Chapter 7

It was a legal proceeding, in this village, that when any one was suspected of insanity, a commission of lunacy issued, and an enquiry was held to ascertain the fact. An inquisition was holden at this time on the body of a man, and it was the right of the defendant, when the evidence on the part of the commonwealth was closed, to be heard in his defence. On this occasion the accused person made use of his privilege.

The Madman's Defence

Fellow Citizens;

It is an awkward situation in which you see me placed, to be obliged to maintain that I am in my right mind, and not out of my senses. For even if I speak sense, you may attribute it to a lucid interval. It is not a difficult matter, to fix any imputation upon a man. It is only to follow it up, "Line upon line; precept upon precept; here a little and there a little." There is nothing but a man's own life, and a course of conduct, that can rebut the calumny. It is therefore in vain, to answer in gazettes, or to go out into the streets and call out falsehood. The more pains you take to defend yourself, the more it is fixed upon you. For the bulk of mankind are on the side of the calumniator, and would rather have a thing true than false. I believe there would be no better way, than for a man to join in, and slander himself, until the weight of obloquy, became so great, that the public would revolt, and from believing all, believe nothing. I have known this tried with success. But how can on rebut the imputation of madness? How disprove insanity? The highest excellence of understanding, and madness, like two ends of a right line, turned to a circle, are said to come together.

Nullum Magmun ingenium sine mensura dementiae.

Great wits to madness sure are near allied;
And thin partitions do their bounds divide.

Hence you will infer that I may appear rational, and quick of perception, and even just in judgment for a time, and yet be of a deranged intellect. What can I tell you but that it is the malice of my enemies, that have devised this reproach, in order to hinder my advancement in state affairs? It is true there are some things in my habit, and manner that may have given colour to the charge--singularities. But a man of study, and abstract thought, will have singularities. Henry Fielding's Parson Adams; and Doctor Orkborn in Mrs. D'Arbray's Camilla, are examples of this. A man of books will be abstract, or absent in conversation, sometimes in business.

A man of books, said the Foreman of the Jury! A scholar! Ah! You are a scholar, are you. Ah, ha; that is enough; we want no more. If you are not a madman, you must be a knave, and that comes to the same thing. Say, gentlemen, shall we find him guilty? What say you, is he mad?

1. Juryman; he seems to be a little cracked.
2. He does not appear to be right in his head.
3. I cannot think him in his right mind.
4. He is beside himself.
5. Crazy.
6. Out of his reason.
7. Deranged.
8. Insane.
9. Mad.
10. Stark mad.
11. As mad as a March hare.
12. Fit for Bedlam.

The court to whom the inquisition was returned, thought it a hard case, as there was no other evidence than his own confession of being addicted to books, and gave leave to move an arrest of judgment; and ordered him before themselves for examination.

You are a man of books--
A little so.
What books have you read?
History, Divinity.
What is the characteristic of history?
Of Novels?
Of metaphysics?
Of natural philosophy?
What is the best lesson in moral philosophy?
To expect no gratitude.
What is the best qualification of a politician?
The next best?
The next best?
Who serves the people best?
Not always him that pleases them most.

It seems to the Court, said the Chief Justice, that the man is not altogether mad. He appears rational in some of his answers. We shall advise upon it.

The madman being out upon bail, walked about seemingly disconsolate; and fell in with a philanthropic person, who endeavoured to console him. You may think yourself fortunate, said he, that the charge had not been that you were dead. You might have been tumbled into a coffin, and buried before you were aware. When a public clamour is once raised, there is no resisting it. People will have the thing to be so, lest there should be no news. For the stagnation of intelligence is equal to the want of breath. I will venture to say that in three days, were I to undertake it, I could have it believed that the soul had gone out of your body, and that you were a walking mummy. It is only to insist upon it, and spread it, and a part will be credited; at first, and finally the whole. Thank fortune that you are upon your feet upon the earth. You are not the first that have been buried alive. On opening a coffin, the corpse has been found turn'd upon its face. In a tomb it has been found out of the coffin, and laying where it had wandered, thinking to get out.

Good heavens! said the madman, this is enough to turn one's brain indeed. I begin to feel my head swimming. Is it possible that without the least foundation, such a proposition should come to be believed? Believed; ay; and people would be found to swear to it. You have no conception from how small beginnings great things arise.

Ingrediturque solo, & caput inter nubila condit.

You have seen a wood-pecker. It is astonishing how large a hole it makes with so small a beak. It is owing to successive impressions. Since common fame has begun with you, it is well that it has taken that turn; and made you only mad.

If that is the case, said the man of books, I ought to be reconciled. It might have been worse.

There has certainly been a great deal of vain learning in the world; and good natural sense had been undervalued. "Too much learning may make a man mad." It may give him a pride and vanity that unfits for the transaction of serious affairs. I would rather have a sober sedate man of common sense in public councils, than a visionary sciolist just from the academies. But solid science is ornamental, as well as useful in a government. Literary acquirements may be undervalued. A man may not be a scholar himself; but he may have a son that may.

"The child may rue that is unborn."

A check given to the love of letters. The offspring of a plain farmer may be a philosopher; a lawyer, a judge. Let not the simplest man therefore set light by literary studies. The bulk of our youths are sufficiently disposed to indolence of themselves. It requires all the incitement of honours and emoluments to trim the midnight lamp. The rivalship of the states ought to be in their public foundations; in producing men of letters. Popular distrust of them ought not to be promoted. The coxcomb; the macaroni springs up in the cities: The illiterate in the country village. Legal knowledge, and political learning, are the stamina of the constitution. The preservation of the constitution is the stability of the state.

Political studies ought to be the great object with the generous youth of a republic; not for the sake of place or profit; but for the sake of judging right, and preserving the constitution inviolate. Plutarch's lives is an admirable book for this purpose. I should like to see an edition of 10,000 volumes brought up in every state. Plutarch was a lover of virtue, and his reflections are favourable to all that is great and good amongst men.