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Sanity and Insanity


TO bring the facts of any department of knowledge before the non-scientific in an easily assimilable form, without offence to the good taste of some one or other section of the community, is by no means so simple a matter as the prolific literature of this class in late years might seem to indicate. It is not every author or lecturer, however able as a man of science, who can thus cater satisfactorily for an omnivorous, but captious and critical public. Every mechanics' institute and popular lecture-room exemplifies this truth—the enthusiasm of the aspirant to public honours in this field is often inversely proportional to his qualifications and actual attainments. The first requisite condition is that the author be thoroughly and profoundly acquainted with his subject, so that in a popular résumé facts should assume their due perspective—that mole-hills be not amplified into a bizarre prominence, or that the great mountain tracts encircling the subordinate features of the territory lose not in the distant haze their outlines—in other words, that principles be clearly enunciated, and inductions marshalled in harmonious sequence. The next prerequisite qualification is a keen realization of the obstacles which beset his own path of observation; those knotty points, those complex junctions of thought which cause so much delay in the history of all intellectual effort. The most learned authorities are often the most laboured and tedious exponents of their craft; but we have only to glance at the essays and popular lectures of Clifford, Tyndall, Huxley, or Haeckel, to learn what a degree of excellence is thus attainable by a profound thinker and a cultured mind. It is on account of the rarity of this style of writing that we hail with pleasure the appearance of Dr. Mercier's book, which is an excellent example of the perspicuity with which a cultured mind can delineate an obscure and difficult subject. Dr. Mercier's numerous contributions to psychological literature which have appeared from time to time in Brain, Mind, the Journal of Mental Science, and his book on the “Nervous System and the Mind,” are a sufficient pledge of his capacity for a graceful handling of the subject of insanity. After a preliminary sketch of the mechanism of the nervous system, and the modern view of its mental correlate, given in simple but pleasing outline, the author devotes his fourth chapter to a discussion on the “Nature of Insanity,” which he defines as a disorder in the process of adjustment of the organism to its environment—a disorder not subject to correction. The faulty adaptation of organism to environment is fully considered, and all qualifications in any such definition of insanity are lucidly expressed.

Sanity and Insanity.

By Charles Mercier Lecturer on Insanity at the Westminster Hospital Medical School, and at the Medical School for Women. The Contemporary Science Series. (London: Walter Scott, 1890.)

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L., W. Sanity and Insanity. Nature 42, 635–636 (1890).

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