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November 3, 1975

Nightmares and Hobbyhorses: Swift, Sterne, and Augustan Ideas of Madness

Author Affiliations

American Medical Association Chicago

JAMA. 1975;234(5):540. doi:10.1001/jama.1975.03260180080036

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In a somewhat uneven but nevertheless stimulating fashion, the author concerns himself with "madness," melancholy, and insanity and their relations to literature and culture of the early 18th century. The criteria of madness and the theories of mental disorder during this period are abundantly discussed, with major attention devoted to Swift and Sterne, together with many minor figures. There are numerous comments on philosophers and physicians, especially Locke and Willis, Descartes and Hobbs, Sydenham, Charleton, Cheyne, and a liberal sprinkling of lesser figures. This is definitely not a history of 18th century medical psychology, nor of medical history, nor yet of literature, but a combination that will illuminate all of them and integrate the study of literature into the cultural milieu—the "age of reason" and the "scientific revolution."

The first chapter, discussing abnormal psychology in England, is an overview of both medical and literary ideas and serves to set the