Speaking It Like a Horse: Gulliver’s Travels and the Contexts of Insanity

  • Allan Ingram
  • Michelle Faubert


The history of insanity is full of dizzying paradoxes. Here, for example, is the nineteenth-century madhouse proprietor Thomas Bakewell, writing in 1815: ‘Inever sit at table’, he observes, ‘without a number of Lunatics on each side of me; I treat them exactly as I should do if they were not afflicted with that disease, and, in return, they almost uni¬formly behave as if nothing was the matter with them..’.1 Were it not for those two words, ‘almost uniformly’, there would be nothing at all to justify that key capitalised term ‘Lunatics’. He treats them normally: they behave normally. Where is the lunacy? The very reason for their presence in the madhouse, even their identities as proprietor and patrons, begin to dissolve as they engage in this mutual conspiracy to deny the existence of what their confinement, and Bakewell’s own description, would seem to confirm. An elaborate charade, apparently, is being acted out, in which both parties pretend not to know that they, on the one hand, are insane, and that he, on the other, is where he is precisely in order to attempt their cure. In what sense can they be cured if there is ‘nothing the matter with them’? In what sense are they ‘Lunatics’? Yet there they all are in Bakewell’s exemplary madhouse in Staffordshire. Bakewell, in his spare time, wrote and published books of poetry — The Moorland Bard; or, Poetical Recollections of a Weaver, in the Moorlands of Staffordshire — which included several on topics of his trade as madhouse keeper: ‘Drunkenness not distinguishable from Madness’; ‘Lines after a Dispute respecting Insanity’.2


Eighteenth Century Cultural Construction Late Seventeenth Contemporary Medical Practice Subsequent Quotation 
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© Allan Ingram 2005

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  • Allan Ingram
  • Michelle Faubert

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