In 1796 James Tilley Matthews was committed to the infamous Bedlam madhouse after shouting out 'treason' at the Home Secretary, Lord Liverpool, during a debate in the House of Commons. Matthews would talk wildly of his involvement in secret negotiations with Republican France - but also of a fantastic device, the Air Loom Machine, that was able to control minds. He clearly suffered from a paranoid delusion, yet Matthews' claim to be involved in international diplomacy was genuine enough for Lord Liverpool to ensure that Matthews would be incarcerated in Bedlam until 1813, when he was allowed to live out his last 16 months in a private institution. Jay writes knowledgeably about how insanity was treated at the time and about how Matthews' battles with the surgeon Dr John Haslam led to new ideas and understanding.
From the Publisher
'I have never seen the logic of madness, of a particular delusion, presented so clearly and convincingly. The Air Loom Gang is a wonderful book to read, combining exceptional scholarship and psychological insight with deep empathy for the tormented but always gentle and dignified Matthews. And it is beautifully written, with all the drama, the rich characterization, the subtlety, of a fine novel.' Oliver Sacks