The North American Review.

The North American Review.

  The last number of the North American Review contains two very interesting articles. One of these, on THE JURISPRUDENCE OF INSANITY, refers to works, and makes statements, calculated to throw light on one of the most important subjects that now engages the mind of man.

  On no subject has greater advance been made, than on that of the treatment of the insane.—What was once shuddered at as an irremediable curse, is now upon the list of curable maladies. Into the labyrinth of dungeons, so long deemed hopeless, the torch in the hand of Science has not yet had time to fling its light very far, yet so much has already been ascertained, as to the means both of prevention and of cure, that, if at all informed of them, the parent will no longer shrink despairing from the child, the wife from the husband, temporarily paralyzed by this extreme of morbid affection, but rather to prepare to watch over them with vigorous hope of a resurrection to a life, as good, or better than preceded the trance.

  The writer in the N. A. Review, however, is considering the malady in reference to the trials of criminals. Viewed from this point, even more than any other, it is evident how far attention to the treatment of insanity must deepen our knowledge of the laws of mind, or, at present, we should more modestly say, render it less superficial. Every anecdote, related on this subject, bears upon the judgments we hastily pass on the characters of these called sane around us. Every argument which renders sentence of bodily death undesirable, shows how inevitably in the sentence of everyday criticism wisdom must be tempered with mercy.

  The reviewer is moderate and judicious in his tone; he does not push his own opinion; he may be read with advantage and pleasure alike by those for and against capital punishment.

  Very interesting particulars are given of these affections of the mind produced by sympathy or some casual circumstance, such as standing upon a high tower. Those given by Dr. Woodward on the subject of impulsive insanity call upon every man to take heed, every day:

  “Many insane persons know their condition, know their own weakness, and yet are not always able to counteract the influences that excite them to mischief. They are governed by impulse, which is excited so suddenly, that the counteracting or antagonizing influences do not move seasonably to prevent mischief. This is their disease. The active propensities are quickened, and the counteracting moral sentiments are more tardy. As is commonly said, the individual acts before he thinks, and in a moment often regrets what he has done.

  “The impulsive insane are often irritable, restless, and jealous. Sometimes they have delusions, and sometimes not. Their delusions frequently seem to have no connection with their outbreaks of violence. They are often the best, and at the same time the most dangerous, class of patients in the asylums. They have little of the charity of the world, are most likely to be punished for their offenses, and yet have the least control over their conduct.

  “One man in the Hospital, the past year, went out to do a small job of labor. In the absence of his attendant, the thought came into his mind that he would go and see his brother, a distance of forty miles. He dropped his tools and went off. He walked with great rapidity some hours; and then came the reflection, “Should I have left the Hospital in this way?” The reason why he should not have left it did not occur to him till he had got far away, and then he was anxious to return. He inquired the way, wandered a great distance, and finally, coming to a railroad, took passage and returned. He was overjoyed to get back, and seemed as well as usual, but much fatigued. This man killed his wife under the influence of one of these impulses. He is a good laborer, conscientious, judicious, and honest. These impulses occur but rarely. He has always been trusted to labor alone, or with companions. Twice, in ten years, he has gone off under such an impulse, and returned voluntarily after it left him.  *  *  *

  “Some time during the last summer, a patient was at work in the field, hoeing corn. His attendant directed him to vary his labor in some way. In a moment he raised his hoe, and struck him over the head. The wound bled freely, and looked more severe than it really was. The patient and the wounded man both returned to the house. Language cannot describe the suffering of this unfortunate man. He inquired of me most earnestly if the wound was fatal—if the man could recover. He was pale, agitated, trembling, expressed his sorrow and regret that he had done the deed, and begged forgiveness. After the wound was dressed, the man went into the apartment to see the patient, who fell upon his knees and asked his forgiveness in most imploring language, expressing his sorrow for what he had done. This man also committed homicide some years ago, and now expresses his sorrow, protests his innocence of the crime, and daily prays to God for his forgiveness.  *  *  *

  “Many persons contemplate suicide, fear that they shall in an unguarded moment perpetrate it, prepare and keep the means at hand for days and weeks together, and yet never attempt it; such a person may do it afterward under a momentary but strong excitement of the feelings.

  “A patient now in the Hospital, who is very impulsive, has informed me, that he has plunged into the water many times, with the intention of suicide, but that the effect of the water had always been such as to remove the desire of self-destruction, and he had immediately struggled to save himself.

  “One patient, who was very suicidal, informed me, after recovery, that, when he was insane, he contemplated suicide; had the greatest dread of it, and fear that he might commit it; urged his friends to keep every thing out of his way, lest he might be induced to take his own life; and yet, at the same time, he would carry a razor in his pocket for days together, and secrete it under his pillow at night.

  “A patient not in the Hospital will often give up knife, scissors, and every weapon that may be used for self-destruction; and yet these same instruments will, at another time, be found secreted under the bed, though they have never been used. This shows that the subject is frequently in mind.”

  The mode in which the impulse is carried into effect is often determined by recollection of similar cases, and by some obscure operation of the principle of sympathy. Suicide committed in some extraordinary way, if the circumstances are made public, is very apt to induce one or more persons to follow the dreadful example. A remarkable instance happened in London not long ago. But one case of suicide by precipitation from the top of the monument on Fish-street hill, had occurred for more than half a century. In 1839, a young woman, named Moyes, who had not been suspected of insanity, and was not known to labor under any cause of depression of spirits, having ascended the monument, as was supposed, from motives of curiosity, threw herself off from the balcony at the top, and was killed by the fall. Some complaint was made at the time, of the carelessness of the persons having charge of the structure; but as they could not be required to take precautions against an event so unlikely to happen, and as the woman could not have fallen from accident, the railing round the balcony being quite high, nothing was done, and the affair seemingly passed out of notice. But within a few months, a boy about sixteen years old, in whose previous conduct nothing unusual had appeared, destroyed himself in the same way. Public attention being now called to the danger, a person was employed to accompany each visiter to the top of the monument, and to remain there during the whole of his stay. But again, before the end of the year, a young woman, who had no apparent cause to wish for death, went up with this attendant, and having contrived to fix his attention upon some object on the one side, she mounted the railing on the other, and precipitated herself to the bottom. Then, at last, the railing was carried up and united to the stone work, thus changing the balcony into a kind of cage, and offering an effectual precaution against such accidents for the future.

  These cases may be explained on the supposition of impulsive insanity, united with the giddiness produced by looking down from a great height, to which we have already alluded. If we consider the absence of motive, it seems not likely that either of these unfortunate persons entertained the idea of suicide before mounting the stairs.

  “Dr. Pagan observes, that a patient confessed to him, that he never goes near an open window in the upper part of his house, without being afraid, as he thought he should yield to the extraordinary impulse, which he invariably feels when he has done so, to precipitate himself into the street. The same patient informed him, ‘that, upon one occasion, while at sea, he became tormented with an inclination to throw himself overboard. He maintained this contest for some days, and described it as being the most harassing and distressing that can be imagined. When he first experienced it, he endeavored to laugh himself out of it, but it would not do; he had recourse to every kind of distraction which he could contrive, but it was of no avail. It left him when he went below; but the moment he came on deck, and looked at the sea, the same unaccountable desire came on him, and so worn out was he with the contest he was obliged to maintain, that he actually yielded to the uncontrollable impulse, and threw himself overboard. He was perfectly aware of his danger, and was quite ashamed of what he conceived his own folly.’

  “Mrs. Trollope relates the particulars of three women, who, at different periods, whilst under the influence of a momentary paroxysm of delirium, or suicidal frenzy, precipitated themselves from the spire of Strasburg cathedral. One of the unfortunate creatures, says Dr. Pagan, was a young girl; and the first symptom of a disordered mind which she manifested was that of excessive mirth. She laughed and shouted as if in ecstasy, and, having reached a point where nothing impeded her view of the abyss below, she sprang from the giddy eminence, screaming wildly as she fell.”

  On the subject of moral idiocy, comparatively few notices are given. This is one of the most important chapters for the consideration of the man of science or the philanthropist. Here the parents, and not the depraved patient, seem to bear the blame.

  With regard to partial delusions, the following one is certainly the broad farce of this tragic subject:

  “A respectable tradesman fancied himself metamorphosed into a seven-shilling piece, and took the precaution of going round to those with whom he dealt, requesting, as a particular favor, that, if his wife should present him in payment, they would not give change for him.”

  Surely, wit never fastened a more poignant suspicion on Woman since the Chinese story of the “Mourning Widow, with her Fan.”

  This remark of Dr. Parr is excellent, and those appended by the reviewer are also good.

  Of the devotees to a single object, who buy its achievement by what borders on monomania, “Dr. Parr was wont to say that they were certainly cracked, but that the crack let in light. Such notions, however, cannot long be indulged to excess with impunity; the mind seems to give way, if too long drawn in one direction. False sensations are induced. The individual fancies he hears or sees that his impracticable project is accomplished, and that he already touches the reward of his labor. He is then cracked in good earnest.”

  Yet such monomaniacs have been the master-masons, if not the architects of the fairest edifices that have been erected for the benefit of men.

  The publications which give the material for this review, are the following:

A TREATISE ON THE MEDICAL JURISPRUDENCE OF INSANITY. By I. RAY, M.D. superintendent of the Maine Insane Hospital. Second edition, with additions. Boston: W. D. Ticknor & Co. 1841. 12mo. pp. 490.

REPORT OF THE TRIAL OF ABNER ROGERS, JR. indicted for the Murder of Charles Lincoln, Jr. late Warden of the Massachusetts State Prison, before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, holden at Boston, January 30, 1844. By GEORGE TYLER BIGELOW and GEORGE BEMIS, Esqrs. Counsel for the Defendant. Boston: Little & Brown. 8vo. pp. 286.

THE PLEA OF INSANITY IN CRIMINAL CASES. By FORBES WINSLOW, Esq. Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, London. Boston: Little & Brown: 1843. 12mo. pp. 111.

  The other article, of great interest, is one upon “The Chemistry of Vegetation.” One of the works there considered, is that lately published by Dr. Draper of this city.

  The article is written with force and clearness. It brings together many facts, only lately authenticated, in the form best calculated to reward the attention of the general reader; and these facts are of a character irresistibly to capitate the attention of any mind, dramatizing for us the natural history of our planet, and bringing us into presence with the secrets of the vital energies, if we cannot yet lay our hand upon them.

  The statements, though each is made distinctly and fully, are so interwoven, that none can, to advantage, be extracted without making an abridgement of the article.

  This number of the Review also contains good suggestions for the adding a department of higher instruction to Harvard College, or, rather, a wish for the adoption of such methods.

  If pupils were received at Harvard at nearly the point of literary acquisition, at which they are now sent forth, the institution would become at once, and long continue, without a rival, the University of America. Studious young men from all other Colleges, and from every part of the United States, would be drawn together there; and the list of undergraduates would soon exhibit as large a proportion of names from distant parts of the country, as does now that of the members of the Law School, nearly half of whom are from the Middle, Western, and Southern States.

  Could such a course as this be established, many of the features of the German University system might be advantageously adopted. The studies to be pursued, the books to be read, might with propriety be left, in a great degree, to the option of the student. Recitations might, for the most part, be superseded by lectures, and by critical expositions of classical authors. The attainment of a degree might be made to depend on a series of thorough, searching examinations. The professors, under such a system, should depend in part for their compensation on the number of students, whom, by their talents and reputation, they could attract to their respective departments. We would not have them, however, without some fixed stipend. A man should be relieved from solicitude about his daily bread, in order that he may devote himself freely and heartily to intellectual labor. But we would take a hint from the plan now generally adopted in respect to the master of our freighting ships, who receive a monthly stipend sufficient for bare support, but depend for all beyond on a commission upon the freights they can earn. We would have each professor paid by the College the lowest salary that would suffice for a respectable livelihood, and let him add thereto as much as he can by a tuition fee from every scholar who joins his class or attends his lectures. On this plan, the College, with its present permanent sources of income, could support a larger number of professors than at present; for, under such an arrangement, tutors and mere officers of police might be dispensed with, a senior professor might be the literary head of the University, and a Treasurer might be the only salaried officer other than the professors.

  An institution thus organized would be of incalculable benefit to the whole country. Its influence would be at once most sensibly felt in the (so called) learned professions. It would redeem them from the curse of extreme juvenility, under which the land groans. It would prescribe a thorough basis of liberal culture for those who aspire to eminence in professional life. It would fix the scholarly habits of its graduates, and make them reading, thinking, improving men for life; whereas now, half of our graduates can exhibit, ten years after leaving College, no marks of a liberal education except its parchment testimonial. It would raise up a generation of scholars worthy of the name, and would enlist very many so earnestly and zealously in literary and classical pursuits, and give them such facility in the acquisition of knowledge, that they could not fail of attaining eminence as profound critics, original thinkers, and able writers.

  But all this, desirable as it is, is more than we can at present expect; though we believe that Harvard University is destined, at some future time, to assume this position; and we cannot but trust, that, by calling the attention of our readers to the need of higher means of culture than are now enjoyed, we may have done something towards the ultimate supply of such means.

  Pending the change which almost every distant observer feels would place the best endowed and oldest College in the United States on its proper footing as really laying some claim to the title of University, the reviewer turns his attention to amendment of the present course.

  There is also an article on the memoir of Mrs. Grant of Laggan, which has a charm, not only from the picture given of a strong, sweet, and simple character, cheerful and elastic to a great age and under such an accumulation of griefs; but from the relation, almost poetic, sustained by Mrs. Grant to this country and to this portion of the country. The “Memoirs of an American Lady” may be inaccurate in details and chronological arrangement, but it cannot be doubted that it gives the spirit which pervaded the life of the early Albanian settlers, and, while any of their blood flows in the veins of this nation, these simple and noble traits of character, and that mild philanthropy of an almost patriarchal life will have an epic interest in the history of New-York.*

“The North American Review.” New-York Daily Tribune, 13 January 1845, p. 1