Medical And Superstitious Treatment Of The Insane In The Olden Time

Among our Saxon ancestors the treatment of the insane was a curious

compound of pharmacy, superstition, and castigation. Demoniacal

possession was fully believed to be the frequent cause of insanity, and,

as is well known, exorcism was practised by the Church as a recognized

ordinance. We meet with some interesting particulars in regard to

treatment, in what may be called its medico-ecclesiastical aspect, in a

work of
he early part of the tenth century, by an unknown author,

entitled "Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England," or,

as we should say, "Medicine, Herb Treatment, and Astrology." It forms a

collection of documents never before published, illustrating the history

of science in this country before the Norman Conquest.[2] It clearly

appears that the Saxon leeches derived much of their knowledge directly

from the Romans, and through them from the Greeks, but they also

possessed a good deal of their own. The herbs they employed bespeak

considerable acquaintance with botany and its application to medicine as

understood at that day. The classic peony was administered as a remedy

for insanity, and mugwort was regarded as useful in putting to flight

what this Saxon book calls "devil sickness," that is, a mental malady

arising from a demon. Here is a recipe for "a fiend-sick man" when a

demon possesses or dominates him from within. "Take a spew-drink, namely

lupin, bishopwort, henbane, cropleek. Pound them together; add ale for a

liquid, let it stand for a night, and add fifty libcorns[3] or cathartic

grains and holy water."[4] Here, at any rate, we have a remedy still

employed, although rejected from the English Pharmacopoeias of 1746 and

1788--henbane or hyoscyamus--to say nothing of ale. Another mixture,

compounded of many herbs and of clear ale, was to be drunk out of a

church-bell,[5] while seven masses were to be sung over the worts or

herbs, and the lunatic was to sing psalms, the priest saying over him

the Domine, sancte pater omnipotens.

Dioscorides and Apuleius are often the sources of the prescriptions of

the Saxons, at least as regards the herb employed. For a lunatic it is

ordered to "take clove wort and wreathe it with a red thread about the

man's swere (neck) when the moon is on the wane, in the month which is

called April, in the early part of October; soon he will be healed."

Again, "for a lunatic, take the juice of teucrium polium which we named

polion, mix with vinegar, smear therewith them that suffer that evil

before it will to him (before the access), and shouldest thou put the

leaves of it and the roots of it on a clean cloth, and bind about the

man's swere who suffers the evil, it will give an experimental proof of

that same thing (its virtue)."[6]

It is greatly to be regretted that the virtues ascribed to peony, used

not internally, but in the following way, are not confirmed by

experience. "For lunacy, if a man layeth this wort peony over the

lunatic, as he lies, soon he upheaveth himself hole; and if he have this

wort with him, the disease never again approaches him."[7]

Mandrake, as much as three pennies in weight, administered in a draught

of warm water, was prescribed for witlessness; and periwinkle (Vinca

pervinca) was regarded as of great advantage for demoniacal possession,

and "various wishes, and envy, and terror, and that thou may have grace,

and if thou hast this wort with thee thou shalt be prosperous and ever


Then follows an amusing direction: "This wort shalt thou pluck thus,

saying, 'I pray thee, Vinca pervinca, thee that art to be had for thy

many useful qualities, that thou come to me glad, blossoming with thy

mainfulnesses; that thou outfit me so, that I be shielded and ever

prosperous, and undamaged by poisons and by wrath;' when thou shalt

pluck this wort, thou shalt be clean from every uncleanness, and thou

shalt pick it when the moon is nine nights old, and eleven nights, and

thirteen nights and thirty nights, and when it is one night old."[8]

For epilepsy in a child a curious charm is given in this book, used also

for "a dream of an apparition." The brain of a mountain goat was to be

drawn through a golden ring, and then "given to the child to swallow

before it tastes milk; it will be healed."[9]

Wolf's flesh, well-dressed and sodden, was to be eaten by a man troubled

with hallucinations. "The apparitions which ere appeared to him, shall

not disquiet him."[10]

Temptations of the fiend were warded off by "a wort hight red

niolin--red stalk--which waxeth by running water. If thou hast it on

thee and under thy head bolster, and over thy house doors, the devil may

not scathe thee, within nor without" (lviii.).

Again, we have a cure for mental vacancy and folly: "Put into ale

bishopwort, lupins, betony, the southern (or Italian) fennel, nepte

(catmint), water agrimony, cockle, marche; then let the man drink. For

idiocy and folly: Put into ale cassia, and lupins, bishopwort,

alexander, githrife, fieldmore, and holy water; then let him drink."

Although hardly coming under my theme, I cannot omit this: "Against a

woman's chatter: Taste at night fasting a root of radish, that day the

chatter cannot harm thee."

For the temptations of the fiend and for night (goblin) visitors, for

fascination, and for evil enchantments by song, they prescribed as

follows:--"Seek in the maw of young swallows for some little stones, and

mind that they touch neither earth nor water nor other stones; look out

three of them; put them on the man on whom thou wilt, him who hath the

need, he will soon be well."

The ceremonial enjoined in making use of a salve against the elfin race

and nocturnal goblin visitors (nightmare) is extremely curious. "Take

the ewe hop plant (probably female hop), wormwood, bishopwort, lupin,

etc.; put these worts into a vessel, set them under the altar, sing over

them nine masses, boil them in butter and sheep's grease, add much holy

salt, strain through a cloth, throw the worts into running water. If any

ill tempting occur to a man, or an elf or goblin night-visitors come,

smear his forehead with this salve, and put it on his eyes, and where

his body is sore, and cense him with incense, and sign him frequently

with the sign of the cross; his condition will soon be better"


There is no doubt that in these prescriptions a distinction was made

between persons who were regarded as possessed and those supposed to be

lunatics. For the latter, however, the ecclesiastical element came in as

well as the medical one. Herbs were prescribed which were to be mixed

with foreign ale and holy water, while masses were sung over the patient

"Let him drink this drink," say they, "for nine mornings, at every one

fresh, and no other liquid that is thick and still; and let him give

alms and earnestly pray God for his mercies." The union of ale and holy

water forms an amusing, though unintentioned, satire on the jovial monk

of the Middle Ages. I may remark that the old Saxon term "wood" is

applied in these recipes to the frenzied. It survives in the Scotch

"wud," i.e. mad.[12] Thus for the "wood-heart" it is ordered that

"when day and night divide, then sing thou in the Church, litanies, that

is, the names of the hallows (or saints) and the Paternoster." This was,

as usual, accompanied by the taking of certain herbs and drink. In some

instances, a salve was to be smeared on the temples and above the eyes.

Medicated baths were not omitted in their prescriptions. Thus for a

"wit-sick man," as they call him, they say, "Put a pail full of cold

water, drop thrice into it some of the drink, bathe the man in the

water, and let him eat hallowed bread and cheese and garlic and

cropleek, and drink a cup full of the drink; and when he hath been

bathed, smear with the salve thoroughly, and when it is better with him,

then work him a strong purgative drink," which is duly particularized.

It is unnecessary to give more of these quaint prescriptions, one of

which is a drink "against a devil and dementedness" (an illustration, by

the way, how the one idea ran into the other); those which I have given

will suffice to show the kind of pharmacopoeia in use, with the Saxon

monk-doctor, for madness. But did their treatment consist of nothing

more potent or severe than herbs and salves and baths? It would have

been surprising indeed had it not. And so we find the following

decidedly stringent application prescribed:--"In case a man be lunatic,

take a skin of mere-swine (that is, a sea-pig or porpoise), work it into

a whip, and swinge the man therewith; soon he will be well. Amen."[13]

Before taking leave of this interesting book I think that the impression

left on the mind of the reader in regard to the circumstances under

which it was written, will be clearer, if I cite the following

description by the editor:--"Here," he says, "a leech calmly sits down

to compose a not unlearned book, treating of many serious diseases,

assigning for them something he hopes will cure them.... The author

almost always rejects the Greek recipes, and doctors as an herborist....

Bald was the owner of the book, Cild the scribe. The former may be

fairly presumed to have been a medical practitioner, for to no other

could such a book as this have had, at that time, much interest. We see,

then, a Saxon leech at his studies; the book, in a literary sense, is

learned; in a professional view not so, for it does not really advance

man's knowledge of disease or of cures. It may have seemed by the solemn

elaboration of its diagnoses to do so, but I dare not assert there is

real substance in it.... If Bald was at once a physician and a reader of

learned books on therapeutics, his example implies a school of medicine

among the Saxons. And the volume itself bears out the presumption. We

read in two cases that 'Oxa taught this leechdom;' in another, that

'Dun taught it;' in another, 'some teach us;' in another, an impossible

prescription being quoted, the author, or possibly Cild, the reedsman,

indulges in a little facetious comment, that compliance was not


Some light is thrown on the treatment of the insane in early English

days by a study of the "Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and

Ireland during the Middle Ages," published under the direction of the

Master of the Rolls. The inference to be drawn, however, is only that

which we might have drawn already from what I have stated. It is

observed by Mr. Brewer, the editor of one of these works, written by

Giraldus of Wales, who was born 1147, "For the sick, if medicine was

required, there was none to be had except in the monastery; and in this

country, at all events, the monks were the only medical

practitioners."[15] That at that time chains were employed for the

insane is incidentally shown by the following story. Walter Mapes,

chaplain to Henry II., when living in Gloucestershire, in the Forest of

Dean, fell ill. The abbot of a Cistercian house visited him, and used

his utmost efforts to induce him to become a monk of their order. Mapes,

who was well known to be inimical to Religious Orders, thereupon called

his clerks and attendants (he was a canon and archdeacon), and said, "If

ever in my sickness, or on any other occasion, I ask for this habit, be

certain that it arises not from the exercise of my reason, but the

violence of my disease, as sick men often desire what is foolish or

prejudicial. But should it ever so happen that I resolutely insist on

becoming a monk then bind me with chains and fetters as a lunatic who

has lost his wits, and keep me in close custody until I repent and

recover my senses." ("Tanquam furibundum et mente captum catenis et

vinculis me statim fortiter astringatis, et arcta custodia," etc.[16])

That at this period the influence of the moon in producing lunacy was

recognized (as, indeed, when and where was it not?) is proved by

observations of the above writer, Giraldus of Wales, in his

"Topographica Hibernica," vol. v. p. 79. "Those," he observes, "are

called lunatics whose attacks are exacerbated every month when the moon

is full." He combats the interpretation of an expositor of Saint

Matthew, who said that the insane are spoken of by him as lunatics, not

because their madness comes by the moon, but because the devil, who

causes insanity, avails himself of the phases of the moon (lunaria

tempora). Giraldus, on the contrary, observes that the expositor might

have said not less truly that the malady was in consequence of the

humours being enormously increased in some persons when the moon is


The name of Giraldus is associated with a celebrated holy well in

Flintshire, that of St. Winifred, said to be the most famous in the

British Isles. At her shrine he offered his devotions in the twelfth

century, when he says, "She seemed still to retain her miraculous

powers." The cure of lunacy at this well is not particularized, but it

is highly probable from the practice resorted to, as we shall see, at

others in Britain.[17]

I may here say that there is not much to be found in Chaucer (1328-1400)

bearing in any way upon the insane, though he occasionally uses the word

"wodeness" for madness, and "wood" or "wod" for the furiously

insane.[18] So again in an old English miscellany of the thirteenth

century, translated from the Latin, we read--

"Ofte we brennen in mod

And werden so weren wod;"

that is to say, "Oft do we burn in rage and become as it were mad."

I have, in examining that curious book, the "Vision of William

concerning Piers the Plowman," written in 1393 by William Langland,[19]

found one or two passages having reference to my subject which are worth

citing. The author, after saying that beggars whose churches are

brew-houses may be left to starve, adds that there are some, however,

who are idiotic or lunatic. He also says that men give gifts to

minstrels, and so should the rich help God's minstrels, namely,

lunatics. This is one of the rare instances in which the insane are

spoken of in kindly terms by the old writers, although it would be quite

unfair to regard what was doubtless harsh treatment as intentionally

cruel. Piers the Plowman speaks of men and women wanting in wit, whom he

styles "lunatik lollares," that is, persons who loll about, who care for

neither cold nor heat, and are "meuynge after the mone." He says that--

"Moneyless they walke

With a good wil, witless, meny wyde contreys

Ryght as Peter dade and Paul, save that they preche nat."

In many instances mistaken kindness, in others ignorance and

superstition, guided the past treatment of the insane. When residing in

Cornwall some years ago, I was interested in the traditions of that once

isolated county, and heard of a practice long since discontinued, which

illustrates this observation. It was called "bowssening" (or ducking)

the lunatic, from a Cornu-British or Armoric word, beuzi or bidhyzi

meaning to baptize, dip, or drown.[20] There were, it seems, many places

where this custom was observed in Cornwall, but the one I now refer to

was at Altarnun, and was called St. Nun's Pool. It is situated about

eight miles from Launceston. Though the name of this saint gives the

impression of her being a nun, it appears that she was a beautiful girl,

with whom Cereticus, a Welsh prince, fell in love. According to

tradition, she was buried at Altarnun. The church was afterwards

dedicated to St. Mary. The water from the pool was allowed to flow into

an enclosed space, and on the surrounding wall the patient was made to

stand with his back to the water, and was then by a sudden blow thrown

backwards into it. Then (to quote a graphic description which has been

given of it), "a strong fellowe, provided for the nonce, tooke him and

tossed him up and downe alongst and athwart the water, untill the

patient by forgoing his strength had somewhat forgot his fury. Then was

he conveyed to the church, and certain masses sung over him, upon which

handling, if his right wits returned, St. Nunne had the thanks; but if

there appeared small amendment, he was bowssened againe and againe while

there remayned in him any hope of life, for recovery." Men who had

actually witnessed this treatment of lunacy related this narrative to

Carew, the author of the "Survey of Cornwall," published in 1769, and he

gives an explanation of the custom which is no doubt erroneous, but is

curious for other reasons. "It may be," he says, "this device took

original from the Master of Bedlam, who (the fable sayeth) used to cure

his patients of that impatience by keeping them bound in pools up to the

middle, and so more or less after the fit of their fury" (p. 123). The

present Master goes further, and keeps them up to the neck in a

prolonged warm bath!

The Vicar of Altarnun, Rev. John Power, in response to my inquiries, has

been good enough to ask the oldest men in the parish whether they

remembered the well being so used, but they do not. At the corner of a

meadow there is still an intermittent spring, flowing freely in wet

weather. The tank which was formerly on the spot has gone, the farmers

having removed the stone in order to mend the fences, and consequently

much of the water has been diverted into other channels, emptying

itself into the river St. Inny, which runs a few hundred yards in the

valley below. It seems probable that the working of a large stone quarry

in the hills above has cut off the main current of the spring.

To Carew's account Dr. Borlase adds that in his opinion "a similar

bowssening pit has existed at a well in St. Agnes' parish." Among other

Cornish wells which had healing virtues assigned them was St. Levan's,

and the insane, no doubt, partook of them. "Over the spring," says Dr.

Boase, "lies a large flat stone, wide enough to serve as a foundation

for a little square chapel erected upon it; the chapel is no more than

five feet square, seven feet high, the little roof of it of stone. The

water is reckoned very good for eyes, toothache, and the like, and when

people have washed, they are always advised to go into this chapel and

sleep upon the stone, which is the floor of it, for it must be

remembered that whilst you are sleeping upon these consecrated stones,

the saint is sure to dispense his healing influence." Madron Well

attained a great celebrity for healing diseases and for divining. "Girls

dropped crooked pins in to raise bubbles and divine the period of their


Mr. W. C. Borlase, M.P., informs me that at St. Kea, near Truro, within

the walls of the church, was a stone to which, within the memory of an

old gentleman who died only about two years ago, an inhabitant of the

parish, on becoming insane, was chained. He adds that just as Altarnun

is Nun's altar, the parish of Elerky is derived from St. Kea's altar

(Eller or Aller-ke).

Scotland was still more remarkable than Cornwall for its lunacy-healing

wells and extraordinary superstitions, surviving also to a much later

period; in fact, not yet dispelled by civilization and science. Every

one has heard of St. Fillan's Well (strictly, a pool) in Perthshire, and

knows the lines in "Marmion"--

"Then to Saint Fillan's blessed well,

Whose spring can frenzied dreams dispel,

And the crazed brain restore."

This well, derived from the river of that name in the vale of

Strathfillan, and consecrated by the saint who, according to tradition,

converted the inhabitants to Christianity,[22] has been ever since

distinguished by his name, and esteemed of sovereign virtue in curing


There was an abbot living in the Vale of St. Fillan in 1703. "He is

pleased," says Pennant, in his "Tour in Scotland" (vol. ii. p. 15), "to

take under his protection the disordered in mind; and works wonderful

cures, say his votaries, unto this day." It was, he says, a second

Bethesda. He wrote in 1774.

Mr. Heron, the author of a "Journey through Part of Scotland," made in

the year 1793, observes that in his day "about two hundred persons

afflicted in this way are annually brought to try the benefits of its

salutary influence. These patients," he continues, "are conducted by

their friends, who first perform the ceremony of passing with them

thrice round a neighbouring cairn; on this cairn they then deposit a

simple offering of clothes, or perhaps of a small bunch of heath.... The

patient is then thrice immerged in the sacred pool; after the immersion

he is bound hand and foot, and left for the night in a chapel which

stands near. If the maniac is found loose in the morning, good hopes are

conceived of his full recovery. If he is still bound, his cure remains

doubtful. It sometimes happens that death relieves him during his

confinement from the troubles of life."[23]

An Englishman who visited the spot five years afterwards (1798) says the

patient was fastened down in the open churchyard on a stone all the

night, with a covering of hay over him, and St. Fillan's bell put over

his head. The people believed that wherever the bell was removed to, it

always returned to a particular place in the churchyard next morning.

"In order to ascertain the truth of this ridiculous story, I carried it

off with me," continues this English traveller. "An old woman, who

observed what I was about, asked me what I wanted with the bell, and I

told her that I had an unfortunate relation at home out of his mind, and

that I wanted to have him cured. 'Oh, but,' says she, 'you must bring

him here to be cured, or it will be of no use.' Upon which I told her

he was too ill to be moved, and off I galloped with the bell." To make

this story complete, I should add that the son of this gentleman,

residing in Hertfordshire, restored to Scotland this interesting relic,

after the lapse of seventy-one years, namely, in 1869.

At Struthill, in Stirlingshire, was a well famous for its healing

virtues in madness. "Several persons," says Dalyell, "testified to the

Presbytery of Stirling in 1668, that, having carried a woman thither,

they had stayed two nights at an house hard by the well; that the first

night they did bind her twice to a stone at the well, but she came into

the house to them, being loosed without any help; the second night they

bound her over again to the same stone, and she returned loosed; and

they declare also, that she was very mad before they took her to the

well, but since that time she is working and sober in her wits." He adds

that this well was still celebrated in 1723, and votive offerings were

left; but no one then surviving knew that the virtues of the stone were

in request. The chapel itself was demolished in 1650, in order to

suppress the superstitions connected with this well.[24]

The virtues of St. Ronan's Well were renowned of old, and are still

credited. The lunatic walks round the Temple of St. Molonah, whose ruin

near the Butt of Lewis remains. He is sprinkled with water from the

well, is bound, and placed on the site of the altar for the night. A

cure is expected, if he sleep; if not, the fates are considered adverse,

and he returns home. My authority, Dr. Mitchell, records a case of


There is in Ross-shire a small Island on Loch Maree, called Inch or

Innis Maree, where is a famous well, bearing the name of this saint,[25]

who lived at the beginning of the eighth century. This well was

celebrated for its virtues in the cure of mental disorders. Pennant, the

author already quoted, visited it in 1769, and gave a graphic

description of the superstitious practices connected with its supposed

sanctity. "The curiosity of the place," he writes, "is the well of the

saint, of power unspeakable in cases of lunacy. The patient is brought

into the sacred island, is made to kneel before the altar where his

attendants leave an offering in money; he is then brought to the well

and sips some of the holy water; a second offering is made; that done,

he is thrice dipped in the lake, and the same operation is repeated

every day for some weeks; and it often happens, by natural causes, the

patient receives relief, of which the saint receives the credit. I must

add that the visitants draw from the state of the well an omen of the

disposition of St. Maree; if his well is full they suppose he will be

propitious; if not, they proceed in their operations with fears and

doubts, but let the event be what it will, he is held in high


This practice was, no doubt, closely connected with the belief of the

inhabitants that the insane were possessed. "To preclude the demon from

lurking in the hair, a special water was sometimes used; the patient was

plunged over head and ears in a bath of Gregorian water,[27] and

detained there just up to the drowning point."[28] Dr. Mitchell

(Commissioner in Lunacy in Scotland) has given a most interesting

account of similar Scotch customs associated with their treatment of

their insane, practised from time immemorial, and therefore illustrating

the proceedings of a remote antiquity, pagan as well as Christian. But I

must content myself with a very brief reference to his descriptions.

Writing of the island of Maree in 1862, he states that about seven years

before a furious madman was brought there; "a rope was passed round his

waist, and with a couple of men at one end in advance, and a couple at

the other behind, like a furious bull to the slaughter-house, he was

marched to the Loch side and placed in a boat, which was pulled once

round the island, the patient being jerked into the water at intervals.

He was then landed, drank of the water, attached his offering to the

tree, and, as I was told, in a state of happy tranquillity went


Whittier has expressed in verse the virtues of the well of St. Maree, as

Scott those of St. Fillan:--

"And whoso bathes therein his brow,

With care or madness burning,

Feels once again his healthful thought

And sense of peace returning.

"O restless heart and fevered brain,

Unquiet and unstable,

That holy well of Loch Maree

Is more than idle fable."

Of another place, the island of Melista, in the Hebrides, it is stated

that, according to tradition, no one was ever born there who was not

from birth insane, or who did not become so before death. "In the last

generation, three persons had the misfortune for the first time to see

the light of day on this unlucky spot, and all three were mad. Of one of

them, who is remembered by the name of Wild Murdoch, many strange

stories are told. It is said that his friends used to tie a rope round

his body, make it fast to the stern of the boat, and then pull out to

sea, taking the wretched man in tow. The story goes that he was so

buoyant he could not sink; that they 'tried to press him down into the

water;' that he could swim with a stone fastened to him; that when

carried to the rocky holms of Melista or Greinan, round which the open

Atlantic surges, and left there alone, he took to the water and ran

ashore; and that when bound hand and foot, and left in a kiln, by a

miracle of strength he broke his bonds and escaped. It is thus they are

said to have treated him during his fits of maniacal excitement; and

there are many still alive who saw it all, and gave a helping hand....

The further story of Wild Murdoch will astonish no one. He murdered his

sister, was taken south, and died in an asylum, or, as the people say

and believe, in the cell of a gloomy prison, under which the sea-wave

came and went for ever."[30]

Curious ancient superstitions besides those connected with wells still

survive in the "land o' cakes." The same observant writer says that in

the north of Scotland they literally sacrifice a cock to a nameless but

secretly acknowledged power, whose propitiation is sought in the cure of

epilepsy. On the spot where the patient falls a black cock is buried

alive, along with a lock of the patient's hair, and some parings of his

nails. Let it not be supposed that this was done in some outlandish part

of the world. Dr. Mitchell assures us that this sacrifice was openly

offered recently in an improving town to which the railway now conveys

the traveller, and which has six churches and ten schools for a

population of about four thousand. If such things are done in the green

tree, what must have been done in the dry? We may safely read the past

in the present. In fact, Dalyell[31] states that in 1597 the "earding of

ane quik cok in the grund" was regarded as a cure of madness.

He also records the fact that a Scotch empiric of the seventeenth

century professed the cure of those "'visseit with frenacies, madness,

falling evil (epilepsy), persones distractit in their wittis, and with

feirful apparitiones, etc., and utheris uncouth diseases; all done be

sorcerie, incantation, devellische charmeing.' Above forty persons are

enumerated for whom he had prescribed, for which he was strangled and

burnt as too familiar with Satan."[32] The same author relates that a

poor woman having become frantic, the alleged author of the malady came,

and "laying hands on hir, she convaleschit and receivit hir sinsis

agane."[33] This was in 1616.

Insane persons were sometimes treated with holy water, to which salt

was added, with the idea that the devil abhorred salt as the emblem of

immortality (we have already had to notice this use of salt among the

Saxons). Hence it was "consecrated by the papists, as profiting the

health of the body, and for the banishment of demons." A certain

remedial "watter," used in Scotland by wise women or herbalists, is

supposed to have contained the same ingredient. Elspeth Sandisone, in

1629, was bereft of her senses. One Richart was thus accused of having

tried to cure her. "Ye call the remedie 'watter forspeking,' and took

watter into ane round cape and went out into the byre, and took sumthing

out of your purse lyk unto great salt, and did cast thairin, and did

spit thrie severall times in the samen; and ye confest yourself when ye

had done so, ye aunchit in bitts, quhilk is ane Norne terme, quhilk is

to say ye blew your braith thairin and thairefter ye sent it to the said

Elspeth with the servand woman of the hous, and bad that the said

Elspeth sould be waschit thairin, hands and feit, and scho sould be als

holl as ever scho was."[34]

I may give here a curious illustration of insanity being induced, not

cured, by superstition in Scotland. John Law's servant "rane wode" when

John Knox had retreated to St. Andrews during the civil contentions of

his later years. The story is thus quaintly told in Bannatyne's

"Journal" (p. 309). John Law of that city, being in Edinburgh Castle in

January, 1572, "the ladie Home wald neidis thraip in his face that he

was banist the said toune because that, in the yarde reasit (rose) sum

sanctis, among whome cam up the devill with hornis, which when his

servant Ritchart saw, rane wode, and so deit."[35]

But I must not dwell longer on the treatment of lunatics by the

Highlanders, or the superstitions of Scotland in this connection, and

will now say a few words in reference to Ireland.

It would be easy to narrate the stories which in Ireland connect popular

superstition with the treatment of the insane, but I will only refer to

one. The reader may have heard of the "Valley of the Lunatics," or

Glen-na-galt, in that country. It is situated in Kerry, near Tralee. It

was believed, not only in that county, but in Ireland generally, that

all lunatics would ultimately, if left to themselves, find their way to

this glen to be cured.[36] In the valley are two wells, called the

"Lunatic's Wells," or Tober-na-galt, to which the lunatics resort,

crossing a stream flowing through the glen, at a point called the

"Madman's Ford," or Ahagaltaun, and passing by the "Standing Stone of

the Lunatics" (Cloghnagalt). Of these waters they drink, and eat the

cresses growing on the margin; the firm belief being that the healing

water, and the cresses, and the mysterious virtue of the glen will

effectually restore the madman to mental health.

Dr. Oscar Woods, the medical superintendent of the District Lunatic

Asylum, Kilkenny, informs me that the superstition has nearly died out

since this asylum was opened, about thirty years ago. Dr. Woods gives a

different etymology, namely, bright, for galt; the valley in that

case deriving its name in contradistinction to that on the other side of

the hill, Emaloghue, on which the sun scarcely ever shines. He thinks

the superstition arose from persons labouring under melancholy going

from the sunless to the bright valley. "Why this place," wrote Dr. C.

Smith in 1756,[37] "rather than any other should be frequented by

lunatics, nobody can pretend to ascertain any rational cause, and yet no

one truth is more firmly credited here by the common people than this

impertinent fable." He, however, says that having regard to the awful

appearance of these desolate glens and mountains, none but madmen would

enter them! Recurring to the meaning of the word galt, a gentleman in

Ireland, a professor of Irish, states that geilt is a mad person, one

living in the woods, and that gealt is the genitive plural. It is

interesting to find, also, from the same source, that the Irish word for

the moon is gealach, indicating a probable etymological connection.

As to the origin of this superstition, it appears to be of very ancient

date. It is stated[38] that the Fenian tale, called "Cath Finntraglia,"

or "The Battle of Ventry," relates how Daire Dornmhar, "the monarch of

the world," landed at Ventry to conquer Erin, and was opposed in mortal

combat by Finnmac-Cumhail and his men. The battles were many and lasted

a year and a day, and at last the "monarch of the world" was completely

repulsed, and driven from the shores of Ireland. In the battle, Gall,

the son of the King of Ulster, only a youth, who had come to the help of

Finnmac-Cumhail, "having entered the battle with extreme eagerness, his

excitement soon increased to absolute frenzy, and, after having

performed astounding deeds of valour, fled in a state of derangement

from the scene of slaughter, and never stopped till he plunged into the

wild seclusion of this valley." The opinion is that this Gall was the

first lunatic who went there, and that with him this singular local

superstition originated, followed as it has been by innumerable

pilgrimages to the beautiful "Valley of Lunatics" and its wells.

A visitor to this valley in 1845 writes: "We went to see Glenagalt, or

the 'Madman's Glen,' the place, as our guide sagely assured us, 'to

which all the mad people in the world would face, if they could get

loose.' After pursuing for miles our romantic route, we came to the

highest part of the road, and turned a hill which completely shut out

Glen Inch; and lo! before us lay a lovely valley, sweeping down through

noble hills to Brandon Bay. The peak of the mighty Brandon himself ended

one ridge of the boundary, while high, though less majestic, mountains

formed the other; and this valley so rich and fertile, so gay with

cornfields, brown meadows, potato gardens, and the brilliant green of

the flax, so varied and so beautiful in the bright mingling of Nature's

skilful husbandry, was the 'Madman's Glen.' I felt amazed and

bewildered, for I had expected to see a gloomy solitude, with horrid

crags and gloomy precipices. Not at all; the finest and richest valley

which has greeted my eyes since we entered the Highlands of Kerry is

this--smiling, soft, and lovely.

"We took our leave of fair Glenagalt, and assuredly if any aspect of

external nature could work such a blessed change, the repose, peace, and

plenty of this charming valley would restore the unsettled brain of a

poor unfortunate."[39]

The late Professor Eugene O'Curry, in his work on the "Manners and

Customs of the Ancient Irish," published in 1873, makes no reference to

madness, idiocy, or possession. He refers to a sort of witchcraft under

the head of divination, where he gives an instance of a trance produced

by magical arts; of the mad rage of the hero, and of how, in the midst

of that rage, he was caught, as it were, by the hands and feet, through

Druidical incantations.[40]

Returning to England, let the reader imagine himself in London in the

early and middle part of the sixteenth century. There, in St. Giles's,

might have been seen a physician, Dr. Borde, who, born in 1490 in

Sussex, had made some practice in the metropolis, including that of

mental disorders. He had been a Carthusian monk, but was "dispensed of

religion," studied medicine, and followed the medical profession, first

at Glasgow, and then in London. What, it may be asked, would have been

his method of caring for lunatics? The answer may be found in a curious

book which he wrote, entitled "A Compendious Rygment or a Dyetry of

Helth," and published in 1542.[41] There are several references, of much

interest, to insanity. One chapter of the book is headed, "An order and

a dyett for them the whiche be madde and out of theyr wytte." In it the

doctor says, "I do advertyse every man the whiche is madde or lunatycke

or frantycke or demonyacke, to be kepte in safegarde in some close house

or chamber where there is lytell light; and that we have a keeper the

whiche the madde man do feare." The remainder is conceived in quite a

kindly spirit. The patient is to have no knife or shears; no girdle,

except a weak list of cloth, lest he destroy himself; no pictures of man

or woman on the wall, lest he have fantasies. He is to be shaved once a

month, to drink no wine or strong beer, but "warm suppynges three tymes

a daye, and a lytell warm meat." Few words are to be used except for

reprehension or gentle reformation.

This, then, is the way in which a well-intentioned doctor would take

care of a lunatic in the reign of Henry VIII. We wish that all the

treatment pursued had been as considerate. That it was not so we shall

see; but I would first add the curious experience of Dr. Borde in Rome,

which he visited, and where he witnessed the treatment of a lunatic

which was very singular, and founded on the vulgar notion of his being

possessed. He says that to a marble pillar near St. Peter's, persons

supposed to be possessed, that is, insane, were brought, and said to be

cured. A German lady was the patient when the English physician was the

spectator, and he describes her as being taken violently by some twenty

men to the pillar, or rather into it, for it appears to have contained a

chamber; "and after her did go in a priest, and did examine the woman in

this manner. 'Thou devil or devils, I adjure thee by the potential power

of the Father and the Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the virtue of

the Holy Ghost, that thou do show to me for what cause thou doest

possess this woman?'" What words were answered, Dr. Borde says he will

not write, "for men will not believe it, but would say it were a foul

and great lie." What he heard made him afraid to tarry, lest the demons

should have come out of her and entered into him. We are not left in

doubt as to his belief in the possession of lunatics. "I considering

this," he says, "and weke of faith and afeard crossed myself and durst

not hear and see such matters for it was so stupendous and above all

reason if I should write it." It is certainty a pity that the worthy

doctor did not stay longer to watch, and to record in his graphic

language, the effect of the treatment.

From the same motives lunatics in Great Britain were bound to holy

crosses. Sir David Lyndsay, in his poem called "Monarche," written

nearly four hundred years ago, says--

"They bryng mad men on fuit and horsse,

And byndes theme to Saint Mangose Crosse."

To this cross (at Lotherwerd, now Borthwick, county Edinburgh), says an

old writer, Jocelin, a monk of Furness, "many labouring under various

disorders, and especially the furious and those vexed with demons, are

bound in the evening; and in the morning they are often found sane and

whole, and are restored to their liberty."[42]

The resort to pillars of churches is illustrated by what an Augustine

Canon of Scone says, in a work on the rule of his foundation (Paris,

1508), for he protests against the desecration of churches, with the

exception of curing lunatics in the way I have just described, as being

bound to the church pillars.

Nearly a hundred years after Dr. Borde wrote, that remarkable work was

published, "The Anatomy of Melancholy," by Burton. Some quaint lines and

a rough engraving on the title-page illustrate but too well the

treatment of the insane familiar to him, although not a physician; it

seems worse, instead of better, than that of the doctor of St. Giles.

"But see the madman rage downright

With furious looks, a ghastly sight!

Naked in chains bound doth he lie

And roars amain, he knows not why."

The first edition of Burton's work was published in 1621, five years

after the death of Shakespeare, who speaks, in "As You Like It" (Act

iii. sc. 2), of madmen deserving "a dark house and a whip," and in

"Twelfth Night" makes Sir Toby say of Malvolio (Act iii. scene 4),

"Come, we'll have him in a dark room and bound." The medical treatment

of melancholia contained in Burton consists mainly of herbs, as borage,

supposed to affect the heart, poppies to act on the head, eupatory

(teazel) on the liver, wormwood on the stomach, and endive to purify the

blood. Vomits of white hellebore or antimony, and purges of black

hellebore or aloes, are prescribed.

The famous "Herbal" of Gerarde, published in 1597, gives various

remedies for madness, but they are, unfortunately, copied for the most

part from Dioscorides, Galen, and other ancient writers. They are so far

of interest that they show what was accepted as the best-known drug

practice at the time in England in mental disorders. Under "A Medicine

against Madnesse" we have rhubarb and wild thyme, the latter being "a

right singular remedie to cure them that have had a long phrensie or

lethargie." He is here only following Aetius, and when he says, "Besides

its singular effects in splenetical matters, it helpeth any disease of

melancholy," he appears to follow Galen. Feverfew is said to be "good

for such as be melancholike, sad, pensive, and without speech." Syrup

made of flowers of borage "comforteth the heart, purgeth the melancholy,

and quieteth the phrenticke or lunaticke person." Hellebore, of course,

has its virtues recognized. Black hellebore, or the Christmas rose,

"purgeth all melancholy humors, yet not without trouble and difficultie,

therefore it is not to be given but to robustious and strong bodies as

Mesues teacheth. It is good for mad and furious men, for melancholy,

dull, and heavy persons, for those that are troubled with the falling

sickness (epilepsy)," and "briefely for all those that are troubled with

blacke choler, and molested with melancholy."[43]

Gerarde strongly commends "that noble and famous confection Alkermes,

made by the Arabians," containing the grains of the scarlet oak (Ilex

coccigera). "It is good against melancholy deseases, vaine

imaginations, sighings, griefe and sorrow without manifest cause, for

that it purgeth away melancholy humors" (p. 1343). Poultices applied to

the head, of mustard and figs, are recommended for epilepsy and

lethargy. Gerarde adopts from Apuleius the virtues of double yellow and

white batchelor's buttons, hung "in a linnen cloath about the necke of

him that is lunaticke, in the waine of the moone, when the signe shall

be in the first degree of Taurus or Scorpio."

Such are the principal remedies for insanity given by Gerarde, original

and second hand.

Returning to Burton, it should be said that among the causes of the

disease he distinctly recognizes the same uncanny influence that his

contemporaries Coke and Hale regarded as a legal fact--I mean

witchcraft. After saying that "many deny witches altogether, or, if

there be any, assert that they can do no harm," of which opinion, he

adds, "is our countryman (Reginald) Scot (of Kent),[44] but of the

contrary opinion are most lawyers, physicians, and philosophers," he

proceeds, "They can cause tempests, etc., which is familiarly practised

by witches in Norway, as I have proved, and, last of all, cure and cause

most diseases to such as they hate, as this of Melancholy among the


It may be asked, What was the medical knowledge or practice at the time

of Coke and Hale, to which they would turn for direction when insanity

came before them in the courts of law? and I think a correct reply would

be best obtained by taking this wonderful book of Burton's, the works of

Sir Thomas Browne, who gave evidence before Hale, and what may be called

the case-book of the celebrated Court physician, Sir Theodore de

Mayerne. A Genevese, he settled in England in 1606, and was regarded as

the highest authority in mental and nervous affections. A medical work

of his was translated into Latin by Bonet. Mayerne's treatment was

certainly of a somewhat cumbrous character, and his patients must have

had an unusual and commendable amount of perseverance if they pursued it

thoroughly. The drugs probably cured in part, at least, from the duty

entailed upon the patients of collecting the numerous herbs which were

ordered for the composition of the mixture, and Sir Theodore truly and

naively remarks to one of his patients, "It will take some time before

you have mixed your medicine." It is clear that he was under the

influence of the old belief in the connection between the liver and

insanity, and the paramount importance of getting rid of the black bile.

Of one case he asserts that the root of all the griefs wherewith the

patient has been afflicted is a melancholy humour, generated in the

liver and wrought upon in the spleen. This humour is stated to be mixed

in the veins, and so extended to the brain, which this offensive enemy

of nature doth assault as an organical part. Hence, he says, it happens

that the principal functions of the soul do act erroneously. His

treatment consisted of emetics, purges, opening the veins under the

tongue, blisters, issues, and shaving the head, followed by a cataplasm

upon it, the backbone anointed with a very choice balsam of earthworms

or bats. One prescription for melancholia contains no less than

twenty-seven ingredients, to be made into a decoction, to which is to be

added that sine qua non, the ever precious hellebore. Other remedies

were prescribed; in some cases the "bezoartick pastills," composed of an

immense number of ingredients, including the skull of a stag and of a

healthy man who had been executed. The commentary triumphantly made by

this lover of polypharmacy in the case in which this medicine was

administered, runs thus:--"These things being exactly performed, this

noble gentleman was cured." With certain modifications, the general

treatment here indicated was that in fashion at the period to which I

refer, and was based on a strong conviction of the presence of certain

peccant humours in the body, affecting the brain, which required


Mayerne, of whom there is a portrait in the College of Physicians, was

physician to more crowned heads than has fallen to the lot of probably

any other doctor, namely, Henry IV. of France, James I. of England, his

queen, Anne of Denmark, Charles I., and Charles II. He introduced

calomel into practice. Dying in 1654/5, he was buried in the church of

St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, where a monument was erected to his


The royal author of the book on Demonology (first published in

1597)--the high and mighty Prince James--gives sundry learned reasons

why witches are not to be regarded as mad, and why, therefore, the plea

of insanity should be rejected in the legal tribunals. Written in the

form of a dialogue between Philomathes and Epistemon, the latter, who

personates the king, says, "As to your second reason (that Witchcraft is

but very melancholique imagination of simple raving creatures), grounded

upon Physicke, in attributing the confessions or apprehensions of

Witches to a natural melancholique humour, any one that pleased

physikally to consider upon the natural humour of Melancholy, according

to all the physicians that ever writ thereupon, shall find that that

will be over short a cloake to cover their knavery with."[47]

James is very wroth with Reginald Scot and Wierus[48] for their

opposition to the prevalent belief, and urges, as proof of the existence

of witches ("which have never fallen out so clear in any age or

nation"), daily experience and their confessions. Reginald Scot had

dared to write, in his "Discovery of Witchcraft" (1584): "Alas, I am

sorry and ashamed to see how many die who being said to be bewitched,

only seek for magical cures, whom wholesome diet and good medicines

would have recovered.... These affections tho' they appear in the mind

of man, yet are they bred in the body and proceed from the humour which

is the very dregs of the blood; nourishing those places from whence

proceed fear, cogitations, superstitions, fastings, labours, and such


It is striking to observe how much more enlightened this writer was than

a physician to whom I have already referred, Sir Thomas Browne. His

famous sentence, in which he gives full credence to witches, makes us

obliged to admit that when so distinguished a man entertained such

superstitious notions, we cannot be much surprised if contemporary

judges regarded many of the really insane as witches, although they had

before them the enlightened opinions of Reginald Scot.

The history of incubi, or "night-comers," is doubtless, to a large

extent, a narrative of the hallucinations, delusions, and automatic

thoughts of the insane, although to what extent would be a difficult

question to determine, because some were assuredly frightened into the

confessions which they made; and, further, it is hard to say how much of

a certain belief was due to the current popular ignorance and credulity,

and how much to actual mental disease. Still the ignorant opinions of an

age find their nisus and most rapid development in persons of weak or

diseased mind, and they form the particular delusion manifested; and at

a period when witches are universally believed in, there must be some

reason why one believes he or she has had transactions with Satan, and

another does not believe it. It is, indeed, impossible to read the

narratives of some of the unfortunate hags who were put to death for

witchcraft, without recognizing the well-marked features of the victims

of cerebral disorder. In this way I have no doubt a considerable number

of mad people were destroyed. Their very appearance suggested to their

neighbours the notion of something weird and impish; the physiognomy of

madness was mistaken for that of witchcraft, while the poor wretches

themselves, conscious of unaccustomed sensations and singular

promptings, referred them to the agency of demons. Strangely enough,

even an inquisitor--Nider, who died in 1440--gives many instances of

persons whose symptoms he himself recognized as those not of possession,

but of madness.

It is hardly necessary to say that the treatment of the unfortunate

lunatics and epileptics who were judged to be witches by James I. was

nothing else than death, and he thus coolly comments on this punishment:

"It is commonly used by fire, but that is an indifferent thing, to be

used in every country, according to the law or custom thereof."[49]

I cannot pass from this subject without doing honour to two men who

abroad, no less than Reginald Scot in Britain, opposed the immolation of

lunatics--Wierus, physician to the Duke of Cleves, who wrote a

remarkable work in 1567, and appealed to the princes of Europe to cease

shedding innocent blood; and Cornelius Agrippa,[50] who interfered in

the trial of a so-called witch in Brabant, having sore contention with

an inquisitor, who through unjust accusations drew a poor woman into his

butchery, not so much to examine as to torment her. When Agrippa

undertook to defend her, alleging there was no proof of sorcery, the

inquisitor replied, "One thing there is which is proof and matter

sufficient; for her mother was in times past burnt for a witch." When

Agrippa retorted that this had reference to another person, and

therefore ought not to be admitted by the judge, the inquisitor was

equal to the occasion, and replied that witchcraft was naturally

engrafted into this child, because the parents used to sacrifice their

children to the devil as soon as they were born. On this Agrippa boldly

exclaimed, "Oh, thou wicked priest, is this thy divinity? Dost thou use

to draw poor guiltless women to the rack by these forged devices? Dost

thou with such sentences judge others to be heretics, thou being a

greater heretic than either Faustus or Donatus?" The natural consequence

was that the inquisitor then threatened to proceed against the advocate

himself as a supporter of witches; nevertheless, he continued his

defence of the unhappy woman, who, whether a lunatic or not, was

delivered, we read, by him "from the claws of the bloody monk, who, with

her accuser, was condemned in a great sum of money, and remained

infamous after that time to almost all men."

Scot, who cites this case, shows great familiarity with examples of

melancholy and delusion, and from his work have been derived many of the

best known illustrations of the latter, including the delusions of being

monarchs, brute beasts, and earthen pots greatly fearing to be broken.

The old story of the patient who thought Atlas weary of upholding the

heavens and would let the sky fall upon him, is narrated by this author,

as well as that of the man who believed his nose to be as big as a


It comes then, to this--to revert to the question, what was the medical

knowledge or practice at the time of Coke and Hale, to which they would

turn for direction when insanity came before them in the Courts of

Law?--that when the lawyers went to the doctors for light they got

surprisingly little help. They had better have confined themselves to

reading the old Greek and Roman books on medicine, of which the medical

practice of that period was but a servile imitation, and not have added,

from their belief in witchcraft, the horrible punishment of lunatics,

which in our country extended over the period between 1541 and 1736,

when the laws against witchcraft were abolished. The last judicial

murder of a witch in the British Isles (Sutherlandshire) was in 1722.

Leaving now the insane who were punished as witches, I pass on to remark

that in Percy's "Reliques of Ancient English Poetry," it is stated that

the English have more songs and ballads on the subject of madness than

any of their neighbours. "Whether," the writer proceeds, "there be any

truth in the insinuation that we are more liable to this calamity than

other nations,[51] or that our native gloominess hath peculiarly

recommended subjects of this class to our writers, we certainly do not

find the same in the printed collections of French and Italian songs."

Half a dozen so-called mad songs are selected. These refer to much the

same period as that we have been considering; and, in fact, we come upon

the "Old Tom of Bedlam," or Cranke or Abram man, who "would swear he had

been in Bedlam, and would talk frantickly of purpose," so notorious in

connection with the beggary which endeavoured to make capital out of the

asylum most familiar to our ancestors of the sixteenth and seventeenth

centuries. In this light the Bedlam beggars appear in "King Lear"--

"The country gives me proof and precedent

Of Bedlam beggars, who, with roaring voices,

Stick in their numb'd and mortify'd bare arms

Pins, wooden pricks, nails, sprigs of rosemary;"

and these enforce their charity by lunatic "bans," that is, by licences

to beg under the badge of the Star of Bethlehem.

Some doggerel from the most ancient of the Percy "Reliques" will serve

for a sample of the rest:

"Forth from my sad and darksome cell,

Or from the deepe abysse of Hell,

Mad Tom is come into the world againe,

To see if he can cure his distemper'd braine."

Tom appears to have brought away with him some of his fetters, then

sufficiently abundant in Bedlam:

"Come, Vulcan, with tools and with tackles,

To knocke off my troublesome shackles."

This method of treatment--by fetters--has not, it may be well to

state, survived, like immersion, in the practice of the present Master

of Bedlam.

We learn from Shakespeare how "poor Tom that eats the swimming frog, the

toad, the tadpole, the wall-newt and the water [newt]; ... swallows the

old rat, and the ditch-dog;" and "drinks the green mantle of the

standing pool," was "whipped from tything to tything, and stocked,

punished, and imprisoned....

Mice, and rats, and such small deere

Have been Tom's food for seven long yeare."[52]

Whipping-posts were very common in the reign of Henry VIII., and we

suppose long before; certainly also much later. About the middle of the

seventeenth century an old poet, John Taylor, once a waterman on the

Thames, and hence called the "Water Poet," wrote:

"In London, and within one mile, I ween,

There are of jails and prisons full eighteen,

And sixty whipping-posts and stocks and cages."

The whipping-post was sometimes called the "tree of truth." There is a

curious passage in Sir Thomas More's works, in which he orders a lunatic

to be bound to a tree and soundly beaten with rods.

"There was a tree in Sir Thomas More's garden, at which he so often beat

Lutherans, that it was called the 'tree of troth,'" says Burnet. This

was not the tree at which he had the poor lunatic flogged, for he says

that was in the street.

"It was a good plea in those days to an action for assault, battery, and

false imprisonment, that the plaintiff was a lunatic, and that therefore

the defendant had arrested him, confined him, and whipped him."[53]

Whipping-posts may still be seen in some villages in England, in the

vicinity of stocks. Of course they were largely employed for idle

vagabonds, but many really insane people suffered. The following item

from the constable's account at Great Staughton, Huntingdonshire,

illustrates the custom of whipping wandering lunatics:--"1690/1. Paid in

charges, taking up a distracted woman, watching her and whipping her

next day, 8s. 6d."[54]

Let me here refer for a moment to the "brank."

The "brank" or "scold's bridle" was very probably used in former days

for lunatics--an instrument of torture which has received much

elucidation from my friend Dr. Brushfield, the late medical

superintendent of Brookwood Asylum. Indeed, it is certain that it, or a

similar gag, called the "witch's bridle," was employed for these

unfortunate suspects, of whom so many, as we have good reason to

conclude, were insane or hystero-epileptics. In the church steeple at

Forfar one was preserved, within recent times, with the date 1661.[55]

Archdeacon Hale many years ago suggested that the "brank" was used to

check noisy lunatics of the female sex; and in reference to this, Dr.

Brushfield remarks: "Medical officers of asylums can always point out

many female patients who, if they had been living a couple of centuries

back, would undoubtedly have been branked as scolds. One of the female

lunatics in the Cheshire Asylum gave me, a few days since, a very

graphic account of the manner in which she had been bridled some years

ago whilst an inmate of a workhouse."[56]

No doubt, in addition to branks and whipping-posts, the pillory and

stocks, and probably the ducking-stool, were made use of for unruly and

crazy people, who nowadays would be comfortably located in an asylum.

What now, let us ask in conclusion, are the practical inferences to draw

from the descriptions which I have given respecting the popular and

medical treatment of lunatics in the good old times in the British


In the first place, we see that the nature of the malady under which the

insane laboured was completely misunderstood; that they often passed as

witches and possessed by demons, and were tortured as such and burnt at

the stake, when their distempered minds ought to have been gently and

skilfully treated. Some, however, were recognized by the monks as simply

lunatic, and were treated by the administration of herbs, along with, in

many instances, some superstitious accompaniment, illustrating, when

successful, the influence of the imagination.

Further, the medical treatment, so far as it made any pretension to

methods of cure, was either purely empirical, or founded upon the one

notion that descended from generation to generation from the earliest

antiquity--that there was an excess of bile in the blood, and that it

must be expelled by emetics or purgatives.

Again, there was the more violent remedy of flagellation, one always

popular and easy of application; equally efficacious, too, whether

regarded as a punishment for violent acts, or as a means of thrashing

out the supposed demon lurking in the body and the real cause of the

malady. And there was, of course, as the primary treatment, seclusion in

a dark room and fetters.

To anticipate what belongs to subsequent chapters, we may say here that

when the insane were no longer treated in monasteries, or brought to

sacred wells, or flogged at "trees of truth," they fared no better--nay,

I think, often worse--when they were shut up in mad-houses and crowded

into workhouses. They were too often under the charge of brutal keepers,

were chained to the wall or in their beds, where they lay in dirty

straw, and frequently, in the depth of winter, without a rag to cover

them. It is difficult to understand why and how they continued to live;

why their caretakers did not, except in the case of profitable patients,

kill them outright; and why, failing this--which would have been a

kindness compared with the prolonged tortures to which they were

subjected--death did not come sooner to their relief.


[2] Collected and edited by the Rev. Oswald Cockayne, M.A., 1865.

Published under the direction of the Master of the Rolls.

[3] Corn or seed to cure bewitching (Saxon). Supposed to be the seeds of

"wild saffron."

[4] Op. cit., vol. ii. p. 137; Leech Book, I. lxiii.

[5] That is, a small bell used in the church, probably the acolyte's.

St. Fillan's was twelve inches high. See postea.

[6] Op. cit., vol. i. p. 161.

[7] Op. cit., p. 171.

[8] Op. cit., pp. 313-315.

[9] Op. cit., p. 351 ("Medicina de quadrupedibus" of Sextus Placitus).

[10] Op. cit., p. 361.

[11] Op. cit., vol. ii. pp. 343, 143, 343, 307, and 345.

[12] Wodnes (Saxon) signifies madness. "Ance wod and ay waur," i.e.

increasing in insanity. (See Jamieson's Scotch Dictionary, 1825: "Wodman

= a madman.")

[13] Op. cit., vol. ii. p. 335.

[14] Preface to vol. ii. p. xix.-xxiii.

[15] Vol. iv., preface, p. xxxiv.

[16] Vol. iv. p. 225.

[17] In Chambers's "Book of Days," in an article on "Holy Wells," it is

added to the above statement that in the seventeenth century St.

Winifred could boast of thousands of votaries, including James II.

[18] In the "Miller's Tale," the carpenter is befooled into looking like

a madman. "They tolden every man that he was wood," etc. (Percy

Society's edition, vol. i. p. 152).

[19] Early English Text Society, vol. iii. p. 163. See also Clarendon

Press Series, edited by Mr. Skeats. London, 1866.

[20] "Archaeologia Britannica," by Ed. Lhuyd, 1707. The Armoric word for

mania is diboelder or satoni; the Cornish, meskatter; the British,

mainigh, among others.

[21] These passages from Dr. Borlase and Dr. Boase will be found in the

valuable address at the Royal Institution of Cornwall, by W. C. Borlase,

F.S.A., 1878 (Journal of the Institution, 1878, No. xx. pp. 58, 59). It

forms a little work on Cornish Saints, and from it is derived the

statement made in regard to St. Nonna or Nun.

[22] Honoured both in Scotland and Ireland on account of his great

sanctity and miracles, he "exchanged his mortal life for a happy

immortality in the solitude of Sirach, not far from Glendarchy,

Scotland. His mother, Kentigerna, was also a woman of great virtues, and

honoured after her death for a Saint" ("Britannia Sancta, or Lives of

British Saints," 1745, p. 20).

[23] Vol. i. p. 282.

[24] "Darker Superstitions of Scotland," p. 82. Macfarlane,

"Geographical Collections,"