Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/34

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and encouraged it, until at last various moral irregularities grew up, of a kind that made the Pope think it a very undesirable thing, and it was then put down by ecclesiastical authority; yet it was still practised in secret for some time longer, so that it is said that even until the beginning of the last century there were small bands of flagellants in Italy, who used to meet for this self-mortification.

That was one form in which a dominant idea took possession of the mind and led to actions which might be called voluntary, for they were done under this impression, that such self-mortification was an acceptable offering. But there were other cases in which the action of the body seemed to be in a very great degree involuntary, just about as involuntary as an hysteric fit, and yet in which it was performed under a very distinct idea; such was what was called the "Dancing Mania," which followed upon this great plague. This dancing mania seemed in the first instance to seize upon persons who had a tendency to that complaint which we now know as St. Vitus's dance—St. Vitus was, in fact, the patron saint of these dancers. St. Vitus's dance, or chorea, in the moderate form in which we now know it, is simply this, that there is a tendency to jerking movements of the body, these movements sometimes going on independently of all voluntary action, and sometimes accompanying any attempt at voluntary movement; so that the body of a person may be entirely at rest until he desires to execute some ordinary movement, such as lifting his hand to his head to feed himself, or getting up to walk; then, when the impulse is given to execute a voluntary movement, instead of the muscles obeying the will, the movement is complicated (as it were) with violent jerking actions, which show that there is quite an independent activity. The fact is, that stammering is a sort of chorea. We give the name of chorea to this kind of disturbance of the nervous system, and the action of stammering is a limited chorea—chorea limited to the muscles concerned in speech, when the person cannot regulate the muscles so as to bring out the words desired; the very strongest effort of his will cannot make the muscles obey him, but there is a jerking, irregular action every time he attempts to pronounce particular syllables. And the discipline that the stammerer has to undergo in order to cure or alleviate his complaint is just the kind of discipline I have spoken of so frequently—the fixing the attention on the object to be gained, and regularly exercising the nerves and muscles in proceeding from that which they can do to that which they find a difficulty in doing. That is an illustration of the simpler form of this want of definite control over the muscular apparatus, connected with a certain mental excitement; because every one knows that a stammerer is very much affected by the condition of his feelings at the time. If, for example, he is at all excited, or if he apprehends that he shall stammer, that is enough to produce it. I have known persons who never stammered in ordinary conversation, yet when in company with stammerers they could