British Automata
or, Hopelessly Unconscious

Punch September 1874

[105[ Mr. PUNCH begs respectfully to submit the following "case"– for the authenticity of which he is, in every particular, prepared to vouch–to the consideration of PROFESSOR HUXLEY:

MR. JOHN SMITH ROBINSON (British paterfamilias) having some years ago met with some marked success in business, has ever since been, from time to time, subject to certain morbid hallucinations as to the obligations of his social position. In his normal life he is cheerful, sensible and in every respect a rationally conducted man. That normal life lasts about ten months of the year; but, for the remaining two, usually the months of August and September, he passes into a totally abnormal existence. In this last state he is still active, often painfully so; but though he eats, drinks, and goes about as usual, he enjoys nothing. His actions are purely mechanical. For instance, on a Bradshaw being put into his hand by his wife or daughters, he instantly conceives the idea of "travelling," and carries it out accordingly, thereby showing that in this condition the functions of the cerebra hemisphere are largely annihilated, and that left to himself, without knowing what he is about, he will illustrate the first law of locomotion. In this state he is capable of performing all sorts of extraordinary actions on mere suggestions. For example, on a hooked stick being thrust into his hand, he will toil up either Snowdon or the Right, at a cost of comfort and enjoyment to himself which is almost appalling.

Again, on being told emphatically that "the girls want sea-bathing," he will take expensive apartments at Eastbourne or Scarborough, allow himself to be dragged up and down the Parade, and generally hustled and stared at for six consecutive weeks. Sometimes, MRS. JOHN SMITH ROBINSON will insist that "he ought to hire a place on the Moors," and then the extraordinary phenomenon of a middle-aged and not over-active man wandering about with a gun, and taking very bad shots, may be seen any day in the neighbourhood of his "place" for two or more months.

In his normal life usually contented and agreeable he now becomes sulky, irritable, and morose. Naturally truthful and upright in his business transactions, he will now stoop to falsehood and deception, and talk of "urgent business necessitating his presence in Town." If driven on to a Channel boat, he will, for many weeks, allow himself to wander among people whose language he does not know, whose customs he loathes, whose comforts he seeks in vain and whose food refuses to agree with him.

Finally, at the expiration of his "fit," he is restored to his old quarters and former routine, when he seems totally to forget the irritations, disappointments, and fatigues of his two months' "abnormal existence." To such a marvellous extent are the impressions he has received effaced, that at precisely the same time in the ensuing year he repeats the folly.

The case is an interesting one, but is regarded as incurable.


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University