Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
Privacy
 
Home - Rules of an Asylum - Insane British - Curious Punishments
 

Course Of Lunacy Legislation





I now resume the thread of my history at the time of the exposure of the
abuses at the old York Asylum.

We have already intimated that the treatment adopted at the Retreat, and
made known to the public by various writers and by many visitors, but
more especially by the "Description," exerted a remarkable influence on
the subsequent inquiry and legislation. The success of the Retreat
excited the jealousy and antipathy of the superintendent of the York
Asylum; the discussion which ensued led to investigation; the
revelations which followed excited public opinion; the representatives
of the people undertook an inquiry by means of a Select Committee, which
finally necessitated legislation, and this legislation by successive
enactments wrought the wondrous and beneficial change which we now
witness. This sequence of events will be found to be borne out by facts,
by any one who will investigate the literature of lunacy from 1792 to
the present time. Sydney Smith says, writing in 1817,[140] that "the
new Establishment began the great revolution upon this subject, which
we trust the provisions of Parliament will complete.... In the course of
a few years the Institution had done so much by gentle methods, that a
modest and well-written volume, giving an account of it, excited
universal interest, and, in fact, achieved what all the talents and
public spirit of Mason and his friends had failed to accomplish. It had
still better effects. A very inoffensive passage in this book roused, it
seems, the animosity of the physician to the York Lunatic Asylum, and a
letter which this gentleman published in one of the York newspapers,
became the origin of a controversy among the governors of that
establishment, which terminated in August, 1814, after a struggle of
nearly two years, in the complete overthrow of the old system, and the
dismission of every officer of the asylum, except the physician himself.
The period is not remote when lunatics were regarded as beings
unsusceptible of mental enjoyment or of bodily pain, and accordingly
consigned without remorse, to prisons under the name of mad-houses--in
the contrivance of which nothing seems to have been considered, but how
to enclose the victim of insanity in a cell, and to cover his misery
from the light of day. But the success of the Retreat demonstrated, by
experiment, that all the apparatus of gloom and confinement was
injurious; and the necessity for improvement becoming daily more
apparent, a 'Bill for the Better Regulation of Mad-houses' was brought
into Parliament by Mr. Rose in 1813, but was nevertheless opposed and
finally withdrawn; and another Bill, in 1814,[141] though it passed the
Commons, was rejected by the House of Lords. The public, in fact, was
not yet aware of the atrocious evils which these Bills were intended to
remove; and it was not until now that the course was adopted, which, in
every case of public grievance, is the only sure one for obtaining
redress. A Committee of the House of Commons, appointed for the purpose
of inquiry in 1814, and revived in the following year, was fortunately
composed of men determined to do the business they had undertaken."[142]

Mr. Rose, on the 28th of April, 1815, again introduced the subject of
private mad-houses to Parliament, and, dwelling on the great abuses
connected with them, pointed out the necessity of their condition being
examined into by the House. He said that among the cases which had
recently come to his knowledge was that of a young woman who, although
requiring some restraint, was perfectly harmless. She was found chained
to the ground by both legs and arms, a degree of cruelty which was in no
respect justified. With a view of correcting such practices, he moved
"that a Committee be appointed to consider of provision being made for
the better regulation of mad-houses in England, and to report the same,
with their observations thereupon, to the House."[143] The motion was
agreed to.

The York Lunatic Asylum stood first upon the evidence before the Select
Committee. "It appears from the his