[Early in his career at The Times, Dallas was assigned to write leaders on many of the major social and cultural issues of the day; this was one of his early efforts. - Graham Law]

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n a return which has just been published of the weekly sums allowed during the last five years for the maintenance of those pauper lunatics in Scotland who are exempted from confinement, we hope that we see one of the last rags of a barbarism which has passed away for ever. We trust that the Act which last session received the sanction of the Legislature, and provided for the proper treatment and maintenance of lunatics in Scotland, will prevent, as far as any Act of Parliament can, a recurrence of those enormities which early in the present year the report of the Scottish Lunacy Commission brought to light. But, without venturing to doubt the value of that measure, it is well also to remember that its success must depend not less on the vigilance of officials than on the interest which the Scottish public take in it; and we do think that the facts published in the present return exhibit an amount of ignorance, of cruelty, and penuriousness on the part of Scotchmen that is indeed astounding. . . . [8d]

But the worst of it is, that by such niggardly allowances the pauper lunatics are subjected to the most terrible and loathsome treatment. We had hoped that the old method of treating madness, which was as horrible in its details as the most cruel system of penal discipline which has yet been invented, had, at least in this country, been almost wholly abolished. All disease is more or less penal, and in many cases the remedy also comes to us with the penal touch, - it is a sharp knife, or a bitter draught, or a forced imprisonment. But the pains of disease and the unpleasantness of the remedy are in most cases mitigated by the soothing of friends and all the comforts which it is in their power to supply. To the lunatic alone under the exploded system was this mitigation of suffering denied; he was subjected to a physical restraint and to a lowering diet, that only served to develop his malady, and when he had worn out the resources of those who loved him best he was consigned to a gloomy madhouse, which was literally a hell upon earth, while it was the severest trial to those who cared for him to know that in committing him to this frightful abode they gave him up to indescribable torments, which were to end only with his life. The report of the Scottish Lunacy Commissioners proved to the world that this inhuman system still retains its vitality in the northern part of the island. By day oppressed with fetters and manacles, by night lying naked three or four in a bed of straw without covering of any kind, rolling in filth and starved to desperation, the poor wretches, who, in their helplessness, had passed into the hands of men whose only object was to keep them as cheaply and as long as possible, led a life in comparison with which that of a well-fed pig in a sty seems a sort of paradisaical existence. Such ignominious treatment is but the natural result of penurious payment and imperfect supervision. It is surely evident, on every ground of expediency and humanity, that the system should be reversed and the allowances largely increased; and it may help to show the immense importance of regarding this class of the community with no niggardly wisdom if we state a fact which may not be generally known. The total number of lunatics in Scotland is 7,403, and of this number 3,904 are paupers. What does this mean? It means that the pauper population of Scotland supply more than half the total number of lunatics in the kingdom. There is a direct connexion between pauperism and lunacy. Poverty and mania act and react on each other, and it is at once a cruel system and a false economy which could lead the Poor Law Board to reduce to a minimum the amount of relief afforded to a pauper lunatic. It has been one of the theories of the Poor Law Board - understood, if not boldly expressed - that pauper relief should be rendered as disagreeable as possible, in order that no one may apply for it except in cases of extreme need; and, if we may judge from the return before us, it is pretty evident that a similar system has been extended to lunatics, without the officials perceiving the distinction between poverty and disease. After the report of the Commissioners, and after the Bill of last session, the publication of a return which makes disclosures such as these ought now to be an anachronism, and, notwithstanding the approving statement of the Lord-Advocate, we trust that we may accept this paper as a mere relic of the past and as a sure promise of change. [8e]

Links to Related Material


[Dallas, Eneas Sweetland]. "In a return which . . .," The Times (19 December 1857): 8d-e. [Leading article on a report and returns from the Scottish Lunacy Commission.]

Created 2 February 2024