Madness And Glory (Postscript)

The story of Phillipe Pinel father of modern psychiatry

Posted Jun 03, 2019


Guillaume, I think of you every day, your voice, hands, and gentle eyes. Your bravery. I think of how we met, our happiness together, how I lost you once, regained you, and now have lost you forever. Yet, I long to be with you. I write daily, for you and to you, of the events and people of our times. As I promised, I have told your story using every word and every detail I could remember. Those who have read it—there have been many—have been astonished and deeply moved. Some have been incited to action, consulting with officials of the government, the Committee of Internal Affairs, Hospital Commission, and other doctors in France. Almost everyone has become interested and several are energetic proponents of Dr. Pinel’s work. I so much miss your wisdom and your commentary, I so much wish you could know all of these effects.

Quite separate, though, from my own endeavors, Dr. Pinel has been getting salutary recognition from the Internal Affairs Committee formed after Couthon’s execution. Drs. Cabanis and Thouret, and newer doctors at the other Paris hospitals, constantly lauded Dr. Pinel’s competence as physician, administrator and, above all, medical groundbreaker. He has been made a Professor of Medicine, the first ever devoted to mental illness, at the new Paris medical school. Under the changing government structure, even the terrible Tallien and Barras or any other traitorous or jealous persons who might have continued to hold him back, even to disparage him, no longer held direct authority over hospital appointments. Many of the really devoted revolutionaries in the Convention began to recognize, as you always did, that his work was truly enlightened and humanitarian, justly representing the bywords of the Revolution for all human beings. And so the happy news is that, in 1795, he was appointed Physician to the very large and important Salpêtrière Hôpital for women. There, just as at Bicêtre with men, he quite soon had the chains struck off every one of the mentally ill women, introduced personal contact and what he calls ‘moral treatment.’

When he first moved to Salpêtrière there occurred an incident which, although not at all his doing, brought on some bad publicity. The Hospital Commission, anticipating a need for a larger number of attendants to enforce Dr. Pinel’s policies there, transferred three experienced ones—without giving the doctor a choice—from Bicêtre and another hospital. In the beginning, this went well but after a few months one of the transferred attendants named Ajacis—you said he was treacherous—raped one of the women inmates in a dark corridor of the hospital.

I was told that this was a generally concealed, but—can you imagine?—a not completely unusual occurrence. In this case, however, three women inmates, strong defiant ones, found out about it. They decided to wait for Ajacis to be alone, also in a dark corridor, and to attack and kill him. From that point, the story is murky. He did die, but it was not clear whether the women succeeded in strangling him as they intended or whether he got away, and overcome by humiliation at having been subdued by women, he committed suicide. No matter, it was a brief episode, the man clearly got what he deserved. Dr. Pinel has gone on to institute all his groundbreaking treatments at the hospital. His reputation glows brighter each day.

He has written an important, widely read book entitled A Treatise on Insanity which outlines his experiences at the Bicêtre asylum, details the nature of his treatment, and describes its effects. You would be pleased to know, as you often told me about the doctor’s generous and accepting nature, that he gives credit in this book to the Pussins for initiating and carrying out some of the procedures. You spoke to me about the Pussins frequently yourself. How, as I write this, is it possible for me to think of being here without you?

And so then, because of his book and the reports of his achievements, Dr. Pinel has, I understand, become known throughout the world. Both Samuel Tuke of the York Retreat in England, and Dr. Benjamin Rush of the Pennsylvania Hospital in the United States, had already been adopting their own humanitarian types of treatment, and they have hailed Dr. Pinel as a leader. Physicians in France have come to the Salpêtrière to study with and assist him. Other hospitals throughout the country have started to follow his approaches. He is celebrated now, and I am sure will be for a very long time in the future, as a medical pioneer, the glorious initiator of a new approach to mental aberration and illness.

Oh, Guillaume, I miss you so terribly. I think of our love together, the breaking of that love out of—-what?—enormous, immeasurable fear? Out of insatiable need, ironclad morality, endless regret, reckless sacrifice? I think of your courage trying to make yourself well, your ability to devote yourself to what you were given—Dr. Pinel’s treatment. Yes, that was an immense part of it and you were too. Each and every moment since I was with you last, I have missed your delicate, sincere feelings, your ideals, your perception of the leaping progress and twisting tumbles of the times, your proposals for their adjustment,  your devotion to those who have suffered.                              Jean-Luc, these days, has been fine. In fact, extra fine. You know how smart and resourceful he is. Quite kind too. Well, he convinced the Rochereaus that he needed better schooling and the family went ahead and managed to get him transferred into the school I teach in. It’s an excellent school, the first for boys and girls together, and the curriculum is broad and demanding. No special privileges, but a good deal of learning and enlightenment goes on. Mathematics, History, Revolutionary History, Economics, Literature, Classical Languages, Philosophy. I am not his teacher, but I hear about his work. He is considered one of the best students on his level. I see him quite a lot, we sometimes go riding, the two of us together in the Bois. We talk of you, we talk about ourselves, our own goals and wishes. He tells me he wants to become someone in the government, an assistant to a deputy or possibly a deputy himself.

We still have not been able to do anything at all about the conspiracy. No one has been able to bring forward any evidence of Tallien and Barras’s intrigues and stragems. Joseph Fouché, the man who led the massacre at Lyons, is in the police administration, and we find him blocking any of our efforts to gain information and proofs. We suspect, my father and I as well as several others searching with us, that he was in cahoots with the other two. He once was engaged to Robespierre’s sister and it is rumored that Robespierre, correctly to be sure, interfered. More than that he hated Robespierre, we learned, for blocking his financial exploits. But now—worse for the nation, a pox on all of them—my father might be forced out as a deputy because of his efforts to denounce them. Barras has become the prime leader of the Directory, the current executive body of the government. We have not succeeded in weakening or discrediting him, although it is now quite widely known that he is highly corrupt, both in dealing with finances and allocating political favor. It is even rumored that he arranges, for pay, for various defeats of our armies. Despite all this, he wields great power. Tallien also is very strong in his position on the Committee of Public Safety. The two of them seem unstoppable.

I see your face, Guillaume, sad and full of disappointment. They are enormous dangers to the nation, I know, and we are determined to do everything, risk everything, to root them out. But I so much want you here, to help and guide us if you could but above all to hold me as you did, and love me, as in the very core of you, you can.

There is more to tell. A new leader has recently appeared on the scene. He is Corsican and a soldier. You probably heard of him when, as the captain of artillery at the siege of Toulon, he led his forces to drive the British Navy away. He was quite young but at the time he was promoted all at once to Brigadier General. Then, late in 1795 while he was on duty in Paris, there was a reactionary uprising in Paris opposing the Convention. He was called upon, by Barras they say, to quell the rioting and he and his troops mass-marched to the hall of the Convention. Mounting his artillery in front, they fired, quickly dispelling and defeating the mob. It is reported he said, and many have repeated the boast, that he did it “with a whiff of grapeshot.” He went on, after that, to engage in a number of successful military campaigns, has now become a stalwart of the Directory and popular with the people as well. Many talk about him as a hero of the Revolution and a deliverer.

No one can, at this point, tell how this man, Napoleon Bonaparte, will work out. What he will do. But, oh, my beloved, my most dedicated, well-intentioned Guillaume, cruelly murdered, I must relate with my heart ripping apart that, on March 9, 1796, the 19th of Ventose, Bonaparte married Rose-Josephine Beauharnais, the woman who had been the mistress of Paul Barras. The two witnesses to the ceremony were Barras himself, and Tallien. Jean-Lambert Tallien.