On This Day … 06 May

Events

  • 1757 – English poet Christopher Smart is admitted into St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics in London, beginning his six-year confinement to mental asylums.

People (Births)

  • 1856 – Sigmund Freud, Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst (d. 1939).
  • 1922 – Camille Laurin, Canadian psychiatrist and politician, 7th Deputy Premier of Quebec (d. 1999).

People (Deaths)

2012 – Jean Laplanche, French psychoanalyst and author (b. 1924).

Christopher Smart

The English poet Christopher Smart (1722-1771) was confined to mental asylums from May 1757 until January 1763. Smart was admitted into St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics, Upper Moorfields, London, on 06 May 1757. He was taken there by his father-in-law, John Newbery, although he may have been confined in a private madhouse before then. While in St Luke’s he wrote Jubilate Agno and A Song to David, the poems considered to be his greatest works. Although many of his contemporaries agreed that Smart was “mad”, accounts of his condition and its ramifications varied, and some felt that he had been committed unfairly.

Smart was diagnosed as “incurable” while at St Luke’s, and when they ran out of funds for his care he was moved to Mr. Potter’s asylum, Bethnal Green. All that is known of his years of confinement is that he wrote poetry. Smart’s isolation led him to abandon the poetic genres of the 18th century that had marked his earlier work and to write religious poetry such as Jubilate Agno (“Rejoice in the Lamb”). His asylum poetry reveals a desire for “unmediated revelation”, and it is possible that the self-evaluation found in his poetry represents an expression of evangelical Christianity.

Late 18th-century critics felt that Smart’s madness justified them in ignoring his A Song to David, but during the following century Robert Browning and his contemporaries considered his condition to be the source of his genius. It was not until the 20th century, with the rediscovery of Jubilate Agno (not published until 1939), that critics reconsidered Smart’s case and began to see him as a revolutionary poet, the possible target of a plot by his father-in-law, a publisher, to silence him.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (born Sigismund Schlomo Freud; 06 May 1856 to 23 September 1939) was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst.

Freud was born to Galician Jewish parents in the Moravian town of Freiberg, in the Austrian Empire. He qualified as a doctor of medicine in 1881 at the University of Vienna. Upon completing his habilitation in 1885, he was appointed a docent in neuropathology and became an affiliated professor in 1902. Freud lived and worked in Vienna, having set up his clinical practice there in 1886. In 1938, Freud left Austria to escape Nazi persecution. He died in exile in the United Kingdom in 1939.

In founding psychoanalysis, Freud developed therapeutic techniques such as the use of free association and discovered transference, establishing its central role in the analytic process. Freud’s redefinition of sexuality to include its infantile forms led him to formulate the Oedipus complex as the central tenet of psychoanalytical theory. His analysis of dreams as wish-fulfilments provided him with models for the clinical analysis of symptom formation and the underlying mechanisms of repression. On this basis Freud elaborated his theory of the unconscious and went on to develop a model of psychic structure comprising id, ego and super-ego. Freud postulated the existence of libido, a sexualised energy with which mental processes and structures are invested and which generates erotic attachments, and a death drive, the source of compulsive repetition, hate, aggression and neurotic guilt. In his later works, Freud developed a wide-ranging interpretation and critique of religion and culture.

Though in overall decline as a diagnostic and clinical practice, psychoanalysis remains influential within psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy, and across the humanities. It thus continues to generate extensive and highly contested debate with regard to its therapeutic efficacy, its scientific status, and whether it advances or hinders the feminist cause. Nonetheless, Freud’s work has suffused contemporary Western thought and popular culture. W.H. Auden’s 1940 poetic tribute to Freud describes him as having created “a whole climate of opinion / under whom we conduct our different lives.”

Camille Laurin

Camille Laurin (06 May 1922 to 11 March 1999) was a psychiatrist and Parti Québécois (PQ) politician in the province of Quebec, Canada. MNA member for the riding of Bourget, he is considered the father of Quebec’s language law known informally as “Bill 101”.

Born in Charlemagne, Quebec, Laurin obtained a degree in psychiatry from the Université de Montréal where he came under the influence of the Roman Catholic priest, Lionel Groulx. After earning his degree, Laurin went to Boston, Massachusetts, where he worked at the Boston State Hospital. Following a stint in Paris, France, in 1957, he returned to practice in Quebec. In 1961, he authored the preface of the book Les fous crient au secours, which described the conditions of psychiatric hospitals of the time.

He was one of the early founders of the Quebec sovereignty movement. As a senior cabinet minister in the first PQ government elected in the 1976 Quebec election, he was the guiding force behind Bill 101, the legislation that placed restrictions on the use of English on public signs and in the workplace of large companies, and strengthened the position of French as the only official language in Quebec.

Laurin resigned from his cabinet position on 26 November 1984 because of a disagreement with Lévesque on the future of the sovereignty movement. He resigned from his seat in the National Assembly on 25 January 1985. He was elected once again to the Assembly on 12 September 1994 but did not run in the 1998 election for health reasons.

He died after a long battle with cancer.

Jean Laplanche

Jean Laplanche (21 June 1924 to 06 May 2012) was a French author, psychoanalyst and winemaker. Laplanche is best known for his work on psychosexual development and Sigmund Freud’s seduction theory, and wrote more than a dozen books on psychoanalytic theory. The journal Radical Philosophy described him as “the most original and philosophically informed psychoanalytic theorist of his day.”

From 1988 to his death, Laplanche was the scientific director of the German to French translation of Freud’s complete works (Oeuvres Complètes de Freud/Psychanalyse – OCF.P) in the Presses Universitaires de France, in association with André Bourguignon, Pierre Cotet and François Robert.

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