Sunday, June 02, 2013

The Illness of King James.

It states in one of the history books I'm reading (from 1973) that King James I /VI suffered from porphyria. But under further investigation, I found that the current theory was that he suffered from mild Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome.  This is a genetic disease, carried along the maternal line, which causes the build up of uric acid - and hence the withered kidney replete with kidney stones revealed at the king's autopsy.  LNS also is an explanation for the king's clumsiness and why he only learnt to walk when past infancy.  Although he did not seem to suffer any intellectual impairment until the final stages of his life, he was in constant abdominal pain and suffered from gout - again symptoms of mild LNS.

But King James I/VI did not suffer from porphyria, and neither, apparently, did George III.  This latter theory was postulated by a mother and son team of psychiatrists in 1968, and has subsequently been assumed to be true ever since: including the author of the book I am reading at the moment.

I have often thought that in some ways a historian who purports to write 'the truth' can, in some ways, be more deceptive than the novelist who only admits to writing fiction.  Sometimes facts can be wrong in ways that fiction never can be.


Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I think the Internet is the worst place for the dissemination of inaccurate data. The amount of times I look up something and find everybody quoting everyone else without ever checking the source material. I noticed this especially when I was reworking the Wikipedia articles on Beckett’s plays. It took me six weeks to research Waiting for Godot, six weeks, full time. God alone knows what state the article’s in now but when I left it it was as perfect as I could get it. Beckett’s a good example in general because even when you look up the textbooks—of which there are a great many—they all reference each other as fact. Beckett’s a bugger too because frequently he’s let people proceed when he knew full well they were wrong. The best example of this is the pier scene in Krapp’s Last Tape which so many people believe to be biographical. When Eoin O'Brien completed his labour of love The Beckett Country he showed the finished manuscript to Beckett who never let on until after the book was printed that his assumption about the pier was wrong, that it was all fiction.

Mon Jun 03, 02:27:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

What a mean thing to do! I can imagine him quietly sniggering to himself.

Yes, there's a lot of 'facts' around that turn out not to be, it seems. I suppose we could get quite philosophical about all this...what is 'truth' anyway? Is one person's truth as good another's - or is truth, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder?

Mon Jun 03, 09:44:00 pm  
Blogger Marly Youmans said...

I ran into fictionalizing when writing a piece about an elderly person and relying too much on her apparently sound memory. But whose memory is sound, even when we seem to remember with exactness?

If you are knowledgeable about a specific subject and listen to some news outlet, you realize that even well-regarded journalists are often wrong or just don't understand a thing with clarity.. And then all that material is recorded and seen as fact. Since I live with somebody in medical field, where getting things wrong can be quite problematic, I notice this a lot in that area--Mike's always commenting on facts NPR manages to misunderstand about disease or treatment or the implications of the new health plan.

Tue Jun 04, 08:35:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Very true, Marly. I read a couple of excellent books on this topic, 'Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older' by Douwe Draaima, and aslo 'Pieces of Light' by Charles Fernyhough. It makes you question everything you think you know - or remember.

I bet you see things from a very different point of view married to a medic. I expect the degree of misunderstanding sometimes must be hugely frustrating.

Tue Jun 04, 11:27:00 pm  

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