Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots

Posted on Posted in Garden, General, Health, Interests

I am reading a book about the evolution of mental health treatment in Britain and Ireland, here’s a quote I wanted to share:

It is commonly agreed that the most deplorable spectacle which society presents, is that of a receptacle for the insane. In pauper asylums we see chains and strait-waistcoats, – three or four halfnaked creatures thrust into a chamber filled with straw, to exasperate each other with their clamour and attempts at violence; or else gibbering in idleness, or moping in solitude. In private asylums, where the rich patients are supposed to be well taken care of in proportion to the quantity of money expended on their account, there is as much idleness, moping, raving, exasperating infliction, and destitution of sympathy, though the horror is attempted to be veiled by a more decent arrangement of externals. Must these things be? I have lately been backwards and forwards at the Hanwell Asylum for the reception of the pauper lunatics of the county of Middlesex. On entering the gate, I met a patient going to his garden work with his tools in his hand, and passed three others breaking clods with their forks, and keeping near each other for the sake of being sociable. Further on, were three women rolling the grass in company; one of whom, – a merry creature, who clapped her hands at the sight of visitors, had been chained to her bed for seven years before she was brought hither, but is likely to give little further trouble, henceforth, than that of finding her enough to do. A very little suffices for the happiness of one on whom seven years of gratuitous misery have been inflicted; – a promise from Mrs Ellis to shake hands with her when she has washed her hands, – a summons to assist in carrying in dinner, – a permission to help to beautify the garden, are enough. Further on, is another in a quieter state of content, always calling to mind the strawberries and cream Mrs Ellis set before the inmates on the lawn last year, and persuading herself that the strawberries could not grow, nor the garden get on without her, and fiddle-faddling in the sunshine to her own satisfaction and that of her guardians. This woman had been in a strait-waistcoat for ten years before she was sent to Hanwell. In a shed in this garden, sit three or four patients cutting potatoes for seed, singing and amusing each other; while Thomas, – a mild, contented looking patient, passes by with Mrs Ellis’s clogs, which he stoops to tie on with all possible politeness; finding it much pleasanter, as Dr Ellis says, ‘to wait on a lady than be chained in a cell’.”

(from “Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland”by Kathryn Burtinshaw, John R F Burt)

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