Frankenstein: Origins

An Account of some Experiments made on the Body of a Criminal immediately after Execution, with Physiological and Practical Observations. By Andrew Ure, M.D.M.G.S.

Read at the Glasgow Literary Society, Dec. 10, 1818

Convulsions accidentally observed in the limbs of dead frogs, originally suggested to Galvani, the study of certain phenomena, which from him have been styled Galvanic. He ascribed these movements to an electrical fluid or power, innate in the living frame, or capable of being evolved by it, which he denominated Animal Electricity. …

Many experiments have been performed, in this country and abroad, on the bodies of criminals, soon after their execution. Vassali, Julio, and Rossi, made an ample set, on several bodies decapitated at Turin. They paid particular attention to the effect of Galvanic electricity on the heart, and other involuntary muscles; a subject of much previous controversy. …

Most of the above experiments were however made, either without a voltaic battery, or with piles, feeble in comparison with those now employed. Those indeed performed on the body of a criminal, at Newgate, in which the limbs were violently agitated; the eyes opened and shut; the mouth and jaws worked about; and the whole face thrown into frightful convulsions, were made by Aldini, with, I believe, a considerable series of voltaic plates.

[Ure spends some time discussing various theories of the relationship between electricity and life, and then continues:]

These general physiological views will serve, I hope, as no inappropriate introduction to the detail of the galvanic phenomena, exhibited here on the 4th of November, in the body of the murderer Clydsdale; and they may probably guide us to some valuable practical inferences.

The subject of these experiments, was a middle sized, athletic, and extremely muscular man, about thirty years of age. He was suspended from the gallows nearly an hour, and made no convulsive struggle after he dropped; while a thief executed along with him, was violently agitated for a considerable time. He was brought to the anatomical theatre of our university in about ten minutes after he was cut down. His face had a perfectly natural aspect, being neither livid nor tumefied; and there was no dislocation of his neck.

Dr. Jeffray, the distinguished Professor of Anatomy, having on the previous day requested me to perform the galvanic experiments, I sent to his theatre with this view, next morning, my minor voltaic battery, consisting of 270 pairs of four inch plates, with wires of communication, and pointed metallic rods with insulating handles, for the more commodious application of the electric power. About five minutes before the police arrived with the body, the battery was charged with a dilate nitro-sulphuric acid, which speedily brought it into a state of intense action. The dissections were skilfully executed by Mr. Marshall, under the superintendance of the Professor.

Exp 1. A large incision was made into the nape of the neck, close below the occiput. The posterior half of the atlas vertebra was then removed by bone forceps, when the spinal marrow was brought into view. A considerable incision was at the same time made in the left hip, through the great gluteal muscle, so as to bring the sciatic nerve into sight; and a small cut was made in the heel. From neither of these did any blood flow. The pointed rod connected with one end of the battery was now placed in contact with the spinal marrow, while the other rod was applied to the sciatic nerve. Every muscle of the body was immediately agitated, with convulsive movements, resembling a violent shuddering from cold. The left side was most powerfully convulsed at each renewal of the electric contact. On moving the second rod from the hip to the heel, the knee being previously bent, the leg was thrown out with such violence, as nearly to overturn one of the assistants, who in vain attempted to prevent its extension. …

Exp. 3. The supra-orbital nerve was laid bare in the forehead, as it issues through the supra-ciliary foramen, in the eyebrow: the one conducting rod being applied to it, and the other to the heel, most extraordinary grimaces were exhibited every time that the electric discharges were made, by running the wire in my hand along the edges of the last trough, from the 220th to the 227th pair of plates; thus fifty shocks, each greater than the preceding one, were given in two seconds: every muscle in his countenance was simultaneously thrown into fearful action; rage, horror, despair, anguish, and ghastly smiles, united in their hideous expression in the murderer’s face, surpassing far the wildest representations of a Fuseli or a Kean. At this period several of the spectators were forced to leave the apartment from terror or sickness, and one gentleman fainted. …1

These experiments of Ure (or perhaps those of his predecessors) are mentioned by the unfailingly interesting Rav Eliyahu Kalatzkin:

וזה איזה שנים אשר אנשי החברה מגיני בעלי חיים (טהיערשוטץ פעראיין) [Humane Societies] החלו לחקור ולדון על דבר שאלת השחיטה, ובאיזה מחוזות במדינות שווייץ, מצאו האנטיסעמיטין תואנה להוציא חוק לאסור השחיטה, ולהנהיג הטביחה על ידי הבוטעראל, שיסמאסקע או מכונה עלעקטרית, ובעוד אשר ילכו לצוד ציד ויגרו כלבי הציד בטרפם, לעונג ושעשוע נפשם, יהפכו לרגע כרחמנים, ותחת מסוה החמלה והרחמים, יתנפלו להציק רבבות אנשים, ולהכרית אוכל מפי אחינו בני ישראל, ולא ישימו לב למופתי החכמה אשר הראו לדעת גדולי הפראפעסארין כי השחיטה נעלה וטובה מכל אופני הטביחה ומיתה האחרים, ובא קבוצת דבריהם במחברת הד”ר עהרמאן מטריער, אשר נקראה בשם טהיערשוטץ אונד מענשען-טרוטץ והובא דבריו במכה”ע יידישע פרעססע 18 אפריל שנה תרמ”ה, …

וכבר העיר בצדק החכם מהרי”ם ראבינאוויץ בחוברת “יסודי השחיטה”, שאין הפרכוס ותנועות של הבהמה אחר שחיטתה, מוכיחין שתרגיש אז צער וכאב, כאשר גם אחר כריתת כל הראש במכונת הגוילאטינע [guillotine], נראה בה לפעמים קריצת העינים וכדומה עכ”ד, והחוקרים בחנו בהגישם גוף אדם תלוי לצירי עמוד הגאלוואני, וראו שפרפר בתנועות מוזרות2

But while Ure understood his experiments to demonstrate that electricity could actually restore life to the dead, R. Kalatzkin rejects this interpretation:

In deliberating on the above galvanic phenomena, we are almost willing to imagine, that if, without cutting into and wounding the spinal marrow and blood-vessels in the neck, the pulmonary organs had been set a-playing at first, (as I proposed) by electrifying the phrenic nerve (which may be done without any dangerous incision,) there is a probability that life might have been restored. This event, however little desirable with a murderer, and perhaps contrary to law, would yet have been pardonable in one instance, as it would have been highly honourable and useful to science. …

It is known, that cases of death-like lethargy, or suspended animation, from disease and accidents have occurred, where life has returned, after longer interruption of its functions, than in the subject of the preceding experiments. It is probable, when apparent death supervenes from suffocation with noxious gases, &c, and when there is no organic lesion, that a judiciously directed galvanic experiment, will, if any thing will, restore the activity of the vital functions. …3

ואשר יש שישפטו מזה כי כח העלעקטרי יפעול על הנפש, לא כן הוא, ואך כאשר נשאר עוד בגופו כח חיים בלתי מורגש שב לתנועה מורגשת בכח גירוי הזרם העלעקטרי, וכאשר נראה כי הזרם העלעקטרי לא יפעול מאומה על הגוף אשר כבר אבד ממנו כל כח חיים, ופעמים נשאר בו כח חיוני, גם כשלא נראה בו אות ורגש חיים, וכמפורש בנדה (דף ס”ט) דזב וזבה שמתו מטמאין במשא עד שימוק הבשר, דאז הוא דהוי מת בודאי, ובפ”ת דמסכת שמחות שפוקדין על המתים עד ג’ ימים ומעשה שפקדו אחד וחיה כ”ה שנים, ועיין מ”ש בזה החת”ם סופר (חלק יו”ד תשובה של”ח), וכן יאמרו הרופאים שביחוד בתליה וחניקה, יארע כזאת, ולזאת פעל עליו הזרם העלעקטרי כמבואר

R. Kalatzkin’s cited remarks occur at the end of his long discussion of צער בעלי חיים, which we have previously discussed here and here. His essay was also the subject of a recent Reading Responsa lecture of mine, available at the Internet Archive.

  1. The Journal of Science and the Arts, Edited at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, Vol. VI, London 1819, pp. 283-290. See Lauren Young, The Real Electric Frankenstein Experiments of the 1800s, and John Simkin, Andrew Ure. []
  2. אמרי שפר סימן ל”ד אות י”ז []
  3. Ibid. pp. 292-93. []

He Prayeth Best, Who Loveth Best All Things Both Great and Small

In the course of a lengthy and intricate analysis of the prohibition of צער בעלי חיים, R. Yaakov Ze’ev Kahana prohibits dog baiting, even by non-Jews:

לכן אותן האנשים המבלים זמנן בשחוק שמשסין כלבים על חזירים או על שאר ב”ח בוודאי עתידין לתן את הדין ואפילו העושים שחוק על ידי נכרי גם כן אינו נכון כי ספק הוא אם הנכרי מצווה על צער בעלי חיים וספיקא לחומרא …1

He then goes even further, and declares it a mizvah upon those who observe animals fighting to intervene to break up the fight:

לכן נראה לי דמצוה על הרואים שורים מנגחין זה את זה או תרנגולים המכים זה את זה להפרידן זה מזה באופן שלא יבואו עוד לנגח זה את זה או להכות זה את זה כי זה כלול במצות פריקה …

The rationales behind these two rulings seem inconsistent, however. In the former case, R. Kahana seems to be merely concerned with the violation of the prohibition of צער בעלי חיים by some responsible human being, while in the latter he seems to be making the much more powerful assertion of a duty to rescue toward animals, independent of the occurrence of any violation of the law of צער בעלי חיים.

R. Kahana proceeds to reprehend the childish practice of the capture and torture of small creatures, and declares that it is obligatory upon everyone to protest against and object to children “capturing flies and gnats and inserting straws and needles into their abdomens”. He candidly and charmingly confesses that when he was young, he once caught some creature to play with, “as is the way of children, and my father yelled at me”. He also relates that his father would not allow the use of insecticide, since before the vermin die, they suffer great pain. Instead, he would simply expel them from the house:

ואפילו הקטנים אשר דרכם לתפוס ולצוד בעלי חיים קטנים כמו זבובים ויתושים ומצערים אותם מאד בודאי מחויבים הגדולים להפרישן מאיסור זה לבל יעשו עוד דברים כאלה [ומה גם אשר בזה נשרש מדת האכזריות שלא לרחם על זולתו] ואף דביבמות קיד. משמע דאין בית דין מצווין להפריש קטן מלאכול נבלות. גם משמע שם דהאב מחויב להפריש לבן ועיין באו”ח סימן שמ”ג סעיף א’ דאף באיסור דרבנן מחויב האב להפריש הקטן שהגיע לחינוך. וכל שכן לצערם בכדי שלא לצורך האדם שזה איסור דאורייתא בודאי מוטל על כל אחד ואחד להפרישם ולמחות בהקטנים התופסים זבובים ויתושים ותוחבים בתוך מעיהם קשים ומחטים. ודכירנא כד הוינא טליא תפסתי איזה מוק לצחוק כדרך הילדים וגער בי אבי. וגם דכירנא אשר א”א הרב לא הניח להעמיד לפני הזבובים המים הארסיים עבור שקודם בואם למיתה סובלים צער עד מאד לכן גרש יגרשון מעל פני הבית חוצה כי קלה גרושין לפניהם מלהשקות להם כוס המי מרים האלה …

R. Kahana then makes the remarkable suggestion that the Talmudic principle that there is no obligation to intervene to prevent a minor from transgressing halachah is limited to victimless sins, but where there is “any pain or degradation to any creature”, there is indeed an obligation to intervene:

ונראה לי לאמר דהא דאמרינן ביבמות שם דקטן אוכל נבילות אין בית דין מצווין להפרישו דוקא בדברים שאינם שייכים לזולתו לשום בעל חי אבל היכא דשייך שום צער ובזיון לשום בעל חי אז מחויבים בית דין להפריש גם לקטנים.

I encountered this fascinating responsum while preparing for a lecture that I recently delivered on the topic of צער בעלי חיים. My colleagues and I had debated whether to title it “Animal Rights in Halachah” – does the mizvah of צער בעלי חיים really imply that animals have rights? While this is a murky and subtle question, I think that R. Kahana’s declaration that צער בעלי חיים is included in an especially stringent category of mizvos due to the existence of a victim suggests that the sin does indeed involve the infringement of another’s rights. In other words, he seems to be suggesting that it is not strictly בין אדם למקום, but at least somewhat בין אדם לאחרים. [Once again, however, we can ask why we do not require intervention simply out of a duty to rescue the animal, independent of any violation of the prohibition of צער בעלי חיים.]

The lecture is available at the Internet Archive. [We have previously discussed some of the material covered in the lecture here, here, and here.]

  1. שו”ת תולדות יעקב יו”ד סימן ל”ג עמוד עד. סוף דיבור ראשון, ועיין עוד שו”ת יחוה דעת חלק ג’ סימן ס”ו []

The Emotions Of Animals, Human and Otherwise

The media was recently abuzz over the pathetic (in the classic, rather than the modern, sense) behavior of the dog Hawkeye at the funeral of his master, Navy SEAL Petty Officer Jon Tumilson, captured in photo and video.

Experts apparently disagree over whether Hawkeye might really have experienced grief comparable to that of humans. “Stephanie LaFarge, a psychologist and senior director of counseling at the A.S.P.C.A.”, as cited by The New York Times’s Well Blog, apparently believes that he could have:

[W]hile no one can know for sure simply by looking at the image, she believed that the dog was aware that his owner was in the casket. Many dogs go through a grieving process similar to what humans experience after the death of a spouse or friend but with some differences, she said. Some dogs have been known, for example, to stay near or return to the places where they last saw their owners, in many cases their grave sites.

“There are famous stories of dogs returning to a grave site every day for five years, and you can’t account for that by saying he can smell the body there,” she said. “In fact, dogs return to the grave sites of their companion dogs and animals that they grow up with.”

Anthrozoologist Dr. John Bradshaw and cognitive scientist Prof. Alexandra Horowitz seem to disagree, declaring that “non-human animals” have no concept of death, and that their cognitive experience is fundamentally different from that of humans (from about 29:40 into the audio):

[Horowitz:] To me, it does look like a kind of grieving. I mean, we have to realize that dogs are extremely tightly attached to their owners – to use a psychological term, they form a strong bond with the people with whom they live, and it’s not surprising at all to me that a dog would go to the odor1 of even a non-living person who had been in their family, and they’ll notice an absence of somebody. Now, is the experience identical to that of a child, who might have a now absent parent? I don’t think it is identical to that of a child, because the cognitive experience is different from humans to dogs. That’s my impression, and John might have another take on it.

[Bradshaw:] No, I think I would tend to agree with that. We don’t think dogs have a concept of death – I mean, that’s a clear distinction to be made. The finality of death is something that doesn’t really appear in the human repertoire perhaps until a child is four or five years old, and there’s no evidence that any animal has an idea of death, as a concept, but of course what they can do, and what they do do, is .. the attachment figure. It’s just like a dog that’s been left alone in the house, the dog wants to reattach itself, find its owner, if you like, and can’t do that because the door is closed. Likewise, if somebody’s died, then that person’s dog will seek to, and try to, reattach themselves to that person. There was a case over here where a mountain rescue dog was with somebody doing mountain rescue, that person had a heart attack and died on the mountain, wasn’t found for about a day, and the dog was still lying beside him. I don’t think the dog knew that the person was dead, his handler was dead, but he did know that that was where he needed to be, because that that was where all good things came from.

Rambam, however, agrees with LaFarge, flatly insisting that with regard to emotions such as maternal feeling “[t]here is no difference … between the pain of man and the pain of other living beings”, as such emotions are rooted not in reason, but in the imaginative faculty, which is shared by “most living things”:

וכן נאסר לשחוט אותו ואת בנו ביום אחד, סייג והרחקה, שמא ישחט מהם הבן לפני האם, כי צער בעלי חיים בכך גדול מאוד, כי אין הבדל בין צער האדם בכך וצער שאר בעלי חיים, כי אהבת האם וחנינתה על הבן אינו תוצאה של ההגיון, אלא פעולת הכוח המדמה המצוי ברוב בעלי החיים כמציאותו באדם.2

It is also prohibited to kill an animal with its young on the same day (Lev. xxii. 28), in order that people should be restrained and prevented from killing the two together in such a manner that the young is slain in the sight of the mother; for the pain of the animals under such circumstances is very great. There is no difference in this case between the pain of man and the pain of other living beings, since the love and tenderness of the mother for her young ones is not produced by reasoning, but by imagination, and this faculty exists not only in man but in most living beings.3

See also Rav Michael Dov (Ber) Weissmandel’s incredible hypothesis that the increase in depression in contemporary times may be attributable to the consumption of milk from cows that are uneasy and depressed due to the frustration of their mating urges.

  1. The implication that dogs’ attraction to the bodies of their deceased “family” members can only be explained via odor is what LaFarge attempts to refute by adducing “famous stories of dogs returning to a grave site every day for five years”, which we cannot account for “by saying he can smell the body there”, but she unfortunately does not document these tales. []
  2. מורה נבוכים (תרגומו של ר’ יוסף קאפח), חלק שלישי פרק מ”ח – קשר []
  3. Translation of Michael Friedländer – link.