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Flora Tristan visits Bethlem

Since writing the last blog in this series, about recent visitors to the museum from Norway and Austria, the Archivist has continued in reminiscing mood.

One visit that stands out in his mind was made some years ago by Peruvian documentary film-makers interested in the visit made to Bethlem by the French socialist and proto-feminist thinker Flora Tristan in 1840.

Flora Tristan signed Bethlem’s visitors’ book (now held in the Archives) and later wrote of her experiences in Promenades dans Londres (published in English translation under the title Flora Tristan’s London Journal 1840).

In it, Tristan makes the ostensibly unflattering observation that ‘it is generally accepted that England is the country with the greatest number of insane’. But she offers an explanation:

[England is] the country where free inquiry gives rise to the greatest number of religious and philosophical sects…[and] the more a people is inclined, by its religion and its philosophy, to resignation, the fewer madmen there are in its midst; whereas those peoples who by reason govern their religious beliefs and their conduct in life are those among whom one finds the greatest number of insane.

– Flora Tristan, London Journal, pp. 159-160