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SECT. 6--DECREASE

The Dancing Mania, arising from the tarantula bite, continued with all those additions of self-deception and of the dissimulation which is such a constant attendant on nervous disorders of this kind, through the whole course of the seventeenth century. It was indeed, gradually on the decline, but up to the termination of this period showed such extraordinary symptoms that Baglivi, one of the best physicians of that time, thought he did a service to science by making them the subject of a dissertation. He repeats all the observations of Ferdinando, and supports his own assertions by the experience of his father, a physician at Lecce, whose testimony, as an eye-witness, may be admitted as unexceptionable.

The immediate consequences of the tarantula bite, the supervening nervous disorder, and the aberrations and fits of those who suffered from hysteria, he describes in a masterly style, not does he ever suffer his credulity to diminish the authenticity of his account, of which he has been unjustly accused by later writers.

Finally, tarantism has declined more and more in modern times, and is now limited to single cases. How could it possibly have maintained itself unchanged in the eighteenth century, when all the links which connected it with the Middle Ages had long since been snapped asunder? Imposture grew more frequent, and wherever the disease still appeared in its genuine form, its chief cause, namely, a peculiar cast of melancholy, which formerly had been the temperament of thousands, was now possessed only occasionally by unfortunate individuals. It might, therefore, not unreasonably be maintained that the tarantism of modern times bears nearly the same relation to the original malady as the St. Vitus's dance which still exists, and certainly has all along existed, bears, in certain cases, to the original dancing mania of the dancers of St. John.

To conclude. Tarantism, as a real disease, has been denied in toto, and stigmatised as an imposition by most physicians and naturalists, who in this controversy have shown the narrowness of their views and their utter ignorance of history. In order to support their opinion they have instituted some experiments apparently favourable to it, but under circumstances altogether inapplicable, since, for the most part, they selected as the subjects of them none but healthy men, who were totally uninfluenced by a belief in this once so dreaded disease. From individual instances of fraud and dissimulation, such as are found in connection with most nervous affections without rendering their reality a matter of any doubt, they drew a too hasty conclusion respecting the general phenomenon, of which they appeared not to know that it had continued for nearly four hundred years, having originated in the remotest periods of the Middle Ages. The most learned and the most acute among these sceptics is Serao the Neapolitan. His reasonings amount to this, that he considers the disease to be a very marked form of melancholia, and compares the effect of the tarantula bite upon it to stimulating with spurs a horse which is already running. The reality of that effect he thus admits, and, therefore, directly confirms what in appearance only he denies. By shaking the already vacillating belief in this disorder he is said to have actually succeeded in rendering it less frequent, and in setting bounds to imposture; but this no more disproves the reality of its existence than the oft repeated detection of imposition has been able in modern times to banish magnetic sleep from the circle of natural phenomena, though such detection has, on its side, rendered more rare the incontestable effects of animal magnetism. Other physicians and naturalists have delivered their sentiments on tarantism, but as they have not possessed an enlarged knowledge of its history their views do not merit particular exposition. It is sufficient for the comprehension of everyone that we have presented the facts from all extraneous speculation.


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