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JOURNAL OF MEDICINE.
MENTAL CULTURE ON HEALTH.*
We look upon the object of both these publications, each of which we have read with much gratification, to be essentially the same; and it is an object of much importance. From various causes, which we must leave to the moral philosopher to develop, there appears to be a tendency, in various states and degrees of civilization, to over-exert the brain and nervous system, either in acts of intellect or emotion; and the condition of the most civilized portions of America and that of the most refined countries of Europe, diverse as they are, exhibit these over-exertions, each according to the actual position and circumstances of the community. In Europe, it is the intellect which is chiefly overtasked, and in America the same fault exists in a still greater degree; whilst the emotions, in one direction at least, are also generally and excessively overwrought. The struggles for maintaining existence, and the graspings of ambition call, in Europe, for exertions under which the energies of the brain give way. The peculiar cireumstances of a new country, not yet abounding in social and refined enjoyments, a country vast in extent, and grand in its features, and a new community, where every thing is to be obtained by talent and industry, but where the most successful projects are often interrupted by death from.pestilential influences, appear to plunge a large proportion of the population into what may be termed the excesses of devotional feeling, whilst the understanding of the young is lavishly over-exercised. It is the object of Dr. Brigham's work upon the Influence of Religion to point out these excesses, but not to discourage devotion; to show the evil consequences of fanatacism, but not to disparage a pure and simple and earnest worshipping of the Deity.
Yet we believe this attempt to detach an enthusiastic people from extravagant and hurtful customs, has brought upon the author much obloquy; as if to expose the follies which degrade religion were to discountenance piety itself.
In the history of mankind there is nothing that creates more surprise than the contemplation of the cruelties which have been practised by various nations, in every part of the globe, with a view of propitiating the Almighty. These cruelties have been, and are, partly physical and partly moral, and, although their most revolting features have disappeared, the spirit which suggested them, full of violence and unenlightened, has not yet been subdued by the milder doctrines which Butler has termed the republication of the morality of nature. When we read the religious history of an ancient people, or the religious wars of later ages, it is difficult to believe that we are reading the history of beings capable of humanity and justice. That men who felt themselves, in simple or savage state, dependent on some unseen power which they could not resist, should have endeavoured to propitiate that power by the same acts with which they soothed the angry passions of each other, is not to be wondered at; and if they fell into the error of believing acts of horror acceptable to that power, we derive from the fact a most useful lesson. We learn that the uninstructed man cannot even
• Observations on the Influence of Religion upon the Health and Physical Welfare of Mankind. By Amariah Brigham, M. D.--Boston, 1835. 8vo. pp. 331. Remarks on
the Influence of Mental Cultivation and Mental Excitement upon Health. By Amariah Brigham, M. D.-Boston, 1833. 8vo. pp. 130.
read the true character of the Deity; that the works of nature address their eloquent language to him in vain; that the destiny of man is obscurely beheld by him; and that it is only as he advances in knowledge that he becomes capable of receiving and comprehending divine truths, abandons ceremonies stained with blood, and tries to imitate the goodness which he then alone discerns in action all around him.
Dr. Brigham's book presents us with a brief and distinct view of much of this extraordinary part of man's history. He commences by noticing human sacrifices, as detailed by the historians of Egypt, Scythia, Persia, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Germany, and the northern nations, and by the explorers of the Eastern, Southern, and Western portions of the globe. He passes from these dreadful details to a notice of the mutilations of the body which have been, at various times and in various regions, practised with the same view of obtaining merit in the eyes of the Creator; such as circumcision, emasculation, flagellation, wounds voluntarily inflicted, and deformity (anchylosis of joints) voluntarily incurred. To the consideration of these succeeds that of the milder austerities of penance and fasting; and this review introduces reflections inarked by much moderation and good sense, on the customs still prevalent which, altoge ther unessential to the purity, sincerity, and even earnestness of religion, bring inconvenience and suffering upon conscientious and devout persons.
We have not often perused any thing more interesting than these details; the worst enormities of which, in remote periods, are attested by the customs actually existing in the South Sea Islands; and even in Hindostan; whilst the peculiar character of the superstitions of the most civilized states of America is forcibly represented to us by a witness who cannot be accused of indulging national prejudices at the expense of truth.
Among the various modes of self-torture which men and sects have at different periods assumed to be pleasing to a benevolent Creator, that of flagellation seems to have been not the least remarkable. The severe whippings inflicted upon the boys of Sparta, before the altar of Diana, had for their intention the propitiation of the goddess. It was reckoned honourable to make no complaint, and the victims of ihis superstition sometimes expired under the lash. But a more celebrated sect of flagellants appeared in Italy, about the middle of the 13th century: they ran about with whips in their hands, lashing themselves severely. In the next century they increased so much in numbers and turbulence that at length a holy war was declared against them; 8000 were massacred, and the remainder led away captive. Nor has such foolish cruelty been without modern imitators, and even in the state of New York; where, Dr. Brigham tells us, parents whipped their children as a religious duty, and to make them "submit themselves to God.” A pious lady in Oneida county is quoted as having whipped all or most of her children by way of bringing them in, by which is meant converting them. One of them required whipping three times. A worthy of the Oneida presbytery, looked upon as a great authority in religious matters, and “ whose praise is in all the churches," being asked to give his opinion of the propriety of “whipping children, to induce ihem to promise to give themselves to God," replied that he thought there was “much to be said in favour of it," and that children were rendered “kind and affectionate” by it. One cannot but wish that the process had been tried upon this onkind bigot himself. From a like spirit arose many of the gloomy austerities of monachism. Man was perpetually represented as a criminal, to whom cheerfulness was forbidden, and by whom gaiety and laughter were to be utterly forsworn. Sickness was courted, as natural to a Christian; and the doctrines of physicians, which taught men how to preserve health and life, were despised or condemned, as hostile to the very spirit of Christianity.
We pass over the author's remarks on Fasting, on the mode of celebrating the Lord's supper, and on Baptism ; as involving many controversial questions, unsuitable to our pages. With rare exceptions none of these ordinances are so practised in this country or in other countries as to affect the health, nor are they, we presume, precisely the ceremonies most likely to be practised with detriment in the United States. But the subject of Dr. Brigham's Fifth Chapter will, wo
hope, attract attention among his countrymen; comprehending as it does, a consideration of the places of worship, and the night meetings and camp-meetings held among the Americans.
“ There is not perhaps anything more beautiful in the scenery of New England, than the churches and spires that are seen in almost every town. They are generally built of wood, painted white, and impress the traveller with favourable ideas of the order and piety of the inhabitants around. I wish I could say that these churches are as comfortable for worshippers, as they are beautiful to the observer ; but in truth they are not. In general they are poorly built, and badly keep out the cold of winter and the heat of summer. The seats, usually unsupplied with cushions, are very uncomfortable places to remain in, even for two or three hours. Many of these churches are placed upon the tops of hills, where they are exposed to the violence of wind and cold, unprotected by woods or rising grounds. They have neither inside nor outside shutters to the windows, and as they are greatly lighted, the heat of a summer's sun is exceedingly oppressive.
* But this can be better endured than the cold of winter. Within a very few years, however, this evil has been greatly lessened, and many churches have had stoves placed in them, and are partially warmed ; but, even now, I presume one quarter of the churches in New England, in the country towns, are destitute of any means of being warmed, and those thus unsupplied are the churches situated in the most bleak and cold places in the country. The suffering from this cause is great, and many lives, I have no doubt, have been sacrificed in consequence." (P. 139.)
The churches of our own country are not exempt from some of these inconveniences. They are ill ventilated, very cold in winter, and very oppressive in summer; and are often, in our opinion, the unsuspected causes of attacks of illness in delicate persons.
Most of the Calvinistic, methodist, and baptist churches in New England, and in the northern and middle states, have, it appears, two, three, or more meetings in the evening every week; besides which there are evening meetings for prayer, and in aid of numerous charitable and religious societies; and evening conferences once a week or oftener in most of the churches ; so that Dr. Brigham says more than one-half of the evenings of the year are thus employed ; and some of the zealous attendants, especially females, occupy in this way every evening in the week,—a practice which he justly condemns, as "encouraging a kind of theatre-going spirit, i. e. a love of excitement, incompatible with a love of domestic life and patient study and research at home.” In some of them he has noticed a disturbance of health, and a tendency to nervous diseases, thus created. The excitement itself he considers to be useless as well as dangerous. “I have known people,” he says, “all anxiety to hear a man who had visited China or some other country, give a lecture describing the places he had visited; yet these persons had never taken pains to inform themselves respecting those countries, by reading any of the full and authentic accounts of them, to be found in numerous books." We might find excuses for such a pardonable curiosity ; but the case becomes serious when, as we learn from Dr. Brigham, throughout the whole community at least twenty-five, if not fifty, out of one hundred females, attend religious meetings at least 100 or 150 nights in a year.
The camp-meetings of America have been described by travellers, and sometimes probably with exaggerations, in books that are in everybody's hands. Dr. Brigham gives an account of them, and even of the fanatical language and practices by which they are characterised, with his usual moderation, setting
forth the facts, often in the very words of the performers themselves, but indulging in few observations, and those free from unnecessary severity. In all these instances it is but proper to give the devotees the credit of sincerity, and the sincerity of piety deserves respect. But the consequences of such feelings, when unrestrained by a calm judgment, are generally of a nature to be deplored ; and the camp-meetings unfortunately seem to furnish exhibitions equally condem ned by the judgment and by a due sense of propriety. They are meetings held out of doors, and usually in the woods, for several days and nights in succession. Thousands of individuals attend them, and the professed object is a devotion of themselves during the whole time to prayer and other religious exercises. The accounts of these meetings, written by the ministers, abound in narrations of wonderful awakenings and conversions, some of which it is difficult to read without a smile.
As regards the subject of health, it is sufficiently evident that the exposure to the weather, either in the open air or in tents, during such camp-meetings, must be highly injurious to many who attend : but the ill-judged exhortations of the preachers, the frantic demeanour of the converted, the tears and groans and wild excitement of the multitude, produce in many cases the most pernicious impression on the minds of the young, the delicate, and the susceptible; sometimes ending in absolute insanity. The effect upon the preachers themselves appears to be, in almost every instance, an early breaking down of the constitution; and it has been remarked by close observers, that the general results upon the congregation are similar to those which would be produced by strong drink, a temporary and delusive appearance of strength, followed by sensorial debility and disease.
If any one feature of these fanatical proceedings were selected as more me. lancholy than the rest, it would be the effect of similar impressions made on children. Dr. Brigham quotes some distressing examples of the state of mind and body produced by constant and intemperate efforts to produce miracles of early piety. Such efforts seem as destructive as similar attempts to produce paragons of early mental accomplishment. In both cases the brain, or some portion of the nervous system, is over-wrought, and disease, delirium, and early death are the common consequences. It is impossible to read the case of Fanny Harrison, related with self-righteous complacency by the by-standers, (p. 178,) without the most painful feelings. An interesting child of eleven years of age, is stated only then to have become anxious about her soul." Still, “ she had not submitted her heart to God.” Attendance on the protracted prayer meetings, and the reproval of all cheerfulness at home, seem to have caused the poor child to be affected with fever, of which she died. We forbear to dwell upon these topics, on which it would be really difficult to express one's feelings with calmness. But such facts prepare us fully to believe the assertion of several observers quoted by Dr. Brigham, that nervous disorders of all kinds, including complete derangement of mind, are becoming more and more prevalent in America. We trust, however, that this work, whatever prejudices it may have offended, will excite such a degree of attention as may check the unreasonable ostentation of devotion which now appears so much to prevail in most of the states. The excitement of mind incidental to a people so jealous of their freedom, and at the same time so indefatigable in the pursuit of wealth, might be mitigated by a calm devotional spirit; whereas the extravagant demonstrations of religious enthusiasm, whilst they further affect and agitate the mind, are, we fear, too often put in the place of an even course of correct conduct, and a due government of worldly desires.
To all who are deeply engaged in the pursuit of the objects of ambition, whether power or possessions, the Eighth Chapter of Dr. Brigham's work may be recommended for careful perusal; and those who in simplicity and earnestness of heart have devoted themselves to religious exercises of which they already begin to feel the debilitating effects, will find much in it deserving of their most serious attention. They will see how directly the brain and nervous system are affected by all vehement emotions, and how variously and seriously the body becomes injured by this nervous disturbance; and surely it will then only require the exercise of reason to convince them that the Creator, whose bounty endowed the body and mind with so many faculties, does not demand the premature destruction of those faculties as a religious duty. To suppose that excitements, leading to exhaustion and religious melancholy, often ending in suicide, and sometimes in murder, can be pleasing to the great and benevolent Creator, is to admit an opinion unworthy of a rational and instructed people, and