As a historical crime writer, I’m naturally interested in the forensic methods and knowledge of earlier times. I try to track down old handbooks on the subject, one such being Henry Cadwalader Chapman’s Manual of Medical Jurisprudence, Insanity and Toxicology. It’s slightly after my period, but a lot of the techniques it discusses were in use during the time I’m concerned with.
Interestingly, the section on medical jurisprudence takes up about 200 pages, and that on toxicology about 80 pages, with a mere 19 given over to the massive subject of insanity. The writer does acknowledge it is an extensive subject and therefore he is only going to limit himself to giving the salient points. But this is presumably intended to be enough to qualify the reader to undertake the following essential task: “Every practitioner should appreciate the importance of the fact that at any moment he may be called upon to visit a person said to have lost his reason, and should be qualified, therefore, to express an opinion as to his sanity.”
Thoughtfully Dr Chapman includes some drawings of mad people to assist with this duty. There’s a sketch of someone suffering from “Idiocy”, next to a man with a big forehead, bulging eyes and untidy hair, whose condition is given as “Epileptic mania”.
“Idiots,” explains the good doctor in the accompanying text, “can generally be recognised by the small size of head.” A little further on, he adds: “Idiots are not only characterized by the absence or deficiency of intellectual power, but by undue development of the animal part of their nature, as shown by their filthy habits, gluttony, etc. Upon post-mortem examination, the convolutions and fissures in the brain of an idiot are usually found less numerouos and less complicated in their arrangement than in the brain of an intelligent person.”
I can’t help wondering what he means by that suggestive “etc”.