Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/553

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533
ELECTRICITY AND LIFE.

ment. At Glasgow, Ure made some equally noted experiments on the body of a criminal, which had remained on the gallows nearly an hour. One of the poles of a battery of 270 pairs having been connected with the spinal marrow, below the nape of the neck, and the other pole touching the heel, the leg, until then bent back, was forcibly thrown forward, almost oversetting one of the assistants, who had a strong hold on it. Placing one of the poles on the seventh rib, and the other on one of the nerves of the neck, the chest rose and fell, and the abdomen underwent the like motion, as in the act of breathing. On touching a nerve of the eyelid at the same time with the heel, the muscles of the face contracted, "rage, horror, despair, anguish, and fearful grins, combined in hideous expressions on the dead man's face." At the terrible sight one person fainted, and several were obliged to leave the room. Afterward, by exciting convulsive movements of the arms and fingers, the corpse was made to seem to point at one or another of the spectators.

Later researches have precisely fixed the conditions of this influence of electricity upon the muscles. Continuous currents, led directly to these organs, produce contractions at the moments of opening and of closing the circuits; but the shock produced on closing is always the strongest. While the continuous current is passing, the muscle remains persistently in a half-contracted state, as to the nature of which physiologists disagree. Influenced by excitements rapidly repeated and prolonged for a short time, the muscles assume a state of contraction and shortening, like that seen in tetanus. In this state, as Helmholz and Marey have shown, the muscle suffers a repetition of very slight shocks. Contraction is the result of the fusion of these elementary vibrations, indistinguishable by the eye, but capable of recognition and measurement by certain contrivances. Currents of induction produce more powerful contractions, but not lasting ones, which are succeeded, if electrization is prolonged, by corpse-like rigidity. Muscular contraction effected in such a case is attended by a local rise in temperature, proportioned to the force and length of the electric action. This increase of heat reaches its maximum, which may in some cases be four degrees, during the four or five minutes following the cessation of the electric impulse, and is due to the muscular contraction, which always gives rise to disengagement of heat.

The effect upon the nerves is very complex, and betrayed by movements and sensations very variable in intensity. Onimus and Legros state in general its fundamental laws thus: In acting on the nerves of motion, we see that the direct or descending current works more energetically than the other, with the reverse result on the nerves of sensation. The excitability of those nerves of a mixed kind is lessened by the direct and increased by the inverse current. This is true as to battery-currents, but currents of induction behave differently. While the sensation called out by the first is almost insignificant, the