group; he walked with measured pace, fearing to move a joint or liinb, and looking with alarm and anxiety lest any one should touch him. He conceived himself made of glass; and the slightest touch or movement seemed certain of destroying his brittle mechanism. Hence he was in perpetual dread, every movement of his body „seemed the result of struggling fortitude ; every touch of a companion seemed to throw him into a breathless panic.
In a distant corner there was a group collected round some one who by his attitudes and gesture seemed to be haranguing them. My companion told me that he had been a celebrated preacher, and now he was never happier than when he could entice some of his fellow-lunatics to his corner, and address them often in bursts of eloquent, but extravagant declamation, on the dark and knotty points of orthodoxy. He had been a hard .student, and had allowed his mind to get entangled with the puzzles of theological polemics; and after struggling long with a a violent vertigo, he had at last sunk into obstinate, and seemingly incurable lunacy.
His audience were very soon satisfied with his instructions, and the smallest novelty attracted their attention from his ha
Visit to a Madhouse.
rangue. At the time when the orator had just got to the cli. max of his enthusiasm, while clearing up some mystic point, the man of glass had been grazed by some one passing, and his cry of distress attracted every eye to his misfortunes. The preacher's disciples, on busy outlook for amusement, were, in an instant at his side, and in vain did they look for the fragments of his fragile forin, which he assured them had been just shivered to pieces. While they were engaged around him, some consoling, some tormenting this miserable creature, my attention was arrested by sounds that seemed to proceed from a room adjoining that in which we were ;
“ I have found it-exquisite,beautiful."
Curious to see the person who uttered these exclamations of delight, the keeper introduced me to a room where we found a a man standing, the very picture of self-satisfaction. He had been deeply engaged in the intricacies of a Mathematical demonstration, and the discovery of its solution had the effect described on his spirits. As we entered, he welcomed us with very great cordiality, while complacency and pleasure sparkled in his countenance. He said he was happy we had done him the honour of a visit at so opportune a time, for he had just made a most important discovery, which he was certain would bring him an eternity of faine. He then proceeded to tell me that he was now engaged in a work, which he would one day give to the public, and which would entirely supersede all the systems of Geometry hitherto used, as he had with infinite labour proved the definitions of Euclid to be entirely false, and after substituting true ones for them, had from them rectified what have always been thought the most correct of his demonstrations. He said he intended to dedicate the performance to the heads of the University of Cambridge, by whom it would doubtless be liberally patronized; and concluded by begging that I would add my name to a long list of subscribers he had already obtained for his book-a request with which I readily complied.
The Keeper now touched my arm as a sign to withdraw; and whispering ihat I had already had a specimen of his abilities, and his favourite schemes. As I retired I saw him proceeding to trace some mathematical figures upon the wall, with which he was again to charm away the tedium of a bedlam cell.
Visit to a Madhouse.
Happy, thought I, as the door closed, happy in thy delusions! The unfeeling world siniles at thy whims and thy follies ; but in the region of thy own imagination thou hast conjured up sources of gratification which it were almost cruelty to rob thee of. The thought was a wrong one—but yet the enjoyments of his condition had so struck me that for a moment I had almost wished it might continue. While I thus reflected on the circumstances of this
poor man, the Keeper had proceeded to another apartment, and had already announced my approach to a decent, middle aged man. He welcomed me very politely. We talked of the weather, and other common-place topics ; his conversation was perfectly sensible, and upon the whole shrewd, so that I had begun to wonder what had brought him there. Observing, however, that we were standing, he apologized for not having chairs, saying that he had not yet got his house properly furnished, but that he had ordered a new set of furniture from London, which he expected daily per mail! He proceeded immediately to expatiate on the future splendour of his mansion, and hoped that he would soon atone to his friends and the public, for the unhandsome manner in which he had of late used them, by affording them such poor accommodation. Ideas of magnificence seemed to be the predominating disease of his imagination. I learned that he had been a respectable manufacturer in a neighbouring city, and had for twenty years toiled to realize a fortune with which he expected to gratify in the evening of his days, his taste for splendour: but an unexpected reverse of fortune shrouded the sunshine of his hopes, and overthrew reason from her empire-and here distempered fancy continued to cheer the solitude of his asylum with the dreams of coming great
He generally gave his visitors commissions for articles of dress or furniture—but suich was the state of his mind, that they were scarcely withdrawn from the room before he had forgotten every object of his desire, and his thoughts again expatiated on the heights of unattainable grandeur.
We now turned to the cells in which the incurables were kept. I expressed a wish to visit only one of these unfortunate beings, whose situation is perhaps the most affecting which human life in its varied scenes exhibits.
In the farthest corner of the apartment sat a man far advanced in years. His countenance wanted that smile of contented