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A Mind That Found Itself: An Autobiography

Creator: Clifford Whittingham Beers (author)
Date: 1910
Publisher: Longmans, Green, and Co., New York
Source: Available at selected libraries

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"Did you pick it?" asked the doctor.


"I stooped to do so," said the patient; "then I thought of the pleasure the sight of it had given me -- so I left it, hoping that some one else would discover it and enjoy its beauty as I did."


Thus it was that a woman, while still insane, unconsciously exhibited perhaps finer feeling than did Ruskin, Tennyson, and Patmore, on an occasion the occurrence of which is vouched for by Mr. Julian Hawthorne. These three masters, out for a walk one chilly afternoon in late autumn, discovered a belated violet bravely putting forth from the shelter of a mossy stone. Not until these worthies had got down on all fours and done ceremonious homage to the flower, did they resume their walk. Suddenly Ruskin halted, and, planting his cane in the ground, exclaimed, "I don't believe, Alfred, -- Coventry, I don't believe that there are in all England three men besides ourselves who, after finding a violet at this time of year, would have had forbearance and fine feeling enough to refrain from plucking it."


The reader may judge whether the unconscious display of feeling by the inmate of an asylum was not finer than the self-conscious raptures of these three wise men and sane.


Is it not then an atrocious anomaly that the treatment often meted out to an insane person is the very treatment which would deprive a sane person of his normal capacity? The victim must right his reason in an atmosphere of unreason. He must check his own delusions with the delusions of others as mad as himself; and he must submit to a variety of abuses as cruel as they are unnecessary. That so many insane persons recover their reason under adverse conditions is pretty good proof that insanity, though prevalent, can never become preponderant. Miners who penetrate the mountain fastnesses frequently become mentally unbalanced as a result of prolonged loneliness; and their knowledge that they imperil their reason by living in solitude, and their willingness to take the risk, are qualifications for the work. But one and all they hasten to return to civilization the moment they find themselves beginning to be slightly affected with hallucinations. Delay means death. Contact with sane people, if not too long delayed, means an almost immediate restoration to normality. This is an illuminating fact. For, if contact with the sane world can restore the threatened reason of these miners, why cannot the minds of the inmates of our asylums be at least strengthened by contact with sound minds? Inasmuch as insane patients cannot be set free, it is the duty of those in authority to treat them with as great a degree of sane consideration as possible. Instead of discouraging and abusing those curable patients who exhibit flashes of sanity, why not, on the contrary, single them out and encourage them in the direction of right thinking? In my own case I know that my degree of sanity varied with the sanity of the treatment accorded me. I can recall one wholesome interview which I had with my conservator and a friend. It eliminated more insane notions from my mind than all the hours of talk I had previously had with doctors and attendants. These two men -- my conservator and my friend -- in a spirit of tolerance and friendliness pointed out the impracticability of some of my wild schemes, and their arguments were so convincing that I soon accepted them and saw the absurdity of my own delusions. Such arguments would of course be without effect at certain stages, but, during a period which seems to point toward normality, friendly advice will without question hasten recovery.


Not a few of the inmates of our asylums, if they enjoyed this individual and humane treatment, directed primarily toward their own interests, might to-day be set free. And many others not quite fit for absolute freedom might well be set free on parole. I firmly believe that the public should be protected against the insane, and the insane against themselves; but I see no reason why society, which so little heeds its most unfortunate portion, is deserving of an excessive degree of protection at the expense of recovered patients who have already endured unnecessary suffering because of the public's neglect. Society would not be likely to suffer any more than it suffers already because of the continued freedom of hundreds of so-called "queer" people who would have a poor chance of ever regaining their freedom were they once legally deprived of it. I do not mean to say that any considerable number of the present inmates of our asylums and hospitals have been illegally committed, or that they are wittingly held longer than seems necessary. But innocent men have been condemned and hanged, and it stands to reason that an undeterminable number of persons out of the two hundred thousand mental incompetents in this country, have been unjustly and, in some cases, maliciously branded as insane when they did not deserve that infliction. So long as the human equation enters into the problem, such errors -- or crimes -- cannot possibly be completely guarded against.

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