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Questions Answered Extempore by Miss Emma Hardinge 1866


Question 4


Can you throw any light upon the mystery of insanity and its purposes?



WE will respond to the first portion of the Question but must claim permission to change the phraseology of the last. We answer then by asking - What is sanity? Let us attempt to define that, e’er we speak of its opposite. We take all the various moral and intellectual functions of the human mind, and we find that they may be divided into five. The first of these is manifest in the earliest period of infantile existence in the form of a senuous nature. The tender new-born creature manifests the power of life and motion in its wailing cry of pain and unconscious appeal for sustenance. Each motion and each sound is urged by great nature’s primal law, the senuous care of self, or the yearning instincts of mere animal life and nature. With every day’s advancing stage of life, as the young child grows, it manifests its second element of being in its affectional nature. We perceive the little arms of the babe out-stretched to those that are ever kindest to it, we realise how readily the nurse or mother’s tender love is responded to by the youngest child amongst us. Truly then, the next manifestation of human nature in the scale of mind must be affection; the next is the moral element in man. The young child no sooner takes part with its companions in its daily sports or rudimentary education than it manifests a simple sense of justice. The child in its very play cannot be trampled upon by its companions, nor venture to inflict its petty tyrannies on others. Every group of children in their sports teaches a code of morals.


The next manifestation of life is the development of the intellect. Here the mind reaches out to select its favourite objects, or to pursue some special occupation, art, or science, or it displays itself in mediocrity, indifference, or incapacity for learning. And the last of the developments of mind that constitute the group which I have classified as five great elements of reason, is man’s spirituality, and this is manifest in the deep yearnings of religion, tendering to reverence, fear, awe, worship, aspiration; and finally to inspiration, which in its normal action on the human soul, is the voice of God inbreathed in the mind of man. In all these five departments - namely, the sensual, affectional, moral, intellectual, and spiritual elements of mind there are corresponding organs seated in the brain, each endowed with its separate and peculiar functions. The sensual part of man’s nature must be guided and regulated by



knowledge, or it degenerates into excess, which is crime; even so, must the moral and other tendencies in human nature be ruled. In fact, in every department there must be a power which rules the proclivities of mind arrayed at its tribunal: we call that power reason. It requires for its perfect exercise - first, the harmonious working of all the elements of mind; next, the knowledge to discriminate and judge amongst them. Reason comprehends and speculates; and judgment legislates and passes verdict on the faculities of mind; and hence we find that sanity is an equal development of all man’s mental faculties. Wherever one or other is deficient, there is insanity, or unsoundness. You may not recognise it, unless it manifests itself in some extreme; but I say that every crime and every proclivity to excess which is, indeed the essence of crime, is more or less insanity. Any tendencies which become dangerous to humanity are as much insanity as the passion known as frenzy. Excessive madness, or that which is recognised as such, and demands the restraint of physical force, is only the excessive plus or minus of some organ of the brain, resulting in inequality of balance between the various functions of the mind. So long as there is even a partial equilibrium amongst all the mental faculties, whilst the sensual nature is restrained by others - when the stern, strict sense of morality does not lead the mind into fanaticism; so long as the affections do not run riot, or the intellect absorbs the being to the exclusion of the rest, or the spiritual yearnings of the soul wrong not material duties; just so long as there is an equal balance amongst all these various tendencies, the result is mental health or sanity; but even the least disturbance of these mental forces - a predominance or lack of either element resulting in lack of balance amongst the whole - is, in its degree, insanity. Anatomy records that in many cases where insanity prevails, especially in such instances as appear traceable to cerebral excitement, there is often no evidence of anatomical change in the brain. The brains of lunatics, in post-mortem examinations, are not unfrequently found in a healthful state, although there is almost invariably discovered physical disorganisation in some other portion of the frame - especially of the great nervous centre, the spine. Insanity, too, is often promoted by a deterioration of some portions of the system apart from the brain, every part of the wonderful structure of humanity being so intimately connected, that any organic disturbance is calculated to produce the abnormal condition called insanity. I call insanity, then, the want of equilibrium in the entire system, which localises an injury, in want of balance amongst the various organs of the brain; for though this state may be produced by physical causes, these causes ultimately represent themselves, through the system, upon the mind, and therefore in the brain, as the throne-room of the sovereign mind, and the demon of insanity finds there its exhibition. Our question further adds, “What are its purposes?” In the divine economy there is but one purpose subserved by suffering, mental or physical, and this is - to teach us to know ourselves, to warn us to legislate among our faculties, and to guard well the noble structure of the physical form, which in disorganisation presses too rudely on the mind, and to avoid the dangerous excesses which, in mind, is crime, in matter, disease and death. In the economy of the human system you may trace all its defects, either from hereditary tendencies, accident, disease, or some disturbance in the nervous system.


I believe with Hahnemann, that there is a spiritual cause for all disease, and that when we can produce and equalise the perfect flow of life’s electric currents, there will be no disease, and in this state there can be no cerebral disturbance called insanity. The purpose - if we may conceive that God designs a special purpose in insanity - is only to be subserved by studying the human system, by considering carefully those



causes which produce inequality or want of equilibrium in the brain; and foremost amongst the subjects of this fell disease I call as criminals. To my mind all crimes and moral obliquities are insanity. To me it seems that evil tendencies are not alone ignorance of the highest good and the highest wisdom, but that they originate in most instances in some physical or mental state, induced by physical or inherited deformities; “the sins of the father visited upon the children;” and that in these inherited tendencies, the inequality that produces crime is insanity. We do wrong only to visit the causes of insanity upon those who are restrained for the safety of the public in lunatic asylums. The only madmen are not the raving maniacs: to study the worst species of insanity we should visit the prisons, jails, and penitentiaries. To deal with these as physicians rather than magistrates, we should convert our prisons into moral hospitals, and infirmaries for sick souls. Then, and then only, shall we realise what insanity is, and how it may be cured. Lunacy is the want of balance only between any of those five functions which I have thus hastily classed as constituting all the assembled faculties of mind. When reason and judgment can legislate, fairly amongst these, there is perfect sanity; when there is a want of balance from any cause originating either in physical disorganisation, or excessive predominance of one mental faculty over another, that state is insanity.


Question 5  January 8th, 1866