Faculty Research at Morehead State University


"To Drown the Ills that Discompose the Mind": Care, Leisure, and Identity Among Philadelphia Artisans and Workers, 1785-1840

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 1997


In December, 1788, Mathew Carey, a Philadelphia printer and publisher, wrote that he had been forced to bed by a pain in his "heart" so intense that his belief in his premature death "was as strong on my mind as my natural existence." However, by the time the pain stopped in 1791, Carey realized that his chest pain was psychosomatic and attributed his improved health to the psychological factor of his "greater content" after marriage. In fact, Carey suffered from hypochondria, an ailment in which "personal and social distress is expressed in an idiom of bodily complaints." Far from indicating heart dis ease, Careys chest pain was a representation of the distress connected with his pioneering magazine enterprise, The American Museum. When Carey launched the Museum as a national magazine in January, 1788, he sought a state of "ease, affluence, happiness . . . , respectability, and public usefulness." How ever, when limited capital and slow-paying subscribers forced Carey into a worsening state of poverty and indebtedness, his anxiety, frustration, and humiliation found expression in debilitating chest pain.