Historical ExhibitionTHE BEGINNING OF THE END OF THE FALLING SICKNESS:
EPILEPSY AND ITS TREATMENT IN LONDON 1860 - 1910
‘Few persons can have been long familiar with the streets of any great European city without having observed, more or less frequently, a desolate wretch writhing on the ground, foaming at the mouth, hissing between the teeth, lacerating the tongue by frenzied clampings, drawing up all the limbs convulsively, and then, perhaps smitten into rigidity, as if suddenly petrified. They have been told it was an epileptic patient, and have passed on ... Is it credible that none [no institution] exists for the cure or alleviation of the epileptic and paralytic?’
This was written in the Daily Telegraph (the London newspaper) on November 2nd
1859, reporting the foundation of the ‘National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic’ at Queen Square, and is the starting point of this historical exhibition, prepared for the 10th European Congress on Epileptology.
The inclusion of a historical exhibition is a new ECE feature, and one which it is to be hoped will be repeated in subsequent years. This exhibition is composed of about 70 original items – books, photos, letters and drawings of historical importance - relating to the development of epileptology in London between the years 1860 - 1910. The exhibits are drawn from the historical archives and libraries at Queen Square and other London institutions. A free 64 page catalogue of the exhibition is also available to all delegates. The exhibit and the catalogue were compiled and prepared by Simon Shorvon and Louise Shepherd.
The title of the exhibition is reference to Oswei Temkin’s famous book on the history of epilepsy (The Falling Sickness). The last chapter of his book was called ‘The End of the Falling Sickness’, and referred to the period starting around 1860,
for it was from then, for the next half-century, that epilepsy shed its skin of pre-scientific superstition and emerged in as what is recognisable as its modern form. This was the ‘Age of Hughlings Jackson’, as Temkin put it, and London was a major centre for this transformation. It was there that a number of physicians and surgeons changed the conceptual basis of epilepsy, that the first effective drug treatment of epilepsy was discovered, that the first hospital was established specifically for the treatment of epilepsy, that the cortical localization of epileptic activity was demonstrated, and that the first surgical operation for epilepsy was carried out. Through these activities, furthermore, epilepsy rose from a condition of general obscurity to become the hierophant of brain disease, and a central concern of neurology, of medicine, and of neuroscientific thought. The small exhibition and catalogue are designed to illustrate the evolution of the concepts and treatment of epilepsy in London in this most dynamic period in the history of epileptology, with sections on: Epilepsy in 1860, the foundation of the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic, pioneering early physicians, John Hughlings Jackson (1835-1911), Sir David Ferrier (1843-1928), Sir William Gowers (1845-1915), Sir Victor Horsley (1857-1916), William Aldren Turner (1864-1945) and the London connections to the ILAE and EPILEPSIA, the National Society for
the Employment of Epileptics and the Chalfont Centre, bromides and other medicinal therapies of the period.