Thursday, April 03, 2008

The System of Dr. Addington and Professor Yoo 

During the spring of 20--, while on a tour through the extreme northern provinces of Virginia, our route led us within a few miles of a certain Maison Blanche or private mad-house, about which we had heard much in Washington from our medical friends. As we had never visited a place of the kind, we thought the opportunity too good to be lost.

We had heard, at Washington, that the institution of Monsieur Maillard was managed upon what is vulgarly termed the "system of soothing" -- that all punishments were avoided -- that even confinement was seldom resorted to -- that the patients, while secretly watched, were left much apparent liberty, and that most of them were permitted to roam about the house and grounds in the ordinary apparel of persons in right mind.

Monsieur Maillard was a portly, fine-looking gentleman of the old school, with a polished manner, and a certain air of gravity, dignity, and authority which was very impressive. He ushered us into a small and exceedingly neat parlor, containing, among other indications of refined taste, many books, drawings, pots of flowers, and musical instruments. A cheerful fire blazed upon the hearth as he poured us a glass of Clos de Vougeot. "I may state the system, then, in general terms, as one in which the patients were menages -- humored. We contradicted no fancies which entered the brains of the mad. On the contrary, we not only indulged but encouraged them; and many of our most permanent cures have been thus effected. There is no argument which so touches the feeble reason of the madman as the argumentum ad absurdum. We have had men, for example, who fancied themselves chickens. The cure was, to insist upon the thing as a fact -- to accuse the patient of stupidity in not sufficiently perceiving it to be a fact -- and thus to refuse him any other diet for a week than that which properly appertains to a chicken. In this manner a little corn and gravel were made to perform wonders."

"But was this species of acquiescence all?"

"By no means. We put much faith in amusements of a simple kind, such as music, dancing, gymnastic exercises generally, cards, certain classes of books, and so forth. We affected to treat each individual as if for some ordinary physical disorder, and the word 'lunacy' was never employed. A great point was to set each lunatic to guard the actions of all the others. To repose confidence in the understanding or discretion of a madman, is to gain him body and soul. In this way we were enabled to dispense with an expensive body of keepers."

"And you had no punishments of any kind?"


"How, then, were your patients dissuaded from breaking the rules of the Maison?"

"No institution can exist without a rigidly codified set of rules, and ours is no exception. But as I told you, the administration of the rules devolved upon the lunatics themselves. When one patient, in the grip of delirium, was driven to violate the edicts of the Maison -- to indulge, let us say, in an act of wanton violence against one of his fellows, by whom he had been wronged, or snubbed -- it was incumbent upon him to present his case to a third, impartial lunatic. If even one such person could be induced, upon hearing the particulars of the case, to give his consent, then the standing proscriptions against violence would be summarily waived, or adjudged inapplicable, so that our would-be assailant might undertake his barbarous rampage with full impunity."

"But one lunatic can always find another to ratify his manias. Are you not saying that, in essence, there were no constraints upon the conduct of your inmates?"

"That is the system we devised. Our patients found it a capital one of its kind."

"One in which an entire body of established law might be annulled, upon the fugitive whim of a single lunatic?"

"The laws of the Maison, the laws of man, the laws of God -- all subject to nullification, for what law can bind a lunatic?"

"But surely such a system must lead to anarchy, or worse. In your own experience -- during your control of this house -- have you had no practical reason to think such liberty hazardous in the case of a lunatic?"

"Here? -- in my own experience? -- why, I may say, yes. For example: -- no very long while ago, a singular circumstance occurred in this very house. The 'soothing system,' you know, was then in operation, and the patients were at large. They behaved remarkably well -- especially so, any one of sense might have known that some devilish scheme was brewing from that particular fact, that the fellows behaved so remarkably well. And, sure enough, one fine morning the keepers found themselves pinioned hand and foot, and thrown into the cells, where they were attended, as if they were the lunatics, by the lunatics themselves, who had usurped the offices of the keepers."

"You don't tell us so! We never heard of any thing so absurd in our life!"

"Fact -- it all came to pass by means of a stupid fellow -- a lunatic -- who, by some means, had taken it into his head that he had invented a better system of government than any ever heard of before -- of lunatic government, I mean. He wished to give his invention a trial, I suppose, and so he persuaded the rest of the patients to join him in a conspiracy for the overthrow of the reigning powers."

"But we presume a counter-revolution was soon effected. This condition of things could not have long existed. The country people in the neighborhood -- visitors coming to see the establishment -- would have given the alarm."

"There you are out. The head rebel was too cunning for that. He admitted no visitors at all -- with the exception, one day, of a very stupid-looking young gentleman of whom he had no reason to be afraid. He let him in to see the place -- just by way of variety, -- to have a little fun with him. As soon as he had gammoned him sufficiently, he let him out, and sent him about his business."

"And how long, then, did the madmen reign?"

"Oh, a very long time, indeed -- a month certainly -- how much longer I can't precisely say. In the meantime, the lunatics had a jolly season of it -- that you may swear. They doffed their own shabby clothes, and made free with the family wardrobe and jewels. The cellars of the chateau were well stocked with wine; and these madmen are just the devils that know how to drink it. They lived well, I can tell you."

Here our host's observations were cut short by a series of loud screams, or yells, from some portion of the main body of the chateau. They seemed to proceed from persons rapidly approaching.

"Gracious heavens!" we ejaculated -- "the lunatics have most undoubtedly broken loose."

"I very much fear it is so," replied Monsieur Maillard, now becoming excessively pale. He had scarcely finished the sentence, before loud shouts and imprecations were heard beneath the windows; and, immediately afterward, it became evident that some persons outside were endeavoring to gain entrance into the room.


Be sure to visit this space next week, when the astonishing secret of Monsieur Maillard will be revealed in the thrill-packed conclusion of "The System of Dr. Addington and Professor Yoo"!!

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