The Black Death and The Dancing Mania
J. F. C. Hecker (translated by B. G. Babington)

Part 3 out of 3

morbid state of the mind and body of the kind described, because,
in the present advanced state of civilisation among the nations of
Europe, opportunities for its development no longer occur. The
credibility of this energetic but by no means ambitious man is not
liable to the slightest suspicion, for, owing to his want of
education, he had no knowledge of the phenomena in question, and
his work evinces throughout his attractive and unpretending

Comparison is the mother of observation, and may here elucidate
one phenomenon by another--the past by that which still exists.
Oppression, insecurity, and the influence of a very rude
priestcraft, are the powerful causes which operated on the Germans
and Italians of the Middle Ages, as they now continue to operate
on the Abyssinians of the present day. However these people may
differ from us in their descent, their manners and their customs,
the effects of the above mentioned causes are the same in Africa
as they were in Europe, for they operate on man himself
independently of the particular locality in which he may be
planted; and the conditions of the Abyssinians of modern times is,
in regard to superstition, a mirror of the condition of the
European nations of the middle ages. Should this appear a bold
assertion it will be strengthened by the fact that in Abyssinia
two examples of superstitions occur which are completely in
accordance with occurrences of the Middle Ages that took place
contemporarily with the dancing mania. THE ABYSSINIANS HAVE THEIR
THE MIDDLE AGES. Their flagellants are called Zackarys. They are
united into a separate Christian fraternity, and make their
processions through the towns and villages with great noise and
tumult, scourging themselves till they draw blood, and wounding
themselves with knives. They boast that they are descendants of
St. George. It is precisely in Tigre, the country of the
Abyssinian dancing mania, where they are found in the greatest
numbers, and where they have, in the neighbourhood of Axum, a
church of their own, dedicated to their patron saint, Oun Arvel.
Here there is an ever-burning lamp, and they contrive to impress a
belief that this is kept alight by supernatural means. They also
here keep a holy water, which is said to be a cure for those who
are affected by the dancing mania.

The Abyssinian Zoomorphism is a no less important phenomenon, and
shows itself a manner quite peculiar. The blacksmiths and potters
form among the Abyssinians a society or caste called in Tigre
TEBBIB, and in Amhara BUDA, which is held in some degree of
contempt, and excluded from the sacrament of the Lord's Supper,
because it is believed that they can change themselves into
hyaenas and other beasts of prey, on which account they are feared
by everybody, and regarded with horror. They artfully contrive to
keep up this superstition, because by this separation they
preserve a monopoly of their lucrative trades, and as in other
respects they are good Christians (but few Jews or Mahomedans live
among them), they seem to attach no great consequence to their
excommunication. As a badge of distinction they wear a golden
ear-ring, which is frequently found in the ears of Hyaenas that
are killed, without its having ever been discovered how they catch
these animals, so as to decorate them with this strange ornament,
and this removes in the minds of the people all doubt as to the
supernatural powers of the smiths and potters. To the Budas is
also ascribed the gift of enchantment, especially that of the
influence of the evil eye. They nevertheless live unmolested, and
are not condemned to the flames by fanatical priests, as the
lycanthropes were in the Middle Ages.


Imitation--compassion--sympathy, these are imperfect designations
for a common bond of union among human beings--for an instinct
which connects individuals with the general body, which embraces
with equal force reason and folly, good and evil, and diminishes
the praise of virtue as well as the criminality of vice. In this
impulse there are degrees, but no essential differences, from the
first intellectual efforts of the infant mind, which are in a
great measure based on imitation, to that morbid condition of the
soul in which the sensible impression of a nervous malady fetters
the mind, and finds its way through the eye directly to the
diseased texture, as the electric shock is propagated by contact
from body to body. To this instinct of imitation, when it exists
in its highest degree, is united a loss of all power over the
will, which occurs as soon as the impression on the senses has
become firmly established, producing a condition like that of
small animals when they are fascinated by the look of a serpent.
By this mental bondage morbid sympathy is clearly and definitely
distinguished from all subordinate degrees of this instinct,
however closely allied the imitation of a disorder may seem to be
to that of a mere folly, of an absurd fashion, of an awkward habit
in speech and manner, or even of a confusion of ideas. Even these
latter imitations, however, directed as they are to foolish and
pernicious objects, place the self-independence of the greater
portion of mankind in a very doubtful light, and account for their
union into a social whole. Still more nearly allied to morbid
sympathy than the imitation of enticing folly, although often with
a considerable admixture of the latter, is the diffusion of
violent excitements, especially those of a religious or political
character, which have so powerfully agitated the nations of
ancient and modern times, and which may, after an incipient
compliance, pass into a total loss of power over the will, and an
actual disease of the mind. Far be it from us to attempt to
awaken all the various tones of this chord, whose vibrations
reveal the profound secrets which lie hid in the inmost recesses
of the soul. We might well want powers adequate to so vast an
undertaking. Our business here is only with that morbid sympathy
by the aid of which the dancing mania of the Middle Ages grew into
a real epidemic. In order to make this apparent by comparison, it
may not be out of place, at the close of this inquiry, to
introduce a few striking examples:-

1. "At a cotton manufactory at Hodden Bridge, in Lancashire, a
girl, on the fifteenth of February, 1787, put a mouse into the
bosom of another girl, who had a great dread of mice. The girl
was immediately thrown into a fit, and continued in it, with the
most violent convulsions, for twenty-four hours. On the following
day three more girls were seized in the same manner, and on the
17th six more. By this time the alarm was so great that the whole
work, in which 200 or 300 were employed, was totally stopped, and
an idea prevailed that a particular disease had been introduced by
a bag of cotton opened in the house. On Sunday the 18th, Dr. St.
Clare was sent for from Preston; before he arrived three more were
seized, and during that night and the morning of the 19th, eleven
more, making in all twenty-four. Of these, twenty-one were young
women, two were girls of about ten years of age, and one man, who
had been much fatigued with holding the girls. Three of the
number lived about two miles from the place where the disorder
first broke out, and three at another factory at Clitheroe, about
five miles distant, which last and two more were infected entirely
from report, not having seen the other patients, but, like them
and the rest of the country, strongly impressed with the idea of
the plague being caught from the cotton. The symptoms were
anxiety, strangulation, and very strong convulsions; and these
were so violent as to last without any intermission from a quarter
of an hour to twenty-four hours, and to require four or five
persons to prevent the patients from tearing their hair and
dashing their heads against the floor or walls. Dr. St. Clare had
taken with him a portable electrical machine, and by electric
shocks the patients were universally relieved without exception.
As soon as the patients and the country were assured that the
complaint was merely nervous, easily cured, and not introduced by
the cotton, no fresh person was affected. To dissipate their
apprehensions still further, the best effects were obtained by
causing them to take a cheerful glass and join in a dance. On
Tuesday the 20th, they danced, and the next day were all at work,
except two or three, who were much weakened by their fits."

The occurrence here described is remarkable on this account, that
there was no important predisposing cause for convulsions in these
young women, unless we consider as such their miserable and
confined life in the work-rooms of a spinning manufactory. It did
not arise from enthusiasm, nor is it stated that the patients had
been the subject of any other nervous disorders. In another
perfectly analogous case, those attacked were all suffering from
nervous complaints, which roused a morbid sympathy in them at the
sight of a person seized with convulsions. This, together with
the supervention of hysterical fits, may aptly enough be compared
to tarantism.

2. "A young woman of the lowest order, twenty-one years of age,
and of a strong frame, came on the 13th of January, 1801, to visit
a patient in the Charite Hospital at Berlin, where she had herself
been previously under treatment for an inflammation of the chest
with tetanic spasms, and immediately on entering the ward, fell
down in strong convulsions. At the sight of her violent
contortions six other female patients immediately became affected
in the same way, and by degrees eight more were in like manner
attacked with strong convulsions. All these patients were from
sixteen to twenty-five years of age, and suffered without
exception, one from spasms in the stomach, another from palsy, a
third from lethargy, a fourth from fits with consciousness, a
fifth from catalepsy, a sixth from syncope, &c. The convulsions,
which alternated in various ways with tonic spasms, were
accompanied by loss of sensibility, and were invariably preceded
by languor with heavy sleep, which was followed by the fits in the
course of a minute or two; and it is remarkable that in all these
patients their former nervous disorders, not excepting paralysis,
disappeared, returning, however, after the subsequent removal of
their new complaint. The treatment, during the course of which
two of the nurses, who were young women, suffered similar attacks,
was continued for four months. It was finally successful, and
consisted principally in the administration of opium, at that time
the favourite remedy.

Now every species of enthusiasm, every strong affection, every
violent passion, may lead to convulsions--to mental disorders--to
a concussion of the nerves, from the sensorium to the very finest
extremities of the spinal chord. The whole world is full of
examples of this afflicting state of turmoil, which, when the mind
is carried away by the force of a sensual impression that destroys
its freedom, is irresistibly propagated by imitation. Those who
are thus infected do not spare even their own lives, but as a
hunted flock of sheep will follow their leader and rush over a
precipice, so will whole hosts of enthusiasts, deluded by their
infatuation, hurry on to a self-inflicted death. Such has ever
been the case, from the days of the Milesian virgins to the modern
associations for self-destruction. Of all enthusiastic
infatuations, however, that of religion is the most fertile in
disorders of the mind as well as of the body, and both spread with
the greatest facility by sympathy. The history of the Church
furnishes innumerable proofs of this, but we need go no further
than the most recent times.

3. In a methodist chapel at Redruth, a man during divine service
cried out with a loud voice, "What shall I do to be saved?" at the
same time manifesting the greatest uneasiness and solicitude
respecting the condition of his soul. Some other members of the
congregation, following his example, cried out in the same form of
words, and seemed shortly after to suffer the most excruciating
bodily pain. This strange occurrence was soon publicly known, and
hundreds of people who had come thither, either attracted by
curiosity or a desire from other motives to see the sufferers,
fell into the same state. The chapel remained open for some days
and nights, and from that point the new disorder spread itself,
with the rapidity of lightning, over the neighbouring towns of
Camborne, Helston, Truro, Penryn and Falmouth, as well as over the
villages in the vicinity. Whilst thus advancing, it decreased in
some measure at the place where it had first appeared, and it
confined itself throughout to the Methodist chapels. It was only
by the words which have been mentioned that it was excited, and it
seized none but people of the lowest education. Those who were
attacked betrayed the greatest anguish, and fell into convulsions;
others cried out, like persons possessed, that the Almighty would
straightway pour out His wrath upon them, that the wailings of
tormented spirits rang in their ears, and that they saw hell open
to receive them. The clergy, when in the course of their sermons
they perceived that persons were thus seized, earnestly exhorted
them to confess their sins, and zealously endeavoured to convince
them that they were by nature enemies to Christ; that the anger of
God had therefore fallen upon them; and that if death should
surprise them in the midst of their sins the eternal torments of
hell would be their portion. The over-excited congregation upon
this repeated their words, which naturally must have increased the
fury of their convulsive attacks. When the discourse had produced
its full effect the preacher changed his subject; reminded those
who were suffering of the power of the Saviour, as well as of the
grace of God, and represented to them in glowing colours the joys
of heaven. Upon this a remarkable reaction sooner or later took
place. Those who were in convulsions felt themselves raised from
the lowest depths of misery and despair to the most exalted bliss,
and triumphantly shouted out that their bonds were loosed, their
sins were forgiven, and that they were translated to the wonderful
freedom of the children of God. In the meantime their convulsions
continued, and they remained during this condition so abstracted
from every earthly thought that they stayed two and sometimes
three days and nights together in the chapels, agitated all the
time by spasmodic movements, and taking neither repose nor
nourishment. According to a moderate computation, 4,000 people
were, within a very short time, affected with this convulsive

The course and symptoms of the attacks were in general as
follows:- There came on at first a feeling of faintness, with
rigour and a sense of weight at the pit of the stomach, soon after
which the patient cried out, as if in the agonies of death or the
pains of labour. The convulsions then began, first showing
themselves in the muscles of the eyelids, though the eyes
themselves were fixed and staring. The most frightful contortions
of the countenance followed, and the convulsions now took their
course downwards, so that the muscles of the neck and trunk were
affected, causing a sobbing respiration, which was performed with
great effort. Tremors and agitation ensued, and the patients
screamed out violently, and tossed their heads about from side to
side. As the complaint increased it seized the arms, and its
victims beat their breasts, clasped their hands, and made all
sorts of strange gestures. The observer who gives this account
remarked that the lower extremities were in no instance affected.
In some cases exhaustion came on in a very few minutes, but the
attack usually lasted much longer, and there were even cases in
which it was known to continue for sixty or seventy hours. Many
of those who happened to be seated when the attack commenced bent
their bodies rapidly backwards and forwards during its
continuance, making a corresponding motion with their arms, like
persons sawing wood. Others shouted aloud, leaped about, and
threw their bodies into every possible posture, until they had
exhausted their strength. Yawning took place at the commencement
in all cases, but as the violence of the disorder increased the
circulation and respiration became accelerated, so that the
countenance assumed a swollen and puffed appearance. When
exhaustion came on patients usually fainted, and remained in a
stiff and motionless state until their recovery. The disorder
completely resembled the St. Vitus's dance, but the fits sometimes
went on to an extraordinarily violent extent, so that the author
of the account once saw a woman who was seized with these
convulsions resist the endeavours of four or five strong men to
restrain her. Those patients who did not lose their consciousness
were in general made more furious by every attempt to quiet them
by force, on which account they were in general suffered to
continue unmolested until nature herself brought on exhaustion.
Those affected complained more or less of debility after the
attacks, and cases sometimes occurred in which they passed into
other disorders; thus some fell into a state of melancholy, which,
however, in consequence of their religious ecstasy, was
distinguished by the absence of fear and despair; and in one
patient inflammation of the brain is said to have taken place. No
sex or age was exempt from this epidemic malady. Children five
years old and octogenarians were alike affected by it, and even
men of the most powerful frame were subject to its influence.
Girls and young women, however, were its most frequent victims.

4. For the last hundred years a nervous affection of a perfectly
similar kind has existed in the Shetland Islands, which furnishes
a striking example, perhaps the only one now existing, of the very
lasting propagation by sympathy of this species of disorders. The
origin of the malady was very insignificant. An epileptic woman
had a fit in church, and whether it was that the minds of the
congregation were excited by devotion, or that, being overcome at
the sight of the strong convulsions, their sympathy was called
forth, certain it is that many adult women, and even children,
some of whom were of the male sex, and not more than six years
old, began to complain forthwith of palpitation, followed by
faintness, which passed into a motionless and apparently
cataleptic condition. These symptoms lasted more than an hour,
and probably recurred frequently. In the course of time, however,
this malady is said to have undergone a modification, such as it
exhibits at the present day. Women whom it has attacked will
suddenly fall down, toss their arms about, writhe their bodies
into various shapes, move their heads suddenly from side to side,
and with eyes fixed and staring, utter the most dismal cries. If
the fit happen on any occasion of pubic diversion, they will, as
soon as it has ceased, mix with their companions and continue
their amusement as if nothing had happened. Paroxysms of this
kind used to prevail most during the warm months of summer, and
about fifty years ago there was scarcely a Sabbath in which they
did not occur. Strong passions of the mind, induced by religious
enthusiasm, are also exciting causes of these fits, but like all
such false tokens of divine workings, they are easily encountered
by producing in the patient a different frame of mind, and
especially by exciting a sense of shame: thus those affected are
under the control of any sensible preacher, who knows how to
"administer to a mind diseased," and to expose the folly of
voluntarily yielding to a sympathy so easily resisted, or of
inviting such attacks by affectation. An intelligent and pious
minister of Shetland informed the physician, who gives an account
of this disorder as an eye-witness, that being considerably
annoyed on his first introduction into the country by these
paroxysms, whereby the devotions of the church were much impeded,
he obviated their repetition by assuring his parishioners that no
treatment was more effectual than immersion in cold water; and as
his kirk was fortunately contiguous to a freshwater lake, he gave
notice that attendants should be at hand during divine service to
ensure the proper means of cure. The sequel need scarcely be
told. The fear of being carried out of the church, and into the
water, acted like a charm; not a single Naiad was made, and the
worthy minister for many years had reason to boast of one of the
best regulated congregations in Scotland. As the physician above
alluded to was attending divine service in the kirk of Baliasta,
on the Isle of Unst, a female shriek, the indication of a
convulsion fit, was heard; the minister, Mr. Ingram, of Fetlar,
very properly stopped his discourse until the disturber was
removed; and after advising all those who thought they might be
similarly affected to leave the church, he gave out in the
meantime a psalm. The congregation was thus preserved from
further interruption; yet the effect of sympathy was not
prevented, for as the narrator of the account was leaving the
church he saw several females writhing and tossing about their
arms on the green grass, who durst not, for fear of a censure from
the pulpit, exhibit themselves after this manner within the sacred
walls of the kirk.

In the production of this disorder, which no doubt still exists,
fanaticism certainly had a smaller share than the irritable state
of women out of health, who only needed excitement, no matter of
what kind, to throw them into prevailing nervous paroxysms. When,
however, that powerful cause of nervous disorders takes the lead,
we find far more remarkable symptoms developed, and it then
depends on the mental condition of the people among whom they
appear whether in their spread they shall take a narrow or an
extended range--whether confined to some small knot of zealots
they are to vanish without a trace, or whether they are to attain
even historical importance.

5. The appearance of the Convulsionnaires in France, whose
inhabitants, from the greater mobility of their blood, have in
general been the less liable to fanaticism, is in this respect
instructive and worthy of attention. In the year 1727 there died
in the capital of that country the Deacon Paris, a zealous opposer
of the Ultramontanists, division having arisen in the French
Church on account of the bull "Unigenitus." People made frequent
visits to his tomb in the cemetery of St. Medard, and four years
afterwards (in September, 1731) a rumour was spread that miracles
took place there. Patients were seized with convulsions and
tetanic spasms, rolled upon the ground like persons possessed,
were thrown into violent contortions of their heads and limbs, and
suffered the greatest oppression, accompanied by quickness and
irregularity of pulse. This novel occurrence excited the greatest
sensation all over Paris, and an immense concourse of people
resorted daily to the above-named cemetery in order to see so
wonderful a spectacle, which the Ultramontanists immediately
interpreted as a work of Satan, while their opponents ascribed it
to a divine influence. The disorder soon increased, until it
produced, in nervous women, clairvoyance (Schlafwachen), a
phenomenon till then unknown; for one female especially attracted
attention, who, blindfold, and, as it was believed, by means of
the sense of smell, read every writing that was placed before her,
and distinguished the characters of unknown persons. The very
earth taken from the grave of the Deacon was soon thought to
possess miraculous power. It was sent to numerous sick persons at
a distance, whereby they were said to have been cured, and thus
this nervous disorder spread far beyond the limits of the capital,
so that at one time it was computed that there were more than
eight hundred decided Convulsionnaires, who would hardly have
increased so much in numbers had not Louis XV directed that the
cemetery should be closed. The disorder itself assumed various
forms, and augmented by its attacks the general excitement. Many
persons, besides suffering from the convulsions, became the
subjects of violent pain, which required the assistance of their
brethren of the faith. On this account they, as well as those who
afforded them aid, were called by the common title of Secourists.
The modes of relief adopted were remarkably in accordance with
those which were administered to the St. John's dancers and the
Tarantati, and they were in general very rough; for the sufferers
were beaten and goaded in various parts of the body with stones,
hammers, swords, clubs, &c., of which treatment the defenders of
this extraordinary sect relate the most astonishing examples in
proof that severe pain is imperatively demanded by nature in this
disorder as an effectual counter-irritant. The Secourists used
wooden clubs in the same manner as paviors use their mallets, and
it is stated that some Convulsionnaires have borne daily from six
to eight thousand blows thus inflicted without danger. One
Secourist administered to a young woman who was suffering under
spasm of the stomach the most violent blows on that part, not to
mention other similar cases which occurred everywhere in great
numbers. Sometimes the patients bounded from the ground, impelled
by the convulsions, like fish when out of water; and this was so
frequently imitated at a later period that the women and girls,
when they expected such violent contortions, not wishing to appear
indecent, put on gowns make like sacks, closed at the feet. If
they received any bruises by falling down they were healed with
earth from the grave of the uncanonised saint. They usually,
however, showed great agility in this respect, and it is scarcely
necessary to remark that the female sex especially was
distinguished by all kinds of leaping and almost inconceivable
contortions of body. Some spun round on their feet with
incredible rapidity, as is related of the dervishes; others ran
their heads against walls, or curved their bodies like rope-
dancers, so that their heels touched their shoulders.

All this degenerated at length into decided insanity. A certain
Convulsionnaire, at Vernon, who had formerly led rather a loose
course of life, employed herself in confessing the other sex; in
other places women of this sect were seen imposing exercises of
penance on priests, during which these were compelled to kneel
before them. Others played with children's rattles, or drew about
small carts, and gave to these childish acts symbolical
significations. One Convulsionnaire even made believe to shave
her chin, and gave religious instruction at the same time, in
order to imitate Paris, the worker of miracles, who, during this
operation, and whilst at table, was in the habit of preaching.
Some had a board placed across their bodies, upon which a whole
row of men stood; and as, in this unnatural state of mind, a kind
of pleasure is derived from excruciating pain, some too were seen
who caused their bosoms to be pinched with tongs, while others,
with gowns closed at the feet, stood upon their heads, and
remained in that position longer than would have been possible had
they been in health. Pinault, the advocate, who belonged to this
sect, barked like a dog some hours every day, and even this found
imitation among the believers.

The insanity of the Convulsionnaires lasted without interruption
until the year 1790, and during these fifty-nine years called
forth more lamentable phenomena that the enlightened spirits of
the eighteenth century would be willing to allow. The grossest
immorality found in the secret meetings of the believers a sure
sanctuary, and in their bewildering devotional exercises a
convenient cloak. It was of no avail that, in the year 1762, the
Grand Secours was forbidden by act of parliament; for thenceforth
this work was carried on in secrecy, and with greater zeal than
ever; it was in vain, too, that some physicians, and among the
rest the austere, pious Hecquet, and after him Lorry, attributed
the conduct of the Convulsionnaires to natural causes. Men of
distinction among the upper classes, as, for instance, Montgeron
the deputy, and Lambert an ecclesiastic (obt. 1813), stood forth
as the defenders of this sect; and the numerous writings which
were exchanged on the subject served, by the importance which they
thus attached to it, to give it stability. The revolution finally
shook the structure of this pernicious mysticism. It was not,
however, destroyed; for even during the period of the greatest
excitement the secret meetings were still kept up; prophetic
books, by Convulsionnaires of various denominations, have appeared
even in the most recent times, and only a few years ago (in 1828)
this once celebrated sect still existed, although without the
convulsions and the extraordinarily rude aid of the brethren of
the faith, which, amidst the boasted pre-eminence of French
intellectual advancement, remind us most forcibly of the dark ages
of the St. John's dancers.

6. Similar fanatical sects exhibit among all nations of ancient
and modern times the same phenomena. An overstrained bigotry is
in itself, and considered in a medical point of view, a
destructive irritation of the senses, which draws men away from
the efficiency of mental freedom, and peculiarly favours the most
injurious emotions. Sensual ebullitions, with strong convulsions
of the nerves, appear sooner or later, and insanity, suicidal
disgust of life, and incurable nervous disorders, are but too
frequently the consequences of a perverse, and, indeed,
hypocritical zeal, which has ever prevailed, as well in the
assemblies of the Maenades and Corybantes of antiquity as under
the semblance of religion among the Christians and Mahomedans.

There are some denominations of English Methodists which surpass,
if possible, the French Convulsionnaires; and we may here mention
in particular the Jumpers, among whom it is still more difficult
than in the example given above to draw the line between religious
ecstasy and a perfect disorder of the nerves; sympathy, however,
operates perhaps more perniciously on them than on other fanatical
assemblies. The sect of Jumpers was founded in the year 1760, in
the county of Cornwall, by two fanatics, who were, even at that
time, able to collect together a considerable party. Their
general doctrine is that of the Methodists, and claims our
consideration here only in so far as it enjoins them during their
devotional exercises to fall into convulsions, which they are able
to effect in the strangest manner imaginable. By the use of
certain unmeaning words they work themselves up into a state of
religious frenzy, in which they seem to have scarcely any control
over their senses. They then begin to jump with strange gestures,
repeating this exercise with all their might until they are
exhausted, so that it not unfrequently happens that women who,
like the Maenades, practise these religious exercises, are carried
away from the midst of them in a state of syncope, whilst the
remaining members of the congregations, for miles together, on
their way home, terrify those whom they meet by the sight of such
demoniacal ravings. There are never more than a few ecstatics,
who, by their example, excite the rest to jump, and these are
followed by the greatest part of the meeting, so that these
assemblages of the Jumpers resemble for hours together the wildest
orgies, rather than congregations met for Christian edification.

In the United States of North America communities of Methodists
have existed for the last sixty years. The reports of credible
witnesses of their assemblages for divine service in the open air
(camp meetings), to which many thousands flock from great
distances, surpass, indeed, all belief; for not only do they there
repeat all the insane acts of the French Convulsionnaires and of
the English Jumpers, but the disorder of their minds and of their
nerves attains at these meetings a still greater height. Women
have been seen to miscarry whilst suffering under the state of
ecstasy and violent spasms into which they are thrown, and others
have publicly stripped themselves and jumped into the rivers.
They have swooned away by hundreds, worn out with ravings and
fits; and of the Barkers, who appeared among the Convulsionnaires
only here and there, in single cases of complete aberration of
intellect, whole bands are seen running on all fours, and growling
as if they wished to indicate, even by their outward form, the
shocking degradation of their human nature. At these camp-
meetings the children are witnesses of this mad infatuation, and
as their weak nerves are with the greatest facility affected by
sympathy, they, together with their parents, fall into violent
fits, though they know nothing of their import, and many of them
retain for life some severe nervous disorder which, having arisen
from fright and excessive excitement, will not afterwards yield to
any medical treatment.

But enough of these extravagances, which even in our now days
embitter the live of so many thousands, and exhibit to the world
in the nineteenth century the same terrific form of mental
disturbance as the St. Vitus's dance once did to the benighted
nations of the Middle Ages.


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