Symptoms of Maids, Nuns, and Widows' Melancholy.

Symptoms of Maids, Nuns, and Widows' Melancholy.

BECAUSE Lodovicus Mercatus in his second book de mulier. affect. cap. 4. and Rodericus a Castro de morb. mulier. cap. 3. lib. 4. two famous physicians in Spain, Daniel Sennertus of Wittenberg, lib. 1. part. 2. cap. 13. with others; have vouchsafed in their works, not long since published, to write two just treatises de Melancholia Virginum, Monialium et Viduarum, as a particular species of melancholy (which I have already specified) distinct from the rest; (for it much differs from that which commonly befalls men and other women, as having one only cause proper to women alone) I may not omit in this general survey of melancholy symptoms, to set down the particular signs of such parties so misaffected.

The causes are assigned out of Hippocrates, Cleopatra, Moschion, and those old Gynæciorum Scriptores, of this feral malady, in more ancient maids, widows, and barren women, ob septum transversum violatum, saith Mercatus, by reason of the midriff or Diaphragma, heart and brain offended with those vicious vapours which come from menstruous blood, inflammationem arterias circa dorsum, Rodericus adds, an inflammation of the back, which with the rest is offended by that fuliginous exhalation of corrupt seed, troubling the brain, heart and mind; the brain, I say, not in essence, but by consent, Universa enim hujus affectus causa ab utero pendet, et a sanguinis menstrui malitia, for in a word, the whole malady proceeds from that inflammation, putridity, black smoky vapours, &c., from thence comes care, sorrow, and anxiety, obfuscation of spirits, agony, desperation, and the like, which are intended or remitted; si amatorius accesserit ardor, or any other violent object or perturbation of mind. This melancholy may happen to widows, with much care and sorrow, as frequently it doth, by reason of a sudden alteration of their accustomed course of life, &c. To such as be in childbed ob suppressam purgationem; but to nuns and more ancient maids, and some barren women for the causes aforesaid, 'tis more familiar, crebrius his quam reliquis accidit, inquit Rodericus, the rest are not altogether excluded.

Out of these causes Rodericus defines it with Areteus, to be angorem animi, a vexation of the mind, a sudden sorrow from a small, light, or no occasion, with a kind of still dotage and grief of some part or other, head, heart, breasts, sides, back, belly, &c., with much solitariness, weeping, distraction, &c., from which they are sometimes suddenly delivered, because it comes and goes by fits, and is not so permanent as other melancholy.

But to leave this brief description, the most ordinary symptoms be these, pulsatio juxta dorsum, a beating about the back, which is almost perpetual, the skin is many times rough, squalid, especially, as Areteus observes, about the arms, knees, and knuckles. The midriff and heart-strings do burn and beat very fearfully, and when this vapour or fume is stirred, flieth upward, the heart itself beats, is sore grieved, and faints, fauces siccitate præcluduntur, ut difficulter possit ab uteri strangulatione decerni, like fits of the mother, Alvus plerisque nil reddit, aliis exiguum, acre, biliosum, lotium flavum. They complain many times, saith Mercatus, of a great pain in their heads, about their hearts, and hypochondries, and so likewise in their breasts, which are often sore, sometimes ready to swoon, their faces are inflamed, and red, they are dry, thirsty, suddenly hot, much troubled with wind, cannot sleep, &c. And from hence proceed ferina deliramenta, a brutish kind of dotage, troublesome sleep, terrible dreams in the night, subrusticus pudor et verecundia ignava, a foolish kind of bashfulness to some, perverse conceits and opinions, dejection of mind, much discontent, preposterous judgment. They are apt to loathe, dislike, disdain, to be weary of every object, &c., each thing almost is tedious to them, they pine away, void of counsel, apt to weep, and tremble, timorous, fearful, sad, and out of all hope of better fortunes. They take delight in nothing for the time, but love to be alone and solitary, though that do them more harm: and thus they are affected so long as this vapour lasteth; but by-and-by as pleasant and merry as ever they were in their lives, they sing, discourse, and laugh in any good company, upon all occasions, and so by fits it takes them now and then, except the malady be inveterate, and then 'tis more frequent, vehement, and continuate. Many of them cannot tell how to express themselves in words, or how it holds them, what ails them, you cannot understand them, or well tell what to make of their sayings; so far gone sometimes, so stupified and distracted, they think themselves bewitched, they are in despair, aptæ ad fletum, desperationem, dolores mammis et hypochondriis. Mercatus therefore adds, now their breasts, now their hypochondries, belly and sides, then their heart and head aches, now heat, then wind, now this, now that offends, they are weary of all; and yet will not, cannot again tell how, where or what offends them, though they be in great pain, agony, and frequently complain, grieving, sighing, weeping, and discontented still, sine causa manifesta, most part, yet I say they will complain, grudge, lament, and not be persuaded, but that they are troubled with an evil spirit, which is frequent in Germany, saith Rodericus, amongst the common sort: and to such as are most grievously affected (for he makes three degrees of this disease in women), they are in despair, surely forespoken or bewitched, and in extremity of their dotage (weary of their lives), some of them will attempt to make away themselves. Some think they see visions, confer with spirits and devils, they shall surely be damned, are afraid of some treachery, imminent danger, and the like, they will not speak, make answer to any question, but are almost distracted, mad, or stupid for the time, and by fits: and thus it holds them, as they are more or less affected, and as the inner humour is intended or remitted, or by outward objects and perturbations aggravated, solitariness, idleness, &c.

Many other maladies there are incident to young women, out of that one and only causes above specified, many feral diseases. I will not so much as mention their names, melancholy alone is the subject of my present discourse, from which I will not swerve. The several cures of this infirmity, concerning diet, which must be very sparing, phlebotomy, physic, internal, external remedies are at large in great variety in Rodericus a Castro, Sennertus, and Mercatus, which whoso will, as occasion serves, may make use of. But the best and surest remedy of all, is to see them well placed, and married to good husbands in due time, hinc illæ lachrymæ, that is the primary cause, and this the ready cure, to give them content to their desires. I write not this to patronise any wanton, idle flirt, lascivious or light housewives, which are too forward many times, unruly, and apt to cast away themselves on him that comes next, without all care, counsel, circumspection, and judgment. If religion, good discipline, honest education, wholesome exhortation, fair promises, fame and loss of good name, cannot inhibit and deter such (which to chaste and sober maids cannot choose but avail much), labour and exercise, strict diet, rigour and threats, may more opportunely be used, and are able of themselves to qualify and divert an ill-disposed temperament. For seldom should you see an hired servant, a poor handmaid, though ancient, that is kept hard to her work, and bodily labour, a coarse country wench troubled in this kind, but noble virgins, nice gentlewomen, such as are solitary and idle, live at ease, lead a life out of action and employment, that fare well, in great houses and jovial companies, ill disposed peradventure of themselves, and not willing to make any resistance, discontented otherwise, of weak judgment, able bodies, and subject to passions, (grandiores virgines, saith Mercatus, steriles et viduæ plerumque melancholicæ), such for the most part are misaffected, and prone to this disease. I do not so much pity them that may otherwise be eased, but those alone that out of a strong temperament, innate constitution, are violently carried away with this torrent of inward hmnours, and though very modest of themselves, sober, religious, virtuous, and well given (as many so distressed maids are), yet cannot make resistance, these grievances will appear, this malady will take place, and now manifestly show itself and may not otherwise be helped. But where am I? Into what subject have I rushed? What have I to do with nuns, maids, virgins, widows? I am a bachelor myself and lead a monastic life in a college, nú ego sane ineptos qui hæc dixerim, I confess 'tis an indecorum, and as Pallas a virgin blushed, when Jupiter by chance spoke of love matters in her presence, and turned away her face; me reprimam, though my subject necessarily require it, I will say no more.

And yet I must and will say something more, add a word or two in gratiam Virginum et Viduarum, in favour of all such distressed parties, in commiseration of their present estate. And as I cannot choose but condole their mishap that labour of this infirmity, and are destitute of help in this case, so must I needs inveigh against them that are in fault, more than manifest causes, and as bitterly tax those tyrannising pseudo-politicians superstitious orders, rash vows, hard-hearted parents, guardians, unnatural friends, allies (call them how you will), those careless and stupid overseers, that out of worldly respects, covetousness, supine negligence, their own private ends (cum sibi sit interim bene) can so severely reject, stubbornly neglect, and impiously contemn, without all remorse and pity, the tears, sighs, groans, and grievous miseries of such poor souls committed to their charge. How odious and abominable are those superstitious and rash vows of Popish monasteries! so to bind and enforce men and women to vow virginity, to lead a single life, against the laws of nature, opposite to religion, policy, and humanity, so to starve, to offer violence, to suppress the vigour of youth by rigorous statutes, severe laws, vain persuasions, to debar them of that to which by their innate temperature they are so furiously inclined, urgently carried, and sometimes precipitated, even irresistibly led, to the prejudice of their soul's health, and good estate of body and mind: and all for base and private respects, to maintain their gross superstition, to enrich themselves and their territories, as they falsely suppose, by hindering some marriages, that the world be not full of beggars, and their parishes pestered with orphans; stupid politicians, hæccine fieri flagitia? ought these things so to be carried? better marry than burn, saith the Apostle, but they are otherwise persuaded. They will by all means quench their neighbour's house if it be on fire, but that fire of lust which breaks out into such lamentable flames, they will not take notice of, their own bowels oftentimes, flesh and blood shall so rage and burn, and they will not see it: miserum est, saith Austin, seipsum non miserescere, and they are miserable in the mean time that cannot pity themselves, the common good of all, and per consequens their own estates. For let them but consider what fearful maladies, feral diseases, gross inconveniences, come to both sexes by this enforced temperance, it troubles me to think of, much more to relate those frequent abortions and murdering of infants in their nunneries (read Kemnitius and others), their notorious fornications, those Spintrias, Tribadas, Ambubeias, &c., those rapes, incests, adulteries, mastuprations, sodomies, buggeries of monks and friars. See Bale's visitation of abbeys, Mercurialis, Rodericus a Castro, Peter Forestus, and divers physicians; I know their ordinary apologies and excuses for these things, sed viderint Politici, Medici, Theologi, I shall more opportunely meet with them elsewhere

"Illius viduæ, aut patronum Virginus hujus,
Ne me forte putes, verbum non amplius addam."

("Lest you may imagine that I patronise this widow or that virgin, I shall not add another word")

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