Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Mystic London, by Charles Maurice Davies, 1875 - Chapter XXXIV - A Psychopathic Institution

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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, [-270-] 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.