A narrative of the treatment experienced by a gentleman, during a state of mental derangement; designed to explain the causes and the nature of insanity, and to expose the injudicious conduct pursued towards many unfortunate sufferers under that calamity by John Perceval Published 1838 and 1840

Extracts from the anonymous 1838 book

Perceval/Bateson Chapter 1: p.2

In the year 1830, I was unfortunately deprived of the use of reason. This calamity befel me about Christmas. I was then in Dublin. The Almighty allowed my mind to become a ruin under sickness - delusions of a religious nature, and treatment contrary to nature. My soul survived that ruin. As I was a victim at first, in part to the ignorance or want of thought of my physician, so I was consigned afterwards to the control of other medical men, whose habitual cruelty, and worse than ignorance charlatanism became the severest part of my most severe scourge. I suffered great cruelties, accompanied with much wrong and insult; first, during my confinement, when in a state of childish imbecility in the year 1831; secondly, during my recovery from that state, between November, 1831, and May,. 1833; thirdly, during the remainder of the year 1832, and the year 1833, when I considered myself to be of sane mind. Having been under the care of four lunatic doctors, whose systems of treatment differ widely from each otherhaving conversed with two others, and having lived in company with Lunatics, observing their manners, and reflecting on my own, I deem that alone sufficient excuse for setting forth my griefs and theirs, before men of understanding, to whom I desire to be supposed addressing myself, and for obtruding upon them more of my personal history than might otherwise be prudent or becoming. Because I wish to stir up an intelligent and active sympathy, in behalf of the most wretched, the most oppressed, the only helpless of mankind, by proving with how much needless tyranny they are treated - and this in mockery by men who pretend indeed their cure, but who are, in reality, their tormentors and destroyers.

We turned to the left through some gates by a porter's lodge, a few miles on the road to London, and we drove up to a door of a house on the right hand side; we alighted, and I was ushered into a small room on the left hand side of the passage, and shortly after a young man came in, and then an old man, a very old man. I do not recollect being introduced to either. My brother went out and came in again. A man servant came and occupied himself in taking away the portmanteaus, and in laying the cloth for my dinner, he afterwards waited on me; He had a black coat on, and my spirits told me his name was ZACHARY GIBBS. All was in a mystery to me; only I understood that on certain conditions I was to go home, which was all I desired, whilst on certain other conditions I was to be left here. The spirits told me this.

After the meat, a raspberry tartlet or two were brought to table; they appeared to be very large, clean, and beautiful, and I was told they were sent to me from heavenly places; that I was to refuse them; that they were sent to try me; that if I refused them I should be doing my duty, and my brother would take me to E__. The same humour came on me to eat them all the quicker, under the idea that they had given me nothing but slops and physic for a fortnight or more, and now, if they are such fools as to bring me up into heavenly places, I'll make the best of it. My brother again went out, and I did not see him enter any more; this pained me exceedingly; I thought he would at least have bid me adieu; but the spirits told me that he was so disgusted at seeing me eating the tarts, when he knew that if I could only have refused one I should have been allowed by the Almighty to return to my mother and family, and that I knew it, that he had resolved to leave me without bidding adieu, and had given me up into the hands of the Almighty. I imagine now that his abrupt departure was preconcerted for fear of any opposition on my part.

Well, my brother went, and I was left amongst strangers.

If I had had any introduction to Dr F. at least I was unconscious of it. I was left to account for my position in that asylum, for I was in Dr F.'s asylum, to the working of my own, and be it recollected, a lunatic imagination?

My spirits told me that I was in the house of an old friend of my father's, where certain duties were expected of me, that I knew what those duties were, but I pretended ignorance because I was afraid of the malice and persecution of the world in performing them. I persisted nevertheless in inwardly maintaining my ignorance and in divining what could be the meaning of these words. What ensued the evening my brother went away I do not recollect. I went to bed in a small, narrow, disconsolate looking room with stuccoed floor, over part of which was a carpet, bare white walls, a fire place and fire in the corner, on the right hand side by the window: the window opposite the door, the sill about the height of a man's waist, white window blinds, a table, a wash-hand-stand and a few chairs: on the left hand side, two beds, occupying more than one third the breadth of the room, the one nearest the window with white bed hangings on a slight iron frame, the other nearer the door, made on the floor or very low: on this my attendant slept.

I was put to bed with my arms fastened. Either that night or the next, the heavy leathern cases were taken off my arms, to my great delight, and replaced by a straight waistcoat. The night brought to me my usual torments, but I slept during part of it sounder and better than before. In the morning I recollect observing a book of manuscript prayers, and a prayer book or bible bound in blue morocco; the impression on my feelings was very dreary, and as if I had been imprisoned for a crime or for debt; but I was occupied as usual with the agony of mind occasioned by the incomprehensible commands, injunctions, insinuations, threats, taunts, insults, sarcasms, and pathetic appeals of the voices round me. Soon after I awoke, Zachary Gibbs made his appearance with a basin of tea and some bread and butter cut in small square pieces, about the size of those prepared for the holy sacrament. He staid in my room by my bed side, whilst I eat my breakfast.

I was not now aware that I was lunatic, nor did I admit this idea until the end of the year. I knew that I was prevented from discharging my duties to my Creator and to mankind, by some misunderstanding on my part; for which, on the authority of my spiritual accusers, I considered that I was wilfully guilty; racking my mind at the same time to divine their meaning. I imagined now that I was placed in this new position as a place of trial, that it might be seen whether I would persist in my malignant, or cowardly, or sluggish disobedience to the last. I imagined at the same time, that I was placed here "to be taught of the spirits," that is, (for they all spoke in different keys, tones, and measures, imitating usually the voices of relations or friends,) to learn what was the nature of each spirit that spoke to me, whether a spirit of fun, of humour, of sincerity, of honesty, of honour, of hypocrisy, of perfect obedience, or what not, and to acquire knowledge to answer to the suggestions or arguments of each, as they in turn addressed me, or to choose which I would obey.

For instance, whilst eating my breakfast, different spirits assailed me, trying me. One said, eat a piece of bread for my sake, &c., &c.; another at the same time would say, refuse it for my sake, or, refuse that piece for my sake and take that; others, in like manner, would direct me to take or refuse my tea. I could seldom refuse one, without disobeying the other; and to add to my disturbance of mind, at these unusual phenomena, and at the grief of mind_and at times alarm, I appeared to feel at disobeying any, Zachary Gibbs stood by my bed-side observing me in a new character. I understood that he was now no longer Zachary Gibbs, but a spiritual body called HERMINET HERBERT, the personification, in fact, of that spirit which had attended me in Dublin, so intimately united with my Saviour; indeed in my mind almost identified with Jesus.

I understood that as a seal to the information I now received from my spirits, he had put on a nankeen jacket, in order by that colour to remind me of the dream, in which the Holy Ghost, who was his mother, had appeared to me, promising never to desert me. That he knew all my thoughts, and all I was inspired to do, and could not be deceived. He had come to aid me; but that at the same time, to prove my faith, that he would act as if he were a man in plain circumstances, if he saw I doubted.

Whilst therefore I was hesitating about each morsel I put into my mouth, he stood by, encouraging me to eat, and pressing me to finish my breakfast, or he would leave me and come back, saying, "What! have'nt you done yet?" Persuaded that he knew and commanded what was going on in my mind, I did not believe his encouragements sincere; but intended also to try me. I could not stand the ridicule I met with from my spirits, or to which I exposed myself in reality: I forced my conscience, wounding my spirits; teased, tormented, twitted, frightened, at times I was made to dupe my spirits by humor. Thus, it appeared to me that, whilst standing on the very threshold of heaven, eternal hell yawned at my feet; through my stupidity and impatience.

For about three mornings, my breakfast was brought to me in this manner; after breakfast, I was dressed, and for two or three days taken down to a small square parlour, with two windows opposite the entrance, looking over some leads into a court, thence over a garden to a flat country terminated by hills, about two or three miles off. The windows had iron Venetian blinds before them; looking through them, I saw snow on the leads; I was still under the impression that this was the effect of a dismal winter sent upon my country for my disobedience. There was a round mirror between the windows; in the left-hand side of the room, an iron fire-place with a fire in it. At the bottom of the grate, over the arch under which the cinders fall, a hideous face and mouth appeared moulded in the iron. At the end of the year, when I examined it again, I saw my eyes also had been deluded, unless the grate had been changed, for the ornament was a basket of flowers, not a face. Besides this, there was a horsehair sofa opposite the windows, against the wall; some chairs and a table; also a table against the wall in the centre of the room.

When I came into the room, there was a mild old rheumatic man there, who had on a white apron. He was of low stature, and in countenance resembling my father very strongly. My spirits informed me it was my father, who had been raised from the dead, in order, if possible, to assist in saving my soul. He was also in a spiritual body. Every thing in short, had been done to save me by quickening my affections, in order to overcome my torpor, and ingratitude, and fear of man. The chairs in the room, resembling those I had seen when a child in my father's dining-room; the very trees in the distance, resembling others in the prospect round my mother's house; almost all that I saw had been brought by the Almighty power, or infinite goodness of the Lord, and placed around me to quicken my feelings! If a man can imagine realizing these ideas, in any degree, awake, he may imagine what were my sufferings.

I asked now what I was to do. There was a newspaper lying on the table, but I could not read it, because, before I had been taken unwell in Dublin, when looking for guidance from the Holy Spirit, I had been diverted from reading the papers, except here and there, as if it were unwholesome to the mind. I thought it ungrateful now to have recourse to them for amusement, and for that reason, or "by that reply," in the language of my invisible companions, I decided my resolution, without quite satisfying them. What was I to do? I was told it was necessary to do something "to keep my heart to my head, and my head to my heart," to prevent "my going into a wrong state of mind," phrases used to me. I was told, at length, to "waltz round the table, and see what I should see." I did that_nothing came of it. My attendant requested me to be quiet; at last, my dinner was brought. I had, if I recollect accurately, two dinners in this room_one was of a kind of forced meat; the other had bacon with it: both meals were very light, and although I did not refuse them, I recollect feeling that I could have eaten something more substantial, and also being nauseated at the forced meat and bacon, which, I considered, could not be exactly wholesome for me. My dinner in this room was served on a tray, with a napkin, silver forks, decanters, &c. &c., and in these respects, such as was fitting for a gentleman.

Unfortunately, the second day I think after my entrance into this asylum, having no books, no occupation, nothing to do but to look out of window, or read the newspaper, I was again excited by my spirits to waltz round the room; in doing this, or at a future period, I caught the reflection of my countenance in the mirror, I was shocked and stood still; my countenance looked round and unmeaning: I cried to myself, "Ichabod! my glory has departed from me," then I said to myself, what a A Narrative of the Treatment Experienced by a Gentleman 101 hypocrite I look like! So far I was in a right state of mind; but the next thought was, "how shall I set about to destroy my hypocrisy;" then I became again lunatic. Then I resumed my waltzing, and being directed to do so, I took hold of my old attendant to waltz with him; but at last, deeming that absurd, and finding him refuse, the spirits said, "then wrestle with him if you will." I asked him to wrestle; he refused. I understood this was to try me if I was sincere; I seized him to force him to wrestle; he became alarmed; an old patient in the asylum passing by the door, hearing a struggle, entered, and assisted in putting me into a straight waistcoat: I was forced down on the sofa. He apologized to me for it many months after, saying it was in the afternoon, when all the other assistants were out walking with their respective patients.

Thus commenced my second ruin; and the history of an awful course of sufferings and cruelties, which terminated in my recovery from my delusions about the beginning of the next year, and was followed by my confinement as a madman, for nearly two years in a sound state of mind; because I entered into dispute with my family on their conduct to me, and the nature of my treatment, determined to bring them to account at law, for the warning of others, and to satisfy my excited sense of wrong. I can no longer, after arriving at this period of my trials, call Dr F_'s house by any other name than that it deserves, mad-house, for to call that, or any like that, an asylum, is cruel mockery and revolting duplicity!

I have already stated, that when I came to this house, I did not know that I was insane. And my insanity appears to me to have differed in one respect from that of many other patients; that I was not actuated by impression or feeling, but misled by audible inspiration, or visible, rather than sensible guidance of my limbs. To the voices I heard, and to these guidances, I surrendered up my judgment, or what remained to me of judgment, fearing that I should be disobeying the word of God, if I did not do so. When I first came to Dr F_'s madhouse, my health was somewhat restored, my mind somewhat confirmed; yet my attendant informed me at the close of the year, I looked so ill when my brother left me, that he thought I could not live. I was like a child in thought and will, so far as my feeling were directed to those around me. I knew no malice, no vice. I imagined that they loved me, and were all deeply interested in the salvation of my soul, and I imagined too that I loved them dearly. Yet I wrestled with the keepers, and offered to do so with others, and struck many hard blows; sometimes, as one informed me, making it difficult for three strong men to control me, yet whenever I did this, I was commanded to do so. I was told that they knew I was commanded, that they wished me to do so, to prove my faith and courage, but that they were commanded to prove both till they were satisfied of my sincerity. I may safely say, that for nine entire months, if not for the whole of the period of my confinement in Dr F_'s charge, I never spoke, hardly acted, and hardly thought, but by inspiration or guidance, and yet I suppose that never was there any one who so completely contradicted the will of the Almighty, or the desires of those around him, and I could not help laughing now at the delusions which made me constantly choose that conduct which was most disagreeable and terrifying to my doctor and his keepers, as in the reality the most agreeable to them, if I were not overcome by a sense of the cruel state of abandonment and exposure to their malice and ignorance in which I was left. After being fastened in the straight waistcoat, I was taken down stairs to a long saloon or parlour, to the left of the little parlour I had been as yet confined to, and on the ground floor. There was a long table in the middle of the room, allowing space to pass round it, a fire on the left hand side, and a glass bow window and door at the further end. I was fastened in a niche on a painted wooden seat between the fire and the glass window, in the curve in the wall forming the bow at the end of the room; another niche opposite to me was occupied by a trembling grey headed old man; there were several other strange looking personages on the chairs about the room, and passing occasionally through the glass window door which looked out in the same direction as the windows of the room I had quitted, into a small court yard. I think I hear the door jarring now, as they slammed it to and fro. I marvelled at my position; my spirits told me that I was now in a mad-house, and I was told that it only remained for me to pray for the inmates, that they might be restored to their senses, and that they should be restored, but that I must then forego certain advantages. I attempted to pray, though I did not quite believe that I was in a mad-house, being unconscious of my own melancholy state, or imagining that I was placed there for convenience, not from necessity. There was an appearance of wretchedness and disorder amongst my associates, and I felt happy to be taken up to my bed-room after tea had been served in the evening. The next morning my breakfast was brought to me as before in bed. I was dressed up stairs, and Herminet Herbert conducted me down to the seat I occupied the night before. There was an appearance of more cleanliness, order, and composure in the persons of the wretched individuals around me. Now I was told by my spirits that my prayer had been heard, that they had been restored to a sound state of mind, that they were in consequence among the redeemed of the Lord and knew that I had prayed for them, that they had in their turn desired to be allowed to remain with me one year as guides to me, and as a species of jury, to wait until I became obedient to the Almighty, and to judge me whether I was sincere in my difficulties or not; this delusion lasted for more than six months with this difference, that sometimes I conceived it my duty to recognize in their persons, relations, and friends, sometimes ministers and officers of the king.

* * *

Perceval/Bateson Chapter 14: p.71

The next morning after my entrance into the lunatics' common room, I observed three men, apparently servants or attendants of the gentlemen there. One was Herminet Herbert, whom in a black coat I was to address as Zachary Gibbs, and who I was afterwards told, on seeing him in a blue coat, was Samuel Hobbs; but under all these appearances he was one and the same Jesus. I used to call him Herminet Herbert, the simple and Jesus Christ. He was a short, active, fair, witty, clever man. The other was a tall, spare, aquiline nosed gawky man, from Devonshire, like a groom. The voices told me to call him at times Herminet Herbert Scott, at times, Sincerity; at times, Marshall; that was his name. The third was a stout, jovial, powerful man, like a labourer. The voices told me he was Herminet Herbert, the simple, God Almighty, and that I was to call him SIMPLICITY; his name was Poole. Besides this, a very stout, powerful dark man, like a coach-man, with a very small voice and gentle manners, was occasionally occupied in attending on me and other patients. I called him by order Herminet Herbert the Holy Ghost, or Kill-all. I understood these were incarnations or manifestations of the Trinity. A stout benevolent old gentleman, a lunatic, who was dressed in a suit of blue, and had been handsome, was I was informed, the Lord Jehovah, supremely omnipotent, the trinity in unity, who had taken upon himself the form of an old writing master who used to teach me when a child, and whose name was Waldony, by which name, and by that of Benevolence, I was at times desired to address him. Likewise I understood Herminet Herbert Scott, or Marshall, to be a favourite servant of my Father's, who had lived in our family at Hampstead, and had been raised from the dead with my father and my eldest sister to attend on me. And Herminet Herbert the simple, or Samuel Hobbs, I was told had lived in my mother's family after my father's death, and had been very fond of me and my brothers, and familiar with us; that my brothers had known at the time that he was Jesus, but that I had not; that during an illness I had had when young, he had wrestled with me in the school-room, it being necessary for my health, and he had come now in hopes of winning me to wrestle with him again, which was continually enjoined to me for the salvation of my soul, and the keeping me in a right state of mind. Several persons about the asylum, I was told, were my father, Dr F, a Dr L., and two aged keepers, one of whom I called Honesty; the other, my real father, because he most resembled him. Now, when I did not recognize any of these facts or any of these people, I was told it was on account of my ingratitude and my cowardice. That I feared to acknowledge objects as they were, because then I knew I must prepare to endure my awful torments.

Now all these persons, and each person around me, wore a triple character, according to each of which I was in turns to address them. Samuel Hobbs, for example, was at times to be worshipped in the character of Jesus, at times to be treated familiarly as Herminet Herbert, a spiritual body, at times to be dealt with as plain Samuel Hobbs. The stout old patient was at times knelt to as the Lord Jehovah; at times he was Mr. Waldony, a spiritual body; at times a gentleman. So with the rest: and these changes took place so instantaneously, that I was completely puzzled as to my deportment towards them. I saw individuals and members of the family of Dr F_, approach me in great beauty, and in obedience to a voice, my inclinations sprang forward to salute them, when in an instant, their appearance changed, and another command made me hesitate and draw back. In the same manner, when books, pencils, pens, or any occupation was presented to me, I turned from one page and one object, to another, and back again, usually ending in a fit of exasperation and inward indignation, against the guidance that so perplexed me.

* * *

Perceval/Bateson Chapter 22: p.118

Now with regard to my treatment, I have to make at first two general observations, which apply, I am afraid, too extensively to every system of management yet employed towards persons in my condition. First, the suspicion and the fact of my being incapable of reasoning correctly, or deranged in understanding, justified apparently every person who came near me, in dealing with me also in a manner contrary to reason and contrary to nature. These are strong words; but in the minutest instances I can, alas! prove them true. Secondly, my being likely to attack the rights of others gave these individuals license, in every respect, to trample upon mine. My being incapable of feeling, and of defending myself, was construed into a reason for giving full play to this license. Instead of my understanding being addressed and enlightened, and of my path being made as clear and plain as possible, in consideration of my confusion, I was committed, in really difficult and mysterious circumstances, calculated of themselves to confound my mind, even if in a sane state, to unknown and untried hands; and I was placed amongst strangers, without introduction, explanation, or exhortation. Instead of great scrupulousness being observed in depriving me of any liberty or privilege, and of the exercise of so much choice and judgment as might be conceded to me with safety;_on the just ground, that for the safety of society my most valuable rights were already taken away, on every occasion, in every dispute, in every argument, the assumed premise immediately acted upon was, that I was to yield, my desires were to be set aside, my few remaining privileges to be infringed upon, for the convenience of others. Yet I was in a state of mind not likely to acknowledge even the justice of my confinement, and in a state of defencelessness calculated to make me suspicious, and jealous of any further invasion of my natural and social rights; but this was a matter that never entered into their consideration.

Against this system of downright oppression, enforced with sycophantish adulation and affected pity by the doctor, adopted blindly by the credulity of relations, and submitted to by the patients with meek stupidity, or vainly resisted by natural but hopeless violence, I had to fight my way for two years, wringing from my friends a gradual but tardy assent to the most urgent expostulations: not from the physicians; their law is the same for all qualities and dispositions, and their maxim to clutch and hold fast. The first step adopted towards me by my friend, Captain_ _, in Dublin, was injudicious and indelicate. If I had been incoherent, I had hitherto only rendered myself ridiculous; and if, by one act, I had run the risk of injuring my person, it was also evident that I had relinquished my purpose at the request of his family. I trace my ruin to the particular trials, to the surprise, the confusion, the puzzle, which the sudden intrusion of a keeper brought upon me. But at that time, unfortunately, I did not consider my dignity so much as my relationship to the Almighty, as his redeemed servant, bound in gratitude, and from self-abasement, to exercise forbearance and humility. If it be replied, My ruin might have been brought about another way; I answer, I do not know what might have been, but I know what did take place.

The first symptoms of my derangement were, that I gazed silently on the medical men who came to me, and resolutely persisted in acts apparently dangerous. No doubt there were also symptoms of bodily fever. But from that moment to the end of my confinement, men acted as though my body, soul, and spirit were fairly given up to their control, to work their mischief and folly upon. My silence, I suppose, gave consent. I mean, that I was never told, such and such things we are going to do; we think it advisable to administer such and such medicine, in this or that manner; I was never asked, Do you want any thing! do you wish for, prefer any thing? have you any objection to this or to that? I was fastened down in bed; a meagre diet was ordered for me; this and medicine forced down my throat, or in the contrary direction; my will, my wishes, my repugnances, my habits, my delicacy, my inclinations, my necessities, were not once consulted, I may say, thought of. I did not find the respect paid usually even to a child.

Extracts from the 1840 book


They can be meek that have no other cause :
A wretched soul, bruised with adversity,
We bid be quiet, when we hear it cry.
But were we burdened with like weight of pain.
As much or more, we should ourselves complain,


The desire of the author of the present work is threefold : -

By showing how inadequate and deficient are the means provided by law for the protection of insane patients under confinement, and for the rescue of persons who may be unjustly confined - he hopes to procure a reform of the law so that persons who are oppressed by lunatic doctors, or by their relations from mistake or otherwise, may be able speedily to obtain security and to recover damages, by proceedings under the common or statute law.

By describing the brutal and preposterous treatment to which he saw others and to which be was himself subjected under difierent lunatic doctors - he hopes to obtain a reform in the management of lunatic asylums.

By detailing and explaining bis sufferings, and his complaints, and his difficulties - he hopes to teach the wretched and affectionate relations of a deranged person what may be his necessities and how to conduct themselves toward him, so that they may avoid the errors which were unfortunately committed by the author's own family.

His publication will probably be condemned by three classes of persons.

First, by those who doubt the author's testimony ; to them he disdains to reply ; but he may be able to give them references to other gentlemen who, having suffered in similar distress, outrages similar to those which he describes bear amazed and indignant witness against them; and he can point moreover to a gentleman of the name of Paternoster, who being undoubtedly of sound mind was flung into confinement, in Dr. Finch's, now Dr. Philp's mad- house, at Kensington where within six weeks he suffered indignities, and witnessed barbarities as great as, and greater than those which are described in this narrative.

The second class are those who being of infirm understanding can believe what the author describes to be true, but do not suffer it to have any effect upon them ; they will give credence to his report but refuse to allow it to operate upon their imaginations in all its dreadful reality.

The third class are those who, receiving the facts recorded in these pages and admitting their weight, still may suppose that they are not geperal and, at any rate conceive that this is not the right way of obtaining redress.

To these he replies that Dr. Fox and Mr, C. Newington have both been lauded to the skies, as two of the humanest, cleverest and most benevolent lunatic doctors breathing ; and their asylums and their systems have been trumpeted forth as examples of the most perfect treatment of lunatic patients in England. The author cannot help exclaiming - Ex optimis discite pessimos [Learn from the best of the worst]. Moreover, since his confinement, he has corresponded with several gentlemen, and has seen also communications in the newspapers, from different sources, and heard the report of an inquiry before a committee of the House of Commons, from which he is fully convinced that he is justified (though he himself did not need that justification) in the conclusion he had come to, from the knowledge he has acquired by experience and from the history of human nature, that these abominations must be general.

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