Diary Written in the Provincial Lunatic Asylum
WRITTEN IN THE
Provincial Lunatic Asylum,
MARY HUESTIS PENGILLY.
Be this my messenger o'er land and sea.
PUBLISHED BY THE AUTHOR.
This little book is humbly dedicated to the Province of NewBrunswick, and the State of Massachusetts, by one who has had sosad an experience in this, the sixty-second year of her age, thatshe feels it to be her imperative duty to lay it before the publicin such a manner as shall reach the hearts of the people in thisher native Province, as also the people of Massachusetts, with whomshe had a refuge since driven from her own home by the St. Johnfire of 1877. She sincerely hopes it may be read in every State ofthe Union, as well as throughout the Dominion of Canada, that itmay help to show the inner workings of their Hospitals and Asylums,and prompt them to search out better methods of conducting them, aswell for the benefit of the superintendent as the patient.
December.—They will not allow me to go home, and I must writethese things down for fear I forget. It will help to pass the time away.It is very hard to endure this prison life, and know that my sons thinkme insane when I am not.
How unkind Mrs. Mills is today; does she think this sort of treatment isfor the good of our health? I begged for milk today, and she can't spareme any; she has not enough for all the old women, she says. I don't wishto deprive any one of that which they require, but have I not a right toall I require to feed me and make me well? All I do need is goodnourishing food, and I know better than any one else can what I requireto build me up and make me as I was before I met with this strangechange of condition. I remember telling the Doctor, on his first visitto my room, that I only needed biscuit and milk and beef tea to make mewell. He rose to his feet and said, "I know better than any other man."That was all I heard him say, and he walked out, leaving me without aword of sympathy, or a promise that I should have anything. I say tomyself (as I always talk aloud to myself when not well), "You don't knowany more than this old woman does." I take tea with Mrs. Mills; I don'tlike to look at those patients who look so wretched.
I can't bear to see myself in the glass, I am so wasted—so miserable.My poor boys, no wonder you look so sad, to see your mother looking sobadly, and be compelled to leave her here alone among strangers who knownothing about her past life. They don't seem to have any respect for me.If I were the most miserable woman in the city of St. John, I would beentitled to better treatment at the hands of those who are paid by theProvince to make us as comfortable as they can, by keeping us warmed andfed, as poor feeble invalids should be kept.[Pg 4]
December 20.—I have made myself quite happy this week,thinking of what Christmas may bring to many childish hearts, and how Ionce tried to make my own dear boys happy at Christmas time. I helpedpoor Maggy to make artificial flowers for a wreath she herself had madeof cedar. She was making it for some friend in the Asylum. She nevergoes out; she wishes to go sometimes, but Mrs. Mills scolds her alittle, then she works on and says no more about it. Poor Maggy! thereis nothing ailing her but a little too much temper. She does all thedining-room work—washes dishes and many other things.
January.—They have had a festival; it was made, I suppose, tobenefit some one here; I don't know whom. It certainly did not benefitme any; no one invited me to go to the church where the festival washeld, but Dr. Crookshank, the Assistant Physician, looked at me verykindly and said, "Do come, Mrs. Pengilly, you may as well come." Ilooked at my dress (it is grey flannel, and I have had no other tochange since I came here), "I can't go looking like this; I must be alittle better dressed to go into a public meeting of any kind; I am notaccustomed to go looking like this, with nothing on my neck." He said,"Very well, something shall come to you;" and Mrs. Hays, who isAssistant Nurse in our Ward, brought me a plate of food and fruit, suchas is generally had at festivals.
I have not had my trunk yet; sure the boys did not leave me here withoutmy trunk. Perhaps they do not wish me to go in sight of people from thecity, for fear they will recognize me, and I should make my complaintsknown to them. I have entreated them to give me my trunk so many timesin vain that I have given it up. I did ask Mrs. Mills, and she says,"Ask Mrs. Murphy, she has charge of the trunk room." I asked her; shesays she will see, and she will bring me whatever I need that is in it.She puts me off with a soft answer, until I begin to think there isnothing done for[Pg 5] any one here, only what they cannot avoid. It is aself-running establishment, I guess, for no one seems to know how orwhen to do anything I wish to have done, whatever they may do forothers.
February.—The weather is cold. I have more to occupy my timenow. I have learned how to let off the cold air from the radiators, andthen we get more heat. I do it when no one sees me. I shall do all I canto make myself comfortable, and they all share it. When I arise in themorning, my first thought is to look up the hall to see if there is firein the grate—the one little grate in that large hall, to give warmthand comfort to us poor prisoners. If the fire is there, I feel pleased;I go up as soon as the sweeping is done, and try to feel at home. I tellthe nurse I will tend the fire, if she will have the coal left besidethe grate. Sometimes they allow it willingly, and I enjoy it. I brush upthe hearth, and make it look cheerful and homelike as possible. I drawup the huge, uncomfortable seats to form a circle; they stand rounduntil I get there; they are happy to sit with me, but they don't knowenough to draw up a seat for themselves. I have found pleasure in this;it cheers my heart. There is no situation in life, however unpleasant itmay be, but has some bright places in it. I love to cheat Mrs. Mills; Iwatch my chance when she is not near, and let off the cold air in theradiator until the warm air comes, and then close it. I add coal to thefire, saying to myself, "This castle belongs to the Province, and so doI. We have a right to all the comforts of life here, and especially sowhen five dollars a week is paid for our board; let us have a nice fireand bask in its comforting rays." I love the heat; if the seats at thegrate get filled up, I come back to the radiator. Perhaps it is warmenough to afford to have the window open a few moments, to let theimpure air escape—just a little of it; then I sit close by it, callingit my kitchen fire-place. I am regulating the comfort of this ward in ameasure, but they don't know it.[Pg 6]
February.—My dear Lewis has been to see me today. We chattogether as usual; how can he think me crazy? Dr. Steeves tells him Iam, I suppose, and so he thinks it must be so. He is so happy to see melooking better; he is more loving than ever; he holds my hand in his andtells me he will take me out for a drive when the weather is fine. And Isaid, "Oh Lewis, my dear boy, I am well enough to go home with you toyour hotel now." I so long for some of Mrs. Burns' good dinners; hermeals are all nice, and here we have such horrid stuff. Dark-colored,sour bakers' bread, with miserable butter, constitutes our breakfast andtea; there is oatmeal porridge and cheap molasses at breakfast, but Icould not eat that, it would be salts and senna for me. At noon we haveplenty of meat and vegetables, indifferently cooked, but we don'trequire food suitable for men working out of doors. We need something totempt the appetite a little.
No matter what I say, how earnestly I plead, he believes Dr. Steeves inpreference to me. If I should die here, he will still believe Dr.Steeves, who looks so well they cannot think he would do so great awrong. When I first began to realize that I must stay here all winter, Ibegged the Doctor to take me to his table, or change his baker; "Icannot live on such fare as you give us here." His reply was, "I don'tkeep a boarding house." Who does keep this boarding house? Is there anyjustice on earth or under heaven? Will this thing always be allowed togo on? Sometimes I almost sink in despair. One consolation is leftme—some day death will unlock those prison doors, and my freed spiritwill go forth rejoicing in its liberty.
There is a dear girl here whose presence has helped to pass the timemore pleasantly, and yet I am more anxious on her account. How can hermother leave her so long in such care as this? Ah, they cannot know howshe is faring; she often says, "I used to have nice cake at home, andcould make it, too." She has been teaching school, has over-worked, hada fever, lost her[Pg 7] reason, and came here last June. She is well enoughto go home. I fear if they leave her here much longer she will neverrecover her spirits. She is afraid of Mrs. Mills, and dare not ask forany favor. Mrs. Mills is vexed if she finds her in my room, and does notlike to see us talking. I suppose she fears we will compare notes to herdisadvantage, or detrimental to the rules of the house. I think it isagainst the rules of this house that we should be indulged in any of thecomforts of life.
March.—At last I have my trunk: why it should have beendetained so long I cannot conceive. I feel rich in the possession of thelittle needful articles it contains.
I enquired of Dr. Steeves, some time ago, if he had not in the Asylum asupply of necessary articles for our use, telling him I wanted a paperof pins very much. He said they were for the indigent patients, so I gotnone. My son, Tom, gave me some small silver some weeks ago, but I wasno better off. No one would do me an errand outside. I begged Mrs. Millsat different times to buy me some pins, and to buy me an extra quart ofmilk. I was so hungry for milk, but she said it was against the rules ofthe house. She gives me now a glass nearly full at bed time, with onesoda biscuit. This is the only luxury we have here; some others get thesame. It is because I have tried to make her think we are her children,left in her care. I said to her, "'Feed my lambs,' you are ourShepherd;" and she is if she only knew it. I have quoted the words ofHim whose example we should all follow: "Do good unto others." I amwatching over those poor lambs now, to see how they are tended, and Iwill tell the Commissioners in whose care the Asylum is left by theProvince. The people of New Brunswick suppose they attend