These general physiological views will serve, I hope, as no inappropriate introduction to the detail of the galvanic phenomena exhibited here, on the 4th of November, in the body of the murderer Clydesdale; and they may probably guide us to some valuable practical inferences.
The subject of these experiments was a middle-sized, athletic, and extremely muscular man, about thirty years of age. He was suspended from the gallows nearly an hour, and made no convulsive struggle after he dropped; while a thief, executed along with him, was violently agitated for a considerable time. He was brought to the anatomical theatre of our university in about ten minutes after he was cut down. His face had a perfectly natural aspect, being neither livid nor tumefied; and there was no dislocation of his neck.
Dr. Jeffray, the distinguished professor of anatomy, having on the preceding day requested me to perform the galvanic experiments, I sent to his theatre with this view, next morning, my minor voltaic battery, consisting of 270 pairs of four inch plates, with wires of communication, and pointed metallic rods with insulating handles, for the more commodious application of the electric power. About five minutes before the police officers arrived with the body, the battery was charged with a dilute nitro-sulphuric acid, which speedily brought it into a state of intense action. The dissections were skilfully executed by Mr. Marshall, under the superintendence of the professor.
Exp. 1. A large incision was made into the nape of the neck, close below the occiput. The posterior half of the alias vertebra was then removed by bone forceps, when the spinal marrow was brought into view. A profuse flow of liquid blood gushed from the wound, inundating the floor. A considerable incision was at the same time made in the left hip, through the great gluteal muscle, so as to bring the sciatic nerve into sight; and a small cut was made in the heel. From neither of these did any blood flow. The pointed rod connected with one end of the battery, was now placed in contact with the spinal marrow, while the other rod was applied to the sciatic nerve. Every muscle of the body was immediately agitated with convulsive movements, resembling a violent shuddering from cold. The left side was most powerfully convulsed at each renewal of the electric contact. On moving the second rod from the hip to the heel, the knee being previously bent, the leg was thrown out with such violence as nearly to overturn one of the assistants, who in vain attempted to prevent its extension.
Exp. 2. The left phrenic nerve was now laid bare at the outer edge of the sterno-thyroideus muscle, from three to four inches above the clavicle; the cutaneous incision having been made by the side of the sternocleido-mastoideus. Since this nerve is distributed to the diaphragm, and since it communicates with the heart through the eighth pair, it was expected, by transmitting the galvanic power along it, that the respiratory process would be renewed. Accordingly, a small incision having been made under the cartilage of the seventh rib, the point of the one insulating rod was brought into contact with the great head of the diaphragm, while the other point was applied to the phrenic nerve in the neck. This muscle, the main agent of respiration, was instantly contracted, but with less force than was expected. Satisfied, from ample experience on the living body, that more powerful effects can be produced in galvanic excitation, by leaving the extreme communicating rods in close contact with the parts to be operated on, while the electric chain or circuit is completed by running the end of the wires along the top of the plates in the last trough of either pole, the other wire being steadily immersed in the last cell of the opposite pole, I had immediate recourse to this method. The success of it was truly wonderful. Full, nay, laborious breathing, instantly commenced. The chest heaved, and fell; the belly was protruded, and again collapsed, with the relaxing and retiring diaphragm. This process was continued, without interruption, as long as I continued the electric discharges.
In the judgment of many scientific gentlemen who witnessed the scene, this respiratory experiment was perhaps the most striking ever made with a philosophical apparatus. Let it also be remembered, that for full half an hour before this period, the body had been well nigh drained of its blood, and the spinal marrow severely lacerated. No pulsation could be perceived meanwhile at the heart or wrist; but it may be supposed, that but for the evacuation of the blood,—the essential stimulus of that organ,—this phenomenon might also have occurred.
Exp. 3. The supra-orbital nerve was laid bare in the forehead, as it issues through the supra-ciliary foramen, in the eyebrow: the one conducting rod being applied to it, and the other to the heel, most extraordinary grimaces were exhibited every time that the electric discharges were made, by running the wire in my hand along the edges of the last trough, from the 220th to the 270th pair of plates: thus fifty shocks, each greater than the preceding one, were given in two seconds. Every muscle in his countenance was simultaneously thrown into fearful action; rage, horror, despair, anguish, and ghastly smiles, united their hideous expression in the murderer's face, surpassing far the wildest representations of a Fuseli or a Kean. At this period several of the spectators were forced to leave the apartment from terror or sickness, and one gentleman fainted.
Exp. 4. The last galvanic experiment consisted in transmitting the electric power from the spinal marrow to the ulnar nerve, as it passes by the internal condyle at the elbow: the fingers now moved nimbly, like those of a violin performer; an assistant, who tried to close the fist, found the hand to open forcibly, in spite of his efforts. When the one rod was applied to a slight incision in the tip of the fore-finger, the fist being previously clenched, that finger extended instantly; and from the convulsive agitation of the arm, he seemed to point to the different spectators, some of whom thought he had come to life. About an hour was spent in these operations.
In deliberating on the above galvanic phenomena, we are almost willing to imagine, that if, without cutting into and wounding the spinal marrow and blood-vessels in the neck, the pulmonary organs had been set a-playing at first, (as I proposed), by electrifying the phrenic nerve, (which may be done without any dangerous incision), there is a probability that life might have been restored. This event, however little desirable with a murderer, and perhaps contrary to law, would yet have been pardonable in one instance, as it would have been highly honourable and useful to science. From the accurate experiments of Dr. Philip it appears, that the action of the diaphragm and lungs is indispensable towards restoring the suspended action of the heart and great vessels, subservient to the circulation of the blood.