The story of Denis Diderot’s encyclopedia is fascinating. In the country of France during the ancien régime, a time long before the freedom of press, a group of philosophers, scientists and other kinds of bohemians congregated in the literary cafes of Paris. Their goal: to write a dictionary that would make all the world’s knowledge accessible for everyone. And as if it wasn’t tricky enough to undermine the clergy’s monopoly on knowledge, Diderot and company aimed to describe all the arts and crafts in their work, and they were not planning to spend lots of words on the biographies of noblemen. To say this was a revolutionary and dangerous goal would be an understatement.
Originally, it was only planned to translate the English Cyclopaedia by Ephraim Chambers into French. Diderot was involved as one of the translators, but after two editors successively had stepped out of the project, Diderot took over the role as the main editor in 1747. His colleague and friend Jean le Rond d’Alembert, a mathematician, was hired to be the second editor. Since Chambers’s Cyclopaedia was published in 1728, the information in it had to be checked and, in certain cases, updated. For this reason, and also because Diderot made the description of the crafts the main theme of the dictionary, it soon grew to be a completely new project instead of a mere translation of an existing work.
Writing an encyclopedia is a massive task even today, so just imagine what it must have been like in the 18th century. The manuscripts of all 72.998 articles and every image in the 11 volumes of illustrations had to be written and drawn by hand. And although over 1,000 people were involved in writing, printing and binding, it took 26 years before the Encyclopédie was finished. But the workload was not the only hurdle the encyclopedists had to deal with. The governmental censorship was another problem which could not be underestimated. In the 18th century, every publication had to be licensed by the royal censor office. Having a license, however, did not mean that you were free to write anything you wanted. All books were proofread by the censors, and if they violated the king’s taste, the license could be withdrawn, the book could be banned and the author could be hanged.
Bethlem Royal Hospital, better known as Bedlam, is universally known as the most dreadful mental asylum you can end up in. At the same time, it was the world's first hospital for the mentally ill. Time to dive into the story of this famous, yet infamous, psychiatric institution.
From Bethlem to Bedlam
The institution was grounded in 1247 as a priory for the New Order of St. Mary of Bethlehem in the city London. It originally was intended as a place for the collection of alms to support the Holy Crusades, but benevolent monks would also provide housing for the poor and house the bishop, canons and brothers of Bethlehem if they visited. The priory so turned into a hospital in its British meaning: "an institution supported by charity or taxes for the care of the needy". In the centuries that followed, the hospital slowly separated from the Order of Bethlehem. King Edward III took control over the house in the 1370s. From that moment on, the hospital lost its religious bindings, and the managers were secularized crown appointees - the master nor the inmates wore the symbolic star of Bethlehem. In 1547, Bethlem was still in possession of the crown, but its administration was granted to the city of London. It is unsure when Bethlem began to specialize in the cure of the insane, but it is generally accepted that mentally ill resided in the house from 1377 on. From then on, Bethlem gradually converted from a general hospital to a specialized institution for the insane in 1460 - Bedlam was born.