Symptoms of stress and the modern man of science

Goodman, H (2016) Symptoms of stress and the modern man of science. In: Medicine and Modernity in the Long Nineteenth Century, 10 - 11 September 2016, St Anne's College, University of Oxford, UK.

Official URL: https://diseasesofmodernlife.org/2016/04/12/medici...

Abstract

A number of Victorian intellectuals who suffered from symptoms of nervous strain and anxiety made attempts at self-diagnosis and home remedies by way of self-medication. Extending even beyond the use of opiates, diets, exercise regimen, hot or cold baths and steam rooms, these methods could be highly developed. This paper explores the evolution of medical approaches to intellectual strain and nervous exhaustion in the long nineteenth century. It begins by considering the pioneering work of Dr Cheyne, whose eighteenth-century clients included Pope and Richardson. Within this medical and literary context, the paper explores the employment and relative success or failure of various experimental self-treatments pursued by men of science who remained determined to pursue highly demanding research and writing schedules in spite of nervous exhaustion and mental collapse. Based upon the early research findings of a postdoctoral project on connections between stress and the scientific or academic ‘genius’ in the long nineteenth-century, this paper explores various literary and historical approaches to self-diagnosis and self-medication taken by modern men of science who suffered from nervous breakdowns, including Charles Darwin and his half-cousin, Francis Galton. It brings to light a range of literature including medical records, letters, diaries, fiction and medical journalism. Attempting to alleviate a plethora of alarming ailments including nervous shaking, palpitations, boils and acute abdominal pain (believed to be caused or exacerbated by stress), Darwin educated himself about various new treatments. Whilst expending great physical and mental energy during periods of intense writing he went to considerable, perhaps obsessive, lengths to engineer structures for hydrotherapy. The frequent co-existence, or even apparent co-dependence of severe mental strain and genius was often remarked upon by modern thinkers across the scientific and literary world, such as George Eliot. Galton considered the subject in publications such as Hereditary Genius (1869).

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Keywords: nervousness, nervous exhaustion, stress, neurasthenia, George Beard, Francis Galton, Charles Darwin, George Cheyne, George Eliot, homeopathy
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
L Education > LA History of education
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Q Science > QH Natural history
R Medicine > RB Pathology
R Medicine > RX Homeopathy
Divisions: College of Liberal Arts
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Date Deposited: 26 Nov 2018 15:21
Last Modified: 26 Nov 2018 15:21
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