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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/663

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TRIALS BY FIRE AND FIRE-JUGGLERS.

the fire; the priest then threw holy water upon them, pronounced exorcisms and benedictions, which may be found in the formulas of Marculfe and Saint Dunstan, made them kiss the Gospels, and then the trial began. When it was over, the hand, arm, or foot that had been in contact with the fire was wrapped in a linen cloth, under the seal of the judge, not to be opened till after three days had passed.[1]

It is not easy to give now a natural explanation for all of these facts; we are too little informed respecting the accompanying circumstances. It appears, however, that we might, besides having recourse to the cases of hysterical insensibility described by Dr. Regnard, connect the power of enduring the trials with one of the three following causes: diminution of the sensation of heat by evaporation from the surface of the skin; insensibility obtained for the skin by means of preliminary artifices; and illusion respecting the intensity of the source of heat.

With respect to the first of these causes, the experiments of M. Boutigny are well known; and it is possibly only the want of hardiness that prevents our discovering more numerous applications of it. Dr. Davenport, an English physician, gives one of them. He says he has seen a workman in the dock-yards at Chatham plunge his bare hand into boiling pitch. The man tucked up his shirt-sleeve, put in

  1. [A volume of the "Calendars of State Papers; Colonial Series," recently published in London, under the editorial supervision of W. Noel Sainsbury, of the Public Record Office, contains in a letter of 1620, from an agent of the East India Company, in the Island of Tecoe, a description of the native rite of purgation from the charge of murder, which closely resembles the Saxon ordeal. The account is the more valuable and interesting, because it is, to all appearance, authentic, and not tainted with the superstitious credulity with which the stories dating from the middle ages are colored. An Englishman having been killed by some of the islanders, Nicolls, the chief factor, obtained their king's license to summon the suspected persons and make them touch the corpse. All except one, who was ill, obeyed the summons, but betrayed no sign of guilt; whereupon the king ordered the absentee to be sent for. "He took," says the narrator, "the dead man by the hand with extreme quaking and many distracted gestures and answers, but would not hold it any time. Nicolls urged this to be the man, and required, justice. The king caused him to be bound, and professed in his conscience that he was the man, but that he must be tried by their law also. . . . A fire was made, and an iron pan with a gallon of oil set to boil, till it came to such a degree of heat that a green leaf dipped therein was sodden and shriveled. The prisoner was then, in testimony of his innocence, to take a small ball of brass, little bigger than a musket-shot, out of the oil with his naked hand, and if any burning or scald appeared thereon he was contented to die. . . . Stripping up his sleeve above the elbow, and taking a kind of protestation, desiring that as he was clear he might prosper in this act, he dipped his hand to the wrist in the boiling oil, took out the ball, held it fast, and crying 'Olla Basar!' ('Great is the Lord!'), tossed it up, caught it again, and then cast it on the ground, showing his hand, which had no more sign of hurt than if he had experimented the same in cold water; the devil, as seems, being loath at that time to lose his credit. The fellow was instantly released, and within an hour after returned in his holiday apparel, and none so lusty as. he, though so weak before as to be brought upon men's shoulders to his trial. This was all the justice we could have for our murdered man." Editor P. S. M.]