Posts Tagged 'chance encounters'

Chance Encounters in the Museum 3 – and temporary closure notice for next Monday, 5 July

Since writing last fortnight’s blog post about recent visitors to the museum from Norway and Austria, the Archivist has continued in reminiscing mood. One visit that stands out in his mind was made some years ago by Peruvian documentary film-makers interested in the visit made to Bethlem by the French socialist and proto-feminist thinker Flora Tristan in 1840. She signed Bethlem’s visitors’ book (now held in the Archives) and later wrote of her experiences in Promenades dans Londres (published in English translation under the title Flora Tristan’s London Journal 1840).

In it she makes the ostensibly unflattering observation that ‘it is generally accepted that England is the country with the greatest number of insane’. But an explanation is offered for this: England is, according to Tristan, ‘the country where free inquiry gives rise to the greatest number of religious and philosophical sects…[and] the more a people is inclined, by its religion and its philosophy, to resignation, the fewer madmen there are in its midst; 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’ (London Journal, pp. 159-160).

Following in the footsteps of those Peruvian documentary makers, another film crew is coming (at short notice) to the Archives & Museum next Monday, 5 July. Please note that the Archives & Museum, which is ordinarily open to the public on weekdays between 9.30am and 4.30pm, will have to close at midday on this day to accommodate them.


Chance Encounters in the Museum 2

The Archives and Museum regularly receives visits from psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. This is unsurprising, given that it is itself part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, with strong links to the Institute of Psychiatry and other partners inthe provision of mental healthcare. Every now and then, however, visitors arrive from further afield, sometimes as part of a pre-arrangedschool or university group visit, at other times entirely unannounced in ones or twos. Recently we hosted a visit from a group from Athens, and we will be welcoming students from a college in Connecticut later this week. In the past fortnight, we have also bumped into visiting psychiatrists from Vienna and Oslo, both with an interest in the history of European psychiatry in general, and the prominent and a typical place occupied within it by Bethlem Hospital in particular.

This puts us in mind of a parallel phenomenon of the nineteenth century: that of the intra-European collegial visits made by doctors intent on discovering what provision other countries had made for the care and treatment of the mentally ill. These visits, and the reports that were made of them, were a means of highlighting ‘best practice’ (as well as worst), and formed part of a drive towards the ‘moral management’ of patients, the construction of more appropriate hospital buildings, and the establishment of psychiatry as a medical discipline.

A few years ago, the Archives & Museum partnered with museums of psychiatry on the continent to produce a electronic resource to makeavailable (at the reports of four of these nineteenth-century journeys, made by Drs Morison of London and Edinburgh, Guislain of Ghent, Everts of Noord-Holland and Hack Tuke of York respectively. As those who browse the site will discover, the honeymoon of one of these doctors effectively doubled as a psychiatric fact-finding mission. We can only guess at what his spouse made of this.


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, where other eighteenth-century accounts of visiting the Hospital (and much else besides) can be found.