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Fear of Death

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It is recorded of a person who had been sentenced to be
bled to death, that, instead of the punishment being actually inflicted, he
was made to believe that it was so, merely by causing water, when his eyes
were blinded, to trickle down his arm. This mimicry, however, of an
operation, stopped as completely the movements of the animated machine as
if an entire exhaustion had been effected of the vivifying mud. The man
lost his life, although not his blood, by this imaginary venesection.


We read of another unfortunate being who had been condemned to lose his
head, but the moment after it had been laid upon the block, a reprieve
arrived; the victim was, however, already sacrificed. The living principle
had been extinguished by the fear of the axe, as effectually as it would
have been by its fall.


The Editor of the _Philosophical Magazine_ relates a remarkable instance
which came within his own knowledge many years ago in Scotland. Some silver
spoons having been mislaid, were supposed to have been stolen; and an
expression fell from one of the family, which was either intended, or was
so understood by a young lady who acted as governess to the female
children, that she had taken them. When the young lady rose next morning,
her hair, which before was dark, was found to have changed to a pure white
during the night. The spoons were afterwards found where the mistress of
the family had herself deposited them.


Mons. Boutibonne, a man of literary attainments, a native of Paris, served
in Napoleon's army, and was present at a number of engagements during the
early part of the present century. At the battle of Wagram, which resulted
in a treaty of peace with Austria, in November 1809, Mons. Boutibonne was
actively engaged during the whole of the fray, which lasted, if I rightly
remember, from soon after mid-day until dark. The ranks around him had
been terribly thinned by the enemy's shot, so that his position at sunset
was nearly isolated; and while in the act of reloading his musket, he was
shot down by a cannon-ball. The impression produced upon his mind was, that
the ball had passed from left to right, through his legs below the knees,
separating them from his thighs, as he suddenly sank down, shortened, as he
believed, to the extent of about a foot in measurement, the trunk of the
body falling backwards on the ground, and the senses being completely
paralysed by the shock. In this posture he lay motionless during the
remainder of the night, not daring to move a muscle for fear of fatal
consequences. He experienced no severe suffering; but this immunity from
pain he attributed to the stunning effect produced upon the brain and
nervous system. "My wounded companions," said he, "lay groaning in agony on
every side, but I uttered not a word, nor ventured to move, lest the torn
vessels should be roused into action, and produce fatal haemorrhage, for I
had been made acquainted with the fact that the blood-vessels, wounded in
this way, did not usually bleed profusely until reaction took place. At
early dawn, on the following morning, I was aroused from a troubled slumber
by one of the medical staff, who came round to succour the wounded. 'What's
the matter with you my good fellow?' said he. 'Ah! touch me softly, I
beseech you,' I replied, 'a cannon-ball has carried off my legs.' He
proceeded at once to examine my legs and thighs, and giving me a good
shake, with a cry of joy he exclaimed 'Get up at once, there is nothing the
matter with you.' Whereupon I sprung up in utter astonishment, and stood
firmly on the legs which I believed had been lost to me for ever. I felt
more thankful than I had ever done in the whole course of my life before. I
had not a wound about me. I had indeed been shot down by an immense
cannon-ball, but instead of passing through my legs, as I firmly believed
it to have done, the ball had passed under my feet, and had ploughed away a
cavity in the earth beneath, at least a foot in depth, into which my feet
suddenly sank, giving me the idea that I had been thus shattered by the
separation of my legs. Such is the power of imagination."





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