A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom
Chapter 15 - From 'Demoniacal Possession' to Insanity

The Final Struggle and Victory of Science - Pinel and Tuke

The theological current, thus re-enforced, seemed to become again irresistible; but it was only so in appearance. In spite of it, French scepticism continued to develop; signs of quiet change among the mass of thinking men were appearing more and more; and in 1672 came one of great significance, for, the Parliament of Rouen having doomed fourteen sorcerers to be burned, their execution was delayed for two years, evidently on account of scepticism among officials; and at length the great minister of Louis XIV, Colbert, issued an edict checking such trials, and ordering the convicted to be treated for madness.

Victory seemed now to incline to the standard of science, and in 1725 no less a personage than St. Andre, a court physician, dared to publish a work virtually showing "demoniacal possession" to be lunacy.

The French philosophy, from the time of its early development in the eighteenth century under Montesquieu and Voltaire, naturally strengthened the movement; the results of post-mortem examinations of the brains of the "possessed" confirmed it; and in 1768 we see it take form in a declaration by the Parliament of Paris, that possessed persons were to be considered as simply diseased. Still, the old belief lingered on, its life flickering up from time to time in those parts of France most under ecclesiastical control, until in these last years of the nineteenth century a blow has been given it by the researches of Charcot and his compeers which will probably soon extinguish it. One evidence of Satanic intercourse with mankind especially, on which for many generations theologians had laid peculiar stress, and for which they had condemned scores of little girls and hundreds of old women to a most cruel death, was found to be nothing more than one of the many results of hysteria.

In England the same warfare went on. John Locke had asserted the truth, but the theological view continued to control public opinion. Most prominent among those who exercised great power in its behalf was John Wesley, and the strength and beauty of his character made his influence in this respect all the more unfortunate. The same servitude to the mere letter of Scripture which led him to declare that "to give up witchcraft is to give up the Bible," controlled him in regard to insanity. He insisted, on the authority of the Old Testament, that bodily diseases are sometimes caused by devils, and, upon the authority of the New Testament, that the gods of the heathen are demons; he believed that dreams, while in some cases caused by bodily conditions and passions, are shown by Scripture to be also caused by occult powers of evil; he cites a physician to prove that "most lunatics are really demoniacs." In his great sermon on Evil Angels, he dwells upon this point especially; resists the idea that "possession" may be epilepsy, even though ordinary symptoms of epilepsy be present; protests against "giving up to infidels such proofs of an invisible world as are to be found in diabolic possession"; and evidently believes that some who have been made hysterical by his own preaching are "possessed of Satan." On all this, and much more to the same effect, he insisted with all the power given to him by his deep religious nature, his wonderful familiarity with the Scriptures, his natural acumen, and his eloquence.

But here, too, science continued its work. The old belief was steadily undermined, an atmosphere favourable to the truth was more and more developed, and the act of Parliament, in 1735, which banished the crime of witchcraft from the statute book, was the beginning of the end.

In Germany we see the beginnings of a similar triumph for science. In Prussia, that sturdy old monarch, Frederick William I, nullified the efforts of the more zealous clergy and orthodox jurists to keep up the old doctrine in his dominions; throughout Protestant Germany, where it had raged most severely, it was, as a rule, cast out of the Church formulas, catechisms, and hymns, and became more and more a subject for jocose allusion. From force of habit, and for the sake of consistency, some of the more conservative theologians continued to repeat the old arguments, and there were many who insisted upon the belief as absolutely necessary to ordinary orthodoxy; but it is evident that it had become a mere conventionality, that men only believed that they believed it, and now a reform seemed possible in the treatment of the insane.

In Austria, the government set Dr. Antonio Haen at making careful researches into the causes of diabolic possession. He did not think it best, in view of the power of the Church, to dispute the possibility or probability of such cases, but simply decided, after thorough investigation, that out of the many cases which had been brought to him, not one supported the belief in demoniacal influence. An attempt was made to follow up this examination, and much was done by men like Francke and Van Swieten, and especially by the reforming emperor, Joseph II, to rescue men and women who would otherwise have fallen victims to the prevalent superstition. Unfortunately, Joseph had arrayed against himself the whole power of the Church, and most of his good efforts seemed brought to naught. But what the noblest of the old race of German emperors could not do suddenly, the German men of science did gradually. Quietly and thoroughly, by proofs that could not be gainsaid, they recovered the old scientific fact established in pagan Greece and Rome, that madness is simply physical disease. But they now established it on a basis that can never again be shaken; for, in post-mortem examinations of large numbers of "possessed" persons, they found evidence of brain-disease. Typical is a case at Hamburg in 1729. An afflicted woman showed in a high degree all the recognised characteristics of diabolic possession: exorcisms, preachings, and sanctified remedies of every sort were tried in vain; milder medical means were then tried, and she so far recovered that she was allowed to take the communion before she died: the autopsy, held in the presence of fifteen physicians and a public notary, showed it to be simply a case of chronic meningitis. The work of German men of science in this field is noble indeed; a great succession, from Wier to Virchow, have erected a barrier against which all the efforts of reactionists beat in vain.

In America, the belief in diabolic influence had, in the early colonial period, full control. The Mathers, so superior to their time in many things, were children of their time in this: they supported the belief fully, and the Salem witchcraft horrors were among its results; but the discussion of that folly by Calef struck it a severe blow, and a better influence spread rapidly throughout the colonies.

By the middle of the eighteenth century belief in diabolic possession had practically disappeared from all enlightened countries, and during the nineteenth century it has lost its hold even in regions where the medieval spirit continues strongest. Throughout the Middle Ages, as we have seen, Satan was a leading personage in the miracle-plays, but in 1810 the Bavarian Government refused to allow the Passion Play at Ober-Ammergau if Satan was permitted to take any part in it; in spite of heroic efforts to maintain the old belief, even the childlike faith of the Tyrolese had arrived at a point which made a representation of Satan simply a thing to provoke laughter.

Very significant also was the trial which took place at Wemding, in southern Germany, in 1892. A boy had become hysterical, and the Capuchin Father Aurelian tried to exorcise him, and charged a peasant's wife, Frau Herz, with bewitching him, on evidence that would have cost the woman her life at any time during the seventeenth century. Thereupon the woman's husband brought suit against Father Aurelian for slander. The latter urged in his defence that the boy was possessed of an evil spirit, if anybody ever was; that what had been said and done was in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Church, as laid down in decrees, formulas, and rituals sanctioned by popes, councils, and innumerable bishops during ages. All in vain. The court condemned the good father to fine and imprisonment. As in a famous English case, "hell was dismissed, with costs." Even more significant is the fact that recently a boy declared by two Bavarian priests to be possessed by the devil, was taken, after all Church exorcisms had failed, to Father Kneipp's hydropathic establishment and was there speedily cured.

But, although the old superstition had been discarded, the inevitable conservatism in theology and medicine caused many old abuses to be continued for years after the theological basis for them had really disappeared. There still lingered also a feeling of dislike toward madmen, engendered by the early feeling of hostility toward them, which sufficed to prevent for many years any practical reforms.

What that old theory had been, even under the most favourable circumstances and among the best of men, we have seen in the fact that Sir Thomas More ordered acknowledged lunatics to be publicly flogged; and it will be remembered that Shakespeare makes one of his characters refer to madmen as deserving "a dark house and a whip." What the old practice was and continued to be we know but too well. Taking Protestant England as an example - and it was probably the most humane - we have a chain of testimony. Toward the end of the sixteenth century, Bethlehem Hospital was reported too loathsome for any man to enter; in the seventeenth century, John Evelyn found it no better; in the eighteenth, Hogarth's pictures and contemporary reports show it to be essentially what it had been in those previous centuries.

The first humane impulse of any considerable importance in this field seems to have been aroused in America. In the year 1751 certain members of the Society of Friends founded a small hospital for the insane, on better principles, in Pennsylvania. To use the language of its founders, it was intended "as a good work, acceptable to God." Twenty years later Virginia established a similar asylum, and gradually others appeared in other colonies.

But it was in France that mercy was to be put upon a scientific basis, and was to lead to practical results which were to convert the world to humanity. In this case, as in so many others, from France was spread and popularized not only the scepticism which destroyed the theological theory, but also the devotion which built up the new scientific theory and endowed the world with a new treasure of civilization.

In 1756 some physicians of the great hospital at Paris known as the Hotel-Dieu protested that the cruelties prevailing in the treatment of the insane were aggravating the disease; and some protests followed from other quarters. Little effect was produced at first; but just before the French Revolution, Tenon, La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, and others took up the subject, and in 1791 a commission was appointed to undertake a reform.

By great good fortune, the man selected to lead in the movement was one who had already thrown his heart into it - Jean Baptiste Pinel. In 1792 Pinel was made physician at Bicetre, one of the most extensive lunatic asylums in France, and to the work there imposed upon him he gave all his powers. Little was heard of him at first. The most terrible scenes of the French Revolution were drawing nigh; but he laboured on, modestly and devotedly - apparently without a thought of the great political storm raging about him.

His first step was to discard utterly the whole theological doctrine of "possession," and especially the idea that insanity is the result of any subtle spiritual influence. He simply put in practice the theory that lunacy is the result of bodily disease.

It is a curious matter for reflection, that but for this sway of the destructive philosophy of the eighteenth century, and of the Terrorists during the French Revolution, Pinel's blessed work would in all probability have been thwarted, and he himself excommunicated for heresy and driven from his position. Doubtless the same efforts would have been put forth against him which the Church, a little earlier, had put forth against inoculation as a remedy for smallpox; but just at that time the great churchmen had other things to think of besides crushing this particular heretic: they were too much occupied in keeping their own heads from the guillotine to give attention to what was passing in the head of Pinel. He was allowed to work in peace, and in a short time the reign of diabolism at Bicetre was ended. What the exorcisms and fetiches and prayers and processions, and drinking of holy water, and ringing of bells, had been unable to accomplish during eighteen hundred years, he achieved in a few months. His method was simple: for the brutality and cruelty which had prevailed up to that time, he substituted kindness and gentleness. The possessed were taken out of their dungeons, given sunny rooms, and allowed the liberty of pleasant ground for exercise; chains were thrown aside. At the same time, the mental power of each patient was developed by its fitting exercise, and disease was met with remedies sanctioned by experiment, observation, and reason. Thus was gained one of the greatest, though one of the least known, triumphs of modern science and humanity.

The results obtained by Pinel had an instant effect, not only in France but throughout Europe: the news spread from hospital to hospital. At his death, Esquirol took up his work; and, in the place of the old training of judges, torturers, and executioners by theology to carry out its ideas in cruelty, there was now trained a school of physicians to develop science in this field and carry out its decrees in mercy.

A similar evolution of better science and practice took place in England. In spite of the coldness, and even hostility, of the greater men in the Established Church, and notwithstanding the scriptural demonstrations of Wesley that the majority of the insane were possessed of devils, the scientific method steadily gathered strength. In 1750 the condition of the insane began to attract especial attention; it was found that mad-houses were swayed by ideas utterly indefensible, and that the practices engendered by these ideas were monstrous. As a rule, the patients were immured in cells, and in many cases were chained to the walls; in others, flogging and starvation played leading parts, and in some cases the patients were killed. Naturally enough, John Howard declared, in 1789, that he found in Constantinople a better insane asylum than the great St. Luke's Hospital in London. Well might he do so; for, ever since Caliph Omar had protected and encouraged the scientific investigation of insanity by Paul of AEgina, the Moslem treatment of the insane had been far more merciful than the system prevailing throughout Christendom.

In 1792 - the same year in which Pinel began his great work in France - William Tuke began a similar work in England. There seems to have been no connection between these two reformers; each wrought independently of the other, but the results arrived at were the same. So, too, in the main, were their methods; and in the little house of William Tuke, at York, began a better era for England.

The name which this little asylum received is a monument both of the old reign of cruelty and of the new reign of humanity. Every old name for such an asylum had been made odious and repulsive by ages of misery; in a happy moment of inspiration Tuke's gentle Quaker wife suggested a new name; and, in accordance with this suggestion, the place became known as a "Retreat."

From the great body of influential classes in church and state Tuke received little aid. The influence of the theological spirit was shown when, in that same year, Dr. Pangster published his Observations on Mental Disorders, and, after displaying much ignorance as to the causes and nature of insanity, summed up by saying piously, "Here our researches must stop, and we must declare that `wonderful are the works of the Lord, and his ways past finding out."' Such seemed to be the view of the Church at large: though the new "Retreat" was at one of the two great ecclesiastical centres of England, we hear of no aid or encouragement from the Archbishop of York or from his clergy. Nor was this the worst: the indirect influence of the theological habit of thought and ecclesiastical prestige was displayed in the Edinburgh Review. That great organ of opinion, not content with attacking Tuke, poured contempt upon his work, as well as on that of Pinel. A few of Tuke's brother and sister Quakers seem to have been his only reliance; and in a letter regarding his efforts at that time he says, "All men seem to desert me."

In this atmosphere of English conservative opposition or indifference the work could not grow rapidly. As late as 1815, a member of Parliament stigmatized the insane asylums of England as the shame of the nation; and even as late as 1827, and in a few cases as late as 1850, there were revivals of the old absurdity and brutality. Down to a late period, in the hospitals of St. Luke and Bedlam, long rows of the insane were chained to the walls of the corridors. But Gardner at Lincoln, Donnelly at Hanwell, and a new school of practitioners in mental disease, took up the work of Tuke, and the victory in England was gained in practice as it had been previously gained in theory.

There need be no controversy regarding the comparative merits of these two benefactors of our race, Pinel and Tuke. They clearly did their thinking and their work independently of each other, and thereby each strengthened the other and benefited mankind. All that remains to be said is, that while France has paid high honours to Pinel, as to one who did much to free the world from one of its most cruel superstitions and to bring in a reign of humanity over a wide empire, England has as yet made no fitting commemoration of her great benefactor in this field. York Minster holds many tombs of men, of whom some were blessings to their fellow-beings, while some were but "solemnly constituted impostors" and parasites upon the body politic; yet, to this hour, that great temple has received no consecration by a monument to the man who did more to alleviate human misery than any other who has ever entered it.

But the place of these two men in history is secure. They stand with Grotius, Thomasius, and Beccaria--the men who in modern times have done most to prevent unmerited sorrow. They were not, indeed, called to suffer like their great compeers; they were not obliged to see their writings--among the most blessed gifts of God to man--condemned, as were those of Grotius and Beccaria by the Catholic Church, and those of Thomasius by a large section of the Protestant Church; they were not obliged to flee for their lives, as were Grotius and Thomasius; but their effort is none the less worthy. The French Revolution, indeed, saved Pinel, and the decay of English ecclesiasticism gave Tuke his opportunity; but their triumphs are none the less among the glories of our race; for they were the first acknowledged victors in a struggle of science for humanity which had lasted nearly two thousand years.

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