Friday, October 7, 2011

the Madman / Union officer-Part 6

Well, there it is--Minor's grave. And not a mention of his service to the Union anywhere.

After over 20 years of working on the OED, Minor began to really lose it. He was old, frail, and crazy. His lucid moments were usually in the daytime. At night, the Irish were still out to get him, and he was still severely troubled by "impure thoughts." His penis was apparently enormous. Minor attributed this to the fact that, like any muscle which gets regular, vigorous exercise, it had grown in response to his efforts on its behalf.

On December 3, 1902, he solved his problem. Not the one with the phantom Irish--the other one. He surgically removed his offending body part, all by himself. (Details can be googled up.) This didn't kill him, but it was fairly astounding, nevertheless.

It certainly sent a message to his relatives In America. "Let's bring the old guy home, so he can die peacefully." After much wrangling, Minor and his brother Alfred, into whose protective custody Broadmoor released him, left London for "home," on April 16, 1910. He went back to St. Elizabeth's where, as a retired soldier, he was entitled to stay. It was here that Minor was given his first, more modern, diagnosis of dementia praecox, which we today know as paranoid schizophrenia.

He died in 1919, at a private hospital for elderly, mentally-challenged service members in Connecticut, called The Retreat.

Did his experiences in the Battle of the Wilderness trigger his break with reality? Was it having to brand a terrified young man's cheek? Was it the futile horror of trying to put shattered soldiers back together? No one knows what lies at the root of schizophrenia, and treatment is iffy at best. Minor's life, once so full of promise, then so full of despair, finally achieved meaning due to his efforts on behalf of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The book in which I found most of this story is The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester. It looked interesting, and sometimes I need a break from the Civil War. But there was the War, front and center. And . . . there was yet another wounded warrior to learn about, appreciate, and finally, to mourn.

Perhaps this isn't a typical Civil War story, but it affected me as, ultimately, all of them do.

No comments:

Post a Comment