Thomas Cooper, a merry, upper-educated intellectual called “a learned and talented mapcap” by none other than John Adams, wrote from his secure chair at South Carolina College a translation of a rather individual effort in explaining insanity’s connection with moral outrages. The work, published in Columbia (South Carolina) is called On Irritation and Insanity ... to which are added Two Tracts on Materialism, and an outline of the Association of Ideas, was written by Francis Joseph Victor Broussais (1772-1838) and introduced an unusual, foreign approach to the connection between sanity and malevolence. Brousssais’ work may not have required such attention.
He wrote, for example:
"The causes of this morbid state consist always in irritation of the trisplanchnic apparatus, and especially in that of the stomach, acting on the brain. [Italics mine] This last viscus, may be such, by its normal constitution, as to give a propensity to cruelty ; but in the morbid state it is a sense of uneasiness perceived through the whole splanchnic apparatus, comprehending the brain itself, which renders ideas of murder predominant in spite of reason. This horrible perversion may be considered, as well as that of suicide, as a species of chronic anger or hatred, which impels the individual sometimes against himself, sometimes against other men or against inanimate objects. We have already considered it under a subacute form in furious mania ; but in the modification in which we now describe it, it is entirely chronic and apyretic. In fact it may be extremely obstinate, and conceal itself under the appearances of calm, of joy, of benevolence, until the lunatic finds the opportunity of executing his horrible project."
I can see these words being written by candle light.
- Full text via Google books, here: https://tinyurl.com/ocyezpb
James Cowle Prittchard early on dispensed with M. Broussais, writing in his A Treatise on Insanity and Other Disorders Affecting the Mind (published by Haswell, Barrington, and Haswell in 1837, just six years after the Cooper translation) states:
“Such is M. Broussais' theory of these phenomena. It must be allowed that various irritations, and especially those in the digestive organs, often give rise to irritability of temper; but that any such state as that .which M. Broussais has described is a cause, and even the principal cause, of moral insanity, and in particular of that intense excitement of malevolent propensity which leads to murder and suicide, is a position which, before it can be admitted, requires proof; and no such proof has been afforded by the ingenious writer who has advanced this hypothesis. It must be confessed that this subject is as yet enveloped in obscurity.”
As it turns out Broussais recommended courses of bleeding, diet, soothing drinks, applications of cold and mild purgatives to treat insanity. This went somewhat against the established regimen of treatment (but of different philosophical and theoretical approach to the idea of insanity) of Benjamin Rush, who practiced all of the above but of harsher application and with more force. Broussais at least advocated a more temperate approach to bleeding, that it not be "severe", and that the strength of the insane not be completely diluted by massive exposures to dunking and the cold. The translator Cooper, however, disagreed with the milder treatments, establishing for the record that the hotter and harsher temperatures of the South required harsher and colder treatment. From page vi of Cooper's [reface we read: “The Southern climate of the United States , seems to require more bold and decisive practice, than the Northern climate of Paris or London : then, to us, the therapeutics of Broussais, Begin, Coster, &c. appear feeble; but the principles, founded on the physiology and pathology of the tissues, are undeniable and universally applicable.”
Such was the spirit of the day. Broussais is not even a shadow, today: he tried to establish a connection between gastrointestinal distresses and insanity, and that was seen as futile even by immediate contemporaries. Cooper survives because of his far reach into many disciplines--his treatment of Broussais, well, is memorable for his appeal to treat the insane differently in courts of law because of what he viewed as their diminished capacities.