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Citizenship, for some of Tissot’s correspondents, is not just a birthright, but a responsibility. This would accord with Tissot’s own views on the matter: he argued those who were, by birth, in a position to lead, had a responsibility to ensure that they were in the best position to fulfil their ‘natural’ roles.

It’s obvious, however, that numerous patients didn’t heed this advice. That decision – to ignore the dictates of nature [and of the leading medical professionals of the day] in favour of a hedonistic life of pleasure and excess – was the very reason that so many sought out Tissot’s care.

Consider, for example, the case of an anonymous young man, about twenty years of age. This young man enjoyed the double privilege of birth and brains. In his person, and through his studies, he embodied the promise and potential of citizenship; indeed, the correspondent mentions specifically that he could have taken up a leading position in the judiciary.

But this promise came to naught.

Soon after defending this thesis, things started going downhill:

“il se relachoit sur ses exercices de pieté et de religion, … il lisoit jour et nuit des mauvais livres, … il ne frequentoit que des jeunes gens dont les moeurs etoient suspectes.”
(
Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne, Fonds Tissot, IS3784/II/144.02.07.11)

Now, it is true that he suffered from health concerns as a child. But it is clear that the correspondent places the burden of blame on irresponsible behaviours of the young man.

The effects of this were soon obvious. Docility gave way to imperiousness and then to independence, and then he began to engage in onanism. [interestingly, this word isn’t used in the letter; rather, the correspondent skirts the subject, making mention of a ‘fatal habit’ about which Tissot has written].

The outcome of this debauched behaviour is perhaps unsurprising: our young man has descended into a deep melancholia from which he cannot seem to rouse himself. What follows is a lengthy letter that provides further details about the manifestation of melancholia and the various attempts that have been made to cure this young man of his suffering [and, indeed, the shared sufferings of family members who are witness to this decline]

Underlying the letter as a whole is the plaintive cry of the correspondent: How could such promise come to this?

 

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