HISTORY OF THE PERIOD PRECEDING THE GEORGENTHAL MENTAL HOME
IN the “Anzeiger,” a daily paper “for the use of the Law administrators, constabulary and all Civic professions, as also for the free and mutual entertainment of the reader on all kinds of useful subjects,” of March 8th, 1792, appeared an appeal signed by R.Z.Becker, editor of the paper, which read as follows:
Proposal for a much needed relief Institution for Mental Patients of the better classes.
Very often a person who is most useful to the world and to his family, and who is frequently indispensable, or otherwise important as regards position, means, feeling or intelligence, sinks through some trifling cause into an animal-like dullness of mind. He clings to some disjointed and fixed ideas, or his spirit shrouds itself in an impenetrable veil of brooding and melancholy. Moral as well as physical conditions combine ultimately to destroy the nervous system, Seeing that confusion of the intellect is one of the most distressing of all human afflictions, it is deplorable that little or no care is taken in Germany of this pitiable class of humanity.
The Asylums, usually run in connection with prisons and workhouses, are generally conducted in such a way that miserable beings are insufficiently fed. They are merely kept in close confinement in order to prevent them from doing harm to one another, and nothing more. Usually their malady is increased, and they become incurable by accessory circumstances, or by the rough and injudicious treatment of the attendants. There is usually only one doctor in charge of such an institution, although twenty would be required for the ultimate purpose of curing this large number of unfortunate inmates.
Often a physician in such a position has neither the courage nor sufficient knowledge for this special branch of work. He very soon wearies under the burden of his occupation and decides (as almost always happens)not to overwork himself- that is, he learns to regard callously the dozens or hundreds of these patients and to do nothing for them in the actual sense of the word.
These noblest of all creatures, destined for the exalted use of Reason, are here treated as wild beasts from Africa intended for exhibition would not be treated. Or they are kept like inanimate objects for three, four, ten, thirty or more years for the not altogether humane object of sooner or later giving them over to corruption in a silent grave- without contributing to the alleviation of the disease, without restoring them to the usefulness for which in their former days they had been so deserving of honour; they are kept, i say, with an indolence which does not credit to our century. This is inflicted upon the middle and lower classes of the population. “They must rest content with the existing institutions,” says the heartless onlooker.
What will the distinguished relatives do with such unfortunate beings? What is the husband to do, who has become more sensitive through his improved position and better circumstances, or the mother, with her sons who have occupied posts of honour, when they fall into this distressing condition? The most sincere sympathy, tears, honest sorrow,. the sacrifice of large sums of money avail nothing. Nothing can call back, in most cases, the health and reason of their beloved ones. Their inhuman speech, their foolish acts, repulse those who come near them and make these pitiable and helpless creatures a disgrace to the family. What is the family physician to do? One cannot expect him to have an extensive knowledge of this branch of medicine. He tries some known remedies, abandons them and replaces them with others, then he begins a long course of treatment which often fails to have the desired effect. In the end he wearies of the case, and advises the distinguished relatives to give the patient up and have him removed to an institution, But where? Perhaps to incarcerate the patient for ever in one of those asylums, to be herded with the disgraceful collection of criminals, unfortunates and sick of all kinds: there, the tumult of the insane, partially insane and maniacs of all degrees and classes, appeals any honest family. Should this be the fate of a family of exalted position — father, mother, husband or wife — without their seeing before them the faintest ray of hope that the health and reason of their beloved will be restored on this side of the grave?
Is this treatment to be meted out to people in a good position from wealthy homes? I need not add more, I think, in order to make you feel how desirable it would be to have a decent home for this class of patient. I am glad to be able to announce that a preposition in this spirit has been made by a physician who is both scientific and practical, and who is well- known to me and to the scientific world. He is taking steps to establish an institution which will accommodate about four better class mental patients. He will devote all his time to them, and they will be under his supervision both day and night. They will neither be beaten nor confined in chains, and no harsh treatment will be used in order to bring them back to reason. Everything that the deep and mature thought of the doctor can devise will be tried in order to restore body and soul to health again, such as gentle persuasion as well as the best medical treatment.
It seems desirable that, out of consideration for the family, patient who may regain their health in such a desirable institution should remain incognito. For the same reason, the name of this humane physician and the locality in which the institution is situated should remain unknown to the general public. To those people who require to make use of this hospital for some unfortunate patient, the name will be given at once, as well as detailed information of the inner working of the institution, together with the conditions for admission. They should address their enquiry in the first place to the office of the “Deutsche Zeitung” in Gotha, and the necessary information will at once be forwarded.
R.Z.BECKER Gotha, February 6th, 1792.
Councilor Becker of Gotha was Editor and owner of the “Reichsanzeiger” in Gotha, at the end of 1791 or the beginning of 1792. At first the paper was named “Der Anzeiger”, but later the paper was used by physicians for dissertations, discussions and advertisements. From the year 1806 and onwards the paper appeared under the name “Der Allegemeine Anzeiger der Deutsche.”
Hahnemann and Councilor Becker were very close friends, as we shall see later. In a letter from Konigslutter, dated November 15th, 1798,. Hahnemann openly requests his friend and patron to append his own valued signature to an article or appeal, since by that means he, Hahnemann, anticipated a greater amount of success. One may therefore accept with confidence that the foregoing appeal emanated from Hahnemann judging from the style and mode of expression. Through the appeal the attention of Duke Ernst von Gotha was drawn to this subject. The Duke.
SECOND PERIOD OF TRAVELS
wished at the same time to serve a higher cause apart from the personal help that he could give to Hahnemann and Klockenbring, for he too, like Hahnemann, was a freemason.
In Number 34 of his ” Anzeiger” (August 11th, 1792), Becker was able to write :
To friends of sufferers.
The Nursing home for mental patients of the better classes, of which the preliminary announcement was made to the public ( in No. 58, page 78, Vol. 1 of the “Anzeiger”), has now open for some time. A true father of his people found this proposition for the alleviation of human suffering desirable, that he gave up one on his country houses and had it furnished for that purpose. In this home everything was prepared to ensure the safety and kind treatment of these most unfortunate of all patients, as well as all that the art of healing could devise in order to restore them to health. The first experiment which has already been made gives hopes of happy results. The locality where this home has come into existence through the generous help of the Sovereign, is Georgenthal, an important village with a law-court and an office for forestry. It is situated in one of the most beautiful parts of the principality of Gotha at the foot of the Thuringerwald, three hours’journey from the capital, Gotha. The man who has taken charge if it, is the well-known physician Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, to whom relatives and friends of those in need of help can write directly for more detailed information.
PSYCHIATRY AT THE END OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
Professor Emil Krapel says in his publication “One Hundred Years of Psychiatry, a contribution to the history of human civilisation” (Berlin, published by Julius Springer, 1918 ) a work which in spite of its excellence unfortunately does not mention Hahnemann’s merits as a pioneer in this field :
The actual care of the patients was almost everywhere in the hands of “Inspectors general” or managers of asylums, whilst physicians were only consulted for bodily ailments. Only in the chief centres of science were to be found some prominent men who made it their life’s work to investigate mental diseases. There were also occasionally in hospitals and infirmaries physicians who had acquired a certain knowledge of the sufferings of mental patients from many years of observation. They lacked, however, any real professional education in that branch, and they carried on mental work as a kind of secondary duty. There can therefore be very little question of any scientific handling of this subject. Above all, their position was often an unworthy one and they had but slight influence upon the fate of the patients. Did not Professor Autenrieth in Tubingen (about 1800), in his lectures on disorders of the mind, give his audience the emphatic advice not to occupy themselves for too long a time with the treatment of mental patients ” because of the danger of becoming mentally afflicted or insane “? The result of this teaching was a terrible treatment of the insane.