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Report Of Commissioners Appointed To Superintend Erection Of A Lunatic Hospital At Worcester

From: Reports And Other Documents Relating To The State Lunatic Hospital At Worcester, Mass.
Creator:  Horace Mann, Bezaleel Taft, Jr., and W.B. Calhoun (authors)
Date: January 4, 1832
Publisher: Dutton and Wentworth, Boston
Source: Available at selected libraries

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The Commissioners would deem themselves guilty of injustice towards their own feelings, as well as towards the deserts of others, did they dismiss this part of the subject without adverting to the very satisfactory manner in which the work, with some slight exceptions, has thus far been executed by the individuals with whom they have contracted. The whole labor on the Hospital has been performed under the immediate care and superintendence of Mr. Elias Carter of Worcester, who, before his engagement, was very highly recommended as a suitable person for that agency, and, since his engagement, has been recommended no less highly by the manner in which he has fulfilled it. The wood-work was not let out on contract, lest some hazard should be incurred in having that important portion of the labor unskillfully or negligently performed. The masonry has been executed, and it is believed very faithfully executed, by Messrs. Goodman and Gorham of Springfield. Between the first day of May and the first day of November, they laid into the work more than eleven hundred thousands of bricks. And the Commissioners have great pleasure in stating the kindred facts, that, during the whole season, not an accident has happened on the work, not an hour's time has been lost by any of the workmen on account of indisposition, and not a drop of ardent spirits has been consumed in its prosecution.


Another, and most important duty, with which the Commissioners were charged, remains to be performed. By the resolve under which they were appointed, they were directed in report a system of regulations for the discipline and government of the institution, at or before the time when it should be ready to go into operation. That time, it is expected, will arrive in the course of the ensuing season; and, as the Legislature alone have the power to give the force of law to any system of regulations which may be devised for its government, and in the ordinary course of events, will not reassemble until a period subsequent to that, at which it is expected the Hospital will be prepared for the reception of the insane, it was deemed advisable to make this part of the report in season to be acted upon at the ensuing session.


The government and discipline of the institution are supposed to involve the consideration of two questions.


The first relates to the classes of lunatics to be committed to its charge; the authority by which they shall be committed, and by which they may be discharged, when the cause of their detention has ceased to exist, and also the mode in which the expenses of the institution shall be defrayed.


The second respects the regulations, by which the insane shall be governed, whilst at the Hospital, including of course the visitatorial power, under which all regulations of this kind must be administered.


Regarded as citizens of this Commonwealth, or as residents therein, there are three classes of lunatics.


The first class comprehends all those whom the justices of the supreme judicial court, or justices of the peace, have, by virtue of the statutes of 1797, chap. 62, and 1816, chap. 28, committed to jails and houses of correction, because their being suffered to go at large was deemed incompatible with the security of the citizens generally.


The second class consists of town pauper lunatics. These are mostly confined in poor-houses, by order of the municipal authorities, though it has been the practice of some towns to make private contracts with the keepers of jails and houses of correction, to take their insane poor at a low price, and imprison them in some of their unoccupied cells, where no person has been held responsible for their treatment, nor has the law delegated authority to any one to examine into their condition. Other towns have annually offered the keeping of their insane poor at auction, and struck them off to the lowest bidder, by whom they have been taken and treated with various degrees of attention or of cruelty, according to the character of the individual, who, in this competition for the profits of keeping them, would be likely to prevail.


The third class consists of all the remainder of insane persons within the Commonwealth, and of course comprehends those individuals who are not so "furiously mad," in the language of the statutes, as to have been imprisoned with the first class; and also those who, having sufficient property of their own to support themselves, or being supported by the generosity of their friends, do not receive that assistance from towns which would have included them in the second class. Of these, the laws take no special cognizance.


With regard to the first class of lunatics, who are now by law confined in jails and houses of correction, it is believed that nothing but a plain recital of facts, can be necessary to enlist in their behalf the liveliest sympathies of the community. It is now more than thirty years since the laws of this Commonwealth have authorized their commitment to prison, whenever their being at large, should, in the opinion of two magistrates, be judged "dangerous to the peace or safety of the good people." It is a well authenticated fact, that those, upon whom the first attack of insanity is most violent, and who are therefore more liable, from the vehemence of its assaults, to commit outrages upon the persons or property of others, are also most easily cured. Our laws, therefore, by authorizing their confinement, whenever, in the throes and paroxysms of their malady, they may have threatened aggression or excited alarm, have at once removed the most hopeful cases beyond the reach of recovery. It may be emphatically repeated, beyond the reach of recovery, for, from all the inquiries made by the Commissioners upon this subject, they have never heard of more than three or four instances of restoration, among all those who have been subjected to the rigors of a confinement, in jails and houses of correction; while well regulated institutions for the reception and appropriate treatment of the insane, have returned fifty, sixty, and, in some instances, ninety per cent. of recoveries. To him, whose mind is alienated, a prison is a tomb, and within its walls he must suffer as one who awakes to life in the solitude of the grave. Existence and the capacity of pain are alone left him. From every former source of pleasure or contentment, he is violently sequestered. Every former habit is abruptly broken off. No medical skill seconds the efforts of nature for his recovery, or breaks the strength of pain, when it seizes him with convulsing grasp. No friends relieve each other in solacing the weariness of protracted disease. No assiduous affection guards the avenues of approaching disquietude. He is alike removed from all the occupations of health, and from all the attentions, everywhere, but within his homeless abode, bestowed upon sickness. The solitary cell, the noisome atmosphere, the unmitigated cold and the untempered heat, are of themselves sufficient soon to derange every vital function of the body, and this only aggravates the derangement of his mind. On every side is raised up an insurmountable barrier against his recovery. Cut off from all the charities of life, endued with quickened sensibilities to pain, and perpetually stung by annoyances, which, though individually small, rise by constant accumulation to agonies almost beyond the power of mortal sufferance; if his exiled mind in its devious wanderings ever approach the light by which it was once cheered and directed, it sees every thing unwelcoming, every thing repulsive and hostile, and is driven away into returnless banishment.

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