Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/182

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the same ball in the order named. His arm-wound would register its shock first upon the intellect, and it would be of a kind that a soldier in his situation would speedily resolve to "grin and bear"; and the second, though mortal, would be overlooked, and suffered to do its quiet and fatal work. His first wound increased the existing excitement at the chief nerve-center, and aided to suspend the functions of the center most vitally involved in the wounding. The case of the beheaded man is again anomalous. Spasmodic action or discharge of the motor-forces stored in the nerve-centers of the trunk may have produced the phenomena.

Incidentally there arise from the consideration of the foregoing these two questions: First, could the expenditure of stored-up nerve force, either in sound or injured parts, or in both combined, generate all these erratic manifestations, or do impulses issue direct from the brain so long as life holds out? Second, is there a battle frenzy peculiar to certain natures, and in certain conditions to average men as well, that may lend them abnormal powers of nervous vigor and endurance? But, whatever the efficient cause, at least one compensating thought follows a study of these phenomena, and the poet and orator may extract some comfort from it, cold and speculative though it may appear. The soldier in war bears up under a severer hurt than the same man could endure in every-day life, and collapses under a lesser one than would ordinarily be required to disable him. He bears up longer and collapses more quickly. Therefore, the provision of Nature that renders him insensible of wounds in heated action may be a twofold blessing, in that it spares him pain and terror at the moment of his hurt, and while doing this service rapidly exhausts in his system those reserve forces which might otherwise tide him over the inevitable prostration succeeding wounds and warlike ardor, and embitter him with a sense of his vulnerability and weakness. How many noble fellows, missing the lethal stroke, have besought their comrades, their captors, and their medical officers to put them out of misery, annalists of the field would shudder to make known. So the hero's impulse, be it patriotism, fanaticism, or frenzy, in spurring him on, saves his high-strung soul from the rack of physical torture, and brings death in a moment of rapturous exaltation, weaving about his last deeds the halo of that glory which is the soldier's most coveted reward. Not alone soldiers, but men of action everywhere, long for a death that shall be but a pause—no, that could be perceptible a lightning leap between a fiery fullness of being on earth and the dazzling dawn of new life beyond the veil.