This section is from the book "The Transmission Of Life. Counsels On The Nature And Hygiene Of The Masculine Function", by George H. Napheys. Also available from Amazon: The Transmission of Life.
And yet it is no part of our purpose to give in this place the long list of symptoms, nor to describe the changes in face, expression, and form which such self-excitation brings about. We have observed that studying and gloating over the appalling catalogue has led in many instances to profound melancholy, and very rarely to reform ; and it has also led to suspicion of innocent persons. The special symptoms are for the medical man to understand, and would only mis lead the unprofessional reader. Sufficient to say that the earliest consequences are a languor, a disinclination to phy. sical and mental exertion, which are soon followed by an actual incapacity for such exertion - physical debility united with mental weakness. Epileptic and apoplectic attacks may also occur.
An offensive and characteristic selfishness develops in the character; the thoughts and aspirations seem incapable of noble flights and philanthropic instincts. The imagination runs riot in images of debauchery, and the conversation and reading choose by preference ignoble and vulgar channels. The whole moral nature is debased to a more than brutal degradation. Woman has no real charms for the miserable being who no longer controls his passions. In the stern words of the Rev. John Todd: " In this life a heavier curse can hardly hang upon a young man than that of possessing a polluted imagination. The leprosy fills the whole soul Time only increases it, and even the power of the gospel can seldom do more than restrain without subduing it."
But the most fearful effects are not upon the body but the mind. We are no alarmists. We do not wish to conjure up unfounded terrors. But our duty would not be done, and we would violate our conscience and our professional knowledge, did we attempt to veil or to palliate the hideous features of this vice. We distinctly warn that it leads to insanity, not rarely, but frequently.
There is no higher authority on mental disease than Dr. Henry Maudsley of England; and these are his words : " The habit of self-abuse notably gives rise to a particular and disagreeable form of insanity, characterized by intense self-feeling and conceit, extreme perversion of feeling, and corresponding derangement of thought in the earlier stages; and later by failure of intelligence, nocturnal hallucinations, and suicidal and homicidal propensities." So prominent and important does this learned alienist esteem this variety of insanity that he has devoted a long article to its description in the Journal of Mental Science (July, 1868). Not only is it insidious and frequent; it is incurable, or nearly so. "Once the habit is formed," he says,"and the mind has positively suffered from it, there would be almost as much hope of the Ethiopian changing his skin or the leopard his spots, as of the victim abandoning the vice. The sooner he sinks to his degraded rest the better for himself and the better for the world, which is well rid of him."
We have taken the pains to examine with care the latest reports of a large number of insane asylums in the United States, to ascertain precisely how many of their inmates have been driven there by this vice. The average we have found to be nearly nine per cent, of all the males in whom the causes were assigned; and in one prominent institution in Ohio, fourteen per cent.
With these fearful figures before us, with these ominous words of distinguished physicians, with the full knowledge that it is through ignorance that this vice is commenced and spread, who dares to say that teachers and parents should hold their peace, and suffer the youth of this land to rush unwarned into the jaws of death ?
We may be met by the objection that it is quite uncommon. Fathers love to lay the flattering unction to their souls that their boy is above such a mean habit; principals express their pride that their pupils at least are free from this contamination.
Is it common in the public and private schools of the United States? This inquiry has occupied our serious attention, and as the surest plan of obtaining a correct reply, we have asked the opinion of various physicians who have had the professional care of schools. Their general sentiment is that while there are very few institutions for boys in which the vice is flagrant, or at all universal, there are fewer in which it is unknown. Generally a considerable per cent., perhaps one-fifth or one-six h of the whole number. are given to it to an extent which is injuring their bodies or minds. The medical attendants say that in most cases they have reason to believe that judiciously and early informing the boys of the dangers of the habit succeeds in either checking it altogether, or so curbing it that the bad results are not directly obvious.
In estimating its frequency we must remember that some boys and young men resist their feelings during their waking hours, but unconsciously violate themselves during their sleep. Such cases are peculiarly difficult to treat, as the sufferer may be ignorant of his habit, and often some obscure general prostration is explicable in this way.