Page:History of the Guillotine.djvu/45

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additional infamy, the patient is bound, and, lying on his face, the head is severed by the hatchet.

"Everybody knows that cutting instruments have little effect when they strike perpendicularly. If examined with a microscope it will be seen that the edges are nothing but a saw, more or less fine, which act only by sliding, as it were, over the body that they are to divide. It would be impossible to decapitate at one blow with a straight-edged axe; but with a convex edge, like the ancient battle-axes, the blow acts perpendicularly only at the very centre of the segment of the circle, but the sides have an oblique and sliding action which succeeds in separating the parts. In considering the structure of the human neck, of which the centre is the vertebral column, composed of several bones, the connexion of which forms a series of sockets, so that there can be no hitting of a joint, it is not possible to ensure a quick and perfect separation by any means which shall be liable to moral or physical variations in strength or dexterity. For such a result there is no certainty but in an invariable mechanism, of which the force and effect can be regulated and directed. This is the mode adopted in England. The body of the criminal is laid on its stomach between two posts connected at top by a cross beam, whence a convex hatchet is made to fall suddenly on the patient by the removal of a peg. The back of the hatchet should be strong and heavy enough to perform the object like the weight with which piles are driven. The force, of course, will be in proportion to the height from which it may fall.

"It is easy to construct such an instrument, of which the effect would be certain, and the decapitation will be performed in an instant according to the letter and the spirit of the new law. It will be easy to make experiments