The First Private Asylum

asylumSnippets 117. Exactly two hundred years ago today, the first ever private mental health hospital in the USA was opened, in Philadelphia, The Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason. According to Robert Waln, writing in An Account of the Asylum for the Insane (1825), the organisation was forward-thinking from its inception concerning the treatment of patients, with great attention paid to “the personal comfort of the patients”. Here, for example, is his account of how well the patients were being fed:

The diet of the patients is of course regulated by their peculiar symptoms. Those who can be entrusted with the management of their own appetite, being about two-thirds of the whole number, assemble at meal-time in the refectory, and eat together. It is then only that the male and female patients meet, and are seated on different sides of the tables. Their food is of the most wholesome and substantial kind, and such as may be found on the tables of the middle class of society, and of respectable boarding houses. The board of the farmer, though wealthy, does not equal it. There are no meagre-days, — no days set apart for meat; nor is there fixed food on fixed days of the week. Breakfast is served in summer about six, in winter between seven and eight o’clock; it consists of coffee, superfine wheat bread and butter, fish or meat, and potatoes; or, for those who prefer them, boiled milk and bread. The dinner bell sounds throughout the year at meridian. Fresh beef, veal, mutton, or pork, with a great variety of vegetables, according to the season, and occasionally salt meat, followed daily by pies or puddings, constitute this repast. It is seldom, as it is the case in the Friends’ Asylum, that we see on the tables of similar institutions, the most choice pieces of meat, and such vegetables as asparagus, cauliflowers, green-peas, tomatoes, egg-plants, &c.: yet even these are as common here as on the tables of the rich. Supper takes place in summer at seven, in winter at five o’clock; and consists of tea, bread and milk, sometimes chocolate, wheat bread, and pickles, varied occasionally with mush, and cakes of different kinds. No spirituous, or fermented liquors are allowed. Soon after dark all the patients are secured in their respective chambers excepting those convalescents who enjoy the liberty of the grounds, and who remain with the family until their usual hour of retiring to rest, which is nine o’clock. The superintendent and his family, and during a part of the year, the managers who weekly inspect the institution, eat at the same table. There is no distinct table for any part of the family whatever. This course is highly gratifying to the feelings of the patients: they find themselves, in a degree, placed upon an equality, with those who are labouring for their restoration, and who, if rarely seen, and then only in the character of superiors, they would fear, but not love. Their almost uniform exemplary and quiet conduct during meals, is the best pledge of the respect and affection which violent means can never impress on the maniac, and which kindness, sympathy, and benevolence, only can excite.

Posted in 19th Century, Books, History, Inspiration, People, Snippets, USA | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Versailles Train Crash

versaillesSnippets 116.  Exactly 175 years ago today a tragic rail accident occurred between Versailles and Paris, on 8th May 1842. A locomotive broke an axle and derailed, causing the carriages behind to crash into it and catch fire. Astonishingly, it was standard practice to lock carriage doors with the passengers inside at the time, so many people were trapped and of the 770 passengers somewhere between 52 and 200 tragically died. This was at the time the worst rail disaster the world had ever seen.

In his Notes on Railroad Accidents (1879), Charles Francis Adams described the events of the day, and also how the disaster gave the French people pause for thought about whether rail travel, still in its infancy, was the right path for the country to take, or whether they should return to more traditional means of travel. But, as always, it is very hard to stop progress.

It was the birthday of the king, Louis Philippe, and, in accordance with the usual practice, the occasion had been celebrated at Versailles by a great display of the fountains. At half past five o’clock these had stopped playing, and a general rush ensued for the trains then about to leave for Paris. That which went by the road along the left bank of the Seine was densely crowded, and so long that two locomotives were required to draw it. As it was moving at a high rate of speed between Bellevue and Meudon, the axle of the foremost of these two locomotives broke, letting the body of the engine drop to the ground. It instantly stopped, and the second locomotive was then driven by its impetus on top of the first, crushing its engineer and fireman, while the contents of both the fire-boxes were scattered over the roadway and among the debris. Three carriages crowded with passengers were then piled on top of this burning mass and there crushed together into each other. The doors of these carriages were locked, as was then and indeed is still the custom in Europe, and it so chanced that they had all been newly painted. They blazed up like pine kindlings.

Some of the carriages were so shattered that a portion of those in them were enabled to extricate themselves, but the very much larger number were held fast; and of these such as were not so fortunate as to be crushed to death in the first shock perished hopelessly in the flames before the eyes of a throng of lookers-on impotent to aid…

It is not easy now to conceive the excitement and dismay which this catastrophe caused throughout France. The railroad was at once associated in the minds of an excitable people with novel forms of imminent death. France had at best been laggard enough in its adoption of the new invention, and now it seemed for a time as if the Versailles disaster was to operate as a barrier in the way of all further railroad development. Persons availed themselves of the steam roads already constructed as rarely as possible, and then in fear and trembling, while steps were taken to substitute horse for steam power on other roads then in process of construction.

Posted in 19th Century, Books, History, Snippets, Travel | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Votes for Women

Lillie Devereux Blake

Lillie Devereux Blake

Snippets 115. In the previous snippet we looked at a quote from Jonathan and His Continent by Max O’Rell. Although he is one of my favourite ‘forgotten’ authors, a travel writer whose books are funny and readable, despite now all being well over 100 years old, sometimes his comments can seem abhorrent to a modern reader. Times have changed since 1889, and the subject of women’s rights is a prime example.

In a country where woman is a spoilt child, petted, and made so much of, who can do and dare almost anything, it is strange to find women who are not content with their lot, but demand the complete emancipation of their sex.

American women asking for complete emancipation! It makes one smile.

I was talking one evening with Mrs. Devereux Blake, the chief of the movement. (She is a lady middle-aged, well-preserved, of a fluent, agreeable conversation, who has declared war to the knife against the tyrant Man.)

“You must excuse me,” I said to her, “if I ask questions; I am anxious to learn. I have submitted so many times to the interviewing process in your country, that I feel as if I had a right to interview the Americans a little in my turn. The American woman appears to me ungrateful not to be satisfied with her lot. She seems to rule the roast in the United States.”

“No,” replied Mrs. Blake, “she does not; but she ought.”

“But she certainly does,” I insisted.

“De facto, yes; but de jure, no.”

“What do you want more?”

“The right to make laws.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“The right of voting for candidates for Congress, and even the right to a seat in the House of Representatives.”

“This appears to me a little too exacting, and almost unfair,” I observed timidly.” You probably already make your husbands vote as you please: if, added to this, you are going to throw your own votes into the electoral urn, it means the extinction of man, neither more nor less; and, as Leon Gozlan said, ‘it is perhaps as well that there should be two sexes, for some time longer at all events.’ My dear lady, you are spoilt children, and spoilt children are never satisfied.”

I felt a little out of place in this energetic lady’s drawing-room, almost like a wolf in the fold.

By the time O’Rell wrote this, women did in fact have the right to vote in a few areas of the USA, and this was a trend that would continue, with women gaining the vote in Colorado in 1893, four years after the publication of the book, and then Idaho in 1896. But it would be another couple of decades before women were able to vote throughout the whole of the USA. Writer and suffragist Lillie Devereux Blake did much to further the cause of women’s rights in areas such as immigration, pensions and schooling, but sadly died in 1913, seven years before her dream of votes for women throughout the USA came to pass.

You can read an article about another of Max O’Rell’s books here: Journals 5 – A Frenchman in America.  The link will take you to the first part of the article.  Others can be found by scrolling from one article to the next using the arrows, or can be easily accessed from the contents page (link under the banner above).

Posted in 19th Century, 20th Century, Books, History, People, Politics, Snippets, Travel, USA | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Annoying Buskers

punchPick of Punch 12. This area of the blog offers a selection of entertaining quotes from Punch magazine. The following is from 7th April 1866, and offers a stark illustration of class attitudes in the 19th Century, in particular the editor’s response. The original article contains some racist language, which I have removed from the quote below.

“Sir, Mr. Punch,

“Travellers all, of every station” (as Mr. Balfe sings), and I may add, at every station, as naturally turn to you in the hour of their distress,as they do in the hour of their joy. Hear a melancholy tale.

The scene is the North London Railway. On Monday last, I got in at Stepney… that I might go to Highbury. I suppose there is no harm in going to Highbury. Whenever, as the Scotch say, but I mean as soon as the train was in motion, a lad struck up a tune on a fiddle, and played three or four old airs very hurriedly and very badly, handed round his cap, and got out at the first station we came to, to get into another carriage and repeat the nuisance. Several city gentlemen complained most lustily against such unwelcome visitors. I thought we were lucky to have got rid of him so quickly…

When at last a train did come, I found I had got into a carriage where there was a man with a melancholy accordion. He played it, Sir, and begged. Do you like accordions, Sir? It happens that I don’t. Do you like beggars, Sir? I don’t.

Well, Sir, the next day, going in an opposite direction on the same line, I had to change my seat three times to avoid the same wretch, with the same instrument of torture. Again I found myself on the Dalston Junction Platform, where the previous days’ entertainment was varied by having… a little boy and girl, aged about five and six respectively, with a whistle and some other instrument. Anything more horrible than the noise they made, I cannot conceive. It must have been instantly fatal to any quantity of old cows…

Pray, Mr. Punch, suggest a remedy for our miseries, and believe me, Your attached admirer,

A Citizen with Nerves.”

[Does our Correspondent mean to say that the above atrocities were perpetrated in first-class carriages? If not, the subject has slight interest for the Duke of Punch and his aristocratic readers. But, if such were the case, we advise that the matter be brought before Parliament on its reassembling. Is it for this that Railway Tyranny is permitted to ride rough-shod over the British hearth? Meantime, have “City Gentlemen” no toes to their boots, and have carriages no doors for the ejection of tormentors?]

Posted in 19th Century, Britain, History, Magazines, People, Pick of Punch, Punch, Punch Magazine, Travel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Marrying for Money

Max O'Rell

Max O’Rell

Snippets 114. One of my favourite ‘forgotten’ authors is Max O’Rell, a travel writer whose books are funny and readable, despite now all being well over 100 years old. His 1889 book, Jonathan and his Continent, tackled the subject of American life and customs. The following quote illustrates his distaste at what he viewed as the American habit of young women marrying very old men for money.

That passion for rich marriages, which burns in the heart of so many young American women, often leads to disastrous results.

If one may trust one’s eyes, American law allows young girls to marry their grandfathers, or at least the contemporaries of those worthies.

It is not rare, I may say it is quite common, to see girls of eighteen and twenty married to men of seventy and over.

As a Frenchman, I know it scarcely becomes me to throw the first stone at my neighbour for this: France is admittedly a country where mariages de convenance are common. Still, I must say the difference is enormous. In France, it is the parents who are to blame, and not the girls. They try to secure for their daughters what they are pleased to call a position; whilst, in America, it is the young girl herself who chooses her husband: she alone is responsible for this crime against Cupid’s laws…

The young American, indulged and petted by her father, counts that an old husband will be more likely to put up with her caprices, and gratify all her whims, than a young man whose fortune was not made. “A young husband,” she says to herself, “is all very fine; but there is my father, who does just what I please; I am pretty, and have hosts of men to tell me so every day; I am free to go where I like and receive whom I like; I spend as much as I like: shall I exchange all this for a husband, who will hamper me with a household and perhaps a large family; who will talk of stocks, and perhaps preach economy; who will bore me with the prices of grain or cotton-seed oil, and give me the headache with listening to his politics and heaven knows what? No, no; I will take a husband who will think of nothing but satisfying my caprices.” Perhaps she adds, in her wisdom: “A man of seventy or eighty I shall not have to put up with very long.”

An American told me that he once went a long journey in the same railway carriage with an infirm, hoary old man of eighty, who was accompanied by a girl of scarce more than twenty. This young woman was strikingly beautiful. My American friend admitted to me that the sight of her lovely face had the effect of making him fall quite in love with her before their five days’ journey was over. He did not have an opportunity of conversing with her; but on arriving at their destination, he resolved to put up at the same hotel as the old man, so as to perhaps have a chance of making more ample acquaintance with his fair charge. To find out the name of the young girl and her venerable grandfather, he waited to sign his name in the hotel register until the patriarch had inscribed his own. Imagine his feelings when he read:

“Mr. X. and wife.”

Here is a joke that I culled from a Washington paper. Is it a joke?

“A bachelor lately advertised for a wife. A typographical error changed his age from 37 to 87; but it made no difference, for he received over 250 applications, from ladies ranging in age from 16 to 60, and all promising love and devotion to the rest of his existence.”

You can read an article about another of Max O’Rell’s books here: Journals 5 – A Frenchman in America.  The link will take you to the first part of the article.  Others can be found by scrolling from one article to the next using the arrows, or can be easily accessed from the contents page (link under the banner above).

Posted in 19th Century, Books, History, People, Snippets, Travel, USA | Tagged | Leave a comment

Shrieking Engines

punchPick of Punch 11. This area of the blog offers a selection of interesting quotes from Punch magazine. The following is from 10th March 1866, and is an excerpt from a report on the week in Parliament, concerning the dangers posed by railways.

Lord Westmeath actually made a sensible little speech, complaining of the now recognised practice of running over people in the streets. He declared that “the majority of what were called accidents were murders, caused by the recklessness and heartlessness of persons who did not care a button for the lives of others, provided their own trumpery traffic went on.” But Lord Westmeath, as a legislator, should know that the Saxon spirit of our laws has always held property as more valuable than human life. What signifies the killing a few people compared to the early delivery of goods by railway van?…

Mr. Lyster O’Beirne asked, very reasonably, whether the Board of Trade would do nothing to obviate the danger to which persons on horseback and in carriages are exposed by the railway-engines which now run shrieking across thoroughfares and terrifying horses. Mr. Milner Gibson replied that if the authorities complained, the Board would act, but that private persons had no right to complain of being smashed. Never mind, gentlemen Railwaymen, Juries will take notice of such answers, and, we trust, continue to give Howling Damages whenever an action is brought for the slaughter of such contemptible creatures as private individuals. The Jury Box is our only protection against you.

Posted in 19th Century, Britain, Crime, History, Magazines, Pick of Punch, Politics, Punch, Punch Magazine, Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Gravity? Hocus-Pocus.

punchSnippets 113.  In Snippets 21 and 46 we looked at some of William Carpenter’s One Hundred Proofs that the Earth is not a Globe (published 1885). Amusingly, most of his ‘proofs’ can be explained away by Carpenter ignoring two simple facts: (1) the Earth is actually quite big, and (2) gravity.

Taking his inspiration from Carpenter (in fact, he quotes him extensively), David Wardlaw Scott wrote a much larger and more detailed book, Terra Firma: The Earth not a Planet, Proved from Scripture, Reason and Fact, in 1901. It is 300 pages of (perhaps deliberate) misunderstanding of basic scientific principles, such as the following quote that argues against the existence of gravity itself:

If Gravitation in the vast body of our Astronomers’ Sun were a reality, why does it not attract, or even, as it might be expected to do, absorb such a light body as a Comet, when it comes so near it, instead of letting its long gossamer tail depart unscathed?…

The truth is no Astronomer on Earth, nor anybody else, knows one single fact respecting Gravitation, which is an unknown and an unknowable quantity, and the sooner it is committed to the grave of oblivion, the more scope will be given for the advancement of true science.

Any object which is heavier than the air, and which is unsupported, has a natural tendency to fall by its own weight. Newton’s famous apple at Woolsthorpe, or any other apple when ripe, loses hold of its stalk, and, being heavier than the air, drops as a matter of necessity, to the ground, totally irrespective of any attraction of the Earth. For, if such attraction existed, why does not the Earth attract the rising smoke which is not nearly so heavy as the apple? The answer is simple — because the smoke is lighter than the air, and, therefore, does not fall but ascends. Gravitation is only a subterfuge, employed by Newton in his attempt to prove that the Earth revolves round the Sun, and the quicker it is relegated to the tomb of all the Capulets, the better will it be for all classes of society…

Gravitation is a clever illustration of the art of hocus-pocus — heads I win, tails you lose; Newton won his fame, and the people lost their senses.

On a lighter note, Scott offers the following quote from Punch:

To the Editor of Punch,

Allow me to call your serious and polite attention to the extraordinary phenomenon demonstrating the rotation of the Earth, which I at the present moment experience, and you yourself or anybody else, I have not the slightest doubt, would be satisfied of under similar circumstances. Some sceptical individuals may doubt that the Earth’s motion is visible, but I say, from personal observation, it is a positive fact. I don’t care about latitude or longitude, or a vibratory pendulum, revolving round the line of a tangent on a spherical surface, nor axes, nor apsides, nor anything of the sort. That is all rubbish. All I know is that I see the ceiling of this coffee-room going round. I perceive this distinctly with the naked eye — only my sight has been sharpened by a slight stimulant. I write after my sixth go of brandy and water, whereof witness my hand.


If you enjoyed this “snippet” please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

Posted in 20th Century, Books, History, Humor, Humour, Magazines, Snippets | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments