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Home | Blog | The New Moon: Reading and Writing as Therapeutic Agents at the Crichton Royal


The New Moon: Reading and Writing as Therapeutic Agents at the Crichton Royal

10 August 2023

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A year after the first theatrical was performed by patients in the hospital boardroom emerged another creative venture from within the walls of the Crichton Royal: The New Moon. The inaugural issue of Crichton’s very own in-house magazine The New Moon or Crichton Royal Literary Register was published in December 1844, being the ‘unaided work’, according to W.A.F. Browne, of five patients. Browne encouraged the production of the magazine as a form of treatment, one that occupied, distracted and amused patients through the therapeutic activities of writing, reading and printing. Poetry was viewed as an especially therapeutic form of writing, one that ‘instilled calmness into the fearful and agitated’ and had the ability to relieve ‘the overburdened mind’ by providing an outlet for expression.[1] While the literary arts of reading and writing were endorsed by other asylum medical superintendents across the nineteenth century, Scottish asylums, including the C.R.I, were the amongst the first in Britain to produce their own periodicals.

The New Moon is filled with an extraordinary array of literary compositions contributed from within and beyond the institution. In its pages can be found poetry, short stories and essays, humorous anecdotes, weather reports, records of donations to the asylum library and museum, letters to the editor, and even contributions from patients residing in other asylums. As the diversity of the magazine’s content highlights, The New Moon was not just a literary journal: it also chronicled day-to-day life at the Crichton Royal Institution. In addition to creative writing, short stories, poetry and other literary compositions, The New Moon is filled with reviews of theatricals and concerts, sheet music and songs (some composed by patients themselves), reports on weekly dancing parties and annual fancy dress balls, trips to art exhibitions, and even the introduction of the ‘magic lantern show’ (an early form of cinema), all of which  provide us with an amazing insight into the rich diet of artistic activities and cultural pursuits on offer at the C.R.I. across the century. Later issues of The New Moon combine words with images, the illustrated special issues produced to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the centenary of the death of renowned Scottish poet Robert Burns standing out in particular with their bright front covers and the incorporation of prints and photographs.

Although a collaborative effort, The New Moon was a largely patient-produced publication. Offering patients an outlet for creative expression, it is therefore incredibly valuable as a surviving trace of the patient’s experience and engagement with artistic activities from their point of view. In fact, some patients wrote specifically on the arts and, at times, offered their own views on their therapeutic benefits. Regular contributor ‘Poeticus’, a patient resident at the C.R.I. in the 1840s and 50s wrote extensively on fine art, the poetry of Burns, music and drama. While Poeticus’ love for the arts is most clearly expressed in his poem ‘A Hymn to the Arts’, his writings also provide us with an impression of how other patients responded to arts-based activities. His articles on ‘Crichton Theatricals’ and ‘The Drama’ for example describe the ‘generous cheer’ and ‘joyous hilarity’ experienced at the Crichton Theatre and are suggestive of the uplifting and pleasurable impact such performances had upon his fellow patients.[2] Another fascinating find within The New Moon that speaks to the ways in which the arts were important to patients include a poem by H.E.J. which records and describes the excitement of the C.R.I.’s fancy dress ball of 1874. The writer loved his costume so much he did not want to take it off!

Written by Jessica Campbell

[1] Anon. ‘Verses from Hanwell’, The New Moon. Vol. II, No. 22 (September, 1846).

[2] Poeticus penned over fifty compositions during his time at the CRI.

The exhibition is produced in collaboration with The Open University, and with the support of the National Centre for Academic and Cultural Exchange. Additional posts are contributed by members of the Psychiatry and the Arts in Nineteenth-Century Britain network, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

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