Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
THE REPORT OF THE BIOLOGICAL COMMITTEE.
Perhaps it is too much to expect a reader who wishes to be entertained, excited, amused, and does not want to work his passage through pages which he cannot understand without some effort of his own, to read the paper which follows and Dr. Butts's reflections upon it. If he has no curiosity in the direction of these chapters, he can afford to leave them to such as relish a slight flavor of science. But if he does so leave them he will very probably remain sceptical as to the truth of the story to which they are meant to furnish him with a key.
Of course the case of Maurice Kirkwood is a remarkable and exceptional one, and it is hardly probable that any reader's experience will furnish him with its parallel. But let him look back over all his acquaintances, if he has reached middle life, and see if he cannot recall more than one who, for some reason or other, shunned the society of young women, as if they had a deadly fear of their company. If he remembers any such, he can understand the simple statements and natural reflections which are laid before him.
One of the most singular facts connected with the history of Maurice Kirkwood was the philosophical equanimity with which he submitted to the fate which had fallen upon him. He did not choose to be pumped by the Interviewer, who would show him up in the sensational columns of his prying newspaper. He lived chiefly by himself, as the easiest mode of avoiding those meetings to which he would be exposed in almost every society into which he might venture. But he had learned to look upon himself very much as he would upon an intimate not himself,--upon a different personality. A young man will naturally enough be ashamed of his shyness. It is something which others believe, and perhaps he himself thinks, he might overcome. But in the case of Maurice Kirkwood there was no room for doubt as to the reality and gravity of the long enduring effects of his first convulsive terror. He had accepted the fact as he would have accepted the calamity of losing his sight or his hearing. When he was questioned by the experts to whom his case was submitted, he told them all that he knew about it almost without a sign of emotion. Nature was so peremptory with him,--saying in language that had no double meaning: "If you violate the condition on which you hold my gift of existence I slay you on the spot,"--that he became as decisive in his obedience as she was in her command, and accepted his fate without repining.
Yet it must not be thought for a moment,--it cannot be supposed,--that he was insensible because he looked upon himself with the coolness of an enforced philosophy. He bore his burden manfully, hard as it was to live under it, for he lived, as we have seen, in hope. The thought of throwing it off with his life, as too grievous to be borne, was familiar to his lonely hours, but he rejected it as unworthy of his manhood. How he had speculated and dreamed about it is plain enough from the paper the reader may remember on Ocean, River, and Lake.
With these preliminary hints the paper promised is submitted to such as may find any interest in them.
ACCOUNT OF A CASE OF GYNOPHOBIA.
Being the Substance of a Report to the Royal Academy of the Biological Sciences by a Committee of that Institution.
"The singular nature of the case we are about to narrate and comment upon will, we feel confident, arrest the attention of those who have learned the great fact that Nature often throws the strongest light upon her laws by the apparent exceptions and anomalies which from time to time are observed. We have done with the lusus naturae of earlier generations. We pay little attention to the stories of 'miracles,' except so far as we receive them ready-made at the hands of the churches which still hold to them. Not the less do we meet with strange and surprising facts, which a century or two ago would have been handled by the clergy and the courts, but today are calmly recorded and judged by the best light our knowledge of the laws of life can throw upon them. It must be owned that there are stories which we can hardly dispute, so clear and full is the evidence in their support, which do, notwithstanding, tax our faith and sometimes leave us sceptical in spite of all the testimony which supports them.
"In this category many will be disposed to place the case we commend to the candid attention of the Academy. If one were told that a young man, a gentleman by birth and training, well formed, in apparently perfect health, of agreeable physiognomy and manners, could not endure the presence of the most attractive young woman, but was seized with deadly terror and sudden collapse of all the powers of life, if he came into her immediate presence; if it were added that this same young man did not shrink from the presence of an old withered crone; that he had a certain timid liking for little maidens who had not yet outgrown the company of their dolls, the listener would be apt to smile, if he did not laugh, at the absurdity of the fable. Surely, he would say, this must be the fiction of some fanciful brain, the whim of some romancer, the trick of some playwright. It would make a capital farce, this idea, carried out. A young man slighting the lovely heroine of the little comedy and making love to her grandmother! This would, of course, be overstating the truth of the story, but to such a misinterpretation the plain facts lend themselves too easily. We will relate the leading circumstances of the case, as they were told us with perfect simplicity and frankness by the subject of an affection which, if classified, would come under the general head of Antipathy, but to which, if we give it a name, we shall have to apply the term Gynophobia, or Fear of Woman."
Here follows the account furnished to the writer of the paper, which is in all essentials identical with that already laid before the reader.
"Such is the case offered to our consideration. Assuming its truthfulness in all its particulars, it remains to see in the first place whether or not it is as entirely exceptional and anomalous as it seems at first sight, or whether it is only the last term of a series of cases which in their less formidable aspect are well known to us in literature, in the records of science, and even in our common experience.
"To most of those among us the explanations we are now about to give are entirely superfluous. But there are some whose chief studies have been in different directions, and who will not complain if certain facts are mentioned which to the expert will seem rudimentary, and which hardly require recapitulation to those who are familiarly acquainted with the common text-books.
"The heart is the centre of every living movement in the higher animals, and in man, furnishing in varying amount, or withholding to a greater or less extent, the needful supplies to all parts of the system. If its action is diminished to a certain degree, faintness is the immediate consequence; if it is arrested, loss of consciousness; if its action is not soon restored, death, of which fainting plants the white flag, remains in possession of the system.
"How closely the heart is under the influence of the emotions we need not go to science to learn, for all human experience and all literature are overflowing with evidence that shows the extent of this relation. Scripture is full of it; the heart in Hebrew poetry represents the entire life, we might almost say. Not less forcible is the language of Shakespeare, as for instance, in 'Measure for Measure:'
"'Why does my blood thus muster to my heart, Making it both unable for itself And dispossessing all my other parts Of necessary fitness?'
"More especially is the heart associated in every literature with the passion of love. A famous old story is that of Galen, who was called to the case of a young lady long ailing, and wasting away from some cause the physicians who had already seen her were unable to make out. The shrewd old practitioner suspected that love was at the bottom of the young lady's malady. Many relatives and friends of both sexes, all of them ready with their sympathy, came to see her. The physician sat by her bedside during one of these visits, and in an easy, natural way took her hand and placed a finger on her pulse. It beat quietly enough until a certain comely young gentleman entered the apartment, when it suddenly rose infrequency, and at the same moment her hurried breathing, her changing color, pale and flushed by turns, betrayed the profound agitation his presence excited. This was enough for the sagacious Greek; love was the disease, the cure of which by its like may be claimed as an anticipation of homoeopathy. In the frontispiece to the fine old 'Junta' edition of the works of Galen, you may find among the wood-cuts a representation of the interesting scene, with the title Amantas Dignotio,--the diagnosis, or recognition, of the lover.
"Love has many languages, but the heart talks through all of them. The pallid or burning cheek tells of the failing or leaping fountain which gives it color. The lovers at the 'Brookside' could hear each other's hearts beating. When Genevieve, in Coleridge's poem, forgot herself, and was beforehand with her suitor in her sudden embrace,
"'T was partly love and partly fear, And partly 't was a bashful art, That I might rather feel than see The swelling of her heart'
"Always the heart, whether its hurried action is seen, or heard, or felt. But it is not always in this way that the 'deceitful' organ treats the lover.
"'Faint heart never won fair lady.'
"This saying was not meant, perhaps, to be taken literally, but it has its literal truth. Many a lover has found his heart sink within him,--lose all its force, and leave him weak as a child in his emotion at the sight of the object of his affections. When Porphyro looked upon Madeline at her prayers in the chapel, it was too much for him:
"'She seemed a splendid angel, newly drest, Save wings, for heaven:--Porphyro grew faint, She knelt, so pure a thing, so free from earthly taint.'
"And in Balzac's novel, 'Cesar Birotteau,' the hero of the story 'fainted away for-joy at the moment when, under a linden-tree, at Sceaux, Constance-Barbe-Josephine accepted him as her future husband.'
"One who faints is dead if he does not I come to,' and nothing is more likely than that too susceptible lovers have actually gone off in this way. Everything depends on how the heart behaves itself in these and similar trying moments. The mechanism of its actions becomes an interesting subject, therefore, to lovers of both sexes, and to all who are capable of intense emotions.
"The heart is a great reservoir, which distributes food, drink, air, and heat to every part of the system, in exchange for its waste material. It knocks at the gate of every organ seventy or eighty times in a minute, calling upon it to receive its supplies and unload its refuse. Between it and the brain there is the closest relation. The emotions, which act upon it as we have seen, govern it by a mechanism only of late years thoroughly understood. This mechanism can be made plain enough to the reader who is not afraid to believe that he can understand it.
"The brain, as all know, is the seat of ideas, emotions, volition. It is the great central telegraphic station with which many lesser centres are in close relation, from which they receive, and to which they transmit, their messages. The heart has its own little brains, so to speak,--small collections of nervous substance which govern its rhythmical motions under ordinary conditions. But these lesser nervous centres are to a large extent dominated by influences transmitted from certain groups of nerve-cells in the brain and its immediate dependencies.
"There are two among the special groups of nerve-cells which produce directly opposite effects. One of these has the power of accelerating the action of the heart, while the other has the power of retarding or arresting this action. One acts as the spur, the other as the bridle. According as one or the other predominates, the action of the heart will be stimulated or restrained. Among the great modern discoveries in physiology is that of the existence of a distinct centre of inhibition, as the restraining influence over the heart is called.
"The centre of inhibition plays a terrible part in the history of cowardice and of unsuccessful love. No man can be brave without blood to sustain his courage, any more than he can think, as the German materialist says, not absurdly, without phosphorus. The fainting lover must recover his circulation, or his lady will lend him her smelling-salts and take a gallant with blood in his cheeks. Porphyro got over his faintness before he ran away with Madeline, and Cesar Birotteau was an accepted lover when he swooned with happiness: but many an officer has been cashiered, and many a suitor has been rejected, because the centre of inhibition has got the upper hand of the centre of stimulation.
"In the well-known cases of deadly antipathy which have been recorded, the most frequent cause has been the disturbed and depressing influence of the centre of inhibition. Fainting at the sight of blood is one of the commonest examples of this influence. A single impression, in a very early period of atmospheric existence,--perhaps, indirectly, before that period, as was said to have happened in the case of James the First of England,--may establish a communication between this centre and the heart which will remain open ever afterwards. How does a footpath across a field establish itself? Its curves are arbitrary, and what we call accidental, but one after another follows it as if he were guided by a chart on which it was laid down. So it is with this dangerous transit between the centre of inhibition and the great organ of life. If once the path is opened by the track of some profound impression, that same impression, if repeated, or a similar one, is likely to find the old footmarks and follow them. Habit only makes the path easier to traverse, and thus the unreasoning terror of a child, of an infant, may perpetuate itself in a timidity which shames the manhood of its subject.
"The case before us is an exceptional and most remarkable example of the effect of inhibition on the heart.
"We will not say that we believe it to be unique in the history of the human race; on the contrary, we do not doubt that there have been similar cases, and that in some rare instances sudden death has been the consequence of seizures like that of the subject of this Report. The case most like it is that of Colone Townsend, which is too well known to require any lengthened description in this paper. It is enough to recall the main facts. He could by a voluntary effort suspend the action of his heart for a considerable period, during which he lay like one dead, pulseless, and without motion. After a time the circulation returned, and he does not seem to have been the worse for his dangerous, or seemingly dangerous, experiment. But in his case it was by an act of the will that the heart's action was suspended. In the case before us it is an involuntary impulse transmitted from the brain to the inhibiting centre, which arrests the cardiac movements.
"What is like to be the further history of the case?
"The subject of this anomalous affliction is now more than twenty years old. The chain of nervous actions has become firmly established. It might have been hoped that the changes of adolescence would have effected a transformation of the perverted instinct. On the contrary, the whole force of this instinct throws itself on the centre of inhibition, instead of quickening the heart-beats, and sending the rush of youthful blood with fresh life through the entire system to the throbbing finger-tips.
"Is it probable that time and circumstances will alter a habit of nervous interactions so long established? We are disposed to think that there is a chance of its being broken up. And we are not afraid to say that we suspect the old gypsy woman, whose prophecy took such hold of the patient's imagination, has hit upon the way in which the 'spell,' as she called it, is to be dissolved. She must, in all probability, have had a hint of the 'antipatia' to which the youth before her was a victim, and its cause, and if so, her guess as to the probable mode in which the young man would obtain relief from his unfortunate condition was the one which would naturally suggest itself.
"If once the nervous impression which falls on the centre of inhibition can be made to change its course, so as to follow its natural channel, it will probably keep to that channel ever afterwards. And this will, it is most likely, be effected by some sudden, unexpected impression. If he were drowning, and a young woman should rescue him, it is by no means impossible that the change in the nervous current we have referred to might be brought about as rapidly, as easily, as the reversal of the poles in a magnet, which is effected in an instant. But he cannot be expected to throw himself into the water just at the right moment when the 'fair lady' of the gitana's prophecy is passing on the shore. Accident may effect the cure which art seems incompetent to perform. It would not be strange if in some future seizure he should never come back to consciousness. But it is quite conceivable, on the other hand, that a happier event may occur, that in a single moment the nervous polarity may be reversed, the whole course of his life changed, and his past terrible experiences be to him like a scarce-remembered dream.
"This is one, of those cases in which it is very hard to determine the wisest course to be pursued. The question is not unlike that which arises in certain cases of dislocation of the bones of the neck. Shall the unfortunate sufferer go all his days with his face turned far round to the right or the left, or shall an attempt be made to replace the dislocated bones? an attempt which may succeed, or may cause instant death. The patient must be consulted as to whether he will take the chance. The practitioner may be unwilling to risk it, if the patient consents. Each case must be judged on its own special grounds. We cannot think that this young man is doomed to perpetual separation from the society of womanhood during the period of its bloom and attraction. But to provoke another seizure after his past experiences would be too much like committing suicide. We fear that we must trust to the chapter of accidents. The strange malady--for such it is--has become a second nature, and may require as energetic a shock to displace it as it did to bring it into existence. Time alone can solve this question, on which depends the well-being and, it may be, the existence of a young man every way fitted to be happy, and to give happiness, if restored to his true nature."
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.