A treatise of Anger
John Downame (?-1652)
1609 AD

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  1. In 1609 AD, John Downame describes how anger, being a "disease of the mind", has both a physiological effect on the body (red face, high blood pressure, hair standing on end) but a spiritual effect on the mind (loss of reason, wits). There are many case stories of people driven to raving madness because of unchecked anger. Ephesians 4:26 says, "Be angry, but to not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger." He states that the behaviour and effects of shorts bursts of anger are identical to madness, except for the length of time. His solution to anger to be silent or speak softly, is taken straight from the Bible: "A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger." Proverbs 15:1 "Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife." Proverbs 26:21. The final solution is to gently warn and rebuke the person about the dangers anger will bring on his soul. Downame clearly understood that anger had its origin in the mind, but that it affected both mind and body. This was true. The Bible says that sin will make you sick. (A treatise of Anger, John Downame, 1609 AD)
  2. In Downame's time medical practice was almost confined to physical disease or to physical treatment of mental disease, while 'spiritual physicke' or psychotherapy was the province of the clergy. Taking as his example anger, 'a short madnesse', Downame described how he dealt with patients. 'The first means... is to use silence' has a very modern — Freudian— ring; and not to meet anger with anger because `crosse speeches and perverse replies, make the chollericke man proceede from anger to rage . . . and madnesse' became the essence and guiding principle of the new enlightened policy towards the insane in asylums when at the end of the eighteenth century the Quakers founded the York Retreat. That Downame had much experience of mental patients is shown by his observation on 'unjust anger' which `hath not alwayes a true cause, but sometime fained & imaginary' — a fair description of what is called today a paranoid reaction. His medical friends apparently recognised the value of his work since they urged him to publish : 'my prescript I thought at the first should have beene communicated to no more then mine own patients, till I was perswaded by more skilfull Physitions then my selfe, that the publishing thereof might redound to others profit'. (300 years of Psychiatry, Richard Hunter, 1963, p55)

A treatise of Anger, John Downame, 1609 AD

John Downame (?-1652)

B D Cantab., puritan divine of London

Spiritual physicke to cure the diseases of the soule, arising from superfluitie of choller, prescribed out of Gods word, 16o0 London, Jones pp. 3, 51-3, 59-6o, 77-81

A second edition published as "A treatise of anger", 1609


Our English word anger is derived from the latin word Angor, which either signisieth throtling & choking, or vexation & griefe, because anger worketh both these effects if it be immoderat : for it stops the throate leaving no passage for words, and it vexeth and tormenteth both the body and the minde.

And so much for the name: now we wil speake of the definition. First I say it is an affection: for the whole essence of a man consisteth of these 3. things, body, soule, and affections, which doe participate of both the other : now anger cannot be said to be a qualitie or propertie of the soule alone, for the materiall cause thereof is the boyling of the blood about the heart, nor of the body alone, for the formall cause, namely the appetite and desire of revenge stirred up by the apprehension of the injurie offered, doth more properly belong to the soule, and therefore I call it a mixt affection proceeding from them both ...

And so much for the evils which anger bringeth to the whole man : now wee are to speake of the evils which it bringeth to his severall parts, and first of his body . . . it maketh the haire to stand on end, shewing the obdurate inflexiblenesse of the minde. The eyes to stare and candle, as though with the Cockatrice they would kill with their lookes. The teeth to gnash like a furious Bore. The face now red, and soone after pale, as if either it blushed for shame of the mindes follie, or envyed others good. The tongue to stammer, as being not able to expresse the rage of the heart. The blood ready to burst out of the vaines, as though it were affraide to stay in so furious a body. The brest to swell, as being not large enough to containe their anger, and therefore seeketh to ease it selfe, by sending out hot-breathing sighes. The hands to beate the tables and wanes, which never offended them. The joyntes to tremble and shake, as if they were afraide of the mindes furie. The feete to stampe the guiltlesse earth, as though there were not room enough for it in the whole element of the aire, and therefore sought entrance into the earth also. So that anger deformeth the body from the hayre of the head to the soale of the foote .. .

But anger bringeth no lesse evils to the soule. First like a darke cloude it overshadoweth and blindeth the light of reason, and for the time maketh men as though they were distraught of their wits. Whereof it is that anger is called Brevis furor, a short madnesse, because it differs not from madnesse but in time. Saving that herein it is farre worse, in that hee who is possessed with madnesse, is necessarilie, will he, nill he, subject to that furie: but this passion is entered into wittinglie and willinglye. Madnesse is the evill of punishment, but anger the evill of sinne also; madnes as it were thrusts reason from its imperiall throne, but anger abuseth reason by forcing it with all violence to bee a slave to passion.

The remedies of unjust anger

The remedies against Anger are of two sorts : first those which cure anger in our selves, secondly those which cure it in others; and they both are of two kindes : first such as prevent anger and preserve us from falling into it, secondly such as free us from it after it hath taken place. For anger is a disease of the minde.

The remedies to cure anger in others

The first meanes to mitigate anger in another, is to use silence: for as the fire cannot long continue if the wood be taken from it, so anger cannot long indure, if words and crosse answeres be not multiplyed : wheras on the other side, crosse speeches and perverse replies, make the chollericke man proceed from anger to rage, from folly, to fury and madnesse . . . By silent yeelding therfore thou mayest easely abate anothers anger, wheras crosse answeres make it ragingly violent. For as the Cannon shot looseth his force if it light in soft earth or Wool, but dasheth the stony wal in peeces: so the violence of the most furious anger is abated, when it is not resisted, but furiously rageth, where it sindeth any opposition. And hence it is that Plato calleth anger Nervos animi, qui & intenderentur acerbitate, & laxarentur mansuetudine: The nerves or sinewes of the minde, which are intended and made stiffe, with sharpnesse & bitternesse, but slacke and easie, with curtesie and gentlenesse .. .

But silence is not alwayes expedient, especially when men have a just cause, and an honest excuse : for oftentimes the angry man will imagine, that silence argueth contempt; as though they were silent because they scorned to returne an answer. And therefore the second remedy, namely a soft and milde answere, eyther excusing their faulte by shewing their innocencie, or in all humblenesse, confessing it, and craving pardon, is more fit physick to cure anger in some natures and dispositions . . .

The last meanes is after his anger is overpast to give him wholesome counsel and good admonitions, wherby he may be taught the great evils which follow anger. For as it is not fit to minister Physicke to a sicke patient while he is in a sit of ague, and therefore discreete Physitions rather make choise of their patients good day: so it is in vayne for a man to seeke the curing of anger by good counsaile, unlesse he stay till the sit be passed over, and the heate of anger somewhat asswaged. For a man cannot, nor will not hearken to another mans reasons, while he is subject to his owne passions. And as a man heareth nothing almost which is sayd when his house is on sire, for the noyse of the multitude, the crackling of the flame, and the perturbation of his owne minde so the violence of this affection, and fury of this passion, doth make a man while he is in a fit of rage, deafe to all reason . . .

But they who admonish are to remember, that they use al mildenesse and discretion in their admonition, least while they go about to prevent anger for the time to come, they presently provoke it. For if they bee too austere and rough in using too insolent invectives and bitter reprehensions, they do not onely commit them selves a great absurdity, while in reproving anger they shew their owne spleene; but also make their admonition altogeather unprositable . . . For as no man will suffer his wound to be searched by such a surgeon, as hath a rough hand, & a hard heart, neyther will any patient commit himselfe to the cure of a froward and mercilesse Physition : so no man can abide (and therefore much lesse an angry man) to have his gauled faults, too much rubbed, or the woundes and diseases of his minde, healed and cured, with too sharpe a corrasive and lothsome potion of insolent and bitter wordes. They therefore who will angerly reprove anger, are no fit Physitions for them who are subject to this passion. For to such they will eyther hide and dissemble their imperfections, rather fayning themselves well, then they will discover their disease to such a crabbed Physition; or els they will justisie, and defend them as lawfull and necessarie . . . In a word the angry man wil never cry peccavi, unlesse afterwardes with some considence he may adde miserere neyther will he suffer his wounds to be cured by such an one, who by his rough handling will more vex him, then pleasure him by the cure.


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