The Hospital for Lunatics
Bethlem Hospital, London: the incurables being inspected by a member of the medical staff, with the patients represented by political figures. Drawing by Thomas Rowlandson, 1789.
In the course of my recent research on politics and insanity in the late eighteenth century I came across this wonderful sketch by Thomas Rowlandson, the satirist known for his cartoons mocking the public life of his age, from politics to fashion. In this particular drawing, Rowlandson shows William Pitt the Younger incarcerated as an ‘incurable lunatic at Bethlem Hospital (‘Bedlam’) because of his delusion that he is the heir to the British throne.
‘The Hospital for Lunatics’ is part of the Wellcome Library, and available to use under a Creative Commons Attribution Only Licence. Wellcome Images provide the following explanation of what is going on in the drawing:
On the right of the drawing two men enter the ward: one perhaps the hospital’s apothecary John Gozna, says “I see no sign of convalescence”, while the other, carrying strait jackets, says “no damme they must all be in a state of coercion”. On the left are three cells, each containing a patient, chained at the neck to the cell-wall. The right-hand one is William Pitt the younger, Prime Minister, who wears a crown of straw and holds a sceptre of twigs: above him is the legend “went mad supposing himself next heir to a crown”. Pitt was promoting a bill by which, in the event of the king’s insanity, Parliament, not the Prince of Wales, would be responsible for determining the terms of the regency. The middle patient has an assortment of model cannon: he is inscribed “went mad in the study of fortifications”, and is identified as the Duke of Richmond, Master General of the Ordnance, whose recent plans for the defence of the Portsmouth and Plymouth dockyards had been defeated by the casting vote of the Speaker. The left inmate has a smoothing iron and is inscribed “went mad and fancied himself a taylor’s goose”: the figure is unidentified, and has an inscription “Driven mad by a political itching”, referring to a woman. A tailor’s goose is a smoothing-iron, so called from the resemblance of the handle to the shape of a goose’s neck. Could this figure be Michael Angelo Taylor, Member of Parliament for Poole and later promoter of the Metropolitan Paving Act, 1817, to improve the condition of the London streets?