The Madhouse of Language: Writing and Reading Madness in the Eighteenth Century

The Madhouse of Language: Writing and Reading Madness in the Eighteenth Century

The Madhouse of Language: Writing and Reading Madness in the Eighteenth Century

The Madhouse of Language: Writing and Reading Madness in the Eighteenth Century

Synopsis

Language has always been used as a measure of social, ideological, and psychological contexts for the exploration of madness. The Madhouse of Language considers the relations between madness and language from the late seventeenth to early nineteenth centuries, focusing on the close analysis of both medical records and texts by mad writers. It presents a highly original account of the linguistic relations between madness and sanity, of the appropriation by sane writers of the forms of English, and of attempts by mad patients to gain access to the expressive potential of language.

Excerpt

In Letter xxvii of The Natural History of Selborne, Gilbert White recalls one of the human curiosities formerly to be seen in his village.

We had in this village more than twenty years ago an idiot-boy, whom I well remember, who, from a child, shewed a strong propensity to bees; they were his food, his amusement, his sole object. and as people of this cast have seldom more than one point in view, so this lad exerted all his few faculties on this one pursuit. in the winter he dosed away his time, within his father’s house, by the fireside, in a kind of torpid state, seldom departing from the chimney-corner; but in the summer he was all alert, and in quest of his game in the fields, and on sunny banks. Honey-bees, humble-bees, and wasps, were his prey wherever he found them: he had no apprehensions from their stings, but would seize them nudis manibus, and at once disarm them of their weapons, and suck their bodies for the sake of their honey-bags. Sometimes he would fill his bosom between his shirt and his skin with a number of these captives; and sometimes would confine them in bottles. He was a very merops apiaster, or bee-bird; and very injurious to men that kept bees; for he would slide into their bee-gardens, and, sitting down before the stools, would rap with his finger on the hives, and so take the bees as they came out. He has been known to overturn hives for the sake of honey, of which he was passionately fond. Where metheglin was making he would linger round the tubs and vessels, begging a draught of what he called bee-wine. As he ran about he used to make a humming noise with his lips, resembling the buzzing of bees. This lad was lean and sallow,

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