BATTIE, William.

A Treatise on Madness

London: Printed for J.Whiston and B.White. 1758.

First edition. 4to. 210x130mm. pp. vii, [i], 99, [1bl]. Modern speckled calf, borders to upper and lower covers decorated in blind, spine lettered in gilt. Some foxing and browning but overall a very good copy of a scarce and ground-breaking book on madness and mental health.
William Battie (1703-76) was a Fellow of the Royal Society and President of the Royal College of Physicians. His principal medical interest was in what he called "the mad business". He worked at Bethlem which at that time was located in Moorfields on the edge of the City of London (it still exists as a psychiatric hospital in South London and is the oldest such institution in the world). Horrified by the conditions and poor treatment at Bethlem (not least the practice of allowing the public to pay to observe the patients), Battie founded, in 1751, St Luke's Hospital for Lunatics under the patronage of the Earl of Cardigan to whom this book is dedicated. St Luke's was built next to Bethlem and was intended as a form of rebuke to the cruelty of the older hospital. The treatment initiated by Battie was more humane (he banned the public from viewing the patients) using modern medical techniques and an early form of therapy. In setting up St Luke's, Battie and his supporters were also seeking to encourage more doctors to practice in this field. Among Battie's patients at St Luke's was the poet Christopher Smart who entered the hospital in 1757.
Battie begins his Treatise with a plea for a greater understanding of madness which he describes as a "very frequent calamity". He laments the fact that few doctors take the illness seriously and those that do are reluctant to share their knowledge with the result that advances in the treatment of the mentally ill are few and slow. The subject of madness was hidden away. Battie's book and his work at St Luke's sought, in his words, "to discover the causes, effects and cures of Madness". Battie believed that madness took two forms: the "original" which had no clear cause and he felt could not be fully cured, and the "consequential" caused by trauma or some other external factor. It was on this latter form that Battie concentrates and to which he applies early psychiatric treatments. Indeed, in writing this book, in giving greater attention to the subject of madness and its treatment, and in arguing for psychiatry as a distinct medical discipline, Battie can perhaps be seen as the father of a recognisably modern understanding of mental illness.

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