Author : Charles Mercier (1852-1919)

Title : ‘ Keeping the Public Informed ’ , unknown source and date.

Keywords: Mercier. Insanity. Women.

Pages : Introduction | page1

Charles Mercier was one of the leading British psychiatrists of his day. He was interested in crime and criminality, particularly the criminal responsibility of insane offenders, and helped to make forensic psychiatry respectable. He believed that the insanity plea functioned well as it stood, and that insane offenders were not the victims of gross injustice. Indeed, one of his aims was to narrow the boundaries of exculpatory insanity as much as possible. He thought that most insane offenders were at least partially sane, conscious of what they were doing, and so deserved an appropriately weighted amount of punishment. He believed that the wholly insane should not be punished, but he supported the death penalty for serious sane offenders. He rejected the Lombrosian idea that criminals differ physiologically from non-criminals, and ridiculed the suggestion that criminals were degenerate types. In Mercier’s view, a criminal was simply someone whose particular combination of qualities left him or her relatively more open to temptation. In Crime and Insanity (1911) he argued that crime was a product of a reversion to the primitive instinct of egoism.

Mercier saw insanity as the maladjustment of the human organism to its environment. He rejected the idea of inherited insanity, writing a very critical review, in Brain (1884), of Henry Maudsley’s Body and Will (1883). He emphasised hard work, sociability, and exercise as therapies for the insane, whose condition was often caused by excessive imagination, introspection, egoism, and self-absorption. He accepted the existence of moral insanity and rejected the idea of homicidal mania. For many years he fought for the early treatment of mental disease, and his efforts bore fruit in the Mental Treatment Act (1930). Mercier described himself as a Freud-hater, rejecting psychoanalysis as a morally corrupting German infection. He called it ‘the new pornography’. Today he appears rather an unsympathetic character - he was anti-Semitic, anti-feminist, and viewed homosexuality as abnormal and disgusting.

Back to Documents | Introduction | page1