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slight exceptions ; motory powers of a very marked character have been seen in cases of death from Asiatic cholera, and manifestations of sensibility after death are upon record.
The gradual death of the extremities previous to general dissolution, the mental faculties remaining almost unimpaired, has come under the observation of most people. The possible existence of sensibility in the brain itself after the loss of life in the whole of the trunk, as by its actual separation from the body, is a more delicate question. It is one also that involves inquiries of a philanthropic character. Much discussion has arisen as to the comparative certainty and least painful modes of vindicating the rights of society by the infliction of death. The immense volume of blood flowing from the trunk to the brain, and returning by other capacious vessels, and the great nervous relations existing between head and trunk, attest that decapitation must inevitably be followed by almost instantaneous loss of sensation to both head and trunk, and that it is upon the whole as merciful a mode of putting to death as any other that is accompanied by an act of violence. But as the act is performed by the guillotine, it is so instantaneous that there is reason to believe that the brain may be cognisant for the briefest space of time of its removal from the body : under particular circumstances, where there has been great self-collection, and the shock has not produced confusion of ideas, it is possible to conceive the brain reasoning upon the circumstance with a most distressing pertinacity, which would, however, very soon be cut short by the loss of blood. Suppose, then, another case in which the loss of blood was stopped by either accidental or intentional means; and it is not out of the range of possibility, that the consciousness of decapitation may be so prolonged as to allow even of time to communicate to the external countenance some expresson of that which is for such few short and last moments-moments of supreme interest-going on in the mind. All have heard of the whole life-record of ideas, which are hurried together in the few last moments of a drowning man ; most have witnessed the supernatural lighting up of the mind of the dying young and innocent. What may not be the intensity of the last lightning-like impressions of the victims of violence, or the sacrifices of society-often, possibly, in its laws more vindictive than He who judges more by men's hearts than men's actions !
But passing over this digression, we must quote an instance from one who, though a writer of fiction, has, from a peculiar idiosyncracy, made a particular, and in many instances a very successful study of crime and punishment, in connexion with the more obscure and oftentimes mysterious phenomena which are attendant upon both ; in which the possibility of consciousness after decapitation was accidentally and curiously illustrated.
The plaster-quarries of Montmartre are more familiar to English visitors in Paris than are the stone-quarries of the plain of Montrouge, to the south of the metropolis. Yet these latter quarries are very extensive, and form a continuation of those well-known catacombs from which old Paris was built. The population which inhabits these subterranean galleries has a peculiar character of gloomy ferocity. It seldom happens that there are riots in the capital, in which the quarrymen of Montrouge are not concerned. M. de Lamartine relates, in his “ History of the French Revolution,” how he availed himself of the combativeness of these
Oct.--VOL. LXXXVII. NO. CCCXLVI.
dwellers in subterranean passages, to strengthen the hands of the Provisional Government.
M. Alexandre Dumas relates the following story of one of these quarrymen. He was shooting one day on the plain of Montrouge, when he turned off for refreshment to the village of Fontenay.
It was striking one o'clock (he relates) when I reached the first houses of the village. I followed a wall that enclosed a property of some pretensions, and had arrived where the Rue de Diane terminates in the Grande Rue, when I saw coming towards me, from the direction of the church, a man with so sinister an aspect, that I stopped short and instinctively cocked both barrels of my fowlingpiece.
But, pale, his hair standing on end, his eyes starting out of their orbits, his clothes in disorder, and his hands bathed in gore, the man passed by without noticing me. His look was fixed. His progress was like that of an object carried away by its own gravity along the slope of a mountain, yet his laboured breathing spoke more of dread than fatigue.
The man turned out of the Grande Rue into that of Diane, and hurried towards the door of that residence along the walls of which I had been walking for the last few minutes. The man stretched forth his hand some time before he could reach the bell-pull, which, when he succeeded in grasping it, he agitated violently; and this accomplished, he sat himself down upon one of the two corner stones which served as advance works to the gate. Once seated, he remained motionless, his arms hanging down, his head resting upon his breast.
I retraced my steps, so certain did I feel that this man had been the principal actor in some unknown and terrible drama.
Behind him, and on both sides of the street, were several other individuals, upon whom he had no doubt produced the same effect as upon myself, and who had come out of their houses to gaze upon him with a surprise similar to what I experienced myself.
A woman of about forty or forty-five years of age answered the bell by opening a little door cut in the panel of the gate. “What, is it you, Jacquemin?" she said; “What are you doing there?".
“Is Monsieur the mayor at home?" inquired the man, whom she thus addressed, in a muffled voice.
"Well, then, Mother Antoine, go and tell him that I have killed my wife, and I am come to give myself up."
Mother Antoine uttered a shriek, which was echoed by two or three other persons who had approached sufficiently near to hear this terrible avowal. I myself took a step in a retrograde direction, and feeling a lime-tree behind me, leant back against it. As to the murderer, he had slipped from the stone down upon the ground, as all strength had left him after having pronounced the fatal words.
Mother Antoine had, in the mean time, disappeared, leaving the little door open; it was evident that she had gone to fulfil her commission and bring the mayor; and after the lapse of about five minutes the functionary made his appearance, accompanied by two other persons.
" Jacquemin,” said the mayor to the quarryman, “I hope Mother Antoine is gone mad; she has come to tell me that your wife is dead, and that you accuse yourself with having murdered her."
“It is too true, Monsieur the mayor,” replied Jacquemin, “and I wish to be tried as soon as possible.”
“Come, you are mad!” said the mayor.
And he held out his two brawny arms, the left covered with blood up to the wrist, the right up to the elbow.
The two assistants approached the quarryman, and had some difficulty in lifting him up, so great was both his moral and physical prostration. The commissary of police and a surgeon were sent for ; and when it was proposed that the examination should be proceeded with in the quarry. man's abode, the latter exhibited the most extraordinary feelings of
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terror and horror. He begged to be taken at once to prison. the house,” he said ; "you will find the body in the cellar, and near it, in a sack full of plaster, the head ; but oh, for God's sake, do not oblige me to see it! Had I known I was to have been taken back to it, I would have killed myself.” It is almost unnecessary to say how much these strange expressions increased the curiosity of all who were present; and our author followed the others to the house where the crime had been committed, and where, after actually seeing, as the quarryman had described, the body swimming in a pool of blood, and the head of the woman stuck upright in an open sack of plaster, the following examination of the self-accused took place.
“You acknowledge yourself to be the author of this crime?" “ Yes."
“Relate to us the causes, then, which led you to commit so heinous an offence, and the circumstances attendant upon its commission.".
“ The causes which made me do it—that is useless," answered Jacquemin; “they are secrets that will remain with me and her who lies there."
“But there is no effect without cause."
“ The cause, I tell you, you shall not know. As to the circumstances, I will relate them to you. You must know, in the first place, that when people live below ground as we do, working in the dark, that when we think we have a grief we allow it to eat into the depths of the heart, and thus bad ideas suggest themselves.”
“Oh! oh!” interrupted the commissary of police, “you acknowledge premeditation, then?”
“ What if I acknowledge everything; is not that enough?” “Oh yes, go on.”
“Well! the bad idea that came to me was to kill Jeanne. My thoughts were filled with it for upwards of a month; the heart opposed itself to the head, but at last a word that escaped from a fellow-labourer decided me."
" What was the word?”
"Oh, that is among the matters which do not concern you. This morning I said to Jeanne, “I shan't go out to work to-day; I wish to amuse myself as if it was a holiday, and I shall go and play at bowls with some companions. Mind you have the dinner ready at the proper hour.' * i But-'
Come, now, no observations; the dinner at one o'clock, do you hear?'
Very well,' said Jeanne, and she went out to fetch the material for the daily soup. During her absence, instead of going away to play at bowls, I took the sword which you found in the cellar and sharpened it on the back step. I then went down into the cellar and hid myself behind a barrel; and in doing so I said, “She must come down into the cellar for the wine: when she does so we will see.' And then a voice repeated in me and around me the word which the quarryman had uttered the day before.”
“But come, do tell us what this word was," repeated the commissary.
"Useless. I have already said you will never know it. After waiting some time I heard steps approaching. I saw a tremulous light, then the lower part of a dress, then the body, and next the head. I could see her head well, for she held the candle in her hand, and I repeated to myself the word my fellow-workman had cast in my teeth. All this time she kept getting nearer. Word of honour! one would have thought that she doubted that some evil awaited her, for she was frightened, and looked about her, but I remained quiet behind the cask. She then went down on her knees before the cask, put the bottle to the cock, and turned it. I, on my part, got up. You understand, she was on her knees; the noise made by the wine pouring into the bottle prevented her hearing any slight noise,-but I made none. She was on her knees like a guilty one, like a condemned criminal. I lifted up the sword, and I do not know if she even uttered a shriek, but the head rolled away from the body. At that time I did not wish to die; I intended to make my escape. My idea was to make a hole in the cellar and to bury her. I rushed upon the head, which rolled on its side, while the body was agitated by convulsive movements on the other. I had a sack of plaster all
ready to hide the blood, and I took the head and placed it at once in the plaster. I had scarcely withdrawn my hand when—perhaps it was an hallucination-but I fancied that the head was alive. The eyes were wide open: I could see them well, for the candle was on the barrel; and then the lips—the lips began to move; and as they moved the lips said to me, · Wretch! I was innocent!'”
I do not know what effect this statement had upon others, but as to myself (says the narrator) a cold perspiration bedewed my forehead.
"Ah! that is too good!” exclaimed the doctor; "The eyes looked at you? The lips spoke to you?"
Listen, doctor: as you are a philosopher, you believe in nothing that is supernatural, but I can tell you that the head which you see there said to me, · Wretch! I was innocent! And the proof that it said so to me is, that instead of endeavouring to escape, I went at once to the mayor's to give myself up."
“ Examine the head, doctor,” said the commissary of police.
"What! are you frightened that it should speak again, stupid?" said the doctor, as he took the light and approached the sack of plaster.
“ M. Ledru!" exclaimed Jacquemin, " in the name of Heaven, let me be taken away to prison. I beg of you! I pray you!"
" Messieurs,” said the mayor, at the same time that he motioned to the doctor to wait a moment, “ you have nothing more to ask the accused; he may be removed.”
“ Thank you, thank you!" exclaimed the miserable man, as he dragged the two gendarmes with almost superhuman strength up the staircase. That man gone, the drama went with him. There remained nothing in the cellar but two things hideous to contemplate: a body without a head, and a head without a body.
The case here related is an extreme one. It is possible to believe that the blood, arrested in its descent by the plaster, gave to the head a moment of life and energy which may possibly have lent to it sufficient power to communicate to it expression; but the speaking must be laid to the hallucination of awakened conscience and pity on the part of the mur rer, for the presence of the lungs would have been necessary to produce the emission of a whole sentence, like that which the murderer imagined himself to have heard. Our author, who, we have before said, has consulted learned authorities for explanations of events of a supposed supernatural character, quotes the celebrated anatomist Sömmering, and the assertions of Alcher, and of Dr. Sue, in favour of sensibility after decapitation. The great physiologist Haller also relates, in his “'Elemens de Physique,” t. iv. p. 35, that a decapitated head opened its eyes and looked at him obliquely, because he had touched the spinal marrow with the point of his finger. Weycard also relates in his “ Arts Philosophiques,” p. 221, that he has seen the lips move of a head which had just been cut off. Our author also quotes Sömmering as arguing the possibility of heads speaking. The passage is as follows :-"Several doctors, my colleagues, have assured me that they have seen a head separated from the body grind its teeth with agony; and I am convinced that if the air still circulated in the organs of the voice, heads would speak.” Not impossible ; but in admitting the possibility of decapitated heads having actually spoken, M. Dumas is going altogether in advance of the position laid down by the distinguished anatomist.
A more curious case of sensibility of the head after death is an historical record in connexion with the last moments of the celebrated Charlotte Corday. M. Dumas gives the following version of this tradition of modern times, as related to him by an eye-witness :
When the cart which conveyed the convict girl to the scaffold drew up, Charlotte jumped down, without allowing any one to assist her; and she ascended the steps of the guillotine, which had been rendered slippery by rain that had fallen the same morning, as quickly as a long red shift in which she was enveloped, and
the pinioning of her arms behind her, would permit her to do. When she felt the hand of the executioner placed on her shoulder to remove the kerchief from her neck, she turned pale for a moment, but a second afterwards a smile came to give the lie to that pallor; and to avoid the indignity of being tied to the infamous plank, she, with a sublime and almost joyous effort, passed her head through the hideous aperture. The knife came down, and the head separated from the body fell upon the platform and rebounded. It was then that one of the assistants to the executioner, Legros by name, seized that head by the hair, and out of vile adulation to the populace, gave it a blow. At this blow the whole face reddenednot the cheek alone which received the blow, but the two cheeks, and that with an equal glow; for sentiment still dwelt in that head, and it felt indignant at a treatment which was not included in the punishment awarded.
Every system, it may be observed, is founded upon conviction, and that conviction is based upon facts more or less authenticated. The attempts made by the sceptical to explain away as hallucinations the realities of individual experience, because the facts themselves do not carry conviction simply as recorded by others, are always legitimate where there are many obvious sources of error, or where the will to admit the truth of some popular superstitions or mysteries of a rarer description is over taxed. Few, for example, will be ready to give entire credence to the story of the worthy Vicar of Etampes, in which he details a wondrous act of sensibility on the part of a hanged man. The vicar in question, devoted to the church at an early age, had received from his mother a medal consecrated at the shrine of Notre Dame de Liesse, To the
possession of this gift he was in the habit of ascribing an unusual amount of piety, for which he had gained credit, not only with the laity, but even among his ecclesiastical colleagues. At the period when this holy man flourished, Etampes and its environs were continually put under contribution by a daring successor of the Cartouches and the Mandrins, one Artifaille; whose wife, living in the Etampes, was on the contrary a model of propriety, and who spent her days praying for the conversion of her husband.
It happened that one evening, exhausted by his labours, the holy man fell asleep in his confessional, and was awoke at midnight by unusual sounds in the church. When sufficiently aroused to a sense of his position, he was enabled to discern that the noise he had heard came from a man who was busy striking a light close by the choir. He was a man of moderate height, carrying in his waistband two pistols and a dagger; and, casting at once a threatening and searching glance around, he prepared, his candle being lighted, to force open the tabernacle. This he soon accomplished, and he drew forth, first the holy pys, a magnificent cup of old silver chiselled in the time of Henry 11.; and next a massive chalice, which had been given to the town by Queen Marie Antoinette ; and, lastly, two crystal bottles. He then shut the tabernacle, and drew from beneath the altar a Notre Dame in wax, crowned with a wreath of gold and diamonds, and the dress embroidered with precious stones.
Being determined that if possible such a sacrilegious robbery should not be thus quietly effected, the abbé issued forth from the confessional, and confronted the robber. The latter, on hearing footsteps approaching, drew a pistol from his girdle; but the tranquillity of the man of God awed even the rude bandit.
Friend,” said the holy man to the robber, "you shall not commit this sacrilege."
“ Who will prevent me?" replied l’Artifaille.