Guiteau's Wit

From The Libertarian Labyrinth
Jump to: navigation, search

Guiteau's Wit

[Lysander Spooner, (unsigned)]

Guiteau is proving himself so bright and sharp, that his enemies infer that he is not insane now, and probably was not on the second of July. They appear to have forgotten that,

Great wit to madness near is allied
And thin partitions do their bounds divide.

Yet such is, no doubt, very often the fact. A great many men, of extraordinary brilliance of mind, have been insane on some one or more subjects, while rational on others. In regard to other men, of this class, the question has been a doubtful one, whether they were insane, or not. The famous John Randolph, of Virginia, was one of these. His will was contested on the ground that he was insane. And although, if we remember rightly, it was sustained upon the ground that he was sane when he made it, yet it was quite a general opinion that, during the latter part of his life, his mind was not sound; that if he was not absolutely and unquestionably insane, he was so plainly on the verge of insanity, that any clearly irrational act would have been accepted as proof of insanity.

And the same has been true of so many persons, of high nervous temperaments, and brilliant intellects, that if they had committed any clearly irrational or heinous acts, it would have been set down to insanity as a matter of course. And the more heinous, or irrational, the act, the stronger would have been considered the proof that it was committed under an insane impulse or delusion.

It is contrary to nature that sane men, of brilliant minds, should do grossly absurd and irrational acts. The more proof, therefore, that is brought now, to show that Guiteau was ever a sane and rational man, the more proof we have that, when he did a thoroughly irrational act, he was not in possession of his ordinary reason.

If an insane act--an act for which no rational motive can be discovered--be not, of itself, the best proof of insanity, what better proof can we have?

Guiteau is proving, every day, and every hour--apparently to the satisfaction of every body--that he has a very high nervous temperament, and a badly balanced, or rather unbalanced, mind; and that, if he is not absolutely insane, he is on the very verge of insanity; that he is in that condition where any great and unusual excitement would, for the time, upset him. When, therefore, he had done an utterly irrational act, the only rational interpretation of it is that he was insane.

  • Lysander Spooner, “Guiteau’s Wit,” Liberty 1, no. 11 (December 24, 1881): 3.