Wonders of the Human Body.

Original title page

A chatty little monograph this, by Delta, the pen-name of a doctor who once assisted at an operation for the removal of a tumour which weighed forty nine pounds and ten ounces!

Our author wastes no time in getting down to business. Take the case of Miss Lucy P of Egremont, Massachusetts, who suffered a lumbar contusion:

“Twenty years after, succeeding to a severe disorder, ejection of sand from the stomach, &c commenced, and then water was vomited for several days; then an abscess burst on the abdomen, from which sand was discharged. At this time, the tongue was black and red, and spasms and convulsions supervened. After a time, forty-four lumps of sand were voided; subsequently, she was passing sand at the same time from the mouth, nose, ear, side, &c. The sand, analysed by Terry and Lee, was composed of silex, lime, and hair.”

Then there are those strange cases of “luminous emanations” from the bodies of the dying. Thus:

“A brilliant light, resembling that of the aurora, was seen playing about the face of Miss L.A., ten days before she died of phthiasis. It resembled often the reflection of moonlight dancing on the bosom of the water. Sir Henry Marsh watched it for an hour, when it disappeared. The face itself seemed as if painted white, and glazed; the breath was tainted with a very peculiar odour, resembling that of decomposition.”

As might be expected, spontaneous human combustion features in the book, with the usual attendant gory details, but since accounts of such cases are relatively easy to find in books of an occult or Fortean disposition, I will not quote any here. Instead, let us move on to something a little more unusual – the case of the swallowed spoon. Not a dinky little sugar-spoon, mind you, though that in itself would be hard enough to swallow, if you’ll pardon the pun. No, this spoon was seven inches long, and had a bowl one and a half inches across!

“It was embedded in the ileum and caecum of a male lunatic, twenty-two years old; who after making two vain efforts to commit suicide forced the spoon down his throat in the absence of his keeper. No immediate effects were noticed. When he recovered partially his reason, he confessed his folly. He soon after became ill, pus and blood passing with the alvine evacuations; still no one believed his story. When, however, Mr Langstaff tapped him for ascites, a foreign body could be distinctly felt through the abdominal parietes. In a month he died, involuntary discharges both from bladder and rectum preceding his dissolution. His surgeon has published, with the case, a letter of the patient, thus concluding: ‘I forced the spoon down my throat with the right hand, immediately after dinner, while in my room at Mr Terry’s, of Sutton Coldfield, about the beginning of October 1827, and remember the details of the whole affair.’”

The patient requested that his body be examined after death, which it was, and the spoon duly recovered to substantiate his story.

Another curious case cited by Delta concerns a sailor called Cummings, who in 1799 saw a juggler who pretended to swallow clasp-knives. Unfortunately, our sailor friend didn’t realise that it was only a trick, and one drunken night decided to duplicate the feat for real, by swallowing his own clasp-knife. Having swallowed that successfully, he went on to swallow three others. “One passed on the next day without difficulty,” Delta reports, “two more passed on the second day, and the fourth remained.” Apparently it didn’t do Mr Cummings much harm, for in March 1805 he was alive and well enough to swallow fourteen other knives, “all of which passed before the 28th of April.” In December of the same year he really got carried away, and swallowed thirty five knives, which act of gluttony resulted in his admission to Guys Hospital. Apparently he remained there until his death in 1809, when an autopsy revealed no less than forty three fragments of blades and handles, not to mention a small coin. Nor does it come as any surprise to learn that his abdominal cavity was “extensively pervaded by a deep ferruginous tinge.” In other words, Mr Cummings had gone rusty inside.

Another curious case:

“A youth, (so records Josiah Cole, Accoucheur, London,) after two years of hectic fever, &c. &c., had an abscess formed to the right of his navel. At first the discharge was pus only; but after a while he began to pass gooseberry and raisin seeds, and then twenty cherry and damson stones. The boy declared he had eaten neither one nor the other fruit for two years past.”

Then there is the case of Mr Tipple, aged 34, who on 13th June 1812 was unharnessing a horse from its carriage when the animal plunged violently and thrust him onto one of the carriage’s shafts. Apparently the blow was so violent that the shaft was “forced between the left ribs, through the cavity of the thorax, immediately under the sternum, and out through the right ribs.” Luckily two vets were passing by and heard his screams. They pulled the horse away and drew Mr Tipple off from his impalement with great care, an operation in which, incredibly, the skewered man himself assisted! After he had been hauled off the shaft, traces of fleshy substance were seen to be attached to it, and so deeply embedded had it been that one of the tug irons at the far end of the shaft had bits of lung attached to it. Mr Tipple subsequently walked upstairs to his bed, and though breathing quite comfortably, he said he could feel blood trickling down the inside of his lungs. Not surprisingly, he also felt a bit faint. Ten minutes or so after the accident a doctor arrived and “bled him copiously”, which apparently made the patient feel much better, He was not expected to live till the following morning, but he did, making a complete recovery. He died in March 1823.

One final cheery case, and we’d better leave Delta, I think, or we shall be unable to do justice to our tea:

“In 1737, the arm and scapula of a miller were torn from his body by the coiling around it of a rope attached to the cogs of a wheel; the integuments and muscles hung in large strips, both from the dissevered arm and the trunk. The haemorrhage was very trifling, in consequence of the flaps of muscle folding over the mouths of the arteries, as well as of the torsion or stretching of the coats of those vessels. No artery was tied, and the wound was superficially dressed. From the formidable condition, the man, under the care of Mr Ferne, of St Thomas’s Hospital, very speedily recovered.”

Readers with a taste for this sort of thing should note that in 1937 a book was published in America entitled Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine. It was by George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle, and ran to two volumes totalling nearly a thousand pages.