The following appears in The Haunted House by Charles Dickens. What is the meaning of the bolded phrase?

This very concise summary of the facts was all I could learn, except that a young man, as hearty and likely a young man as ever I see, had been took with fits and held down in ’em, after seeing the hooded woman.


From etymonline:

fit — "paroxysm, sudden attack" (as of anger), 1540s, probably via Middle English sense of "painful, exciting experience" (early 14c.), from Old English fitt "conflict, struggle," of uncertain origin, with no clear cognates outside English. Perhaps ultimately cognate with fit (n.1) on notion of "to meet." Phrase by fits and starts first attested 1610s.

To be taken by fits would be taken with anger. In the context of your example, it would mean that the young man became exceedingly angry after seeing the hooded woman.

Nowadays, a "fit" is typically seen as:

fit — a sudden, acute attack or manifestation of a disease, especially one marked by convulsions or unconsciousness: a fit of epilepsy.

But the idiom "throw a fit" remains:

throw a fit, to become extremely excited or angry: Your father will throw a fit when he hears what you have done.


Taking a guess here. I'd say he was down with fits (epileptic?) and passed away due to it.


Though epilepsy is the commonest cause of fits brought on by an unusual experience, a sufficiently horrifying or terrifying spectacle may bring them on in any individual - or so it was believed among the uneducated, before scientific medicine. (Note that the narrator, by slipping into dialect, indicates that he was informed of this, not that he believes it). A fit violent enough to require the sufferer to be restrained physically must have been caused by a truly frightening experience, and so the ghost must be real -mustn't she?

  • I'd say Tim Lymington is right. The fit was caused by shock, not anger and the victim had to be restrained. – Kate Bunting Mar 29 '16 at 16:26

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