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THE MAD-HOUSE OF PALERMO.
À FRAGMENT FROM THE JOURNAL OF THE LATE MRS. ROMER.
Palermo, 1844. HERE I linger on, charmed by the beauties of nature and of art. I have visited all the antiquities with which the island abounds—their enumeration would transgress the limits of a journal. To those who have read Goethe's account of Sicily, which he rightly designated as the “Queen of Islands," every other description will appear pale and cold; but let them come and compare, as I have done, the reality with the poet's delineation of it, and they will admit that he did not over-colour what he had beheld in that happy season of life, when the dawn of genius and the sun. shine of youth combined to shed their enchanting prism over all he
There is a perfume of orientalism pervading all things here--the atmosphere, the vegetation, the sirocco-that wind of the desert, laden with sand-all recall the East. The physiognomy of the people is Greek, the architecture Saracenic, and there is a picturesque mixture throughout of remnants of the Arab, Roman, and Spanish dominations, which imparts a bizarre grace to the locality, and to the manners and aspect of the population.
Perhaps no part of Europe is more uncivilized than the interior of the island still remains; but the capital can boast of one institution at least which might well serve as an example to those countries for which civilization has done so much, I allude to the Lunatic Asylum of Palermo, founded by Baron Pisani, where, for the first time, I have beheld madness deprived of the horrors which invariably surround it elsewhere. The other day, passing by a large building in the outskirts of the city, my attention was attracted by a Scriptural verse in large letters placed over the entrance—“Tutto è vanità”—and beneath these words of Ecclesiastes were inscribed the following sentences :
“ Dei Matti il numero è infinito,”
“Qui la saggezza sta.” I immediately applied for admission, and was shown over the whole establishment by the directing physician, with an amenity which is peculiar to Italians, and a well-placed and noble pride in the admirable institution he so ably presided over, which does honour to his nature. I have subsequently paid several visits to the Casa dei Matti, and have derived from its enlightened and interesting director much valuable information as to the discipline observed towards its inmates. Here, even in cases of frenzy, violent measures are never resorted to. Those terrible remedies which I have often fancied tended to confirm madness, instead
of curing it, are unknown ; mildness and persuasion are substituted for the lash, the whirling-stool and shower-bath ; and no greater coercion is applied to unruly patients than such as would be adopted to prevent a wilful child from injuring itself. The tastes and talents of the several inmates are consulted, and allowed to assert themselves; they are employed in whatever calling or accomplishment they prefer, and the walls of the establishment decorated with frescoes executed by them; the gardens laid out in shrubberies, and labyrinths, and adorned with grottos, fountains, and plaster statues, the result of their labours ; the excellent concerts organized among themselves, and, more than all, the free and fearless aspect of all the patients in the presence of their director, are eloquent indications of the wisdom of the system pursued here, and its happy results. The consequence is, that many recover their reason who, under less humane treatment, might be doomed to pass their lives in a maniac's cell.
Since writing the above, I have been once more to the Casa dei Matti, some of the inmates of which have already learned to welcome me as an established visitor, and do the honours of the place with as much courtesy and apparent rationality as could be met with in the noblest salons of Palermo. But to-day I was not the only visitor there. Just as I was about to take my departure, a lady and gentleman, evidently freshly arrived, for they were in travelling-dresses, and accompanied by a Jesuit (one of those aristocratic looking members of the order, of which the type is only now to be met with in Sicily), were ushered into the large shaded court, where Doctor and myself were standing surrounded by a number of his female patients.
The gentleman was past his prime, but possessed of an air of distinction and a benevolence of countenance which years cannot impair. The lady—oh! hers was a face to rave about, but not to describe! It was the beauty of an angel, full of blended sweetness and gravity when in repose, but kindling into such varied and eloquent expression when engaged in conversation, that the eye might drink in her thoughts, eren though the ear heard not her words. I never before met with a countenance that affected me in the same manner, almost to sadness; and although I have thought of nothing else since, I could not now define what was the colour of her eyes, or whether her form is as divine as her
all that I can say is, that as she glided about, her graceful movements appeared to me to belong to a being of another and a brighter world. She looked very young. Can she be the wife, or is she the daughter of the gentleman who accompanied her? But this is unknown to me, as well as her name and nation, for although, from the purity and elegance with which she speaks Italian, I might infer that she is a Roman, there is a softness in her voice which no Italian woman possesses, and a spiritualised expression in her countenance which is not the characteristic of Italian beauty.
It was a face to rave about ; but there was that in it, too, that appeared to possess the power of calming the ravings of madness. An English author has observed that “the mind is to be medicined by natural loveliness," and here was a proof of it. One of the most excited
of the poor lunatics around us, an elderly woman, who had been talking incessantly previous to the stranger's arrival, after fixing her eyes for some moments upon the lovely being, as though fascinated by what she beheld, silently followed her footsteps, and, whenever she could do so unperceived, would stoop down and raise the hem of the young lady's garment reverently to her lips, with an expression of happiness pervading her poor bewildered countenance.
A female patient had suddenly become violent and unmanageable ; and resisting the offices of washing her face and arranging her hair, which one of the nurses was performing for her, she fell upon the latter, and beat and scratched her with all her might, until the cries of the assailed, mingling with those of the assailant, caused the uproar which had startled us all. Doctor was in a moment on the spot, and as soon as the poor delinquent beheld him, she rushed forward, and throwing herself upon his breast with the confiding abandon of a child, with sobs and tears began to make her complaint to him. We had severally gathered round them, and were witnesses to the indulgent patience with which he listened to her broken exclamations. Not a harsh look, not a hasty word escaped from him. He soothed and pacified her as tenderly as a nurse would have done a sick child.
"Povrina !” said the old maniac, drawing the fair stranger aside with the air of one about to confide a secret to her, and compassionately stroking her head as though to bespeak indulgence for the weeping patient, “ Poverina! è matta bisogna compatirla!”.
Never shall I forget the expression of those divine eyes as they bent their pitying glances swimming in tears upon the speaker! They said more eloquently than words could have done—“And shall I not pity you too, you who have forgotten to pity yourself, poor unconscious one !"
In truth there was something strangely affecting in hearing madness tbus pitying madness in the accents and the semblance of reason.
In a few seconds Doctor - had succeeded in tranquillizing his charge, and then with mild persuasion he led her to consent that her ablutions should be completed. For a moment she stood irresolute, unwilling to relinquish her grasp of the kind hand that had wiped away her tears, when the lovely lady stepping forward, offered to accompany her.
“Andiamo insieme,” she said, extending her hand.
“Si, cara ! andiamo insieme !” exclaimed the maniac, eagerly seizing the fair hand that was offered to her; and allowing herself to be condueted back to the spot from whence she had so violently broken away but a few moments before, she quietly seated herself and submitted to all that was exacted of her.
My visit to Doctor — had already passed the limits of an ordinary one; I had no pretext for prolonging it, and yet I lingered on, unwilling to lose sight of that charming countenance which seemed to have cast a spell over my feelings as completely as it had done over those of the two brainstruck creatures who hung upon her footsteps; for although discretion forbade me to follow her as closely as I fain would have done, my eyes never quitted the spot she occupied. It would have appeared like intrusion had I joined the strangers' party in their visit of inspection through the establishment; besides, the bow and the courteous "con permesso" of the Director, as he passed me in order to introduce his guests into those departments of it which were already so well known to me, sufficiently testified that he at least did not expect that I should accompany them. I therefore remained in the court, determined to outstay the new-comers, in the vague hope that I might learn who they were, as there is a book in the hall of the Casa dei Matti where visitors generally inscribe their names. My patience was rewarded by another glimpse of them as they traversed the court in their way out ; the lovely vision turned her sweet eyes upon me, and acknowledged my salutation by an inclination full of grace and dignity. I followed just in time to see that they did not enter their names in the book, and that their carriage bore them away in the direction of the Marino. There our casual rencontre was doomed to terminate ; for in the evening, as I slowly drove along the Promenade, somewhat anxiously looking into every carriage that passed, to ascertain whether it contained the beautiful stranger, I was joined by Holden, a young German artist, who scarcely gave himself time to exchange the usual greetings with me before he burst forth into a strain of the most rapturous admiration of an enchanting face and form which had that very eveningbut one short hour before-crossed his path returning from the Chapel of Santa Rosalie.
“Figure to yourself,” said he, "all that Raffael ever depicted of purest and most divine in his Madonnas—all that Giorgione ever produced of captivating and love-inspiring in his more earthly beauties—and you will have some idea of this exquisite-looking creature!"
I could understand his enthusiasm-I knew of whom he must be speaking-earth could not contain two such! "Natura la fece, e poi ruppe la forma !” I told him I had seen her, and of the effect that her countenance had produced upon me. I urged him to tell me where he had left her, that I might endeavour to behold her once more.
“She is no longer here,” he replied. And pointing towards the bay, where a beautiful English yacht had just weighed anchor, and was unfurling her sails to catch the evening breeze that wafted her out to sea, "I followed her and her father (for such I suppose he is) down to the port, and saw them enter a boat manned by English sailors having “Sea Flower” on their hats, which conveyed them on board of yonder vessel, and immediately afterwards up went the anchor, and there they go!"
THE MUSEUM OF THE ROYAL IRISH ACADEMY.*
Most of our readers are aware that the Royal Irish Academy was founded and chartered about three-quarters of a century ago, with the object of promoting in Ireland the studies of science, polite literature, and antiquities. In addition to annually publishing in its “Transactions” and “Proceedings” various important, scientific and historic treatises, this Institution bas, during the last twenty years, acquired, by donation and purchase, a library of valuable Irish manuscripts, and so great a number of objects illustrative of the habits and modes of life of the inhabitants of Ireland in past ages, that its Museum has been for some time universally recognized as the most perfect extant collection of Celtic antiquities. The Museum of the Irish Academy being, however, neither classified, arranged, nor catalogued, afforded but little service to historic investigators, to whom no accurate information was accessible relative to its varied contents. This state of things was long and justly considered to be highly unsatisfactory; and as a general feeling prevailed among the members, that it would be discreditable to the Academy were the British Association, on its visit to Dublin, to find the Museum of the Institution so circumstanced, the author of the present work laid before the Council, early in the past year, a proposition gratuitously to classify, catalogue, and arrange its collection. After careful consideration, the Council, with the approbation of the Academy, committed this difficult task to Mr. Wilde, the result of a portion of whose labours, in the handsome volume now before us, was presented to the Institution immediately previous to the arrival in Dublin of the British Association.
As, in the present state of antiquarian 'knowledge, a chronological classification could not be fully carried out, Mr. Wilde has adopted material as the basis or primary division of his arrangement; and the present part of his work contains a description of all the stone, earthen and vegetable objects in the Academy's Museum.
On the early use of articles of stone, the author makes the following introductory observations :
"All primitive nations throughout the world, so far as we knowespecially those located without the tropics and towards the northern regionswhose maintenance chiefly depended on their courage, energy, and ingenuity, must, in the absence of a knowledge of the harder metals
, such as copper, bronze, or iron, bave employed weapons and tools of flint and stone for procuring food and clothing, constructing habitations, forming boats and rafts, and in defending themselves from their enemies. They also used stone ornaments, such as necklaces, rings, and pendants. As they acquired a knowledge of cereal food, and became acquainted with agriculture, they
“A Descriptive Catalogue of the Antiquities of Stone, Earthen, and Vegetable Materials, in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy." By W. R. Wilde, M.R.I.A., Secretary of Foreign Correspondence to the Academy. Illustrated with numerous Wood Engravings. Dublin : Printed for the Academy. 1857.