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WHEN MORAL AGENTS WHICH EXERT A PAINFUL IN
FLUENCE ARE HEIGHTENED IN THEIR EFFECTS BY
THE CO-OPERATION OF MORBIFIC EXCITEMENTS OF A
“ Mark how he trembles in his ecstacy.”
Comedy of Errors.
I SHALL now consider the effect of those morbific agents, which exert a contrary influence on the states of the mind; which impart an additional degree of vividness to painful ideas, and thereby render proportionally faint all feelings of a pleasurable nature. When, from a highly-excited state of the melancholic temperament, a paroxysm of actual insanity is induced, the hideous phantoms incidental to it are not to be dispelled by the vividness of a single pleasurable emotion:
66 The darken'd sun
All nature fades, extinct.” Burton, when speaking of persons melancholy à toto copore," observes, " that the fumes which arise
from this corrupt blood, disturbe the minde, and make them fearful and sorrowfull, heavy-hearted as the rest, dejected, discontented, solitary, silent, weary of their lives, dull, and heavy. And if farre gone, that which Apuleius wished to his enemy, by way of imprecation, is true in them; dead men's bones, hobgoblins, ghosts, are ever in their mindes, and meet them still in every turne: all the bugbeares of the night and terrors, and fairy-babes of tombes and
eyes, and in their thoughts."
The foregoing remarks of this very accurate describer of the symptoms of melancholy but too plainly shew, how completely the undue excitement of painful ideas can reduce to an unconscious degree of faintness all joyous thoughts. And how well is this fact illustrated in the too correct, yet very uncharitable description of a melancholic seholar, as depicted by an early popular writer. " A melancholy man,” says Sir Thomas Overbury, " is a stranger from the drove : one that nature made a sociable, because she made him man, and a crazed disposition has altered. Impleasing to all, as all to him ; straggling thoughts are his content, they make him dream waking, there's his pleasure. His imagination is never idle, it keeps his mind in a continuall motion, as the poise of the clocke: he winds up his thoughts often, and as often unwindes them; Penelope's webbe thrives faster. He'le seldom be found without the shade of some grove, in whose bottome a river dwels. Hee carries à cloud in his face, 'never faire weather : his outside is framed to his inside, in that hee keepes a decorum, both unseemly. Speake to him ; he heares with his eyes, eares follow
his mind, and that's not at leysure. He thinkes businesse, but never does any: he is all contemplation, no action. He hewes and fashions his thoughts, as if hee meant them to some purpose ; but they prove unprofitable, as a piece of wrought timber of no use. His spirits and the sunne are enemies ; the sun bright and warme, his humour blacke and cold : variety of foolish apparitions people in his head, they suffer him not to breathe, according to the necessities of nature; which makes him sup up a draught of as much aire at once as would serve at thrice. Hee denies nature her due in sleepe, and nothing pleaseth him long, but that which pleaseth his own phantasies: they are the consuming evils, and evil consumptions that consume him alive. Lastly, he is a man onely in shew, but comes short of the better part; a whole reasonable soule, which is man's chief pre-eminence, and sole marke from creatures sensible.”*
Another interesting elucidation of the view which I have attempted to explain, is afforded in a case related by Pinel, where it is evident that the feelings which a general state of mental excitement had morbidly affected, were, from the same principle of selection, vivified to a most painful degree. The patient was a young gentleman, endowed with a most vivid imagination, who came to Paris to study the law. His application was said to have been laborious and painful in the extreme, the consequence of which was, that, along with frequent bleeding at the nose, spasmodic
Sir Thomas Overbury, His Wife, 14th edit. A. D. 1630.
oppressions of the chest, wandering pains of the bowels, and a troublesome flatulence, he was seized with great depression of spirits, and a morbidly enervated sensibility. These symptoms daily increased, until, as a French physician adds, “complete lunacy at length established its melancholy empire. One night, he bethought himself that he would go to the play, to seek relief from his own unhappy meditations. The piece which was presented, was 'The Philosopher without knowing it.' He was instantly seized with the most gloomy suspicions, and especially with a conviction, that the comedy was written on purpose, and represented to ridicule himself. He accused me with having furnished materials for the writer of it, and the next morning he came to reproach me, which he did most angrily, for having betrayed the rights of friendship, and exposed him to public derision. His delirium observed no bounds. Every priest and monk he met in the public walks he took for comedians in disguise, despatched there for the purpose of studying his gestures, and of discovering the secret operations of his mind. In the dead of the night he gave way to the most terrific apprehensions-believed himself to be attacked sometimes by spies, and at other times by robbers and assassins. He once opened his window with great violence, and cried out murder and assistance with all his might.”
It is evident, that, in the foregoing example, the morbific cause of the young gentleman's insanity had imparted such an additional degree of vividness to his painful feelings, as to render all pleasurable thoughts
so proportionally faint, that a perfect unconsciousness of them ensued. A general gloom, therefore, darkened all his reflections and emotions.
The continuation of this patient's case has no immediate relation to the object of our inquiry, yet its interest is too great to be withheld. It appears that the young man was sent, under the protection of a proper person, to an asylum belonging to a little village in the vicinity of the Pyrenees. “Greatly debilitated both in mind and body," continues Pinel," it was some time after agreed upon that he should return to his family residence, where, on account of his paroxysms of delirious extravagance, succeeded by fits of profound melancholy, he was insulated from society. Ennui and insurmountable disgust with life, absolute refusal of food, and dissatisfaction with every thing, and every body that came near him, were among the last ingredients of his bitter cup. To conclude our affecting history, he one day eluded the vigilance of his keeper, and, with no other garment on than his shirt, fled to a neighbouring wood, where he lost himself, and where, from weakness and inanition, he ended his miseries. Two days afterwards he was found a corpse. In his hand was the celebrated work of Plato on the Immortality of the Soul.”
These are all the examples which I have to offer in illustration of the second variety of ecstacy that I have noticed, where the cause of mental excitement, to which the affection is referable, has added to the intensity of painful feelings, but has proportionally di
* Pinel's Treatise on Insanity. Trans. by Dr Davis, page 57.