Description of Religious Melancholy by Nicholas Robinson (1729)
From 'A New System of the Spleen, Vapours and Hypochondriak Melancholy, Wherein all the Decays of the Nerves, and Lowness of the Spirits are Mechanically Accounted for', by Nicholas Robinson, 1729.
[Description of Religious Melancholy] "[T]heir Sins fly glaringly in their Faces, and are so infinitely great, that no Satisfaction can compensate; then they think of nothing but the fearful Wrath of God just ready to be pour'd out upon them; that the Sentence of Condemnation is already pass'd, and that they certainly shall be damn'd to all Eternity."
"But thus much must observe in Defence of Religion, that these Disorders are no way the Effects of religious Duties, nor is Religion any way justly chargeable with their Consequences; they are owing to the Temprature of the Body, which, whenever it starts from its natural Standard, obliges the Mind to revolve upon those Ideas, that were most familiar to it while it was in Health. And if the Patient was intent upon religious Duties in Health, he will certainly revolve most upon those under this Disease; and as Fear, Sadness, and Sorrow, are the Pathogonomicks of phlegmatic Melancholy, he will naturally take religious Objects... and multiply the Duties of Religion above the Powers of human Nature to perform, and then quarrel with himself, for not doing what was above his Power to do... .
Thus, this unhappy Wretch goes on from bad to worse, always fighting, groaning, and desponding of Mercy, from a God infinitely merciful: In vain shall you tell him of the Satisfaction of his Saviour for his Sins; his Sins are so foul and enormous, that they are above all Satisfaction: No Blood can wash out the Stains of his Sins, nor blot out the black Catalogue of his Transgressions."
"But if this be the Fate of religious Persons under this Disease, let us change the Scene, and take a view of the Athiest or Libertine under the same Affliction. What hope, what Refuge can he expect from a gracious God, whose Providence he has so often blasphem'd, ridicul'd and deny'd? Under the Symptoms of religious Melancholy, the Mind was in Despair through Doubt; but here, even that Doubt would be the highest Pleasure: He now perceives God's heavy Wrath ready to be executed upon him, and thinks he is already in Hell; himself is Hell, and suffers all the Pains of the Damn'd; he howls, he roars, and, in the Height of his outrageous Frenzy, blasphemes God and his Religion: Where can he rest his hopeless Hope! where seek for Mercy, when Conscience, HOrror, Despair, and all the dismal Scenes of Woe, that can afflict the most obdurate Heart, fly glaringly in his Face, and sting his tortur'd Soul, with Pain and Grief unsufferable to human Nature! Hence spring those frequent Suicides, to which these harden'd Miscreants have Recourse, to rid them of a LIfe most loathed, wretched, and miserable to endure. So that no Scene of Horror can be more dreadful, than to view an Atheist on his Bed of Sickness, just reviving to a Sense of his being forsaken of God, and all Hopes of his Mercy."
"The Mania, or what we call Lunacy or the raging Madness, is only the forgoing Melancholy improv'd in a hot, biliose, sanguine Constitution; whereupon all the Impulses are strongly struck on the Seat of the common Sensorium, and the rational Soul divested of all its noble and distinguishing Endowments.
This Madness presents the Reader with the most dreadful Scene of Horror and Distraction; the Patient appears with a fierce, grim, and rough Aspect, his Reason is disturb'd, his Judgement confus'd, and the Exercise of his Intellectuals is lost and bewilder'd in a bottomless Gulph of most absurd Cogitations."
"Persons, of the greatest natural Parts, of the finest Genius's, and most elevated Imaginations, are often observ'd, in their Flights, to start into Madness; for being naturally of warm, biliose Constitutions, it necessarily follows, that (while the aspiring Soul is pursuing some lofty Thought, soaring to an uncommon Height, and teeming with the grand Discovery) the Impulses prove too strong for the feeble Brain to support, the Intenseness of Thought disconcerts the tender Fibres, and the whole Magazine of most beautiful Ideas are shatter'd, and jumbled into the greatest and most irregular Confusion, by the Force of the labouring Imagination.
When once these Fibres of the Brain, that immediately support the regular Exercise of our Thoughts, have suffered such a fatal Shock; no Operation of the Mind, that is regular, sedate, and uniform, can ever after be expected; but all his Actions will be express'd by sudden Fits and Catches; and shew themselves in all the Diversity of Characters, according to the prevailing Passions that struck the Implulse."
"Sometimes this raging Lunacy is improv'd upon the Habit of warm, biliose Constitutions, from a set of religious Objects, and then it raises to Enthusiasm; a Species of Madness quite different from religious Melancholy, and which produces different Effects: For whereas the Patient under the Symptoms of religious Melancholy, was greatly oppress'd with Fear, Sadness, and Despair; these, on the contrary, from an over-weening Opinion of their own Sancitity or Holiness, are elevated to the highest Degree of Familiarity with their Maker: They are his Viceroys, chosen Saints and Servants, sent on especial Errands, to reclaim the unbelieving World.
When the Brain is once well-warm'd, then every groundless Opinion, or silly Fancy, that strongly settles itself on their Minds, is an Illumination from the Spirit of God, and of divine Authority; and then every Impulse that drives them on to any odd and ridiculous Action, is immediatly a divine Call from Heaven; it's a Commission from Above, and must be obey'd. [...] They feel the Hand of God moving them within, and the Impulse of his Holy Spirit directing them in all their Enthusiastick Thoughts, Words, and Actions."
"I call that kind of melancholy Madness, where Men rave in an extravagant Manner, Lunacy; because it is only the same Diseaes, improved in a hot, biliose Consitition. ... it [is] absolutely impossible to give any considerable Turn to the Disease under these Circumstances, without instituting a Course of Medicines of the most violent Operation; and if that be not sufficient to bring down the Spirit of these Stubborn Persons, we must endeavour to reduce their artificial Strength by compulsive Methods."
"Give me Leave to say, that no Man can have a tenderer, or more compassionate Concern for the Misery of Mankind than my self; yet it is Cruelty in the highest Degree, not to be bold in the Administration of Medicines, when the Nature of the Disease absolutely demands the Assistance of a powerful Remedy, and more especially in Cases where there can be no Relief without it. It is owing to these safe Men, that do but little Good, and a great deal of real Mischief, that chronick Diseases are so rife now-a-days, and so generally incurable; not that they are so in themselves, but only render'd so by those, that are afraid to proceed in a Way only capable of curing them. In this Case, therefore, the most violent Vomits, the strongest purging Medicines, and large Bleeding, are to be often repeated. While the Madness holds on, a spare, thin, attenuating Diet is known to be of singular Service, which... I believe will be able to relieve any Degree of Lunacy, capable of a Cure."