Friday, 24 March 2017


Mr. J. Corbet, a recognised authority on insanity and kindred questions, contributes to The Arena a most interesting article on "Illustrious Lunatics," from which we quote the following extracts : —

At a moment when the grave sociological problem of the insane engages so much public attention and excites so much anxiety, and scientists and specialists are busy discussing the pros and cons on both sides, it may be interesting to bring to mind a few of the most remarkable personages who were either actually mad or whose mental deformity and moral depravity were such as to qualify them for place amongst the abnormal classes. At any rate, notwithstanding the "divinity" that, it is said, hedges kings, some plain speaking on the subject may have its uses.
 The verity of the aphorism expressed in the line " Great wits are sure to madness near allied," has many striking examples.
 One of the most remarkable instances of illustrious lunacy of a hereditary character in ancient times is that furnished by the family of the Cæsars. It would seem as if the insane taint originated with the great founder of the dynasty, who was afflicted with epilepsy, and, according to some writers, abandoned himself in his younger days to vice and intemperance. The youthful Caesar would have been more than mortal if he did not yield to the temptations by which he was surrounded on every side. He, moreover, when forced to fly from Rome, while yet in his teens, resided for a considerable time at the corrupt Court of Nicomedus, King of Bithynia, where immorality was rampant, and riotous living the rule.
 Cæsar's daughter Julia is said to have been a woman of the worst character. She had a son who was idiotic ; and several others of the immediate descendants and collateral branches of the family were hereditarily infected. It is unnecessary to go much further in this direction to show how moral brain-poisoning brought down the curse of insanity upon the Julian race, and how, even in the case of pagans, the sins of the parents were visited upon the children "to the third and fourth generation" and beyond.
 Alexander of Macedon furnishes another example of how the exercise of absolute power and the unrestrained indulgence of sensuality act upon the brain, destroy the faculty of self-control, harden the human heart, impair the understanding, and finally overthrow the reason. Numerous instances are recorded of Alexander's senseless savagery and bloodthirstiness. History credits him with sighing for more kingdoms to conquer, but his insanity was of the homicidal type, and his longing was not so much for more kingdoms to conquer as for more people to massacre. It is related of him that after the capture of Tyre he caused an immense number of persons, including non-combatants, to be put to death in cold blood. Nearly 20,000 inhabitants of Sangala were butchered by his orders after the city had surrendered, and his barbarities at the taking of Gaza were diabolical.
To come down to our own days, it is notorious that most of the Royal families of the present day have "the mad drop" in them—notably the Russian, German, Austrian, Danish, English, Portuguese, and Bavarian. The conservation and hereditary transmission of the insane taint in all these is assured by frequent consanguineous marriages. In fact, it may be said that all the Royalties of Europe are so married and intermarried amongst each other that there is considerable difficulty about fixing the degrees of relationship between their numerous members. Uncles, aunts, and cousins are jumbled up in a tangle that only the Herald's College could be expected to unravel. Those who are responsible for the making of such matrimonial alliances seem to ignore the fact that consanguineous marriages, especially where mental disturbance has already manifested itself on either side, are not only fraught with danger to posterity, but are certain to produce evil results, psychical or somatical The offspring of such marriages are rarely perfectly sound. If not mentally unbalanced they are not mentally vigorous, or else they are afflicted with physical imperfections, malformation of the limbs, scrofula, defective organs of speech, hearing, and the like.
 The Imperial House of Russia furnishes some examples.
 Ivan, called the Terrible, was nothing less than a violent lunatic. If an ordinary mortal he would undoubtedly have been shut up and ended his days in an asylum for the insane.
 Peter the Great was an epileptic, a drunkard, and a bloodthirsty tyrant. He left a legacy of all his evil qualities to his daughter Elizabeth, who was so dissolute and corrupt that her actions could only be accounted for by mental aberration, of which moral depravity was the outcome. So in the case of Catherine, generally known as the Great, who lead a life so shockingly debased, that, looking back on it from this distance, she also must be regarded as having been morally insane. Her son Paul, who succeeded her, became in the end a violent lunatic, and his subjects, wearied by his acts of cruelly and oppression, put him to death. His son and successor, Alexander, was, towards the end of his life, a victim of melancholia, and died in that state. Nicholas was of such an ungovernable temper that at times his frenzy amounted to temporary insanity. The mind of the late Emperor was supposed to be quite unhinged from fear of the Nihilists, and it is said his death was caused by his fears.
 The terrible tragedies in the Austrian and Bavarian Royal houses are so recent as to be within the memory of all. With regard to Bavaria, what the responsible statesmen could have been thinking about in allowing a madman like Louis II. to squander the substance of his people to the extent of millions upon licentious men and women, and in building palaces and castles in out of the way places, is inconceivable. 
 England also can supply many types and instances not only of hereditary ruthlessness and moral depravity in her sovereigns, but of insanity. The life of Henry VIII. was an uninterrupted career of crime, cruelty, lust, and murder. A gross sensualist and voluptuary ; his conduct towards his many queens, who he did not hesitate to put to death one after another when he grew tired of them, was such as to qualify him, if sane, for the hands of the executioner, and, if not, for a cell in a criminal lunatic asylum. His daughter, Elizabeth, despite her conspicuous abilities as a sovereign, showed clearly the hereditary taint. Her relations with men, and especially with Essex, and his subsequent fate, proved her to be "her father's own daughter," while her savagery in beheading the hapless Mary Queen of Scots, after keeping her in prison for twenty years, can only be attributed to the ruthless and sanguinary disposition inherited from her vicious and depraved parents.
 It is well known the Royal family of England is tainted on both sides. George I. and George II. drank to excess. There can do no doubt what ever their intemperance sowed the seeds which developed into positive insanity in George III.
 The mantle of the man-slayers, to whom reference have been already made, seems to have fallen upon the shoulders of another Eastern potentate, the modern lycanthrope, or wolfman, whose wholesale massacre of his own subjects have excited the horror and indignation of the whole world. It goes without saying that the army or fleet of any one of "the high contracting Powers," as they are pompously called, could stop the Imperial madman's career, and put him into a straight waistcoat at once. The only wonder is why they don't do it. The question may be asked, Is Abdul Hamid mad? Judged by his life, one of sensual excesses, and by his savage treatment of his Christian subjects, he is not only insane, but a criminal lunatic, qualified in every way to rank with the inhuman monsters of antiquity. Taking all these things into account, he may be set down as the most illustrious lunatic that has appeared upon earth from the days of Nero to the present time.

Burrowa News (NSW : 1874 - 1951), Friday 28 July 1899, page 1

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