Category Archives: insomnia

From Germany, hope for insomniacs

The federal foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Zzz zzz zzz… Verbal anæsthesia: the federal foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, delivers an address that is well-timed (coming shortly after the British voted to leave the European Union), and in duration no longer than about an hour-and-a-half, concerning the glories of the European Union. Zzz zzz zzz…

Zzz zzz zzz zzz…

Picking up a copy of the Paris daily the Monde, which he describes as the French equivalent of the Times of New York, though

still rather more interesting,

Dalrymple comes across an article by the Bundesminister des Auswärtigen, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. To read it, Dalrymple says,

is to enter a world of grey thought, evasive cliché, Soviet-style slogans, verbal anæsthesia. I think you could put almost anyone to sleep by reading it aloud to him.

Steinmeier’s remarks are intended to be

a stirring call to readers, like de Gaulle’s radio broadcast from London.

There are passages such as this:

We are committed to making Europe better. This is the direction taken by the proposals put forward by Jean-Marc Ayrault [the Ministre des Affaires étrangères et du Développement international] and myself. We have ideas on improved internal and external security, an active migration policy and a policy for growth and employment. We look forward to receiving lots of constructive ideas. A better, more flexible EU will respect differing views on the further progress of Europe and will allow for different speeds, without excluding anyone or leaving anyone behind. Instead of arguing about what the ultimate goal of European integration should be, we should work towards tangible results. It is only by working together that we will make progress. That is why it is so important for us to consult each other in the group of 27, to listen carefully to each other, and then take joint action.

Hergestellt in Detmold, Deutschland

Hergestellt in Detmold, Deutschland

Zzzz zzz zzz zzz… Dalrymple comments:

I do not know Mr Steinmeier and have no animus against him. He is probably a perfectly decent man, as politicians go. What intrigues me is whether his article corresponds to any thoughts that actually ran through his head. If they did, one can only pity him: how boring it must be to be Mr Steinmeier.

But Dalrymple does not want to be accused of selective quotation, so he closes his eyes and lets his finger alight at random on part of the article. Here is the passage:

We are looking back on an unprecedented 70 years of peace and stability. More than 25 years have passed since we brought an end to the division of our continent. The process of European unification is an unparalleled success story. At its core is an agreed political framework under which the member states come to Brussels to manage their relations and settle their conflicts — and do not head off to the battlefield. This agreement has lost none of its utility or significance. The European peace project must be passed on intact to the generations who will follow us.

Zzz zzz zzz zzz… Dalrymple says that to combine, in such a way,

soporific banality with cunning evasiveness takes, I suppose, talent of a kind, the kind of talent required to rule without appearing to want to do so. It is a dull talent, and one that I cannot much admire.

Sinister side of Harley Street

Waste of everyone's time

Waste of everyone’s time

In 1960, the doctor-barrister John Havard’s The Detection of Secret Homicide came out, while in 1962 the schoolteacher-novelist Anthony Burgess published A Clockwork Orange, about adolescent violence.

The two themes are combined, Dalrymple writes, in Pamela Hansford Johnson’s An Error of Judgement (1962), in which the patient-narrator consults William Setter, a Harley Street specialist, about

simultaneous pain in his right shoulder and the back of his left knee. Setter tells him he could have a cardiograph if he wanted but this would be a waste of everybody’s time. Having paid his four guineas, the patient-narrator is reassured and feels better. Payment is a wonderful placebo.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 08.02.20

Get over it


starts a club in Soho where he acts in a Mephistophelean manner to bring strangely assorted people together in a discussion group. He decides to give up medicine in the middle of his career, which was certain to have ended in a knighthood.

Johnson’s novel

casts light on the prescribing habits of the time. When the narrator’s mother-in-law dies, Setter prescribes Dexedrine for the narrator’s wife to help her get over her grief quicker than the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association can say depression.

Setter prescribes phenobarbitone three times a day for a young man called Sammy Underwood,

That'll quieten him down

That’ll quieten him down

presumably to quieten him down, for Sammy is not epileptic.


suspects Sammy of being responsible for the kicking to death of an old inebriate woman.

Sammy is guilty and confesses to Setter,

who comes to the conclusion that Sammy is so lacking in remorse, contrition and conscience that he is likely to do it again. So for the public good and because he has always enjoyed inflicting harm (it is one of his reasons for having gone into medicine in the first place), Setter decides to kill him.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 08.51.06

Just what the doctor ordered

Sammy complains of insomnia

and Setter suggests that he ask his own doctor for some sodium amytal to help. He then suggests a small bottle of brandy to be taken with the pills just to make sure he gets a good night’s sleep, though with the stern warning that Sammy should take no more, absolutely no more, than four-fifths of the bottle.


secret homicide goes undetected.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 07.23.30Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 07.26.22Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 07.33.29Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 09.03.47

Newspaper-commentary addiction

Dalrymple writes:

It’s an addiction, reading newspaper commentary, and I don’t really know why I do it except that I’ve always done it and probably always will—if, that is, newspapers outlive me.

For example, he read

a lot of articles about the bombings in Brussels, even though I knew they would be about as illuminating as the economic commentary of the Financial Times, and only slightly more interesting.

One non-pharmacological strategy, of proved effectiveness, for those with sleep disorders is to attempt to read this journal's commentary either on the economy or on world affairs

One non-pharmacological strategy, of proved effectiveness, for those with ordinary insomnia or more intractable sleep disorders is to attempt to read this journal’s commentary, either on the economy or on world affairs. Doing so is powerfully sedative, though side-effects include depression and, in some cases, such symptoms of psychosis as hallucinations (almost always unpleasant), melancholic loss of concentration, drastically reduced sex drive, the wish to commit suicide, thoughts of murder, or the belief that one is being buried alive

Books the doctor ordered

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 08.52.33Dalrymple cites Montesquieu’s description, in the Persian Letters (CXXXV), of textbooks of medicine:

Ces monuments de la fragilité de la nature et de la puissance de l’art; qui font trembler quand ils traitent des maladies même les plus légères, tant ils nous rendent la mort présente; mais qui nous mettent dans une sécurité entière quand ils parlent de la vertu des remèdes, comme si nous étions devenus immortels.

Dalrymple also draws attention to letter CXLIII, which deals with the treatment of insomnia:

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 07.36.27Il y avoit dans notre ville un malade qui ne dormoit point depuis trente-cinq jours: son médecin lui ordonna l’opium; mais il ne pouvoit se résoudre à le prendre; et il avoit la coupe à la main; qu’il étoit plus indéterminé que jamais. Enfin il dit à son médecin: Monsieur, je vous demande quartier seulement jusqu’à demain: je connois un homme qui n’exerce pas la médecine, mais qui a chez lui un nombre innombrable de remèdes contre l’insomnie; souffrez que je l’envoie quérir: et, si je ne dors pas cette nuit, je vous promets que je reviendrai à vous.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 07.42.47Le médecin congédié, le malade fit fermer les rideaux, et dit à un petit laquais: Tiens, va-t’en chez M. Anis, et dis-lui qu’il vienne me parler. M. Anis arrive. Mon cher monsieur Anis, je me meurs, je ne puis dormir: n’auriez-vous point, dans votre boutique, la C. du G., ou bien quelque livre de dévotion composé par un révérend père jésuite, que vous n’ayez pas pu vendre? car souvent les remèdes les plus gardés sont les meilleurs. Monsieur, dit le libraire, j’ai chez moi la Cour sainte du P. Caussin, en six volumes, à votre service: je vais vous l’envoyer; je souhaite que vous vous en trouviez bien. Si vous voulez les oeuvres du révérend père Rodriguez, jésuite espagnol, ne vous en faites faute.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 07.43.20Mais, croyez-moi, tenons-nous-en au père Caussin; j’espère, avec l’aide de Dieu, qu’une période du père Caussin vous fera autant d’effet qu’un feuillet tout entier de la C. du G. Là-dessus M. Anis sortit, et courut chercher le remède à sa boutique. La Cour sainte arrive: on en secoue la poudre; le fils du malade, jeune écolier, commence à la lire: il en sentit le premier l’effet, à la seconde page il ne prononçoit plus que d’une voix mal articulée, et déjà toute la compagnie se sentoit affoiblie: un instant après tout ronfla, excepté le malade, qui après avoir été longtemps éprouvé, s’assoupit à la fin.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 07.38.02Le médecin arrive de grand matin. Hé bien! a-t-on pris mon opium? On ne lui répond rien: la femme, la fille, le petit garçon, tous transportés de joie, lui montrent le père Caussin. Il demande ce que c’est; on lui dit: Vive le père Caussin! il faut l’envoyer relier. Qui l’eût dit? qui l’eût cru? c’est un miracle! Tenez, monsieur, voyez donc le père Caussin: c’est ce volume-là qui a fait dormir mon père. Et là-dessus on lui expliqua la chose, comme elle s’étoit

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 08.59.30Le médecin étoit un homme subtil, rempli des mystères de la cabale, et de la puissance des paroles et des esprits: cela le frappa; et, après plusieurs réflexions, il résolut de changer absolument sa pratique. Voilà un fait bien singulier, disoit-il. Je tiens une expérience; il faut la pousser plus loin. Hé pourquoi un esprit ne pourroit-il pas transmettre à son ouvrage les mêmes qualités qu’il a lui-même? ne le voyons-nous pas tous les jours? Au moins cela vaut-il bien la peine de l’essayer. Je suis las des apothicaires; leurs sirops, leurs juleps, et toutes les drogues galéniques ruinent les malades et leur santé: changeons de méthode; éprouvons la vertu des esprits. Sur cette idée il dressa une nouvelle pharmacie, comme vous allez voir par la description que je vous vais faire des principaux remèdes qu’il mit en pratique.

Tisane purgative

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 09.03.11Prenez trois feuilles de la logique d’Aristote en grec; deux feuilles d’un traité de théologie scholastique le plus aigu, comme, par exemple, du subtil Scot; quatre de Paracelse; une d’Avicenne; six d’Averroès; trois de Porphyre; autant de Plotin; autant de Jamblique: faites infuser le tout pendant vingt-quatre heures, et
prenez-en quatre prises par jour.

Purgatif plus violent

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 09.07.47Prenez dix A*** du C*** concernant la B*** et la C*** des I***; faites-les distiller au bain-marie; mortifiez une goutte de l’humeur âcre et piquante qui en viendra, dans un verre d’eau commune: avalez le tout avec confiance.


Prenez six harangues; une douzaine d’oraisons funèbres indifféremment, prenant garde pourtant de ne point se servir de celles de M. de N.; un recueil de nouveaux opéras; cinquante romans; trente mémoires nouveaux: mettez le tout dans un matras; laissez-le en digestion pendant deux jours; puis faites-le distiller au feu de sable. Et si tout cela ne suffit pas,

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 09.09.10Autre plus puissant

Prenez une feuille de papier marbré, qui ait servi à couvrir un recueil des pièces des J. F.; faites-la infuser l’espace de trois minutes; faites chauffer une cuillerée de cette infusion; et avalez.

Remède très-simple pour guérir de l’asthme

Lisez tous les ouvrages du révérend père Maimbourg, ci-devant jésuite, prenant garde de ne vous arrêter qu’à la fin de chaque période: et vous sentirez la faculté de respirer vous revenir peu à peu, sans qu’il soit besoin de réitérer le remède.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 09.46.27Pour préserver de la gale, gratelle, teigne, farcin des chevaux

Prenez trois catégories d’Aristote, deux degrés métaphysiques, une distinction, six vers de Chapelain, une phrase tirée des lettres de M. l’abbé de Saint-Cyran: écrivez le tout sur un morceau de papier, que vous plierez, attacherez à un ruban, et porterez au col.

How to beat insomnia on those long flights



In the pages of the Financial Times, writes Dalrymple,

one seeks in vain an item of interest, let alone of illumination.

Dalrymple sometimes attempts to read the FT

to help me get to sleep when it is handed out free on planes.

He very occasionally buys it and walks through

Outstanding vulgarity

Outstanding vulgarity

my small town in England with it under my arm in order to give the appearance to my fellow townsmen of material substance.

The FT

is earnest rather than serious. The only frivolity it permits itself is its glossy supplement, How to Spend It (a title of outstanding vulgarity), which consists mainly of advising financiers on how to dispose of their surplus millions—that is to say their misappropriations of shareholders’ funds—on expensive trifles.