Origin Of The Potato Disorder

Here is another newspaper cutting quoted in Deadly Encounters : Two Victorian Sensations by Richard D Altick, this one from the Illustrated Times, 10 August 1861:

That some unusual endemic excitement has been at work, directing weak, debauched, and diseased minds into a homicidal course, must be apparent to every newspaper-reader. May not the electrical condition of the atmosphere exercise some hidden power in this way over the human brain? A correspondent of the Standard, Dr. J. Q. Rumball, a well-known lecturer on science, points out electrical causes as the origin of the potato disorder. It is a fact that lately the finest mechanisms of clockwork, notably those at the Observatory at Greenwich, have been going wrong, without visible derangement or imperfection, and this has been attributed to an abnormal condition of atmospheric electricity. It is surely not a wildly-hazardous theory to suppose that a similar agency acting upon that most susceptible and complex of galvanic machines, the human brain, may have some tendency, if not to the actual increase of crime, of lessening the healthy power which restrains its committal or of aggravating the phrenal disease which but for such influence might have been subdued, or at least retarded.

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