Woman in the Nineteenth Century

by Margaret Fuller

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Woman's Influence Over the Insane

In reference to what is said of entrusting an infant to the insane, we must relate a little tale which touched the heart in childhood from the eloquent lips of the mother.

The minister of the village had a son of such uncommon powers that the slender means on which the large family lived were strained to the utmost to send him to college. The boy prized the means of study as only those under such circumstances know how to prize them; indeed, far beyond their real worth; since, by excessive study, prolonged often at the expense of sleep, he made himself insane.

All may conceive the feelings of the family when their star returned to them again, shorn of its beams; their pride, their hard-earned hope, sunk to a thing so hopeless, so helpless, that there could be none so poor to do him reverence. But they loved him, and did what the ignorance of the time permitted. There was little provision then for the treatment of such cases, and what there was was of a kind that they shrunk from resorting to, if it could be avoided. They kept him at home, giving him, during the first months, the freedom of the house; but on his making an attempt to kill his father, and confessing afterwards that his old veneration had, as is so often the case in these affections, reacted morbidly to its opposite, so that he never saw a once-loved parent turn his back without thinking how he could rush upon him and do him an injury, they felt obliged to use harsher measures, and chained him to a post in one room of the house.

There, so restrained, without exercise or proper medicine, the fever of insanity came upon him in its wildest form. He raved, shrieked, struck about him, and tore off all the raiment that was put upon him.

One of his sisters, named Lucy, whom he had most loved when well, had now power to soothe him. He would listen to her voice, and give way to a milder mood when she talked or sang. But this favorite sister married, went to her new home, and the maniac became wilder, more violent than ever.

After two or three years, she returned, bringing with her on infant. She went into the room where the naked, blaspheming, raging object was confined. He knew her instantly, and felt joy at seeing her.

"But, Lucy," said he, suddenly, "is that your baby you have in your arms? Give it to me, I want to hold it!"

A pang of dread and suspicion shot through the young mother's heart,—she turned pale and faint. Her brother was not at that moment so mad that he could not understand her fears.

"Lucy," said he, "do you suppose I would hurt your child?"

His sister had strength of mind and of heart; she could not resist the appeal, and hastily placed the child in his arms. Poor fellow! he held it awhile, stroked its little face, and melted into tears, the first he had shed since his insanity.

For some time after that he was better, and probably, had he been under such intelligent care as may be had at present, the crisis might have been followed up, and a favorable direction given to his disease. But the subject was not understood then, and, having once fallen mad, he was doomed to live and die a madman.

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