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Posted By Patrick

Here’s a little bit of an excerpt on somthing like intelligence - wit, perhaps, or speeds of thinking - from George Cheyne, an 18th century physician to the stars (everyone from literary folk like Samuel Richardson, James Boswell and Alexander Pope to minor aristocracy like the  Countess of Huntingdon, who was apparently a very pious lady). Cheyne was renowned in his day for numerous medical treatises, including most famously The English Malady, or, a treatise on nervous diseases of all kinds (1733). The book was a hit, going through six editions in six years, and addressing all kinds of nervous disorders. In it, he claimed that some people were more likely to experience nervous disorders than others: specifically, quick-witted folk were more likely to be afflicted by diseased nerves, on account of their more highly attuned sensitivity. “The common Division of Mankind, into Quick Thinkers, Slow Thinkers, and No Thinkers, is not without Foundation in Nature and true Philosophy. Persons of slender and weak nerves are generally of the first Class: the Activity, Mobility and Delicacy of their Intellectual Organs make them so, and thereby weakens and relaxes the Material Organs of the Intellectual Faculties; and therefore ingenious flattering, easy and agreeable Amusements, and Intervals of No-thinking and Swiss-Meditation, (as it is maliciously called) is as necessary for such, as Sleep to the Weary, or Meat to the Hungry, else the Spring will break, and the Sword wear out the Scabbard.” Your quick wit, says Cheyne, is a sign that you may also be a bit on the high-strung side. In fact, he also likes to compare good mental health to the proper tuning of an instrument, so that “the Intelligent Principle, or Soul, resides somewhere in the Brain, where all the Nerves, or Instruments of Sensation terminate, like a Musician in a finely fram’d and well-tuned Organ-Case; that the Nerves are like Keys, which, being struck or touch’d, convey the Sound and Harmony to this sentient Principle, or Musician”.


I couldn't say off hand what "Swiss meditation" refers to.. and for the rest, I'm not convinced how common Cheyne's Quick/Slow/No-thinking division might have been back in the day... but that's a question, isn't it? Was this really a common division? And were the quick-witted really liable to great mental distress, thanks to their inner musician being over-burdened with keeping the instrument in tune?


2 Comment(s):
Ryan Ruddick said...
interesting post here.... I hope your keys are all in key or as in key as they can be!
November 13, 2012 04:32:37
Robert said...
If we follow Richard Graves’ allusion on page 41 of The spiritual Quixote; or, The summer's ramble of mr. Geoffry Wildgoose, a comic romance (1744), a “Swiss meditation” and a “reverie” are pretty well the same thing - and probably not greatly distinguishable from Cheyne’s “No-thinking”. The Cheyne text you have used is quoted on page 635 of The Cyclopaedia of Practical Medicine: comprising treatises on the nature and treatment of diseases, materia medica and therapeutics, medical jurisprudence, etc., etc. - Volume 2 (1845), suggesting someone – at least in the company of Sir John Forbes, Alexander Tweedie, John Conolly, and Robley Dunglison (the authors) - was taking Cheyne seriously at least a century after the initial publishing of The English Malady.
July 14, 2010 01:53:24
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