Just Visiting: Fukuzawa Yukichi

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

Fukuzawa Yukichi in Paris, 1862

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