A Visionary Madness: The Case of James Tilly Matthews and the Influencing Machine

A Visionary Madness The Case of James Tilly Matthews and the Influencing Machine Confined in Bedlam in as an incurable lunatic James Tilly Matthews is one of the most bizarre case studies in the annals of psychiatry Often cited as the first thorough case study of what we wou

  • Title: A Visionary Madness: The Case of James Tilly Matthews and the Influencing Machine
  • Author: Mike Jay Oliver Sacks
  • ISBN: 9781583947173
  • Page: 449
  • Format: Paperback
  • Confined in Bedlam in 1797 as an incurable lunatic, James Tilly Matthews is one of the most bizarre case studies in the annals of psychiatry Often cited as the first thorough case study of what we would today call paranoid schizophrenia, Matthews drew intricate diagrams of the influencing machine that he believed to be reading and controlling his mind But his case wasConfined in Bedlam in 1797 as an incurable lunatic, James Tilly Matthews is one of the most bizarre case studies in the annals of psychiatry Often cited as the first thorough case study of what we would today call paranoid schizophrenia, Matthews drew intricate diagrams of the influencing machine that he believed to be reading and controlling his mind But his case was even stranger than his doctors realized many of the incredible conspiracies in which he claimed to be involved were entirely real A Visionary Madness traces the story of antiwar advocate James Tilly Matthews through the political and social upheaval of the late eighteenth century, providing a vivid account of the unraveling of Matthews s mind, a snapshot of late eighteenth century psychiatry, and its relevance to current narratives of madness, conspiracy theories, mind control, and political manipulation Digging deep into historical records and primary sources, author Mike Jay carefully untangles truth from delusion, providing evidence that Matthews was a political prisoner as much as a madman he had been working as a double agent in the French Revolution and was privy to political secrets the British government feared he might expose In the process, Jay illuminates the murky revolutionary politics of the 1790s and situates Matthews visionary madness within the wider cultural upheavals of a world on the brink of modernity The details of Matthews treatment in Bedlam reveals the birth pangs of early psychiatry and its struggle to free its patients from the harsh regimes of the eighteenth century madhouse A fascinating and fast paced narrative history, A Visionary Madness raises profound questions about the nature of madness and the birth of the modern world.

    One thought on “A Visionary Madness: The Case of James Tilly Matthews and the Influencing Machine”

    1. More than two centuries ago, James Tilly Matthews imagined this: a sinister device, the Air Loom Machine, built into a basement beneath London's streets and designed to manipulate world events by controlling, from a distance, the minds of politicians. Today this idea would be rejected by publishing houses as unoriginal; but this was the 1780s with the industrial revolution barely under way and the cutting-edge technology and science from which he wove his machine were things like textile looms a [...]

    2. The early days of bedlam and the beginnings of psychiatry are explored, using the strange case of James Tilly Matthews. Found so much of this book fascinating, not only his case but all the early thoughts concerning those thought mad and the many different opinions on how it should be treated. The court trials on lunacy and how the staff had little or no training and yet they were often the sole caretakers of these poor unfortunates.The doctor's own egos often got in the way of fairness, once th [...]

    3. This is a compelling and fascinating piece of history that goes far beyond the story of James Tilly Matthews to explore the world in which such a man could have existed. If history texts were like this, I think social studies would suddenly become the most beloved class. I feel like a I gained insight into the era of the French Revolution in a way I never had before, in addition to the (more expected) insights on evolving treatment and understanding of "lunacy."

    4. This book deals with the tragic history of James Tilly Matthews; a London businessman who apparently came to believe that his actions were controlled by a sinister gang of conspirators* via their "Air Loom" machine that was able to exert a mesmeric influence on it's victims. After accusing Lord Liverpool of treason from the public gallery of the Houses of Parliament Matthews was confined to Bedlam for (nearly all) the rest of his life. Matthews's delusions seem to have arisen from his horrific e [...]

    5. Originally published on my blog here in March 2004.The most famously insane person of the eighteenth century was of course George III, one of the most celebrated madmen of all time. Yet his case is not as interesting in itself (rather than for who the patient was) as that of a contemporary Englishman, James Tilly Matthews. The turn of the nineteenth century was a pivotal time in the history of the treatment of the insane, as asyla began to be built which were more like hospitals than the prison- [...]

    6. The primary concern I had with this book was that it was too much. The writing should really be tightened up because the subject, and the controversy surrounding it, are fantastic. James Tilly Matthews spent most of his life in Bedlam Hospital classified as an "incurable" lunatic. At a habeas corpus hearing that his family brought against the hospital, the witnesses for the family provided more than ample evidence that the man was totally sane and had been imprisoned for no just cause. The other [...]

    7. This is the story of James Tilly Matthews, a madman whose lunacy had roots in reality. The actual events of his life were often on par with his delusions, in fact, there are points at which they intersect in such a way as to become indistinguishable. Jay tries separate the threads of his life to determine when Tilly's descent into madness began, was it always there or was it precipitated by life events? At times Jay interjects a little too much opinion when the reader would have best been let to [...]

    8. In The Air Loom Gang (to be rereleased soon in a revised form as The Influencing Machine), Mike Jay tells the story of James Tilly Matthews, one of the best documented pre-20th century cases of schizophrenia, and the bizarre and serendipitous circumstances that preceded his madness. Matthews' story is presented here as a globe-hopping cloak-and-dagger affair. The cast of characters include megalomaniacal revolutionaries and treacherous parliamentarians. The settings range from Paris during the R [...]

    9. After carrying this book around for weeks, never feeling compelled to read more than a few pages at a time, I am finally abandoning it. The issue? It seems as though the author is attempting to weave a cloak of mystery about Matthews that simply shouldn't exist. The case appears quite clear - Matthews was a meddler in political affairs at a time of crisis, always with the seeds of delusion in his mind. Jay repeatedly delays calling him mad - he isn't insane yet, his actions are entirely reasonab [...]

    10. Oh man. This is my kind of book, craziness and history. The end of chapter 3 has this thing set up like a spy thriller novel, and yet it's true. A high ranking politician has just weighed in on an insanity/habeas corpus hearing saying that this man living in Bedlam institution is not to be released, but gives no reason why. Perhaps "they" really are out to get him. You can't make this stuff up. The chapters on the French Revolution was a bit boring and also confusing. I think that was the point [...]

    11. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're NOT out to get you! An amazing story, of an 18th c madman whose mad tales about his engagement at the highest levels of the french revolutionary govt and the british government, and his brokering of a (failed) secret peace treaty were absolutely true. Oh, and he also had his mind being controlled by secret govt agents sending pneumatic rays from a giant leyden-jar and wind powered machine hidden in a basement in london(eh, not true.)Great book, a [...]

    12. Are you paranoid if they're really out to get you? The strange tale of James Tilly Matthews, super spy or super nutjob. In the late 18th century he was admitted to Bedlam, the famous mental institution, claiming that a secret group were using mind control against most of the populace, especially leading politicians of the day. Matthews was the only one who knew what was really happening and that was why his life was in danger. What follows is a fantastical tale that may have some element of trut [...]

    13. Some more late 18th C reading, so much was changing in society sort of like the 60s, and even our more recent technologically advancing times, only at a more leisurely pace. In telling the story of James Tilley Matthews, Mike Jay investigates the climate of revolutionary era France and the attendant malaise in England. He also traces the changing attitudes towards society's care, or lack thereof, of those deemed mad. A compassionate telling of one man's life at a pivotal moment in history. Well [...]

    14. Read this based on a friend's recommendation, and it did not disappoint. This book relates the story of James Tilly Matthews, an inmate of the infamous Bethlem mental hospital in London. He was judged to be insane, and was locked up for the rest of his life. Trouble is, much of the story that landed him in the incurable lifer ward at Bedlam was actually kind of, well, true. Whoopse! If there was a genre for oddball, Fortean, or forgotten history, this book would be right at home there. Recommend [...]

    15. This book was enjoyable on so many dimensions: First and foremost, an entertaining, well-written story that goes into some truly unexpected places. Which is all the more amazing given that it is true. Second, it is interesting for its description of early psychiatry, and for the unique character it follows. Whether you're a fan of Oliver Sacks or Robert Anton Wilson or - heck - even Dan Brown, the Matrix or books about the French Revolution, you would do well to pick this up.

    16. A fascinating case study of the first recorded instance of an 'influencing machine' delusion, where Matthews believed he and others were being controlled by an 'air loom'. It delves into Matthews history and the facets of contemporaneous society which bore upon his delusion. Well researched and organized.

    17. I first learned about this book from an article in Fortean Times magazine. It is truly a bizarre story, yet also melancholy in its depiction of the plight of the mentally ill and Mr Matthews' struggle to maintain some sense of dignity in the awful conditions he was kept in. And of course that contraption from hell, The Air Loom!

    18. A superb little history, every word a gem. Suspenseful, humane, full of insights on the French Revolution and the handling of the mentally ill. Essential background for everyone fascinated with modern conspiracy theories and baffled by the fantastical forms they take. The only non-puerile treatment I've ever seen of the trope "madness is a response to a mad society."

    19. El caso de Matthews es realmente interesante. El desarrollo que Mike Jay hace de él es sumamente rico. Si estas interesado en cual es el origen de la idea de una máquina que controla nuestras mentes, tienes que leerlo. Bien documentado, muy buen escrito, es una delicia.

    20. An outstanding read: The amazing story of the first documented case of paranoid schizophrenia, and the astonish discovery that the delusions of the "madman" were, in large part, based on very real but improbable facts from his life.

    21. Una curiosa historia de locura y conspiración, en un periodo muy interesante, el de la Revolución Francesa. Llama la atención lo cerca que está este primer caso documentado de paranoia conspirativa, con los actuales.

    22. An astonishing study into the personal, social and political events surrounding of one of the earliest recorded cases of schizophrenia. It's a personal tragedy that seems to be intertwined with vast political currents.

    23. Interesting, but not that interesting. One of those books that really had enough material for a good magazine article but not a whole book.

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