[…]To those who are beginning the study of this interesting theme the following epitome of the philosophy of this work may be of assistance, as a preliminary to a detailed examination.

First. Nervousness is strictly deficiency or lack of nerve-force. This condition, together with all the symptoms of diseases that are evolved from it, has developed mainly within the nineteenth century, and is especially frequent and severe in the Northern and Eastern portions of the United States. Nervousness, in the sense here used, is to be distinguished rigidly and systematically from simple excess of emotion and from organic disease.

Secondly. The chief and primary cause of this development and very rapid increase of nervousness is modern civilization, which is distinguished from the ancient by these five characteristics: steam-power, the periodical press, the telegraph, the sciences, and the mental activity of women.

Civilization is the one constant factor without which there can be little or no nervousness, and under which in its modern form nervousness in its many varieties must arise inevitably. Among the secondary and tertiary causes of nervousness are, climate, institutions—civil, political, and religious, social and business—personal habits, indulgence of appetites and passions.

Third. These secondary and tertiary causes are of themselves without power to induce nervousness, save when they supplement and are interwoven with the modern forms of civilization.

Fourth. The sign and type of functional nervous diseases that are evolved out of this general nerve sensitiveness is, neurasthenia (nervous exhaustion), which is in close and constant relation with such functional nerve maladies as certain physical forms of hysteria, hay-fever, sick-headache, inebriety, an some phases of insanity; is, indeed, a branch whence at early or later stages of growth these diseases may take their origin.

Fifth. The greater prevalence of nervousness in America is a complex resultant of a number of instances, the chief of which are dryness of the air, extremes of heat and cold, civil and religious liberty, and the great mental activity made necessary and possible in a new and productive country under such climatic conditions.

Source: George M. Beard, American Nervousness: It’s Causes and Consequences; A Supplement to Nervous Exhaustion (Neurasthenia) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1881), vi

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