The Times Commentary on the Mad-Houses (May 17, 1816)
The behaviour of the inmates of the insane asylum known as Bedlam was for hundreds of years a source of spectacle and entertainment to the more daring fashionable circles of London. As the writer of this piece in The Times of May 17, 1816, makes clear, the inmates of the asylum suffered unthinking cruelty and neglect, lived in shocking conditions, and certainly received no medical treatment. The quotation about seeking comfort is probably a paraphrase of Psalm 69, verse 21; the reference to Monsieur Le Beu in the last line is probably a jibe at the foppish dandies who visited Bedlam for amusement and made jokes at the expense of the unfortunate inmates. Bedlam itself is a corruption of the word "Bethlehem", the original name of the asylum being the Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem.

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Observations upon the Mad-House Reports, with a Proposal of at Least One Remedy

The objection made by the Hon. T. Bennet to a grant of uncharitable money to Bethlem-hospital does honour both to his head and to his heart; for one cannot suspect that the testimony of the officers themselves, as it was against themselves, was an overcharged statement of the sufferings there. No good and considerate man, therefore, would give one shilling to perpetuate the torments of that community of wretchedness, so ridiculously misnamed a charity; it would be difficult to recognise therein the quality of charity, portrayed by Shakespeare- as twice blessed,-blessing both him that takes and him that gives. Nor is charity or mercy to be found anywhere in the system of treatment of lunacy; for, in the best houses of that kind, to save expense of more keepers, painful and continued coercion is substituted for a sufficiency of watchful and continued guardianship. Does not this word come home to the feelings of the humane with reproach, as what the brainsick have always had a right to in its best sense? A keeper of wild beasts is more merciful to them (and therefore they love him) than a keeper of madmen is expected to be to his charge; but I trust this will be a new era in the progress of humanity and civilization.

Sufficient, watchful, and constant guard should be kept over the patients by night as well as by day: at present, in the night, when they should enjoy the benefit of "sleep, which might knit up the ravelled brain," the patients' arms are sure to be braced up more intolerably than in the day for safety, no watch being then kept over them, and, unfortunately, no friendly eye to be witness of their sleepless nights; in short, no axiom can be clearer than this- that the miseries of bodily coercion must be in proportion to the insufficiency of the guard. I will not distress the good by tales of horror in the provinces, where chains entirely supply the place of keepers. I spare men's feelings the pain of the reading of particulars of misery I could relate; but common sense, no less than charity, forbids that they should continue to exist. Not parishes singly, but a whole county or district, should keep its lunatics all together, with a proper allowance of attendants to guard them.

I appeal to the justice of England: for though there can be no dispute but that the moody madman must be restrained from hurting others or himself, yet the right which necessity gives necessity limits: I know of no right to punish him instead of guarding him, for he is no criminal-it is Hamlet's madness which has offended, and not Hamlet.

If, for our own safety, we deliver over a poor wretch to the sturdy gaoler, it is not enough that the strait waistcoat-most tormenting of all bonds, but more deceitful in its appearance-shall be drawn with Herculian force to bind the arms over the breast; but that he must not be released for days, months, years-no, not for a single moment (which short relief in a long-continued painful position one would purchase at high price), even till nature with abhorrence deserts the pallid limbs; and the fingers-admirable inlets of knowledge, man's chiefest aids in all the wants of life-lose their sensation, and for the ornamental nail protrude only a shapeless claw, which, however, the sufferer cannot use even in the stinging annoyance of vermin, or for the no less irritating itching of his dry and feverish skin? Miserable man! I prithee, good Christian, do not mock thy fellow-student in the school of misery (so Dr. Young terms the world) by calling this thy care of him charity!

How withering the reflection, that years of such excessive, and even hopeless, misery may be the lot of any, good or bad! Let those who may view therein a foreshow of the severe fate which offenders (and who is without offence?) may be doomed to by Omnipotent Justice, exercise on this crying occasion that virtue which is most acceptable to the Deity-charity, which shall cover a multitude of sins: let them remember, that the story of poor Norris is no fable.

Numbers of honest men of good characters are now out of employ-men that have but humble expectations of pay, and do not need fine or ornamental lodges: such men, with tolerable understandings, will soon be better guards than the keepers under the present system, the whole of which is unmerciful and inhuman, and a disgrace to common sense. We have 50 attendants upon one single wealthy individual presumed to be in his senses, no more mischievous than a rich man may lawfully be, and able to keep his own fingers out of the fire: at the same time we charitably allow one attendant to 50 poor creatures who are out of their senses, and ever liable to hurt themselves as well as others. For the accommodation of the latter, our best contrivance is a long-sleeved waistcoat reaching below his hands, fixing the arms in one painful and unnatural position without change, summer and winter, night and day; while ingenuity furnishes chairs and tables, with every variety of springs to act with mere volition, for rich enervated luxury to loll in, or for the languid fair to indulge in barren and ill-wasted pity over the sorrows of the love-tale-the Sophias, Georgianas, Sobieskis, Orlandos, &c. The tears which are thus shed over fictitious woe self-flattery attributes to a good heart, and is content therewith, shunning acquaintance with true misery in its untempting garb. Such self-deception is like a film that conceals mischief, which is not the less mortal for giving no pain.

Here, then, is a field of surest ground for the proof of good hearts: let all such assist to raise a fund to remedy the first evil in this worst of grievances-namely, the want of keepers, of which there appears to have been so lamentable a paucity in Bedlam, that the men's safety required almost all that coercion which was so shocking in relation: men's minds were thereby filled with indignation; but in that stronger feeling the finer virtue of charity was nearly lost.

Once more I appeal to England-England, whose liberality has been as unequalled among the nations as her generous valour: let her humanity and good sense call to mind, that the madman is still a man with all his rights unforfeited; and that though the mental rays are distorted, the sensations are no less vivid; on the contrary, that his poor brain is ever tremblingly alive, and every feeling most acute; and long and many have been the days that "he looked for comfort, and found no man to comfort him."

The writer trusts, that some one of more importance than himself will sanction a plan of subscription, which must be carried throughout the counties, in every one of which there should be one general asylum for these people built in the least expensive manner, consistent with durability and tolerable commodiousness, instead of those stone, unwindowed, unchimnied, parish pigsties of cold, filth, and vermin, where lunacy now has its wretched abode. This representation is faint, in comparison of what is suffered for want of attendance. The first object of the subscription, therefore, should be precisely to alleviate the horrors of coercion by an addition of keepers, succeeding each other night and day; and unless such addition be considerable, men may save themselves the trouble of agitating the question at all, unless it be to indulge barren sympathy, and, like Monsieur Le Beu, amuse the ladies.

Source: The Times [] and Microsoft� Encarta� Encyclopedia 2001.