Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 12.djvu/34

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Conolly
Conolly
28

said to have been written in one evening in the intervals of conversation with his brother editors. The length of the article and the number of the extracts and references contained in it deprive it of any claim to this supposed merit. While living at Warwick, Conolly maintained his interest in the neighbouring town of Stratford-on-Avon, was chairman of a committee formed to restore the chancel of Stratford church, and was active in organising the successful opposition made by the inhabitants of that town to the removal of the dust of Shakespeare from its resting-place. About this period he co-operated with Hastings and Forbes in the foundation of a medical society which afterwards became well known as the British Medical Association. In 1838 he moved to Birmingham. In 1839 he was appointed resident physician to the Middlesex Asylum at Hanwell, then the largest institution of the kind in England. About a year previously he had competed unsuccessfully for the same post. Others had already laboured to introduce a humane and rational method of treating the insane. In France, Pinel was the first, in 1792 or 1793, to boldly advocate and practise the treatment of lunatics without chains and stripes. In this country the projection by William Tuke, in 1792, of the celebrated ‘Retreat’ at York, which was practically under his management although the property of the Society of Friends, inaugurated the new system. That institution was the first in Great Britain established not only with the avowed object of providing a place for the kindly care of the mentally afflicted, but one in which it was actually carried out. When Conolly entered on his labours, it had for more than a quarter of a century been known to the world through Samuel Tuke's ‘Description of the Retreat,’ and humane principles had begun to leaven the practice of asylum physicians. Dr. Charlesworth and Mr. Gardiner Hill, at the Lincoln Asylum, had even gone so far as to dispense altogether with instrumental, or, as it is called, mechanical restraint, in the management of their patients. Conolly warmly adopted the most advanced practice of his predecessors. He took charge of the Hanwell Asylum on 1 June 1839. From 21 Sept. of the same year every form of mechanical restraint was absolutely discontinued. The whole armoury of strait-waistcoats, straps, restraint-chairs, &c., was laid aside. The experiment became the subject of much discussion. It had never before been tried on so large a scale nor in any place where it could arouse much attention. Within the twelve years during which he was supreme at Hanwell a revolution was effected throughout the country in the management of the insane. The enthusiasm of Conolly overcame every difficulty. He adhered firmly to the principles he had laid down for himself, and by dint of intense earnestness, combined with very considerable eloquence, educated the public in an incredibly short space of time, and excited in minds akin to his own a fervour for reform which soon secured its universal triumph. Conolly was by no means original in the ideas to the execution and exposition of which he devoted the remainder of his life. He generously acknowledged his obligations to his predecessors, and always truly referred the reform in the treatment of the insane in England to the foundation of the York Retreat. He described himself as one of those ‘who followed in the path of William and Samuel Tuke,’ and spoke ‘gratefully of the extent of our debt to them.’ Their system differed from that of Gardiner Hill and Conolly merely in this, that they reduced restraint to the smallest point which they conceived compatible with the advantage and safety of the patient, without laying down any absolute and inflexible rule for all cases; while Conolly maintained positively that ‘there is no asylum in the world in which mechanical restraint may not be abolished not only with safety, but with incalculable advantage.’ Although this formula was probably too unqualified, a great work was undoubtedly accomplished by Conolly. He maintained that non-restraint was but one feature in his system. Its importance lay in the fact that it rendered possible, nay necessary, the entire adoption of a humane method of dealing with the insane. Yet non-restraint, if but one stone in the edifice, was the keystone. Indirectly science has gained by the reformed methods, for the study of insanity as a disease commenced when asylums ceased to be prisons; but the attitude taken up by Conolly in the matter was essentially an unscientific one. ‘Non-restraint’ was a shibboleth with him. Some of the best of his literary labour he unfortunately devoted to mere destructive criticism of the older system of asylum management. Though apt to entertain broad and enlightened views on medical subjects, he had little natural taste for merely medical work. He was rather a great administrator than a great physician. Minute investigation, patient research, or judicious weighing of evidence did not constitute his strength. His talents were literary more than scientific. He inherited some of the Irish peculiarities of ardent sentimentalism and fondness for the rhetorical in expression, though these were balanced by an extensive knowledge of