Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/31

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19
EPIDEMIC DELUSIONS.

an electrical machine; and lie gave them some good violent shocks, which would do them no harm, assuring them that this would cure them. And cure them it did. There was not another attack afterward. I remember very well that when I was a student at Bristol, there was a ward in the hospital to which it was usual to send young servant-girls; for it was thought undesirable that these girls should be placed in the ward with women of a much lower class, especially the lower class of Irishwomen who inhabited one quarter of Bristol, as I believe there is an Irish quarter in Manchester. These girls were mostly respectable, well-conducted girls, and it was thought better that they should be kept together. Now, the result of this was that, if an hysteric fit took any one of them, the others would follow suit; and I remember perfectly well, when I happened to be a resident pupil, having to go and scold these girls well, threatening them with some very severe infliction. I forget what was threatened, perhaps it would be a shower-bath, for any one who went off into one of these fits. Now, here the cure is effected by a stronger emotion, the emotion of the dread of—we will not call it punishment—but of a curative measure; and this emotion overcame the tendency to what we commonly call imitation. It is the suggestion produced by the sight of one, that brings on the fit in another, where there is the predisposition to it. Now, I believe that in all these cases there is something wrong in the general health or in the nervous system; or the suggestion would not produce such results. Take the common teething-fits of children. We there see an exciting cause in the cutting of the teeth; the pressure of the tooth against the gum being the immediate cause of the production of convulsive action. But it will not do so in the healthy child. I feel sure that in every case where there is a teething-fit, of whatever kind, there is always some unhealthy condition of the nervous system—sometimes from bad food; more commonly from bad air. I have known many instances in which children had fits with every tooth that they cut, yet when sent into the country they had no recurrence of the fit. There must have been some predisposition, some unhealthy condition of the nervous system, to favor the exciting cause, which, acting upon this predisposition, brings out such very unpleasant results.

There are plenty of stories of this kind that I might relate to you. For instance, in nunneries it is not at all uncommon, from the secluded life, and the attention being fixed upon one subject, one particular set of ideas and feelings—the want of a healthy vent, so to speak, for the mental activity—that some particular odd propensity has developed itself. For instance, in one nunnery abroad, many years ago, one of the youngest nuns began to mew like a cat; and all the others, after a time, did the same. In another nunnery one began to bite, and the others were all affected with the propensity to bite. In one of these instances the mania was spreading like wild-fire through Germany, ex-