Voices from the 18th Century: Thomas Brown visits Bethlem Hospital



“Bedlam is a pleasant place, that it is, and abounds with amusements; the first of which is the building so lately a fabric for persons wholly insensible of the beauty and use of it: the outside is a perfect mockery to the inside, and admits of two amusing queries, Whether the persons that ordered the building of it, or those that inhabit it, were the maddest? And whether the name and things be not as disagreeable as harp harrow? But what need I wonder at that, since the while is but one entire amusement? Some were preaching, and others cursing and swearing. Some were dancing others groaning. Some singing, others crying, and all in perfect confusion. A sad representation of the greater chimerical world! Only in this there’s no whoring, cheating, or sleeping…”

And so wrote Thomas Brown about the notorious psychiatric hospital known as “Bedlam,” or Bethlem Hospital. The quote, in fact, comes from Brown’s book “Amusements Serious and Comical, calculated for the Meridian of London” (London, 1700), which is more of a tourist’s guide than anything else.

LEARN MORE: ‘Visiting Bethlem in the long eighteeth century’: an online guide.

(William Hogarth, A Rake’s Progress, 1735, Plate #8, ‘In the Madhouse’)

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