Wednesday 1 January 2014

Locked Up: ‘Patients’ and their Gaolers. 12. John Perceval. Sarah Wise conducts Inner Circle Seminar 204 (22 June 2014)

Sarah Wise

Locked Up: ‘Patients’ and their Gaolers

12. John Perceval

Sarah Wise
Inner Circle Seminar No. 204
introduced by
Anthony Stadlen
Sunday 22 June 2014
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sarah Wise’s brilliant third book, Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England  (2012), shortlisted for the 2014 Wellcome Book Prize, is, according to Anthony Daniels, as interesting a work of social history as you are ever likely to read’; and her book received many other stunning reviews. In it, she reports her historical research on the circumstances of John Perceval’s incarceration and horrifyingly brutal ‘treatment’ in expensive lunatic asylums from 1831 to 1834, and his subsequent release and campaign as ‘attorney general of all Her Majesty’s madmen’ for the Alleged Lunatics’ Friend Society.

John Perceval (14 February 1803 – 28 February 1876) was a son of Spencer Perceval, who became British prime minister in 1809 and was assassinated in 1812. John Perceval published an autobiographical book in two volumes, A narrative of the treatment experienced by a Gentleman during a state of mental derangement designed to explain the causes and nature of insanity, and to expose the injudicious conduct pursued towards many unfortunate sufferers under that calamity (1838, 1840).

Gregory Bateson edited, introduced and republished John Perceval’s book as Perceval’s Narrative: A Patient’s Account of his Psychosis (1961). In his introduction, Bateson described what Perceval called his ‘mental derangement’ as ‘schizophrenia’, although this supposed ‘illness’ was only invented by Eugen Bleuler in the twentieth century. However, Bateson was himself the pioneer of the revolutionary 1956 ‘double bind’ theory of ‘schizophrenia’ as an interpersonal situation rather than as a ‘disease’. He gave a profound analysis of Perceval’s ‘psychotic’ experience as a ‘voyage of discovery’ with ‘as definite a course as an initiation ceremony – a death and rebirth – into which the novice may have been precipitated by his family life or by adventitious circumstances’.

R. D. Laing, in The Politics of Experience (1967), stated that he was ‘in substantial agreement’ with Bateson’s introduction to Perceval's Narrative. Laing described an experience such as Perceval’s as a ‘voyage into inner space and time’. He wrote: ‘We can no longer assume that such a voyage is an illness that has to be treated.... Can we not see that this voyage is not what we need to be cured of, but that it is itself a natural way of healing our own appalling state of alienation called normality?’ But was Laing adapting Batesons thesis for a romantic ideology?

Sarah Wise will be an ideal guide to these events and to such questions, and will help us disentangle the social intelligibility of how John Perceval came to be locked up and ‘treated’ by those purporting to help him, in a way that he, with great understatement and dignity, called ‘injudicious’. Your contribution to the seminar discussion will be welcome.

Venue: ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £116, others £145, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits, mineral water and liquorice allsorts included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857 E-mail:
For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’.

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