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On Premature Internment

The Mirror, Saturday, March 22, 1823.

There are few persons ignorant that it is the unnatural custom of the French to inter twenty-four hours after the apparent decease. This practice, which is said to have had its origin in regard for the living by preventing the evil consequences of putrefaction, has excited horror in reflecting minds generally, and the deserved censure of many eminent medical men, who declare that the sanitary precaution has been carried to an extreme which outrages not only decency but humanity. That it should still exist is the best proof that can be offered of the obstinacy of the French Government, or the ridiculous respect attached by the nation to a custom which sends many innocent victims prematurely to the grave, and serves to weaken the effect which scenes of death are calculated to produce upon the living. It is monstrous that the body of a parent or a child is to be dragged to the grave almost before it is cold, and with a people like the French such an indecent practice must tend to unhinge the sacred ties of nature.

Several laudable attempts have been recently made by Englishmen in France to rouse the attention of the French ministers to the subject, and so produce a total change in the system. It is lamentable to state that, not only have their endeavours been unattended with success, but also that in too many instances the humane applicants have been treated with a coolness bordering upon incivility. Doctor Macnab, an English physician who has resided in France for many years past, made some very spirited exertions on this subject during the ministry of M. De Gazes, and it is only doing common justice to the ex-minister to state, that his conduct was an exception to that which has been observed by his predecessors and successors.

Unfortunately, however, for the interests of humanity, M. De Cazes quitted the ministry just as he was about to propose an alteration in the French law of burials. The memorial presented by Dr. Macnab to the French ministry is a most interesting production, and we have been favoured with a perusal of the Doctor's manuscript, from which we make a few extracts:

'Individuals of whatever rank,' says the Doctor,' from crowned heads to the labourers in the fields, are equally victims to this unnatural custom— the rich and the poor—the child newly from the womb—the youth in the flower of life, and the favourites of the creation, the fair sex, are alike exposed to the danger of perpetual death from premature interment.'

'In every age and country history has furnished numerous instances of individuals, who, in apparent death, have been preserved by accidental causes from premature interment. The short period of twenty-four hours, allowed by the existing laws of France for the purpose of ascertaining the real or apparent death of individuals, is far too short. There are many cases in which the signs of apparent death are witnessed, and which cannot be determined for days after they have been manifested. I could enumerate diseases in which such signs are common.'

Doctor Macnab then proceeds, in illustration of his position, to relate among others the following:

'The danger to which the elegant Lady Russell was exposed is too well known, both in France and in England, to require details. She remained seven days and nights without any sign of life, and her interment was delayed only on account of the violent grief which Lord Russell experienced at the idea of being separated from a beloved wife. On the eighth day, as the parish bells were tolling for church, Lady Russell suddenly raised her head, and to the amazement and indescribable joy of her husband, told him to get ready to accompany her to church. Her recovery was rapid and complete, and she lived many years afterwards to render her Lord the father of a family.' 'If,' says the author,” Lady Russell bad been in France, under the existing law, she would have been buried alive.'

The second instance is related by the celebrated Odier of Geneva, in the following words:—' I knew a girl, twenty-five years old, named Eliza Roy, who narrowly escaped being buried alive. She lived at a distance of two leagues from Geneva. For some years she had been subject to nervous attacks, which frequently deprived her of every appearance of life; but, after the lapse of a few hours, she would recover and resume her occupations as if nothing had happened. On one occasion, however, the suspension of her faculties was so protracted, that her friends called in a medical man of the neighbourhood, who pronounced her dead. She was then sewn up in a close shroud, according to the barbarous custom of the country, and laid upon the bedstead. Amongst those who called to condole with the parents was a particular friend of the supposed deceased, of her own age. The young woman, anxious to take a last look at her friend, unripped the shroud and imprinted a kiss upon her cheek. Whilst she was kissing her, she fancied that she felt her breathe. She repeated her caresses; and being shortly assured of the fact of her friend not being dead, she applied her mouth to that of the girl, and in a short time the latter was restored to life, and able to dress herself.'

Dr. Crichton, physician to the Grand Duke Nicholas, brother to the Emperor of Russia, relates a fact from his own experience which powerfully, supports the arguments used by Dr. Macnab. 'A young girl,' says Dr. Crichton, 'in the service of the Princess of -----,
who had for some time kept her bed with a nervous affection, at length to all appearance was deprived of life. Her face had all the character of death —her body was perfectly cold, and every other symptom of death was manifested. She was removed into another room, and placed in a coffin. On the day fixed for her funeral, hymns, according to the custom of the country, were sung before the door; but at the very moment when they were going to nail down the coffin, a perspiration was seen upon her skin, and in a few minutes it was succeeded by a convulsive motion in the hands and feet. In a few moments she opened her eyes, and uttered a piercing scream. The faculty were instantly called in, and in the spate of a few days her health was completely re-established. The account which she gave of her situation is extremely curious. She said that she appeared to dream that she was dead, but that she was sensible to every thing that was passing round her, and distinctly heard her friends bewailing her death; she felt them envelope her in the shroud, and place her in the coffin. This sensation gave her extreme agony, and she attempted to speak, but her soul was unable to act upon her body. She describes her sensations as very contradictory, as if she was and was not in her body at one and the same instant. She attempted in vain to move her arms, to open her eyes, or to speak. The agony of her mind was at its height when she heard the funeral hymn, and found that they were about to nail down the lid of the coffin. The horror of being buried alive gave a new impulse to her mind, which resumed its power over its corporeal organization, and produced the effects which excited the notice of those who were about to convey her to a premature grave.'— European Magazine.

 

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