Slightly Different Meanings: Insanity, Language and the Self in Early Modern Autobiographical Pamphlets
‘Slightly different meanings’: the phrase is John Perceval’s, a man who spent several periods in asylums in the 1830s, and for whom language and its imperatives constituted a major factor in his insanity. Words, according to Perceval, acquire slightly different meanings in madness. This essay is concerned with the representation of individual identity in two ‘mad’ pamphlets, one from the 1680s, by Hannah Allen, and one, by Samuel Bruckshaw, from the 1770s. Identity for both these writers takes on slightly different meanings in the light of acknowledged or denied insanity, though I shall be arguing that in the case of Allen they are meanings of which she is almost in control, while Bruckshaw in his writing is as robustly unaware of the possibility of ambiguities, of other interpretations, as he was with regard to the train of events that brought him to confinement in the first place. Indeed, his pamphlet can be considered as largely an attempt to reconstruct those events in all the solidity of their apparent singleness of meaning. Each writer has a story to tell and a point to the telling of it, but that point, inevitably, is itself impinged upon by different factors contingent upon the telling, and upon each writer’s stance of authorship.
KeywordsCoherence Opium Verse
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- 1.All quotations are from Voices of Madness: Four Pamphlets, 1683–1796, ed. Allan Ingram (Stroud, 1997).Google Scholar
- 2.The Life of the Reverend Mr. George Trosse, Late Minister of the Gospel in the City of Exon, Who Died January 11th, 1712/13, ed. A.W. Brink (Montreal and London, 1974) p. 38.Google Scholar
- 4.See Millicent Regan, A Caring Society: A Study of Lunacy in Liverpool and South West Lancashire from 1650 to 1948 (Merseyside, 1986) p. 22, citing Manchester Quarter Sessions Petitions Order Book, 12 October 1780.Google Scholar