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Tuke's account of his visit to Bicêtre, Paris (1853)

Location: 78 rue de Général Leclerc, 94275 Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, Paris, France

Following his travels in 1853, Daniel Hack Tuke described what he encountered in European asylums in his essay - 'The progressive changes which have taken place since the time of Pinel in the moral management of the insane, and the various contrivances which have been adopted instead of mechanical restraint', published in Rules and list of the present members of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Insane (London : Churchill, 1854). Tuke's description of Bicêtre appears on pages 56-62.


'The Parisian asylums are old buildings, constructed at a period when very different ideas were entertained of the architectural necessities of such establishments: secondly, that they possess a very insufficient acreage. These disadvantages, it is only fair to bear in mind, in judging their condition; their influence is felt beyond their direct effects, for they act indirectly by discouraging the attempts of the medical officers to carry out an effective system of treatment. No one regrets more, I am sure, than do many of these physicians, that they are thus cramped by the character of the buildings and grounds devoted to their patients… Making every allowance, however, I candidly confess that I was disappointed in the Paris asylums; and I think any reader of the works of Esquirol, Georget, Scipio, Pinel, &c., would be led to form a much higher estimate of the system of treatment pursued by the French than is actually the case…

Only one opinion prevailed among the Parisian doctors on the Non-Restraint System; they all regarded "Restraint" as necessary and beneficial…

I found a very considerable number restrained by the camisole at Salpetrière, Bicêtre, and Charenton. Some of these were also confined by straps, to a chair…

At the Bicêtre … (notwithstanding much that was disgraceful) I was much gratified by witnessing, in the division under the care of Dr. Voisin, a musical band composed of patients, apparently entering with great heart into the entertainment. Still more interesting was the idiot school conducted with considerable energy by its master. The school was among the first - if not the first - to prove how much may be done in educating the idiot; and Dr. Voisin has shown to how great and unexpected an extent the form and size of the head may, even in cases of marked cerebral deficiency, be developed by the laborious teachings of the schoolmaster.'