09 November 2009

Neurology in John Bull

The hillarious article below was published in John Bull in 1843. It is a wonderful satire that also illustrates the often forgotten origins of neurology. The parenthetical expressions in the quoted extract are comments made by the anonymous editor. When read aloud, this essay can still induce great laughter.

Animal Magnetism
Many of our readers may not be aware of the various new and learned names which have been invented for this wondering-making science. Neurology, Neurypnology, Mesmerism, Hypnotism and Pathetism, are those at present most in vogue. Wishing to ingratiate ourselves with the fair to whom the marvellous is ever attractive, we were induced to dip into the Phreno-Magnet, or Mirror of Nature, and qualify ourselves by knowledge of the subject, for imparting to them, some new lights on their favourite study – and, verily, we have succeeded beyond our utmost expectation. From a sly glance or two, which, like the ladies, we have had time to take in the mirror, we have had the satisfaction to learn that when we cry in our cups, or happen to see double, we are not maudlin drunk, but only in the pathetic, or suffering from the effects of Mesmerism. An amusing instance of this is given so naively by a correspondent in the tenth number of the Phreno-Magnet, who rejoice, in the cacophonous cagnomen of pot-chit, that we are tempted to transcribe an extract from the account he gives of his own case, and consign it to immortality in the pages of Bull: -

“After a sublime preludio on the dignity of the science and the glory attendant on those master spirits of the age, whether amongst professional philosophers –persons ennobled by a long line of titled ancestry (whom can he have in his eye here?) – or in the middle or lower walks of life (evidently alluding to his own industrious calling, mender of soles), who have been fortunate enough to make discoveries in pathetism, he exclaims – But enough: I must proceed to experiments in pathetism, in the conducting of which I have been fortunate enough to escape the effects termed “Mesmeric”, excepting on one occasion. The sensations I then experienced I will endeavour to convey to your readers, with their accompanying circumstances, as some of them appear novel in their character. Being at a friend’s house to tea, and the room well filled for the purpose of witnessing some experiments on persons whom I have frequently operated on, after producing numerous manifestations, with some good recitations, original speeches, etc., others of the party wished to know what effect it might have on them; so several were tried, with but little success beyond producing coma, occupying, from first to last, about four hours; and I would observe that from the first commencement I was not in what may be termed prime order, but felt dull and heavy, with less animation than usual, which might in part arise from the following causes: - First, being the lion of the evening, each one embraced every opportunity of asking some question on the subject, both prior to and during the time of taking tea, as well as afterwards; and lastly neglecting to take a little stimulating aliment previous to commencing, which is my usual custom, if the experiments are likely to continue a long time, generally imparting a confidence and self command (Dutch courage?) requisite on such occasions. Therefore, towards the close I felt rather fatigued and sleepy, but having to walk upwards of a mile in company with some of my family, it went off; yet, on reaching home, and taking a glass of ale, sleep became almost over-powering, and I retired to bed shortly afterwards, and felt nothing different until the time of rising in the morning, when the eyes were with difficulty opened, and everything appeared dim, indistinct, and doubled. I washed the head all over with cold water, as usual, after a night’s rest – still the dimness of sight, confusing of ideas, continued. After breakfast I tried to read, but could make little of it. When I found that on closing one of the eyes, no matter which, I could see clearly and distinctly with the other (a valuable discovery for persons under certain circumstances!) this was some satisfaction, as I began to be afraid of losing the sight, as an acquaintance of mine (a pot-companion of Mr. Potchet no doubt) had done a few years ago, equally sudden and unexpectedly. However, one eye required a focus (query pocus or poculum?) four or five inches shorter than before, and the other about as much longer than usual; hence the indistinctness when rising both together. The brain still continued confused, dull and heavy, like that of a man have been sitting up all night and partaking too freely of intoxicating liquors. In the evening the lamps in the streets appeared double (this has happened to ourselves once or twice), groups of four or five making eight or ten etc. In fact, each eye appeared to be rigidly fixed in a straightforward gaze – (how graphic we see Mr. Potchit in our mind’s eye) – and in order to discern any fresh object with either one or the other, it was necessary to move the whole head. They did not produce a squint, but appeared glazed and fixed with inflexible rigidity, and thus a miserable day was spent; yet the next morning all became right, the muscles of the eye and eyelids relaxed, and “Richard was himself again!”"

John Bull (London, England), Saturday, November 11, 1843; pg. 717; Issue 1,196

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