’Mental disorder of a dangerous character has been known for years to be stealthily advancing, without exciting the slightest notion of its presence, until some sad and terrible catastrophe, homicide, or suicide, has painfully awakened attention to its existence. Persons suffering from latent insanity often affect singularity of dress, gait, conversation, and phraseology. The most trifling circumstances stimulate their excitability. They are martyrs to ungovernable paroxysms of passion, are inflamed to a state of demoniacal fury by the most insignificant of causes, and occasionally lose all sense of delicacy of feeling, sentiment, refinement of manners and conversation. Such manifestations of undetected mental disorder may be seen associated with intellectual and moral qualities of the highest order.’
In another place, Dr. Winslow again adverts to this latter symptom, which was strikingly marked in the case of Lord Byron:—
’All delicacy and decency
of thought are occasionally banished from
the mind, so effectually does the principle of thought in these
attacks succumb to the animal instincts and passions . . . .
’Such cases will commonly be found associated with organic predisposition to insanity or cerebral disease . . . . Modifications of the malady are seen allied with genius. The biographies of Cowper, Burns, Byron, Johnson, Pope, and Haydon establish that the most exalted intellectual conditions do not escape unscathed.
’In early childhood, this
form of mental disturbance may, in many
cases, be detected. To its existence is often to be traced the
motiveless crimes of the young.’
No one can compare this passage of Dr. Forbes Winslow with the incidents we have already cited as occurring in that fatal period before the separation of Lord and Lady Byron, and not feel that the hapless young wife was indeed struggling with those inflexible natural laws, which, at some stages of retribution, involve in their awful sweep the guilty with the innocent. She longed to save; but he was gone past redemption. Alcoholic stimulants and licentious excesses, without doubt, had produced those unseen changes in the brain, of which Dr. Forbes Winslow speaks; and the results were terrible in proportion to the peculiar fineness and delicacy of the organism deranged.
Alas! the history of Lady Byron is the history of too many women in every rank of life who are called, in agonies of perplexity and fear, to watch that gradual process by which physical excesses change the organism of the brain, till slow, creeping, moral insanity comes on. The woman who is the helpless victim of cruelties which only unnatural states of the brain could invent, who is heart-sick to-day and dreads to-morrow,—looks in hopeless horror on the fatal process by which a lover and a protector changes under her eyes, from day to day, to a brute and a fiend.