J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Subscribe thru Follow.it


Monday, October 11, 2021

“I found moreover a liveliness in my whole frame”

Sometime between 1764 and 1767 Benjamin Franklin met a Dutch physician named Dr. Jan Ingenhousz (1730–1799). They were part of the same scientific circle in London.

In 1768 Sir John Pringle, head of the Royal Society, sent Ingenhousz to Vienna to inoculate the imperial family against smallpox. That worked so well that Ingenhousz became physician to Emperor Joseph II and his mother, Queen Maria Theresa of Austria.

Later, when Franklin was representing the U.S. of A. in Paris, he used his correspondence with Ingenhousz to promote the cause of America in Vienna.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ingenhousz continued his scientific and medical investigations in Vienna. On 15 Aug 1783 he wrote to Franklin, recalling the American’s report about accidentally electrocuting himself instead of a turkey, quoted back here, and building on it.

Ingenhousz said:
As the effect of a Similar stroke by which I was struk, was followed by some remarcabel particularities I should like to compare them which those you have experienced.

The jarr, by which I was Struck, contained about 32 pints, it was nearly fully charged when I recived the explosion from the Conductor supported by that jarr. The flash enter’d the corner of my hat. Then, it entred my fore head and passed thro the left hand, in which I held the chaine communicating with the outward Coating of the jarr.

I neither saw, heared, nor feld the explosion, by which I was Struck down. I lost all my senses, memory, understanding and even sound judgment. My first Sensation was a peine on the forehead. The first object I saw Was the post of a door. I combined the two ideas togeather and thaught I had hurt my head against the horizontal piece of timber supported by the postes, which was impossible, as the door was wide and high.

After having answered unadequately to some questions, which were asked me by the people in the room, I determin’d to go home. But I was some what surprised, that, though the accident happened in a hous in the same street where I lodged, yet I was more than two minutes considering whether, to go home, I must go to the right or to the left hand.

Having found my lodgings, and considering that my memory was become very weak, I thaught it prudent to put down in writing the history of the case: I placed the paper before me, dipt the pen in the ink, but when I applyed it to the paper, I found I had entirely forgotten the art of writing and reading and did not know more what to doe with the pen, than a savage, who never knew there was such an art found out. This Struck me with terror, as I feared I should remain for ever an idiot. I thaught it prudent to go to bed.

I slept tolerably well and when I awaked next morning I felt still the peine on the forehead and found a red spot on the place: but my mental faculties were at that time not only returned, but I feld the most lively joye in finding, as I thaught at the time, my judgmement infinitely more acute. It did seem to me I saw much clearer the difficulties of every thing, and what did formerly seem to me difficult to comprehend, was now become of an easy solution. I found moreover a liveliness in my whole frame, which I never had observed before.

This experiment, made by accident, on my self, and of which I gave you at the time an account, has induced me to advise some of the London mad-Doctors, as Dr. [Thomas] Brook, to try a similar experiment on mad men, thinking that, as I found in my self my mental faculties improoved and as the world well knows, that your mental faculties, if not improoved by the two strooks you recieved, were certainly not hurt by them, it might perhaps become a remedie to restore the mental faculties when lost: but I could never persuade any one to try it.
Some medical authors suggest that Ingenhousz has stumbled into electroconvulsive therapy. The confusion and memory loss followed by more “liveliness” correspond to what some people suffering from deep depressions report from the modern treatment.

Back in the late 1700s, scientists like Franklin, Ingenhousz, and Pringle were reporting on electricity and its spooky powers. Such doctors as James Graham and Franz Mesmer claimed, too eagerly, to be using those powers to heal and strengthen the body. Those reports and claims fed into the delusions of Lt. Neil Wanchope and James Tilly Matthews, as quoted yesterday. But ironically, there really were mind-altering properties of electricity to discover.

No comments: