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Biography and Psychology V: Henry Francis Harding (1826-1896)

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Photograph of Henry Harding, c. 1886

In September 1896, the editor of Bethlem magazine Under the Dome had "a very serious loss" to report: the death of the un-official "Sub-Editor", Henry Francis Harding, at the age of seventy. Harding had contributed regularly to the magazine since its foundation, compiling a regular column, Notes Apropos, (which related articles in the outside press to events in Bethlem and vice versa), writing a variety of articles on historical and other topics (signed X. or H.F.H.) and compiling the index to each annual bound volume.1 In addition, Harding received credit in publications going beyond the Hospital. When Theo Hyslop's Mental Physiology was published in 1895, he thanked "his friend, Mr. H.F. HARDING, for revisal of the proof-sheet".2

It would not be obvious from either of these sources that Henry Harding was,throughout this time, a patient at Bethlem, although Harding himself made no secret of this fact. Indeed, he often took it upon himself to remind others of the need to avoid the potential separation (at least to outsiders) between the official function of the hospital and its therapeutic one. For example, in a lengthy report of the opening of the new recreation hall in June 1896 by the Duke of Cambridge, Harding listed the many prestigious persons present, before concluding:

Last but not least (seeing that the raison d'être of the Recreation Hall and of the Hospital, generally, is the patients, and which, it should be added, is practically and in kindly form recognised by those governing, or otherwise controlling the inner life of the Hospital), we were pleased to see present a fair contingent of the said patients, with nurses and attendants..3

In one of his earlier columns, Harding commented that "we who write these notes are of the genus patient (species: “Voluntary”) – and very patient, if a somewhat lengthy abiding in Bethlem be taken – and should it not? – as evidence thereof.".4 When he wrote these lines in 1893, Harding had indeed been at Bethlem for an unusually lengthy period, following his admission in December 1886. His casenotes state that the former Law Stationer (who had left work the previous March, feeling "overworked", perhaps not surprising at the age of 60), came to Bethlem "because he felt his misery & agitation would make him lose control." Nonetheless, he was never certified, and it is entirely possible that it was Harding's personal situation, rather than his state of mind, that led to his lengthy stay. Elderly and un-married, Henry seems to have come to regard the Hospital as the family he never had, emphatically stating of Bethlem: "therein are we not a happy family! We are, we are...".5

While it is obvious to see the benefit to the Hospital of such an enthusiastic advocate, Harding also reminds us that life within the Hospital was varied, and one person might have multiple roles. Henry Harding was not "just" a Bethlem patient, but also Sub-Editor, social campaigner, chronicler, companion and friend: someone who could legally have left Bethlem at any point, but chose not to. An unusually personal note in the usually factual Physician's Weekly Report of 19 August 1896 records that “Mr H Harding VB has died of natural causes & his loss will be much felt.”