Pharyngula

True Science for Boys

Ah, the 19th century…when mad scientists were really mad, and not only that, they were popular at parties. In 1818, Dr Ure and Professor Jeffray obtained the freshly killed corpse of Matthew Clydesdale, only an hour from the hangman’s noose, and proceeded to experiment on it with a battery in the Glasgow University anatomy theater before a crowd of spectators. In my youth, I had to settle for recent roadkill, a 9 volt battery, and a dark basement, all by my lonesome — my jealousy is acute.

Here is a small portion of the account of that day’s fun.

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The supra-orbital nerve was laid bare in the forehead, as it issues through the supraciliary 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 electrical 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 smile united their hideous expression in the murderer’s face; surpassing far the wildest representation 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.

The account of galvanic experiments on dead bodies is taken from The Young Man’s Book of Amusement, which on the cover promises to teach card tricks and how to make fireworks. You’d think an amusement in which the first step is to obtain a dead body would be listed a little more prominently, but I guess playing with cadavers was just commonplace in the year before Queen Vickie was born.

(Also on FtB)