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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/667

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ELECTROMANIA.

obtained, or imagined, "when a nail or a piece of brass wire is put into a small apothecary's phial and electrified." He says that "if, while it is electrifying, I put my finger or a piece of gold which I hold in my hand to the nail, I receive a shock which stuns my arms and shoulders." At about the same date (the middle of the last century), Muschenbroek stated, in a letter to Réaumur, that, on taking a shock from a thin glass bowl, "he felt himself struck in his arms, shoulders, and breast, so that he lost his breath, and was two days before he recovered from the effects of the blow and the terror"; and that he "would not take a second shock for the kingdom of France." From the description of the apparatus, it is evident that this dreadful shock was no stronger than many of us have taken scores of times for fun, and have given to our school-fellows when we became the proud possessors of our first electrical machine.

Conjurers, mountebanks, itinerant quacks, and other adventurers operated throughout Europe, and were found at every country fair and fête displaying the wonders of the invisible agent by giving shocks and professing to cure all imaginable ailments. Then came the discoveries of Galvani and Volta, followed by the demonstrations of Galvani's nephew Aldini, whereby dead animals were made to display the movements of life, not only by the electricity of the voltaic pile, but, as Aldini especially showed, by a transfer of the mysterious agency from one animal to another. According to his experiments (that seem to be forgotten by modern electricians), the galvanometer of the period, a prepared frog, could be made to kick by connecting its nerve and muscle with muscle and nerve of a recently killed ox, with or without metallic intervention.

Thus arose the dogma which still survives in the advertisements of electrical quacks, that "electricity is life," and the possibility of reviving the dead was believed by many. Executed criminals were in active demand; their bodies were expeditiously transferred from the gallows or scaffold to the operating-table, and their dead limbs were made to struggle and plunge, their eyeballs to roll, and their features to perpetrate the most horrible contortions by connecting nerves with one pole, and muscles with the opposite pole of a battery.

The heart was made to beat, and many men of eminence supposed that if this could be combined with artificial respiration, and kept up for a while, the victim of the hangman might be restored, provided the neck was not broken. Curious tales were loudly whispered concerning gentle hangings and strange doings at Dr. Brookes's, in Leicester Square, and at the Hunterian Museum, in Windmill Street, now flourishing as "The Café de l'Étoile." When a child, I lived about midway between these celebrated schools of practical anatomy, and well remember the tales of horror that were recounted concerning them. When Bishop and Williams (no relation to the writer) were hanged for burking, i. e., murdering people in order to provide "sub-