Physiognomy is an inexact science

At Salisbury Review, Dalrymple criticizes Nicola Sturgeon’s reaction to the Brexit vote, a critique that could apply to much of the Leave crowd:

To call it self-serving would be a very mild way of putting it. When the referendum, to which she had not objected and whose legitimacy she had therefore accepted, produced a result that she did not like (though it is surely very peculiar and highly suspect that a person so dedicated to national sovereignty should wish to join an organisation whose ultimate aim is obviously the extinction of national sovereignty), she said that it was “democratically unacceptable” that the majority of votes overall should commit Scotland to leaving the European Union. In other words, you can have a referendum so long as it produces the result that I want. Then, and only then, is its result legitimate.

Read it here

On Mistress Quickly’s Description of Falstaff’s Death

Note: When Dalrymple’s long-running BMJ column ended in 2012, he had a backlog of about 60 unpublished pieces, and he kindly gave them to us to post here at Skeptical Doctor. We are posting them on Wednesdays to coincide with the schedule of his old BMJ column. We hope you enjoy them.

When people speak of Shakespeare’s clinical acuity, the first exhibit is usually Mistress Quickly’s description of Falstaff’s death in Henry V. The very fact that Shakespeare puts so moving and sensitive a speech in the mouth of the hostess of a pub, The Boar’s Head, which is a den of persons of ill-repute, and whose very name is redolent of a certain sexual looseness, is testimony to the broadness of Shakespeare’s sympathies, his human understanding, his heartfelt rather than merely doctrinal tolerance.

The speech in its universally accepted form goes (in part) as follows:

A’ made a finer end and went away an I had been any Christom child; a’ parted even just between twelve and one, even at the turning o’ the tide: for after I saw him fumble with flowers and smile upon his fingers’ ends, I knew there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as a pen, and a’ babbled of green fields.

I suppose this description will be familiar to any doctor who has attended a delirious patient; and in 1985, Dr Abraham Verghese, the celebrated physician and writer, published an article in which he said that Mistress Quickly’s depiction of Falstaff’s death was quite probably that of “the muttering delirium” of typhoid fever. Certainly such delirium is common in patients with typhoid: in one series of 959 successive cases 57 per cent displayed it.

But the symptomatology of Falstaff’s death is not pathognomonic of typhoid, for we have all seen delirious patients “fumble at flowers and smile at their fingers’ ends,” and “babble of green fields” from causes other than typhoid. And, interestingly, one of the symptoms in the description, the babbling of green fields, was the result of an emendation of the first printed text. The words “a’ babbled of green fields” might, or might not, have been Shakespeare’s.

The orginal text read “for his nose was as sharp as a pen, and a’ table of greene fields,” which hardly makes sense; it was Lewis Theobald (1688 – 1744), one of the first great Shakespeare scholars, who suggested the emendation which most people accept as inspired (seldom has a man’s lasting literary fame, or at least reputation, rested so importantly on a single word). And in the first edition of Theobald’s edition of Shakespeare, the emendation appears as “a’ babled of green fields.” The extra letter ‘b’ is a later accretion.

Theobald scored more than one hit in his numerous emendations of the texts that came down from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but it is by “a’ babbled of green fields” that he is remembered. One of the methods he used was to imagine the text in Shakespeare’s sixteenth century handwriting and then imagine the errors that the compositors might have made in transferring what he had written to printers’ type.

I suspect (and hope) that Theobald was right, for his speculative version was inspired, but we will never know for certain. There is another interesting point, however. Mistress Quickly’s description, even without the emendation, is wonderfully accurate as well as sympathetic; and when she says “I knew there was no other way [except towards death],” she implies an intimate acquaintance with the process of dying. And since Shakespeare was nothing if not a very close observer of the world around him, and a realist, it must be supposed that the Mistresses Quickly of the time knew death as few people other than doctors and nurses know it nowadays. Knowledge, especially by acquaintance, can be lost as well as gained.

Evil Men and Their Champions

The world seems filled with gifted and intelligent people, particularly on the Left, who believe very stupid things. One such useful idiot, Richard Gott, extolled Hugo Chavez’s management as an exemplar for Greece — as recently as 2012.

Chavez’s policy was simply to use Venezuela’s large oil revenues, in effect its unearned income, to subsidize the standard of living of millions of people, while at the same time antagonizing foreign and even domestic capital. Oddly enough, it did not occur to the learned author of the article that Greece, for example, had no revenues from a resource comparable to oil to distribute, though for a time borrowed money played the role of those oil revenues; nor that an economy utterly dependent on the price of oil was extremely fragile, and that to distribute largesse on the assumption that the price would remain high forever was improvident, to say the least.

Dalrymple at Taki’s Magazine

Brexit: A Yugoslav Denouement?

French stores routinely advertise that their products are “made in France”. While this is hardly unusual, Dalrymple notices something else:

…neither the supermarket nor the do-it-yourself store would advertise their wares as “Made in Europe.” Marketers tend to know their customers, and they know that such a slogan would entice no one. Indeed, it would probably raise suspicion that something second-rate or botched together was being palmed off on the public. It is true that nowadays you sometimes buy things that tell you only that they were “made in the EU,” but they tend to be the kind of products, such as rubbers or kitchen towels in whose origins no one is much interested.

Read the rest at Salisbury Review

The Abolition of the Labor Market

In their relations with their clients, are prostitutes victims or conquerors? Writing about his recent participation in a debate on this subject, Dalrymple objects to the premise of the question:

This seemed to me to be about as fair a question as whether a man has stopped beating his wife yet, yes or no? It was an example of a very reduced view of human relations, even between prostitutes and their clients. Power enters many human relations and is important, of course, but the search for power is not an exhaustive description of human relations, pace Alfred Adler, and most of them take place outside the proposed victim-conqueror dialectic. A lot of relations between prostitute and client are surely furtive rather than manifestations of power on either side, and even a dominatrix is not her client’s conqueror. She is providing a rather peculiar service for him, that’s all.

Dalrymple at the Library of Law and Liberty

Brexit’s Complicated Aftermath

Dalrymple’s first column in the aftermath of the Brexit vote is at City Journal, where he writes about the uncertainty of the near future. Will Great Britain breakup? Will the UK? Or conversely, given the reaction of many British politicians, will Brexit even happen?

The House of Commons is not constitutionally bound by the results, and most members of Parliament support remaining in the European Union. They could argue, not without plausibility, that a vote representing no more than three-eighths of the total electorate isn’t quite the groundswell of opinion that should be required for fundamental change. If they acted on this argument, however, violence might erupt.

The Diagnosis of Thomas Nicolle

Note: When Dalrymple’s long-running BMJ column ended in 2012, he had a backlog of about 60 unpublished pieces, and he kindly gave them to us to post here at Skeptical Doctor. We are posting them on Wednesdays to coincide with the schedule of his old BMJ column. We hope you enjoy them.

Every author, I suppose, is familiar with the experience of realising the mistakes he has made the very moment that what he has written has been committed irrevocably to print. And this was so with a book of mine published in 2012 titled The Policeman and the Brothel. I had overlooked something that should have been obvious to me, at least as a possibility.

My wife, who is a doctor, was doing a locum on the island of Jersey and I went with her. Finding myself with nothing to do there for three or four months, I researched three murders that took place there between December 1845 and February 1846, the last of them of a policeman called Le Cronier by a brothel-keeper called Madame Le Gendre, and wrote a book about them. Among other things I discovered in the course of my researches that about a half of all the newspaper proprietors or editors of provincial newspapers in Britain were also vendors of patent medicines, a case of commercial synergy, since patent manufacturers were by far the largest advertisers in their newspapers. And half of the advertisements were for remedies for syphilis, ergo… well, I don’t need to point out the moral.

One of the murders was by a man called Thomas Nicolle, the scion of a respectable family. Not sober, he went to a café in St Helier late at night, there had a quarrel with the owner over the cost of two bottles of champagne previously consumed by him (six shillings), and was thrown out by the owner who followed him and knocked him down in the street. Nicolle went back to his lodgings, fetched a gun, returned to the café and shot at random through the shutters, killing a man called Simon Abraham who was having a late night game of cards there.

Nicolle was sentenced to death, but his advocate went to London to obtain a reprieve from the Home Secretary, who granted it on the grounds that Nicolle had in the past been mad. I quote now what I wrote about some of the evidence at his trial:

According to [his landlady], his behaviour appeared strange and completely inexplicable on a number of occasions. For example she had seen him beating the walls with his fists until they bled… One night he slept in a box in his room instead of on his bed. [She] had never seen him drunk, and said that he was known… as Mad Nicolle.

At the time of his madness he was learning his trade which was that of… a hatter. Obviously, he was a mad hatter, but astonishingly and mortifyingly I missed this in my book. His symptoms, which fitted no commonly-seen pattern nowadays, were those of erethism caused by mercury poisoning. H A Waldron, in an article on the Mad Hatter in the BMJ in 1983, said the psychotic symptoms of erethism were excessive timidity, diffidence, increasing shyness, a desire to remain unobserved and an explosive loss of temper when criticised.

The treatment in those days was plenty of fresh air. Nicolle’s sentence was commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land, where he presumably got plenty of fresh air. And it might have cured him, because he does not appear in the criminal records of Van Diemen’s Land or New Zealand, where he died.

How could I possibly have overlooked so obvious a diagnosis? But of course kind readers will point out that I have overlooked something in this article too.

Apocalyptic Visions

Which is the real France: the country of the quiet and beautiful provincial village, or the one suffering under an onslaught of Islamic terrorism, as evidenced by the recent murder of a police chief and his girlfriend by a Muslim terrorist?

Apocalyptic visions have their pleasures, and the murder of the policeman and his consort (they were not married) easily stimulates such visions. But we are rational beings as well as irrational ones, and it is incumbent on us to try to assess the situation according to the evidence. Oceans of ink have been spilt on the attempt to estimate the true extent of the threat of Islam to the West, and the attempts range from the frankly paranoid to the most supinely complacent. For myself, I veer constantly between the two, hardly pausing in between. In the last analysis, the West has all the cards, intellectual and military; but if it refuses ever to play them, they are of no account.

Read the rest at Taki’s Magazine

Jo Cox – Candles in the Gale

After the terrorist attack in Orlando and the murder of MP Jo Cox, candlelight vigils abound. At Salisbury Review, Dalrymple contemplates the meaning behind it all.

What is the message of these candles? What are the people who light them trying to say or express? That they are opposed to massacre or assassination and regret disaster? But does this really have to be expressed? Perhaps they are trying desperately to recapture a belief in the transcendent whose very existence they doubt or, in other circumstances, vehemently deny.

Toothless in Southsea

Dalrymple unexpectedly enjoys a visit to Southsea:

We had a few hours to kill in Portsmouth and went to Southsea, where Conan Doyle was once a general practitioner. A former haven of petty bourgeois respectability, it is now seedy, its Victorian and Edwardian terraces divided into flats and bed-sits for students, recipients of social security and transients with jobs. I loved it.

For one thing there were scores of little shops, with no chain shops in sight; and you could park for free for two whole hours! There was a splendidly must second-hand bookshop specialising in pre-war crime novels, presided over a pre-internet owner who did not spend his time poring over a computer comparing prices. Southsea seemed delightfully unregulated; it as like going back several decades.