Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/522

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tendency probably existed; but where there was a conscious impulse toward the convulsions it could be restrained by most persons before it had been yielded to too long. Dr. Blythe had but little of the disorder in his church. He discountenanced the wild enthusiasm from the beginning, and threatened to have any one who became convulsed turned out-of-doors. The religious frenzy soon began to abate when the clergy set their faces against the stormy exercises. Rev. Joseph Lyle, on the second Sabbath in July, 1803, preached in his church a significant sermon on "Order." The congregation had come together expecting the usual displays of feeling; but though some were angered by his doctrines, and some strove to promote the confusion of intermingled exercises, only a few "fell," and, altogether, moderation triumphed. This was the first sermon preached against the fanaticism.

It is a remarkable fact that, notwithstanding the intensity and duration of this nervous disorder, no instance is recorded in which permanent insanity resulted from it. Such results were to have been expected; insanity is mentioned by Edwards as having attended the excitement in New England, and it may be that reason was dethroned in some whose cases have not become matters of history. In a few years, after a sounder public opinion began to assert itself, instances of the disorder had become rare, but it was many years before the epidemic entirely ceased.

As to its nature, there was but one opinion among medical men from the beginning. All referred it to a derangement of the nervous system. Dr. Felix Robertson, of Nashville, described the affection in his thesis, published in Philadelphia, in 1805, as a form of chorea. In some cases it took the form of that disease. In others it bore a stronger resemblance to epilepsy; while in a greater number it partook rather of the character of hysteria. It was eminently sympathetic in its nature, as has been so often remarked of these affections. The convulsions once started in a congregation spread quickly through it, until all the fit subjects were convulsed. Repetition greatly increased the proneness to the disorder, which was invited by the masses on the supposition that it was a true religious exercise.

These perverted muscular movements all come under the head of morbid reflex action. By the continued religious fervor, the central portions of the brain, the immediate seat of emotion and feeling, became inordinately excited. The impression, transmitted downward to the spinal cord, threw the muscles of voluntary motion into convulsions. Sensibility, which has its seat in the sensory ganglia, was generally annulled. When the hemispheres became involved, the subjects fell into a state of unconsciousness or coma. In this abnormal condition of the nervous centers, the bare recollection of the distressing scenes was sufficient in many cases to excite the convulsive movements. The former belong to sensori-motor actions; this last is an example of ideo-motor movement; instances of which are afforded by the act of