In Whitman's Hand


About this Item

Title: Of Insanity

Creators: Walt Whitman, Anonymous

Date: 1856 or later

Editorial note: Grier estimates that this was written around 1856 (Walt Whitman: Notebooks and Unpublished Manuscripts, ed. Edward F. Grier [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 6:2246).

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Transcribed from digital images of the original item.

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00201

Contributors to digital file: Lauren Grewe, Nicole Gray, Ty Alyea, and Matt Cohen


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Of Insanity—some are affected with melan‑
cholia—in these, the organ of cautiousness will be found large: Some fancy themselves the Deity— in these Self‑Esteem predominates:—Some are furious—in these Destructiveness, or (more likely) Combativeness.—But a small organ may become diseased, and often does so.

The Temperaments—four—lymphatic, sanguine, bilious, and nervous.—Depend on the condition of particular systems of the body.—Brain and nerves predominantly active seem to produce the nervous temperament.—The lungs and blood vessels being constitutionally predominant give rise to the sanguine.—The muscular and fibrous systems being predominant give rise to the bilious, (which should more properly be called the fibrous,) temperament. The predominance of the glands and assimilating organs give rise to the lymphatic.—

Lymphatic.—round form, soft muscle, fair hair, pale skin, sleepy eyes, inexpressive face.—Brain languid—other organs ditto. The system—a great manufactory of fat.

Sanguine—well‑defined form—moderate plumpness—firm flesh—chestnut hair—blue eyes—fair complexion—great fondness for exercise and air—Brain active.—

Bilious, (Judas in Lord's supper,) black hair, dark skin, moderate stoutness, firm flesh, harsh features—great endurance and bottom

Nervous—fine thin hair—small muscles—thin skin—pale countenance—bright eyes—great mental vivacity

These temperaments are seldom found pure, almost always mixed—as nervous & bilious, in Lord Brougham.—This nobleman was engaged in a Court of Law all day—went to House of Commons at evening, remained there till 2 in the morning—went home, wrote an article for Edinburgh Review—then went again to Court—then again to House of Commons—and only toward the next [morning?] to bed—his vigor having [been?] [unabated?][illegible]

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consequences of that exaltation of life producible by physiological living; and if so, the objective or exterior results are indirect and secondary.

How? In this way: When, reader, you or I meet with a person in whom the life-power is at "flood tide," and we will suppose at the moment more voluminous than in ourselves, our perception and consciousness immediately certify to us the fact. We say, or feel within ourselves, "There is more force, more capability, MORE MAN, or MORE WOMAN than I now represent." And it is simply in accordance with a law of our mind that we feel a sense of awe toward this superior energy; as we do while looking on a hissing locomotive, a steamship plowing the waves, a bellowing thunder-cloud, a tornado, or a cataract. To the possessor of such energy, therefore, we defer, bow, submit—perhaps even shrink from him, or catch ourselves in being involuntarily [illegible]vile to him. When, however, we are ourselves [illegible] superior energy, perception and consciousness [illegible] none the less expeditious in informing us of that fact. We at once feel that we rise above our fellow, that we outweigh and outvalue him (in power, that is); that we are now MORE than he: and because we know ourselves thus far we know him, and feel that he must now, by his nature, defer and succumb to us. To say truth, there is a pleasure in this consciousness of innate superiority, that, however innocent in intention, however generous in feeling, or however unconscious or ignorant its possessor may be, will cause him to show in his bearing, tone, or some other indescribable effluence of himself, the exis

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ence of the fact, and to be, in some way, in spite of himself, an embodied hint of the relative positions growing out of the fact. Thus the whole explanation may be interior. A is within himself exalted by the accumulation of his life and soul: he feels this, and can not, if he would, avoid showing it. B perceives the superior power of his fellow; he feels his own relative weakness, and can not, if he would, avoid being humbled by it.

He in whom life culminates, receives the exaltation in every part of his structure, and in every faculty of his being. Every person who has reached years of reflection, and has had his thoughts called to the subject, knows that the course we have already pointed out is capable of accomplishing all this; every such person has seen and has reflected on one or more of these results. We need only say that the effects referred to are seen in the muscular system; so that the individual can lift a greater load, and work longer and more effectively; that they are seen in the action of all the organs, the secretions being more plentiful, or at least more normal, and all the functions more vigorously performed; that they are seen in acuter, more delicate, and perfect sensations; in keener, more complete, and truthful perceptions; in a more healthful consciousness; a more varied and retentive memory; more deep, and yet more correct and natural feelings; more clear conception of rights, principles, and duties, and a more prompt, comprehensive, direct, profound, and pertinent action of the reasoning faculties. We do not mean that ever so much augmentation of life-power can create a single faculty not possessed, or at once strengthen any when feeble. We do mean to say it will bring each faculty up to the highest perfection of which

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its inherited stength and healthfulness allow; and that, in many cases, is doing very much. There is intellectual, moral, and physical force-possibility in the world enough to amaze us if it were all brought out; to say nothing of the vast deal that is brought out and apparent, but not usefully applied. Well has one said, "It is more wonderful what mankind have not, than what they have, accomplished!"

But there are also moral causes that greatly influence the effective power of individuals. All know how fear takes away strength of muscle and force of thought.
all about a Locomotive

"Our doubts are traitors,

And make us lose the good we oft might win,

By fearing to attempt."

And still more strikingly Othello says: "Every puny whipster gets my sword: for why should honor outlive honesty?" That is to say, the consciousness of guilt or dishonor robs the arm of its energy and the soul of its forcefulness. Even artificial distinctions are known to have the same effect to an extent that is suprising; we may go farther and say, that is needless, and that will, when mankind have at length learned to esteem the man above his accidents, be very greatly restricted. As it now is, we behold too often the astonishing sight of a man or woman full of soul and sense, and who is really the superior, cowering before a fellow-human whose force consists in fashionable or costly apparel—the very covering of the body's shame being thus made a foundation for pride; and the gaudy stuffs upon the back being confessed to be more than moral or social virtues, intellectual power or manliness! A larger knowledge and a true independence will change all this. Similar remarks might be made respecting the tyranny of wealth, hereditary privilege, and official position over the true inner manhood.

But all these are factitious forces, resting only on the ignorance and servility of those who suffer their influence, and not springing as positive, self-existent, and controlling energies within the mind of their possessor. Hence they can only survive until the million have learned the true source and quality of all real forcefulness—namely, the mind or soul. Wealth and station may possibly subsist forever as now, in iniquitous (the word means unequal) distribution; but if they do, they will one day have lost their chief social value, from the fact that men will have learned to direct their gaze in all cases beneath, not upon, the surface; and outside trappings will be disregarded.

The practical deductions to be drawn from this view of our subject are too obvious to require more than mentioning. They are, first, that the benefits to be thus attained must amply repay to any person the time and labor spent upon the study and practice

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of self-control, and of habits of physiological living, including exercise that is actual, active, and blood-stirring; and secondly, that he who from these sources would secure (the highest effective personality, must guard against unfavorable moral and factitious influences—as fear, anxiety, impatience, dishonor, and dishonesty; and against th[illegible] assumptions of wealth, rank, and authority. He must be plus, so far as possible, to all with whom he comes in contact.


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