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The Mental Condition of Saint-Simon [L'état Mental De Saint-Simon]. (Rev. Phil., Jan., March, April, 1902.) Dumas, G.

  • Havelock Ellis
Extract

Saint-Simon, the philosopher, the precursor and teacher of Auguste Comte, is an interesting figure from the psychiatric point of view, and Dr. Dumas has here given a somewhat elaborate account of his life. Bom in 1760, he was the oldest of seven children, and belonged to an ancient and noble family, traditionally said to have descended from Charlemagne; the author of the famous memoirs belonged to one branch of the family. In the early part of his career, before he adopted socialistic views, the philosopher was wont to insist on his noble descent, and to say that all great men—Bacon, Galileo, Newton, etc.—were gentlemen. At an early age he showed characteristic self-confidence, energy, and independence; at thirteen refused to take his first communion, and when, in consequence, confined, he wounded his keeper and escaped. At fifteen he already began to gain a vague idea of his mission in life, but his education was conducted in a methodless way, though he used to congratulate himself that d'Alembert had been one of his masters. He was an enthusiastic admirer of Rousseau, and went to visit him. At sixteen he was in the army, and in 1779 was fighting in America under the orders of Washington, but was much more interested in political science than in military matters, and he soon left the army, “to study,” as he said, “the progress of the human mind, and to work at the perfecting of civilisation.” At the same time he still remained eager to take part in all sorts of adventures. When the Revolution broke out he took the popular side at first, and renounced his title of count, but he soon withdrew from the whirlpool, for he had no love of mere destruction. He speculated unscrupulously, however, with national property, acquired wealth, and, arousing the suspicions of the ruling party, he was imprisoned for a time. In prison, exalted by his ideas of scientific and social reform, he had a hallucination: Charlemagne appeared to him, and declared that his glory in philosophy would equal Charlemagne's in other fields. On leaving prison he began to study mathematics and medicine, and, being now rich, kept open house, all men of science being welcome. His receptions were presided over by a series of mistresses, and in 1801, when he married, by his wife. Very soon, however, he read the books of Madame de Staël, and realised that she was the collaborator whom fate had destined to share with him his great task. He succeeded in obtaining a divorce from his wife, though it was only with much grief that he could leave her. He had, however, neglected to consult Madame de Staël—a characteristic instance of his sanguine and impulsive tendencies,—and when he proceeded to Coppet to set forth his plans for social regeneration his reception was frigid. He retired to Geneva, and consoled himself (1803) by writing his first book, a somewhat fantastic production, but already containing the germs of some of his greatest and most fruitful ideas. He there plans an “Introduction to the Science of the Nineteenth Century,” but, feeling that his knowledge must first be enlarged, he travelled in England and Germany. Then, his funds being exhausted, he was compelled to find employment as a clerk, but his health broke down, and he began to spit blood. But a saviour appeared in the form of an old servant of the family, one Diard, who placed himself and his house at Saint-Simon's disposal. The philosopher accepted, and lived in peace until Diard's death in 1810. In the meanwhile he endeavoured to thrust his projects before Napoleon and influential persons in the scientific world, but with no result, and he began to think that he was being persecuted; he definitely accused Laplace of “poisoning ten years of his life.” From the height of his pride he dealt out contempt to the great astronomer, but Laplace took no notice. On Diard's death Saint-Simon was again reduced to misery, and, overcome by privations and anxieties, he had a severe illness, with delirium. On recovering, his family granted him a small pension, and he proceeded to develop his philosophic and scientific ideas, one of the chief being that the science of man must be placed on the same basis, and conducted by the same sound methods, as the physical sciences, instead of, as had hitherto been the case, on a metaphysical or theological basis. His efforts to attract attention and get his books printed proving vain, he again fell ill, and we find him for a short time in an asylum. Concerning his disorder nothing, unfortunately, is known, save that he suffered much from insomnia. On leaving the asylum he brought forward his scheme for the union of England and France (he had a great admiration for England), as a nucleus for the future unification of the whole of Europe. Again reduced to despair by want and neglect, he resolved on suicide, and, having spent his last moments in philosophic meditation, he shot himself. The only result was, however, that he lost the sight of one eye. Gradually friends and admirers, including Comte, came around him, and he died in 1825, full, to the last moment, with the thought of his works and of his dreams for the happiness of mankind.

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The Mental Condition of Saint-Simon [L'état Mental De Saint-Simon]. (Rev. Phil., Jan., March, April, 1902.) Dumas, G.

  • Havelock Ellis
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