Page images
PDF
EPUB

delusions of the intellect. In the case of somnambulism, the muscles remain subject to the volitions of the sleeper, while the mind is under no control. He is, therefore, really insane, and, as such, the law does not hold him responsible for his deeds. To remove the check which the will has over the thoughts is like taking away the balancewheel from a watch, which then runs down with a hurried and irregular motion, no longer taking note of time. Every thinker perceives this effect if he abandons himself to a fit of reverie, when the most heterogeneous ideas chase each other in quick succession through the mind, without coherency or method, and leaving hardly a trace on the memory

Startle him from this state of dreamy abstraction, and he looks round bewildered, and requires a moment of effort, before he becomes conscious of his situation, and of the presence of surrounding things. Except the depression of spirits, he feels, for an instant, as Lear did, when wakening to a gleam of sanity, as the clouds which had obscured his intellect are for a moment parted. How admirably are the bewilderment of mind, and the effort to recall and fix the attention upon the bystanders, here depicted! It is the struggle of the will to regain its supremacy:

Pray, do not mock me :
I am a very foolish, fond old man,
Fourscore and upward ; and, to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
Methinks I should know you, and know this man ;
Yet I am doubtful : for I am mainly ignorant
What place this is ; and all the skill I have
Remembers not these garments ; nor I know not
Where I did lodge last night. Do not laugh at me;
For, as I am a man, I think this lady

To be my child Cordelia." In most cases of recovery, the patient retains no memory of what has occurred, or what he has done, during his madness ; or, if any recollection remains, it is dim and perturbed, like that of a dream. Memory being dependent on attention, and that again on the will, this is precisely what we should expect when the power of volition is suspended. In cases of partial mania, the will loses its control over a particular thought, or set of ideas, which then occupy and harass the mind, being invested with a factitious importance, and leading to the most insane acts.

A sane person, if an unpleasant thought or recollection comes upon him, can resolutely put it aside, and fix his attention upon other objects. But, if he be nervous and imaginative, irresolute of will, and defective in the power of attention, the unwelcome visitant - especially if it be of a gloomy or exciting character, like the recollection of a calamity, a disappointment, or an insult — usurps almost exclusive possession of the mind, and he sinks into habitual despondency. Every moment then increases bis danger, and unless some counteracting cause, like the necessity for exertion, be applied, the train of thought at last entirely shakes off the sovereignty of the will, and the man becomes a monomaniac.

The particular character of the delusion will be determined by the patient's former prevailing turn of mind, and by the chief emotions to which he was subject. A man's character is not altered by an attack of insanity ; it is only developed and exposed, the check which was usually imposed on its free manifestations being now taken away. A person of sound mind soon learns to control his desires and propensities, from a regard to the opinions or the rights of others. His irascibility is repressed, his estimation of himself is carefully concealed, his lower appetites are governed, and he maintains that reserved and staid demeanour, through which only a penetrating eye, and observation sharpened by long experience, can detect the innate peculiarities of his disposition. This lesson of self-control is learned at so early a period, and is practised upon so habitually, that one is hardly conscious of effort in submitting to it, unless the primitive desires are of extraordinary force. Let the power of the will be destroyed by an attack of mental disease, and this veil is removed ; the passions run riot, the leading emotion betrays itself in the grossest manner, and the sufferer appears like another being, even to his most intimate friends.

The love of power, and an inordinate estimate of self, are among the most common infirmities of human nature; and nowhere are they so strikingly exhibited, though in a ludicrous light, as among the inmates of a lunatic asylum. Here comes a king of shreds and patches, with a paper crown on his head, and bits of tinsel showily disposed about his person,

who announces himself as the Prince of Wales

and emperor of the world, and greets his visiter with the utmost condescension, as he would a subject who had come to do him homage. But he suddenly breaks off in the midst of a pompous speech, to inform you, that he has just had a contest with the devil in that apartment, and had broken two of his ribs, - this devil being an unfortunate keeper, to whose face he had taken a dislike, and whose bones he had actually broken. The walls of his room are scribbled all over, chiefly with the lofty titles of his greatness ; as, “ Supreme from the Almighty," “ Mighty Prince,” “Mighty General-in-Chief,” “Great Mighty Grand Admiral,” and the like.* Another of the company is a poor, mad author, who, in one hour, has written an epic, embracing the universal history of Greece and Rome ; has restored the Iliad to its state as it came from the genius of Kanki, who lived many millions of ages before the deluge of Ogyges ; and accounts for his wonderful endowments, by saying that he is a son of Jupiter and Juno. Scott has given us an admirable portrait of a deranged female, whose brain-sick fancies are only the foibles of the weaker part of her sex grossly exaggerated, and displayed without the least reserve. Madge Wildfire is insane from an excessive love of admiration, and an insatiable desire to dazzle and captivate ; and in all her ravings, her simpering manner, her fantastic costume, and bits of finery, we see only the ruling passion divested of any covering or control.

The strange jumble of fancies, which a distracted person exhibits, is nothing but the perfectly loose and casual succession of ideas in a mind which has emancipated itself from the governing power of the will. It is precisely the incoherency of a dream, when the thoughts ramble on without any restraint from volition, or any voluntary pause for the exercise of judgment. The utterly passive intellect merely reflects like a mirror the images that float before it, without receiving any impression from them, or preserving any trace of their passage. Outward objects have no longer their usual power to check the current of loose thoughts, and recall the mind to a consciousness of its situation; the sleeper does not see them, and the insane person, from the defect in his will, can pay no attention to them. The dream of

Conolly on Insanity, p. 289.

the madman lasts longer ; but in every other respect, it is like the night-visions of the perfectly healthy intellect. He has the command of his limbs, also, but he walks in his sleep, and has as little perception of external things as the common somnambulist.

The application of this theory to the cases of moral idiocy and impulsive insanity is very easily made. Our position is, that mental disease is nothing more than the suspension of the ordinary power of the will over the other powers of the mind. The thoughts and actions then become entirely irrational, not because reason and judgment, properly speaking, cease to exist, but because they are both acts consequent upon attention, and, of course, cannot manifest themselves when the attention is no longer under control. These noble faculties, then, neither decay nor are subject to disease; they are simply suspended from the exercise of their functions by the impairment of another power which is a prerequisite to their use ; and when the madman's sleep is ended, they revive and perform their accustomed office. In the same way, the loss of power in the will suspends the exercise of the moral faculty. In moral mania, the conscience is not dead, but sleepeth.” The desires and propensities then exist with no more than their usual force ; but they are entirely free from restraint by the will. All the active principles of our nature then reign unchecked, and one is quite as likely to be governed by the more noble, as by the more debasing, among their number. In the instance already cited from Pinel, brutal and violent as were most of the actions of the young man, we learn that he readily gave way, at times, to motions of beneficence and compassion. He was literally the creature of his impulses, and blindly followed them, whether they pointed to good or evil. His condition, then, was very like that of other maniacs, who are commonly said to be subject to insane impulses; only, in his case, the will seemed to be absolutely berest of its rightful authority over the passions, while in theirs it is powerless only at intervals, or under particular excitement. Strictly speaking, the impulse is not a mark of insanity, nor unusual in its character. The thought of killing may frequently enter the mind of a passionate but perfectly sane person ; but it is instantly put aside, as an idle or wicked fancy, by the conscience. The will masters such vague but

horrible thoughts almost without the consciousness of effort. But as the gradual approach of disease weakens its command over the succession of ideas, the devilish thought intrudes more frequently, and will not “ down at his bidding." An air-drawn dagger becomes visible to his “heat-oppressed brain," and he clutches the real weapon at last, in what is, for the moment, an uncontrollable frenzy.

But we return from this long digression to our proper subject, the jurisprudence of insanity. Our definition or theory of insanity, like that of Dr. Conolly, whatever may be thought of its general soundness, is merely speculative in this respect, and throws no light upon the difficult question, how far the responsibility of crime is taken away by the apparent disease of the intellect. Indeed, enough has been said to show, that it is impossible to frame a definition which shall be of use for this purpose. The only feature which the different forms of the nialady have in common is of so hidden and mysterious a character, that it cannot be detected, by observation from without, with that degree of assurance which is requisite for legal decisions. Meanwhile, the frequency with which the plea of insanity has been successfully put forward of late, in criminal cases, is quite remarkable, and tends to agitate the community with contradictory fears, either lest the guilty should in this way escape unpunished, and the peace of society be endangered, or lest the extreme vengeance of the laws should fall on the heads of those who are wholly unconscious of crime. The evil is aggravated by the view of some absurdities in the law regarding insanity, which had their origin at a time when our knowledge of the disease was far less complete than it is at present, and which are preserved through the lawyer's respect for precedents, and his belief in the necessary rigidity of legal maxims. One of the most flagrant of these is, the distinction made between civil and criminal cases, according to which, a man may be incapacitated for the management of his own concerns, but is still held answerable for acts affecting the peace of the community. He may be declared incapable of making a will, but if the imbecility of his mind betrays him into an act of violence, he is still deemed a proper subject for the gallows. It is not surprising, that juries are sometimes found to disregard instructions from the bench, when they are of this character.

« PreviousContinue »