JF Ptak Science Books Post 2572
One of the great fears of humans throughout history is to be declared as being dead and treated so though alive, in a death-like state but still breathing and functioning on scales that evaded detection. And when you think about it a little, what is it that separates someone who you think is dead (from some sort of non-maligning adventure, not being so scarred from trauma as to be absolutely positively dead) from the same someone who you know is dead? This was a major issue, especially in the days of pre-stethoscopes. Of course there were physical determinants like checking for a foggy mirror under the suspected's nose, or doing painful things to the body to make the unconscious not-dead come to life because of the searing pain (extreme tongue and nipple pulling, hot gases up the rectum, scalding the arm of a person in the no-scald/no-life venue, and that sort of thing), but the determination of death was a tricky thing. So much so in fact that there were popular manias in the late 18th and into the 19th centuries of designing coffins that should the resumed-dead not actually be so that they could either escape or alert people topside. (The Germans had a tidy late-19th century response to this--waiting houses/corpse halls, attached to a mortuary, where you would place the possibly dead for three days to see if it began to decay--no decay meant life, though by this time someone may have passed on due to injuries or whatever not diagnosed and left to fester for 72 hours...)
See this related post earlier in this blog,
- "The Worst Job of the 19th Century? Tongue-Pullers, Nipple-Pinchers & Anal Tobacco Blowers Try to Revive the Dead", here: http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2009/10/the-worst-job-of-the-19th-century-tonguepullers-nipplepinchers-anal-tobacco-blowers-try-to-revive-th.html
The Royal Humane Society (for the humane treatment of humans), established in 1774 by doctors William Hawes (1736-1808) and Thomas Cogan (1736-1818) to prevent certain types of "premature death" and certainly premature burial, and was basically a life-saving society. Their concern was primarily with drowning victims, and their plan was to issue cash payments to those who (a) retrieved a possibly-drowned body, (b) or offered their place of business for the purposes of reviving the drowned, and then of course (c) those who attempted resuscitation with a further prize if the techniques were successful in drawing life back into the drowned.
It should be remembered that swimming was not a common activity, and that very few people actually knew how to swim. Therefore falling into a river or a channel or whatever could pose a much greater risk of death then than it does today.
The society took its business seriously, offering
- "to pay 2 guineas to anyone attempting a rescue in the Westminster area of London
- to pay 4 guineas to anyone successfully bringing someone back to life
- to pay 1 guinea to anyone - often a pub-owner - allowing a body to be treated in his house."--History of the Royal Humane Society on the Royal Humane Society website, here: http://www.royalhumanesociety.org.uk/html/history.html
And of course during a time when people were making a swift trade int eh sale of dead bodies, the guile of those so thanantologically-inclined stretched to meet the de(ad)man(d)s (sorry!) of the Society, which according to the Royal Humane Society site meant that people defrauded its good interests for private gain. People evidently would feign drowning, and a confederate would feign resuscitation, and the dead brought back to life, the two confidence men sharing a four guinea prize. In short order the Society dispensed with the cash rewards and went straight-away to medals with ribbon, and thereby removing the profit from the performance of a good deed.
This was the premature end of a potential income stream for people desperate enough to pretend to be dead for a small cash allowance. But the Society and all of its good lived on, and evidently lives on today. My little pamphlet picture above was printed in 1881 and is filled with stories of people saved and salvaged, brought back from the edge of death. (If anyone cares to own this little gem, you may do so and purchase it via this blog's bookstore.)