Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/591

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573
MENTAL ASPECTS OF ORDINARY DISEASE.

the intellect becomes servile. It is usually shown by elderly people, who are utterly dependent on the bounty, and therefore on the will, of others. That such a condition of helpless submission should obtain under these circumstances, and especially in women, is readily to be conceived. The utter helplessness and entire abolition of self-confidence so induced have a most pernicious effect upon the mental processes; the intellect becomes restricted, and solely directed toward observing and accommodating themselves to the varying moods and passing caprices of those upon whom they depend. Chameleon-like, they change color with every new shade of opinion with which they come in contact, until at last they lose their individuality altogether. The mental condition of these unhappy beings is pitiable in the extreme; there is a paralysis of all volition. "Everywhere and ever, to be weak is to be miserable," and cunning is the only refuge of the feeble. This mental attitude is a matter of moment, and needs recognition when such persons become objects of medical care, and must be included in the formation of a prognosis; the mental instability and tendency to oscillate being very troublesome, and interfering with the working of every systematic plan. Under totally different circumstances, a similar brain-starvation is manifested by those persons who voluntarily cultivate a mental predisposition to religio-melancholia. Their aspirations, originally directed by their surroundings, are ultimately guided by an artificial substitute for the will which they in time develop. It is the psychical side of a question of which the physical side has been discussed before. The intellectual imbecility eventually reached under these circumstances is something pitiable. The intellect is prostrated before an irritable conscience, rendered morbidly sensitive by persistent self-introspection fostered by vigils, developed by fasting, and misdirected by a cramped and imperfect education. The influence exercised by this condition of intellectual enfeeblement also becomes practically important when any line of treatment has to be pursued, and especially so in that complex combination of dyspepsia and constipation to which such persons are so subject. With such persons, the plainest and simplest truths of the natural man seem to take on the aspect of most abstruse and difficult problems; the fullest explanations and clearest directions are insufficient to enable their enfeebled intellects to grasp the subject. Superstitious credulity displaces reasonable belief, and enervates the mind until it can evolve no healthful thought; the morbid activity of pseudo-religious sentiments induces such a palsy of the moral nature, that it becomes incapable of rising in revolt or of seeking to escape its intellectual thraldom.

In those who are exhausted and worn out by toil, either mental or physical, or both combined, but usually by strenuous bodily labor, united with petty mental anxieties and fretting, wearing thought, a condition of brain-degeneration is produced, which exercises much