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A Discourse On The Social Relations Of Man, Delivered Before The Boston Phrenological Society
The extent of insanity in this country has already become alarming; but all nervous diseases are on the increase, and, with insanity, will doubtless continue to be so. The entire number of insane is computed to be already fifty thousand! In some of the New England States the proportion is as one to every two hundred and fifty inhabitants, while in Old England, where insanity is more prevalent than in any country of Europe, the proportion is only as one to eight hundred and twenty! This is a serious, an awful consideration; it is one of the penalties which outraged nature inflicts upon society; and upon our social institutions must fall the moral guilt, and the moral responsibility for such an amount of suffering for such an abuse and destruction of the highest prerogative of man, the noblest trust reposed in us by God, -- the human reason!
But the subject of insanity has already been treated of, before you, by one abler than myself to pourtray its horrors. Among the consequences of a secondary nature, and arising, not from general cerebral excitement, but from the excessive development given to special organs of the brain by our Social Institutions, may be noticed, first, the mammon worship to which I have already alluded, and which makes us the most money-seeking race on earth; and, second, the excessive love of approbation, which makes us the most praise-seeking and ridiculously sensitive of men.
As a people, the Americans think more, and care more, for what is said about them, or what other people think of them, than any nation on earth. It is not to merit, but to get praise; and all sensible foreigners ridicule us for our sensitiveness to their opinions. We are continually striving to put the best foot forward before them, to show them how well we deserve to be called the freest, the most enlightened, the most prosperous, the most moral people that ever existed. We can bear no criticism, no censure, and least of all, no ridicule.
And, among ourselves, in our social circles, what an anxiety about appearances, about the estimate we are held in by others; how seldom is the question asked, Is such an action right? in comparison to -- "Why! what will people think, what will the world say?" How many make themselves uncomfortable and unhappy, in order to do, or keep up a show of doing, not what they really take any pleasure in, but what they think will please others, or cause their envy.
And then, our love of distinction! our love of titles! our eager scrambles to get on any stone, that will raise us a head above our neighbors, that they may gaze at and admire us. Our luxury, to be enjoyed, must be visible , our cup of prosperity is never full enough, unless we can hold it brimming up to public view"; and even in our griefs, we find food for the love of notice, and the bereaved mourner must have his name, and the kind of his loss read aloud from the pulpit, as though the Deity would not know from whom the prayer was intended.
With all our boasted republican simplicity, we are more covetous of distinction, and have more titled men than aristocratic Britain; we have more generals, colonels, and captains, than warlike France; we have more A.M's., A.B's., D.D'S., LL.D's., &c., than learned Germany: every man assumes some title; any one, above a boot-black, is an esquire: even the ladies come in for their share, and it must be, Mrs. General A., Mrs. Colonel B., Mrs. Secretary C., Mrs. President D., and so on.
But my hour has already elapsed, and it is perhaps necessary that I should devote a few moments to shield myself from your displeasure, which my severity toward our social institutions may have brought on me: I can do so, for I have in this respect a feeling like that of Alfieri, who thanked God that he was born in the highest rank of the nobility of Italy, that he might expose its depravity and wickedness without the suspicion of being influenced by envy; so I, being a genuine American, and feeling that, on the whole, our social institutions are the best in the world, I presume upon my citizenship to criticize them.
Our country is far advanced in civilization; but, how far is man, here and every where, from the bright goal to which he may one day attain! and how much may he advance toward it, by due attention to his physical, moral, and intellectual nature, and the laws of animal organization by which they are modified and influenced. These have hitherto been unknown and neglected, or imperfectly perceived, and vaguely followed. Phrenology points them out clearly; it presents a plain chart of the mind -- a simple and beautiful system of moral philosophy; and though not a single organ could be pointed out on the head, it would still be invaluable. Let us follow then its precepts; let the body, the instrument of the soul, be a fit one for it to operate with; let our social institutions be such as to improve, as far as may be, its original structure; let every individual preserve it in healthy tone; for as well may he hope for the sweetest sounds from an inferior or discordant instrument, as the finer manifestations of spirit, from an inferior or deranged organization: the harp must be well formed; its strings must all be in the nicest tune, or the fingers that play upon it, the wind that sighs through it, will produce but discord: the body is a harp of thousand strings -- the breath of the spirit moves among them -- may it be so attuned, that the spirit can give forth those sweet sounds which proclaim its heavenly origin, and indicate its heavenly destiny!