The English translation of Pinel's Traité médico-philosophique sur l'aliénation mentale ou la manie


University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Humanities, School of Medicine, 12-138 Center for the Health Sciences, 10833 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90024-1722, USA


The only English translation of any book by Philippe Pinel was undertaken in 1806 by an obstetrician from Sheffield, Dr. D. D. Davis. The publisher's choice of this man remains a mystery. Davis took extraordinary liberties with meaning, presentation, vocabulary, cuts, additions and notes. To what end?

Davis shared his countrymen's considerable familiarity with the problem of what they called "madness", partly derived from the bouts of insanity of King George III: the depositions of the king's doctors were there for all to read. Thus Pinel's Treatise on Insanity lacked novelty.

This was particularly true because numerous English mad-doctors had recorded their experience in books during the previous half-century. In 1806, Samuel Tuke had not yet published his account of his grandfather's work, The Retreat at York (1813), but the Quakers' asylum and their humane approach to the mentally ill were already well known.

What more obvious way for a translator than to present Pinel as the French Tuke? English readers would immediately understand, yet the contrasts are striking between the Retreat at York and Pinel's Bicêtre and Salpêtrière hospices. Nevertheless the "Tuke-Pinel" twinship effortlessly entered the nascent English-language psychiatric literature. Pinel was transformed into a kindly asylum-keeper. The pairing of "Tuke-Pinel" with the vague and inclusive term "moral treatment" buried the French alienist under a philanthropic blanket, thus hiding his contributions to natural history, to the classification of diseases and to the conceptualization and therapy of mental illness.


Plenary 5   (Abraham Joly Lecture)
Friday, 17 September 1999

The Neurosciences and Psychiatry: Crossing the Boundaries

Joint Congress of the European Association for the History of Psychiatry (EAHP), the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN), and the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, 13-18 September 1999