Page:History of the Guillotine.djvu/86

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71
EXECUTION OF CHARLOTTE CORDAY.

"The countenance of Charlotte Corday expressed the most unequivocal marks of indignation. Let us look back to the facts:—the executioner held the head suspended in one hand; the face was then pale, but had no sooner received the slap which the anguinary wretch gave it than both cheeks visibly reddened. Every spectator was struck by the change of colour, and with loud murmurs cried out for vengeance on this cowardly and atrocious barbarity. It cannot be said that the redness was caused by the blow—for we all know that no blows will recall anything like colour to the cheeks of a corpse; besides, this blow was given on one cheek, and the other equally reddened."—Sue, Opinion sur le Supplice de la Guillotine, p. 9.

Dr. Sue, and some German physicians and surgeons after him, held that there does indubitably, remain in the brain of a decollated head some degree (un reste) of thought, and in the nerves something of sensibility; and the case of Mademoiselle de Corday was alleged as proving that doctrine. We do not believe the fact of any discoloration, nor if it were true, would it prove that the blush arose from continuous sensibility, and certainly the other opinion, that the extinction of life is instantaneous, is the more rational, and it has finally prevailed;[1] and all that

  1. There is a story that when the executioners exhibited the heart of Sir Everard Digby, executed for the Gunpowder Plot, to the people, exclaiming, "This is the heart of a traitor!" the head articulated "Thou liest!" and Lord Bacon believed that after-evisceration the tongue could pronounce a few words. "Magis certa (traditio) de homine qui de supplicii genere (quod diximus) evisceratus, post quam cor avulsum penitus esset et in carnificis mam, tria aut quatuor verba precum, auditus est proferre" &c. Hist. Vit. et Mort. But this was a case of evisceration, and not of decapitation, which makes the whole difference as to the credibility of the story. We suppose that the