Author : Henry Maudsley (1835-1918)

Title : Responsibility in Mental Disease (1874)

Keywords: education, nature, foundations.

Pages : Introduction | page 1


To Henry Maudsley, the acquittal or conviction of a prisoner where insanity was alleged was a merely a matter of chance. Were ‘the issue to be decided by tossing up a shilling, instead of by the grave procedure of a trial in a court, it could hardly be more uncertain.’(Responsibility, 101) In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, it was clear that lunacy and criminal laws were in conflict. The explanation for the ascendance of debatable ‘opinion’ over legal and medical fact was due precisely to both the expansion of the statutory terms of lunacy to include partial forms of lunacy - to the broader conception of insanity and recognition of sub-species and forms (like moral insanity and monomania) that had occurred since the late-eighteenth century - and to the striking disparity between medical and legal conceptions of both insanity and responsibility.

Here, Maudsley examines in detail the debate that took place between legal and medical professions to determine the demarcation between sanity and lunacy, and thus to decide the ‘responsibility’ of the criminally insane. In this excerpt, taken from V. Skultans (ed.), Madness and Morals: Ideas on Insanity in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1975), he focuses on the limited power of education to transform ‘human nature’. Once again Maudsley reveals his steadfast adherence to heredity and evolution as organizing principles in the development of insanity.

Back to Madness Documents | Introduction | page 1