Famous Diaries: “Writing of the Insane”

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Today, if someone were to publish a collection of writings and drawings of patients suffering from mental illness, calling it On the Writing of the Insane would probably be taken pretty offensively. Published in 1870, however, George Mackenzie Brown’s literary look into the minds of asylum patients is a surprisingly personal and respectful piece of original “outsider art.”

As a medical superintendent at an asylum near Cambridge, England, Brown spent a considerable amount of time with a “respectable artisan of considerable intelligence [who] was sent to the Cambridgeshire Asylum after being nearly three years in a melancholy mood.” The results serve as an early exposé of the deeply different and illustrated thoughts of a tortured artist.

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