MURDER BY A. HARMLESS LUNATIC.
Sows we have begun to point out the necessity for placing lunatics under some kind of responsible treatment, there has been a con- spiracy of events to enforce that position. In our number for the 24th July several cases were recorded of mischief inflicted by beings unaccountable for their actions. Last week, one of those persons whom we had previously mentioned again appeared in a court of justice as an obstructor of the public business. The by- standers m court laughed when the eccentric gentleman proclaimed himself to be acting on behalf of the Crown, and when he performed some kind of, mummery, with the help of his Indian chief, Peter ; but assuredly the laughter was misplaced. Either the intruder was committing one of the gravest offences against public decorum, or he was in a condition that should provoke the greatest compassion : either he ought to have been severely punished for an outrage on decency, or steps ought at once to be taken to prevent his eccentricities from assuming a more mischievous form. When once a man ceases to be under his own control, when once his actions become so incoherent in themselves that they cannot be calculated by ordinary rules, it is necessary to seek some special safeguard ; and the fact that such eccentricities are for the time purely absurd" does not disprove such necessity. The week affords a melancholy illustration of the progress from the absurd to the tragic.
It is not very long since William Thomas, the matricide of Bir- kenhead, was a harmless lunatic. "There appeared to have been something wrong about his head for nearly a year " • and his mo- ther often alluded to the circumstance. " For the last twelve months he seemed to be getting foolish." " About six or seven weeks ago," said a medical witness at the inquest, "his mother Called me in to see him. He complained of his head; he was also suffering from drowsiness, and betmyed other symptoms indi- cating an excited state of the brain. He was bled, and other ape propriate remedies were used with a view of abating the excite- ment; and at the end of a fortnight he felt well, and able to go to work." Two or three weeks ago his mother again summoned the medical man. " His headache appeared relieved ; and to me he spoke quite rationally ; but his mother informed me, that he occa- sionally make absurd remarks, and was odd in his manner." Blis- tering and" " lowering remedies" again palliated the growing Ma- lidy. On Friday last, the same medical man had some conversa- tion with his mother, who spoke of removing him to an asylum if he became worse. " He answered me quite ratiottally; and I thought his mental derangement was only temporary."
William Thomas had always been harmless. " He was never violent in his conduct," said the brother ; but " there had been a difference in his manner about a week before this occurred : he seemed to be getting gradually worse." " Whenever I went in lately he ordered me out of the house." " His mother," said the
surgeon, " never complained to me of his using any violence, but only of his absurd remarks." " My mother and William," said Samuel, a little brother, " generally agreed very well. She was always kind to him, and he generally to her, except that sometimes he would sauce her"; and lately " they had had no quarrel, but two or three days before I heard him sauce her."
The progress of the malady is very clear. For about a year William Thomas had been "foolish." About six weeks ago his head ached, he became drowsy, and was conscious of inability to work. About a fortnight afterwards, he was again drowsy, and his "absurd remarks" began to be more talked of. About a week later there was a more decided " difference " ; he manifested a dis- like of his brother Joseph, and ordered him out of the house ; and the little brother noticed that he " sauced" his mother. Still, down to Friday last, the most educated person with whom he seems to have come in contact, the medical man, " thought his mental de- rangement was only temporary." Not many hours after that opinion was formed, the little brother Samuel is awakened by his mother's struggles in the endeavour to escape from murder. In vain : the madman overcomes her—takes her life—carries her down stairs—buries her in the garden ; and the witnesses of his gradual advance in madness—those who testify that "he had never been violent "—who had been simply struck with his " absurd remarks " —who thought blisters and " lowering " treatment sufficient to stave off "his temporary mental derangement"—became witnesses at the Coroner's inquest over the body of his mother.
The story is one that has been often told, and after the event we can moralize it at leisure. William had never been violent, but only absurd ; and until he had taken that life which cannot be re- called, it was thought rational to let him go at large. After the event—after that fatal mischief, not to be repaired, we all of us join in thinking it foolish that prompt steps were not taken to se- cure his companions against the possible aberrations of a man whose actions were beyond control or calculation. It is true that he had never been violent, had only been absurd ; but still, we re- flect, his conduct was not amenable to the same restraints which act upon other men. And it was irrational to presume that al- though he never had been violent he would not be so, if his excited brain should conceive some insane motive for indignation, or some morbid notion of a destined calamity. There is nothing which we now think ought to have been done for the safety of others in restraining William Thomas, which does not .equally apply to other men without self-control, although their actions for the time may be only " absurd."