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Insanity and Imagination.

Sir J, Crichton Browne delivered an address at the concluding general meeting of the British Medical Congress at Leeds recently on ‘ Psychology and the Hygienic Uses of Imagination.’ In the course of his remarks he said that the precise character which medicine was happily assuming, as its several departments merged into the exact sciences, did not in any degree abrogate the necessity for the employment of the imagination. Medical men and medical students need not fear that they were altogether wasting their time when they turned aside now and then from their professional tasks to ramble fora little in the green pastures of literature, or climb the pinnacles of art. It might be objected that the imagination, if sometimes stimulating and restorative in its influence, was often morbid in its tendencies, and that its indulgence was to be guarded against by those who desired to possess well-regulated minds. But the weak vessels wrecked by imagination were really fewer than was commonly supposed. A vulgar error as to the nature of insanity had perhaps conduced to exaggerations as to the dangers of imagination, In prisons and reformatories there were perhaps a few waifs landed there by impulses engendered of blood-curdling tales or hair-stirring melodrama. But in all such cases it was a deficiency rather than an e.icess, immaturity rather than ripeness, of imagination that was responsible for the evils observed. That an enormous and progressive improvement had taken place in the purity of our literature and of the drama no one who contrasted them with what they were at the period of the Revolution could doubt. The profitable and hygienic uses of imagination were daily more and more widely realised; for in every country in Europe there was an increasing demand for whatmightbe calledimaginativealimeutsand stimulants. The craving for works of fiction was not only great, but growing. The vast extension of the habit of no vel-reading wasalso demonstrated by an observation of journalistic literature. Newspapers that at one time confined themselves to news, political commentaries, and criticism, now farmed syndicates to supply their readers wjth a modicum of fiction, and journals entirely devoted to fiction had an enormous circulation. To medical men it was interesting to remark that the appetive for this kind of reading was more urgent in spring, when a “ young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,” and was least pressing in autumn, when the nervous system was comparatively quiescent. Matthew Arnold said that twothirds of life were conduct, and it might be trully alleged that three-fourths of thought were imagination. It was not merely the child who built castles in the air. Each of us—the most matter-of-fact as well as the most romantic—had “ cloud-capped palaces and gorgeous towers” known to himself alone, to which in hours of solitude and reverie or sadness and chagrin ho retired with ever-renewed wonder and exaltation, and from which he scattered beneficence on all around.

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Insanity and Imagination., Evening Star, Issue 8034, 10 October 1889

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Insanity and Imagination. Evening Star, Issue 8034, 10 October 1889