Isaac G. Briggs.

Epilepsy, Hysteria, and Neurasthenia online

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incurable blight of vacillation, or by the determination to amplify their
scheme ere it has proved successful, sacrificing probable results for
visionary improvements.

Great and cunning strategists while fortune smiles, they are impotent to
direct a retreat, but flee before the fury they ought to face. They rarely
have personal courage, but are timid, conciliatory and vacillating just
when bravery, sternness, and determination are needed; furious, obstinate
and reckless, when gentleness, diplomacy and wisdom would carry their

They are ready to forgive when there is magnanimity, vainglory and probably
folly in forgiveness, but will not overlook the most trivial affront when
there is every reason for so doing. They have brain, but not ballast, and
their whole life is usually a lopsided effort to "play to the gallery".

In poetry and literature, fancy has free play, and they often succeed,
sometimes rising to sublime heights; usually in the depiction of the
whimsical, the wonderful, the sardonic, the bizarre, the monstrous, or the
frankly impossible. They are not architects as much as jugglers of words,
and descriptive writing from an acute angle of vision is their forte. They
sometimes succeed as artists or composers, for in these spheres they need
not elaborate their ideas in such clean-cut detail, but many who might
succeed in these branches have not sufficient strength of purpose to do the
preliminary "spadework".

They have too many talents, too many differing inclinations, too much
impetuosity, too much vanity, too little concentration and will-power, and
they fail in ordinary walks of life from the lack of resolution to lay the
foundations necessary to successful mediocrity.

No greater obstacle to progress exists than the reputation for talent which
this class acquire on a flimsy basis of superficial brilliance in
conversation or a penchant for witty repartee. They are self-opinionated
and egoistical, with a conceit and assurance out of all proportion to their
abilities. Their mental perspective is distorted and they are conspicuous
for their obstinacy. In conversation they are prolix and pretentious, and
they often contract religious mania, in which their actions by no means
accord with their protestations, for they have very elementary notions of
right and wrong, or no notions at all.

Often they are precocious, but untruthful, cruel, and vicious; the despair
of relatives, friends, and teachers. They combine unusual frankness with an
audacity and impulsiveness that is very misleading, for below this show of
fire and power there is no stability.

Their character is a tangle of mercurial moods, the neuropath being
passionate but loving, sullen one moment, overflowing with sentimental
affection the next, vicious a little while later, quick to unreasoning
anger, and as quick to repent or forgive, obstinate but easily led,
versatile but inconstant, noble and mean by turns, full of contradictions
and contrasts, at best a brilliant failure, vain, deaf to advice or
reproof, having in his ailing frame the virtues and vices of a dozen normal

Mercier aptly describes him:

"There is a large class of persons who are often of acute and nimble
intelligence, in general ability equal to or above the average, of an
active, bustling disposition, but who are utterly devoid of industry.
For by industry we mean steady persistence in a continuous employment
in spite of monotony and distastefulness; an employment that is
followed at the cost of present gratification for the sake of future
benefit. Of such self-sacrifice these persons are incapable. They are
always busy, but their activity is recreative, in the sense that it is
congenial to them, and from it they derive immediate gratification. As
soon as they tire of what they are doing, as soon as their occupation
ceases to be in itself attractive it is relinquished for something
else, which in its turn is abandoned as soon as it becomes tedious.

"Such people form a well-characterized class: they are clever; they
readily acquire accomplishments which do not need great application;
and agreeably to the recreative character of their occupations, their
natures are well developed on the artistic side. They draw, paint,
sing, play, write verses and make various pretty things with easy
dexterity. Their lack of industry prevents them ever mastering the
technique of any art; they have artistic tastes, but are always

"With the vice of busy idleness they display other vices. The same
inability to forgo immediate enjoyment, at whatever cost, shows itself
in other acts. They are nearly always spendthrifts, usually drunkards,
often sexually dissolute. Next to their lack of industry, their most
conspicuous quality is their incurable mendacity. Their readiness,
their resources, their promptitude, the elaborate circumstantiality of
their lies are astonishing. The copiousness and efficiency of their
excuses for failing to do what they have undertaken would convince
anyone who had no experience of their capabilities in this way.

"Withal, they are excellent company, pleasant companions, good-natured,
easy-going, and urbane. Their self-conceit is inordinate, and remains
undiminished in spite of repeated failures in the most important
affairs of life. They see themselves fall immeasurably behind those who
are admittedly their inferiors in cleverness, yet they are not only
cheery and content, but their confidence in their own powers and
general superiority to other people remains undiminished.

"_The lack of self-restraint is plainly an inborn character_, for it
may show itself in but one member of the family brought up in exactly
the same circumstances as other members who do not show any such
peculiarity. The victim is born with one important mental faculty
defective, precisely as another may be born with hare-lip."

In neuropaths the mental mechanism of _projection_, which we all show, is
often marked.

Any personal shortcoming, being repugnant to us causes self-reproach, which
we avoid by "projecting" the fault (unconsciously) on some one else.

Readers should get "The Idiot" by Fedor Dostoieffsky, an epileptic genius
who saw that for those like him, happiness could be got through peace of
mind alone, and not in the cut-throat struggle for worldly success. He
projected his stabler self into Prince Muishkin, the idiot, and every one
of the six hundred odd pages of this amazing description of a neuropathic
nation is stamped with the hall-mark of genius.

* * * * *



"Between two beings so complex and so diverse as man and woman, the
whole of life is not too long for them to know one another well, and to
learn to love one another worthily." - Comte.

No neuropath should have children, but marriage is good in mild cases, for
neuropaths are benefited by sympathetic companionship, and their sexual
passions are so strong that they must be gratified, by marriage,
prostitution, or unnaturally.

Bernard Shaw's sneer -

"Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with
the maximum of opportunity" -

is justifiable, though the "maximum of opportunity" is better than a
maximum of unnatural devices to satisfy and intensify normal and abnormal

There is a popular belief that an epileptic girl is cured by pregnancy, a
state that ought never to occur.

The lack of sex-education causes millions of miserable marriages. Sexual
desire is cultivated out of all proportion to other desires, the will
cannot control the desire to relieve an intolerable sense of discomfort,
and men eagerly seize the first chance of being able to satisfy these
fierce cravings at pleasure.

If sex were treated sensibly it would develop into a powerful instead of an
overpowering appetite, and reason would have some say in the choice of a

A neuropath needs a calm, even-tempered, "motherly" wife. For him,
gentleness, self-control, sound common sense and domestic virtues are
superior to wit or beauty. Unfortunately, contrary to public belief, people
are attracted by their like, not by their opposites. The sensitive, refined
neuropath finds the normal person insipid and dull; the normal person is
rendered uncomfortable by the morbid caprices of the neuropath.

There must be no disparity of age, for at the menopause the woman no longer
seeks the sexual embrace, and if her husband be young unfaithfulness
ensues. Not only that, but she, knowing, probably to her sorrow, how rarely
the hopes of youth mature, cannot take a keen interest in his ambitions
like a younger woman, or fire his dying enthusiasm at difficult parts of
the way. If he be his wife's senior he will be as little able to appreciate
her ideas and habits.

An excitable, volatile, garrulous, "neighbourly" woman, or one who can do
little save strum on the piano or make embroidery as intricate as it is
useless, means divorce or murder. For him, sweetness, gentleness,
self-control, sound common sense, shrewdness, and domestic virtues are
incomparably superior to any mental brilliance or physical comeliness. He
needs a "homely" woman, and should remember that no banking account can
match a sweet, womanly personality, and no charms compare to a sunny heart,
and an ability steadfastly to "see the silver lining".

He must on no account marry a woman in indifferent health, for under the
strain of her husband's infirmity the woman, who if she were well would be
a help, is a source of expense, worry and friction.

On the other hand the woman who receives a proposal from a neuropath, be he
ever so gifted, has grave grounds for pausing, though it is hard to counter
the specious arguments of one who may be "a man o' pairts", a witty
companion and an ardent lover. It is doubtful if a neuropath is ever
permeated by a steadfast emotion, for all his emotions are fierce but
unstable, the love of an inconsistent man being ten times more ardent than
that of a faithful one, _while it lasts_.

"You can't marry a man without taking his faults with his virtues,"

and love must be strong enough to stand, not storms alone, but the minor
miseries of life, the incessant pinpricks, the dreary days when the smile
abroad has become the scowl at home. At best, her husband will be
capricious, hard to please, and though rabidly jealous without cause, at
the same time very partial to the attractions of other women. He usually
needs the attention of the whole household, which his varying health and
moods keep in a mingled state of anxious solicitude and smouldering

His infirmity may mean a very secluded and humdrum life. She will have to
make home an ever-cheery place, an ideal that means hard work and
self-sacrifice through lonesome years in which her nobility will be
unrecognized and unrewarded.

A woman fond of amusements and sport, and having many acquaintances would
find this unbearable. Any happiness in marriage to a neuropath is largely
dependent on the self-sacrifice of the wife.

Should marriage occur, the wife must judiciously curb her husband's
passions without driving him to other women by coldness, a problem which is
often solved by separation. The suggestion should never come from her, and
the more she can curb his ardour by tactful suggestion, the healthier will
he and the happier will she be, for nothing causes such an irritable,
nervous state as excessive coitus.

She will often have to give way in this matter, but must be firm on the
necessity for preventing conception, for she can only bear a tainted child;
her responsibility is great, and she must _insist_ that her husband use
those simple methods which prevent conception, thereby ending in himself
one branch of a worthless tree. This must be done at any cost, for her
happiness is nought compared to the welfare of future generations. Bitter
though it be that no fruit of her womb may call her blessèd, it is less
bitter than hearing her children call themselves accursèd.

"So many severall wayes are we plagued and punished for our father's
defaultes, that it is the greatest part of our felicity to be well
born, and it were happy for humankind if only such parentes as are
sounde of body and mind should be suffered to marry. An Husbandman will
sow none but the choicest seed upon his lande; he will not reare a bull
nor an horse, except he be right shapen in all his parts, or permit him
to cover a mare, except he be well assured of his breed; we make choice
of the neatest kine, and keep the best dogs, and how careful then
should we be in begetting our children? In former tyme, some countreys
have been so chary in this behalf, so stern, that if a child were
crooked or deformed in body or mind, they made it away; so did the
Indians of old, and many other well gouverned Commonwealths, according
to the discipline of those times. Heretofore in Scotland, if any were
visited with the falling sickness, madness, goute, leprosie, or any
such dangerous disease, which was like to be propagated from the father
to the son, he was instantly gelded; a woman kept from all company of
men; and if by chance, having some such disease, she was found to be
with child she with her brood were buried alive; and this was done for
the common good, lest the whole nation should be injured or corrupted.
A severe doom, you will say, and not to be used among Christians. Yet
to be more looked into than it is. For now, by our too much facility in
this kind, in giving way to all to marry that will, too much liberty
and indulgence in tolerating all sorts, there is a vast confusion of
hereditary diseases; no family secure, no man almost free from some
grievous infirmity or other. Our generation is corrupt, we have so many
weak persons, both in body and mind, many feral diseases raging among
us, crazed families: our fathers bad, and we like to be worse."

Her husband will want much petting and caressing, and she must foster his
love by lavishing on him much fondness, and ignoring amours as but the
mischievous results of his restless, intriguing mind.

She must let him see in an affectionate way that she can let others enjoy
his company betimes, secure in the knowledge that she is supreme in his
affections - cajolery that flatters his overweening vanity, and rarely

In anger, as in every other emotion, the neuropath is as transient as he is
truculent. A trivial "tiff" will make him blaze up in ungovernable rage and
say most abominable and untruthful things; even utter violent threats. He
will not admit he is wrong, but like a spoilt child must be kissed and
coaxed into a good temper, first with himself and with others next.

At one moment he is in a perfect paroxysm of fury; five minutes later he is
passionately embracing the luckless object of it and vowing eternal
devotion. In a further five he has forgotten all his remarks and would
hotly deny he used the vexing statements imputed to him.

Epileptics are morbidly sensitive, and reference to their malady must be
avoided. Victims are intensely suspicious, and a pitying look will reveal
to them the fact that some outsider knows all about the jealously-guarded
skeleton. Resentment, distrust and misery follow such an exposure, for
every innocent look is then translated into a contemptuous glance, and the
victim detects slights undreamt of in any brain save his own.

Unless seizures are severe, no one should be called in; if they cause
alarm, ask a discreet male neighbour to assist when necessary, leaving when
the convulsions abate so that the victim is not aware of his presence.
Avoid the word "fit" and "epilepsy", and if reference to the attack be
necessary, refer to it as a "faint" or "turn".

Living with a man liable to have a fit at inopportune times is a tremendous
strain, and the soundest advice one can offer a woman thinking of marrying
such a one is Punch's - "DON'T!"

We have painted the black side, but, tactfully managed, a neuropath will
merge in the kindest of husbands, the most constant of lovers. The wife
need not be unhappy. Tactless, masterful women will fail, but no one is
more easily led, particularly in the way he should not go, than a

A man with definite views of his own value will not be successful foil for
"mother-in-lawing", nor remain quiet under the interference of relatives,
who should remember that well-meaning intentions do not justify meddling

Many a neuropath led a useful life and gained success in a profession,
solely because his wife tactfully kept him in the path, watched his health,
prevented him frittering away his gifts in many pursuits or useless
repining, and made home a real haven.

When the yolk seems unbearably heavy, the wife should remember her husband
has to bear the primary, she only the reflected misery, for the limitations
neuropathy puts on every activity and ambition, social and professional,
are frightfully depressing.

In spite of his peevishness her husband may be trying hard to minimize his
defects and be a reasonable, helpful companion.

"Judge not the working of his brain,
And of his heart thou can'st not see;
What looks to thy dim eyes a stain
In God's pure light may only be
A scar brought from some well-fought field,
Where thou would'st only faint and yield."

Magnify his virtues and be tenderly charitable to his many frailties, for
he is "not as other men" and too well he knows it. Love at its best is so
complex that it easily goes awry, but death will one day dissolve all its
complexity, and when, maybe after "many a weary mile"

"The voice of him I loved is still,
The restless brain is quiet,
The troubled heart has ceased to beat
And the tainted blood to riot" -

it will comfort you to reflect that you did your duty and, to best the of
your ability, fulfilled your solemn pledge to love and honour him.

To quote George Eliot:

"What greater reward can thou desire than the proud consciousness that
you have strengthened him in all labour, comforted him in all sorrow,
ministered to him in all pain, and been with him in silent but
unspeakably holy memories at the moment of eternal parting?"

Surely, none!

We have considered the mournful case of a wife with a neuropathic husband,
and must now say a few words about the truly distressing fate of a husband
afflicted with a neuropathic wife, for neuropathy in its unpleasant
consequences to others is far worse in woman than in man.

A man is at work all day, and his mind is perforce distracted from his
woes, and, though he retails them at night to the home circle, they get so
used to them as to disregard them, proffering a few words of agreement,
sympathy or scorn quite automatically.

With women the distraction of work is not so complete, for housework can be
neglected, there are always neighbours and friends to listen to tales of
woe and thus generate a very harmful self-pity, and women are not content
to enumerate their woes, but demand the attention and sympathy of all

Many of the facts in the foregoing parts of this chapter apply with equal
force to both sexes, but women being usually more patient, tactful,
resigned and self-sacrificing than men, can - and often do - alleviate the
lot of the male neuropath; whereas the absence of these qualities in the
average man means that he aggravates, instead of alleviating, the lot of
any female neuropath to whom he may be wedded.

Having taken her "for better, for worse" he will find her irritating,
unreasonable, and unfitted to shoulder domestic responsibilities. Her likes
and dislikes, fickle fancies, unreasonable prejudices, selfish ways will
cause trouble; he must be prepared for misunderstandings and feuds with
relatives and friends, and on reaching home tired and worried, he is like
to find his house in disorder, be assailed by a tale of woe, and perhaps
find that his wife's vagaries have involved him in a tiff with neighbours.

She will be fretful, exacting, impatient, and given to ready tears.
Sensitive to the last degree, she will see slights where none are intended,
and a chiding word, a reproachful look, or a weary sigh will mean a fit of
temper or depression.

Not only are men less gifted for "managing" women than vice versa, but
women are far less susceptible to tactful management than men; a man, like
a dog, can be led almost anywhere with a little dragging at the chain and
growling now and then; a woman, like a cat, is more likely to spit, swear,
and scratch than come along.

Consequently, it is almost impossible to suggest means of obtaining relief
to one who has been luckless enough to marry, or be married by, a
neuropathic woman.

If the husband sympathize, the condition will but be aggravated; medicinal
measures will only increase, instead of diminishing, the number of
symptoms; indifference will procure such an exhibition as will both prove
its uselessness and ensure the attention craved.

* * * * *



To sum up: we have learnt that Epilepsy is a very ancient disease due to
some instability of the brain, in which convulsions are a common but not
invariable symptom.

Its actual cause is unknown. Heredity plays a big part, but there are
secondary causes beside factors which excite attacks.

Various methods and drugs to prevent seizures have a limited use.

First-aid treatment consists solely in preventing the victim sustaining any

Neurasthenia is a disease due to nerve-exhaustion and poisoning from
overwork and worry. Its symptoms are many, but fatigue and irritability are
the chief.

Hysteria is an obstinate, functional, nervous disease in which the patient
acts in an abnormal manner, which is highly provoking to other individuals.

The cure for hysteria and neurasthenia is solely hygienic, and depends
mainly on the patient.

The first step towards health consists in getting any slight organic
defects remedied.

Digestion is often poorly performed.

This must be remedied by thorough mastication and rational dieting.

Constipation is very inimical to neuropaths, and must be remedied.

Patients must pay careful attention to general hygiene.

Insomnia is exhausting and must be conquered.

The effects of imagination are profound.

Suggestion treatment overcomes imaginary ills.

Drug treatment is either of very limited utility, or frankly useless.

Patent medicines are never of the slightest use.

The rational training of neuropathic children is a very difficult but
essential task.

Puberty and adolescence are very critical times.

Occupations and recreations must be wisely chosen.

Heredity is the primary cause of these diseases. As it cannot be treated,
sufferers must not have children.

Character is abnormal in nervous disease.

Marriage is very undesirable.

As a parting injunction, whether you are an epileptic or a neurasthenic, or
a friend, relative, or attendant of such a one:


* * * * *


"Oh! for a booke and a shadie nooke,
Eyther indoore or oute;
Where I maie reade, all atte my ease
Both of the newe and olde:
For a jollie goode booke, whereonne to looke
Is better to me than golde!"

The following books are suitable for laymen, and are most of them very


We know of no book suitable for laymen,


"Nervous Disorders of Men" (Kegan Paul) Hollander.

"Nervous Disorders of Women" (Kegan Paul) Hollander.

"National Degeneration" (Cornish, Birmingham) D.F. Harris.

"Hysteria and Neurasthenia" J.M. Clarke.

"The Management of a Nerve Patient" Schofield.

"Confessions of a Neurasthenic" (F.A. Davis Co., Philadelphia) Marrs.

"Conquest of Nerves" (Macmillan) Courtney.



"Indigestion" Herschell.


"Dietetics" (Jack's People's Books) A. Bryce.

"Diet in Dyspepsia" Tibbles.

"Cookery for Common Ailments" Brown.


"Constipation" Bigg.


"Laws of Life and Health" A. Bryce.

"Health" M.M. Burgess.


"Sleep and Sleeplessness" H.A. Bruce.

"The Meaning of Dreams" I.H. Coriat.


"Psychology in Daily Life" Seashore.

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Online LibraryIsaac G. BriggsEpilepsy, Hysteria, and Neurasthenia → online text (page 9 of 10)