Posts Tagged 'Just Visiting'
Tags: Heinrich Heine, Heinrich Hoffman, Just Visiting
Tags: Flora Tristan, Illustrious Company, Just Visiting, The English Malady
This is the last entry in the series we have entitled Just Visiting. Material from all the entries, and much more, are available in Colin Gale’s Illustrious Company: Authors, Artists and Other Adventurers in Bethlem Hospital. As a Christmas present to our readers, this already inexpensive e-book will be available to download free from Amazon UK from 20 to 25 December 2012.
Insanity was first dubbed ‘the English malady’ in 1736, in an anonymous account of a visit made to Bethlem during the years of unrestricted public visiting, the author opining that “the people of England are more subject to madness than any nation in the world”, having “no exalted notions of philosophy to support themselves under the various dispensations of providence, nor any regard to the fundamental rules of their own religion, which afford them the greatest comfort…”1
About one hundred years later, the French socialist and proto-feminist Flora Tristan revived this unflattering trope in Promenades dans Londres (published in English translation under the title Flora Tristan’s London Journal 1840).
‘It is generally accepted that England is the country with the greatest number of insane’, she wrote, and offered the following explanation: ‘It is also the home of the greatest excesses of every type and it is the country where free inquiry gives rise to the greatest number of religious and philosophical sects.’ ‘The more a people is inclined, by its religion and its philosophy, to resignation, the fewer madmen there are in its midst’, thought Tristan, ‘whereas those peoples who by reason govern their religious beliefs and their conduct in life are those among whom one finds the greatest number of insane’.2 What is common to these eighteenth- and nineteenth-century accounts is a horror of the rationalist, moralist and fissiparious character of English Protestant religiosity. In particular, Tristan’s perspective on England, never mind Bethlem, was that of a true outsider. What was true of her was true of others as well. Sometimes it takes a visitor to observe and draw attention to things that those who are being visited take for granted, or do not even see.
One other aspect of Flora Tristan’s visit to Bethlem, as she described it in her journal, is worthy of note: a conversation which led to an intense encounter with a patient whose name and background closely mirrored that of a one-time suitor of hers, a ship’s captain who had, she said, ‘loved me with such purity and such devotion’ but who (she hitherto thought) had lost his life at sea:
‘We have one of your compatriots here; his madness is unusual, he thinks he is God…He used to be a seaman, has seen the world, speaks all the languages and seems to have been a man of excellent capacities.’
‘What is his name?’
‘Chabrié!!..I cannot describe the effect produced upon me by that name; I could not ascertain exactly what I felt. Joy? Pain? Surprise? Anxiety?…I was impatient for the meeting; it was as if God had inspired me with the idea of coming to London in order to save the unfortunate Chabrié!’
‘…the hospital’s officer pointed out a man sitting alone on a bench…It was not the captain of the Mexicain…It occurred to me that the French name had been improperly pronounced; I asked the officer to write it out for me, and I saw that the name I had been given was pronounced the same, but spelled with an r at the end.’
‘’Oh! Mademoiselle, how pleased I am to encounter at last a compatriot! a woman! We speak the same language and I can convey to you my suffering! I can tell you of all the pain which afflicts me in this asylum of misery, where I am shut up by the most odious of injustices…it is God who has brought you here to this place of desolation, not to save me, for I must perish here, but to save the idea which I have come to bring to the world!’
Tristan’s meeting with Chabrier ended inconclusively with her wondering ‘Is that man really mad? Everything he said to me is indicative of a man whose head is filled with social, political and religious ideas and whose heart is overflowing with love of his fellow creature. … Jesus, Saint-Simon, Fourier had all spoken in the same way.’ Inconclusive it may have been, but it was a true meeting between ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’; in Tristan’s words, ‘one of those bizarre, extraordinary encounters which, I believe, happen only to me.’
1 Anon., Letters from a Moor at London to His Friend at Tunis. Containing An Account of his Journey Through England… Remarks on the Public Charities…A description of BEDLAM, with Serious Reflections on Love, Madness, and Self-Murder…, London: Printed for J. Batley, J. Wood & Richard Wellington, 1736, p. 56.
2 D. Palmer and G. Pincetl (trans.), Flora Tristan’s London Journal (George Prior, London, 1980), pp. 159-160.
Flora Tristan (1803 – 1844)
Tags: A Blighted Life, Just Visiting, Robert Bulwer-Lytton, Rosina Bulwer Lytton
Edward O’Donoghue, Bethlem’s chaplain and amateur chronicler from 1892 to 1930, compiled his own list of famous visitors to the Hospital and published it in the in-house magazine Under the Dome in 1898:
“Among the signatures in our Visitors’ Books are those of the Princess Narés of Samoa; of Alfonso de Bourbon, Prince of the Asturias (son of Queen Isabella II of Spain); of General Negrete, and the family of the President of Slavador (Central America); of Robert Browning, Robert Bulwer Lytton, Lewis Wingfield, and Bellew; of George, Duke of Cambridge, Princess Frederica of Hanover, and Prince Salm-Salm’ of doctors and MPs innumerable; of Olga de Novikoff…and of the Ambassador of Austria-Hungary.”
Here is evidence, if evidence were needed, of what we called last month “the lively cultural and intellectual exchange” of ideas and practice about nineteenth-century psychiatry. (Further examples are available in the online resource European Journeys). Here, too, is an indication of just how long Just Visiting could run if we let it. In point of fact, it is shortly to be brought to a conclusion – we cannot do justice to all those mentioned by O’Donoghue. One name that stands out in his list, however, is that of Robert Bulwer-Lytton (1831-1891), son of aristocrats Edward and Rosina Bulwer-Lytton, and father to Victor Bulwer-Lytton. It is fair to say of the Victorian-era Bulwer-Lytton family that it had its share of high-profile troubles. These have been recounted in a chapter of Inconvenient People (a new book by Sarah Wise, which we hope shortly to review for this blog). But in a biography of Edward published one hundred years ago, Victor Bulwer-Lytton ventures to say of his novelist grandmother Rosina’s intellect that it was “too much disordered for liberty, and not sufficiently disordered for Bedlam”.1 The principal evidence of this ‘disorder’ comprised the decades of vituperative scorn she poured upon her husband (whom she dubbed ‘Sir Liar’) in print and in public following their separation in 1836.
In 1858 Edward arranged for her to be committed to a private asylum (not Bethlem), but she was released within three weeks, the medical certificates upon which the admission was based having been overturned. The eventual result of this fresh grievance was the publication (in 1880, seven years after Edward’s death) of an account of her misfortunes, entitled A Blighted Life. “To the tale of her sufferings, real and imaginary, was henceforth added the chapter of her kidnapping and forcible incarceration in a lunatic asylum”, wrote Victor, perhaps not entirely sympathetically, in 1913. “In the eyes of those who heard only her version of the facts, her husband became a greater fiend than ever, and between these implacable foes no truce was ever called on this side of the grave.”2
One can only guess at the effect a visit to Bethlem may have had on Robert Bulwer-Lytton, who had been estranged from his mother from the age of seven, and had most dealings with her in the strained months immediately surrounding her three-week incarceration, after which they never met again.3 His was an impossible situation. In A Blighted Life Rosina exonerates him from direct involvement in what she saw as a plot to silence her, yet faults him for not standing up to his father, and wonders at “the mystery of iniquity about [Edward’s] unhallowed power over his truly unfortunate Son”.4 Hearing later that Robert’s engagement to be married had been broken off, and that he was in “deep misery”, Rosina wrote him a letter “which, if he had had a heart of stone, provided it were only in the shape of a heart! and a conscience, even if no bigger than a midje’s egg [sic], he would have answered! But” she wrote plaintively in A Blighted Life, “he never has”.5 Here is an open window onto the aching trauma of family breakdown.
1 Victor Bulwer-Lytton, The Life of Edward Bulwer, First Lord Lytton (London, 1913), p. 278.
2 ibid., p. 279.
3 ibid., p. 279; Marie Mulvey Roberts, ‘Introduction’ to Rosina Bulwer-Lytton, A Blighted Life: A True Story (Thoemmes, 1994), p. xvii.
4 R. Bulwer-Lytton, A Blighted Life, pp. 47-49.
5 ibid., p. 74.
Tags: Broadmoor Hospital, Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Edward Oxford, Fukuzawa Yukichi, Just Visiting, Richard Dadd, victorian bethlem
Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901) is well-known within Japan as an author, political theorist, and moderniser, the founder of Keio University and, in a manner of speaking, one of the architects of the modern nation. He was an advocate of political and cultural engagement with the West, and some account of his travels to Europe and the United States is available in English translation in The Autobiography of Fukuzawa Yukichi, translated by Eiichi Kiyooka (Tokyo, 1981). His diaries, however, remain untranslated, and in them there is an account of a visit made to Bethlem Hospital in 1862 – a fact that may be verified from Bethlem’s visitors’ book, into which Fukuzawa wrote. Fukuzawa was by no means the only personage from abroad to visit the Hospital – nineteenth century psychiatrists maintained a lively cultural and intellectual exchange across national borders – but his Western hosts no doubt saw him as one of their more exotic guests. His own account of the visit, written on 20 May 1862, breathes a liberal, enquiring spirit, and provides another window onto mid-Victorian Hospital life.
“This lunatic asylum is a hospital that accommodates and treats lunatic people. It provides a single room for each patient. Patients are encouraged to come out of their rooms during the daytime. I saw patients who took walks through the hospital, went out into the garden to pick flowers, sang and danced on the rooftop, played ball, drew pictures, and enjoyed music. Patients can amuse themselves according to their inclination. The inside of the hospital is kept especially clean. Bird cages and pot plants are put in place so that patients can soothe their minds.”
Fukuzawa then turned his attention to Bethlem’s State Criminal Lunatic Asylum, within which those who (like Edward Oxford) had been tried for but acquitted of serious crimes ‘by reason of insanity’ were held until Her Majesty’s further Pleasure be known.
“The hospital not only treats patients who go mad but also detains for life people who have committed arson or attempted murder due to their madness. I saw three inmates today. One tried to kill the Queen, one killed his father, and another woman killed her three children.”
The would-be regicide was doubtless Edward Oxford himself, and the parricide Richard Dadd. A little over two years after Fukuzawa’s visit, both men – indeed all the male inhabitants of the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum – were relocated to the newly-built Broadmoor Hospital. Three years after that, Oxford proved an exception to the life detention rule, as related by Fukuzawa, by obtaining a Royal pardon. But that, as they say, is another story – one, incidentally, that is told by Paul Murphy in a book just published by Pegasus entitled Shooting Victoria.
Fukuzawa Yukichi in Paris, 1862
Tags: Charles Dickens, Henry Morley, Just Visiting, victorian bethlem, W. Charles Hood
If Charlotte Brontë did visit Bethlem, as she anticipated, in 1853, what would she have seen there? It is impossible to say for certain, since no account of her visit survives. But a sense of the Hospital’s environs is given in an account written just four years later by a lesser literary figure of the Victorian era, Henry Morley.
In 1857 Morley was commissioned by his friend Charles Dickens to write an account of a visit to Bethlem for Household Words, Dickens himself having reported on a visit to Bethlem’s rival St Luke’s Hospital in 1852. Morley’s account is of an institution transformed in the early 1850s by the appointment of Bethlem’s first Resident Physician.
“We went over the hospital a week or two ago,” he wrote. “Within the entrance gates, as we went round the lawn towards the building, glancing aside, we saw several groups of patients quietly sunning themselves in the garden, some playing on a grass-plot with two or three happy little children. We found afterwards that these were the children of the Resident Physician and Superintendent, Dr. Hood. They are trusted freely among the patients, and the patients take great pleasure in their presence among them. The sufferers feel that surely they are not cut off from fellowship with man, not objects of a harsh distrust, when even little children come to play with them, and prattle confidently in their ears. There are no chains nor strait waistcoats now in Bethlehem; yet, upon the staircase of a ward occupied by men the greater number of whom would, in the old time, have been beheld by strong-nerved adults with a shudder, there stood a noble little boy, another fragment of the Resident Physician’s family, with a bright smile upon his face, who looked like an embodiment of the good spirit that had found its way into the hospital, and chased out all the gloom.”
Morley’s conclusion, after a review of Bethlem’s chequered history? That “thousands of middle class homes contain nothing so pretty as a ward in Bedlam” and that “as to all the small comforts of life, patients in Bethlehem are as much at liberty to make provision for themselves as they would be at home”.1
1 H Morley, ‘The Star of Bethlehem’, Household Words, 15 August 1857.
Henry Morley, c. 1888