Being Mad in Georgian England

In the Georgian age the insane came to be seen not as a threat to society but as its victims. Roy Porter shows however that, in treating the mad with greater compassion, contemporary practice was often to deny the voice of the spiritual.

What was it like to be mad in Georgian England? I shall worm my way into the skull gradually, beginning with the most familiar mask of madness, Bedlam. Bethlam Hospital, rebuilt in palatial manner at Moorfields in 1676, was for most Englishmen not just the epitome of insanity but their closest experience of it, for up to 100,000 people a year paid their penny to stare at and tease the inmates of this human zoo. What a camera and a tape recorder would have registered we can't know. What artists, men of letters and common ghouls memoralised were ingrained stereotypes. 'We turned in thro' another iron barricade', wrote Ned Ward in his London Spy, 'where we heard such a rattling of chains, drumming of doors, ranting, hollaing, singing and rattling, that I could think of nothing but Don Quevedo's vision, where the damn'd broke loose, and put Hell in an uproar'. Thus Bedlam was both a jail, and hell; the mad with their 'frantic' humours and rambling ejaculations' were the damned. Their idiocy lay in fantastical unreason:

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