Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/30

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companies it, predispose very greatly indeed to the violent excitement of the feelings, and to the possession of the mind by ideas which we regard as essentially absurd; and under these states of excitement of feeling, and the tendency of these dominant ideas to acquire possession of the intellect, the strangest aberrations take place, not only in individuals but in communities; and it is of such that I have especially to speak to-night. We know perfectly well, in our individual experience, that these states tend to produce insanity if they are indulged in, and if the individual does not make an earnest effort to free himself from their influence. But, looking back at the history of the earlier ages, and carrying that survey down to the present time, we have experience in all ages of great masses of people being seized upon by these dominant ideas, accompanied with the excitement of some passion or strong impulse which leads to the most absurd results; and it is of these Epidemic Delusions I have to now speak. The word "epidemic" simply means something that falls upon, as it were, the great mass of the people—a delusion which affects the popular mind. And I believe that I can best introduce the subject to you by showing you how, in certain merely physical conditions, mere bodily states, there is a tendency to the propagation, by what is commonly called imitation, of very strange actions of the nervous system. I suppose there is no one of you who does not know what an hysteric fit means, a kind of fit to which young women are especially subject, but which affects the male sex also. One reason why young women are particularly subject to it is, that in the female the feelings are more easily excited, while the male generally has a less mobile nervous system, his feelings being less easily moved, while he is more influenced by the intellect. These hysteric fits are generally brought on by something that strongly affects the feelings. Now, it often happens that a case of this sort presents itself in a school or nunnery, sometimes in a factory where a number of young women are collected together; one being seized with a fit, others will go off in a fit of a very similar kind. There was an instance a good many years ago in a factory in a country town in Lancashire, in which a young girl was attacked with a violent convulsive fit, brought on by alarm, consequent upon one of her companions, a factory operative, putting a mouse down inside her dress. The girl had a particular antipathy to mice, and the sudden shock threw her into a violent fit. Some of the other girls who were near very soon passed off into a similar fit; and then there got to be a notion that these fits were produced by some emanations from a bale of cotton; and the consequence was that they spread, till scores of the young women were attacked day after day with these violent fits. The medical man who was called in saw at once what the state of things was; he assured them in the first place that this was all nonsense about the cotton; and he brought a remedy, in the second place, which was a very appropriate one under the circumstance—namely,