JF Ptak Science Books Post 1712
This book--The Writing of the Insane, by George Mackenzie Brown, 1876-- seems remarkable to me for the attention paid to the creative products of the insane. I am not sure when the first of these efforts occurred, but it seems to my experience that 1876 is an early production date for such an undertaking. It also seems to be a very early identification of the "special talents" of some of the observed individuals, including in the text of the book two remarkable (and remarkably "modern" looking) pieces of what today might be considered Art Brut/Outsider Art.
The author is George Mackenzie Bacon (1836-1883), a doctor who took classes at Guys Hosptial and who had membership in the College of Surgeons in 1858.1 Bacon was the author of Primary Cancer of the Brain (1865) as well as an editing contributor of at least a dozen annual reports of the Committee of Visitors of the Cambridgeshire, Isle of Ely and Borough of Cambridge Pauper Lunatic Asylum (from 1869-1883 ro so). He definitely made improvements to the conditions of the inmates when he worked at Cambridegshire County Asylum (also known as Fulbourn Hospital, 1858-1992), where he provided those living there with more personal living space and patient-built work areas. This was certainly an interesting approach to take for the mentally ill, especially given the time and place.
But in his (scant) published works it seems that the Writing of the Insane must be his masterwork for at least being among the earliest books to serve as an archaeology of deeply-different and illustrated thought:
[Source and full text, here.]
This is certainly not a "celebration" of talent, but there are moments of recognition of such in the Writing of the Insane, which at the very least is a very early expose of the topic. One of the earliest books written by someone who was admittedly "insane" (and this is very different from the many books written by insane, or brilliant, or misunderstood, or "complex", or "different" author) came to us in 1846 by Green Grimes. thirty years before the Bacon work. In A Treatise on the Most Important Subject in the World: Simply to Say, Insanity...2 Grimes recounted his life at the Tennessee Hospital for the Insane, about which the blog Canton Asylum for Insane Indians writes: “There are other Medical books which treat on Insanity, but comparatively few to the population, and none written by an Insane man,”
1. There is scant personal information on Bacon available online. This data comes from the British Medical Journal, 3 March 1883, in an obituary on Bacon.
2. The full title is pretty full: A treatise on the most important subject in the world: simply to say, insanity: The only work of the kind in the United States, or, perhaps, in the known world, founded on general observation and truth. There are other medical books which treat on insanity, but comparatively few on the population, and none written by an insane man. This contains a short history of the author's case, giving the general causes which produced the disease on him individually, manner of treatment and termination. Giving the only treatment by which a cure may be effected, the manner of detecting the disease, and the duties of sane parents towards the insane offspring of their bodies; with some general remarks upon idiotism, the jurisprudence of insanity, suicide, &c
The American Journal of Insanity simply states that the 94-page book is "very curious".