Page images
PDF
EPUB

66

.

66

6 Your

[ocr errors]

66

ground, where he fainted with alarm. The sol- | more right to her than the claimant who interred dier must have been a disciple of the laughter- her alive ; but the doctrine being new to a court loving Roderick Random, who counterfeited death of law, the prudent pair anticipated the decision on his recovery from a fever, and snapped at the by returning to England, where they finally terfingers of the surgeon as he was closing his eyes. minated their adventures. The plot and morality But the more valorous son of Mars had nearly of the story are thoronghly characteristic of M. carried the jest too far, when he suffered his jugu- Fontenelle's nation, and the simplicity which belar vein to be opened before ' he played out the lieves it is not less so of himself.

The countryplay." Zadig, in Voltaire's story, pretends to be men of Shakspeare will recognize a French verdead, to test the affection of his wife; and his sion of Romeo and Juliet. All ladies are not friend, who is in the plot, applies immediately for blessed with resurrectionist lovers, but covetousthe vacant post, and feigns a pain in his side, ness will sometimes do the work of chivalry. A which nothing can cure except the application of domestic visited his mistress in her tomb, enticed a dead man's nose. But when the widow, deem- by a diamond ring, which resisting his efforts to ing that a living lover is worth more than a de- draw it off, he proceeded to amputate the finger. parted husband, advances to the coffin with an Thereupon the mistress revives, and the domestic open razor to take possession of the specific, Zadig drops down dead with alarm : Thus," says M. is wise enough to cover his nose with one hand, Fontenelle, “ death had his prey ; it was only the while he thrusts the instrument aside with the victim which was changed." He gives further on other. A man of war, who had the good fortune a simple story, in which the lady with the ring to recover in a dissecting-room without the aid of was supposed to have died in childbirth, and some the knife, seeing himself surrounded, on opening grave-diggers were the thieves. In the hurry of his eyes, by mutilated bodies, exclaimed, “I per- their flight they left a lantern which served to ceive that the action has been hot." And if M. light the lady to her door. " Who's there?" inFontenelle had opened his eyes, he might easily quired the girl who answered her knock. have perceived that the anecdote was a jest. In- mistress," was the reply. The servant needed to deed, such is his credulity, that the story of a hear no more ; she rushed into the room where surgeon addicted to cards, whose death had been her master was sitting, and informed him that the tested by bawling in his ears, rising up when a spirit of his wife was at the door. He rebuked friend whispered in the language of piquet, a the girl for her folly, and assured her that her misquint, fourteen and the point,” has been mistaken tress was in Abraham's bosom; but on looking by him for an extraordinary case of resuscitation, out of the window, the well-known voice exinstead of a common-place joke on the passion for claimed, “ For pity's sake, open the door. Do play. The jest-book has always contributed abun- you forget that I have just been confined, and that dant materials to the compilers of horrors. Sev- cold in my condition would be fatal?” This was eral anecdotes turn on that inexhaustible theme not the doubt which troubled his mind, nor was it for merriment—the sorrows of matrimony. In the first observation we should have expected a passing through the street a bier was struck wife to address to her husband, when, newly reagainst the corner of a house, and the corpse re- leased from her grave by an almost miraculous animated by the shock. Some years afterwards, deliverance, she suddenly appeared before him in when the woman died in good earnest, her hus- the dead of night wearing the habiliments of the band called to the bearers, “ Pray, gentlemen, be tomb. But as the husband was satisfied, it is not careful in turning the corners. Thus there is for us to be critical. Numerous places are denot even a step from the mirthful to the terrible. clared to have been the scene of the incident of The stories, unaltered, do double duty.

the ring, which M. Fontenelle considers to be Two Parisian merchants, bound together in cumulative testimony to its truth. We should close friendship, had one a son and the other a have thought, on the contrary, that his faith would daughter, who were friends and something more. have been diminished as the stories increased. The daughter, compelled by her parents to sacri- Marvels rarely go in flocks. In the present infice her lover for a wealthy suitor, fell into what stance, few need to be told that M. Fontenelle has M. Fontenelle calls an “hysterical syncope,” and been drawing upon the standard literature of the was buried. Fortune frowns upon lovers that she nursery—that the ring-story is one of those with may enhance the value of her smiles. A strange which children, from time immemorial, have been instinct induced her idorer to disinter the body, terrified and amused. ". The nurse's legends are and he had the doub e pleasure of delivering the for truth received," and to the inventions whieh fair one from a horrible death and a hateful hus- entertained their infancy, many are indebted for band. Holding that the interment had broken the their after apprehensions lest the fate at which marriage-tie, they fled to England, but at the end they shuddered in another should prove prophetic of ten years ventured back to Paris, where the of their own. M. Fontenelle has himself thought lady was met by the original husband, who, noways that it would help out his subject to insert the surprised that she should have revisited the earth, poem of a M. Lesguillon, in which he relates from nor staggered by her denials, laid a formal claim imagination the burial and resurrection of a lady to her in a court of justice. The lover boldly who was set free, at the crisis of her despair, hy sustained that he who rescued her from death, had the accident of a sexton cleaving her coffin with

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

a

[ocr errors]

his spade. What calls forth M. Fontenelle's posing addition of being sanctioned by a philosospecial admiration is, that the author has “ wed- pher and printed in a book. There was a French ded reason to rhyme,” and it is impossible to deny captain in the reign of Charles IX. who used to that there is as much reason in M. Lesguillon's sign himself “François de Civile-thrice dead, verse as in M. Fontenelle's prose.

thrice buried, and by the grace of God thrice reAs a set-off to the miserable mortals who lost stored.” The testimony seems striking; as he their lives through a seeming death, this very ap- himself related his history to Misson the traveller, pearance is affirmed to have been the means of either Civile was a liar, say our authors, or the averting the reality. Tallemant has a story of a story is true. But without taking much from the Baroness de Panat, who was choked by a fish- romance of his adventures, the details are fatal to bone, and duly buried for dead. Her servants, to the value of the precedent. His first burial, to get her jewels, disinterred her by night; and the begin with, occurred before he was born. His lady's maid, who bore her a grudge, struck her mother died when she was advanced in pregnancy in revenge several blows upon her neck. The during her husband's absence, and nobody, before malignity of the maid was the preservation of committing her body to the ground, thought of the mistress. Out flew the bone set free by the saving the child. His father's return prevented blows, and up rose the baroness to the discom- his going altogether out of the world before he fiture of her domestics. The retributive justice had come into it and here was concluded the first was complete, and the only objection to the nar- act of the death, burial, and restoration of Franrative is that, like the fish-bone, it sticks in the çois de Civile. His next death was at the siege throat. In this particular the stories mostly of Rouen, in 1562, where he fell senseless, struck agree ; a single anecdote comes recommended by by a ball, and some workmen, who were digging intrinsic probability, and is no less distinguished a trench, immediately threw a little mould upon from hearsay romances by the external authority ; his body, which was burial the second. The serfor it is told by the famous Sydenham, a man who vant of Civile tried to find out his remains, with was not more an honor to his profession by his the intention to bestow on them a formal interment. skill than to his kind by his virtues. The faculty Returning from a fruitless search he caught sight of his day demonstrated, on principles derived from of a stretched-out arm, which he knew to be his abstract reasoning, that the small pox ought to master's by a diamond ring that glittered on the yield to a hot regimen ; and, though patients died, hand, and the body, as he drew it forth, was visphysicians thought death under a philosophical ibly breathing. For some days life and death treatment, better than a capricious and perverse waged an equal contest, and when life was winrecovery in defiance of rules. Sydenham, who ning, a party of the enemy, the town having been reformed the whole system of inedicine by substi- taken, discovered him in bed, and threw him from tuting experience for speculation, and who, be the window. He fell on a dung-heap, where they sides indicating the right road, was himself per- left him to perish, which he considered was death haps the nicest observer of the habits of disease and burial the third. Civile's case would never that ever lived, had early discovered that the anti- have been quoted on its own merits ; the promdote was to be found at the other end of the ther- inence given it is entirely due to the imposing mometer. The science which saved the lives of description which a passion for notoriety made the public was the torment of his own. He was him write after his name, and which still continues assailed by the profession to the close of his days to arrest the imagination. He survived to have a for being wiser than his generation, and among fourth funeral, and we hope when he was finally the facts by which he mildly and modestly de- laid in the earth that he did not verify a proverb, fended his practice, he relates with evident satis much in vogue in his day, that a sailor often faction how a young man, at Bristol, was stewed wrecked gets drowned at last. by his physician into a seeming death, and after- More of our readers may recollect the story of wards recovered by a mere exposure to cold. The the Spanish grandee, who was opened by the great moment he appeared to expire, his attendants laid anatomist, Vesalius, and his heart found beating, him out, leaving nothing upon his body except a notwithstanding the havoc that had been made by sheet thrown lightly over it. No sooner had he the knife. The family of the nobleman, so runs escaped from the domain of art to the dominion the tale, complained to the Inquisition, and the Inof nature than he began to revive, and lived to quisition decided that in a physician with the skill vindicate Sydenham, to shame his opponents, and of Vesalius such an error implied a crime. Philip to prove that there are occasions in which the rem- II. employed his authority to procure a pardon, and edy against death is to seem to be dead. The an- with difficulty obtained that the sentence of death cient who originated the celebrated saying, “ The should be commuted into a pilgrimage to the Holy physician that heals is death,” never anticipated Land. Hallam, whose epithets have almost a such a verification of his maxim.

judicial authority, calls the accusation absurd, and The three examples, however, which the resur- absurd it may be proved on physiological grounds. rectionists consider their stronghold, yet remain to But the whole story is an idle rumor written by be told ; and it must be confessed that many have somebody from Spain to Hubert Languet, after the lent them the weight of their authority who reject death of Vesalius, to account for a journey which the inass of old wives' fables, though with the im-1 puzzled the public. Clusius, who was in Madrid at the time that Vesalius set out, and had his in- and the author of a text-book on legal medicine, formation from Tisenau, the president of the says thai unless secured to the table they are often council of the Low Countries, the land of the heaved up and thrown to the ground. Frequently anatomist's birth and affections, has related the strangers, seeing the motions of the limbs, run 10 origin of the pilgrimage in a note on the history the keeper of the Morgue, and announce with horof De Thou, whose narrative, so far as it goes, ror that a person is alive. All bodies, sooner or agrees with his own. Hating the manners of the later, generate the gas in the grave, and it conSpaniards, pining for his native country, and stantly twists about the corpse, blows out the skin refused by Philip permission to return thither, till it rends with the distension, and sometimes Vesalius sickened with vexation, and vowed on bursts the coffin itself. When the gas explodes his recovery to travel to Jerusalem, less from any with a noise, imagination has converted it into an superstition of his own, than to obtain his release outcry or groan; the grave has been reöpened ; by an appeal to the superstition of the king. A the position of the body has confirmed the suspinewsmonger, ignorant of the motives of an action, cion, and the laceration been taken for evidence appeases the cravings of curiosity by invention ; that the wretch had gnawed his flesh in the frenzy that the Inquisition should be at the bottom of the of despair. So many are the circumstances which business was, in the reign of Philip II., a too will occasionally concur to support a conclusion probable guess, and a pretext for its interference that is more unsubstantial than the fabric of a was devised out of the professional pursuits of dream. Violent and painful diseases, which kill the pilgrim. The original report soon acquired speedily, are favorable to the rapid formation of strength in its progress. The offence of Vesalius the gas ; it may then exist two or three hours was shortly avouched to be neither accidental nor after death, and agitating the limbs gives rise 10 solitary, and by the time the story reached Burton, the idea that the dormant life is rousing itself up the author of the “Anatomy of Melancholy," it to another effort. Not unfrequently the food in assumed the form of a general assertion- " that the stomach is forced out through the mouth, and Vesalius was wont to cut men up alive."

blood poured from the nose, or the opening in a The fabled end of the Spanish graudee is also vein where a victim of apoplexy has been attempted asserted of the Abbé Prevost-the third vaunted to be bled. Extreme mental distress has resulted example of simulated death. He had a stroke of from these fallacious symptoms, for where they apoplexy on a journey, and the mayor of the vil- occur it is commonly supposed that the former aplage ordered an immediate examination of the pearance of death was deceitful, and that recovery body. The anguish of the incision restored the was possible if attendance had been at hand. abbé to a momentary consciousness, and he ex- The old superstition that a murdered body would pired with a cry. No authority is given for the send forth a bloody sweat in the murderer's presstory, and, judging from the character of the other ence, or bleed from the wound at his touch, must assertions, it would be natural to infer that there have had its origin in the same

The was none to give. But if it be indeed a genuine sweat, which has been repeatedly observed, is profact anong the fables, it proves nothing except the duced by the struggling gas driving out the fluids criminal haste of the village mayor, and the crirn- at the pores of the skin. Through a rare coinciinal heedlessness of the village practitioner--dence it may possibly have occurred during the vices which, in connection with death, are for the period that the assassin was confronted with the most part opposed to the feelings, the prudence, corpse ; and the ordeal of the touch, in compressand therefore to the usage of mankind. No per- ing the veins, would have a direct effect in deterfect security can be devised against wilful care- mining a flow of blood from the wound, where it lessness any more than against wilful murder ; chanced that the current, by the impulse of the but because a friendless traveller fell a victim to gas, was nearly ready to break forth. A latitude the rashness of an ignorant surgeon, there is no would not fail to be allowed to the experiment. occasion to fright the world from their propriety, If at any time afterwards the body sweated or bled, and endeavor to persuade them that, with the best it would never have been doubted that it was intentions, the living are liable to be confounded prompted by the presence of the murderer, though with the dead, to be packed sleeping in a coffin, the manifestation was delayed. One success bears and stitled waking in a grave.

out many failures, for failures imply the absence In the midst of exaggeration and invention there of notable incidents, and having nothing to arrest was one undoubted circumstance which formerly attention are quickly forgotten, while the wonders excited the worst apprehensions—the fact that of a success take hold of the mind and live in the bodies were often found turned in their coffins, and memory. the grave clothes disarranged. But what was as- The generation of gas in the body, with all its cribed, with seeming reason, to the throes of vital- consequences, was thoroughly understood when M. ity, is now known to be due to the agency of cor- Fontenelle wrote, but whatever could weaken his ruption. A gas is developed in the decaying body case is systematically suppressed. Nor is there which mimics by its mechanical force many of the in the whole of his book one single case bearing movements of life. So powerful is this gas in out his position that is attested by a name of the corpses which have lain long in the water, that M. slightest reputation, or for which much better auDevergie, the physician to the Morgue at Paris, | thority could be found than the Greek manuscript

cause.

non.

in the handwriting of Solomon, found by a peasant | Lear brings in Cordelia dead, he exclaims :while digging potatoes at the foot of Mount Leba

Lend me a looking-glass; It is no unreasonable scepticism to assume If that her breath will mist or stain the stone, that the majority of the persons revived had never

Why then she lives. even lived.

Yet not only is this book still in And immediately afterwards he adds, This feather vogue, but the French newspapers annually mul- stirs : she lives. The same test which led Lear tiply these tales to an extent which would be

to the fallacious inference that Cordelia lived, infrightful if they were not refuted by their very duced Prince Henry to infer falsely that his father number. An English country editor in want of

was dead :a paragraph proclaims that a bird of passage has

By these gates of breath been shot out of season, that an apple-tree has

There lies a dowuy feather, which stirs not : blossomed in October, or that a poor woman has Did he suspire, that light and weighiless down added to her family from three to half a dozen

Perforce must move. children at a birth, and by the latest advices was Nor were these methods merely popular; they doing well. But we are tame and prosaic in our were long likewise the trust of physicians. Sir insular tastes. Our agreeable neighbors require Thomas Browne terms them “ the critical tests of a stronger stimulus, and therefore endless changes death ;” and presuming that the Romans could not are rung upon the theme of living men buried, be ignorant of them, he thought their calling in and dead men brought to life again.

the ears of corpses “a vanity of affection"Shakspeare, who, it is evident from numerous an ostentation of summoning the departed back to passages in his dramas, had watched by many a life when it was known by other infallible means dying bed with the same interest and sagacity that that life had fled. But it is now held to be a he bestowed upon those who were playing their better method to scrutinize the movements of the part in the busy world, has summed up the more chest and belly ; one or both of which will rise obvious characteristics of death in the description and fall while any breathing whatsoever continues. the Friar gives to Juliet of the effects of the It is generally, however, expedient to leave the draught, which is to transform her into the tem- body undisturbed for two or three hours after all porary likeness of a corpse :-

seems over ; for the case of Colonel Townshend, No pulse shall keep

related by Cheyne in his “ English Malady," apHis natural progress, but surcease to beat;

pears to favor the supposition that though the heart No warmth, no breath, shall testify thou livest:

and lungs have both stopped, life may now and The roses on thy lips and cheeks shall fade To paly ashes ; thy eyes' windows fall,

then linger a little longer than usual. Like Death, when he shuts up the day of Life; Colonel Townshend, described as “a gentleman Each part, deprived of supple government, Slaall still, and stark, and cold appear, like Death.

of great honor and integrity," was in a dying

One morning he informed his physicians, These are the ordinary signs by which death has Dr. Cheyne and Dr. Baynard, and his apothecary, always been distinguished ; and it would be as Mr. Skrine, that he had found for some time "he reasonable " to seek hot water beneath cold ice,” could expire when he pleased, and by an effort as to look for any remnant of vitality beneath so in-come to life again.” He composed himself for animate an exterior. The cessation of breathing, the trial, while one felt his pulse, another his in the opinion of Sir Benjamin Brodie--and no heart, and the third applied a looking glass to his opinion, from his natural acuteness, his philosoph- month. Gradually the pulse ceased to beat, the ical habits, and his vast experience, can be more heart to throb, the breath to stain the mirror, until entitled to weight—is alone a decisive test of the the nicest scrutiny could discover no indication extinction of life, and a test as palpable to sense that he lived. Thus he continued for half an in the application as it is sure in the result. “ The hour ; his physicians believing that he had carried movements,” he says, “ of respiration cannot be the experiment too far, and was dead beyond reoverlooked by any one who does not choose to call, when life returned, as it had receded, by overlook them, and the heart never continues to gradual steps. It was at nine o'clock in the act more than four or five minutes after respiration morning that the trial was made, and at six in has ceased." The ancient distinction of the heart the evening Colonel Townshend was a corpse. wis to be “primum vivens, ultimum moriens,". The post-mortem examination did nothing towards the first to live, the last to die : and a Commission clearing up the mystery. His only disorder was of the French Academy, who lately made a report a cancer of the right kidney, which accounted for on the subject, admit that when there is a consid- his death, without accounting for his singular erable pause in its pulsations, it is impossible for power of suspending at will the functions of life. life to be lurking in the body. But as the heart Many boldly cut the knot they are not able to uncan only beat for a brief space unless the lungs tie, and maintain that there was an action of heart play, and as common observers can detect the lat- and lungs which the physicians wanted the skill ter more readily than the former, the termination to perceive. The narrative of Cheyne leaves an of the breathing is the usual and safe criterion of opening for criticism ; but let it be considered that deaih. To ascertain with precision whether it had he was a man of eminence, that all three attendcompletely stopped, it was formerly the custom to ants were professional persons, accustomed to apply a feather or a mirror to the lips. When mark and estimate symptoms, that their attention

state.

66

was aroused to the utmost by previous notice, and medicine, relates the anecdote as if he was satisthat they had half an hour to conduct their obser- fied of its truth, and the fate which one has narvations ; and it must at least be acknowledged rowly missed it is not impossible may have overthat the signs which escaped them were too ob- taken others. But even at sea, nothing short of scure to be a safe criterion for the world at large. the grossest negligence could occasion the calamYet whatever may be its other physiological bear-ity; and for negligence, we repeat, there is no ings, it is no exception to the rule that life and effectual cure. breath are, for the purposes of sepulture, convert- The ceasing to breathe is not the only criterion ible terms. Without attaching importance to a of death antecedent to corruption. There is a principal peculiarity of the case, that it required second token specified by Shakspeare, and familan effort of the will to bring Colonel Towoshend iar to every village nurse, which is quite concluinto the state, and that by an effort of the will he sive--the gradual transition from suppleness to could bring himself out of it, he was unable, after rigidity. The first effect of death is relaxation of all, to prolong the period of suspended, or appa- the muscles. The lower jaw usually drops, the rently suspended, animation beyond a single half limbs hang heavily, the joints are flexible, and hour; and in order to his being buried alive, he the flesh soft. The opposite state of contraction must have been a party to the act, and prepared ensues ; then the joints are stiff and the flesh firm, his funeral in advance. The assumption, indeed, and the body, lately yielding and pliant, becomes pervades M. Fontenelle's book, that everybody hard and unbending. The contraction commences wrongly supposed to be dead had a narrow escape in the muscles of the neck and trunk, appears of premature interment, though it has never been next in the upper extremities, then in the lower, long, in any instance that is known to be authen- and finally recedes in the same order in which it tic, before some outward sign attracted attention, came on. It begins on an average five or six unless death had merely slackened his pace, in-hours after death, and ordinarily continues from stead of turning aside his footsteps. Funerals, it sixteen to twenty-four. But the period both of is true, on the continent take place sooner than its appearance and duration are considerably varied with us.

In Spain, if M. Fontenelle's word is a by the constitution of the person, the nature of the warrant for the fact, whoever oversleeps himself death, and the state of the atmosphere. With will have to finish out his slumbers in the grave the aged and seeble, with those who die of chronic --which, beyond doubt, is the most powerful diseases, and are wasted away by lingering sickincentive to early rising that was ever devised. ness, it comes on quickly—sometimes in half an But in France, the grand theatre for these har-hour—and remains for a period which is short in rowing tragedies, it is usual to bury on the third proportion to the rapidity of its appearance. With day; and if at that interval it was common for the strong and the muscular, with the greater part seeming corpses to revive, we, in this country, of the persons who perish by a sudden or violent should be habituated to behold persons whose death in the fulness of their powers, it is slow in death had been announced, whose knell had tolled, advancing, and slow in going off. In cases like and whose coffins had been made, rise up and doff these, it is often a day or two before it commences, their grave-clothes, to appear once more among and it has been known to last a week. When astonished friends. Yet, so far is this from being decay begins its reign, this interregnum of cona frequent occurrence, that who ever heard in traction is at an end, and therefore a warm and modern England of a person who had been num- humid atmosphere, which hastens corruption, curhered three days among the dead resuming his tails the period of rigidity, while it is protracted vacant place among the living? At sea there in the cold and dry weather that keeps putrefacmay be better ground for apprehension. Nothing tion at bay. Though a symptom of some disormore excites the superstitious fears of a sailor than ders, there is this clear line between mortal rigida cat thrown overboard or a corpse that is not ; ity and the spasm of disease—that in the latter and very shortly after death occurs it is usual to the attack is never preceded by the appearance of transfer the body from the ship to the deep. On death. In the one case the result comes after a one occasion a man, with concussion of the brain, train of inanimate phenomena; in the other, amidst who had lost the power of speech and motion, functions peculiar to life. The alarmists, who overheard what must have been to him the most deal in extravagant fables, will persist in retaining interesting conversation that ever fell upon his unreasonable fears; but upon no question are medears-a discussion between his brother and the ical authorities more thoroughly agreed than that captain of the vessel, as to whether he should be the moment the contraction of the muscles is appaimmediately consigned to the waves, or be carried rent, there can be no revival, unless the breath of to Rotterdam, to be buried on shore. Luckily life could be breathed afresh into the untenanted their predilections were for a land funeral; and, clay. though a colloquy so alarming might have been There is one effect of the muscular contraction expected to complete the injury to the poor man's of death which often occasions erroneous and painbrain, he recovered from the double shock of fright ful ideas. In the stage of relaxation, when the and disease. Dr. Alfred Taylor, who has treated muscles fall, and there is neither physical action the signs of death with the sound sense and sci- nor mental emotion to disturb the calm, the counence that distinguish all his writings upon legal tenance assumes the “mild, angelic air” described

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »