Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 55.djvu/63

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53
INSANE CHARACTERS IN FICTION.

one nest. At the approach of an unfeathered biped the hen bird takes wing with a screech, and is apt to vanish for the rest of that day. The roosters are rarely seen, their glaring colors having faded into more protective shades of olive and brown, but at dawn of day their shrill reveille can be heard from afar in the heart of the pathless jungle woods.

[To be continued.]

 
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INSANE CHARACTERS IN FICTION AND THE DRAMA.
By Prof. CESARE LOMBROSO.

ONE of the things that most strikes one who compares the ancient theater, and even the theater of a few years ago, with the modern theater, is the enormous difference in the character of the personages, and particularly the curious frequency of insane as principal personages in the modern theater. We have come to such a point that one may be almost sure that in reading over a new play, by Ibsen, for example, he will find three or four insane personages in it, if the characters are not all so. These madmen have characteristics so particularized as to seem as if they might have been depicted by an alienist. If the protogenists are not mad, they are agitated by such violent and strange passions as the ordinary world never meets in life; which it therefore refuses to accept when they are described in a scientific book, but nevertheless receives them when it sees them in the scenes or meets them in the romances of the great modern novelists.

Ibsen, for example, has made a most exact picture of the progressive general paralysis which arises, precisely as he depicts it, in men of genius, of great mental activity, who have wasted their hereditary power in pleasures or excessive work; and there is in them both impulsiveness and want of will power, complete perversion of all the instincts, and mental confusion, alternating here and there with genial flashes; but he is wrong in accumulating in a single subject the maladies of a large number of diseased, and therefore exaggerating their eccentricities—as he exaggerates atavism and heredity of disease when he makes the morbid son repeat the same incoherent phrases as the father from whom he inherits his disorder used.

Just and true, however, is that other form of heredity under which from a father corrupted by licentious indulgence and by alcohol, and criminally vicious, is born, besides a paresic son, a lascivious and criminal daughter, who throws herself into prostitution at the first opportunity without any special cause.