I admit it. I have a fascination with internet insanity. Particularly insanity that masquerades as sanity: those people who function in the real world, but are passionately convinced of the legitimacy of their own private reality.
Visiting Bedlam gives us a little window into the labyrinthine workings of the human mind. Not to mention that it makes us feel so much better about our own foibles.
History Lesson for the Day
London’s Bethlem Hospital is the world’s oldest institution for the mentally ill. In the 18th century, visiting Bedlam cost just two pence, and was a popular entertainment for the wealthy, visitors to London, and the working classes.
“Lunatics” and those who had been released from Bedlam were commonly known as Bedlamites.
The contemporary English poet William Cowper wrote the following letter to a friend, after his own visit to Bedlam:
… I was not altogether insensible of the misery of the poor captives, nor destitute of feeling for them. But the Madness of some of them had such a humorous air, and displayed itself in so many whimsical freaks, that it was impossible not to be entertained, at the same time that I was angry with myself for being so. A line of Bourne’s is very expressive of the spectacle which this world exhibits, tragic-comical as the incidents of it are, absurd in themselves, but terrible in their consequences;
Sunt res humanae flebile ludibrium. (Human affairs are a joke to be wept over.)
William Cowper, 19 July 1784