Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/81

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71
DISEASE OF THE BODY AS A MENTAL STIMULANT.

sible effects on the inmates of Hanwell, but to concentrate in one concise and complete vade mecum all the irrelevant twaddle of the ancient house of Dogberry. If Mr. Darwin survives this attack, he will at least know that the force of utter flabbiness can go no further. To the present generation he is a very Goliath of the Philistines; but, though the cranium of a catarrhine-ape may some day confute him, he is not to be annihilated in this off-hand fashion by the jawbone of an ass. — Examiner.  

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DISEASE OF THE BODY AS A MENTAL STIMULANT.

DURING special states of disease the mind sometimes develops faculties such as it does not possess when the body is in full health. Some of the abnormal qualities thus exhibited by the mind seem strikingly suggestive of the possible acquisition by the human race of similar powers under ordinary conditions. For this reason, though we fear there is no likelihood at present of any practical application of the knowledge we may obtain on this subject, it seems to us that there is considerable interest in examining the evidence afforded by the strange powers which the mind occasionally shows during diseases of the body, and especially during such diseases as are said, in unscientific but expressive language, to lower the tone of the nervous system.

We may begin by citing a case which seems exceedingly significant. Miss H. Martineau relates that a congenital idiot, who had lost his mother when he was less than two years old, when dying, "suddenly turned his head, looked bright and sensible, and exclaimed, in a tone never heard from him before, 'O my mother! how beautiful!' and sank down again — dead." Dr. Carpenter cites this as a case of abnormal memory, illustrating his thesis that the basis of recollection "may be laid at a very early period of life." But the story seems to contain a deeper meaning. The poor idiot not only recalled a long-past time, a face that he had not seen for years except in dreams, but he gained for a moment a degree of intelligence which he had not possessed when in health. The quality of his brain was such, it appears, that with the ordinary activity of the circulation, the ordinary vitality of the organ, mental action was uncertain and feeble; but when the circulation had all but ceased, when the nervous powers were all but prostrate, the feeble brain, though it may have become no stronger actually, became relatively stronger, in such sort that for the time being, a mere moment before dissolution, the idiot became an intelligent being.

A somewhat similar case is on record in which an insane person, during that stage of typhus fever in which sane persons are apt to become delirious, became perfectly sane and reasonable, his insanity re-