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PACSCL Hidden Collections Processing Project » Blog Archive » Does Love Lead to Madness?

Does Love Lead to Madness?

Written by Holly Mengel on August 25th, 2010

Some days this job seems too good to be true … and today is one of those days.  I am in the midst of processing the Rush family papers at the Library Company of Philadelphia and I will admit that I am a bit daunted by Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), a renaissance man who appears to have dabbled in an inordinate number of activities.  Upon closer examination, however, it is obvious that this man did not dabble, he did.  He was a doctor, a patriot, a soldier, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a founder of Dickinson College … to name only a few.  On occasion, it is difficult to remember that he was a real person.  As I process, though, I find many little indications that Rush was a real person: a father, a husband and a friend. There is note about his grandchild being stillborn, letters from his wife while she traveled to Canada, notes from his friends who valued his opinion and judgment, and criticisms of his medical treatments, especially during the yellow fever epidemic in 1793.  And then you have those who sought his advice … on all sorts of topics.

The following is a transcription of one of my favorite letters I have ever found in an archival collection.  Upon receipt, perhaps Dr. Rush laughed, or perhaps he responded with sensitivity and saw signs of madness in this fellow … certainly Rush’s work with the mentally ill is legendary, and as you can can see by the final document … in the late 1700s, love COULD lead to madness!

Unknown size: small.

“Dear Sir,
I am now in a most dreadfull dilemma, will you be so favourable to give me your ingenious observations on the passion of Love, it will tend to extricate me from the dreadfull Situation.
To love and be disappointed [illegible] most unhappy dreadfull state! Advise how to forget a lady whom for years (think it not recent for it has subsisted four years) I had the most ardent passion. I enjoyed every promise and privilege, save only I can say we were not united? Teach me the noble science to forget? Teach me how to conduct myself when frequently in her company, she appearing in tryumph at my mortification.

Unknown size: small.

Her company an arrow dipt in poison to my heart. How must I conduct myself? Can I hate when I once so passionately loved? Can I seek revenge? Or is it the refuge of a narrow depraved mind? Will it give any satisfaction?
Think not, Dr. Sir, my subject too frivolous for an answer, for remember what Solomon the wise man says: ‘Love is as strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave, the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame, many waters cannot quench love, neither can the flood drown it, if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be be contemned.’
Now, Sir, if you will be so kind, Mr. Cary’s Museum is where I wish to read your thoughts–if you will oblige as long as life remains a student of medicine and one of your class.”

From a quick Google search, I learned a few things … Mr. Cary is Matthew Carey (1760-1839), an Irish immigrant to Philadelphia who became a prominent publisher.  His magazine American Museum is almost certainly the one in which the Student of Medicine wished to have Dr. Rush publish his response.  He is also quoting the Song of Solomon 8:6.

Unknown size: small.

Not long after finding the above marvelous letter, I found a “List of Lunatics in the Pennsylvania Hospital on May 1, 1784.”  At least two of the twelve “lunatics” listed are considered to be insane/manic because of love.  Since our Student of Medicine does not give his name, and his letter is undated, who knows?  He may be included on this list! I hope not …  I hope he wrote many more letters to Dr. Benjamin Rush and they are just waiting to be found!


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Megan Fraser says:

    I am crazy-in-love with this letter and very sympathetic to its writer. But maybe I’ve just had too many “tryumph at my mortification.” Looks like a great collection!

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