17 JANUARY 1885, Page 10

THE PREVALENCE OF UELINCHOLY. Medical Times of last Saturday has

a most dismal article on the alleged prevalence of melancholy amongst the cultivated classes at the present day, though why it limits its statements to the cultivated classes we hardly know ; for if, as it seems to imply, the prevalence of melancholy is due to the same causes, and expresses the same malign influences, as the prevalence of insanity and suicide, we are told on good authority that there is a much larger proportion of cases of insanity amongst the ignorant and poor than amongst the cultivated and comfortable classes. We do not believe that the materials can exist for really measuring the increase of these maladies, till we have for a long time possessed full and adequate statistics of their prevalence in all classes. And it is clear that we have not possessed good statistics of the prevalence of mental maladies amongst the poorer class till quite recently, even if we possess them now. Doubtless, too, a great part of the seeming increase of these diseases, amongst the cultivated classes at all events, is due to a much more general habit of confidentially consulting medical men concerning unpleasant mental symptoms, than had been formed by the same class in the last generation. But, when all is said that can fairly be said to throw doubt on the alleged increase of the number of persons who suffer from melancholy, weariness of life, and the various other forms of nervous depression, we suppose it must be admitted that the growth of self-study—whether or not it has added to the growth of selfknowledge—has not tended to increase the happiness of mankind, and may very likely have added seriously to its misery. We suspect that there is literary exaggeration in the picture which the Medical Times draws of the impressive judge, the popular preacher, and the great physician, in their homes when relieved from official responsibility ; at least, we are quite sure that the picture applies to exceedingly few persons in any of these professions, unless they be habitually overworked :—

" Could we thus pursue the judge who has won our admiration in Court by the logical precision and ethical propriety with which he has distinguished the offences of the criminals brought before him, we should perhaps find him pacing the floor of his bedroom and wringing his hands under the horrible, if fictitious, conviction that he is himself more guilty and steeped in sin than the wretches he has sent to penal servitude. Could we keep watch over that popular preacher, who has stirred us by his fervid words, and strengthened the foundations of our faith by his confident dogmatism, we should observe him perhaps tossing sleepless and distressed throughout the live-long night, haunted by doubts and perplexities, and by the incessant whisperings of a voice whiuh asks

Could we in disembodiment remain a little with that good physician who has just given us such sound advice, and urged us to fight against the despondency for which we have consulted him, we should perceive him, perhaps, as soon as he has dismissed his patients, hurry off to the house of a brother practitioner and pour forth in his ear, with tremulous anxiety, a description of the hopeless diseases from which he conceives himself to be suffering, and which exist only in his hypochondriac fancy."

And if the sufferers be habitually overworked,—which hardly any of our Judges at all events are,—the remedy is clear. They are bound by every consideration of duty to do only as much as they can do well, and they should early learn to make a careful study of the limits of their own powers, and of the symptoms which indicate an approach to those limits, and should lay down for themselves such strict rules as would prevent them from exhausting too early the elasticity of those powers.

That, however, is hardly the direction in which this journal could make any useful comment on the subject which our medical contemporary has brought before the public. What we should like to discuss is rather the special causes of melancholy peculiar to our own time. And one we have already sufficiently indi cated, namely, the great growth of self-study, which need not necessarily be—indeed very seldom is—self-knowledge. There can be no doubt that self-consciousness and self-knowledge are very different things, and that while all the tendencies of the age increase the volume of self-consciousness, a great number of these very tendencies diminish the volume of true self-knowledge. For self-consciousness cannot be self-forgetful, while any real self-knowledge often will be. The time people devote to the analysis of the difference between their feelings on this occasion and their feelings on that, is mostly wasted time, which

tends to nothing in the world but a growth of self-importance; while to grow in self-knowledge is to grow, not in the knowledge

of the various shades of your own feelings, but in the knowledge of your competence to assist others, and of the various ways in which you blunder or avoid blundering in that kind of service.

The tendency of half the literature of the day is to enfeeble or even paralyse men by fixing their thoughts upon -themselves The tendency of almost every thing which promotes true selfknowledge, is to help men to know themselves by fixing their thoughts upon the duties they may do for others, the ouly way in which they can really gauge at once their own weaknesses and their own powers.

Again, one other great cause which promotes modern melancholy in the cultivated classes, is the decline of faith in those classes. One constantly meets with con scientious people who seem to think that the whole burden of determining the future course of humanity lies on their own unassisted shoulders. They have dwelt upon their own paltry share in the determination of human affairs till they have got to think that the world will stand still if they do not perform it rightly,—a sure mode of providing that they will not perform their duty rightly. The conceited notion which Mr. Lowell has fixed in all our minds,—

is not the illusion of an age of melancholy. But it is not so very far removed from the other illusion, which is a prevalent one among us, namely, that the world is going wrong

because some feeble-minded person in some moment of elaborate self-consciousness had not the strength of mind to ejaculate that monosyllable,—an omission which has preyed upon his mind ever since. Luther's great saying, " We tell our Lord God plainly that if he will have his Church, he must keep it himself ; for we cannot keep it, and if we could, we should be the proudest asses under Heaven," is hardly ever acted upon in the morbid moral world of to-day. By looking at their own moral failings through a magnifying-glass, even good men exalt the significance of their own responsibilities till they are quite incompetent to perform them. The only healthy and manly kind of duty is that which is done faithfully and honestly indeed, but without the absurd idea that if we make the smallest mistake whole generations of men will suffer for it, as if God did not know how to use our right-minded mistakes as effectually as he uses our right-minded service. It is the want of a large and manly faith which has transformed conscientiousness into vacillation and scrupulosity, quite as much as it has stimulated uncon scientiousness into impudence. The melancholy of cultivated men at the present day is certainly due in no small degree to that predominant notion that they are responsible for the future of the world, which Luther so boldly and wisely repudiated. The excess of the sense of responsibility weakens the power of man quite as mu ch as its deficiency.

If any one will compare the literature of a more cheerful century with our own,—say, for instance, the sixteenth, or even the seventeenth,—he will notice that one of the main differences between that literature and ours is the far greater value which was attached in it to existence itself, and the far less importance which was attached in it to the particular modes of existence, supposing, of course, that these modes were not in defiance of the very laws for which existence was given us. There was a freedom in the literature of the earlier time, a genuine confidence in the destiny of human nature as such, which we do not find now when the chief object of even good men and women is, not to live the life God has given them with a kind of enthusiasm because it is his gift, but to live in order to make some little improvement in someone-else's life, the intensity of the desire for this otherwise excellent end, arising not unfrequently from the belief that the miseries of this worst of all possible worlds are all but insupportable. The motive may be good, but the general view of life from which it proceeds is so utterly false, as to rob it of all healing power. In the old times, the culture of the world was hopeful, enthusiastic, even in some sense too exalted. But that was exactly what gave it its vigour and its healing power. Sir Thomas Browne, who thought of life from the physician's point of view, never exaggerated the diseases of the world as we exaggerate them now ; and why ?

Because he thought of them as the accidents of a moment, and thought of the existence which they affected as the great miracle which should eclipse in our minds all these untoward incidents of human destiny. This is the tone he takes,—a selfexalting tone, if you please, but certainly a much truer tone than that dejected and microscopic exaggeration of miseries which leads to so much of the modern melancholy :—

" Now, for my life, it is a miracle of thirty years, which to relate were not a History, but a piece of poetry, and would sound to common ears like a Fable ; for the World, I count it not an Inn, but a Hospital, and a place not to live, but to dye in. The world that I regard is myself : it is the Microcosm of my own frame that I cast mine eye on ; for the other, I use it but like my Globe, and turn it round sometimes but for my recreation. Those that look upon my outside, perusing only my condition and Fortunes, do err in my. Altitude, for I am above Atlas his shoulders. The Earth is a point not only in respect of the Heavens above us, but of that Heavenly and celestial part within us : that mass of Flesh that circumscribes Inc limits not my mind : that surface that tells the Heavens it bath an end cannot persuade me I have any ; I take my circle to be above three hundred and sixty ; though the number of the Ariz do measure my body, it comprehendeth not my mind ; whilst I study to find how I am a Microcosm or little world, I find myself something more than the great. There is surely a piece of Divinity in us, something that was before the Elements, and owes no homage to the Sun. Nature tells me I am the Image of God, as well as Scripture : be that understands not this much hath not his introddetion or first lesson, and is yet to begin the Alphabet of Man."

This may be a sanguine and self-exalting mood, but in essence it is the true religio medici. Not by Dr. Maudsley's gospel, but by Sir Thomas Browne's, will melancholy in the modern sense be conjured out of man. That the world is not an inn to live in and therefore to be made as luxurious as possible, but is good enough, even if it be only a hospital to die in, since we are to awaken in it to the perfect health of a nobler state, is the true doctrine which will help to make even the hospital cheerfuller than the most luxurious inn could be made without it.