Letters of a Lunatic

Letters of a Lunatic: A Brief Exposition of My University Life, During the Years 1853-54. The title says it all. The author was Professor George J. Adler, the date of publication was 1854, and the situation was reminescent of the old quote: “Even a paranoid can have enemies.”

Prof. Adler was a noted lexicographer of his time, made famous for his dictionary of the German and English languages. Until 1854, he was chair of German Language at the University of the City of New-York. In 1854, he was found insane and was committed to the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum, where he subsequently died. Letters of a Lunatic was a short tract written by him stating his side of the story of what happened.

My main object was of course to vindicate and defend my character, my professional honor and my most sacred rights as a rational man and as a public educator, against the invasions of narrow-minded and unjust aggressors, whose machinations have for several years been busily at work in subverting what other men have reared before them, in retarding and impeding what the intelligence of our age and country is eager to accelerate and to promote.

The tract includes letters from him to the head of his university, to the mayor of New York, and to others unnamed. In addition to that, there are: a letter supposedly from the head of his university, comments on some of the letters, and a section outlining the Law of Intellectual Freedom. Revealing are his comments that:

The scum of New-York in the shape of Negroes, Irishmen, Germans, &c., were hired, in well-organized gangs, to drop mysterious allusions and to offer me other insults in the street, (and thus I was daily forced to see and hear things in New-York, of which I had never dreamt before,) while a body of proselyting religionists were busy in their endeavors to make me a submissive tool of some ecclesiastical party or else to rob me of the last prospect of eating a respectable piece of bread and butter.

and that:

A night or week of such proceedings would be enough to set a man crazy. What must be their effect if they continue for months? And yet expressions like the following were perpetually ringing in my ears:—”Go on!” “You are the man!” “You are not the man!” “Go on! no, stop!” (by the same voice in the same breath.) “Out of the Institution with that man!” (by the laurelled valedictorian of last year.), “Stand up!” (by Prof. C——, close to my door.) “He started with nothing!” (by the same voice in the same place). “Pray!” (by ditto.) “You have finished!” “Go away!” “Thank God, that that man is out of the Institution!” (by a lady member of a certain religious fraternity, on terms of intimacy with a certain prominent politician of the neighborhood.) “Pursue him, worm that never d-i-e-s!” (theatrically shrieked by the same voice.) “You are a dead man! Dead, dead, dead, dead!” (by the voice of a certain popular preacher. ) “He is deceived, he is deceived!” (by the spokesman of a body of theological students in front of the neighboring Seminary, as I was passing.) And at times even: “Die!” “Break!” (on the supposition that I was in embarrassed circumstances.) “Whore!” even was one of the delectable cries! To these I should add the mysterious blowings of noses (both within sight and hearing,) frightfully significant coughs, horse-laughs, shouts and other methods of demonstration, such as striking the sidewalk in front of my windows with a cane, usually accompanied with some remark: “I understand that passage so!” for example.

There might have been a powerful conspiracy, or he might have been delusional, or both. No matter what was the truth, it was a fascinating read.

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