Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/35

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23
EPIDEMIC DELUSIONS.

scarcely avoid giving way to it; and even when the subject of stammering was talked about, when the idea was conveyed to their minds, they would begin to hesitate and stutter, unless they put a very strong control upon themselves. It is just in this way, then, only in the most exaggerated form, that these persons were afflicted with what was called the dancing mania. They would allow themselves to be possessed with the idea that they must dance; and this dancing went on, bands going from town to town, and taking in any who would join them. Instances are recorded in which they would go on for twenty-four or thirty-six hours, continually dancing and jumping and exerting themselves in the most violent manner, taking no food all this time, until at last they dropped on the ground almost lifeless; and in fact several persons, it is said, did die from pure exhaustion, and this just because they were possessed with the idea that they must dance. They were drawn in, as it were, by the contagion of example; and, when once they had given way to it, they did not seem to know when to stop. This was kept up by music and by the encouragement and excitement of the crowd around; and it spread among classes of persons who (it might be supposed) would have had more power of self-restraint, and would not have joined such unseemly exhibitions. The extraordinary capacity, as it were, for enduring physical pain, was one of the most curious parts of this condition. They would frequently ask to be struck violently; would sometimes lie down, and beg persons to come and thump and beat them with great force. They seemed to enjoy this.—In another case that I might mention this was shown still more. The case was of a similar type, but was connected more distinctly with the religious idea, and it occurred much more recently. The case was that known in medical history as the Convulsionnaires of St.-Médard. There was a cemetery in Paris in which a great saint had been interred, and some young women visiting his tomb had been thrown into a convulsive attack which propagated itself extensively; and these convulsionnaires spreading the contagion, as it were, into different classes of French society, one being seized after another till the number became very great in all grades. Here, again, one of the most curious things was the delight they seemed to take in what would induce in other persons the most violent physical suffering. There was an organized band of attendants, who went about with clubs, and violently beat them. This was called the grand secours, which was administered to those who were subject to these convulsive attacks. You would suppose that these violent blows with the clubs would do great mischief to the bodies of these people; but they only seemed to allay their suffering.

This, then, is another instance of the mode in which this tendency to strange actions under the dominance of a particular idea will spread through a community. Here you have the direct operation of the perverted mind upon the body. But there are a great many cases in