23 May 2019

23rd May 1586 - first book about Mental Illness in English


Timothy Bright was a Doctor of Physicke and a man of the church, who wrote what is thought to be the first book about Mental Illness in the English Language. Bright's Treatise of Melancholy was published on 23rd May 1586.

Melancholy was a fmalady in Elizabethan times which Bright suggested had two forms: natural melancholy involved a disordered condition of the body due to excess of black bile which led to the spirit being sad. There was also unnatural melancholy, arising from a disordered physical condition of black bile itself where "the whole force of the spirit closed up in the dungeon of melancholy darkness, imagining all as dark, black and full of fear."

Whether William Shakespeare had read the work is not known for sure. In one account I read that the aspiring playright was asked to proof read Bright's book. Melancholy affects many of Shakespeare's characters including Hamlet, Pericles, and Jaques (from As you Like It).

Hamlet says 'How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!'

Pericles says "The sad companion, dull-eyed melancholy,
Be my so used a guest as not an hour,
In the day's glorious walk, or peaceful night,
The tomb where grief should sleep, can breed me quiet?"

Jaques says "I have neither the scholar's melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician's, which is fantastical; nor the courtier's, which is proud; nor the soldier's, which is ambitious; nor the lawyer's, which is politic; nor the lady's, which is nice; nor the lover's, which is all these; but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and, indeed, the sundry contemplation of my travels; in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness."

The date is from David Webb's book On this day in Psychology

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