Chance Encounters in the Museum 1

Earlier this month this blog encouraged people to come to the Archives & Museum to see Caius Gabriel Cibber’s statues of Raving and Melancholy Madness for themselves. Well, last week we welcomed an impromptu visit from a scholar who had come over 8000 miles to do just that, following in the footsteps of Johann Wilhelm von Archenholz, a German travel writer of the eighteenth century whose memoirs she is translating into English for publication.

We got to talking in the Museum, and I discovered that Archenholz’s impressions of the Hospital, then at Moorfields (but nothing to do with the Eye Hospital), were published in 1785. “The mad hospital, Bedlam, has no equal in terms of its conveniences and provisions for this unfortunate category of people,” he wrote. “Its entrance is adorned by two statues by an English sculptor named Cibber that are among the greatest works of art in England. One is the image of a man in the deepest melancholy; the one opposite represents a raging person lying in chains. These two figures show so much truth and expressiveness that they equal the best sculptures in Westminster Abbey.” (Johann Wilhelm von Archenholz, England und Italien Vol. 1 (Leipzig: Verlag der Dikischen Buchhandlung, 1785), pp. 206f).

For those who can’t make the trip to the Archives & Museum, perhaps the next best thing is to go to www.bethlemheritage.org.uk/visitingbethlem, where other eighteenth-century accounts of visiting the Hospital (and much else besides) can be found.

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