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In their own words: Personal accounts of madness in Early Modern Europe, c. 1550-1800



The Journal of Critical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy, Vol. 21 (2021), No. 1, pp. 14-21. Today, personal accounts belong to the canon of professional knowledge about the experience of madness. This holds for the rise of consumer/survivor/ex-patient narratives in the context of present ‘user-involvement’ policies in mental health care, as well as for the efforts by historians to explore the lifeworlds of the mad in earlier times. This essay summarises a methodical concept to write a ‘subject-oriented’ history of madness for the pre-psychiatric era before 1800, inspired by Roy Porter’s (1987) medical history ‘from below’, cultural history and methods from qualitative social research.
© 2021 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2021 Egalitarian Publishing Ltd
Journal of Critical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy, Vol. 21, No. 1, 14-27
Today, personal accounts belong to the canon of professional knowledge about the
experience of madness. This holds for the rise of consumer/survivor/ex-patient narratives
in the context of present ‘user-involvement’ policies in mental health care, as well as for
the efforts by historians to explore the lifeworlds of the mad in earlier times.1 This essay
summarises a methodical concept to write a ‘subject-oriented’ history of madness for the
pre-psychiatric era before 1800, inspired by Roy Porter’s (1987) medical history from
below’, cultural history and methods from qualitative social research.2
1 For recent research on the ‘patient’s view’, see Hanley & Meyer (2021); Bacopoulos-Viau & Fauvel
(2016). An overview on historic personal narratives of madness is provided by Reaume (2017).
2 This essay was largely written while I was working on the first volume of my 2007 dissertation Deliri-
In their own words:
Personal accounts of madness in
Early Modern Europe, c. 1550-
Burkhart Brückner
Professor Burkhart Brückner, psychologist and psychotherapist, lives in Düsseldorf, Germany. He works at
Hochschule Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences and has specialized in the history of psychiatry, clinical
social psychology and counselling psychology. He is the author of the two volume 'Delirium und Wahn. Geschichte,
Selbstzeugnisse und Theorien von der Antike bis 1900' (Delirium and Delusion. History, Personal Accounts and
Theories from Antiquity to 1900), which contains a history of madness "from below". In 2010, he published
'Geschichte der Psychiatrie' (History of Psychiatry; 2nd ed. 2015). In 2015, his team launched the online
database "Biographical Archive of Psychiatry". Email:
ABSTRACT: In this essay, the historical concept of ‘delirium’ was applied to identify
personal narratives of madness in early modern Europe with a sampling method.
These sources reveal a culture of writing about self-experiences of madness.
KEY WORDS: Renaissance, delirium, protest
© 2021 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2021 Egalitarian Publishing Ltd.
Journal of Critical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy, Vol. 21, No. 1, 14-27
The term ‘early modernity’ refers to the period between 1500 and 1800.3 Personal
accounts of madness written in this period are very rare. But since the seventeenth century,
such narratives appeared more frequently in conjunction with the rise of a more civil
public spirit in Europe. However, using first-person accounts as sources requires a critical
appraisal of their content in order to determine a viable reference point for the selection of
suitable texts. In the following, I present a small but comparable sample of sources, which
were probably acknowledged as self-descriptions of ‘delirious’ madness in their respective
time period. The analysis of this corpus reveals the authors’ typical narrative strategies
and reasons for writing. Therefore, these texts can be considered as examples of an early
modern culture of writing about madness.
Searching for the sources: Methods
The methodology chosen for this study mainly represents a systematic attempt to avoid
ahistorical presentism and retrospective diagnostics in the history of psychiatry, like, for
example checking historic (self-)descriptions for symptoms of schizophrenia or asking if
schizophrenia had existed before the eighteenth century (e.g., Heinrichs, 2003). However,
it remains difficult to identify relevant cases due to the evolution of medical concepts
and the culture-bound nature of the phenomena in question. Otsuka and Sakai (2004)
tried to establish the criterion of ‘bizarreness’ to label forms of behaviour that are both
independent of the cultural context and characteristic of schizophrenia. They used the
famous case of the Bavarian painter Christoph Haizmann (ca. 1651–1700), who wrote
a personal account of his ‘demonic visions’ in 1677, to demonstrate that Haizmann’s
experiences represented such a radical departure from the social standards of his time that
a retrospective diagnosis was justifiable. But in fact, apart from a marginal note in which
Haizmann associated himself with the devil to avoid his ‘melancholy’ (Payer-Thurn, 1924:
4), there is no further evidence, neither in his narrative nor in the commentaries of his
contemporaries, that would lead us to the conclusion that he himself or his contemporaries
considered him mad (cf. Brückner, 2007: 186–190).
Today, historians usually reject retroactive diagnoses, claiming that these would
foster a medicalized and ahistorical perspective on the sources (cf. Stolberg, 2016: 501–
505). Even the term ‘patient’ is not necessarily helpful in understanding the experience
of historical subjects and the complex medical, social and cultural circumstances of their
lifeworlds. This is why scholars have increasingly turned to genuine ‘historical’ and more
um und Wahn. Geschichte, Selbstzeugnisse und Theorien von der Antike bis 1900 (Delirium and Delusion.
History, First-Person Accounts and Theories from Antiquity to the Year 1900). An earlier version was pre-
sented in 2004 at the 7th International Conference on Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology in Heidelberg,
Germany. I have revised this lecture and added recent literature. My thanks go to Andrea Toenjes for the
language editing.
3 For early modern medicine in general, see Stolberg (2011).
© 2021 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2021 Egalitarian Publishing Ltd.
Journal of Critical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy, Vol. 21, No. 1, 14-27
descriptive methods to examine personal narratives of madness. Dale Peterson (1982),
for example, filed the sources into chronological order, and Allan Ingram (1991; 1997)
or George MacLennan (1992) examined them from the perspective of literary science.
In his 1987 work A social history of madness: The world through the eyes of the insane, Roy
Porter discussed several personal accounts from late-seventeenth to nineteenth-century
England ‘to explore, what mad people meant to say, what was on their minds’ (Porter,
1987: 1). This approach perfectly illustrates Porter’s idea of writing history ‘from below’.
He chose topics like ‘mad women’, ‘religious madness’ or ‘madness and genius’ to address
his subject, but without systematically analysing the respective underlying concepts of
madness. Rethinking Porter’s approach, I note that while he asks, ‘How is it to be mad?’, I
ask, ‘What did it mean to be mad?’
Cultural history is primarily a history of meanings. If we ask for the meaning of
personal accounts for their authors, we learn what motivated them to write their texts. The
pragmatic analysis of these reasons leads us to the authors’ biographies, their social position
and the concepts of madness prevailing in their respective time periods. Nevertheless, not
all authors were patients, and several even became experts by documenting their personal
accounts - this is the reason why an examination may not only be a question of patient -
oriented history but, as I would like to assert, of a subject-oriented history of experience.
If we are to search for historic autobiographies, diaries, letters or other subjective
narrations that seem to describe madness, then we require rigorous criteria to determine
the form and content, and whether or not an individual account should be included in
our sample.4 First, each source needs to be critically examined with regard to its status
as a first-person-account.5 After that, two crucial questions must be addressed: Did the
authors themselves claim to be mad? Or did their contemporaries (e.g., eyewitnesses like
relatives and doctors) consider their accounts to be testimonies to madness? If we cannot
answer these questions, we may ask from the historian’s perspective how likely it is that
the texts in question were considered self-descriptions of madness at the time they were
written. It is thus not important to decide whether an author was actually mad but only to
examine the plausibility of possible contemporary judgements on the matter. In this sense,
the perspective of the authors of the narratives, the perspective of their contemporaries
(relatives, doctors) and the perspective of the examining historian (theories, hypotheses)
can be systematically triangulated to achieve an approximation of what it meant to be mad.
A key element of this approach is a conceptual history of madness during the
respective time period. I assume that from the end of the sixteenth to the end of the
eighteenth century, the concept of ‘delirium’ stood for the phenomenon of a ‘loss of mind’
and a ‘confusion of senses’ in contrast to milder maladies such as melancholic moodiness
4 For a more detailed discussion, see, Brückner (2007: 4–39).
5 For working with historical self-narratives in general, cf. Ulbrich, Greyerz & Lorenz (2015).
© 2021 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2021 Egalitarian Publishing Ltd.
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or hypochondria. In the following section, this basic distinction shall be explained in more
Early Modern concepts of ‘delirium’
The origins of the medical term ‘delirium’ (from delirare, literally: to deviate from the
furrow) can be traced back to Roman medicine (Celsus, De medicina II, 7-8), however,
we find no coherent medical meaning until the Renaissance.6 For example, the personal
physician to Emperor Mark Aurel, Claudius Galen (ca. 129–199), described in the second
century AD in his treatise De locis affectis (IV, 2) a serious fever that he had experienced
in his youth (Galen 1976: 108). In this prototypical self-narrative, he recapitulated the
resulting confusion and his optical hallucinations (carphology). He feared that he was
suffering from a form of ‘phrenitis’, a disease that was deemed one of the primary forms
of madness in the Ancient World, along with ‘melancholia’ and ‘mania’. Galen’s analytical
approach to his own brief ‘delirious’ experience illustrates his outstanding significance
as a physician (cf. Brückner, 2007: 92–95). In fact, this personal report represented a
crucial starting point for his theory of hallucinations, which remained valid for almost
1,500 years, although the Greek-writing Galen did not use the Latin term ‘delirium’. We
must thus bear in mind that the early modern concept of ‘delirium’ is neither equal to the
present-day definition as an acute brain disorder nor identical with any other concept of
Greco-Roman or medieval medicine, including the term ‘phrenitis’.
The rise of the early modern concept of ‘delirium’ began during the late
Renaissance.7 Otto Brunfels’ (1488–1534) medical dictionary of 1534 assigned the term
‘Delyrium’ a double meaning: on the one hand, the concept denoted a moderately serious
mental disorder (‘mediocris insania’), on the other hand, it was used to describe false
motions of the ‘brain-spirits’. But the perhaps earliest treatise on the subject are the
25 academic theses, defended by Werner Gallus in the year 1569 at the University of
Frankfurt/Oder. Gallus (1569: fol. 1v) defined the term ‘delirium’, in contrast to mental
retardation, as a disorder of intellect, which can affect thinking, imagination and memory
and occur in different diseases like ‘phrenitis’, ‘mania’ and ‘melancholy’.
As medical theory changed during the seventeenth century under the influence of
new chemical and mechanistic knowledge, the concept of ‘delirium’ moved to the centre
of theories on madness. As Michel Foucault (1961: 198) stated in his History of Madness:
‘Doctors and philosophers of the classical age were united in describing the imagination, troubled
and straying from its rightful path, half-way between error and sin on the one hand, and corporeal
disturbances on the other, as delirium. And Michael MacDonald (1981: 149) described the
6 Cf. the overview on the history of the term ‘delirium’ by Adamis et al. (2007). For ancient theories on
mental disorder in general, see, Thumiger & Singer (2018).
7 For 16th century concepts of madness, see Midelfort (1999).
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crucial difference between mild and serious mental disorder drawing on the records
compiled by the English medical practitioner Richard Napier (1559–1634):
‘Melancholy, of course, but also mopishness, anxiety and fear, sadness and suicidal gloom,
just to mention the most common complaints brought to Napier. Whatever discrete forms were
attributed to these maladies, they were all feelings or ideas that were believed to be excessive
or evil. They were also detected differently than madness or delirium. Sufferers themselves
frequently judged that their emotions were abnormal. Lunatics, on the other hand, were unable
to scrutinize their own behavior and decide whether or not they were sane.
In Bartolomeo Castelli’s (1682: 420) medical dictionary, edited by Jakob Pankraz Bruno
(1629–1709), the term ’delirium’ appears as a common denotation for mental disorders
(‘alienatio mentis’) leading to defective perception and intellect, which occur with or
without fever and in different forms, e.g., in the case of ‘mania’, ‘phrenitis’ or ‘melancholia’.
The concept thus had a double function: on the one hand, it described a specific syndrome,
an acute and serious mental derangement in opposition to milder states, while on the other
hand, it was used as a classification category.
The term continued to be used in that way during the eighteenth century. For
example, with regard to the syndrome aspect, William Battie (1704–1776) in his Treatise
on Madness (1758: 73 f.) argued that a certain ‘delirious pressure’ on the nerves causes
major manifestation of madness. However, the classificatory function of the term moved
to the forefront, as we can read in Boissier de Sauvages’ (1706–1776) influential Nosologie
Méthodique ou Distribution des Maladies. He divided mental disorders (‘vesaniae’
or ‘folie’) into four ‘orders’ (‘hallucinations’, ‘morositates’, ‘deliria’ and ‘anomalous
madness’). The order of ‘deliria’ stood for cerebral dysfunction and the alienation of mind,
including five ‘species’ (‘madness’, ‘amentia’, ‘melancholia’, ‘demonomania’, ‘mania’)
with a further 56 sub-concepts (de Sauvages, 1772: 4). During the nineteenth century, the
concept of ‘delirium’ evolved into the meaning that it has retained until today (cf. Berrios,
From the above, we can conclude that the early modern idea of ‘delirium’ was
well defined and distinguished serious mental disorder (with hallucinations and delusions)
from milder maladies like nervous disorders, hypochondria or mild melancholy. Personal
accounts of the latter are irrelevant for the target sample from a methodological point of
view.8 The remaining narratives are presented in the following sections.
8 E.g., Yarrow (1619), Rogers (1691), Cheyne (1733). The same holds for the famous account by the
Flemish physician Johann Baptist van Helmont (1577–1644) after tasting a root of the blue monkshood
(Helmont, 1667: 171). Another example is the autobiography of the British MP Goodwin Wharton (1653–
1704), who devoted himself to an occult world of fairies, angels and alchemy (cf. Timbers 2016: 139 ff.).
© 2021 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2021 Egalitarian Publishing Ltd.
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Self-narratives from the late Renaissance and the 17th century
The first relevant personal account dates from the year 1570 and appears in the
autobiography of the humanist Hieronymus Wolf (1516–1580), who lived in Nuremberg
where he worked as a teacher.9 In 1545, he caused serious controversy when claiming to
have been poisoned and bewitched (cf. Jung, 2001). He reportedly slept very badly, was
afraid he would go blind and discovered strange little bugs in his food. He asked the city
council to discharge him from his post and travelled to a healer, albeit with little success.
According to him, his friends maintained that he was mad (‘delirantem’; Wolf, 1564: 75),
but he himself suggested that a monk and a magician were responsible for his misfortune,
insisting that they had conspired against him. He soon believed that some of the people
around him were also involved in this plot. This episode lasted about 16 months, and Wolf
subsequently left Nuremberg and began a successful career as a translator and scholar.
While it is unclear from what specific illness or disorder Wolf suffered, it is safe to say that
people close to him maintained that he had been temporarily mad.
A far better-known case is that of the Italian poet Torquato Tasso (1544–1595).
In letters written between 1577 and 1595 (e.g., Tasso 1978), Tasso talks with lucid clarity
about strange and unbearable phenomena, including mysterious voices and shadows.
These descriptions are so detailed and intimate that the contemporaneous assertions of his
madness seem to be plausible (cf. Brückner, 2007: 160–165). Like Wolf, Tasso believed he
had been bewitched, and he turned to his doctor in desperation. He was detained in St.
Anna’s Hospital for seven years after serious incidents at the court of the Prince of Ferrara.
Both of the above Renaissance texts originate from a period when the belief in
witches and magicians was still quite common, but humanistic medicine was also around,
of course. At the same time, the texts illustrate a fundamental difference in the authors’
perspectives: while Wolf wrote in retrospect, Tasso wrote during his mental struggle.
A striking self-narrative of ‘delirious’ madness can be found in the autobiographic
writings of Dionys Fitzherbert (ca. 1580–1640), an English gentry woman from Begbroke,
Oxfordshire. In her late twenties, she fell into a severe spiritual crisis, including confusion,
hallucinations and massive conflicts with her relatives. During the six months of her ordeal,
she was treated by doctors with medication and was confined to her room for four weeks.
She received family care and was not hospitalised. Fitzherbert never saw herself as being
mad - her account can be read as a religious justification of extra-sensory experiences
and a defence against allegations of melancholy and madness. On the other hand, there
is no doubt that her relatives and doctors perceived her as being mad. Her motives for
writing are already typical of the genre: she wished to defend her experiences against
medical labelling and stigmatization, and she hoped to offer comfort and confidence to
those affected by the same ‘sufferings and afflictions’ (cf. Hodgkin, 2010, fol. 6r).
9 Wolf wrote his autobiography in 1564 (first published in 1773).
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Probably the first publication by an inmate of a British madhouse is a collection
of poems entitled Lucida Intervalla, written by James Carkesse (ca. 1636–1690) in 1679.
Carkesse worked in the Ticket Office of the British Navy. He was committed to a private
madhouse in 1678 and half a year later transferred to Bethlem hospital in London where he
stayed several months. His poems illustrate everyday life at the asylum, but Carkesse (1679:
32) argued that he had never been insane and that the doctors mistook his poetic genius
for madness. However, his physician obviously considered him a raving patient who must
be kept in chains and treated with purging, bloodletting and occasional beating. Carkesse
protested vigorously against the treatment to which he was subjected, which is why his
book is considered the first example of English protest-literature against madhouses.
Hannah Allen (ca. 1638–1708), a nonconformist lady from Snelston, Derbyshire,
published a very different personal account in 1683. Her treatise A Narrative of God’s
Gracious Dealings reads like some kind of religious autobiography telling the story of her
recovery from severe melancholy. After the death of her husband, she fell into deep despair
and soon believed she was going to die. One day, Allen (1683: 11) assumed the lights of the
neighbouring house to be demonic signs and the voices of her neighbours to be the voices
of the devil. She tried to commit suicide but survived and recovered after three years
with the constant help of her family. Her narrative is written in a very personal style and
illustrates a religious coping strategy.
With regard to France, finding relevant seventeenth century narratives seems
difficult. One may attribute this to the rise of French absolutism and rigorous censorship. It
ultimately remains unclear if, for example, a book attributed to Bernhard Bluet d’Arbères
(1566–1606) documents any relevant phenomena (cf. Guégan, 1924). The same holds for
the writings of Simon Morin (1623–1663), who was executed as a heretic (cf. Voltaire
At the end of the seventeenth century, a new era emerged in which personal
accounts of madness developed into a small but independent genre. Some English texts
were published during their authors’ lifetime and, in the wake of the Enlightenment,
German and French texts followed. The personal experience of ‘delirious’ phenomena was
eventually integrated into the contemporary communication culture due to secularisation
and the influence of modern science and knowledge generation.
The religious autobiographies of that time demonstrate the difficulties of
retrospectively distinguishing between visionary phenomena and ‘hallucinations’. The
case of the Swedish scientist, seer and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) is
perhaps the most famous and complicated one. Swedenborg (1749/56) maintained in his
Arcana Coelestia that he was able to communicate with an army of angels, spirits and
extra-terrestrial beings. This ‘dual-state’ consciousness has often been retrospectively
considered an expression of madness (cf. Roy-Di Piazza, 2020: 480). Apart from
Immanuel Kant’s (1724–1804) brilliant 1766 treatise on Swedenborg, there actually
© 2021 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2021 Egalitarian Publishing Ltd.
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exists another contemporary comment by John Wesley (1703–1791), the founder of the
Methodist Church. While Kant abstained from explicitly presenting a disease hypothesis
and discredited Swedenborg’s epistemology instead, Wesley (1781; 1783) spread rumours
that Swedenborg had been insane during the years 1744/45.10 However, it is not clear if
Wesley’s statements are objective and free from theological competition. In conclusion, I
suggest that if visionary literature and related phenomena described in a personal account
stood the test of the socially accepted religious or metaphysical beliefs of their time, this
literature should be excluded from the genre of personal accounts of madness.
British 18th-century self-narratives
On sources from 18th-century England, Leonard Smith (2020: 259) notes: ‘There are
few surviving records of the views and feelings of patients whilst actually confined in a
madhouse.An impressive example is a work written by the nonconformist clergyman
George Trosse (1631–1713) from Exeter, who was taken to a madhouse several times.
His autobiography The Life of the Reverend Mr. Geo. Trosse was published in 1714, one year
after his death. The author reports on his youth, his sins as a young man, three attacks of
severe confusion, the recovery in a madhouse and his career as a preacher. Regarding his
experiences, Trosse maintained, ‘Thus was I disturb’d with silly ridiculous Fancies, and
Thousands of unreasonable and non-sensical Delusions’ (Trosse, 1714: 89). Like Hannah
Allen, he described the phenomena in detail and attributed his recovery to the grace of
More complex is the case of the London-based theologian and bookseller
Alexander Cruden (1701–1770). During his life, he was committed to a madhouse four
times (cf. Minou 2019). His second stay in an asylum occurred in 1738, one year after
he had published a brilliant concordance to the Bible. In 1739, he published a lengthy
justification with the title ‘The London-Citizen Exceedingly Injured’, where he demanded
that private madhouses be regulated in a more effective way. He complained about the
allegedly unjustified confinement, described the treatment in detail (chains, purgatories),
including some meetings with his physician James Monro (1680–1752), who considered
him an ‘enthusiast’ (cf. Andrews & Scull, 2001: 91–116). After his discharge, he was
recommitted to madhouses again in 1743 and 1753. Benjamin Rush (1745–1813), one of
the founders of American psychiatry, met him in the 1760s and judged that Cruden was of
a sound mind then but previously had been ‘deranged’ by ‘overstudy’ (Rush, 1810: 63).
The last case in this section concerns that of the English wool-merchant Samuel
Bruckshaw from Stamford, Lincolnshire, who wrote a pamphlet entitled One More Proof
of the Iniquitous Abuse of Private Madhouses in 1774. Having lost his entire property due
10 The crucial events took place in October 1744, cf. Wesley (1781: 47; 1783: 437); Brückner (2007:
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to some dubious business dealings, he believed there was a conspiracy against him and
was then taken to a madhouse. The mayor of Stamford recommended that Bruckshaw
be locked up for being ‘disordered in his senses’ (Bruckshaw, 1774: 116). In his lengthy
account, Bruckshaw indeed described several symptoms of confusion of the mind, but he
rejected any conclusive diagnosis and insisted that the actual problem was the treatment he
received, not his behaviour.
Reviewing these three well-known British eighteenth-century documents, it
would be speculative to conclude in retrospect that all authors in question really suffered
from mental disorders and, in addition, to decide from which ones. But we do have some
proof to support the assertion that either the authors believed themselves to be insane or
were thought to be so by their contemporaries.11 We are thus able to assess these writings
as rare first-person accounts, partly as early examples of protest literature and partly as
autobiographical accounts of coping strategies.
French 18th-century self-narratives
As mentioned before, relevant French documents are very rare. One example could be
a manuscript left by the French valet Antoine Thorin (ca. 1733–1802), who had been
hospitalised in 1758 and later incarcerated in the Parisian Bastille for 14 years (cf. Cohen,
2003). However, it remains unclear if he was actually mentally disturbed. Jean-Jacques
Rousseau (1712–1778), in contrast, left posthumously published works that have often
been considered startling autobiographic texts about his recurring madness since the mid-
1760s. After publishing his major works, Rousseau was banned from France in 1762 and
lived in exile at various locations in Europe. In 1766, David Hume invited Rousseau to
England - but after some trouble there, Rousseau fled again in 1767 under circumstances
leading Hume to conclude that Rousseau was ‘plainly delirious’ and ‘absolutely lunatic’
(Hume, letter of 22 May 1767: 137–139). Back in France, Rousseau tried to reestablish
himself in Paris but failed and retired. In his social isolation, he began to believe that his
misfortune was caused by a conspiracy of former colleagues like Diderot and Voltaire.
From 1772 onwards, he composed three extensive dialogues entitled Rousseau Judge of
Jean-Jacques (published in 1780/82) to explain his situation. He chose the scenario of
a court and united the roles of prosecutor, defence counsel, defendant and judge in the
person of the author. Hence, we do not need to distinguish between Rousseau’s work
and his madness because he presents both sides. Never again has a book been written that
combines literary genius and madness in so effective a manner.
German 18th-century self-narratives
11 In contrast, the story of William Belcher (1796: 132) remains unclear. His protest narrative mainly
concerns his treatment and the contemporary ‘trade in lunacy’.
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The German-language accounts in question reveal yet another typical feature of the
Enlightenment age: the scholarly desire to understand alterations of the mind in a scientific
and philosophical way. This becomes obvious, for example, in a narrative by the German poet
and philosopher Johann Karl Wezel (1747–1819) from Sondershausen, Thuringia. Wezel
(1784: 174–179) experienced a ten-days-long feverish episode in 1771, but he remained
with clear consciousness and described the phenomena in connection with extensive
anthropological considerations. Considering our methodological criteria, it is clear that
Wezel’s descriptions needed to be excluded from the target sample. The same holds for
the letters by Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz (1751–1792), for Adam Bernds (1676–1748)
narrative about his serious hypochondria, published in 1738, and for Friedrich Nicolais
(1733–1799) famous account of his astonishing ghost-seeing experiences, published in
The Berlin doctor and philosopher Markus Herz (1747–1803), by contrast,
described a truly ‘delirious’ experience in 1783. He published his account in the Magazin
zur Erfahrungsseelenkunde, one of the most influential psychological journals in late
eighteenth-century Germany (cf. Kaufmann, 1995). Herz (1783: 87) suffered from a
serious ‘delirium’ (with fever) lasting over four weeks. He called its climax ‘delirio’ and
analysed this state in detail. He wrote to his friend, ‘But, indeed I would like to tell you
the main subjects of my fantasies - there was a method to my madness - and I can very
well explain their emergence and connection in a psychological way. (Herz, 1783: 54; my
transl.). This is why he considered the influence of his environment (including his family
background) on his delusions and (pseudo-) hallucinations and attempted to integrate the
knowledge of the German Enlightenment with the theory of ‘delirium’.
Finally, there is a text written by the military physician D. Dunker. It is not as
sophisticated as Herzs text but was published in 1784 in the same Magazin. Dunker also
claimed to have experienced a feverish disease leading to ‘delirium’, and he wrote a long
narrative about the adventurous content of his delirious fantasies.
In this essay, I have referred to 25 self-narratives. Using rigorous methodological criteria, it
seems plausible to say that eleven early modern sources most likely contain self-narratives of
‘delirious’ madness (Wolf, Tasso, Fitzherbert, Carkesse, Allen, Trosse, Cruden, Bruckshaw,
Rousseau, Herz and Duncker). Some of these authors wrote further accounts (e.g.,
Cruden, Bruckshaw, Rousseau), but I sought to choose their most instructive texts. While
only Herz and Duncker used the concept of ‘delirium’ explicitly, we know of comparable
12 The sources are not sufficient to assess what really happend to Lenz in January 1778, although some of
his contemporaries spoke of a serious mental breakdown (cf. Brückner 2007, 417–421). Adam Bernd (1738,
§ 127: 312) clearly denied having experienced a ‘delirio’.
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comments made by the narratives’ authors themselves or by their contemporaries
(Tasso, Wolf, Fitzherbert, Allen, Trosse, Rousseau). Regarding the other chosen accounts
(Carkesse, Cruden, Bruckshaw), the concept of ‘delirium’ might have been applicable if
we could have conclusively determined the specificity of the phenomena in question in
terms of their seriousness and treatment.
The sampling method has its limits. We must bear in mind that we have only
textual material from a distant past. This requires a historical-critical method and precise
contextualisation. We then have to take into account the authors’ narrative strategies, their
errors, omissions and publication motives, which shaped their testimonies. The same holds
for eyewitness reports of the events in question (relatives, doctors) and other contemporary
accounts. There will always be a degree of uncertainity about the ‘true’ lived experience
of madness. But we have considerable material to analyse how the authors dealt with and
interpreted their experiences and social practice.
Furthermore, it is now possible to pinpoint three literary types for the late
seventeenth and the eighteenth century: 1. Morally didactic writings in which the
authors interpret their ordeal either as religious experience (Fitzherbert, Allen, Trosse)
or as conflicting with the social standards of society (Rousseau) in order to justify their
exceptional experiences; 2. Protest writings (Carkesse, Cruden, Bruckshaw); and 3. Self-
observations in which the authors construct scientific theories to explain their derangement
(Herz, Dunker). Even the motives for publication follow discernible patterns. Most authors
wanted to verbalise their exceptional experiences, rehabilitate themselves and occasionally
declare their solidarity with others in similar circumstances. They consistently tried to
contact their contemporaries, come to terms with their own destiny in a literary way and,
in so doing, preserve their personal dignity, thereby creating traces of an early modern
culture of writing about madness.
Primary sources: Personal accounts
1. Allen, H. (1683). A narrative of God’s gracious dealings. In: Ingram, A. (ed.), Voices of madness. Four
pamphlets, 1683–1796. Phoenix Mill / Thrupp / Stroud / Gloucestershire: Sutton 1997, pp. 3–21.
2. Belcher, W. (1796). Belcher’s Address to Humanity. In: Ingram, A. (ed.): Voices of Madness. Four Pamphlets,
1683-1796. Phoenix Mill / Thrupp / Stroud / Gloucestershire 1997, pp. 127-135.
3. Bernd, M.A. (1738). Eigene Lebens-Beschreibung. Ed. by V. Hoffmann. Munich: Winkler 1973.
4. Bluet d’ Arbères, B. (1601/02). L’Intitulation et recueil de toutes les œuvres que Bernhard de Bluet Darberes,
comte de permission, Chevalier des Ligues des treze Quantons de Suisse. 2 vol. Paris.
5. Bruckshaw, S. (1774). One more proof of the iniquitous abuse of private madhouses. In: A. Ingram
(ed.), Voices of madness. Four pamphlets, 1683–1796. Phoenix Mill / Thrupp / Stroud / Gloucestershire:
Sutton 1997, pp. 75–126.
© 2021 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2021 Egalitarian Publishing Ltd.
Journal of Critical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy, Vol. 21, No. 1, 14-27
6. Carkesse, J. (1679). Lucida intervalla. Introduction by M.V. Deporte. Los Angeles: Augustan Reprint
Society 1979.
7. Cheyne, G. (1733). The English malady: or, A treatise of nervous diseases of all kinds, as spleen, vapours, lowness
of spirits, hypochondrial and hysterical distempers. London: Straham and Leake.
8. Cruden, A. (1739). The London-citizen exceedingly injured. In: Ingram, A. (ed.), Voices of madness. Four
pamphlets, 1683–1796. Phoenix Mill / Thrupp / Stroud / Gloucestershire: Sutton, pp. 23–74.
9. Dunker, D. (1784). Merkwürdiger Gang der Phantasie in einem Delirium, ΓΝΩΘΙ ΣΑΥΤΟΝ oder
Magazin zur Erfahrungsseelenkunde 2(3), pp. 1–11.
10. Galen, C. (1976). Galen on the affected parts. Translation from the Greek text with explanatory notes;
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11. Haizmann, C. (1669): Trophaeum Mariano-Cellense. In: Payer-Thurn, R. (1924), Faust in Mariazell.
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13. Herz, M. (1783). Psychologische Beschreibung seiner eignen Krankheit vom Herrn D. Markus Herz
an Herrn D. J. in Königsberg. In: ΓΝΩΘΙ ΣΑΥΤΟΝ, oder Magazin zur Erfahrungsseelenkunde 1(2), pp.
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Dionys Fitzherbert. London: Routledge.
15. Lenz, J. M. R. (1992): Briefe. Ed. by S. Damm. Frankfurt/Main: Insel.
16. Morin, S. (1647). Au nom du Père, du Fils et du Saint-Esprit. Pensées de Morin dédiées au Roy. [No place].
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pp. 321–360.
18. Rogers, T. (1691). Trouble of mind and the disease of melancholy, written for the use of such as are or have been
exercised by the same. Ed. by Don Kistler. Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria 2002.
19. Rousseau, J. J. (1780/82). Rousseau, judge of Jean-Jacques. Dialogues. Ed. by R. D. Masters and C. Kelly.
Hanover, London: University Press of New England 1990.
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in dem Worte des Herren enthalten, und nun enthüllt sind. Ed. by J.F.I. Tafel. 16 vols. Basel / Ludwigsburg:
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Emil Staiger. Munich: Winkler, pp. 788–828.
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according to his order in 1714. Ed. by A.W. Brink. Montreal / London: McGill-Queen’s University Press
23. Wezel, J.K. (1784). Versuch über die Kenntniß des Menschen. Erster Theil. Leipzig: Dyksche Buchhandlung.
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Full-text available
In 1758 in London, Swedish natural philosopher and mystic theologian Emanuel Swedenborg published De Telluribus in Mundo nostro Solari (Earths in our solar system), a treatise on the plurality of worlds and life on other planets. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these topics formed a heterogenous literary genre which encompassed theology, astronomy, philosophy and satire. In De Telluribus, Swedenborg made detailed claims of communication with extraterrestrial spirits in the afterlife, through which he sought to spread his theology to new audiences. The paper will explore the role of De Telluribus in Swedenborg's career, explain its content and analyse its polarized reception. It will show that De Telluribus combined for the first time the literary codes of two popular genres during the period, namely those concerning the plurality of worlds and the dialogues of the dead. By doing so, the paper revises current scholarly understanding of Swedenborg by showcasing him as a versatile yet ill-fated recombiner of literary genres. More broadly, the paper will shed light upon previously unnoticed eighteenth-century literary interactions along with a wider overview on the reception of themes such as the plurality of worlds, mysticism and satire in Scandinavia and Germany.
This book examines the origins and early development of private mental health-care in England, showing that the current spectacle of commercially-based participation in key elements of service provision is no new phenomenon. In 1815, about seventy per cent of people institutionalised because of insanity were being kept in private ‘madhouses’. The opening four chapters detail the emergence of these madhouses and demonstrate their increasing presence in London and across the country during the long eighteenth century. Subsequent chapters deal with specific aspects in greater depth - the insane patients themselves, their characteristics, and the circumstances surrounding admissions; the madhouse proprietors, their business activities, personal attributes and professional qualifications or lack of them; changing treatment practices and the principles that informed them. Finally, the book explores conditions within the madhouses, which ranged from the relatively enlightened to the seriously defective, and reveals the experiences, concerns and protests of their many critics.
This paper focuses on an eighteenth-century ‘wrongful confinement’ narrative exploring the ways in which appeal to emotion within it allows the author to countervail the label of madness conferred upon him through his incarceration. Alexander Cruden's (1699–1770) pamphlet The London Citizen Exceedingly Injured appeared in 1739 in response to the ‘barbarous’ treatment he experienced while confined in a private madhouse. Cruden's narrative has been discussed as a text that helps recover patients' voices in the history of madness. However, attention has been paid mostly to the evidential manner in which Cruden attempts to prove his sanity and the wrongfulness of his confinement. The present analysis contends that appeal to emotion is the most significant factor that helps Cruden reclaim sanity. It shows that emotional expression in Cruden's text helps mediate suffering that centres on cruelty and humiliation rather than physical harm. More than that, this emphasis on suffering as humiliation and indignity is a calculated act that appeals to compassion and identifies the author as a member of an emotional community that values it. This alignment with the culturally sanctioned emotion of compassion, it is argued, is the most effective way of reclaiming sanity in a social context.
Based on thousands of letters written by patients and their relatives and on a wide range of other sources, this book provides the first comprehensive account of how early modern people understood, experienced and dealt with common diseases and how they dealt with them on a day-to-day basis.
This chapter looks from an early modernist's perspective at some of the major questions and methodological issues that writing the history of patients in the ancient world shares with similar work on Patientengeschichte in medieval and early modern Europe. It addresses, in particular, the problem of finding adequate sources that give access to the patients' experience of illness and medicine and highlights the potential as well as the limitations of using physicians' case histories for that purpose. It discusses the doctor-patient relationship as it emerges from these sources, and the impact of the patient's point of view on learned medical theory and practice. In conclusion, it pleads for a cautious and nuanced approach to the controversial issue of retrospective diagnosis, recommending that historians consistently ask in which contexts and in what way the application of modern diagnostic labels to pre-modern accounts of illness can truly contribute to a better historical understanding rather than distort it.
The Patient’s Turn Roy Porter and Psychiatry’s Tales, Thirty Years on - Volume 60 Issue 1 - Alexandra Bacopoulos-Viau, Aude Fauvel