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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/455

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LIGHTNING-PRINTS.

more barley, to shield her from the cruel blast: while thus engaged, an intensely vivid flash appeared; the barley was seen to smoke, and there lay the two lovers, he with one arm around her neck, and the other arm over her, as if to screen her from the lightning. Both were dead: her left eye was injured, and a black spot produced on her breast; while he was blackened nearly all over. Pope's epitaph on the hapless couple is engraved on a stone in the parish church of Stanton-Harcourt.

In all probability, no one explanation will apply to these several cases. The descriptions require to be examined closely; and they meet with the most consistent solution by separating them into groups. There is in the first place a love of the marvellous which induces some persons to stretch the truth in order to make up a striking story. Not habitually untruthful, they nevertheless yield to the temptation of so rounding off a narrative as to cause hearers and by-standers to make exclamations of the "Good gracious!" kind. Other persons, repeating what Jack told Dick that Sam had heard Bob say to Bill, do not reflect how much a story gathers as it travels from mouth to mouth, until the final version bears but slight resemblance to the original. In another group of instances, a physiological agency of much importance has to be taken into account Persons of nervous and excitable temperament, when under the influence of strong mental agitation, have been known to receive marks on some part of the body or limbs, corresponding in shape to the object which they were thinking of at the time; this is known to have occurred in other domains of human feeling; and there is nothing impossible in the occurrence of a similar phenomenon when the mind and the body are alike exposed to the action of a lightning-stroke. This was probably the case in regard to a French peasant-girl — one of the instances noticed by Poey. While tending a cow in a field, a storm came on; she took refuge under a tree; the cow fell dead from a stroke of lightning; the girl loosened her dress, that she might breathe more freely when nearly choked with agitation; and then she saw a picture of the cow imprinted on her breast. We give this story the credit of being truthfully told, and assign as the probable cause of the phenomenon a co-operation between a lightning-stroke and a vivid mental or nervous activity.

Where metal is concerned, the production of images or facsimiles may result more immediately from this rush of electricity which constitutes the passage of lightning. Wherever metal lies in the path, the flash takes that route in preference to one through wood, brick, or stone; but if the metal be discontinuous or interrupted, strange markings are often produced on neighboring substances, similar in shape to the piece of metal just traversed. This may have been the case in the accident which befell a young man in Cuba in 1828; after a lightning-flash, he found on his neck an imprint of a horseshoe, similar to one nailed up on the window of a house near him. If the ornaments were of brass or some other metal, we might perhaps place in the same category the narrative (one of those given by Poey) of a lady, at her château of Benatonnière in La Vendée; she was seated in her salon, in November 1830, when a storm came on; lightning appeared, and on the back of her dress was imprinted a facsimile of some ornaments on the back of a chair against which she was leaning.

There is every reason to believe, lastly, that many of the markings are nothing more than results of the forked zigzag course of the lightning itself. Mr. Tomlinson, in his interesting volume "The Thunderstorm," has gone somewhat fully into this subject. He had had occasion to observe the manner in which the disruptive discharge of electricity, from an electrical machine, marks out its path over a badly conducting surface, such as glass, and was struck by the tree-like impression produced. He gives a wood-cut representation of a surface struck by the flash or spark of a small Leyden jar; and it is impossible to avoid seeing how strikingly the markings assume the form of a tree. The probability is pointed out, that, in cases where persons struck by lightning have had tree-like marks imprinted on their persons, they have been hastily considered to be real images of actual trees close at hand. It may, moreover, be observed that some persons, when struck by lightning, have received blue marks or bruises; these may put on a ramified appearance, "not only from the irregular mode in which electricity travels about in search of the line of least resistance, but also from the smaller vessels becoming congested, and consequently visible."