Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/216

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lent death, is liable to persist for a time after life is extinct. From observation at this execution, as well as at the subsequent examination of the body, the current appears at first not only to extinguish life in the ordinary sense of the word, so far as consciousness, feeling, and volition are concerned, with overwhelming suddenness, but reaches beyond this, and destroys the energies of the individual component parts of the body, so that they can not be raised into activity by artificial mechanical stimulation, as is usually the case in sudden violent death."

The same thought has been applied to the phenomena of battlefield rigor. M. Armand wrote of the Magenta cases in 1859, "Death came so sudden that hands holding weapons had not time to let go." Dr. Brinton, in 1865, wrote, "The muscles had, as it were, been surprised by death, and limbs remained set and fixed in the position held at the moment of receiving the fatal wound."

Lightning strokes have produced like phenomena. Men and animals have been found dead in upright postures, a horse even standing on all fours, with his eyes wide open and nostrils dilated by the terror which the storm evoked. If rigidity can be instantaneous in any one case, why not in another where similar causes work upon the same elements?

There is still a link awaiting further physiological research to connect the manifestations attending deaths in battle action with those under the electric current. Huxley asserted that the matter of life depends on carbonic acid, water, and ammonia brought together under certain conditions, and that the withdrawal of any one of them puts an end to vital phenomena; also, that every form of human action is resolvable into muscular contractions, or transitory changes in the relative positions of the parts of a muscle. In 1868 he said: "Perhaps it would not yet be safe to say that all forms of protoplasm are affected by electric shocks; and yet the number of cases in which the contraction of protoplasm is shown to be affected by this agency increases every day."

Therefore the sudden appearance of agents in the nature of electricity and heat may change the combination of acid, water, and ammonia that causes the constant transition of the molecules of a muscle, and when that proportion changes and transition ceases, everything is at a dead stop until other combinations set in motion other changes that give rise to a new order of phenomena. The first stage is vital life, the last putrefaction, and the interim rigidity. The electric current causes unconsciousness and muscular death at one stroke. In battle the wound may produce swift unconsciousness. May it not also let loose a stored supply of heat to augment the already intense heat distributed by the energy of passion and physical action and thus stiffen the