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AMERICAN JOURNAL OF INSINIIY
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Beavey "Search oi Iruth," 1824, p. ,
MENTAL HEALING IN AMERICA.*
By I. WOODBRIDGE RILEY, Professor of Philosophy, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, N. Y. The history of mental healing in America falls into three periods: First, that of practice; second, that of perversion; third, that of revival. In this history the chief problem is to account for the neglect and decay of psycho-therapeutics in spite of the good start it had some one hundred and fifty years ago. Leaving out the peculiar religious faith healing sects like the Shakers, the Mormons and Restorationists, there were in general three schools who practiced drugless healing.
First and foremost were the Materialists of Philadelphia and the South. Followers of Hobbes and Hartley, of Darwin and Priestley, and consisting in the main of physicians, these pioneers emphasized the reciprocal influence of the physical and the psychical. As expressed by Provost Beasley, of the University of Pennsylvania, this meant that in every case in which there is performed an operation of the mind, there takes place, at the same time, a correspondent, correlative and consentient operation of the body. Next there were the Immaterialists of New England and the North. Followers of Cudworth and Norris, of Berkeley and Edwards, these philosophers emphasized the principles of pure reason at the expense of the principles of physiology. Aiming to live like disembodied spirits they sought to cure the ills of the flesh by subjective factors of control. Descendants of ascetic Puritans they attempted to live on supersensible realities. Especially prone to extremes were those who betook themselves to
* The annual address at the sixty-fifth annual meeting of the American Medico-Psychological Association, Atlantic City, June 1-4, 1909. * Beasley: “ Search of Truth,” 1824, p. 451.
Brook Farm, where, believing that the mind can create its own object, they neglected the cultivation of science for the cultivation of the self. Emerson himself said of this kind of Transcendentalism that it was the Saturnalia or excess of faith, wanting the restraining grace of common sense.
Given these two tendencies—eighteenth century materialism and nineteenth century idealism-into this wedge of diverging lines the occult mental healers thrust themselves. These were of two classes in so far as they leaned towards one or the other side, materialistic and idealistic. Among the former were the Mesmerists, the Phrenologists, the Electro-Biologists. Among the latter were the Spiritualists, the Christian Scientists, the New Thoughters. But as is often the case in the history of thought, where truth leads to perversion, prior to these occultists with their groundless pretensions and preposterous claims there were conservative men of science, who, like the academic successors of Mesmer, developed out of the magical beliefs of the day the real phenomena of hypnotism, hysteria and suggestion. Such in particular were the neglected colonial thinkers forming the materialistic school of Philadelphia and the South. Omitting for lack of space, Joseph Priestly, discoverer of oxygen and advocate of the homogeneity of man, his son-in-law and colleague, Thomas Cooper, of South Carolina, and Joseph Buchanan, of Kentucky, the remarkable teacher in the Transylvania Medical School,' we come to "the father of psychiatry in America."* It was Dr. Benjamin Rush,
. of Philadelphia, who was the first physician in the country to comprise psychology in the medical course. Addressing his first year students he said: “Diseases of the brain should be narrowly watched since they often produce discoveries of the secret powers of the mind; like convulsions of the earth, which throw up metals and precious stones, they would otherwise have been unknown for ever. But Rush's anticipations of modern psycho-therapeutics may best be seen in three of his more formal works. Following his introductory lecture of 1760 "On the Utility of a Knowledge
*Cf. chapters on these men in the writer's “ American Philosophy: The Early Schools,” 1907.
•W. Pepper: 'Tournal of the American Medical Association, April 26, 1890, p. 6, note 2.
* Purnell MS. in Medical and Chirurgical Faculty Library, Baltimore, Md.
of the Faculties and Operations of the Mind,” there appeared in 1786 his best known essay, the “Influence of Physical Causes upon the Moral Faculty.” Delivered before the American Philosophical Society, this essay contains the following striking passages :
"Do we observe a connection between the intellectual faculties and the degrees of consistency and firmness of the brain in infancy and childhood? The same connection has been observed between the strength as well as the progress of the moral faculty in children. Do we observe instances of a total want of memory, imagination, and judgment, either from an original defect in the stamina of the brain, or from the influence of physical causes? The same unnatural defect has been observed, and probably from the same causes, of a moral faculty. A nervous fever may cause the loss not only of memory but of the habit of veracity. The former is called amnesia, the latter unnamed malady will compel a woman, be she even in easy circumstances, to fill her pocket secretly with bread at the table of a friend.
"In venturing upon this untrodden ground the doctor confesses that he feels like Æneas when he was about to enter the gates of Avernus, but without a Sibyl to instruct him in the mysteries before him. He therefore begins with an attempt to supply the defects of nosological writers by naming the partial or weakened action of the moral faculty micronomia, its total absence anomia. But to name these derangements is not to explain them; they may be caused not only by madness, hysteria, and hypochondriasis, but also by all those states of the body which are accompanied by preternatural irritability, sensibility, torpor, stupor, or mobility of the nervous system. It is in vain to attack these accompanying vices, whether of the body or of the mind, with lectures upon morality. They are only to be cured by medicine and proper treatment. Thus the young woman, previously mentioned, that lost her habit of veracity by a nervous fever, recovered this virtue as soon as her system recovered its natural tone. Furthermore, it makes no difference whether the physical causes that are to be enumerated act upon the moral faculty through the medium of the senses, the passions and memory, or the imagination. Their action is equally certain whether they act as remote, predisposing, or occasional causes. For instance, the state of the weather has an unfriendly effect upon the moral sensibility, as seen in the gloomy November fogs of England; so does extreme hunger, as in the case of the Indians of this country who thus whet their appetite for that savage species of warfare peculiar to them. Again, the influence of association upon morals is strong. Suicide is often propagated by the newspapers and monstrous crimes by the publication of court proceedings. And as physical causes influence moral, so do they influence religious principles. Religious melancholy and madness will yield more readily to medicine than simply to polemical discourses or casuistical advice." S
*Cf. the writer's address on Benjamin Rush, read at a meeting of the Johns Hopkins Historical Club, December 10, 1906.