Melancholy and Raving Madness

This morning I read in The Immortal Dinner Party about these remarkable statues that live some nine miles from where I live and which I’m now determined to go and see.

Raving madness

Raving and Melancholy Madness were sculpted in the 17th century by Caius Gabriel Cibber and between 1676 and 1815 stood at the entrance to Bethlem Hospital, the madhouse. For much of that time fashionable Londoners went to Bethlem, also known as Bedlam,  to look at the mad people as we now go to the zoo–only unlike us at the zoo now they would prod the mad people to provoke them to greater excesses.

Mealancholy body

The Immortal Dinner Party is a splendidly rambling book, and Lucy Hughes-Hallett, the author, mentions the statues because of the madness of Mary Lamb, the sister of Charles Lamb, who was at the dinner party in 1817 along with William Wordsworth, John Keats, and the host, Benjamin Hayden, the historical painter. Mary suffered from bipolar disease and had to be admitted repeatedly to hospital, but she avoided Bedlam because they could afford private care. Turner, the painter, could also have afforded private care for his mother but didn’t bother. She died in Bedlam after two and half years without either Turner or his father ever having visited her.

Raving and Melancholy Madness were one of the most important landmarks of their time, but I knew nothing about them until this morning. I continue to be impressed and grateful for the huge and sometimes incomprehensible lacunae in my knowledge. The statues strike me as remarkably modern looking. The chains of Raving Madness perhaps give away their antiquity, but I’ve seen pictures recently of mad people in chains, although not in Britain; and I wrote with dismay within the last 20 years in the BMJ about pregnant women giving birth while chained to a bed.

I’m going to make the journey to the modern Bethlem Hospital, to the Museum of the Mind, to see these statues for myself.




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