Childish Psychiatry Horror, 6. Peter

Stru Peter pic

Children’s hairstyles are often a source of trouble in schools, but I have only once been asked to intervene as a psychiatrist, although the boy’s hair was very long and beautifully cared for.

In the early nineteenth century Peter might have had ‘Plica Polonica’ (Polish Plait), supposed to be a disease caused by a demon which settled if the plait of neglected knotted hair full of lice eggs were allowed to grow, taking the illness with it. The condition largely disappeared in the nineteenth century when it became clear that lack of basic hair hygiene (washing, combing cutting) was the problem and rumours of a tax circulated.



Childish Psychiatry Horror, 4. Conrad.


Conrad Suck-a-Thumb

Dear Readers, this maternal approach is certainly going to give Conrad a COMPLEX, and these days would be strongly advised against. Indeed the whole of ‘Struwwelpeter’ should be approached with extreme caution.

Needless to say the very word ‘not’ has the opposite of the desired effect, and the thumb goes in as soon as Mamma has turned her back. I fear this time I cannot spare you the consequences…

The door flew open, in he ran,
The great, long, red-legged scissorman.
Oh! children, see! the tailor’s come
And caught our little Suck-a-Thumb.

Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out – Oh! Oh! Oh!
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast;
That both his thumbs are off at last.
Mamma comes home; there Conrad stands,
And looks quite sad, and shows his hands;-
“Ah!” said Mamma “I knew he’d come
To naughty little Suck-a-Thumb.

Childish Psychiatry Horror, 3. Philip

Fid Phil pic

We all know this little horror, who these days might be prescribed medication for his Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. He does not, of course obey his kindly Pappa’s instructions and continues:

See the naughty, restless child,
Growing still more rude and wild ,
Till his chair falls over quite.
Philip screams with all his might,
Catches at the cloth, but then
That makes matters worse again.

For the final and literal denouement, see

Rossetti and the Goitrous Necks: 5. Christina

Christina pics 2Christina was Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s sister, and along with their mother, the model for ‘The Girlhood of Mary Virgin’ (1849). The next image shows a sketch of her looking more like his usual models, but less sexy, more studious. She did actually have a visible ‘neck’/thyroid gland problem, which she later kept covered up.

This condition was recognised as ‘Graves’ Disease’ even in 1871, and was thought to be a disturbance of the heart because of the raised pulse rate, common in hyperthyroidism. Apart from enlargement at the neck (goitre), another classic sign is bulging of the eyes (exopthalmia), visible in the photograph. Although this illness is now considered auto-immune, Christina was treated with iodine amongst other things and surgery was considered.

In her famous poem ‘The Goblin Market’, the tempted sister is described thus:

Laura stretched her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck,
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone.

These are ‘stunning’ lines which well match Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s painted beauties, the so-called ‘stunners’.



Scurvy and the Ghastly Crew

2019 Dead uprose b

They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;
It had been strange, even in a dream,

To have seen those dead men rise.
The helmsman steered, the ship moved on;
Yet never a breeze up blew;
The mariners all ‘gan work the ropes,
Where they were wont to do:
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools —
We were a ghastly crew.

The undead seamen were presumably scorbutic hallucinations, but as the Ancient Mariner had blessed the water-snakes, he will be saved.

Scurvy, the Horror Story of the Sea

2019 dore-mariner revd
Gustave Dore illustration to Coleridge’s ‘The Ancient Mariner’

Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one.

Scurvy affects the mind as well as the body, which may partly account for why the sea captains regarded it with shame, rather than remedying the dietary deficiency.

Jonathan Lamb argues that this was the problem for the Ancient Mariner and his crew-mates, with a characteristic enhancement of the senses leading to visions of extreme horror and also of beauty.

Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water-snakes :
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.
O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware.