1st October

Varieties of Madness in France, 1665

after Sir John Lauder

One night we happened to discourse on madmen and the causes of madness. They told me of a man at Marseilles who believed himself the greatest king of the world, and that all the ships in the harbour, along with their wares, were his. Of another they said that he believed himself to be made of glass, and cried horridly if anyone came too close, for fear they would break him. His friends, on some doctor’s advice, took a great sandglass and smashed it over his head as he thus raged. When he saw the glass falling at his feet he cried more hideously than ever, that his head was broken in pieces. After he had calmed a little they desired him to consider that the glass was broken, but that he was not; and consequently that he was not glass. On this remonstrance he came to himself, admitting the truth of what they said.

We cannot forget a story from the bedlam in Paris. Two gentlemen came out of curiosity to see the madmen, but the keeper of the hospital having some business to attend could not take them round. Whereupon he instructed one of the inmates to accompany them, and show them all the madmen and the natures of their madness. This the man did, pointing out with remarkable knowledge one who was mad for love, another made witless through drunkenness, a third who was hypochondriac, and so on. At last, as they were about to leave, the inmate said, ‘Gentlemen, you have marvelled at the folly of many you have seen, but yonder is one more foolish than all the others, for that poor fellow believes himself to be the beloved apostle Saint John. Now I tell you that he is utterly wrong, and the reason I know this is that I am Saint Peter, and I never opened the gate of Heaven to him yet.’

The gentlemen were surprised to find their guide, so credible until that moment, so deeply deluded. They were informed that he was once a doctor in the college of Sorbonne, and had been reduced to that state through too much study. Which is a lesson indeed.

Reader: Tam Dean Burn
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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