Conspiracy Theories

Steampunk X-Files


This week's dose of conspiracy fun comes from Mike Jay of nthposition, describing the delusions of the late James Tilly Matthews, a man confined to Bedlam in the early nineteenth century:

For everyone who has since had messages beamed at them through fillings, mysterious implants or TV sets, or via hi-tech surveillance, MI5, Masonic lodges or UFOs, James Tilly Matthews is Patient Zero.

Matthews was convinced that outside the grounds of Bedlam, in a basement cellar by London Wall, a gang of villains were controlling and tormenting his mind with diabolical rays. They were using a machine called an 'Air Loom', of which Matthews was able to draw immaculate technical diagrams, and which combined recent developments in gas chemistry with the strange force of animal magnetism, or mesmerism….

The Air Loom was being run by a gang of undercover Jacobin revolutionaries, bent on forcing Britain into a disastrous war with Revolutionary France. These characters, too, Matthews could describe with haunting precision. They were led by a puppet-master named 'Bill the King'; all details were recorded by his second-in-command, 'Jack the Schoolmaster'. The French liaison was accomplished by a woman called Charlotte, who seemed to Matthews to be as much a prisoner as himself, and was often chained up near-naked. 'Sir Archy' was a woman who dressed as a man and spoke in obscenities; the machine itself was operated by the sinister, pockmarked and nameless 'Glove Woman'. If Matthews were to see any of these characters in the street, they would grasp batons of magnetic metal which would cause them to disappear.

Matthews had some genuine political intrigue in his background, and mixed in with the bizarre talk of Jacobin magicians were some apparently honest accounts of his nearly-as-strange personal history. "Certainly his family didn't believe that he was mad," notes Jay; "their view was that he was a good-natured man, a peacemaker, who had become eccentric as a result of his misfortunes and had developed cranky views on politics."

The psychiatrist who wrote the classic account of Matthews' worldview grew cranky with the years as well. Late in life, testifying in court, he was asked if a defendant was sane. "I never saw any human being who was of sound mind," he replied.

[Via Bryan Alexander.]