- Perceval, John Thomas
- (1803-1876)A British aristocrat, son of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval (1762-1812), and self-proclaimed 'attorney-general of all Her Majesty's madmen'. Perceval lost his father at the age of 9. In 1830 he resigned his commission in the Grenadier Guards, spent some time at Oxford University, travelled to Dublin, became psychotic, and was incarcerated from 1831 through 1834. He suffered from a *psychosis with * auditory hallucinations, catatonic features, and religious delusions involving the second coming of Christ, described with meticulous precision in an autobiographical narrative which was published in 1838. As recounted by Perceval, he experienced "audible and articulate voices" (i.e. *verbal auditory hallucinations) which he attributed to "the spirit" or "the Holy Spirit". Some of the messages thus received were revelatory in nature, whereas others consisted of * command hallucinations which urged him to make confessions, to assume certain positions, to lie face-down on the floor, etc. The numerous psychotic symptoms experienced by Perceval included * visual verbal hallucinations, automatic writing, onomatomania, mutism, anosmia (i.e. the inability to smell), and *kalopsia, in the sense that he perceived all things in his environment as "so beautiful and so lovely... that I do not know how to behave myself to any thing about me as I should do, in a reasonable manner." His delusions led him to have resort to dangerous behaviour. For instance, in an attempt to rid himself of demons, he would throw himself on the back of the head, fearful of breaking his neck, but accepting this as a risk worth taking. In the asylum he displayed physically violent and uncontrollable behaviour, which was dealt with by means of straightjackets, forced treatments, cold baths, and many other measures which he described as veritable horrors. Perceval's autobiographical narrative was written as a vehement charge against the treatment of psychiatric patients by asylum physicians in 19th-century England and France. After his discharge, Perceval campaigned for the rest ofhis life to improve the rights of psychiatric patients.His influence as a mental health reformer was unprecedented, and it has had a lasting impact on European psychiatry. The import of his work for hallucinations research lies in the combination of a first-hand acquaintance with hallucinatory phenomena and an exceptional talent for verbalizing and analysing them. This combination places him in a league with other hallucinating intellectuals, such as Daniel Paul Schreber (18421911), Victor Kandinsky (1849-1889), Christoph Friedrich Nicolai (1733-1811), Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950), Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893), Fjodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), and Ludwig Staudenmaier (1865-1933).ReferencesBateson, G., ed. (1962). Perceval's narrative. A patient's account of his psychosis 1830-1832. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Gault, G. (2008). An expert by experience. The Psychologist, 21, 462-463.Perceval, J. (1840). A narrative ofthe treatment experienced by a gentleman, during a state of mental derangement; designed to explain the causes and the nature ofinsanity, and to explore the injudicious conduct pursued towards many unfortunate sufferers under that calamity. London: Effingham Wilson.
Dictionary of Hallucinations. J.D. Blom. 2010.