From “A Digression on Madness”

Extracted from Jonathan Swift’s Tale of a Tub

Let us next examine the great Introducers of new Schemes in Philosophy, and search till we can find, from what Faculty of the Soul the Disposition arises in mortal Man, of taking it into his Head, to advance new Systems with such an eager Zeal, in things agreed on all hands impossible to be known: from what Seeds this Disposition springs, and to what Quality of human Nature these Grand Innovators have been indebted for their Number of Disciples. Because, it is plain, that several of the chief among them, both Antient and Modern, were usually mistaken by their Adversaries, and indeed, by all, except their own Followers, to have been Persons Crazed, or out of their Wits, having generally proceeded in the common Course of their Words and Actions, by a Method very different from the vulgar Dictates of unrefined Reason: agreeing for the most Part in their several Models, with their present undoubted Successors in the Academy of Modern Bedlam (whose Merits and Principles I shall further examine in due Place.) Of this Kind were Epicurus, Diogenes, Apollonius, Lucretius, Paracelsus, Des Cartes, and others; who, if they were now in the World, tied fast, and separate from their Followers, would in this our undistinguishing Age, incur manifest Danger of Phlebotomy, and Whips, and Chains, and dark Chambers, and Straw.

[T]he Reader will, I am sure, agree with me in the Conclusion, that if the Moderns mean by Madness, only a Disturbance or Transposition of the Brain, by Force of certain Vapours issuing up from the lower Faculties; Then has this Madness been the Parent of all those mighty Revolutions, that have happened in Empire, in Philosophy, and in Religion. For, the Brain, in its natural Position and State of Serenity, disposeth its Owner to pass his Life in the common Forms, without any Thought of subduing Multitudes to his own Power, his Reasons or his Visions; and the more he shapes his Understanding by the Pattern of Human Learning, the less he is inclined to form Parties after his particular Notions; because that instructs him in his private Infirmities, as well as in the stubborn Ignorance of the People. But when a Man’s Fancy gets astride on his Reason, when Imagination is at Cuffs with the Senses, and common Understanding, as well as common Sense, is Kickt out of Doors; the first Proselyte he makes, is Himself, and when that is once compass’d, the Difficulty is not so great in bringing over others; A strong Delusion always operating from without, as vigorously as from within. For, Cant and Vision are to the Ear and the Eye, the same that Tickling is to the Touch. Those Entertainments and Pleasures we most value in Life, are such as Dupe and play the Wag with the Senses. For, if we take an Examination of what is generally understood by Happiness, as it has Respect, either to the Understanding or the Senses, we shall find all its Properties and Adjuncts will herd under this short Definition: That, it is a perpetual Possession of being well Deceived.

I do here gladly embrace an Opportunity I have long sought for, of Recommending it as a very noble Undertaking, to Sir E——d S——r, Sir C——r M——ve, Sir J——n B——ls, J——n H——w, Esq; and other Patriots concerned, that they would move for Leave to bring in a Bill, for appointing Commissioners to Inspect into Bedlam, and the Parts adjacent; who shall be empowered to send for Persons, Papers, and Records; to examine into the Merits and Qualifications of every Student and Professor; to observe with utmost Exactness their several Dispositions and Behaviour; by which means, duly distinguishing and adapting their Talents, they might produce admirable Instruments for the several Offices in a State, * * * * * * * Civil and Military; proceeding in such Methods as I shall here humbly propose. And, I hope the Gentle Reader will give some Allowance to my great Solicitudes in this important Affair, upon Account of that high Esteem I have ever born that honourable Society, whereof I had some Time the Happiness to be an unworthy Member.

Is any Student tearing his Straw in piece-meal, Swearing and Blaspheming, biting his Grate, foaming at the Mouth, and emptying his Pispot in the Spectator’s Faces? Let the Right Worshipful, the Commissoiners of Inspection, give him a Regiment of Dragoons, and send him into Flanders among the Rest. Is another eternally talking, sputtering, gaping, bawling, in a Sound without Period or Article? What wonderful Talents are here mislaid! Let him be furnished immediately with a green Bag and Papers, and three Pence [“A Lawyer’s Coach-hire” — marginal note] in his Pocket, ad away with Him to Westminster-Hall. You will find a Third, gravely taking the Dimensions of his Kennel; A Person of Foresight and Insight, tho’ kept quite in the Dark; for why, like Moses, Ecce cornuta erat ejus facies. He walks duly in one Place, intreats your Penny with due Gravity and Ceremony; talks much of hard Times, and Taxes, and the Whore of Babylon; Bars up the woodden Window of his Cell constantly at eight a Clock: Dreams of Fire, and Shop-lifters, and Court-Customers, and Priviledg’d Places. Now, what a Figure would all these Acquirements amount to, if the Owner were sent into the City among his Brethren! Behond a Fourth, in much and deep Conversation with himself, biting his Thumbs at proper Junctures; His Countenance chequered with Business and Design; sometimes walking very fast, with his Eyes nailed to a Paper that he holds in his Hands: A great Saver of Time, somewhat thick of Hearing, very short of Sight, but more of Memory. A Man ever in Haste, a great Hatcher and Breeder of Business, and excellent at the Famous Art of whispering Nothing. A huge Idolater of Monosyllables and Procrastination; so ready to Give his Word to every Body, that he never keeps it. One that has forgot the common Meaning of Words, but an admirable Retainer of the Sound. Extreamly subject to the Looseness, for his Occasions are perpetually calling him away. If you approach his Grate in his familiar Intervals; Sir, says he, Give me a Penny, and I’ll sing you a Song: But give me the Penny first. (Hence comes the common Saying, and commoner Practice of parting with Money for a Song.) What a compleat System of Court-Skill is here described in every Branch of it, and all utterly lost with wrong Application? Accost the Hole of another Kennel, first stopping your Nose, you will behold a surley, gloomy, nasty, slovenly Mortal, raing in his own Dung, and dabling in his Urine. The best Part of his Diet, is the Reversion of his own Ordure, which exspiring into Steams, whirls perpetually about, and at last reinfunds. His Complexion is of a dirty Yellow, with a thin scattered Beard, exactly agreeable to that of his Dyet upon its first Declination; like other Insects, who having their Birth and Education in an Excrement, from thence borrow their Colour and Smell. The Student of this Apartment is very sparing in his Words, but somewhat over-liberal of his Breath; He holds his Hand out ready to receive your Penny, and immediately upon Receipt, withdraws to his former Occupations. Now, is it not amazing to think, the Society of Warwick-Lane, should have no more Concern, for the Recovery of so useful a Member, who, if one may judge from these Appearances, would become the greatest Ornament to that Illustrious Body? Another Student struts up fiercely to your Teeth, puffing with his Lips, half squeezing out his Eyes, and very graciously holds you out his Hand to kiss. The Keeper desires you not to be afraid of this Professor, for he will do you no Hurt: To him alone is allowed the Liberty of the Anti-Chamber, and the Orator of the Place gives you to understand, that this solemn person is a Taylor run mad with Pride.