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A PSYCHOPATHIC INSTITUTION.
READING my Figaro the other day - as I hope I need
not state it is my custom devoutly to do - I came
upon the following passage in the review of a book
called "Psychopathy; or, the True Healing Art.
By Joseph Ashman. London : Burns, Southampton
Row." We have not the pleasure of being personally
acquainted with Joseph Ashman, and we fear that
the loss is ours. Judging him through the medium
of his book, he must, indeed, be a rara avis. . . . .
"The one great thing," it went on to say, "that
Joseph Ashman wants the world to know is, that he
cures disease by very simple means. And all that
the world wants to know from Joseph Ashman is,
Are these cures real - are his statements facts? Why,
then, does not Joseph content himself with his facts?
He has plenty of them. Here is one :- 'Seeing one
day a cabman with a swollen face standing by a police-court
ready to prosecute a man who had assaulted
him, I asked if, on condition I healed him, he would
forgive his adversary. He replied that he would, and
we accordingly got into his cab together. Bringing
out the magnetized carte, I told him to look at it,
and at the same time made a few motions over the
swelling with my hand. I then left him feeling much
better, and returned in an hour's time, when I found
him taking a glass of beer with his antagonist, whom
he had forgiven.' "
Now as the one pursuit and end of my present existence is the discovery of rarae aves, I need not say I at once took up the clue herein afforded, and went in pursuit of Joseph Ashman. I found not only him but his institution, for Mr. Ashman does not work single-handed. It is in the Marylebone Road, almost opposite the Yorkshire Stingo; and is most modest and unpretending in its outward semblance, being situated in one of those semi-rustic houses so indicative of suburban London, down an overstocked garden, into which you enter by means of a blistered iron gate, painted violently green, and swinging heavily on its hinges. Down a vista of decrepit dahlias one sped to the portal, alongside which was a trio of bell-handles, one above the other, showing that the Psychopathic Institution did not occupy the whole even of that modest domicile. I always approach these manifold bells with considerable diffidence, conscious that I must inevitably ring the wrong one; so, on this occasion, I rang none at all, but knocked a faint double knock on the knocker by way of compromise - very faint, indeed, lest I should disturb any patients who were being "psychopathized." While I waited I had leisure to observe that hidden among [-271-] the dahlias, and thatched over as it were with a superannuated costermonger's barrow, was a double perambulator, which set me calculating the probabilities of Mr. Ashman being a family man.
The door was opened before I had settled the point to my own mental satisfaction, by a short, cheery-looking man, with long, straight flaxen hair flowing down over the shoulders of his black frock-coat, a beard a few shades lighter, and a merry twinkling eye, which looked more sympathetic than psychopathic, and I should think was calculated to do patients good directly it lighted on them. He looked as much as to ask whether I was psychopathically wrong, when I informed him that I had not come as a patient, but simply to inspect his institution if he would permit me. The permission was at once accorded. "We are hard at work," he said, as he ushered me into the front parlour; " but come in and see what we are about."
A man who looked like a respectable artisan was sitting at the table ; and a second, in his shirt sleeves, was astride of a chair in what appeared to be rather an idiotic ride-a-cock-horse-to-Banbury-Cross fashion, and Mr. Ashman was pinching him and prodding him as butchers do fat animals at, the Smithfield Show.
"That there gentleman," said Mr. Ashman, in a broad provincial dialect, "couldn't get astride that chair when he come here half-an-hour ago. How d'ye feel now, sir?"
[-272-] "Feel as though I should like to race somebody twenty rods for five pound a-side," answered the patient, getting up and walking about the room as if it were a new sensation. He had been brought, it appeared, to Mr. Ashman by his friend, who was sitting at the table, and who was an old psychopathic patient. He assured me he had suffered from rheumatism for twenty years, and was completely disabled without his stick until he came into that room half-an-hour since. He walked up and down stickless and incessantly as the carnivora at the Zoo all the time he was telling me.
"Would you mind putting your ear to this man's back, sir?" said Mr. Ashman to me. I did so; and when he bent, his backbone seemed to go off with a lot of little cracks like the fog-signals of a railway. "That there old rusty hinge we mean to grease." And away he went psychopathizing him again. When he was done, Mr. Ashman explained to me learnedly, and with copious illustrations from anatomical plates, his theory of this disease, which was his favourite one for treatment, because it yielded rapidly. Paralysis and that class of disease are much slower. He had succeeded in acute rheumatism, and also in calculus. "I like fat men - fighting men to heal," he said. "I leave the delicate ones to others." The sturdy little psychopathist looked healthy enough to heal a sick rhinoceros.
While he was lecturing me his hands were not idle. [-273-] I should think they seldom were. He was pouring salad oil from a flask on to flannel to give to the other man who was sitting at the table, and had approached convalescence from a chronic disease after one or two visits, and who used this oiled flannel to keep up the influence. Both the men seemed perfectly genuine; and the rheumatic gentleman, when he left, pronounced the effect of his psychopathizing miraculous. The fee was five shillings. "I shan't charge you nothin' for the flannel," he said to No. 2. I began to take quite a fancy to Joseph Ashman, and thanked Figaro inwardly for directing me to the institution.
A working woman who was next in the little row of patients assembled in the back room, came in with her wrists bound up in bits of flannel, and her hands looking puffed and glazy. She, too, had lost the use of them for six years, she told me, and had been pronounced incurable by the doctors. This was her fourth visit to Mr. Ashman. "Take up the chair, ma'am," he said to his patient; and she did carry it in rather a wobbly fashion across the room. "Now the other hand," and she did it with the other hand. "Now show the gentleman how you did it when you came to me. She's rather hard o' hearin'," he explained to me; but after one or two repetitions the poor old body comprehended, and carried it in her crooked elbow. "Now I'll call my assistant," he said, and summoned a ruddy, red-bearded man, who looked as though he might have just come in from a [-274-] brisk country walk. "When these cases require a good deal of rubbing I let my assistants do the preliminary work, and then come in as the Healing Medium myself." The rubbers, he informed me, like the Medium, must be qualified, not only physically, but morally. Benevolence was the great requisite ; and certainly both these men seemed running over with it, if looks meant anything. When Joseph Ashman took his turn, working the poor old patient's stiff wrists, and pulling her fingers till they cracked, like children playing "sweethearts," she never winced, but actually seemed to like it, and trotted off well satisfied with her fourth instalment of good health.
The next rubber who was introduced to me was not such a ruddy man, being, in fact, somewhat saturnine in appearance ; but I could quite understand that he was, as he described himself, brimful of electricity. His chevelure was like that on the little man we stick on the conductor of an electrical machine and make each particular hair stand on end like quills upon the fretful porcupine.
I could not for the life of me see the difference between this treatment and simple mesmerism, except that it was much more rapid in its effects than any magnetic treatment I have ever witnessed. Indeed, I frankly confess I do not understand it now, though Mr. Ashman made me accept one of his little books on Psychopathic healing, and told me I should see the distinction when I had read it. I must be very [-275-] dense, for I have read it diligently through, and still fail to trace the distinction.
The man made a great impression on me. I felt he was just one of those who would carry life into a sick room, and communicate vital power - supposing it to be communicable - from the dumpy fingers of his fat soft hand. The perambulator did not belie him. Numbers of pretty black-eyed children were running about, and there was a Mrs. Ashman somewhere among the poor patients in the back room. All the children came to me except the eldest boy, who, his father told me in a mysterious tone, had suffered some indignity at the hands of my cloth, and dreaded a parson ever after. I believe my injudicious brother had set him a long task (perhaps his Duty to his Neighbour), and the poor lad was always afraid he should be dropped down upon to "say it." Mr. Ashman's book is a little bewildering to an outsider who fails to distinguish the two vital forces. He says: "It is much rarer to find a high development of a temperament in which the psychical element prevails, than in which it is well blended with the vital-magnetic, or than in which the latter excels. In nearly all popular public men there is a blending of the two. We see it well exemplified in John Bright, Spurgeon, and others. This is the secret of their drawing, magnetic power. It is the secret, too, of many a physician's success : his genial magnetism cures when his medicine is useless, although, of course, [-276-] he does not know it. As is the difference between these two forces, so is the difference in the method of their employment for the purpose of cure." However, when I left I promised - and I mean to keep my vow - that if ever I am unfortunate enough to find my vertebrae creaking like "an old hinge," I will come to Mr. Ashman and have it greased. The remark in his book as to the success of medicine depending on the qualities of him who administered it was, we may recollect, confirmed at the 1874 meeting of the British Association in Belfast.
Joseph Ashman has had a chequered history. He has dwelt in the tents of the Mormonites; has been one of the Peculiar People. In early life he was in service in the country, where his master used to flog him until, to use his own expression, he nearly cut him in two. His earliest patients were cattle. "For a healer," he said, "give me a man as can clean a window or scrub a floor. Christ himself, when He chose those who were to be healers as well as preachers, chose fishermen, fine, deep-chested men, depend upon it, sir," and he rapped upon his own sonorous lungs until they reverberated. He was certainly blessed with a superabundance of good health, and looked benevolent enough to impart all his surplus stock to anybody who wanted it.