Presidential address delivered at the annual dinner of the American Historical Association the Statler Hotel, New York City, December 29, 1957. American Historical Review 63, no. 2 (January 1958): 283-304.

The Next Assignment

Anyone who, like myself, has the honor to serve as president of this association and to address it on the occasion of its annual meeting may be presumed to have devoted many years to the historical profession, to have taught many successive college generations, to have trained numerous young scholars, and to have written at least some books and articles. The chances are great that he has reached those exalted levels of the academic life which involve so many administrative and advisory duties, as well as such expenditure of time and energy in seeing people, in writing recommendations, and in reading the writings of others that he is most unlikely ever again to have much time to pursue his own researches. Nonetheless, his long and varied experience and his ever broadening contacts with others working in many diverse fields have probably sharpened his understanding of the problems of his own profession and enhanced his awareness of the many lacunae in our knowledge of the world and of mankind, both in the past and in the present. It would seem altogether fitting, therefore, that I, for one, should make use of this occasion not so much for reflection on the past achievements of the profession (which is what might be expected of a historian), as for speculation about its needs and its future–that is, about the directions which historical study might profitably take in the years to come.

I am sure to sense, at this juncture, a certain uneasiness in my audience, for historians, having dedicated their lives to the exploration and understanding of the past, are apt to be suspicious of novelty and ill-disposed toward crystal-gazing. In the words of my distinguished predecessor, they lack the “speculative audacity” of the natural scientists, those artisans of brave hypotheses. This tendency on the part of historians to become buried in their own conservatism strikes me as truly regrettable. What basically may be a virtue tends to become a vice, locking our intellectual faculties in the molds of the past and preventing us from opening new horizons as our cousins in the natural sciences are constantly doing. If progress is to be made we must certainly have new ideas, new points of view, and new techniques. We must be ready, from time to time, to take flyers into the unknown, even though some of them may prove wide of the mark. Like the scientists, we can learn a lot from our own mistakes, and the chances are that, if we persist, each successive attempt may take us closer to the target. I should therefore like to ask myself this evening what direction is apt to lead to further progress in historical study; what direction, if I were a younger man, would claim my interest and attention; in short, what might be the historian’s “next assignment.”

We are all keenly aware of the fact that during the past half century the scope of historical study has been vastly extended. The traditional political-military history has become more comprehensive and more analytical and has been reinforced by researches into the social, economic, intellectual, scientific, and other aspects of the past, some of them truly remote from what used to be considered history. So far has this development gone that I find it difficult to envisage much further horizontal expansion of the area of investigation.

There is, however, still ample scope for penetration in depth and I, personally, have no doubt that the “newest history” will be more intensive and probably less extensive. I refer more specifically to the urgently needed deepening of our historical understanding through exploitation of the concepts and findings of modern psychology. And by this, may I add, I do not refer to classical or academic psychology which, so far as I can detect, has little bearing on historical problems, but rather to psychoanalysis and its later developments and variations as included in the terms “dynamic” or “depth psychology.”

In the course of my reading over the years I have been much impressed by the prodigious impact of psychoanalytic doctrine on many, not to say most, fields of human study and expression. Of Freud himself it has been said that “he has in large part created the intellectual climate of our time.”1 “Almost alone,” remarks a recent writer in the Times Literary Supplement, “he revealed the deepest sources of human endeavor and remorselessly pursued their implications for the individual and society.”2 Once the initial resistance to the recognition of unconscious, irrational forces in human nature was overcome, psychoanalysis quickly became a dominant influence in psychiatry, in abnormal psychology, and in personality study. The field of medicine is feeling its impact not only in the area of psychosomatic illness, but in the understanding of the doctor-patient relationship. Our whole educational system and the methods of child-training have been modified in the light of its findings. For anthropology it has opened new and wider vistas by providing for the first time “a theory of raw human nature” and by suggesting an explanation of otherwise incomprehensible cultural traits and practices. It has done much also to revise established notions about religion and has given a great impetus to pastoral care and social work. The problems of mythology and sociology have been illuminated by its insights, and more recently its influence has been strongly felt in penology, in political science, and even in economics, while in the arts almost every major figure of the past generation has been in some measure affected by it.3

Despite this general and often profound intellectual and artistic reorientation since Freud published his first epoch-making works sixty years ago, historians have, as a group, maintained an almost completely negative attitude toward the teachings of psychoanalysis. Their lack of response has been due, I should think, less to constitutional obscurantism than to the fact that historians, as disciples of Thucydides, have habitually thought of themselves as psychologists in their own right. They have indulged freely in psychological interpretation, and many no doubt have shared the fear that the humanistic appreciation of personality, as in poetry or drama, might be irretrievably lost through the application of a coldly penetrating calculus.4 Many considered the whole psychoanalytic doctrine too biological and too deterministic, as well as too conjectural, and they were, furthermore, reluctant to recognize and deal with unconscious motives and irrational forces. Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, was still a young science and therefore lacked the prestige to make historians acquire a guilt-complex about not being more fully initiated into its mysteries.5 Almost without exception, then, they have stuck to the approach and methods of historicism, restricting themselves to recorded fact and to strictly rational motivation.6 So impervious was the profession as a whole to the new teaching that an inquiry into the influence of psychoanalysis on modern thought, written a few years ago, made no mention whatever of history.7

This is as remarkable as it is lamentable, for, on the very face of it, psychoanalysis would seem to have much to contribute to the solution of historical problems. Many years of clinical work by hundreds of trained analysts have by now fortified and refined Freud’s original theory of human drives, the conflicts to which they give rise, and the methods by which they are repressed or diverted. Psychoanalysis has long since ceased being merely a therapy and has been generally recognized as a theory basic to the study of the human personality. How can it be that the historian, who must be as much or more concerned with human beings and their motivation than with impersonal forces and causation, has failed to make use of these findings? Viewed in the light of modern depth psychology, the homespun, common-sense psychological interpretations of past historians, even some of the greatest, seem woefully inadequate, not to say naïve.8 Clearly the time has come for us to reckon with a doctrine that strikes so close to the heart of our own discipline.9

Since psychoanalysis is concerned primarily with the emotional life of the individual, its most immediate application is in the field of biography. Freud himself here showed the way, first in his essay on Leonardo da Vinci (1910) and later in his analytical study of Dostoevsky (1928). He was initially impressed by the similarity between some of the material produced by a patient in analysis and the only recorded childhood recollection of the Italian artist. With this fragmentary memory as a starting point, Freud studied the writings and artistic productions of Leonardo and demonstrated how much light could be shed on his creative and scientific life through the methods of analysis. No doubt he erred with respect to certain points of art history. Quite possibly some of his deductions were unnecessarily involved or farfetched. Nonetheless, recent critics have testified that he was able, “thanks to his theory and method, and perhaps even more to his deep sympathy for the tragic and the problematic in Leonardo, to pose altogether new and important questions about his personality, questions which were unsuspected by earlier writers and to which no better answer than Freud’s has yet been given.”10

The striking novelty and the startling conclusions of Freud’s essay on Leonardo had much to do with precipitating the flood of psychoanalytic or, better, pseudo-psychoanalytic biographical writing during the 1920’s. Almost all of this was of such a low order–ill-informed, sensational, scandalizing–that it brought the entire Freudian approach into disrepute. I have no doubt that this, in turn, discouraged serious scholars—the historians among them–from really examining the possibilities of the new teachings. Only within the last generation has the situation begun to change. The basic concepts of psychoanalysis, such as the processes of repression, identification, projection, reaction formation, substitution, displacement, and sublimation, have become more firmly established through clinical work and have at the same time increasingly become part of our thinking. Meanwhile, concerted efforts have been made to build up systematic personality and character study on a psychoanalytic basis and the so-called neo-Freudians, advancing beyond the narrowly environmental factors, have done much to develop the significance of constitutional and cultural influences.11

While recognized scholars in related fields, notably in political science, have begun to apply psychoanalytic principles to the study of personality types and their social role, historians have for the most part approved of the iron curtain between their own profession and that of the dynamic psychologists. It is, indeed, still professionally dangerous to admit any addiction to such unorthodox doctrine.12 Even those who are in general intrigued by the potentialities of psychoanalysis are inclined to argue against its application to historical problems. They point out that evidence on the crucial early years of an individual’s life is rarely available and that, unlike the practicing analyst, the historian cannot turn to his subject and help him revive memories of specific events and relationships. To this it may be answered that the historian, on whatever basis he is operating, is always suffering from lack of data. Actually there is often considerable information about the family background of prominent historical personalities and the sum total of evidence about their careers is in some cases enormous. Furthermore, the experiences of earliest childhood are no longer rated as important for later development as was once the case, and the historian, if he cannot deal with his subject as man to man, at least has the advantage of surveying his whole career and being able to observe the functioning of significant forces.13 In any event we historians must, if we are to retain our self-respect, believe that we can do better with the available evidence than the untrained popular biographer to whom we have so largely abandoned the field.

The historian is, of course, less interested in the individual as such than in the impact of certain individuals upon the society of their time and, beyond that, in the behavior of men as members of the group, society, or culture. This leads us into the domain of social or collective psychology, a subject on which much has been written during the past twenty-five years, especially in this country, but in which progress continues to be slight because of the difficulty of distinguishing satisfactorily between large groups and small groups, between organized and unorganized aggregations, between such vague collectivities as the crowd, the mob, and the mass.14 Much certainly remains to be done in this area, especially in the elaboration of a theory to bridge the gap between individual and collective psychology.

Freud himself became convinced, at an early date, that his theories might have a certain applicability to historical and cultural problems.15 He accepted the conclusions of Gustave Le Bon’s well-known study of the psychology of crowds (1895) and recognized that a group may develop “a sort of collective rnind.”16 As the years went by, his clinical work led him to the conclusion that there were close parallels between the development of the individual and of the race. Thus, the individual’s unconscious mind was, in a sense, the repository of the past experiences of his society, if not of mankind.17 In his most daring and provocative works, Totem and Taboo (1913) and his last book, Moses and Monotheism (1939), Freud tried to determine the effect of group experience on the formation of a collective group mind.

Anthropologists, like historians, will probably continue to reject Freud’s historical ventures as too extravagantly speculative, but the fact remains that anthropological and sociological researches suggest ever more definitely that certain basic drives and impulses, as identified by Freud, appear in all cultures and that the differences between cultures derive largely from varying methods of dealing with these drives.18 Furthermore, social psychologists are increasingly aware of the similarity in the operation of irrational forces in the individual and in society.19 Everett D. Martin, an early but unusually discerning student of the subject, noted in 1920 that the crowd, like our dream life, provides an outlet for repressed emotions: “It is as if all at once an unspoken agreement were entered into whereby each member might let himself go, on condition that he approved the same thing in all the rest.” A crowd, according to Martin, “is a device for indulging ourselves in a kind of temporary insanity by all going crazy together.”20 Similarly, Freud’s erstwhile diciple, C. G. Jung, has characterized recent political mass movements as “psychic epidemics, i.e. mass psychoses,” and others have noted that the fears and rages of mass movements are clearly the residue of childish emotions.21

All this, as aforesaid, still requires further exploration. It does seem, however, that we shall have to learn to reckon with the concept of “collective mentality,” even on the unconscious level, and that the traits of that mentality–normally submerged and operative only in association with others or in specific settings–can best be studied as a part of, or extension of, individual psychology. That is to say that progress in social psychology probably depends on ever more highly refined analysis of the individual—his basic motivations, his attitudes, beliefs, hopes, fears, and aspirations.22

Perhaps I may digress at this point to remind you of Georges Lefebvre’s long-standing interest and concern with the character and role of mobs and crowds in the French Revolution, and especially of his impressive study of the mass hysteria of 1789 known as “The Great Fear.” Although Lefebvre thought Le Bon superficial and confused, he was convinced by his own researches that there was such a thing as a “collective mentality.” Indeed, he considered it the true causal link between the origins and the effects of major crises.23 Without specific reference to psychoanalytic concepts, Lefebvre arrived at conclusions altogether consonant with those of modern psychology. His truly impressive studies in a sense prefaced the more recent analyses of totalitarian movements which, in my estimation, have so clearly demonstrated the vast possibilities that have been opened to social scientists by the findings of dynamic psychology.24

As historians we must be particularly concerned with the problem whether major changes in the psychology of a society or culture can be traced, even in part, to some severe trauma suffered in common, that is, with the question whether whole communities, like individuals, can be profoundly affected by some shattering experience. If it is indeed true that every society or culture has a “unique psychological fabric,” deriving at least in part from past common experiences and attitudes, it seems reasonable to suppose that any great crisis, such as famine, pestilence, natural disaster, or war, should leave its mark on the group, the intensity and duration of the impact depending, of course, on the nature and magnitude of the crisis. I hasten to say in advance that I do not, of course, imagine the psychological impact of such crises to be uniform for all members of the population, for if modern psychology has demonstrated anything it is the proposition that in any given situation individuals will react in widely diverse ways, depending on their constitution, their family background, their early experiences, and other factors. But these varying responses are apt to be reflected chiefly in the immediate effects of the catastrophe. Over the long term (which is of greater interest to the historian) it seems likely that the group would react in a manner most nearly corresponding to the underlying requirements of the majority of its members, in other words, that despite great variations as between individuals there would be a dominant attitudinal pattern.

I admit that all this is hypothetical and that we are here moving into unexplored territory, but allow me to examine a specific problem which, though remote from the area of my special competence, is nevertheless one to which I have devoted much study and thought. Perhaps I may begin by recalling Freud’s observation that contemporary man, living in a scientific age in which epidemic disease is understood and to a large extent controlled, is apt to lose appreciation of the enormous, uncomprehended losses of life in past generations, to say nothing of the prolonged and widespread emotional strain occasioned by such disasters.25 Some exception must be made here for historians of the ancient world who, since the days of Niebuhr, have concerned themselves with the possible effects of widespread disease and high mortality on the fate of the Mediterranean civilizations Some have made a strong case for the proposition that malaria, which seems to have first appeared in Greece and Italy in the fourth or fifth centuries B.C., soon became endemic and led on the one hand to serious debilitation, sloth, and unwillingness to work, and on the other to excitability, brutality, and general degradation. Recent researches suggest that malaria may have been one of the main causes of the collapse of the Etruscan civilization and may have accounted, at least in part, for the change in Greek character after the fourth century, especially for the growing lack of initiative, the prevalent cowardice, and the increasing trend toward cruelty. With reference to the fate of the Roman Empire, Professor Arthur Boak has recently reexamined the striking loss of population in the third and fourth centuries A.D. and has attributed it largely to the great epidemics of A.D. 165-180 and 250-280, thus reaffirming the view of Niebuhr and others that the Empire never really recovered from these tragic visitations.26

The literature on these and subsequent epidemics is, however, devoted largely to their medical and sanitational aspects, or at most to their economic and social effects. My primary interest, as I have said, is with the possible long-range psychological repercussions. To study these I think we may well pass over the great plague of Athens in 430 B.C., so vividly reported by Thucydides, and the so-called plague of Justinian of the sixth century A.D., not because they were unimportant but because there is much more voluminous and instructive information about the Black Death of 1348-1349 and the ensuing period of devastating disease.

Western Europe seems to have been relatively free from major epidemics in the period from the sixth to the fourteenth century and it may well be that the revival of trade and the growth of towns, with their congestion and lack of sanitation, had much to do with the spread and establishment of the great mortal diseases like plague, typhus, syphilis, and influenza.27 At any rate, the Black Death was worse than anything experienced prior to that time and was, in all probability, the greatest single disaster that has ever befallen European mankind. In most localities a third or even a half of the population was lost within the space of a few months, and it is important to remember that the great visitation of 1348-1349 was only the beginning of a period of pandemic disease with a continuing frightful drain of population. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that for three hundred years Europe was ravaged by one disease or another, or more usually by several simultaneously, the serious outbreaks coming generally at intervals of five to ten years.28 Professor Lynn Thorndike, who thirty years ago wrote in the American Historical Review of the blight of pestilence on early modern civilization, pointed out that the period of greatest affliction was that of the Renaissance, and especially the years from about 1480 until 1540, during which period frequent severe outbreaks of bubonic plague were reinforced by attacks of typhus fever and by the onset of the great epidemic of syphilis, to say nothing of the English Sweat (probably influenza) which repeatedly devastated England before invading the Continent in 1529. The bubonic plague began to die out in Western Europe only in the late seventeenth century, to disappear almost completely after the violent outbreak at Marseilles in 1720. But the Balkans and Middle East continued to suffer from it until well into the nineteenth century and the pandemic that broke out in India in the 1890’s was evidently comparable to the Black Death in terms of mortality and duration.29

The extensive records of the Black Death have been long and carefully studied, not only with reference to their medical aspects, but also in connection with the economic and social effects of so sudden and substantial a loss of population. The English population is estimated to have fallen from 3,700,000 in 1348 to 2,100,000 in 1400, the mortality rates of the period 1348-1375 far exceeding those of modern India. While the figures for continental countries are less complete, the available data suggests that the losses were comparable.30 Cities and towns suffered particularly, but in some areas as many as 40 per cent of the villages and hamlets were abandoned, the survivors joining with those of other settlements or moving to the depopulated towns where opportunity beckoned.31 Although a generation ago there was a tendency, especially among English historians, to minimize the social effects of the Black Death, more recent writers like G. G. Coulton, for example, acknowledge that the great epidemic, if it did not evoke entirely new forces, did vastly accelerate those already operative.32 The economic progress of Europe, which had been phenomenal in the thirteenth century, came to a halt and was soon followed by a prolonged depression lasting until the mid-fifteenth century and in a sense even into the seventeenth.33

I make only the most fleeting reference to these questions, because my chief concern, as I have said, is to determine, if possible, what the long-term psychological effects of this age of disease may have been. The immediate horrors of great epidemics have been vividly described by eminent writers from Thucydides to Albert Camus and have been pictured on canvas by famous us artists like Raphael and Delacroix.34 At news of the approach of the disease a haunting terror seizes the population, in the Middle Ages leading on the one hand to great upsurges of repentance in the form of flagellant processions and on the other to a mad search for scapegoats, eventuating in large-scale pogroms of the Jews.35 The most striking feature of such visitations has always been the precipitate flight from the cities, in which not only the wealthier classes but also town officials, professors and teachers, clergy, and even physicians took part.36) The majority of the population, taking the disaster as an expression of God’s wrath, devoted itself to penitential exercises, to merciful occupations, and to such good works as the repair of churches and the founding of religious houses. On the other hand, the horror and confusion in many places brought general demoralization and social breakdown. Criminal elements were quick to take over, looting the deserted houses and even murdering the sick in order to rob them of their jewels. Many, despairing of the goodness and mercy of God, gave themselves over to riotous living, resolved, as Thucydides says, “to get out of life the pleasures which could be had speedily and which would satisfy their lusts, regarding their bodies and their wealth alike as transitory.” Drunkenness and sexual immorality were the order of the day. “In one house,” reported an observer of the London plague of 1665, “you might hear them roaring under the pangs of death, in the next tippling, whoring and belching out blasphemies against God.”37

The vivid description of the Black Death in Florence, in the introduction to Boccaccio’s Decameron, is so familiar that further details about the immediate consequences may be dispensed with. Unfortunately neither the sources nor later historians tell us much of the long-range effects excepting that in the late nineteenth century a school of British writers traced to the Black Death fundamental changes in the agrarian system and indeed in the entire social order; the English prelate-historian, Francis Cardinal Gasquet, maintained that the Black Death, with its admittedly high mortality among the clergy, served to disrupt the whole religious establishment and thereby set the scene for the Protestant Reformation. Though this thesis is undoubtedly exaggerated, it does seem likely that the loss of clergy, especially in the higher ranks, the consequent growth of pluralities, the inevitable appointment of some who proved to be “clerical scamps” (Jessopp), and the vast enrichment of the Church through the legacies of the pious, all taken together played a significant role in the religious development of the later Middle Ages.38

But again, these are essentially institutional problems which may reflect but do not explain the underlying psychological forces. That unusual forces of this kind were operative in the later Middle Ages seems highly probable. Indeed, a number of eminent historians have in recent years expatiated on the special character of this period.39 I will not attempt even to summarize the various interpretations of the temper of that age which have been advanced on one side or the other. None of the commentators, so far as I can see, have traced or determined the connection between the great and constantly recurring epidemics and the state of mind of much of Europe at that time. Yet this relationship would seem to leap to the eye. The age was marked, as all admit, by a mood of misery, depression, and anxiety, and by a general sense of impending doom.40 Numerous writers in widely varying fields have commented on the morbid preoccupation with death, the macabre interest in tombs, the gruesome predilection for the human corpse.41 Among painters the favorite themes were Christ’s passion, the terrors of the Last Judgment, and the tortures of Hell, all depicted with ruthless realism and with an almost loving devotion to each repulsive detail.42 Altogether characteristic was the immense popularity of the Dance of Death woodcuts and murals, with appropriate verses, which appeared soon after the Black Death and which, it is agreed, expressed the sense of the immediacy of death and the dread of dying unshriven. Throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries these pitilessly naturalistic pictures ensured man’s constant realization of his imminent fate.43

The origins of the Dance of Death theme have been generally traced to the Black Death and subsequent epidemics, culminating in the terror brought on by the outbreak of syphilis at the end of the fifteenth century. Is it unreasonable, then, to suppose that many of the other phenomena I have mentioned might be explained, at least in part, in the same way? We all recognize the late Middle Ages as a period of popular religious excitement or overexcitement, of pilgrimages and penitential processions, of mass preaching, of veneration of relics and adoration of saints, of lay piety and popular mysticism.44 It was apparently also a period of unusual immorality and shockingly loose living, which we must take as the continuation of the “devil-may-care” attitude of one part of the population. This the psychologists explain as the repression of unbearable feelings by accentuating the value of a diametrically opposed set of feelings and then behaving as though the latter were the real feelings.45 But the most striking feature of the age was an exceptionally strong sense of guilt and a truly dreadful fear of retribution, seeking expression in a passionate longing for effective intercession and in a craving for direct, personal experience of the Deity, as well as in a corresponding dissatisfaction with the Church and with the mechanization of the means of salvation as reflected, for example, in the traffic in indulgences.46

These attitudes, along with the great interest in astrology, the increased resort to magic, and the startling spread of witchcraft and Satanism in the fifteenth century were, according to the precepts of modern psychology, normal reactions to the sufferings to which mankind in that period was subjected.47 It must be remembered that the Middle Ages, ignoring the teachings of the Greek physicians and relying entirely upon Scripture and the writings of the Church fathers, considered disease the scourge of God upon a sinful people.48 All men, as individuals, carry within themselves a burden of unconscious guilt and a fear of retribution which apparently go back to the curbing and repression of sexual and aggressive drives in childhood and the emergence of death wishes directed against the parents. This sense of sin, which is fundamental to all religion, is naturally enhanced by the impact of vast unaccountable and uncontrollable forces threatening the existence of each and every one.49 Whether or not there is also a primordial racial sense guilt, as Freud argued in his Totem and Taboo (1913), it is perfectly clear that disaster and death threatening the entire community will bring on a mass emotional disturbance, based on a feeling of helpless exposure, disorientation, and common guilt.50 Furthermore, it seems altogether plausible to suppose that children, having experienced the terror of their parents and the panic of the community, will react to succeeding crises in a similar but even more intense manner. In other words, the anxiety and fear are transmitted from one generation to another, constantly aggravated.

Now it has long been recognized by psychologists that man, when crushed by unfathomable powers, tends to regress to infantile concepts and that, like his predecessor in primitive times, he has recourse to magic in his efforts to ward off evil and appease the angry deity.51 It is generally agreed that magic and religion are closely related, both deriving from fear of unknown forces and especially of death, and both reflecting an effort to ensure the preservation of the individual and the community from disease and other afflictions.52 Death-dealing epidemics like those of the late Middle Ages were bound to produce a religious revival, the more so as the established Church was proving itself ever less able to satisfy the yearning for more effective intercession and for a more personal relationship to God.53 Wyclif, himself a survivor of the Black Death, is supposed to have been deeply affected by his gruelling experience, and there is nothing implausible in the suggestion that Lollardy was a reaction to the shortcomings of the Church in that great crisis.54 In this connection it is also worth remarking that the first expression of Zwingli’s reformed faith was his Song of Prayer in Time of Plague.55

Most striking, however, is the case of the greatest of the reformers, Martin Luther, who seems to me to reflect clearly the reaction of the individual to the situation I have been sketching. Luther left behind almost a hundred volumes of writings, thousands of letters, and very voluminous table-talk, suggesting an unusually self-analytical and self-critical personality.56 From all this material it has long been clear that he suffered from an abnormally strong sense of sin and of the immediacy of death and damnation. Tortured by the temptations of the flesh and repeatedly in conflict with a personalized demon, he was chronically oppressed by a pathological feeling of guilt and lived in constant terror of God’s judgment. So striking were these traits that some of Luther’s biographers have questioned his sanity.57

Here it is interesting to recall that one of our own colleagues, the late Professor Preserved Smith, as long ago as 1913, attacked the problem in an article entitled “Luther’s Early Development in the Light of Psychoanalysis.”58 Smith, who was remarkably Conversant with Freudian teaching when psychoanalysis was still in its early stage of development, considered Luther highly neurotic–probably driven to enter the monastery by the hope of finding a refuge from temptation and an escape from damnation, and eventually arriving at the doctrine of salvation by faith alone only after he had convinced himself of the impossibility of conquering temptation by doing penance. It may well be that Smith overdid his thesis, but the fact remains that his article was treated with great respect by Dr. Paul J. Reiter, who later published a huge and greatly detailed study of Luther’s personality. Reiter reached the conclusion, already suggested by Adolf Hausrath in 1905, that the great reformer suffered from a manic-depressive psychosis, which, frequently associated with genius, involved a constant struggle with, and victory over, enormous psychological pressures. The point of mentioning all this is to suggest that Luther’s trials were typical of his time. In any event, it is inconceivable that he should have evoked so great a popular response unless he had succeeded in expressing the underlying, unconscious sentiments of large numbers of people and in providing them with an acceptable solution to their religious problem.59

I must apologize for having raised so lugubrious a subject on so festive an occasion, but I could not resist the feeling that the problems presented by the later Middle Ages are exactly of the type that might be illuminated by modern psychology. I do not claim that the psychological aspects of this apocalyptic age have been entirely neglected by other students. Indeed, Millard Meiss, a historian of art, has written a most impressive study of Florentine and Sienese painting in the second half of the fourteenth century in which he has analyzed the many and varied effects of the Black Death, including the bearing of that great catastrophe on the further development of the religious situation.60 No one, to my knowledge, has undertaken to fathom the psychological crisis provoked by the chronic, large-scale loss of life and the attendant sense of impending doom.

I would not, of course, argue that psychological doctrine, even if it were more advanced and more generally accepted than it is, would resolve all the perplexities of the historian. Better than most scholars, the historian knows that human motivation, like causation, is a complex and elusive process. In view of the fact that we cannot hope ever to have complete evidence on any historical problem, it seems unlikely that we shall ever have definitive answers. But I am sure you will agree that there are still possibilities of enriching our understanding of the past and that it is our responsibility, as historians, to leave none of these possibilities unexplored. I call your attention to the fact that for many years young scholars in anthropology, sociology, religion, literature, education, and other fields have gone to psychoanalytic institutes for special training, and I suggest that some of our own younger men might seek the same equipment. For of this I have no doubt, that modern psychology is bound to play an ever greater role in historical interpretation. For some time now there has been a marked trend toward recognition of the irrational factors in human development, and it is interesting to observe the increased emphasis being laid on psychological forces. May I recall that perhaps the most stimulating non-Marxist interpretation of imperialism, that of the late Joseph Schumpeter, which goes back to 1918, rests squarely on a psychological base? Or need I point out that recent treatments of such forces as totalitarianism and nationalism lay great stress on psychological factors?61 Indeed, within the past year two books have appeared which have a direct bearing on my argument. One is T. D. Kendrick’s The Lisbon Earthquake, which is devoted to a study of the effects of that disaster of 1755 upon the whole attitude and thought of the later eighteenth century. The other is Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millenium, which reviews the chiliastic movements of the Middle Ages and comes to the conclusion that almost every major disaster, be it famine, plague, or war, produced some such movement and that only analysis of their psychic content will help us to explain them.

Aldous Huxley, in one of his essays, discusses the failure of historians to devote sufficient attention to the great ebb and flow of population and its effect on human development. He complains that while Arnold Toynbee concerned himself so largely with pressures and responses, there is in the index of his first six volumes no entry for “population,” though there are five references to Popilius Laenas and two to Porphyry of Batamaea.62 To this I might add that the same index contains no reference to pestilence, plague, epidemics, or Black Death. This, I submit, is mildly shocking and should remind us, as historians, that we cannot rest upon past achievements but must constantly seek wider horizons and deeper insights. We find ourselves in the midst of the International Geophysical Year, and we all know that scientists entertain high hopes of enlarging through cooperation their understanding as well as their knowledge of the universe. It is quite possible that they may throw further light on such problems as the influence of sunspots on terrestrial life and the effects of weather on the conduct of human affairs.63 We may, for all we know, be on the threshold of a new era when the historian will have to think in ever larger, perhaps even in cosmic, terms.

William L. Langer was professor of history at Harvard University.



I have benefited greatly from long discussions of this problem with my brother, Dr. Walter C. Langer. I have also to thank Professors Talcott Parsons and Raymond A. Bauer, for stimulating comments on an early draft of the address, and Professors James C. Diggory and A. Pepitone, of the University of Pennsylvania, for allowing me to read their unpublished report on “Behavior and Disaster.”


  1. “Freud and the Arts,” London Times Literary Supplement, May 4, 1956. []
  2. Ibid. See also Abram Kardiner, The Psychological Frontiers of Society (New York, 1945), p. 11; Goodwin Watson, “Clio and Psyche: Some Interrelations of Psychology and History,” in The Cultural Approach to History, ed. Caroline Ware (New York, 1940), pp. 34-47; Hans W. Gruhle, Geschichtsschreibung und Psychologie (Bonn, 1953), p. 7; The Social Sciences in Historical Study, Social Science Research Council Bull. No. 64 (New York, 1954), pp. 61 ff. []
  3. See the article by Henry W. Brosin, “A Review of the Influence of Psychoanalysis on Current Thought,” in Dynamic Psychiatry, ed. Franz Alexander and Helen Ross (Chicago, 1952), pp. 508-53; Ernest Jones, What Is Psychoanalysis? (new ed., New York, 1948), pp. 80 ff.; Iago Galdston, ed., Freud and Contemporary Culture (New York, 1957). See also J. A. Gengerelli, “Dogma or Discipline?” Saturday Review, Mar. 23, 1957; Gardner Murphy, “The Current Impact of Freud upon Psychology,” Amer. Psychologist, XI (1956), 663-72; A. Irving Hallowell, “Culture, Personality and Society,” in Anthropology Today, A. L. Kroeber (Chicago, 1953), pp. 597-620; Clyde Kluckhohn, “The Influence of Psychiatry on Anthropology in America during the Past One Hundred Years,” in One Hundred Years of American Psychiatry, ed. J. K. Hall (New York, 1944), pp. 589-618 and “Politics, History and Psychology,” World Politics, VIII (1955), 112-23; Harold D. Lasswell, “Impact of Psychoanalytic Thinking on the Social Sciences,” in The State of the Social Sciences, ed. Leonard D. White (Chicago, 1956), pp. 84-115; R. Money-Kyrle, Superstition and Society (London, 1939); Walter A. Weisskopf, The Psychology of Economics (Chicago, 1955); Erich Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion (New Haven, 1950); F. J. Hoffman, Freudianism and the Literary Mind (Baton Rouge, 1945); Louis Schneider, The Psychoanalyst and the Artist (New York, 1950). []
  4. Raymond B. Cattell, An Introduction to Personality Study (London, 1950), pp. 13-14. H. D. Lasswell, Psychopathology and Politics (Chicago, 1930), p. 11, refers to “the obscurantist revulsion against submitting the sacred mystery of personality to the coarse indignity of exact investigation.” Keats is said to have feared that spectrum analysis would ruin his enjoyment of the rainbow. See Jones, What is Psychoanalysis? pp. 12 ff. []
  5. Sidney Ratner, “The Historian’s Approach to Psychology,” Jour. Hist. Ideas, II (1941), 95-109. []
  6. Edward N. Saveth, “The Historian and the Freudian Approach to History,” New York Times Book Review, Jan. 1, 1956; Gruhle, Geschichtsschreibung und Psychologie, pp. 116 ff.; Richard L. Schoenwaid, “Historians and the Challenge of Freud,” Western Humanities Rev., X (1956), 99-108. []
  7. Brosin, “Review of Influence of Psychoanalysis on Current Thought.” []
  8. Gruhle op. cit., pp. 127 ff., cites a number of instances from the writings of eminent German historians, and Max Horkheimer, “Geschichte und Psychologie,” Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, I (1932), 125-44, argues the complete inadequacy of the psychological concepts of the classical economists. Alfred M. Tozzer, “Biography and Biology,” in Personality in Nature, Society, and Culture, ed. Clyde Kluckhohn and H. A. Murray (2d ed., New York, 1953), pp. 226-39, plays havoc with the simple-minded biological twist in much biographical writing. []
  9. This thought is more or less explicitly expressed by Louis Gottschalk, “The Historian and the Historical Document,” in The Use of Personal Documents in History, Anthropology and Sociology, Social Science Research Council Bull. No. 53 (New York, 1945), and in The Social Sciences in Historical Study. See also Sir Lewis Namier, “Human Nature in Politics,” in his Personalities and Powers (London, 1955); Schoenwald, “Historians and the Challenge of Freud.” []
  10. Meyer Shapiro, “Leonardo and Freud: An Art-Historical Study,” Jour. Hist. Ideas, XVII (1956), 147-78, and other critics there cited. []
  11. Fromm, “Die psychoanalytische Charakterologie und ihre Bedeutung for die Sozialpsychologie,” Zeits. f. Sozialforschung, I (1932), 253-77, and Psychology and Religion, pp. 10 ff.; Karen Horney, The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (New York, 1937), chap. i; Franz Alexander, Fundamentals of Psychoanalysis (New York, 1948), chap. vi; Ralph Linton, The Cultural Development of Personality (New York, 1945); Kardiner, Psychological Frontiers of Society, esp. chap. xiv; Gerald S. Blum, Psychoanalytic Theories of Personality (New York, 1953); Gordon W. Allport, Becoming: Basic Considerations for a Psychology of Personality (New Haven, 1955); Georges Friedmann, “Psychoanalysis and Sociology,” Diogenes, No. 14 (1956), 17-35. []
  12. Bernard Brodie, in his review of the excellent study of Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House (New York, 1957) by Alexander and Juliette George, notes that the authors, while using very effectively the concepts of psychoanalysis, are scrupulous not to mention the fact. “A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Woodrow Wilson,” World Politics, IX (1957), 413-22. []
  13. Gruhle, Geschichtsschreibung und Psychologie, pp. 127 ff. []
  14. Gustave Le Bon, La psychologie des foules was published in 1895. The earliest texts, those of William McDougall, An Introduction to Social Psychology, and of Edward A. Ross, Social Psychology, were first published in 1908. See M. Brewster Smith, “Some Recent Texts in Social Psychology,” Psychological Bull., L (1953), 150-59. []
  15. Freud’s letter to C. G. Jung, July 5, 1910, quoted in Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, II (New York, 1955), 448-49. []
  16. Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (New York, 1921). []
  17. Jones, What is Psychoanalysis? pp. 20 ff. []
  18. Geza Roheim, Psychoanalysis and Anthropology (New York, 1950). []
  19. Kluckhohn, “The Impact of Freud on Anthropology,” in Freud and Contemporary Culture, pp. 66-72. []
  20. The Behavior of Crowds (New York, 1920), pp. 35-36. Martin was well versed in the psychoanalytical literature of his time. []
  21. Jung, quoted by Ira Progoff, Jung’s Psychology and Its Social Meaning (New York, 1953), p. ix; Erik H. Erikson, “The First Psychoanalyst,” Yale Rev., XLVI (1956), 40-62; Melitta Schmideberg, “Zum Verstandnis massenpsychologischer Erscheinungen,” Imago, XXI (1935), 445-57. []
  22. See esp. Fromm, “Über Methode und Aufgabe einer analytischen Sozialpsychologie,” Zeits. f. Sozialforschung, I (1932), 28-54. []
  23. Lefebvre, “Foules révolutionnaires,” in his Études sur la Révolution Française (Paris, 1954), pp. 271-87, and La grande peur de 1789 (Paris, 1932). Philip Rieff, “The Origins of Freud’s Political Psychology,” Jour. Hist. Ideas, XVII (1956), 233-49, is equally hard on Le Bon. []
  24. To mention a few titles: Nathan Leites, A Study of Bolshevism (Glencoe, Ill., 1953), Gabriel A. Almond, et al., The Appeals of Communism (Princeton, 1954); Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York, 1951); the essay by Henry Pachter in The Third Reich, ed. M. Baumont, J. H. E. Fried, and E. Vermeil (New York, 1955) and the discussion of it by Carl E. Schorske, “A New Look at the Nazi Movement,” World Politics, IX (1956), 88-97. See also Hadley Cantril, The Psychology of Social Movements (New York, 1941), for a discussion of various modern mass movements, and Raymond A. Bauer, “The Psycho-Cultural Approach to Soviet Studies,” World Politics, VII (1954), 119-32, for a critical review of several analyses of Soviet society. []
  25. Freud, “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death” (1915), in Collected Papers (London, 1924-1934), IV, No. 17. []
  26. W. H. S. Jones, Dea Febris: A Study of Malaria in Ancient Italy (n.p., n.d.) and Malaria and Greek History (Manchester, 1909); Jones, Major R. Ross, and G. G. Ellet, Malaria, a Neglected Factor in the History of Greece and Rome (Cambridge, 1907); Nello Toscanelli, La malaria nell’antichità e la fine degli Etruschi (Milan, 1927), esp. pp. 237 ff.; A. E. R. Boak, Manpower Shortage and the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1955). []
  27. Bernard M. Lersch, Geschichte der Volksseuchen (Berlin, 1896), pp. 52 ff.; L. Fabian Hirst, The Conquest of Plague (Oxford, 1953), p. 10. It is highly likely that the arrival of rats in Europe in the twelfth century had an important bearing on the spread of bubonic plague. See Hans Zinsser, Rats, Lice and History (Boston, 1935), pp. 195 ff.; Major Greenwood, Epidemics and Crowd-Diseases (New York, 1937), pp. 289 ff. []
  28. August Hirsch, Handbook of Geographical and Historical Pathology, trans. Charles Creighton (London, 1883-1885), I, chap. x; Georg Sticker, Abhandlungen aus der Seuchengeschichte und Seuchenlehre, I, Die Pest (Giessen, 1908), pp. 74 ff.; Hirst, Conquest of Plague, p. 13; Josiah C. Russell, British Medieval Population (Albuquerque, N. Mex., 1948), pp. 2, 14 ff.; Lynn Thorndike, “The Blight of Pestilence on Early Modern Civilization,” Amer. Hist. Rev., XXXII (1927), 455-74; C. W. Previté-Orton, Cambridge Medieval History (Cambridge, 1932), introd.; David A. Stewart, “Disease and History,” Ann. Medical Hist., N.S., VII (1935), 351-71; Herman B. Allyn, “The Black Death, Its Social and Economic Results,” ibid., VII (I925), 226-36; the excellent, succinct review by Yves Renouard, “Conséquences et intérêt de démographique de la peste noire de 1348,” Population [Paris], III (1948), 459-66, and “La peste noire de 1348-1350,” Rev. de Paris (Mar., 1950), 107-19. According to Charles Mullett, The Bubonic Plague and England (Lexington, Ky., 1956), p. 18, there were no less than twenty attacks in England in the course of the fifteenth century. []
  29. Hirsch, Handbook . . . Pathology, I, chaps. iii, x, xx; II, chap. ii; Justus F. K. Hecker, The Epidemics of the Middle Ages, trans. B. G. Babington (London, 1844), pp. 188 ff.; Charles Creighton, A History of Epidemics in Britain (Cambridge, 1891), I, chap. viii; Hermann Meyer, “Zur Geschichte der Pest im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert,” Schauinsland, XXVIII (1901), 13-32; Hirst, Conquest of Plague, p.16. It is highly likely that the replacement of the black rat by the brown rat in Europe in the early eighteenth century had an important bearing on the decline of the plague, since the black rat was much more domesticated than the brown (see Zinsser, op. cit., pp. 195 ff.), and it may well be that the growing severity of the European climate, beginning with the late sixteenth century, may have reduced the reproduction rate of the rat flea which is the carrier of the plague bacillus. See Gustaf Utterstrom, “Climate Fluctuations and Population Problems in Early Modern History,” Scandinavian Econ. Hist. Rev., III (1955), 3-47. []
  30. Julius Beloch, “Bevölkerungsgeschichte Europas im Mittelalter,” Zeits. f. Socialwissenschaft, III (1900), 405-23; Russell, British Medieval Population, pp. 263 ff., 375, and “Medieval Population,” Social Forces, XV (1937), 503-11; Renouard, “Conséquences . . . de la peste noire”; Maxim Kowalewsky, Die ökonomische Entwicklung Europas (Berlin, 1911), V, 277 ff., 321 ff., 362 ff., 400 ff. []
  31. On the desertion of villages and the depopulation of the countryside see Francis A. Gasquet, The Great Pestilence (London, 1893), pp. 28 ff., 54, 68, and chaps. ix, x, passim; Creighton, History of Epidemics, I, 122, 177, 191; Maurice Beresford, The Lost Villages of England (London, 1954) who, however, attributes the abandonment of villages to increasing enclosures for grazing, at least in the first instance. By far the best treatments are those of Friedrich Lutge, Deutsche Sozial-und Wirtschaftsgeschichte (Berlin, 1952), pp. 144 ff., and Wilhelm Abel, Die Wüstungen des ausgehenden Mittelalters (2d ed., Stuttgart, 1955). []
  32. So far as Germany is concerned the reaction to exaggerated claims was first expressed by Robert Hoeniger, Der Schwarz Tod in Deutschland (Berlin, 1882), pp. 77 ff. In England the reversal of opinion was brought about largely through the researches of A. Elizabeth Levett, “The Black Death on the Estates of the See of Winchester,” Oxford Stud. in Social and Legal Hist., V (1916), 1-20, and was strongly reflected in such writings as Helen Robbins, “A Comparison of the Effects of the Black Death on the Economic Organization of France and England,” Jour. Polit. Econ., XXXVI (I928), 447-79. For the best-informed recent evaluations, see Coulton, The Black Death (London, 1929), chap. v; also the very judicious review by Eileen E. Power, “The Effects of the Black Death on Rural Organization in England,” History, N.S., III (1918), 109-16; the basic study for Spain by Charles Verlinden, “La grande peste en Espagne: Contribution à l’étude de ses conséquences économiques et sociales,” Rev. belge de philol. et d’hist, XVII (1938), 101-46; and the admirable summaries by Renouard, cited above, fn. 28. []
  33. So eminent an authority as Wilhelm Abel, “Wachstumsschwankungen mitteleuropäischer Völker seit dem Mittelalter,” Jahrb. f. Nationalökonomie u. Statistik, CXLII (1935), 670-92, holds that pestilence, famine, and war were not enough to account for the enormous decline in population and that psychological forces, as yet unanalyzed, led to a reluctance to marry and raise a family. E. J. Hobsbawm, “The General Crisis of the European Economy in the 17th Century,” Past and Present (1954), No. 5, 33-53 and No. 6, 44-65, notes that the economic crisis, which had been in process since about 1300, came to an end at just about the time the plague died out. On the general economic depression see especially M. Postan, “Revisions in Economic History: The Fifteenth Century,” Econ. Hist. Rev., IX (1939), 160-67; John Saltmarsh, “Plague and Economic Decline in England in the Later Middle Ages,” Cambridge Hist. Jour. VII (1941), 23-41; Edouard Perroy, “Les crises du xive siècle,” Annales, IV (1949), 167-82, who stresses the fact that the Black Death created a demographic crisis, superimposed on a food crisis (1315-1320) and a financial crisis (1335-1345); Robert S. Lopez, “The Trade of Medieval Europe: The South,” Cambridge Economic History of Europe, II (Cambridge, 1952), pp. 338 ff.; Postan, “The Trade of Medieval Europe: The North,” ibid., pp. 191 ff.; and Lopez’s review of M. Mollat’s Le Commerce maritime normand à la fin du moyen âge, in Speculum, XXXII (1957), 386. []
  34. Cf. the realistic account in Camus, La peste (Paris, 1947), with the contemporary account of the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793 in Howard W. Haggard, Devils, Drugs and Doctors (New York, 1929), p. 213. Recent, as yet unpublished, studies of modern epidemics by Professors James Diggory and A. Pepitone of the University of Pennsylvania, bear out all the main features of earlier descriptions. Some striking plague paintings are reproduced in Raymond Crawfurd, Plague and Pestilence in Literature and Art (Oxford, 1914). []
  35. Although the appearance of flagellantism and the beginnings of the Jewish pogroms antedated the Black Death, they reached their fullest development in 1348-1349. See the basic accounts by Karl Lechner, “Die grosse Geisselfahrt des Jahres 1349,” Historisches Jahrbuch, V (1884), 437-62; of Heine Pfannenschmid, “Die Geissler des Jahres 1349 in Deutschland und den Niederlanden,” Die Lieder und Melodien der Geissler des Jahres 1349, ed. Paul Runge (Leipzig, 1900), pp. 89-218; Joseph McCabe, The History of Flagellantism (Girard, Kans., 1946), esp. 33 ff.; Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millenium (London, 1957), chap. vi. See further Hecker, Epidemics of the Middle Ages, pp. 32 ff.; Hoeniger, Der Schwarz Tod; Johannes Nohl, The Black Death (London, 1926); A. L. Maycock, “A Note on the Black Death,” Nineteenth Century, XCVII (1925), 456-64. As late as 1884 in Italy physicians were suspected as agents of the rich to poison the poor, and in 1896 British officials in Bombay were charged with spreading the plague. See Melitta Schmideberg, “The Role of Psychotic Mechanisms in Cultural Development,” Internat. Jour. Psychoanalysis, XI (1930), 387-418; René Baehrel, “La haine de classe au temps d’épidemié,” Annales, VII (1952), 351-60, who analyzes the popular reaction to the cholera epidemic of 1831-32; and Ilza Veith, “Plague and Politics,” Bull. Hist. Medicine, XXVIII (1954), 408-15. []
  36. The extent of such exodus may be judged from the fact that during the yellow fever epidemic of 1878 about 60 per cent of the population fled the city of Memphis (unpublished MS by lames C. Diggory. []
  37. Quoted in Walter G. Bell, The Great Plague in London in 1665 (London, 1924), p. 222. In addition to the classic accounts of Thucydides (Peloponnesian War, Book II) and Boccaccio (Decameron, introd.), see also the notes of the great physician, Ambroise Paré, De la peste in Oeuvres complètes (Paris, 1841), III, 350-464; Mullett, op. cit., p. 118, on the London plague of 1603; F. P. Wilson, The Plague in Shakespeare’s London (Oxford, 1927), chap. v on the London plague of 1625. Much evidence is adduced in B. S. Gowen, “Some Psychological Aspects of Pestilence and Other Epidemics,” (Winchester, Tenn., 1907; enlarged reprint from the Amer. Jour. Psychology, XVIII [Jan., 1907], 1-60); Karl Lechner, Das grosse Sterben in Deutschland (Innsbruck, 1884), pp. 93 ff.; and the books of Creighton, Kowalewsky, Hecker, Nohl, Gasquet, and Coulton, all cited above. []
  38. On the high mortality of the clergy in England see especially Russell, British Medieval Population, pp. 222 ff., 367. On the general problem see Gasquet, Great Pestilence, pp. xvi-xvii, 203 ff.; Augustus Jessopp, The Coming of the Friars and Other Historical Essays (New York, 1889), pp. 245 ff.; Coulton, The Black Death, p. 48, and particularly his chapter on the Black Death in Medieval Panorama (New York, 1938); Hoeniger, Der Schwarz Tod, pp. 126 ff.; Anna M. Campbell, The Black Death and Men of Learning (New York, 1931), 136 ff.; A. Hamilton Thompson, “The Registers of John Gynewell, Bishop of Lincoln, for the years 1349-1350” and “The Pestilences of the 14th Century in the Diocese of York,” Archeol. Jour., LXVIII (1911), 301-60, LXXI (1914), 97-154. According to Peter G. Mode, The Influence of the Black Death on the English Monasteries (Chicago, 1916), chaps. ii, vi, the heads of at least 120 monasteries had died and some of those who succeeded proved to be veritable gangsters. Verlinden lays great stress on the enrichment of the Church in Spain through donations and legacies. []
  39. Johan Huizinga’s The Waning of the Middle Ages (London, 1927) was, in a sense, the counterpart to Jakob Burckhardt’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (London, 1878). Of the more recent books the following seem to me particularly significant: Rudolf Stadelmann, Vom Geist des ausgehenden Mittelalters (Halle, 1929); Will-Erich Peuckert, Die grosse Wende. Das apokalyptische Saeculum und Luther (Hamburg, 1948); Hermann Heimpel, “Das Wesen des Spätmittelalters,” Der Mensch in seiner Gegenwart (Göttingen, 1954). []
  40. Huizinga, op. cit., chap. i; Stadelmann, op. cit., pp. 7, 13; Peuckert, op. cit., pp. 21, 144; Willy Andreas, Deutschland vor der Reformation (5th ed., Stuttgart, 1948), p. 202; Otto Benesch, The Art of the Renaissance in Northern Europe (Cambridge, 1945), p. 10. In a broad way, Renouard (works noted in fn. 28) and Lucien Febvre (“La peste noire de 1348,” Annales, IV [1949], 102-103) have suggested the psychological and religious repercussions of the great epidemics. Some authors speak of hysteria, paranoia, and mental disease. See Willy Hellpach, Die geistigen Epidemien (Frankfurt, 1905), pp. 84 ff.; Gregory Zilboorg, A History of Medical Psychology (New York, 1941), pp. 153 ff.; Norman Cohn, Pursuit of the Millenium, p. 73. []
  41. See esp. Frederick P. Weber, Aspects of Death and Correlated Aspects of Life in Art, Epigram and Poetry (London, 1918), pp. 157 ff.; Erna Döring-Hirsch, Tod und Jenseits im Spätmittelalter (Berlin, 1927), passim. See also Huizinga, Waning of the Middle Ages, chap. xi; Peuckert, Die grosse Wende, pp. 95 ff.; and esp. Emíle Mâle, L’Art religieux de la fin du moyen âge en France (Paris, 1908), pp. 375 ff., 423 ff. Paul Perdrizet, La Vierge de Misércorde (Paris, 1908), chap. xx. Michelangelo on one occasion wrote to Vasari: “No thought is born in me which has not ‘Death’ engraved upon it” (quoted in Piero Misciatelli, Savonarola [English trans., Cambridge, 1929], p. 103). []
  42. See Mâle, pp. 477 ff.; Millard Meiss, Painting in Florence and Siena after the Black Death (Princeton, 1951), esp. chap. ii; Crawfurd, Plague . . . in Literature and Art, chap. viii. On the German painters see Joseph Lortz, Die Reformation in Deutschland (3d ed., Freiburg, 1940), I, 102; Benesch, Art of the Renaissance, pp. 10 ff.; Arthur Burkhard, Matthias Grünewald (Cambridge, 1936), pp. 74 ff.; Gillo Dorfles, Bosch (Verona, 1953). []
  43. On the artistic side see Crawfurd, chap. viii; Mâle, pp. 383 ff.; Curt Sachs, The Commonwealth of Art (New York, 1946), pp. 88 ff. See also Andreas, Deutschland vor der Reformation, pp. 206 ff.; Stadelmann, Vom Geist des ausgehenden Mittelalters, pp. 18 ff.; and the specialized studies of Gert Buchheit, Der Totentanz (Berlin, 1926); Henri Stegemeier, The Dance of Death in Folksong (Chicago, 1939); Wolfgang Stammler, Der Totentanz (Munich, 1948); and the particularly significant historical analysis of Hellmut Rosenfeld, Der mittelalterliche Totentanz (Münster, 1954), pp. 33 ff., 59 ff. []
  44. The subject is too large to permit of even a cursory analysis, but see Stadelmann, chap. iii; Lortz, I, 99 ff.; Andreas, chap. iii and pp. 191 ff.; and Heimpel, noted above. See also Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism (12th ed., London, 1930), esp. 453 ff., and “Medieval Mysticism,” Cambridge Medieval History, VII (New York, 1932), chap. xxvi; Margaret Smith, Studies in Early Mysticism in the Near and Middle East (London, 1931), pp. 256-57. As long ago as 1880 the eminent orientalist Alfred von Kremer suggested the connection of mysticism (Sufism) with the great plague epidemics in the Middle East. See his “Über die grossen Seuchen des Orientes nach arabischen Quellen,” Sitzungsberichte der phil.-hist. Classe der kais. Akad. Wissenschaftern, Wien, XCVI (1880), 69-156. []
  45. James W. Thompson, “The Aftermath of the Black Death and the Aftermath of the Great War,” Amer. Jour. Sociol., XXVI (1920-1921), 565-72, on the continuing degeneration. []
  46. Wallace K. Ferguson, “The Church in a Changing World: A Contribution to the Interpretation of the Renaissance,” Amer. Hist. Rev., LIX (1953), 1-18; review by Kurt F. Reinhardt of Friedrich W. Oedinger, Über die Bildung der Geistlichen im späten Mittelalter (Leiden, 1953), in Speculum, XXXII (1957), 391-92; Lortz, I, 99 ff.; Andreas, pp. 152-53, 169 ff.; and the eloquent pages on the Church in the mid-fourteenth century in Henri Daniel-Rops, Cathedral and Crusade: Studies of the Medieval Church, 1050-1350 (London, 1957), pp. 593 ff. Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millenium, is devoted entirely to a study of the “revolutionary chiliastic movements” in Europe from the Crusades onward. []
  47. On the triumph of astrology see Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, IV (New York, 1934), 611 ff.; H. A. Strauss, Psychologie und astrologische Symbolik (Zurich, 1953); Mark Graubard, Astrology and Alchemy (New York, 1953), chaps. iv, v. On the reemergence of pagan superstitions, the practice of magic, and the belief in witches as a heretical sect devoted to worship of the devil and the perpetration of evil see Thorndike, op. cit., IV, 274 ff.; Peuckert, pp. 119 ff.; Andreas, pp. 28 ff., 217 ff.; Joseph Hansen, Zauberwesen, Inquisition und Hexenprozess im Mittelalter (Munich, 1900), pp. 326 ff.; Margaret A. Murray, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (Oxford, 1921), esp. pp. 11 ff.; Harmanns Obendiek, Satanismus und Dämonie in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Berlin, 1928); Montague Summers, The History of Witchcraft and Demonology (2d ed., New York, 1956), pp. 1 ff.; Gregory Zilboorg, op. cit. It may be noted, for what it is worth, that in the fifteenth century witches were accused of inhibiting human fertility: possibly a reflection of popular concern over the rapidly diminishing population. It is also interesting to observe that witch trials died out in Europe concurrently with the disappearance of the plague in the eighteenth century. []
  48. God might, of course, act through natural phenomena such as comets, floods, droughts, or miasma. For a good discussion of this point see G. G. Coulton, Five Centuries of Religion, II (Cambridge, 1927), p. 394; Hirst, Conquest of Plague, chap. ii; Kenneth Walker, The Story of Medicine (New York, 1955), pp. 71 ff.; and esp. Paul H. Kocher, “The Idea of God in Elizabethan Medicine,” Jour. Hist. Ideas, XI (1950), 3-29. This explanation was generally accepted through the early modern period and undoubtedly presented a great obstacle to the development of medical and sanitational measures. See Mullett, Bubonic Plague and England, pp. 74, 88. Recent studies on modern disasters indicate that it is still widely held, despite the discoveries of Pasteur and his successors. See Martha Wolfenstein, Disaster: A Psychological Study (Glencoe, Ill., 1957), pp. 199 ff. []
  49. The crucial problem of guilt feelings has not been much studied except by Freud and his successors. See Freud, “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death,” (1915) and the succinct discussion in Jones, What Is Psychoanalysis? pp. 101 ff., 114. For the continuance of this feeling in modern times see Wolfenstein, Disaster, p. 71. Cantril, The Invasion from Mars (Princeton, 1940), pp. 161 ff., quotes one man as saying: “The broadcast had us all worried, but I knew it would at least scare ten years’ life out of my mother-in-law.” []
  50. A later explanation of the sense of communal guilt, as it appears among the Jews, was advanced by Freud in his Moses and Monotheism (1939). Still another, quite different and quite persuasive, argument is presented by Theodor Reik, Myth and Guilt: The Crime and Punishment of Mankind (New York, 1957), esp. pp. 34 ff., 146 ff. Oskar Pfister, Das Christentum und die Angst (Zurich, 1944) has examined the relation of anxiety to guilt feelings and the magnification of communal anxieties in the face of disaster. For concrete studies of medieval mass hysteria see Louis F. Calmeil, De la folie (Paris, 1845); René Fülöp-Miller, Leaders, Dreamers and Rebels (New York, 1935); and esp. the admirable scholarly study of Cohn, Pursuit of the Millenium, which stresses the analogies between individual and collective paranoia. []
  51. Jung, “After the Catastrophe,” Essays on Contemporary Events (London, 1947). See also Johann Kinkel, “Zur Frage der psychologischen Grundlagen und des Ursprungs der Religion,” Imago, VIII (1922), 23-45, 197-241; Henry E. Sigerist, Civilization and Disease (Ithaca, 1943), chap. vi; Arturo Castiglioni, Adventures of the Mind (New York, 1946), pp. ix, 2, 11, 19; Bronislaw Malinowski, Magic, Science and Religion (Boston, 1948), pp. 15, 29, 116; Charles Odier, Anxiety and Magic Thinking (New York, 1956), pp. 38 ff.; Melitta Schmideberg: “Role of Psychotic Mechanisms in Cultural Development”; Franz Alexander, “On the Psychodynamics of Regressive Phenomena in Panic States,” Psychoanalysis and the Social Sciences, IV (1955), 104-11. Hirst, Conquest of Hague, has noted the reversion to magic during all great plague epidemics and reports that charms and amulets were never more prevalent among even educated Englishmen than during the epidemic of 1665. Jessopp, Coming of the Friars, p. 166, remarked that in his day the threat of any epidemic still brought on “wild-eyed panic” and resort to all kinds of superstitious practices. []
  52. James H. Leuba, The Psychological Origin and the Nature of Religion (London, 1921), pp. 4, 81; George F. Moore, The Birth and Growth of Religion (New York, 1924), pp. 3, 8, 17; W. B. Selbie, The Psychology of Religion (Oxford, 1924), p. 32; Malinowski, Magic, Science and Religion, p. 29; Willy Hellpach, Grundriss der Religionspsychologie (Stuttgart, 1951), pp.6 ff. []
  53. In this connection the great expansion of the cult of the Virgin Mary and even more of her mother, St. Anne, is worth noting; also the fact that among the ten or twelve most popular saints of the late fifteenth century, the so-called “plague saints” (St. Anthony, St. Sebastian, St. Roch), were particularly favored. See Huizinga, Waning of the Middle Ages, chap. xii; Crawfurd, Plague . . . in Literature and Art, chap. viii; and esp. Mâle, Art religieux, pp. 157 ff., 193 ff. and Perdrizet, La Vierge de Miséricordepassim. []
  54. The Last Age of the Church, written in 1356 and first published in 1840, is a violent denunciation of the depravity revealed in the time of the Black Death. It was long believed to have been the first work of Wyclif but is now attributed to an unnamed Spiritual Franciscan. See James H. Todd, The Last Age of the Church, by John Wycliffe (Dublin, 1840); J. Foster Palmer, “Pestilences: Their Influence on the Destiny of Nations,” Trans. Royal Hist. Soc., I (1884), 242-59; H. B. Workman, John Wyclif: A Study of the English Medieval Church (Oxford, 1926), I, 14; Robert Vaughan, The Life and Opinions of John de Wycliffe (London, 1928), I, 238 ff.; and, on the general problem, Coulton, The Black Death, p. 111, and Mullett, Bubonic Plague and England, p. 34. []
  55. This very moving appeal for divine aid (1519) is reprinted in Georg Finsler, et al., Ulrich Zwingli: Eine Auswahl aus seinen Schriften (Zurich, 1918), pp. 17-19. See also Pfister, Das Christentum und die Angst, 321 ff., according to whom Calvin was terror-stricken by the plague and, unlike Luther, was unwilling to stick at his post during severe epidemics. He firmly believed that a group of thirty-four men and women witches had for three years spread the plague in Geneva and that in their case even the most extreme forms of torture were justified. []
  56. Karl Holl, “Luthers Urteile uber sich Selbst,” Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kirchengeschichte, I, Luther (Tübingen, 1921); Heinrich Böhmer, Road to Reformation; Martin Luther to the Year 1521 (Philadelphia, 1946), foreword; Karl A. Meissinger, Der katholische Luther (Munich, 1952), p. 2. []
  57. Hartmann Grisar, Luther (London, 1913-1917), I, 110 ff.; VI, chap. xxxvi, discusses many of these views but Grisar takes a more moderate stand. The most recent Catholic biography is that of Joseph Lortz, Die Reformation in Deutschland, which is a very model of reasonableness. []
  58. Amer. Jour. Psychology, XXIV (1913), 360-77. []
  59. Hausrath, Luthers Leben (Berlin, 1905); Reiter, Martin Luthers Umwelt, Charakter und Psychose (Copenhagen, 1937, 1941); Wilhelm Lange-Eichbaum, Genie, Irrsinn und Ruhm (4th ed, Munich, 1956), pp. 375-78. See also Walther von Loewenich, “Zehn Jahre Lutherforschung,” in Theologie und Liturgie, ed. Liemar Hennig (Cassell, 1952), pp. 119-70 and Martin Werner, “Psychologisches zum Klostererlebnis Martin Luthers,” Schweiz. Zeitsch. für Psychologie, VII (1948), 1-18, who follows Smith’s thesis closely. The argument hinges on the harshness of Luther’s upbringing and the extent of his father fixation. Smith noted that on at least one occasion Luther asserted that he had entered the monastery to escape harsh treatment at home. His father’s unalterable opposition to this step may have played a part in Luther’s later decision to leave the monastery. According to Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York, 1950), pp. 288 ff., Luther’s decision (in 1525) to marry was at least in part due to his wish to gratify his father’s desire for progeny. Recent writers tend to explain away the harshness of Luther’s youth, which indeed was probably less unusual and less important than Smith supposed. See Otto Scheel, Martin Luther (Tübingen, 1916); Böhmer, Martin Luther; Meissinger, Der katholische Luther; Robert H. Fife, The Revolt of Martin Luther (New York, 1957), pp. 5, 9, 99, 117 ff.; Bainton, Here I Stand, pp. 23, 25, 28 and chap. xxi passim, who insists that Luther’s psychological troubles were of a strictly religious character, due to “tensions which medieval religion deliberately induced, playing alternately upon fear and hope.” []
  60. Meiss, Painting in Florence and Siena after the Black Death, while dealing with a restricted subject and a limited period, is in my opinion a masterpiece of synthesis and one of the very few books to recognize the full and varied impact of the Black Death. See also Hans Baron, The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance (Princeton, 1955), II, 479-80. []
  61. See, for example, Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, and Boyd C. Shafer, Nationalism: Myth and Reality (New York, 1955). []
  62. Huxley, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (New York, 1956), p. 221. []
  63. Fully a generation ago a Soviet scientist thought he could establish an eleven-year cycle of maximum sunspot activity and that these periods were also those of maximum mass excitability as revealed by revolutions and other social disturbances. Furthermore, his correlation of periods of maximum sunspot activity with cholera epidemics in the nineteenth century seemed to reveal a remarkable coincidence. See the summary translation of the book by A. L. Tchijevsky, “Physical Factors of the Historical Process,” as read before the American Meteorological Society, December 30, 1926, and now reprinted in Cycles (Feb., 1957). Of the many studies of climatic, nutritional, and similar influences on human affairs, see Ellsworth Huntington, Civilization and Climate (New Haven, 1915); The Character of Races (New York, 1924); Mainsprings of Civilization (New York, 1946); Willy Hellpach, Geopsyche (5th ed., Leipzig, 1939); Louis Berman, Food and Character (Boston, 1932); C. C. and S. M. Furnas, Man, Bread and Destiny (Baltimore, 1937); E. Parmalee Prentice, Hunger and History (New York, 1939); Josué de Castro, The Geography of Hunger (Boston, 1952). []