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Capital Punishment Cobblers August 19, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

A cute little story from France a country which seems to attract a lot of urban myths around judicial execution: the majesty of the guillotine?

Many years ago, a celebrated French physician, author of an excellent work on the effects of Imagination, wished to combine theory with practice, in order to confirm the truth of his propositions. To this end, he begged the Minister of Justice to allow him to try an experiment on a criminal condemned to death. The minister consented, and delivered to him an assassin of distinguished rank. Our savant sought the culprit, and thus addressed him:

‘ Sir, several persons who are interested in your family have prevailed on the judge not to require of you to mount the scaffold, and expose yourself to the gaze of the populace. He has therefore commuted your sentence, and sanctions your being bled to death within the precincts of your prison; your dissolution will be gradual, and free from pain.’

Perhaps one of the reasons that these kind of stories gather in France is that you need a centralised unaccountable power to allow such experimentation. Common law just doesn’t have much truck with boffins messing around with the dirtier end of death row.

The criminal submitted to his fate; thought his family would be less disgraced, and considered it a favour not to be compelled to walk to the place of public execution. He was conducted to the appointed room, where every preparation was made beforehand; his eyes were bandaged; he was strapped to a table; and, at a preconcerted signal, four of his veins were gently pricked with the point of a pin. At each corner of the table was a small fountain of water, so contrived as to flow gently into basins placed to receive it.

The patient believing that it was his blood he heard flowing, gradually became weak; and the conversation of the doctors in an undertone confirmed him in this opinion. ‘What fine blood!’ said one. ‘What a, pity this man should be condemned to die! He would have lived a long time.’ ‘Hush!’ said the other: then approaching the first, he asked him in a low voice, but so as to be heard by the criminal, ‘How many pounds of blood are there in the human body?’ ‘Twenty-four. You see already about ten pounds extracted; that man is now in a hopeless state.’ The physicians then receded by degrees, and continued to lower their voices. The stillness which reigned in the apartment, broken only by the dripping fountains, the sound of which was also gradually lessened, so affected the brain of the poor patient, that although a man of very strong constitution, he fainted, and died without having lost a drop of blood.

Beach is a great believer in the power of the imagination but presumably there is not a chance that this could have, in fact, happened? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com In nineteenth-century accounts, ‘many years ago’ takes the role of ‘once upon a time’.

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31 August 2012: KMH ‘In the past the phrase “scared to death” was thought to be impossible. Now it is taken more seriously as illustrated in this Scientic American article We all know that hypnotic suggestion can induce people to do strange things, perhaps  even die in a specified way, as your newsletter would imply.’ KMH writes