Imágenes de páginas



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

ABOUT, EDMOND-FRANÇOIS-VALENTIN, a French novelist, journalist, and dramatist; born at Dieuze, department of Meurthe, February 14, 1828; died in Paris, January 17, 1885. In 1848 he won the prize of honor at the Lycée Charlemagne, and in 1851 was sent to the French School at Athens, Greece, where he devoted himself to archæological studies. In 1855 he wrote “La Grèce Contemporaine;" and in the same year published "Tolla," a novel, which was charged with being a plagiarism. He received the decoration of the Legion of Honor in 1858; and in the following year he put forth at Brussels the “Roman Question,” — which was said to have been inspired by the Emperor Napoleon III., - in which he advocated the

abolition of the temporal power of the Pope. In 1866 M. About was commissioned by the Emperor to draw up a report on the state of public opinion in France. Upon the breaking out of the FrancoGerman war he became war correspondent of the newspaper “Le Soir," and his letters attracted much attention. In 1872 he became editor of the Radical journal “Le XIXe Siècle,” and in the autumn of that year was arrested at Strasbourg by the Germans, in consequence of his work entitled “ Alsace.” The works of M. About cover a wide range of topics, including fiction, the drama, and politics; and many of them have been translated into English.


(From “The Man with the Broken Ear.") On this 20th day of January, 1824, being worn down by a cruel malady and feeling the approach of the time when my person shall be absorbed in the Great All;

With my own hand I have written this will, which is the expression of my last wishes.

My nephew Nicholas Meiser, a wealthy brewer in the city of Dantzic, I appoint as executor.

My books, papers, and scientific collections of all kinds, except item 3712, I bequeath to my very estimable and learned friend, Herr von Humboldt.

I bequeath all the rest of my effects, real and personal, valued at 100,000 Prussian thalers, or 375,000 francs, to Colonel Pierre Victor Fougas, at present desiccated, but living, and entered in my catalogue opposite No. 3712 (Zoology).

1 Selections used by permission of Henry Holt and Company.

I trust that he will accept this feeble compensation for the trials he has suffered in my laboratory, and the service he has rendered to science.

Finally, in order that my nephew Nicholas Meiser may exactly understand the duties I leave him to perform, I have resolved to inscribe here a detailed account of the desiccation of Colonel Fougas, my sole heir.

On November 11 of that unhappy year 1813, began my relations with this brave young man. I had long since left Dantzic, where the noise of cannon and the danger from bombs had rendered all labor impossible, and retired with my instruments and books under protection of the Allied Armies in the fortified town of Liebenfeld. The French garrisons of Dantzic, Stettin, Custrin, Glogau, Hamburg, and several other German towns could not communicate with each other or with their native land; meanwhile General Rapp was obstinately defending himself against the English fleet and the Russian army. Colonel Fougas was taken by a detachment of the Barclay de Tolly corps, as he was trying to pass the Vistula on the ice, on the way to Dantzic. They brought him prisoner to Liebenfeld on the 11th of November, just at my supper time, and Sergeant Garok, who commanded in the village, forced me to be present at the examination and act as an interpreter.

The unfortunate young man's open countenance, manly voice, proud dignity, and fine carriage won my heart. He had made the sacrifice of his life. His only regret, he said, was having stranded so near port, after passing through four armies ; and being unable to carry out the Emperor's orders. He appeared animated by that French fanaticism which has done so much harm to our beloved Germany. Nevertheless, I could not help

I defending him; and I translated his words less as an interpreter than as an advocate. Unhappily, they found on him a letter from Napoleon to General Rapp, of which I preserved a copy :

“ Abandon Dantzic; break the blockade; unite with the garrisons of Stettin, Custrin, and Glogau; march along the Elbe; arrange with St. Cyr and Davoust to concentrate the forces scattered at Dresden, Forgau, Wittenberg, Magdeburg, and Hamburg; roll up an army like a snowball; cross Westphalia, which is open, and come to defend the line of the Rhine with an army of 170,000 Frenchmen which you will have saved !



[ocr errors]

This letter was sent to the headquarters of the Russian army, while a half-dozen illiterate soldiers, drunk with joy and bad brandy, condemned the brave Colonel of the 23d of the line to the death of a spy and a traitor. The execution was fixed for the next day, the 12th, and M. Pierre Victor Fougas, after having thanked and embraced me with the most touching sensibility (he is a husband and a father), was shut up in the little battlemented tower of Liebenfeld, where the wind whistles terribly through all the loopholes.

The night of the 11th and 12th of November was one of the severest of that terrible winter. My self-registering thermometer, which hung outside my window with a southeast exposure, marked nineteen degrees below zero, centigrade. I went early in the morning to bid the Colonel a last farewell, and met Sergeant Garok, who said to me in bad German:

“ We won't have to kill the Frantzuski, he is frozen to death.”

I ran to the prison. The Colonel was lying on his back, rigid. But I found after a few minutes' examination that the rigidity of the body was not that of death. The joints, though they had not their ordinary suppleness, could be bent and extended without any great effort. The limbs, the face, and the chest gave my hands a sensation of cold, but very different from that which I had often experienced from contact with corpses.

The Colonel had reached that point of torpor produced by cold, where to revive a man without causing him to die requires numerous and delicate attentions. Some hours after, congelation would supervene, and with it, impossibility of restoration to life.

I was in the greatest perplexity. On the one hand I knew that he was dying on my hands by congelation; on the other, I could not, by myself, bestow upon him the attentions that were indispensable. If I were to administer stimulants without having him, at the same time, rubbed on the trunk and limbs by three or four vigorous assistants, I should revive him only to see him die.

And even if I should succeed in bringing him back to health and strength, was not he condemned by court-martial ? Did not humanity forbid my rousing him from this repose akin to death, to deliver him to the horrors of execution ?

I must confess that in the presence of this organism where life was suspended, my ideas on reanimation took, as it were, fresh hold upon me.

I had so often desiccated and revived beings quite elevated in the animal scale, that I did not doubt the success of the operation, even on a man. By myself alone

a I could not revive and save the Colonel ; but I had in my laboratory all the instruments necessary to desiccate him without assistance.

To sum up, three alternatives offered themselves to me. 1. To leave the Colonel in the crenellated tower, where he would have died the same day of congelation. II. To revive him by stimulants, at the risk of killing him. And for what? To give him up, in case of success, to inevitable execution. III. To desiccate him in my laboratory with the quasi certainty of resuscitating him after the restoration of peace. All friends of humanity will doubtless comprehend that I could not hesitate long.

I had Sergeant Garok called, and I begged him to sell me the body of the Colonel. It was not the first time that I had bought a corpse for dissection, so my request excited no suspicion. The bargain concluded, I gave him four bottles of kirschwasser, and soon two Russian soldiers brought me Colonel Fougas on a stretcher.

As soon as I was alone with him, I pricked one of his fingers: pressure forced out a drop of blood. To place it under a miscroscope between two plates of glass was the work of a minute. Oh, joy! The fibrin was not coagulated. I was not deceived then, it was a torpid man that I had under my eyes, and not a dead one!

I placed him on a pair of scales. He weighed one hundred and forty pounds, clothing included. I did not care to undress him, for I had noticed that animals desiccated directly in contact with the air died oftener than those which remained covered with moss and other soft materials, during the ordeal of desiccation. ...

I shut myself up tête-à-tête with the Colonel, and took care that even old Gretchen, my housekeeper, now deceased, should not trouble me during my work. I had substituted for the wearisome lever of the old-fashioned air-pumps a wheel arranged with an eccentric, which transformed the circular movement of the axis into the rectilinear movement required by the pistons: the wheel, the eccentric, the connecting rod, and the joints of the apparatus all worked ad. mirably, and enabled me to do everything by myself. The cold did not impede the play of the machine, and the lubricating oil was not gummed: I had refined it myself by a new process founded on the then recent discoveries of the French savant, M. Chevreul.

Having extended the body on the platform of the air-pump, lowered the receiver and luted the rim, I undertook to submit it gradually to the influence of a dry vacuum and cold. Capsules filled with chloride of calcium were placed around the Colonel to absorb the water which should evaporate from the body, and to promote the desiccation.

I certainly found myself in the best possible situation for subjecting the human body to a process of gradual desiccation without sudden interruption of the functions, or disorganization of the tissues or fluids. Seldom had my experiments on rotifers and tardigrades been surrounded with equal chances of success, yet they had always succeeded. But the particular nature of the subject, and the special scruples imposed upon my conscience, obliged me to employ a certain number of new conditions, which I had long since, in other connections, foreseen the expediency of. I had taken the pains to arrange an opening at each end of my oval receiver, and fit into it a heavy glass, which enabled me to follow with my eye the effects of the vacuum on the Colonel. I was entirely prevented from shutting the windows of my laboratory, from fear that a too elevated temperature might put an end to the lethargy of the subject, or induce some change in the fluids. If a thaw had come on, all would have been over with my experiment. But the thermometer kept for several days between six and eight degrees below zero, and I was very happy in seeing the lethargic sleep continue, without having to fear congelation of the tissues.

Several times, too rapid a protrusion of the abdomen put me on my guard against the danger which I feared, and I was obliged to let in a little air under the receiver. At last, the cessation of all phenomena of this kind satisfied me that the gases had disappeared by exosmose or had been expelled by the spontaneous contraction of the viscera. It was not until the end of the first day that I could give up these minute precautions, and carry the vacuum a little further.

The next day, the 13th, I pushed the vacuum to a point where the barometer fell to five millimeters. As no change had taken place in the position of the body or limbs, I was sure that no convulsion had been produced. The Colonel had been desiccated, had become immobile, had lost the power of performing the functions of life, without death having super

« AnteriorContinuar »