As to the Distempers therefore, which are vulgarly termed hypochondriac, it is observable, that they happen chiefly to men of a melancholy temperament, with a dark aspect, and a more lean habit of body: it is rarely, that this disease troubles fair people, with a fresh Countenance, or also those indued with a too Phlegmatic complection: It betrays it self in manifest signes, about the hight or midest of their Age; men are found to be more frequently obnoxious to this, than women, by reason of their weaker Constitution, it is accompanied, with a great many more Convulsive Distempers, wherefore, Commonly it is said in this Sex, the hysterical, to be joyned with the hypochoundriacal Passion.
Willis "systematically attempted to convert diseases thought to be caused by the blood, viscera, or even supernatural agents, into diseases of the nervous system" (Frank 141). Willis's locating the "English Malady" in the nervous system places human suffering within a physical, though invisible, discourse. The animal spirits and "nervous stock" are strange enough to maintain a degree of supernaturalism, while still gesturing towards total scientific discovery. One is tempted to view the nervous system as a "gothic physiology," visible and invisible, totally absent and always present.
The collision here of physiognomy, gender, and the "mind" indicates the increasing degree to which pain of an emotional sort was located in the body. The hysterical, the melancholy, the hypochondriacal, all owe their conditions to differences in the nerves, more or less subtle capacities to transmit the "sensitive soul" via solid neural conductors and animal spirits.Related terms: