chapter  III
3 Pages

III.21 The body


Sources such as physicians’ casebooks, reports and correspondence with patients enable scholars to explore how medical knowledge affected bodily treatment and was applied in other social contexts. The view that emotions moved within the body, producing physical effects such as tears, swellings, pains and discolouration of the skin, was applied in a number of settings. A medical report for a German witch trial of 1652, for example, saw tears as water sent directly from the moved heart; witches, by contrast, could not cry because their hearts were cold and dried up.4 Patients’ letters to the Swiss physician Samuel-Auguste Tissot (1728-97) show the gradual decline of the humoral model and the development of the science of the brain and nervous system in the eighteenth century. His patients adopted the new nervous model and they used emotive language to describe their physical experiences. Describing his abdominal pain to Tissot in a letter of a 1785, Torchon Defouchet referred to his ‘embarrassed’ stomach.5 Acquiring wider purchase through the culture of sensibility, nervous science relocated the locus of the emotions. This affected the way that the body was represented and performed.6 The development of a relaxed and openmouthed smile in eighteenth-century Paris was an index of changing views of emotions and their outward expression, the cult of sensibility and a focus on natural virtue in particular, as well as developments in dentistry.7 In characterizing the body as intrinsically ‘feeling’, nervous science rendered the emotions ever more embodied.