During the Victorian period English psychology was a definite step-child and follower of medical-psychological authorities in Germany and France. A recent researcher has pointed to the role of “mental physiologists” of the era, citing sources and pioneers from entirely English-speaking countries, and in particular books known to have been in Dodgson-Carroll’s library.1 The term ‘mental physiologists’ is itself pre-psychological and occasions ambiguity, being here replaced by ‘medical psychologists’. The important psychological phenomena — and especially the medical psychologist’s ‘hypnagogic imagery’, echolalia, ‘dissociation’ and so on — are poorly served by a physiological framework, and thus impair the impact of sources2 (17, 18 cited in 15). A key concept there, of ‘gradient consciousness’, would lead us to expect intimations of the dynamic ‘conscious-preconscious-unconscious’ so familiar from later psychoanalysis, and alike here at c. 1865-1889, familiar to Dodgson-Carroll in his dream musings, and to Breuer and Freud in their early studies of hysterics. What we find, however, from the “mental physiologists”, is a quite different ‘evolutionary-physiological gradient’, from lowly animal forms, through molluscs (“sluggish”), to higher forms, whose ‘consciousness’ must be inferred by the reader.
A further English ‘pioneer,’ according to Kohlt, is the supposed psychologist Herbert Spencer, but whose works show him to have been more interested and competent as a social philosopher than student of psychology.3 Kohlt’s final source was G. H. Lewes a fairly typical, wide-ranging, Victorian intellectual with little valuable to say about psychology.4 That most or all of such authors — and others such as ‘Mackay. Popular Delusions’ and ‘Lavater. Physiology’ — should have been collected by Dodgson-Carroll (LIB., Lots 579 & 580) — will not surprise any who have managed to arrive at an understanding of Dodgson’s sophisticated psychology and personality. Whether he lived by such contemporary medical-psychological texts, or satirised them, is discussed elsewhere with reference to his ‘Mad Tea-Party’ of Alice in Wonderland.5
Around 1858 the German physicist and optical-physiologist H. von Helmholtz, 1821-1894, was joined in his university laboratory by Wilhelm Wundt, 1832-1920 as assistant. The latter, over the following four decades, would establish a German-language domain of experimental physiology and early empirical psychology, which eventually came to influence American pioneers such as J. McKeen Cattell, Edward B. Titchener, and by 1883 the Johns Hopkins University psychology laboratory. German as the lingua franca also predominated in medical-psychology and psychiatric fields, led by pioneers such as Alois Alzheimer, 1864-1915, Emil Kraepelin, 1856-1926, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, 1840-1902, and Josef Breuer, 1842-1925. French-based continental studies of cognate fields were led by J. M. Charcot, in Paris at the Salpetriere from 1872; H. Bernheim and hypnosis at Nancy in 1880s; Pierre Janet replacing Charcot in Paris, 1890; and August Forel, 1848-1931 and Eugene Bleuler, b. 1857, at the German-Swiss Burgholzli Clinic , Zurich, where schizophrenia and autism began to be penetrated c. 1890s.
In the England of C. L. Dodgson, psychologically and therapeutically some decades behind the nearby continentals, the slow emergence of healthy therapeutic regimes, viable theoretical models and efficacious results, are here seen as instrumental in Carroll-Dodgson’s continued ‘flight to Romanticism’, prolonged throughout his life, and largely to the detriment of his late nascent Modernism. His own sophisticated grasp and understanding of dreams, inner world and psychological states, mental health and illness issues; creativity-originality-divergence, love and morality — whilst much of these must be credited in part to family upbringing — are here recommended as best regarded as stemming in large part, not from familiarity with Lunacy Commissioners and the texts of alienists — which latter he was eminently capable of parodying — but rather from his life-long reading and empathy with such intuitive greats as Shakespeare, Bunyan, Blake, Coleridge, other Romantic Poets, artists, novelists and theatrical performers and their plays, all seen and read “over again” in his busy lifetime.
- Theories of Mental Illness in the Nineteenth-century ‘Bedlam’ Asylum Era, 1815-1898
- Child Study in the Nineteenth Century.
- Glossary of Terms Used for Mental Illness, with a Chronological Synopsis
Last modified 31 July 2016