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Title: Fear
Author: Mosso, A. (Angelo)
Language: English
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                             ANGELO MOSSO

                        E. LOUGH AND F. KIESOW

                       _AUTHORISED TRANSLATION_

                       LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
                     LONDON, NEW YORK, AND BOMBAY

                          All rights reserved
                        PROFESSOR ANGELO MOSSO
                               OF TURIN_

_from whom both have received many kindnesses of a personal character,
and to whom one of us is indebted for furtherance in scientific
research, we offer our sincerest thanks, with the assurance that we
have looked upon the translation of this splendid little work, as the
fulfilment of an agreeable duty._

                                _E. L. and F. K._

  _August 1895_


  CHAPTER                                            PAGE

  INTRODUCTION                                          1

  I. HOW THE BRAIN WORKS                               20

  CORD                                                 32

  III. THE BRAIN                                       50

  DURING EMOTION                                       64

  V. PALLOR AND BLUSHING                               87

  VI. THE BEATING OF THE HEART                        102

  VII. RESPIRATION AND OPPRESSION                     121

  VIII. TREMBLING                                     134

  IX. THE EXPRESSION OF THE FACE                      155


  XI. THE PHYSIOGNOMY OF PAIN                         185


  XIII. FEAR IN CHILDREN. DREAMS                      226

  XIV. FRIGHT AND TERROR                              236



  FIG.                                               PAGE


  BLOOD IN MAN                                         96

  DOG                                                 109


  5. NORMAL CARDIAC PULSATION                         112

  EMOTION                                             113

  FEAR (IN A AND B)                                   115

  THE PHYSIOGNOMY OF PAIN        { _To be placed between_
  PLATES I. & II.                { _pages_ 202 _and_ 203




Never shall I forget that evening! From behind the curtains of a
glass door I peered into the large amphitheatre crowded with people.
It was my first appearance as a lecturer, and most humbly did I
repent having undertaken to try my powers in the same hall in which
my most celebrated teachers had so often spoken. All I had to do was
to communicate the results of some of my investigations into the
physiology of sleep, and yet, as the hour drew nearer, stronger waxed
within me the fear that I should become confused, lose myself, and
finally stand gaping, speechless before my audience. My heart beat
violently, its very strings seemed to tighten, and my breath came and
went, as when one looks down into a yawning abyss. At last it struck
eight. As I cast a last glance at my notes, I became aware, to my
horror, that the chain of ideas was broken and the links lost beyond
recall. Experiments performed a hundred times, long periods which I
had thought myself able to repeat word for word--all seemed forgotten,
swept away as though it had never been.

My anguish reached a climax. So great was my perturbation that the
recollection of it is dim and shadowy. I remember seeing the usher
touch the handle of the door, and that, as he opened it, I seemed to
feel a puff of wind in my face; there was a singing in my ears, and
then I found myself near a table in the midst of an oppressive silence,
as though, after a plunge in a stormy sea, I had raised my head above
water and seized hold of a rock in the centre of the vast amphitheatre.

How strange was the sound of my first words! My voice seemed to lose
itself in a great wilderness, words, scarce fallen from my lips,
to tremble and die away. After a few sentences jerked out almost
mechanically, I perceived that I had already finished the introduction
to my speech, and discovered with dismay that memory had played me
false just at that point where I had thought myself most sure; but
there was now no turning back, and so, in great confusion, I proceeded.
The hall seemed enveloped in mist. Slowly the cloud began to lift, and
here and there in the crowd I could distinguish benevolent, friendly
faces, and on these I fixed my gaze, as a man struggling with the
waves clings to a floating spar. I could discern, too, the attentive
countenances of eager listeners, holding a hand to their ear as though
unwilling to lose a single word, and nodding occasionally in token
of affirmation. And lastly, I saw myself in this semicircle, alone,
humbled, discouraged, dejected--like a sinner at confession. The first
greatest emotional disturbance was over; but my throat was parched,
my cheeks burned, my breath came in gasps, my voice was strained and
trembling. The harmony of the period was often interrupted in the
middle by a rapid inspiration, or painfully drawn out, as the chest was
compressed to lend force to the last words of a sentence. But to my
joy, in spite of all, the ideas began to unfold of their own accord,
following each other in regular order along the magic thread to which I
blindly clung without a backward glance, and which was to lead me out
of the labyrinth. Even the trembling of the hands, which had made me
shake the instruments and drawings I had from time to time to exhibit,
ceased at last. A heaviness crept over my whole body, the muscles
seemed to stiffen, and my knees shook.

Towards the end I felt the blood begin to circulate again. A few
minutes passed of which I remember nothing save a great anxiety. My
trembling voice had assumed the conclusive tone adopted at the close
of a speech. I was perspiring, exhausted, my strength was failing;
I glanced at the tiers of seats, and it seemed to me that they were
slowly opening in front of me, like the jaws of a monster ready to
devour me as soon as the last word should re-echo within its throat.


He who one day will write a book on the physiology of the orator will
render a great service to society--to us who have to pay so dearly for
'that extravagant idolatry of ourselves’ which incites us to speak in
public. But such a work must be a complete treatise, a mirror in which
each might see himself and learn to what ridicule he exposes himself,
what punishment awaits him, when he mounts the rostrum uncalled for and
untried. Each must see himself with pallid cheeks, perturbed, distorted
countenance, suffering from that unhealthy excitement which, like a
storm of emotion, breaks out in trembling. Before entering the lists
let each feel the oppression on the chest, the cough, the compression
of the bladder, the loss of appetite, the unquenchable thirst, the
dizziness which will blind him; and lastly, let each endure in advance
all the innumerable gradations of pitying sympathy awakened in the
audience by his own timidity.

We can better understand the influence of the emotions on the organism
if we consider the long novitiate, the unwearying efforts and the
countless trials of even the greatest orators before they attained to
self-control, and to the simple end of preserving before the public
the same intonation, gestures, and persuasive force which are natural
to them when in the company of their friends or the retirement of the
family circle.

I have seen men of brilliant intelligence standing rigid, their arms
hanging at their sides like recruits, their features distorted and
their eyes fixed on the ground, stammering and grinding out their
speech, so as to move one to pity. Others, known to their intimates
as jovial anecdotists, make one turn away one’s eyes in compassion
when, on important occasions, they stop short in the middle of a
sentence, gasp, repeat the same word four or five times, struggling
for utterance, and at last stand still open-mouthed, clutching the
table or their watch-chain, as though in search of an anchor of
salvation. Others, again, go to a banquet and succeed in damping all
gaiety. At the very beginning it is evident that food is swallowed with
difficulty, their speech lies heavy on their heart, they are nervous
and tortured by the fear that their memory may leave them in the lurch.
One pities them when at last they rise pale and trembling, then speak
confusedly, jerkily, swaying to and fro with wide-open eyes, as though
stupefied with agitation.

A former master of mine, once professor of sacred rhetoric at the
Athenæum of Turin, could, at the beginning of a nervous affection,
only speak sitting, owing to the excessive trembling of his legs; and
at last he was obliged to renounce the triumphs which his masterly and
enviable gift of eloquence procured him, as he was unable, after having
concluded his speech, either to rise, to descend from the cathedra, or
to walk.

But why does the simple fact that we are standing before the public
produce such disquietude within us? Why is it followed by such a
far-reaching disturbance of the organic functions? We say it is the
nerves, the brain, anxiety, the physical nature of man which we cannot
control. But there is confusion also in our ideas. What is this
much-praised force of will, this power of the soul which makes us so
bold when alone and yet so cowardly before the eyes of a few people?

I confess the problem is difficult, and I believe the easiest way to a
partial solution is to analyse without prejudice what we all know about
cerebral activity, and to see what physiologists have discovered in
studying the emotions and the physical phenomena of thought.


Before, however, entering the field of experimental physiology, I allow
myself the following remarks. In strict justice the names of many
physiologists should be repeatedly mentioned, but I prefer to do so
only from time to time, as I fear the interruption of the sentence by
names and notes might be tiresome to those whose eye is unaccustomed
to the perusal of scientific books, nor do I think there are many who
would be curious to know the paternity of every assertion I shall make
use of. In order, however, that no undeserved merit may be ascribed
to me, I shall, without further ceremony, write in the first person
only when an experience or an idea of my own is to be communicated, so
that, if I shall be at fault, science may not be held responsible for a
personal error.

The first really important book on the physiology of the passions was
written by Descartes, the great restorer of science, who, with his
prodigious force of intellect, embraced all branches of knowledge,
and was at once mathematician, physicist, and physiologist. His is
the honour of having shown that the old Aristotelian philosophy,
then prevalent in the schools, had never solved one of the problems
respecting life. In the treatise upon 'The Passions of the Soul,’ the
following words appear in a section in which he investigates the manner
in which the passions are excited: 'If the appearance of an animal
is very strange and frightful--that is, if it has much resemblance
with those things which were originally hurtful to the body, it will
excite in the mind the passion of fear, then of boldness or of horror,
according to the different temperaments of the body or the force of the
soul, and according as one has been able or not to provide one’s self
with the means of defence, or of flight from those dangerous things
with which the present impression has points of resemblance. This in
some men disposes the brain in such a manner that the spirits, excited
by the image and formed in the pineal gland (or central part of the
brain), pass thence, partly to the nerves which serve to turn the body
and move the legs in flight, and partly to those nerves which enlarge
and contract the valves of the heart, or stimulate the other parts,
whence the blood is sent to them in such a manner that this blood,
otherwise elaborated, sends spirits to the brain capable of fomenting
and increasing the passion of fear; that is, they are able to keep open
or reopen the pores of the brain which conduct them to the nerves.’[1]

No one before Descartes had had so simple a conception of the mechanism
by which the involuntary movements accompanying the emotions are
produced, and he it is who laid the foundations of the physiological
study of the mind. Two centuries and a half have already passed, and
his work still remains a monument worthy of all admiration. Science has
advanced so greatly that perhaps no one now who wished to learn the
elements of physiology would study his treatise on man, and yet none
who know the history of science but are moved by those marvellous pages
out of which breathes that spirit of innovation which has fertilised
the science of centuries. Malebranche relates that when he first took
up the treatise--'L’homme et la formation du fœtus,’ by Descartes--the
new ideas it stirred up within him gave him a pleasure so intense, and
so filled him with admiration, that his heart palpitated and he was
obliged to pause from time to time.

[1] Œuvres de Descartes, _Les passions de l’âme_, xxxvi.

Other two no less celebrated names must also be mentioned here, on
account of the strictly scientific character they have given to the
study of the emotions. These are Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin.
Next to these stands Paolo Mantegazza, with his celebrated researches
on pain and his book on physiognomy and mimicry, dedicated to 'Charles
Darwin, who, by his immortal work on the expression of the emotions,
opened up a limitless horizon to the science of the future.’ The homage
of the illustrious Italian physiologist is worthy of the great English
master and philosopher. Darwin was a man of genius and at the same
time one of the greatest masters of the popular style of authorship.
His force lies in the caution with which he made statements and
drew conclusions, thus avoiding all absolute formulæ, and this will
always make him an incomparable model. Dogmatism, that worm which
gnaws and sterilises mediocre minds, which corrupts the rationality
of the many--dogmatism, that plague of science, had no hold on him,
Darwin knew it not. He candidly shows the public the gaps in science,
criticises himself unmercifully, and does not hesitate to point out the
defects in doctrines he himself propounded. In reading his books one is
inclined to think that he was continually haunted by the fear of being
misunderstood by readers insufficiently educated for the comprehension
of deeper scientific questions. He was so careful, so temperate in
his assertions, so cautious in his inductions, that in his book, 'The
Expression of the Emotions,’ which, in my opinion, is one of the less
excellent of his works, he leaves not one point on which one can
conscientiously contradict him, by taxing him with an error.

And if we are able now to add to his discoveries and to correct
some of the judgments in his works, it is only thus because science
marches onward with such giant strides that we, although we were his
contemporaries, belong even now to a later age, as the context of
this work will more clearly show. The theory of evolution will always
remain the foundation-stone of modern science, but certain principles
formulated by Spencer and Darwin will be modified as our knowledge of
the adaptation of organs to their functions increases.


Darwin attributed, I think, too much importance to the will considered
as the cause of expression. We younger physiologists are more
mechanical; we examine the organism more minutely, and it is in the
structure of the organs that we seek the reasons of their functions.

I shall here give an example of this different way in which I have
explained a few phenomena.

Rabbits are, as is well known, extremely timid animals, and it is
remarkable that no other blushes and grows pale so easily as the
rabbit. The changes in circulation produced by psychical impressions
and by the emotions are more observable in the ears than in the face,
as is indeed the case with many men. In Northern Italy, after someone
has received a vigorous scolding, I have heard the popular expression
used: 'He caught it hot enough to make his ears turn red.’ In the
middle of the auricle of the rabbit’s ear there is an artery, running
from the base to the summit, which ramifies and winds in such a manner
as to form two veins on the edge of the auricle. In 1854, Moritz Schiff
observed that this artery showed alternate movements of contraction
and expansion, not corresponding to the systole and diastole of the
heart. If one looks at the rabbit’s ear against the light, from time to
time one sees the artery decrease in diameter, until at last it quite
disappears, then it increases again, and, as it swells, it expands
all its branches, so that the whole ear becomes of a vivid red and
also warmer. This fulness of blood in the ear lasts a few seconds,
then artery and branches contract and the redness gradually dies away.
Schiff called this artery an accessory heart, because he imagined that
the contractions and expansions observed by him in the vessels of the
ear were to promote a better circulation of blood in the ear of the
rabbit, just as the heart does for the rest of the body.

In repeating Schiff’s observations I used certain precautions which
others would perhaps have thought superfluous. Instead of watching the
rabbit while holding it in my hands, I thought to spare it all emotion,
by enabling myself to observe the ears without its becoming aware of
the fact. For this purpose I had a cage made in such a manner that it
fitted exactly into the inside frame of a window, and whereas it was
impossible for the rabbits to look into the room, I could watch quite
easily, without being seen, through a few holes in the cage. By means
of this simple arrangement I could observe the rabbits at my leisure,
and study their habits while they were quiet, without a suspicion that
they were being noticed. The first time that I so watched them, I saw,
to my surprise, that the ears were no longer so red as when the animals
were startled by feeling themselves seized and held fast in my hands
on the table. The rapid movements of dilatation and contraction in
the blood-vessels of the ear, the sudden blushing and loss of colour
so characteristic of the timidity of these animals, were no longer
observable. The artery of the ear remained dilated and of a vivid
red for a long time, often for hours. I noticed this especially in
summer, when the animals were uniformly tranquil. A state of absolute
repose, however, is not always accompanied by an expansion of the
blood-vessels. All rabbits have not ears equally red or pale at the
same time and under the same conditions. A similar circumstance may
be noticed at any time in the faces of men. Young rabbits blush more
easily than old ones. Often while watching the buck and doe with the
young ones, one could see the ruddy ears of the latter turn pale every
now and then, while the former, like old people with us, remained calm
and had pale ears. But even amongst the young ones of the same litter,
one finds considerable differences in the facility for blushing.

At the market I chose those animals that blushed most easily and
frequently, just as the slave-dealer picks out for the harem those
women who charm by blushing more vividly than the others. If one
studies attentively the loss of colour in the ears of a rabbit when
perfectly quiet, one can nearly always discover the cause in some
external circumstance. Often while the animal has red ears and is
breathing quietly, one notices a sudden change in the rhythm of
respiration; the rabbit lifts its head, looks around, or sniffs; a
contraction of the blood-vessels follows, and the ears become pale.
After a few minutes, if nothing happens, the ear becomes red again. Any
noise causes renewed pallor. A whistle, a cry, a sound of any kind, the
bark of a dog, a sunbeam suddenly penetrating into the cage, the shadow
of a swiftly passing cloud, the flight of a distant bird, each suffices
to produce a rapid loss of colour in the ears, shortly followed by
a more vivid flush. We may therefore maintain that the circulation
of blood in the ears reflects the psychic condition of the animal,
and that nothing takes place either in itself or in its surroundings
without immediately acting upon these blood-vessels.

Thus the fact observed by Schiff receives confirmation, but the
explanation which I give of it differs from his. The dilatation and
contraction of the arteries in the rabbit’s ear can no longer be
compared to the movements of an accessory heart, and, in my opinion,
correspond to the colour or pallor of the human face. In this manner
the phenomenon is deprived of the exceptional character with which
it was introduced into science, and takes its place amongst those
observable in man and nearly all animals.

We may see the same phenomenon noticeable in the rabbit’s ear, in the
cock’s comb and wittles; during emotion the fleshy protuberances and
the skin on the neck of the turkey distinctly blush and grow pale, and
in men and dogs not only the face but also the feet are subject to
these changes of colour.

These things were unknown owing to insufficient observation. It was
thought that animals did not blush, because the blood-vessels of their
skin lie concealed under hair, feathers, or scales, and because the
epidermis is less transparent and the pigment cells more abundant in
the lower layers of the skin. And so blushing was deemed a privilege of
man, which, however, is not the case. It suffices to study the face of
the rabbit attentively in order to see that it is very sensitive, even
to the slightest impressions. If one looks carefully at the nostrils
and lips, considerable variations in the colour may be observed,
corresponding to those occurring at the same time in the blood-vessels
of the ear. These phenomena became so familiar to me during my study
of rabbits, that I needed only observe the muzzle of the animal, and
more particularly the tip, in order to know at once whether the ears
were at that moment pale or red. This certainty was in part due to
the alteration in the rhythm of breathing and in the movement of the
nostrils produced by the slightest emotion, as also in man.


Many may regret that such a characteristic difference between man
and the other animals should be effaced, and that we should try in
cold blood to prove that what is most noble, beautiful, and human in
our countenance, we have in common with the brutes. But we console
ourselves with the reflection that poetry, enthusiasm, inspiration and
passion rise again under new and stronger forms in the contemplation of
reality, that in the search after truth there lies a fascination which
beautifies and ennobles the human intelligence, and that sentiment is
never extinguished by any advance of science.

To-day, when the experimental method is spreading so rapidly, it
behoves us physiologists to be humble and to ask for hospitality in
the studio of the artist, in the libraries of men of letters, in the
drawing-rooms of cultured people, in order to diffuse the elementary
principles of our science. The time has come when we must throw off our
professorial robes, tie on our aprons, roll up our sleeves, and begin
the vivisection of the human heart according to scientific methods.

Let the artist no longer confine himself to a blind imitation of
nature, to a perpetual reproduction on canvas, in marble, or in books
of the phenomena and forms of life; he must know the why and wherefore
of things, completely or in part, the connection between cause and
effect; he must convince himself that nothing is the result of chance
and that there is a reason behind every phenomenon. Blushing--that
ideal token of innocence and purity--is no accidental fact; it was
not given to man as a sign of nobility, nor as a mirror to reflect
the agitation of his heart; it is a fact rendered necessary by bodily
functions and which the will can neither produce nor suppress. It is
simply caused by the structure of our vital machine, by the activity of
the blood-vessels in all organs and in all animals.

Darwin believed, on the contrary, that it was a phenomenon produced by
means of the will. I consider it advisable to quote here in full the
explanation which he gives of blushing, as no other naturalist made
it the object of such special study, and because his hypothesis is at
variance with the facts of my observation.

'Men and women, and especially the young, have always valued, in a
high degree, their personal appearance, and have likewise regarded the
appearance of others. The face has been the chief object of attention,
though, when man aboriginally went naked, the whole surface of his
body would have been attended to. Our self-attention is excited almost
exclusively by the opinion of others, for no person living in absolute
solitude would care about his appearance. Everyone feels blame more
acutely than praise. Now, whenever we know, or suppose, that others
are depreciating our personal appearance, our attention is strongly
drawn toward ourselves, more especially to our faces. The probable
effect of this will be, as has just been explained, to excite into
activity that part of the sensorium which receives the sensory nerves
of the face; and this will react through the vaso-motor system on
the facial capillaries. By frequent reiteration during numberless
generations, the process will have become so habitual, in association
with the belief that others are thinking of us, that even a suspicion
of their depreciation suffices to relax the capillaries, without any
conscious thought about our faces. With some sensitive persons it is
enough even to notice their dress to produce the same effect. Through
the force, also, of association and inheritance our capillaries are
relaxed, whenever we know, or imagine, that anyone is blaming, though
in silence, our actions, thoughts, or character; and, again, when we
are highly praised.’

'On this hypothesis we can understand how it is that the face blushes
more than any other part of the body.’ 'Of all expressions, blushing
seems to be the most strictly human.’ 'But it does not seem possible
that any animal, until its mental powers had been developed to an equal
or nearly equal degree with those of man, would have closely considered
and been sensitive about its own personal appearance. Therefore we may
conclude that blushing originated at a very late period in the long
line of our descent.’[2]

[2] Charles Darwin: _The Expression of the Emotions_, pp. 345 and 364.
London, 1872.

I hold that this explanation of blushing is no longer tenable, and I
think that perhaps Darwin himself would have accepted mine, since it
seems to me truer, more in correspondence with the theory of evolution,
more Darwinian, if I may be allowed the expression.

But why do we blush? some will ask, who insist on penetrating to the
root of things. Why, under certain conditions, does the blood flow
more abundantly into the rabbit’s ear and the human face? The answer
to this question will be better understood when I have shown that the
brain also becomes redder after an emotion. For the maintenance of life
it is necessary that a dilatation of the blood-vessels should take
place in all those organs in which a disturbance occurs. We all know
that when our hand has been firmly squeezed, or when we have received
a blow or contusion, the skin reddens at once. This change in the
circulation is indispensable, for the more copious flow of blood to
that part which has suffered an arrest of nutrition serves to renew
the vital processes and to repair the damage caused by the injury. The
same phenomena appear in the brain under psychic conditions. Emotion
occasions greater energy in the chemical processes of the brain; there
is a modification in the nutrition of the cells, the nervous force is
more rapidly consumed, and therefore the expansion of the blood-vessels
of head and brain tend, by a more abundant supply of blood, to preserve
the activity of the nerve-centres.

It is in the tissues, in the properties of the living substances
which constitute the vital machine, that we must seek the reasons of
numerous phenomena which Darwin deduced from external causes, natural
selection or environment. We shall endeavour to confine within much
narrower limits the effects of chance, will, and accident, which play
such an important part in Darwin’s theory. Nothing is the result of a
creative force serving a premeditated end; organisms have formed and
changed themselves through causes exclusively mechanical. Work perfects
organisms, and the operative parts undergo, through their own activity,
far-reaching modifications, which render their structure still more




Before beginning the study of the nerve-centres I shall remind the
reader of a few very simple facts, which, doubtless, he already knows,
but which, recalled, will render more apparent the part taken by the
body in the functions of the mind.

In order to know how the brain works, it is sufficient to recall the
pictures and visions which pass before us when we are absent-minded.
How curious it is when the mind sets out on its fanciful wanderings!
when, unconsciously, we leave the everyday world behind us and stand
motionless, with open eyes, seeing and hearing nothing.

How often in the quiet of our study, while reading a book, have
we not seen the words gradually fade one into another, until we
found ourselves as though enveloped in a cloud, far away amid the
recollections of childhood or the hopes of the future! And what
wonderful forms grow out of the flames, the logs, and the sparks
glowing under the ashes, when we draw close to the fire in lonely

It is an actual relief to many, this repose of attention, this
extinction of the will which steals over us in the midst of life’s
troubles, lifting the burden of care and allowing us to contemplate
quietly the curious spectacle which, when left to itself, the brain at
work presents. How rapidly things and thoughts are transformed, melting
into each other without order, aim, or pause! How easily we glide by
winding paths through time and space, while in endless succession new
horizons and new countries rise before us! What airy phantoms look
down from the clouds above, what voices and harmonies strike the ear
in the waterfalls of the brooks, what living pictures peer at us from
amongst the flowers and grasses on the bank! Then suddenly a flood of
memories rushes over us and leaves us confused, bewildered, as it rolls
on again to the dim horizon of consciousness. And in this rushing flood
of thoughts and forms we see the familiar faces of those whom the grave
seems to give back to us, and we hasten to meet them with smiling lips
or with tears in our eyes.


And yet these are nought but dreams of the waking mind. Even when the
force of attention and the energy of thought are greater, we still are
carried away by the wilful, untamable current of cerebral activity;
because the will can do nothing within the domain of the imagination,
and because the brain is no slave who will obey our very nod. Who does
not remember the painful and useless endeavours made to rid oneself of
an annoying thought and that incapacity for mental work which afflicts
us, without our knowing whence it came? How often have we sat for
hours at the desk, with idle pen, our head in our hands, unable to
wrest even one thought from the mind which we dared transmit to paper!
How depressed we are on those days when the sources of the mind seem
dried up, when we torture ourselves in vain, ransacking our brains
and finding nothing but fragments, crumbs of thought which we reject
angrily as worthless refuse!

We must resign ourselves. We feel ourselves humbled as though the door
of our own house had been shut in our face. It is of no use to be sad
and annoyed; even if we give way to furious passion, it does not help
us. We stand behind a high wall which we cannot break down. An English
physiologist compared the thinking man to a simple engine-driver. He
does not move the trains, neither does he determine their departure or
their stoppage, he merely guides their movement, directing them first
in one direction then in another.

The brain is perpetually at work, and it is impossible for the mind to
embrace its activities in every part. The greater the attention is in
one part, the more vague is the knowledge which we have of contiguous
parts, the less vivid are the impressions which the senses transmit
from the outside world. We need only recall the well-known example
of Archimedes who was killed by a Roman soldier during the siege of
Syracuse, while he stood in calm contemplation of some geometrical

The whole of our brain is never at work at one time; now it is the one
half, then the other which is in action.

When looking at the sky or at a wall in a uniform light with only one
eye, I found that the field of vision changed alternately from light
to dark. This does not depend upon the eye but upon the brain, because
unconsciously we use first one eye then the other; and, in the same
way, the two hemispheres of the brain do not work simultaneously,
sometimes it is the one sometimes the other which is in a state of
activity. A French general had lost one half of his brain from a wound
which clove the skull. He recovered and retained his intelligence and
gaiety, but he used soon to grow tired during conversation and could
only continue any intense mental work for a few minutes at a time.

There are many philosophers who maintain that a considerable portion of
our cerebral activity is purely automatic, so that our mind is often
in operation without our being conscious of it. When an idea, says
Maudsley,[3] disappears from the horizon of consciousness, it need
not vanish totally, but may remain, as it were, latent or veiled,
continuing by its movements to awaken, to give rise to, other ideas
without our being aware of this activity. But when our consciousness is
unexpectedly drawn off from its work, or roused by something which had
before occupied it, then we catch the idea at work.

[3] Maudsley: _The Physiology of Mind_, p. 305. London, 1876.

This opinion is rendered probable by a few phenomena which I observed
during my studies of the circulation of the blood in the brain, and we
may easily convince ourselves also, if we reflect, how often, quite
unexpectedly, names and events occur to us when we were least thinking
of them, and which we were unable to recall for a long time and in
spite of wearisome efforts, when we wished to do so. And we all know
that we are unable to fall asleep at will, so little mastery have we
over our thoughts. We direct our minds first to this object then to
that, in order to draw it away from that which occupies it and keeps us
awake. We try to suppress an idea which torments us by calling other
ideas to our assistance in ousting it, and often wait powerless for the
coming of that silent oblivion and calm of mind which alone can give us

If, in the moments preceding sleep, when the mind is comparatively
quiet, we make an effort to fix our thoughts on something, we notice
how they vacillate, disappearing and reappearing, as though we were in
a boat and our heads were lifted from time to time above the waves.
Even when awake we find ourselves only too often in this humble bark
in which every puff of wind drives us far from the shore we wish to
reach, when impetuous currents of thought prevent our entering the
haven, or when the waves open to plunge us into unfathomable depths out
of which we can see no horizon.


But in order better to see the link which binds the substance of our
organism to the activity of thought, the correlation between the
nutrition of the body and the mental state, or, as one is accustomed to
say, the relation between body and soul, let us carefully notice what
takes place when a number of friends are assembled at table.

After a few cheerful remarks made by the most jovial as they take their
places, a certain gloom spreads over the company. One might almost
think only a few were sociably inclined. Someone attempts to break the
ice, but it is a failure; one feels that the conversation is forced,
jerky, altogether wanting in sparkle. Little by little the guests
brighten up. A hum ensues, then a confused buzz, like the tuning of
the instruments of an orchestra, which rapidly increases in pitch, as
though each were trying to make his voice heard above his neighbour’s.
It seems as though something in their brains had been loosened and the
vocal cords had gradually got into working order. At dessert even the
more taciturn, if they have done full justice to the banquet, pour
forth an unceasing stream of conversation. Moody faces become smiling,
and melancholy gives place to gaiety. The cross-fire of talk, the
hot discussions, the frequent bursts of laughter, the lively play of
feature, the witty interruptions, the excited gesticulations, all show
a hundredfold increase of vital action.

And from the glowing faces, the sparkling eyes, we know that the blood
is rushing in abundance to the brain. The tongue is loosed, ideas
accumulate in the mind, as though some kind hand had set the rusty
wheels of thought in motion and poured oil on the hinges of the vocal

There is no need to say more. We have all experienced this
transformation which takes place in the work of the brain. It enters on
another phase when the wine begins to circulate. If we had not already
met the guests on similar social occasions, we should be greatly
surprised at their metamorphosis, and feel constrained to correct
previous misconceptions of their character. Men, whom I had always
thought silent and cold, I have seen, to my amazement, carrying on the
most daring discussions with brilliant fluency, and rebutting sarcasms
with such promptitude and success as to earn them loud applause. Other
timid ones, known to all as slow, tiresome, clumsy talkers, find in
the wine-glass a sparkling vivacity, a flow of speech which makes them
more agreeable; nor do they hesitate to propose toasts and drink to the
health of each of the guests. They rise, glass in hand, finding a witty
word for each and showering compliments on all sides. Men, calm and
sedate, in whom none suspected a poetic soul, are capable of rising and
improvising verses, and we are full of admiration at their skill, and
at the harmonious grace of rhythm, metaphor, and rhyme.

Each one feels something like inspiration within him, as though warmed
by the quickening pulse of life.

But let us leave the joyous company: so far as our psychological
study is concerned, we have already lingered too long, and it would
be superfluous to follow them as they leave, in order to see how
confident, kind, and courageous they have all become.

The next day each will resume his own character and his own business.
If it happens that one of the guests meets another in the street, they
smile as they shake hands, and words which are a revelation are heard:
'We were a lively party last night, eh? I scarcely recognised _you_,
and as for some others, there was no keeping them quiet!’


The analysis of memory better than anything else shows us the
connection between the various parts of the brain which enter into
activity in order to provide us with the elements that form speech.

We must distinguish two kinds of memory:

1. The fixation of impressions, whether these be images, or
representations of movements, words, sounds or sensations.

2. The re-awakening of these impressions as recollection.

The phenomena of memory remain quite incomprehensible if we do not
admit their intimate connection with physical changes of the nerve
substance. An external impression acting upon receptive nerve-cells is
retained by them permanently, as though it were photographed, if it
be allowable to explain the unknown by a comparison with the known.
It is the blood which carries those substances to the brain which are
necessary to the functions of memory. Attention cannot be developed
in all its intensity without causing considerable alterations in the
circulation. Now when we are absent-minded, images leave no lasting
impression on the memory, as no provision is then made by the physical
changes in the organism accompanying attention for a more rapid
circulation of blood in the cerebral hemispheres.

The old notion that the brain was a storehouse in which each idea had
its nook where it might stay till needed, is truer than it appears.
Modern science has proved that the matter is much more complicated than
one thinks. It suffices that the blood should coagulate in the artery
which carries it to some convolution, or that a tumour should destroy a
part of the brain, for us to lose, as it were, a province of memory.

Let us first consider verbal memory. That region of the brain in which
it is placed is, generally speaking, the parietal region of the left
side; so that anyone who has had a blow on the temple at that side
nearly always loses his speech, although he still remembers things and
can pronounce their names when they are repeated to him by others, a
sufficient proof that the movements of the tongue are not impeded.
Sometimes it happens that a person in this condition looks in the
dictionary for the missing word, in order to recover the pronunciation
of it.

In learning a language, we believe that certain cells undertake
functions which they did not before possess, that connections with
other cells are established, like very intricate nets in which the
impressions of nouns and verbs, the graphic representations of ideas
and words, are collected. As we exercise ourselves in the language,
the blood carries new elements to these cells, and the greater our
attention, the stronger become the impressions. Oxidation does not
destroy the impression once received, but it weakens it. If we have had
no practice for some years in speaking a language, we meet with great
difficulties, our communications being made in set, stiff words; but
after a few days one regains the former fluency.

We might quote cases in which, through illness, a man has completely
forgotten a language, recovering it as health returned. Others have
forgotten several languages in the order of succession in which they
had learnt them, regaining them later in the inverse order to that of

When groping in the dim recesses of memory, we always perceive
that there are associations and intimate connections amongst the
phenomena of thought. The blood, making its way into certain parts
of the brain, is like the light of a torch penetrating subterranean
passages, on the walls of which are painted pictures of things we
know. Often the blood-vessels do not yield, and we then wander in vain
in that labyrinth, retracing our steps, roaming hither and thither,
until suddenly we see an opening, and what we were seeking appears
unexpectedly before us. The supposition that we here have to do with
an effect of the blood, an expansion or contraction of the vessels,
and with phenomena of nutrition, seems to be strengthened by the
circumstance that sometimes, in consequence of violent emotion, a
succession of things which before seemed totally forgotten suddenly
reappears in our memory.

The link between physical phenomena and phenomena of memory is more
apparent during fatigue and the refreshing state of repose. Memory may
fail entirely from anæmia, from poisoning by narcotics, innutrition of
the brain, and in old age; for we all know how much better we remember
the events of our youth than those of later occurrence.

Men who have had wounds or contusions on the head have been known
to forget that they had children; authors have forgotten even the
titles of their works; but as soon as the fever had passed, or the
wound healed, they regained their memory. Others, during a fever, have
related events and remembered names which they had quite forgotten
previously, and which they were unable to recall after recovery.




Until 1820 physiologists believed that all nerves had the same
functions; that is, that all were sensory.

We can scarcely picture the confusion in the mind of anyone studying
the nerves of the face when, besides those destined to the organs of
smell, sight, and hearing, he would notice two other large nerves--the
Trigeminus and Facialis--passing off separately from the brain and
spinal marrow, and which, with a double ramification of filaments,
cover all superficial and underlying parts of the face; and again, when
he saw the three nerves of various origin which go to the tongue, the
four which are distributed in the throat, and finally, in the midst
of this net of nerves, thick bundles of fine filaments and ganglia of
which the origin was untraceable.

It was an English physiologist, Charles Bell, who solved this problem
by showing that the most important nerves of the face, with the
exception of the special sensory nerves, are confined to two. If one
of these nerves, called the trigeminal, be cut through, every trace of
sensibility immediately disappears from the corresponding side of the
face; if the other, the facial nerve, be severed, sensibility remains,
but the face completely loses the power of movement, there is no longer
any contraction of the muscles or change of expression in the face.

I quote Charles Bell’s own words, since these two simple experiments
still form the base of the physiology of the nervous system.

'If we cut the division of the fifth nerve which goes to the lips of an
ass, we deprive the lips of sensibility; so when the animal presses the
lips to the ground, and against the oats lying there, it does not feel
them, and consequently there is no effort made to gather them. If, on
the other hand, we cut the seventh nerve where it goes to the lips, the
animal feels the oats, but it can make no effort to gather them, the
power of muscular motion being cut off by the division of the nerve.’[4]

[4] Ch. Bell: _Anatomy and Physiology of the Human Body_, v. ii., p.
394. London, 1826.

The same takes place in the hand, the legs, and in all other parts of
the body, which, according as the one or the other set of nerves is
injured, feel but cannot move, or move and do not feel.

In the ordinary circumstances of life no one becomes aware of these two
fundamental properties of the nervous system, or at least we do not
reflect that there are two distinct apparatus: the nerves which make
us feel, and the nerves which cause movement. The intimate connection
between these in the nerve centres and at the surface of the body
renders special methods necessary to separate them, and allow them to
act independently of each other.

Claude Bernard, the greatest of French physiologists, and one of
the most agreeable and successful authors who have ever popularised
science, showed how these two elements may be dissociated by
introducing certain poisons into the blood, which kill the finest
ramifications of the nerves in the most inaccessible parts of the

If one scratches the skin of a dog with a poisoned arrow, like those
used in war by certain savage tribes of America, the animal succumbs in
less than a quarter of an hour. This terrible poison, called _curari_,
destroys the motor nerves, but produces no change in the intelligence,
and the functions of the sensory nerves. The dog scarcely notices the
slight puncture on the skin and continues to walk about the room; but
in a short time the hind-legs become stiff, one can see that they no
longer obey the will; the posterior part of the body sways and falls.
The animal rises and stumbles; then the fore-legs fail and the dog
stands still. If we call him, or pat him, he responds with movements
of the head, the ears, the eyes, and by wagging his tail. Soon however
he cannot lift his head and lies stretched out, breathing quietly, as
though reposing at his ease. On being called, he moves his eyes and
feebly wags his tail, without any manifestation of pain. At last the
respiratory muscles cease to act and life ebbs out without a single
convulsive movement, and for a few moments sensibility and intelligence
are still distinguishable in the fixed and glassy eye. It is like a
corpse that perceives and understands everything going on around it,
without being able to move, retaining sentiment and will but having no
means of manifesting them.


In an investigation which I made with Professor E. Guareschi[5] into
the effect of cadaveric venom, we found that all substances which
slowly destroy the organism must produce phenomena analogous to those
of curari, since the motor nerves, according to our researches, have
less vitality than the sensory.

[5] 'Les Ptomaïnes.’ _Archives italiennes de Biologie_, ii. p. 367;
iii. p. 241.

In order to be convinced of this fact, it suffices to take a rabbit and
stop the circulation in its hind-legs. Placed on the ground, after a
few seconds the animal cannot move its hind-legs, but if one presses
them it squeaks and tries to escape with the aid of its fore-legs,
dragging after it the hinder part of its body, which remains paralysed
for a few moments. A sudden anæmia can therefore destroy motility but
leave sensibility uninjured.

When life is slowly ebbing, when the circulation gradually slackens and
the death-agony is prolonged, I believe that there is always a point
of time in which, with the exception of the respiratory and cardiac
muscles, all others are already paralysed, in which all is dead but the
sensory nerves.

The hand, which with a last effort has been laid in blessing on our
head, has sunk back on the coverlet never to be raised again, never to
move the fingers which still feel the pressure of the farewell clasp;
but the fixed eye still sees the shadows of the loved ones bending down
to press tearful kisses on the brow, and when the last breath has fled,
the mother still hears the despairing cry of her children and can no
longer respond even by a look.


We have therefore two sorts of nerves: of sensibility and of movement.
Let us now try to form a correct notion of an involuntary or reflex
movement, which I shall illustrate by the following example.

Let us imagine a large house of which the entrance is at some distance
from the street door. A bell is fixed inside, the wire of which,
after passing through various holes, terminates in a handle near the
outer door. When some one comes and pulls the handle the bell rings,
and the maid opens the door by pulling at the cord inside the house.
This series of actions represents what physiologists call a reflex
movement. The maid is a nerve-centre, the bell-wire a sensory nerve,
and the cord which opens the door a motor nerve. In the organism we see
muscles or glands instead of the door, but the mechanism is similar.
Just as the door-bell rings a hundred times a day on all imaginable
occasions without our needing to open the door, and without the maid
coming first to our study to ask what she must do; so we have in our
nervous system two distinct parts: the maid, represented by the spinal
cord, and the master, by the brain.

Let us now see what happens when the master is not at home, or what an
animal does when its head is cut off, and only the spinal cord is left.
We shall see here, too, that the more liberty the master gives to the
maid, the more arrogant she grows, at last lording it over the master

A decapitated frog does not die immediately; it may move for days, and
if deprived of the brain only remains alive for some time.

We will consider the more usual case, namely, that of a frog of which
the head has been completely cut off with a pair of scissors. The
animal shivers and writhes for a few moments, then it stops, and
would remain motionless if it were kept under a glass cover in a damp
atmosphere, where nothing would irritate the skin. But if we touch
its leg or put a drop of vinegar upon it, the animal tries at once to
escape and to remove the disturbing agent from the surface of its body.
If we put a drop of vinegar on the left leg it tries to wipe it off
with the right, and _vice versa_. But if we cut off one of the legs or
bind it fast, and then put a drop of vinegar on the other leg which is
at liberty, the frog makes use of this same leg to rub away the drop.

At first sight this seems to be an act of intelligence. It may be
maintained that it is done by choice, but we cannot say that this
activity requires the guidance of the intelligence. A dog of which the
spinal cord has been severed and a sleeping man make the same movements.

Neither must it be thought that these movements are only to be found in
frogs and the lower animals. We shall see that in man also they perform
all the most indispensable vital functions without the co-operation of
the brain. Fontana, one of the most celebrated Italian physiologists,
discovered, as early as the middle of the last century, that one could
decapitate rabbits and guinea-pigs without causing their immediate
death. And he also found that if care were taken by previously binding
the most important arteries; so that the animal should not lose too
much blood, and if the respiration were sustained artificially by means
of bellows, it could live for some time, and show itself sensitive to
external stimuli.[6]

[6] Fontana: _Veleno della Vipera_, i. p. 317.


If we could hear the soliloquies of the man who is writing a book,
many, I think, would renounce for ever the pleasure of setting the
printing press in motion. It would be a curious experience, if one
could read between the lines the tale of discouragement, uncertainty,
trouble, and know the repeated struggles by which some difficulty was
overcome, a passage was composed, a clause or a sentence written. In
scientific works it would be seen that the most frequent interruptions
and exclamations arise always from doubt, and the anxiety which
torments an author of not making his meaning clear.

There is no remedy. He who wishes to explain a scientific subject in
a clear and simple way must stop from time to time; he must come out
of himself and take his reader’s place, forget all he knows in order
to listen impartially to his own voice, and to judge if what he has
said may be easily understood. And this I shall do, but the reader
must not be repulsed by the first difficulties: our first steps cost
the greatest effort. In order to comprehend the physical nature of
man, and to know how this exquisite machinery of ours works, we must
first examine attentively some of the most important organs which are
constantly at work in our nervous system. It is in science as in the
study of languages, one must first learn the meaning of the most
indispensable words in order to understand what is said to us in the
foreign tongue.

Till the beginning of this century very confused notions prevailed
as to the activity of the brain and spinal cord. Luigi Rolando, the
celebrated physiologist of the University of Turin, was the first who
clearly showed that the medulla oblongata (that part of the spinal
cord which lies nearest the brain) must be regarded as the centre of
the whole nervous system. No one in his time knew the structure of the
nerve-centres better than he, and it was he who proved that the medulla
oblongata 'is the first rudiment of the nervous system, the seat of
physical sensibility, of instinct, the director of voluntary movements,
the centre of life, and the wonderful cause of most surprising
phenomena known under the names of sympathies and consents.’[7]

[7] L. Rolando, _Saggio sopra la vera struttura del cervello e sopra le
funzioni del sistema nervoso_, Sec. III. p. 140. Turin, 1828.

If one cuts the head of a duck off at a blow, it does not remain
motionless but moves, flaps its wings and flutters along, as though it
meant to make its escape. It is said that the Emperor Commodus caused
the heads of the ostriches in the circus to be shot off with curved
arrows, and that the birds still ran on till they reached the goal.
If we cut the head of a dog off with a hatchet, we see that the trunk
wags the tail. There is a curious irony in the fact, but it need not
shock us, for the animal no longer feels. If an irritant is applied to
the skin, it draws its tail between its legs as though it were afraid,
although it is headless.


A difficult question confronts us here. There are some physiologists
who maintain that the maid is blind, and that she performs her work
without knowing what she does; that she pulls the cord when the bell
rings, heats the stoves, cooks, cleans the utensils, sweeps the house,
gives the rubbish to the dustman, and so on--but all this without power
of discernment, acting like an automaton, unable to make the slightest
change in what she does merely from habit. Others, again, maintain that
she does possess a few fragments of intelligence, that at certain times
she reasons too, and that the soul of the house does not dwell in the
master alone.

It is a very difficult question; because, if it can be proved that the
maid is blind and does everything from habit, one may also say that the
master--poor man!--does not see much either, and that he has certainly
not been able to teach the maid anything.

I say the question is difficult also because the names of the greatest
living physiologists are connected with it. Goltz and Foster took a
frog, destroyed its brain, and then plunged it into a vessel full of
water. If the frog were then touched it might be seen, like other
frogs in similar circumstances, to respond by swimming about and
even jumping out of the vessel. The water was then warmed up to 40°.
The frog remained motionless, nor did it feel that the water was
growing hot; it did not try to leap out, and thus allowed the heat to
increase until it was boiled without making any movement which might
indicate sensation. Therefore the spinal cord alone cannot think. The
frog moves like a machine whenever it feels those stimuli to which it
is accustomed (like an automaton of which one must press a certain
knob in order to produce a particular movement); it is indifferent
to everything else, allowing itself to be burnt and boiled and never
moving, because no pain is felt.

My friend Tiegel, professor of physiology in Japan, made another
experiment. He took a snake and severed the head at a blow. While the
trunk was writhing on the ground he touched it with a red-hot iron bar,
and the snake wound itself round it and did not desist, although its
flesh was burnt and skin charred. And so, in this case too, the spinal
cord producing these movements is unreasoning.

But how to explain all the other apparently reasoning acts?

The structure of the nerve-centres can itself give an appearance of
intelligence to results which are purely mechanical. Let us assume
that the nerve-paths passing to the various muscles from one side or
the other transmit more or less easily the stimuli given off from the
spinal cord. A drop of vinegar having been put on the leg of a frog,
as before mentioned, certain muscles will at once move--that is, those
of which the nerves oppose the least resistance to the stimuli produced
in the centre. But if the animal cannot remove the cause of the
irritation, the latter accumulates in the spinal cord, so increasing
in force that the nervous tension makes a way for itself along more
resisting paths, thus giving rise to other less usual movements.


During my medical career I had more than once an opportunity of seeing
the human spinal cord injured or severed. The most interesting case
was that of a peasant, who, in falling from a tree, had severed the
spinal cord in the dorsal region a little below the shoulder-blades,
with a pruning hook. He moved his arms, spoke, but did not feel the
lower part of his body any longer, nor the pain which a wound he had on
the shin-bone would otherwise have caused him, although the leg moved
whenever we touched the sore in order to treat it.

Marshall Hall proved that all generative acts are dependent on the
lower part of the spinal cord, and Brachet tells of a soldier who
became the father of two children although the lower half of his body
was paralysed and quite without feeling. The only thing we do not
find in an animal with the spinal cord severed are those irregular
movements of the part separated from the brain, corresponding by their
spontaneity to those we call voluntary.

Frogs and other animals of which one has cut the spinal cord are in
general motionless and paralysed in the parts separated from the
brain; we must touch them in order to make them move. If one pinches
or slightly presses the hind-paw of a dog with the spinal cord severed
in the dorsal region, he moves it or draws it away, but does it
unconsciously, as we do if we are touched while asleep. If the stimulus
is strong, he moves the other leg and his tail; if stronger still, he
moves his whole body and trembles.

Even when the brain is wanting, slight stimuli produce a wagging of
the tail; strong stimuli the drawing of the tail between the legs.
This proves that certain characteristic phenomena of fear are produced
without any participation of the will or consciousness.

The liveliness and restlessness so characteristic of youth arise from
the greater excitability of the nervous system, which one always
notices in young animals. The age, race, and bodily condition render
very dissimilar the reflex movements by which animals deprived of
their brain respond, even when they are excited in the same manner.
The differences observable in character correspond to anatomical and
functional differences of the nerve-centres.

As it is impossible to find two men having all parts of their brain
or spinal cord exactly alike, we infer that these differences in the
structure of the nerve apparatus materially influence other functional
differences which seem to depend on causes of a higher order known
under the generic name of _will_. What many call free-will is only
a fatal necessity, an indissoluble chain of causes and effects, of
physical and mechanical actions, of automatic and unconscious reactions
in the living machine.


In order to understand certain phenomena of fear, we must first study
a few peculiarities presented by the excitable portions of the nervous
system. If one stimulates the nerve running through the frog’s leg
by very slight electric currents which are incapable of producing a
contraction of the muscles, the force of the current may be slowly
and evenly increased without the leg moving or in any way responding.
This experiment shows us that the motor nerves do not respond to
the stimulus as such, because the latter may be very strong without
producing any visible effect, but that it is the rapid variations and
changes which cause the convulsive movements.

Any pain or fear assailing us unexpectedly causes a great disturbance
in the organism, but have a less serious effect when slowly developed.

There is always a more energetic response during the first moments of
a sensation. This fact is true of all phenomena of the nervous system,
and it is therefore unnecessary to give examples of what everyone
knows from experience. This depends also upon the fact that the nervous
system discharges a part of its energy at every reaction, so that when
the animal is very weak it responds no more after the first two or
three times.

We now understand why slight, unexpected emotions produce such intense
perturbations in the organism, while very serious events for which we
are prepared have in proportion much less effect.


Pliny, in speaking of fear making one close the eyes, relates that
amongst twenty gladiators scarcely two were found who did not wink when
suddenly menaced.[8]

[8] Plinius: _Historia naturalis_, lib. xi., p. 480.

It is striking that such slight causes produce movements so pronounced
that we are not capable of suppressing them. We know that our friend
will certainly not poke his finger into our eye, but the conviction
that it is a joke does not suffice. Even if a thick pane of glass were
between us and the approaching hand, with all the force of reason and
will, many would be unable to avoid shutting the eyes, as though there
were in us two natures: one, animal and unreasoning which commands, and
the other human and intelligent which succumbs.

Again, when a gnat or a grain of dust gets into our eye, the eye
closes irresistibly by an automatic mechanism quite independent of
our will. Sometimes there is not only one contraction, but a somewhat
complicated series of movements excited in parts distant from the

As a convincing example, I shall communicate what I observed in an
investigation of deglutition. This act, performed unceasingly during
eating, is by no means voluntary, for if we try to repeat it a few
times in succession we notice at once that, as soon as we have no
saliva in the mouth, every effort to swallow is in vain. In order to
swallow it is necessary that a morsel of food or some fluid should
touch the mucous membrane of the posterior portion of the mouth. The
sensory nerves stimulated in this way communicate to the spinal cord
that a body is at the entrance of the œsophagus which must be sent to
the stomach. Immediately a succession of orders is issued, one after
the other, by the spinal cord, so that first the upper part of the
œsophagus contracts and propels the morsel a short way down, then a
further order causes a contraction of the next part, then comes another
order whereupon a part still lower down contracts, and so all the
successive portions of the œsophagus transmit the morsel one to another
by means of various separate orders until it reaches the stomach.

We have, therefore, in our nervous system mechanisms which work
automatically, and produce a series of contractions directed to one
object, which may, at first sight, appear voluntary, but is, in
reality, mechanical and unconscious. Some of these mechanisms we
bring into the world with us. If one puts a finger into the mouth of
a new-born child it begins to suck. It is a machine working without
discernment, as if one had touched the spring of an automatic doll; no
one teaches the child, he need not learn it at all in fact, for the
fœtus in the womb makes exactly the same movement. So it is with the
chicken, which pecks when just escaped from the shell. In this case,
what gives rise to the movement is no longer immediate contact as that
of the finger in the mouth, but the impression of light and sight,
which indeed is nothing else but contact with distant things by means
of the rays of light. Scarcely has the image of the grain formed itself
in the eye of the chicken but it pecks at it.

It suffices to observe our movements with a little attention, in order
to be convinced that a greater number of them are automatic than one
thinks. When we step out of bed in winter and thrust our naked feet
into our slippers, the foot has scarcely touched the cold leather but
it withdraws, and an effort is necessary in order to resist. We notice,
too, that when the shoemaker measures us for a pair of shoes, it is
somewhat difficult to keep our foot still even though he does not
tickle us. When one touches iron, a cup, or any other object which is
very hot, the hand lets go at once. This is a very useful circumstance,
because we often let go of a thing which might injure us before we
have even become aware that it burns or pricks. And when we have lost
consciousness through illness or any accident, the body takes care of
itself, as during sleep, by automatically removing itself from anything
which pricks, burns, chills, stings, or presses, and so on. If the pain
produced by burning is faint, only the one side of the body moves, if
it spreads and grows stronger, it affects the opposite side also, and
in the highest degrees, the whole body.

This law, which was established by Pflüger, holds good for normal and
uninjured animals as well as for those from which the brain has been
removed and which are unconscious. It shows us that the postures and
movements of the body, so characteristic of a man responding to sudden
pain, do not depend on his will. All that is most characteristic in
the phenomena of fear: the palpitation, shortness of breath, pallor,
screams, flight, trembling, are reflex movements. The more physiology
advances, the more the domain of free-will is restricted, and the
greater the increase of involuntary movements.




An animal deprived of the brain is a machine which requires external
stimuli in order to move. An uninjured animal is also a machine, but it
differs from the other by that power in itself which renders it capable
of moving and acting.

When an animal with its brain removed is touched on any point of its
body quite lightly, it does not respond at once to this external
stimulus, and only when these light touches are often repeated is a
reactionary movement excited. There are some very wonderful experiments
which made a great impression on me, when I first saw them performed
by my friends Kronecker and Stirling in the laboratory in Leipzig.
They took a decapitated frog, and fastened between the toes of one
of the hind-legs a pen, which made marks on the paper of a rotating
cylinder whenever the frog moved. Between the toes of the other leg
they fastened the wires of an electric current; a pendulum alternately
opening and closing the current in such a manner that an interrupted
stimulus was obtained. It was strange to see how the headless frog
responded regularly for hours. When stimulated by a weak current
(so weak that it could not be felt on the tongue) more numerous
repetitions, perhaps thirty, were necessary before the frog responded
by a spasmodic movement. If the stimulus were stronger a much smaller
number was sufficient to cause reaction, and this continued until life
was extinct.

Stimuli accumulate in the spinal cord. We all know it from experience;
when we have something in the throat which tickles us, the slight, and
at first scarcely perceptible, irritation becomes almost unbearable
if it continues, compelling us to cough in order to remove it. As
the Italian proverb says, one cannot disguise a cough. Even a slight
tickling of the skin has the same effect, and in the functions of
reproduction the repetition of slight stimuli produce greater and more
ungovernable reflex movements.

There are, however, impressions which remain longer accumulated in
the brain before their energy finds expression in muscular activity.
Sometimes a part of the nervous system charges itself slowly, like a
Leyden jar under the influence of weak electric sparks, the tension
of the nerve-cells remaining, as it were, hidden, until suddenly
discharged by a contact or some very slight impression. We are
astonished; it seems an accidental explosion to us, an effect out of
all proportion to the momentary cause, forgetting that fire glows under
ashes, that the force had been slowly accumulating, and so we believe
we have accomplished the act by means of the will.

The aptitude of the nerve-cells to accumulate and preserve external
impressions is such a leading fact in physiology that I do not know any
more important one.

If I were asked the difference between the brain and the spinal cord, I
should say that the brain is more capable of accumulating impressions,
not because of the difference of its substance, but because in it the
nerve-cells serving this purpose are found in greater abundance.

The manner in which the brain has formed itself in the evolution of the
animal world will render the comprehension of its activities easier.
Let us consider the simplest creatures, those possessing, so to speak,
only a spinal cord. The nerves branching off from the upper part to
the nostrils, eyes, ears, mouth, and elsewhere, were subjected during
the long series of generations to more continuous stimuli than other
nerves. The cells placed at the roots of these nerves were constantly
excited by impressions from the external world; chemical processes and
combustion would be more rapid in them, hence the necessity of a more
copious flow of blood to those parts which were in greater activity.
These cells multiplied rapidly at the roots of the organs of sense,
gradually covering a wider field. As the animal structure became more
perfect during evolution, and the relations of the animal to the outer
world increased, the more abundant and active the cells at the roots of
these nerves would become. We must not think here of one individual,
although individual exercise does strengthen an organ, but must fix
our eyes on the interminable chain of generations, all working in this

It was heredity (by which we still transmit to our children the
structure and functions acquired by the nerve-centres) which, through
the incessant efforts of our progenitors, enlarged this fertile field,
until at last it resulted in the mass of the brain.

If, on visiting a museum of comparative anatomy, the reader will look
into the glass cases set apart for the study of the nervous system, he
will see that the lowest animals have only a spinal cord, or a very
small protuberance at the place corresponding to the brain. As the
animal structure becomes more complicated, there is a visible increase
of the protuberance, which enlarges gradually the nearer one approaches
the superior animals, until at last it reaches its maximum size in man.


One of the greatest experimenters of modern physiology, Flourens, had
already given it as his opinion that the whole cerebral mass performs
the same functions in all its parts, and that if one portion be taken
away, those contiguous to it charge themselves with its offices. This
affords a partial explanation of the fact that wounds of the brain are
far less dangerous than those of the spinal cord. It is always a great
wonder, even to us physiologists, every time we convince ourselves on
living subjects that the brain is without feeling. Men have been seen
who suffered great portions of their brain, which protruded from the
skull, to be cut away, and sick drunkards or madmen, who, through the
wounds in their head, seized hold of the brain with their hands and
destroyed it.

Only in the last few years have physiologists succeeded in preserving
alive for some time dogs of which nearly all the convolutions of the
brain had been removed. Professor Goltz brought a dog in this state
from Strasburg to London, in order to show the phenomena which an
animal then presents, at the International Congress of Medicine. I
extract a few fragments from Professor Goltz’s work,[9] in order to
give an idea of the phenomena exhibited by dogs when deprived of a
great part of their brain.

[9] F. Goltz: _Ueber die Verrichtungen des Grosshirns_, p. 61, and
following. Bonn, 1881.

A brainless dog has a stupid, inane look. One reads idiocy even in
his eyes. His movements are slow and uncertain. It seems as though he
needed far more time than usual to come to a decision. His gait is like
that of a goose, there is something inexpressibly strange and comical
in it. The animal always walks straight on like an automaton. If he
meets another dog, he steps over him if he is little; if he is big
he may lift him with his head, or knock him down, but on he goes. He
tries awkwardly to step over every object he meets, although by simply
stepping aside he might pass on without hindrance. He only finds his
dish of food with difficulty, smell guiding him better than sight; he
snaps stupidly at everything he sees, even biting his own paws till he
howls with pain. He can no longer find the fragments of bone that fall
out of his mouth while chewing.

Dogs like these are no longer capable of learning anything, and one
might almost say that they have forgotten what they already knew; for
instance, they no longer give their paw to their master, as they used
to do. Their whole intellectual life is extinguished; only when they
hear a knock at the door do they bark, but they always begin too late.
Two dogs that hated each other, bit each other when they met, even
after both had lost a great part of their brain. Memory diminishes
in proportion as larger quantities of the brain are removed, and
disappears wholly when nearly the whole organ is wanting.


In order better to understand the working of the brain, we may divide
it in imagination into two parts: a lower, situated at the base of the
cerebral hemispheres, which forms the direct continuation of the spinal
cord and is the centre of those movements which arise involuntarily
during emotion; and another part in the upper story, as it were, which
consists of the cerebral convolutions, is also in connection with the
spinal cord, and must be considered as the seat of voluntary movement.

The enormous difference between the mind of a man and that of a child
exists because in the latter the upper story of the brain is not
developed, the convolutions are scarcely indicated, the organs of
will and speech are wanting. As the large pyramidal cells appear and
increase, the child acquires intelligence and speech; connections are
established with the lower story in order to set muscles and organs
which were before inactive into movement. But the difference between
these two stories of nerve-centres continues during the whole life. I
shall explain this by a few examples. A man is paralysed in consequence
of some injury which prevents the upper story of his brain from
communicating with the spinal cord. Hands and arms no longer move under
the influence of the will, but when some long-expected person appears,
or some sudden shock is given to the emotional sphere, he will be able
to lift his arms. There is a paralysis of the facial nerve in which
the voluntary closing of the eye is impossible, but if anyone makes a
movement, as though he were going to poke his finger into the eye, the
lid closes instantly. Later, we shall instance men who have remained
dumb for a long time, and have regained their speech in consequence of
a fright.

Dogs deprived of a large part of the upper story of the brain make no
sign of recognition when they see themselves threatened by the whip,
but if it is cracked they scamper off hurriedly, or rush forward at
it. A mouse with its hemispheres and optic thalami removed remained
undisturbed by every noise but that resembling an approaching cat, when
it jumped and fled.

By means of injuries to the brain physiologists can easily check the
activity of certain voluntary movements. If the peduncles of the
cerebellum and certain points of the cerebrum are injured, dogs can
be made to go either only to the right, or to the left, continually
backwards, or in a circle, as though they were in a circus. The will
of the animal is still in existence, but all his efforts are, as often
with us, fruitless. In spite of himself his body is drawn in the
direction determined by the lesion of the nerve-centres. Claude Bernard
tells of a brave old general who, by a cruel irony of fate, could only
march backwards.

Many physiologists have of late years tried to establish with precision
the point of the brain which is the seat of emotional expressions; that
is, that part, the destruction of which obliterates every expression
of fear or pain in the animal, although allowing life to continue. One
of the latest works published concerning this is by Bechterew. His
observations show that a dog, in whose brain the corpora bigemina and
quadrigemina have been destroyed, still barks and shows his teeth
if anything loathsome is given him to eat, or if something smelling
disagreeably is put before him; but that he is bereft of all expression
of disgust and loathing after the two optic thalami have been removed.
Hence Bechterew concludes that the paths of transmission along which
pass the involuntary commands which cause the muscles to contract, in
order to express the emotions, concentrate in the optic thalamus, which
is one of the deepest parts of the brain. The upper story of volition
and the lower of the emotions have here their point of union, whence to
excite in the muscles of the organism all the characteristic movements
of the passions.


Let us now see what instinctive qualities we inherit from our
forefathers, and what others we acquire through our own experience.

Long ago Galen performed a very simple and instructive experiment. He
cut a kid out of the body of its mother, laid it immediately on the
ground, and, near its head, dishes in which were oil, wine, honey,
vinegar, water, and milk. He then stood to observe the first movements
of the animal. After trembling a little, the kid got up, scratched
itself, smelt a few of the dishes, and at last drank the milk.

There are birds which, scarcely out of the shell, catch flies with such
precision that one is astonished at their bringing with them skill such
as must usually be acquired by long practice. Certain butterflies, on
leaving the cocoon, fly at once into the air, directing their flight
with the most perfect accuracy towards the flowers, to suck the nectar
from their cups.

We shall return to this point when we investigate fear in children.
Let us here only state that, at his birth, man is far less perfect
than many animals. He must acquire by education and experience much
knowledge of which animals are possessed at the beginning.

The less care parents give to their young, the more completely do they
furnish them through heredity with instinctive knowledge; the less
considerable this inheritance, the more care and attention must parents
give to their offspring in order to keep them alive.

This apparent inferiority in the gifts of instinct at birth is, as it
is with the gifts of fortune, fully compensated for by the greater
capability of those animals to increase their intellectual capacity by
education, and by the work of their own experience to surpass by far
animals more favoured by instinct; so it is with man, who subjugates
them all.

Let us think of the tremendous difficulties which walking presents to
man. Children are at first very much afraid of falling, even before
they have experienced such a thing. Every movement is performed with
difficulty; it is at first a task painfully learnt; gradually it
becomes less a matter of reflection, until at last one can scarcely
call it voluntary. We may not call it automatic, because when the will
to make us walk is wanting we do not move, but when we have once set
out on a walk, or to make a journey, we may go on for a long time
without reflecting in the least that we are walking.

Ribot[10] tells of a violoncellist who suffered from epileptic vertigo,
during which he became unconscious. He earned his living by playing in
the orchestra of a theatre, and it was often noticed that he continued
playing in time, even after he had lost consciousness. It has happened
to all of us to read aloud without understanding what we have read,
or absent-mindedly to write one word for another, and many will have
experienced such extreme fatigue that they have slept while walking.
There are endless phenomena proving that movements which at first
cost a great effort of the will, become at length so habitual that we
perform them without being aware of it.

[10] Th. Ribot: _Les Maladies de la Mémoire_, p. 9. Paris, 1881.

Now what is the cause of this transformation of voluntary into
automatic movements?

When we first try to execute a series of complicated movements the
brain must work hard. If the cells of the upper story--that is, of
the convolutions--do not take part in it, it all comes to nothing;
the assistance of all the organs of sense is necessary in order to
shed light on the confusion of orders and counterorders which must
be sent to all the fibres of the muscles. The work is accomplished
under the direction of a competent, enlightened administration; but
through repetition of the same work, easier paths, broader lines of
communication are formed in the lower story of the brain, and gradually
the same work can be performed by the cells of the lower part--that is,
without the co-operation of the will. This is easy to understand. The
oftener a thing is repeated, the more the mechanism tends to become
permanent, and it ends in the work being despatched by the less noble
parts of the brain.

The serious aspect of the question is, that physiologists would like to
catalogue many qualities which we have always considered as the most
noble of our character, the most sublime feelings of human nature,
amongst the automatic movements and more material instincts in the
lower story of the brain.

For instance, for the maintenance of our species the love of the mother
for her children is indispensable. The lower animals that produce a
numerous offspring may carelessly abandon them, but when the progeny is
sparse, there is no other way to preserve the species than through the
greater and more prolonged attention on the part of the parents.

Let us for a moment study the character of the monkey. I quote from the
celebrated book by Brehm, who conscientiously relates what he himself

'When the monkey-suckling is unable to do anything for itself, the
mother is all the more gentle and tender with it. She occupies herself
with it unceasingly, sometimes licking it, sometimes running after it
or embracing it, looking at it as though revelling in the sight of it;
then she lays it against her breast and rocks it to sleep. When the
little monkey grows bigger the mother grants him a little freedom, but
she never loses sight of him; she follows his every step and does not
permit him to do everything he likes. She washes him in the brooks and
smooths his fur with loving care.

'At the least danger she rushes to him with a cry, warning him to take
refuge in her arms. Any disobedience is punished with pinches or cuffs,
but this seldom happens, for the monkey does not do what its mother
objects to. The death of the young one is, in many cases, followed by
that of the mother from grief.[11] After a fight monkeys generally
leave their wounded on the field; only the mothers defend their young
against every enemy, however formidable. At first the mother tries
to escape with the young one, but if she falls, she emits a loud cry
of pain and remains still, in a threatening attitude, with wide-open
mouth, gnashing her teeth, and menacing the enemy with outstretched

[11] Brehm: _Thierleben_, p. 49. Leipzig, 1883.

Davancel tells of the profound emotion he experienced after having
killed a monkey. 'The poor animal had a young one with her, and the
bullet hit her in the region of the heart. She made a last effort,
placed the young one on the branch of a tree and then fell down
dead. I have never felt,’ he says, 'greater remorse at having
killed a creature, which, even in dying, showed feeling so worthy of

Whether this is instinct or affection, whether there is any difference
between the love of man and of the monkey, I do not feel called upon
to decide. I acknowledge that it is necessary for the maintenance of
the species that things should be thus, nor need our admiration for
mechanisms made in this way suffer any diminution.

I do not think I deserve praise for loving my mother. I remember what
she did for me; and even if all our affection were only a simple
automatic correspondence of instincts, if I knew that neither had the
power to act otherwise, I should be just as glad to be constituted in
such a manner that I cannot repress the throbbings of my heart whenever
her face rises in my memory. I do not think that my tears and sorrow
show less of love on that account.

And if I still feel myself drawn to the grave of the mother who died
long years ago, thus cherishing her memory by visiting it in the
greatest joys and sorrows of my life, I am glad to be an automaton
feeling the religion of love in this renewal of the grief and tears of
the last farewell.

[12] Brehm: _Thierleben_, p. 106. Leipzig, 1883.




When we have drawn on a pair of very tight gloves, we feel, if we
pay attention, a slight throbbing in the fingers, corresponding to
the rhythm of the cardiac pulsations. This throbbing arises because,
by every contraction of the heart, one hundred and eighty cubic
centimetres of blood--that is, about as much as can be contained in an
ordinary drinking-glass--are driven out of the cavity of the thorax.
As this wave of blood penetrates the various organs of the body they
swell, as is the case with the arteries which dilate at every pulsation
and then resume their former volume. When the hands are unconfined
we notice nothing, but if we squeeze them into gloves, or our feet
into tight shoes, we feel something beating in fingers and toes. This
is the blood gushing in, and as the skin cannot yield as in ordinary
conditions, the extremely delicate nerve-filaments which branch into it
are pressed at every pulsation. If our finger swells from a whitlow,
an inflammation, a knock or a burn, immediately the physiological
pulsations, unnoticed before, become continuous, causing an acute,
stinging pain. The blood flows more abundantly to the inflamed part,
the elasticity of the tissues diminishes, the skin becomes more
unyielding, an increased pressure on the nerves ensues, and these,
rendered more sensitive through the injury, communicate a painful
sensation to the brain which pricks unceasingly, keeping time with the
rhythm of the heart.

In no organ is the supply of blood so abundant as in the brain; it is
sufficient to state that one-fifth of the blood in our body goes to
the head. Often, when lying on our side with our cheek on the pillow,
we hear the waves of blood passing from the heart to the brain. The
arteries, in pulsating, raise the skin, and this movement occasions a
slight friction against the pillow, which then propagates itself to the
ear. But it is not the beating of the blood against the walls of the
vessels, as we feel it on the carotid artery of the neck, or on the
radial artery of the hand and elsewhere, which most interests us. A
whole world of important facts in the physiology of the emotions and in
the circulation of the blood would still be unknown if physicians were
still only feeling the pulse, as has been done from the earliest days
of medicine until now.

With the old methods we should never have succeeded in observing the
spectacle of continuous and ever-varying changes which the movement of
the blood operates in the brain, the hand, or the foot.

The physiologist used to be like a man wishful to study the life of a
city, and only able to do this by looking down from a terrace at the
coming and going of the crowd, the perpetual stream of people in the
street. Only of late years have we succeeded in penetrating into the
houses by the roof, in spying out the inner life of each family, in
studying the irrigation of the organs by the blood while they are at
work or in repose.

The pulse in the finest branches of the vessels and in the inward
recesses of the organs is such a subtile, delicate phenomenon that we
need the assistance of special instruments to intensify it before we
can study it. I shall not do as many naturalists do, who think they
should conceal the artistic side of their investigations from the fear
of desecrating science.

I know that every experimental work possesses an interesting side,
which is quite lost owing to the aridity and severity with which
scientific treatises are written, and I therefore abandon myself to the
recollections of my investigations, careless of following the style of
popular scientific books.


The first work which I published upon the circulation of blood in the
human brain brings sad recollections to me. It was in June 1875 that
my friend, Professor Carlo Giacomini, invited me to visit one of his
patients in the syphilitic ward. It was a peasant woman, thirty-seven
years of age, who, after having borne six children, had been infected
by her husband with the most terrible disease to which a mother may
fall a victim. For nine years the deadly poison had raged in her bones,
and, with only short intervals of respite, had corroded a great part of
the skeleton and destroyed the upper part of the skull from the nasal
bones to the occiput. Medical art had proved powerless to arrest the
disease. When Professor Giacomini took the woman out of pity into the
hospital, her face was disfigured, her body was covered with sores and
scars, the skin of the head was detached in various parts, the corroded
skull had a blackish colour, like dead bones encased in living flesh.

It was after hearing from this unhappy woman the story of her
misfortune, and during the intense emotion which pity for her aroused,
that I saw for the first time, through the fissures of the decayed
bones, the movement of the uncovered brain. Even to-day, eight years
later, when I think of that moment, a shiver runs over me as it did

The patient recovered strength after energetic treatment, and was
able to walk about the garden after a few weeks. It was then that we
began to study her brain. I shall not describe the various instruments
we constructed, but only remark that we lost much precious time with
different attempts, and when we were at last ready, the most favourable
time was already past, the wound was covered with a thick scab, which
dulled the pulse of the brain. Nevertheless, we made some rather
important observations, the results obtained being the most complete up
till that time in the physiology of cerebral circulation.

In order to give an instance of the delicacy of the apparatus, and
to prove the accuracy of our investigations, I mention the following
circumstance. One day we were assembled in the laboratory of Professor
Giacomini, intent on studying the brain of the patient, who was sitting
in her arm-chair, and seemed absent-minded. There were a few spectators
in the room, who were told to remain quietly behind the patient’s back.
In solemn silence we observed the curve marked by the cerebral pulse
on the registering apparatus. Suddenly, without any external cause,
the pulsations rose higher, and the brain increased in size. This
striking me as strange, I asked the woman how she felt; the answer was,
well. Seeing, however, that the circulation in the brain was very much
altered, I examined the instrument carefully, to see whether it was all
in order. Then I asked the patient to tell me most minutely what she
had been thinking about two minutes before. She said that, as she had
been looking absent-mindedly into a bookcase standing opposite to her,
she had caught sight of a skull between the books, adding that it had
frightened her by reminding her of her malady.

This poor woman was called Margherita; she was rather timid, but
willingly allowed herself to be examined and studied, full of
confidence in us, who vied with each other in showing her polite
attentions. Her children often visited her, but she was ashamed to go
back to her native place with her terribly disfigured face, preferring
to remain away from her family and perform the duties of nurse to the
other invalids in the hospital. After many years I felt a wish to see
her again. As I pressed her hand to encourage her, she told me that she
had at last given up the wish to die.


Chance furthered the continuation of these observations, new
opportunities for this study soon offering themselves in Turin and
elsewhere. In the lunatic asylum I found a boy a portion of whose skull
was wanting. In the year 1877 I came across a man in the hospital of
San Giovanni, who had an opening in his forehead which seemed made on
purpose for examination; and finally, last year, I was able to repeat
and conclude my investigations on a perfectly healthy man who had also
a hole in his skull. As yet I have had no opportunity of publishing the
observations and experiments made on this man.

How anxious and agitated we are when we enter upon a new field of
science; when, at every step, the doubt arises whether some important
phenomenon may not have escaped us! How we are tormented by the fear of
not being able to face the most vital questions, nor to find out those
phenomena most fruitful in results and most subtile! What trepidation
overcomes one before one writes down even a few lines in the book of

Even amongst physicians it is not easy to find any who are able to
write down the history of any fact or observation. The majority
of them only know how to relate things in the same dogmatic words
with which they are described in treatises, and only a few take the
trouble to examine the development of an idea. And yet, in the study
of human nature there is nothing more interesting than to follow the
different phases of a problem, to see whence a thought arose, to know
the first means by which nature was interrogated, then the sudden
changes of method, the incidents, the errors and corrections, and at
last the victory which crowns our labour and wins a fact for science.
I believe if it could be seen near at hand how a research develops in
the laboratories, the followers of the experimental sciences would be
greater in number.

It is a work of patience. The only difficulty consists in gradually
learning the language of Nature, in finding out the way to interrogate
her and compel her to reply. In this struggle, in which we, humble
pygmies, fight continually in order to wrest from Life its secret,
there are moments of intoxicating emotion, rays of light amongst the
shadows, which excite the imagination of the scholar and the artist.


The second case, which I studied in company with Dr. Albertotti, was
that of a boy eleven years of age, with an agreeable physiognomy and
very beautiful physical proportions. He had scarcely reached his second
year when he fell from a terrace, fracturing his skull and causing a
severe concussion of the brain. After two years and a half he began to
suffer from epileptic fits, and later, signs of insanity appeared which
obliged his relatives to send him to the lunatic asylum in Turin.

When I saw him in February 1877, he had a large opening in the skull,
a little above the right eye, and covered with skin; it was as big as
the palm of his hand, and in the pit of it one could feel the pulsing
of the brain. The terrible fall had for ever arrested his intellectual
development. He was gay, smiling, and lively, like a big baby, but he
could not speak. It was a saddening circumstance that in the midst of
this ruin of his mind one single higher idea had remained, a remnant of
his earlier intellectual life, a motto which he constantly repeated: 'I
want to go to school.’

Of all the human cases I have studied, the observations made on this
boy gave me the greatest trouble. As I had to do with an idiot, the
least obstacles became great difficulties. No apparatus could be
applied without his becoming restless, snatching it from his head, and
breaking everything which fell into his hands. I had to confine myself
to a few observations which could be made by surprising him while
asleep. But he did not sleep regularly; I have often found him still
awake, even when I made my nightly visit at a very late hour. It was
more than sleeplessness, it was a nocturnal excitement, which presaged
the storm of an epileptic attack. I have seen him the victim of the
most terrible fits, while, on the nights following, his sleep was so
deep as to leave one in doubt whether it was a natural phenomenon.

In the period of exhaustion and stupor, the blood-vessels of the brain
seemed to relax, and at every contraction of the heart the pulsations
became stronger. A faint noise which did not wake the patient was
enough to produce a change in the brain and a more abundant gush of
blood. It sufficed to touch him, or to approach him with the lamp:
immediately, the volume of the brain increased, and a great elevation
appeared in the curve of the pulse.

Whenever we called him by name, it seemed as though an impetuous wave
of blood rushed into the brain, causing the convolutions to swell. As
this was invariably the case, there could be no doubt that the brain
was still sensitive to the impressions of the external world, even
during a heavy sleep. When the patient was shaken till he woke, I could
see the circulation changing little by little, as though the material
conditions of consciousness were being restored.

He often spoke a few indistinct words, opened his eyes, or moved his
hands, and then slowly fell back into the previous stupor, while we saw
the pulse grow weaker, the brain decrease in volume, the rhythm and
force of the breathing change.

It was one of the most interesting sights to observe in the stillness
of night, by the light of a little lamp, what was going on in his
brain, when there was no external cause to disturb this mysterious life
of sleep. The brain-pulse remained for ten or twenty minutes quite
regular and very weak, and then began suddenly, without any apparent
cause, to swell and beat more vigorously. Then the agitation subsided
and there was a second period of quiet; then came stronger blood-waves
which flooded the convolutions, raising the height of the pulsations,
which were automatically marked by the apparatus applied to the brain.
We scarcely dared breathe. The one who was observing the instruments
communicated with the other, who was watching over the patient, by
pressing his hand. Looks full of interrogation and wonder would meet,
and exclamations had to be forcibly repressed.

Did dreams, perhaps, come to cheer the repose of the unhappy boy? Did
the face of his mother and the recollections of his early childhood
grow bright in his memory, lighting up the darkness of his intelligence
and making his brain pulsate with excitement? Or was it perhaps only a
morbid phenomenon, like the jerky movements of a broken wheel, or the
index of a machine out of order, swinging idly to and fro? Or was it
an unconscious agitation of matter, like the ebb and flow of an unknown
and solitary sea?

What a contrast between the pleasing emotion which this work roused in
us and the sadness of the surroundings! Even that quarter of the city
in which the asylum is situated has something characteristic about it,
which De Amicis compared to the silence and mystery of an Oriental
town. Sometimes, when late on winter evenings I made my way along the
deserted streets, I could not even hear my own footsteps as they fell
noiselessly on the snow. In the long dormitories of the hospital the
dim light of the lamp could not dissipate the gloom in the remote
corners of the room. However much care I took to glide softly through
the room, in order not to disturb the sleep of those poor wretches,
many were yet sitting upright in their beds, with staring eyes, seeming
to await my coming and ready to shriek at me as I passed. Others,
uncovered and naked, in spite of the winter cold, gazed at me with
empty, fixed eyes; while others again, bound, to prevent their injuring
either themselves or others in their mad fury, followed my steps with
wild glances.

What a cheerless sight for a physician, and for me, who came amongst
them to study the brain. At the end of these rooms was a little
chamber in which I watched my subject. Often I had to interrupt my
investigations, and, lamp in hand, go to the most noisy, begging,
imploring them to be silent for one minute. It was a waste of breath.
Caresses, presents, threats--all were alike of no avail. And when, late
at night, discouraged at the failure of my experiments, I left that
abode of pain, they were still awake, staring at me with the fixed,
impenetrable gaze of a sphynx or the malignant smile of a demon; and
when I stepped out into the desolate street again it seemed to me as
though I had just escaped from a vision of spectres.


Physiologists may wait a long time before finding a more suitable
subject on which to study the circulation of blood in the brain than my
Bertino. He had a hole in the very middle of the forehead, that seemed
made to allow one to look into the skull as an old Greek philosopher
once wished to do with the human heart.

To my regret the man only sojourned for a very short time in Turin, and
I could only study him during one week. He was a sturdy mountaineer,
who suffered from home-sickness, and seemed to be ashamed of his
disfigurement. In July 1877, as he was working under the belfry of his
village, he was struck on the head by a brick which a mason, working
near the roof, at a height of fourteen metres, let fall out of his
hand. Bertino fell to the ground as though struck by lightning. He
told me that he remembered nothing of it all, not even the blow he
had received, and that he regained consciousness after one hour. The
earliest recollection which he preserved of the accident was of the
moment before the blow. He remembered that he was standing under the
belfry watching a comrade dipping bricks into water; then came a period
of darkness in his mind, and when he came to himself again he found
himself, to his astonishment, in bed, while a surgeon held a watch
before him and asked him what time it was. From that moment his mind
had been quite clear. The terrible blow made an opening of the size of
a shilling in the middle of the forehead. When the splinters of bone
had been removed, the brain was seen through the opening, uncovered and
pulsating. After having been twenty-four hours in bed, he came on foot
to Turin. My friend, Dr. De Paoli, took me to see him. The patient had
lost nothing of his power of movement, of his intelligence, his speech,
or his memory; he was only very much afraid, and had a perpetual
expression of distrust and timidity, even about the most unimportant
things, which he tried in vain to conceal.

I must remark that in fractures of the skull the time favourable
to study is very short. Large wounds admit with difficulty of the
application of the instruments; the smaller ones are better adapted,
but they close much sooner from underneath by cicatrisation. When I
made the acquaintance of Bertino, the best time was already past;
nevertheless the investigations which I made on him are, according to
the judgment of competent physiologists, the most complete that have as
yet been published.

Eighteen months later I wrote to him, asking him to come to Turin, as
I wished to see him. He came at once, and told me that if he had not
escaped from the hospital he would have died of melancholy; that he had
not been able to bear being in rooms full of dying people, while at
home wife and children and fields were awaiting him. The opening in the
skull had closed, and the movements of the brain were no longer visible.


Let us now see how the brain writes when it guides the pen itself. I
have already collected a few volumes of these autographs, from which
I here give a single line as an example, written by Bertino’s brain
in the night of September 27, 1877. He was lying on a sofa. I had
applied the apparatus which traces the movements of the brain to his
forehead, and watched the pen writing on the cylinder while I waited
for him to fall asleep. At first the pen traced large undulations, a
certain sign of great restlessness in the blood-vessels of the brain;
the pulse-lines were considerably modified from time to time in form
and height, and this, although profound silence reigned. I might have
asked him what he was thinking of, but I did not do it, as I wished
urgently to see him fall asleep. At last the undulations began to
decrease, becoming lower and less frequent, sometimes separated from
each other by long periods of repose, like a lake gradually growing
calm, but upon which from time to time a little wave ripples, troubling
the smooth surface. At length Bertino fell asleep. Consciousness was
extinguished, the troublous thoughts of life had ceased, only the last
sentinels of the nervous system were still vigilant. At the slightest
noise a wave of blood disturbed the surface of the brain. If the
hospital clock struck the hour, or someone walked along the terrace, if
I moved my chair, or wound up my watch, or if a patient coughed in the
next room--everything, the slightest sound was accompanied by a marked
alteration in the circulation of the brain, all immediately traced by
the pen which the brain guided on the paper of my registering apparatus.


After an hour and a half, when I saw that Bertino was breathing quite
calmly, with the rhythm and in the characteristic manner of a sleeper,
I rose with great caution, approached the pillow on which he had laid
his head, and at that point in the curve where is the sign of the
arrow, ↓, I called him gently by name, 'Bertino.’ He did not move or
answer. If we examine the curve in fig. 1, we find that even before
the sign, ↓, four pulsations are somewhat higher than the preceding
ones. This first increase in the volume of the brain is due to the very
slight noise which I involuntarily made with the chair on rising to
approach Bertino.

After calling him by name, the brain wrote three pulsations which
have the form of the preceding ones; then the pulse changed, and
the pen traced four pulsations, one higher than the other. This is
the beginning of what I have called an _undulation_. During the
next pulsations the pulse-line gradually falls until it reaches the
previous height. In comparing the form of the pulsations at the
beginning of this curve with those at the end, we see that even this
very slight emotion, which was not able to interrupt sleep, yet
sufficed to produce a great modification. The pulse is stronger,
its form tricuspid. We physiologists would say that, from being
anacrotic, it had become catacrotic. But the variations which appear
in the circulation of the brain during fear are far greater. The
reproofs and threats which I uttered to Bertino when he was hindering
my experiments by moving his head or hands, the disagreeable things
which I sometimes purposely said to him, were always followed by very
strong pulsations; the brain-pulse became six, seven times higher than
before, the blood-vessels dilated, the brain swelled and palpitated
with such violence that physiologists were astonished when they saw the
reproductions of the curves, published in the tables of my researches
on the circulation of the brain.[13]

[13] _R. Accademia dei Lincei_, vol. v. series 3a; _Nuova Antologia_,
March 1881.


In Canada, in 1822, a soldier called Alexis St. Martin was shot at
from a short distance. The bullet penetrated the abdomen, perforating
the stomach. In a few months, thanks to the treatment of Dr. Beaumont,
he was completely healed, only an opening remained in the abdominal
walls through which the processes in the stomach could be seen.
Several physiologists in America had thus the opportunity of observing
the stomach during digestion by looking into its cavity as through
a window. The investigations made on this soldier resulted in the
statement that the stomach becomes redder as soon as digestion begins.
Later, physiologists showed, by other observations, that the salivary
glands grow red during mastication, and that the muscles contain more
blood when they are at work a long time. We all know that the eyes of
anyone who works long become red, that the feet swell after a long
walk, and that, in fencing, the muscles of the arms and the hand which
grasp the weapon grow thicker.

From these facts we may deduce a law which has no exceptions, namely,
that blood is more copiously supplied to an active organ.

The organs of our body are like so many little machines, to which
one must furnish fuel if their working power is to be increased. But
whereas, in ordinary mechanisms, it is a strange hand which keeps up
the fire and directs the movements, our organism is so perfect that
in it all apparatus regulate themselves with the greatest harmony of
object. In the working muscle the blood-vessels expand, thus more
easily to transmit the fuel, and in order that the muscle may convert
the chemical force of food into a contraction. In the digesting stomach
the circulation is more abundant, because the glands must secrete a
greater quantity of juice, the little veins absorb the fluids contained
in the stomach, and the muscles contract more quickly in order to mix
the food.

Our organism, like all working machines, not only consumes and destroys
fuel, here represented by those elements which constitute the blood,
but through its activity it also wastes those parts of the body which
represent the wheels, axles, hinges, and other parts of a mechanism. At
every contraction of the muscles, at every sensation in the brain and
nerves during any mental work, there is a wasting of the organs. The
blood, flowing continually through all parts of the body in order to
feed the flame of life, sweeps at the same time the most remote corners
of our organism clean of soot, or the remains of combustion. The
vessels become relaxed and expand. Nutrition and organic change become
more rapid, the nutritive fluid trickles more easily through the walls
of the vessels, the blood flows more quickly, and carries everywhere
along with it all the waste products in order to bring them to the
kidneys. These purify the blood, and expel, with the urine, the scoriæ
of the working organism.

We have seen how the circulation in the brain is accelerated during
mental activity, emotion, and in a waking condition; we shall return to
this subject in the next chapter, and study more nearly the mechanism
by which such variations are produced in all the other organs of the
body. This subject is of great importance to physiologists, because
in no other way can the slender link which connects psychological
phenomena with the material functions of the organism be rendered more

It suffices to increase or diminish in a slight degree the rapidity
of the blood penetrating to the brain, in order to cause an immediate
change of our 'ego.’ The equilibrium of the molecules in the organs
where consciousness has its seat is greatly disturbed by causes which
scarcely affect the functions of other parts of the body; because, in
the brain, nutrition is more active, and the state of the substances
composing it more unstable. The sublimity of psychic phenomena has its
root in the greater complication of the material facts by which they
are originated. If I were asked which of the functions of the organism
were most sensitive to the slightest organic change, I should, without
hesitation, answer--_consciousness_.


Often, in contemplating the brain of my patients, pondering over its
structure and functions, and seeing the blood coursing through it,
I have imagined that I might penetrate into the inner life of the
brain-cells, might follow the movements which agitate their minute
branches in the labyrinth of the nerve-centres; I have thought I might
learn the laws of organic change, the order, harmony, the most perfect
concatenations; but my mind might work as it listed, and imagination
seize the reins, I never yet saw anything, not the faintest gleam,
which gave me hope of penetrating to the source of thought.

During my investigations I have discovered the mechanism with which
nature provides for a more rapid circulation of blood when the brain
must enter into activity; I was the first to admire some of the
phenomena in which the material activity of this organ reveals itself;
but although I have scrutinised the functions of the brain with the
most exact methods of physiological investigation while it was pulsing
under my eyes, while ideas were seething in it, or while it rested in
sleep, the nature of the psychic processes still remains a mystery.

We all believe that the faculties of the mind are the fruit of an
uninterrupted series of natural causes, of physical and chemical
actions which lead from the simplest reflex-movements, step by step,
to instinct, reason, sentiment, and will; but as yet nothing has been
found which might lead us even to suspect, much less to comprehend, the
nature of consciousness.

We attain our firmest convictions in the domain of positivism, not from
the narrow field of physiology but from the whole kingdom of science.
We imagine that the impressions of the external world form a current
which penetrates the nerves, and, without either abatement or check,
diffuses and transforms itself in the centres, finally reappearing
in the sublime form of the idea; this is the notion of the soul held
by the philosophers of remote antiquity; this is the base of modern

We may suppose that thought must be a form of motion, because the
science of the present day demonstrates that all intimately known
phenomena may be reduced to a vibration of atoms and to a displacement
of molecules.

I can think of my brain by the analogy which it must have with that
of another; but the bridge which leads me from external to internal
observations I cannot find; between physical and psychic phenomena
there is a gulf which we cannot pass.

The soul was regarded by the ancients as a harmony. But how this
sublime harmony of imagination, of memory, of the passions, and of
thought, results from the vibration of the molecules constituting the
brain, no one knows. The road which connects psychic facts with the
transformation of energy has not yet been pointed out.

I know the chemical transformations which give rise to the mechanical
work of the muscles of my hand in writing, but I do not know the
processes of my brain which thinks and dictates.

Many have thought and asserted, because the muscles and glands of
our body grow heated by their work, that the brain and nerves also
grew warm during activity. For my part, I doubt the accuracy of the
methods used in these experiments, nor shall I be convinced unless it
be clearly shown to be a fact. As the nature of the chemical processes
taking place in the brain is totally unknown to us, it may be that the
brain grows colder during activity. The question can only be decided
when we succeed in eliminating the serious complications which the
greater flow of blood produces in such cases.

Till the present day no one knows what parts of the brain are consumed
in order to produce thought; no one can imagine how the molecules of
the blood penetrate the mass of cerebral cells and become part of
consciousness, and neither do we know how, from the joint life of the
single cells, something can arise which represents consciousness and

Doctrines are here of no use. When our mind has arrived at the last
division of matter, at the last localisation of psychic processes, we
feel that it is vain to say we are materialists or spiritualists. All
schools are confounded in the nullity of our ignorance. The nature of
matter is as incomprehensible as that of spirit. From Lucretius, who
gave thirty proofs to demonstrate the materiality of the soul, down to
modern materialists, not one step has been taken towards the discovery
of the nature of thought. As a matter of fact, many materialists throw
down one dogma and build another out of its ruins.

If we reject the hypothesis of the spiritualists, we must, with the
same severity, banish from the borders of experimental science those
who, in our time, wish to explain, by means of materialistic doctrines,
the mechanism generating thought. Anatomy and physiology, the knowledge
of structure and of cerebral functions, have scarcely lisped their
first words, and dense darkness reigns over the nature of nervous
processes, over the physical and chemical movements animating the
hidden parts where consciousness has its throne. Let us speak neither
of spirit nor of matter; let us candidly acknowledge our ignorance. We
trust to the future of science and persevere in the search after truth.




Man has, on the average, four kilograms of blood, and this fluid flows
incessantly in a system of tubes, in the centre of which the heart
is situated. The arteries carrying the blood from the heart to the
surface divide into many branches, separate, extend, and visit all
parts of the body, feeding and irrigating them. When the ramifications
of the arteries become so small that the eye can no longer see them,
as, for instance, in the lips, the finger-tips, the cheeks, the ears,
or any part of the skin, they take the name of capillaries. This is
meant to indicate that these little arteries are as fine as a hair,
but in reality they are very much finer. These last closely connected
capillary nets give the skin its beautiful rosy colour. But however
much they diminish, dividing and subdividing _ad infinitum_, they still
form a system of canals, with walls and closed on all sides. There must
be a wound, a cut, or a contusion, before the blood oozes out of these
little vessels. Out of the capillaries the blood passes into larger
canals called veins. Several veins flowing into each other form a
bigger vein; in the same way as a brook is formed by springs, as the
brooks, running into each other, form a rivulet, and the rivulets, a
river; so the veins gradually receive the blood in larger streams,
until at last they carry it in the great trunk-veins to the heart,
which drives it again into the arteries.

The little canals in which the blood circulates are provided with
muscular fibre. These may relax and the calibre of the vessels is
increased, or they contract and the calibre is reduced. The pallor, so
characteristic of fear, arises from a contraction of the vessels; the
beautiful blush of modesty, most eloquent of all the revelations of
psychic facts, is nothing else but a dilatation of the blood-vessels.
These two opposite phenomena do not depend on the heart, since we know
that the heart beats more forcibly and rapidly during the emotion of
modesty as well as during fright. From the nerve-centres innumerable
filaments branch off which are distributed to all the ramifications
of the blood-vessels. These are the so-called vaso-motor nerves,
which, without our noticing it, act on the muscular fibre of the small
arteries and veins, increasing or diminishing the calibre of the little
canals in which the blood flows.

The effects of the passions are far more evident on the countenance,
with its blushing and sudden pallor, than elsewhere, because in no
other part of the body are the blood-vessels so sensitive as in the
face. There are two reasons for this, firstly, the nerve-centres act
more powerfully on these vessels; secondly, they are more delicate,
sooner growing tired, and relaxing at the slightest disturbance of
nutrition. Indeed, if we inhale the vapour of a substance which,
like that of nitrite of amyl, paralyses the blood-vessels, the face
immediately becomes of a vivid red, and anyone making this experiment
feels his face aflame in a few seconds. This is the simplest method
which we possess for artificially producing the external phenomena of

At different ages and in different persons considerable differences
are noticeable with regard to the greater or lesser facility with
which they blush or grow pale. I made a long series of investigations
in order to see at what degree of temperature the paralysis of the
blood-vessels of the hands appears when we dip them into hot water, and
at what degree, and after what lapse of time, the hands begin to redden
when we hold them in ice-water or in snow, the differences being found
to be very considerable.

An old lady does not blush under those moral emotions which used to
betray her feelings as a girl; and this, not because age has overcome
the timidity of youth, or because the hard struggles of life have
blunted her sensibility, but because the blood-vessels of the face
have, in course of time, become less yielding. On long walks taken in
the sun, one always notices that the faces of babies are redder than
those of bigger children, and these, in their turn, are more flushed
than those of their parents.

Even persons of the same age do not respond in the same way to the
internal or external stimuli which tend to dilate or contract the
blood-vessels. It is well-known that all girls do not blush equally at
a pleasantry directed to them.

One must not ascribe the difference solely to shyness or modesty, since
the blood-vessels of different persons respond in various ways. In a
very warm room all the young girls have not equally flushed cheeks, and
if we pay attention when, on leaving a company, we touch the hands of
a great number of people who have been together for several hours in
the same room, we may easily notice the very great difference in the
temperature of the hands. In such circumstances, to have warm or cold
hands only means to have expanded or contracted blood-vessels.

Besides this action of warmth or cold, which is, so to speak, local,
there is another central action much more important to us--that which
produces the pallor, or flush of emotion. The nerve-centres can, by
means of the vaso-motor nerves, greatly alter the circulation in the
various parts of the body, as we all know from the continual changes
which the colour of the skin undergoes.

It is not necessary to mention the studies made on animals; the
observations which can be made on man suffice to show how this nervous
mechanism works. I know several persons whose blood-vessels differ in
sensitiveness on the right and left side, and who, therefore, feel the
effects of emotion more intensely on one side of the body.

At balls, on excursions in the mountains, and walks in the sunshine,
the attentive observer will notice great differences in the colour
of the two sides of the face. One often becomes aware of this from
the perspiration, which is more abundant on one part of the forehead
than on the other. My sister, for instance, when dancing, has one
cheek very much flushed, the other less so. With her, it is the right
side of the body which possesses more sensitive blood-vessels, which
are, therefore, more easily tired by exertion, heat, or emotion;
consequently this half of the face becomes redder, and receives a
greater quantity of blood.

A few days ago we went for a walk together into the mountains. Looking
down from a certain point we saw in the valley the funeral of a child.
A girl carried the little corpse, covered with flowers, on her head.
The bells of the village were ringing the 'Gloria,’ the funeral train,
with the priest at the head, appeared and vanished from time to time
between the green trees; children ran behind, carrying candles and
scattering flowers. It was a splendid autumn evening.

We had seen that little cherub with its golden hair just a few days
before, healthy and beautiful, enjoying itself at play, and now it was
to be hidden for ever under the cypresses of the churchyard. It was
our maid who carried the little one on her head; as she had said to
us, 'I must take him to be buried, because I am his godmother.’

My sister told me that as she watched she felt a shiver, as though she
had goose-skin all down the right side of the body, from head to foot.

Generally, the excitability of the vaso-motor nerves is the same in
both halves of the body, and we all experience during strong emotions a
feeling of cold, due to the contraction of the vessels, and spreading
over the whole body, as though a cold sheet were being wrapped round
our limbs and pressed upon our heart; this giving us an impression
which one might call a mingling of several indefinite and varying
impressions, as of darkness, cold, and of a dull, deep noise. The
impression is generally more perceptible in the head and back, more
rarely in the legs. Sometimes these contractions of the vessels take
place without our knowing the cause; the popular superstition says
that death is loitering near. It is one of those contractions arising
spontaneously, like the involuntary, sudden starts to which we are
often subject in bed before falling asleep.


Until recently no one had thought of studying the circulation in hands
or feet, since even the most practised eye cannot with certainty
distinguish the minimum variations in the colour of the skin, and
because the thermometer applied to the surface of the body cannot
accurately measure it. It occurred to me that one might easily attain
this object by measuring the volume of the hand. I took a long,
narrow bottle, and broke out the bottom of it. Into it the hand and a
good part of the fore-arm must be introduced, and the bottle closed
hermetically with putty. In the neck of the bottle I fastened a
stopper, through which a long slender glass tube passed, and filled
bottle and glass tube with tepid water.

I thought if a greater quantity of blood flows into the hand, an amount
of water corresponding to the increased quantity of blood will be
forced out of the bottle, and, on the contrary, if the blood-vessels
contract and the hand becomes smaller, the water contained in the
slender tube which passes through the stopper will flow into the bottle.

The first experiment, which I made on my brother, convinced me at
once that I had discovered the right method, although at that time I
was very far from imagining that I should be able to raise my simple
apparatus to the dignity of a scientific method, and with it to add a
chapter to the treatises of physiology.

I shall not detain the reader with a description of the perfecting of
this instrument, to which I gave the name of plethysmograph, or meter
of changes of volume.

A few months after making the first experiments on my brother, I
returned to Leipzig to see the celebrated physiologist Ludwig, in
order to tell him that I had thought out a very simple instrument,
by means of which interesting circumstances in the circulation of
the blood in man might be noticed. I shall always remember with deep
emotion the satisfied look with which he examined the sketches which
I, with trembling hand, drew upon the paper in order to make myself
intelligible, his sincere pleasure, and the words with which he
encouraged me to complete my studies in his laboratory.

I went to work at once and constructed two apparatus, one for each
arm, with the intention of studying the circulation in two parts of
the body at the same time. The phenomenon which had most surprised
me in my first experiments in Italy was the great instability of the
blood-vessels of the hand, in consequence of which it changed in volume
under the slightest emotions in the most surprising manner, whether the
subject were awake or asleep. A few days after having installed myself
in the laboratory in Leipzig, I was making an experiment in a room near
that of the professor, my colleague, Professor Luigi Pagliani, helping
me in everything with the devotion of a friend.

Our first object was to establish the relation between respiration and
change of volume in the hands. While Professor Pagliani was standing
before the registering apparatus, with his arms in the glass cylinders
filled with water, Professor Ludwig walked into the room. Immediately
the two pens indicating the volume of the arms, descended, as though
a vertical line, ten centimetres in length, were drawn down this page.
It was the first time that I had seen such a considerable decrease in
the volume of the hand and fore-arm, produced by an apparently slight
emotion. Professor Ludwig himself was very much astonished, and, with
that affability which made him so beloved by his pupils, took a pen and
wrote on the paper at that point where the plethysmograph had marked
the disturbance in the circulation caused by his appearance, _Der Löwe
kommt_ ('Enter the lion’).


In order to show more clearly the perpetual changes of locality which
the blood undergoes, accumulating now in one, now in another part of
the body, I constructed a balance of such a size that the beam (made
of wood) was sufficiently long and broad to allow of a man’s lying
at full length upon it, as may be seen in fig. 2. By means of the
weights, _R_, which run along the edge of the couch (moving upon the
fulcrum, _E_), it is easy, when the centre of gravity of the body is
nearly in the middle of the balance, to keep a man in equilibrium. In
order to prevent the balance swaying from side to side at every little
oscillation, I had to affix a heavy counterpoise of metal, _I_, which
can be moved up or down upon the screw, _G H_, fixed vertically in the
middle of the plank, _D C_, and firmly held by the lateral bars, _M L_.


The centre of gravity of the balance is placed in this way so low down
that it no longer sways at every little oscillation, the counterpoise,
which moves inversely to the inclination of the balance, by its weight
drawing the plank with it, and bringing it again into a horizontal
position. I made the balance so sensitive that it oscillated according
to the rhythm of respiration.

If one speaks to a person while he is lying on the balance
horizontally, in equilibrium and perfectly quiet, it inclines
immediately towards the head. The legs become lighter and the head
heavier. This phenomenon is constant, whatever pains the subject may
take not to move, however he may endeavour not to alter his breathing,
to suspend it temporarily, not to speak, to do nothing which may
produce a more copious flow of blood to the brain.

It was always a pleasant sight to my colleagues, visiting me during
my researches, when they found some friend or acquaintance sleeping
on the balance. In the afternoon hours, which I preferred for my
investigations, it often happened that one of them would grow drowsy,
and be rocked to sleep by the uniform oscillation of this scientific
cradle. Scarcely had some one about to enter touched the handle of the
door, than the balance inclined towards the head, remaining immovable
in this position for five, six, and even ten minutes, according to the
disturbance produced in the sleep. Often, after waking, the blood was
no longer distributed in the same manner; the weight _R_ had to be
moved towards the feet, from which an amount of blood had retreated
in order to circulate more actively in the brain. The subject would
then gradually grow drowsy again, and the balance incline towards the
feet, the blood flowing, so to speak, from the centres of activity, and
collecting in the veins of the feet. The weight _R_ had now to be moved
in the opposite direction, until, in sound sleep, that distribution of
the blood took place which is peculiar to this state of our organism.
In the meantime the respiratory oscillations continued. Then, when
all was quiet, one of us would intentionally make a slight noise, by
coughing, scraping a foot on the ground, or moving a chair, and at
once the balance inclined again towards the head, remaining immovable
for four or five minutes, without the subject’s noticing anything or
awaking. And also, when all was silent in the still hours of night, or
during an afternoon sleep, one often noticed, without the appearance
of any external cause, oscillations, as it were spontaneous changes of
locality of the blood, arising from dreams or psychic conditions acting
on the vaso-motor nerves and modifying the circulation, without the
participation of consciousness, or at least without a trace of these
processes remaining in the memory.


It was proved by my balance that, at the slightest emotion, the blood
rushes to the head. But this did not satisfy me. I wished to analyse
this phenomenon more minutely, and constructed other new instruments
in order to study it in all its particulars, and to follow the blood
while it streams from hands, feet, and arms to the brain. I have traced
the pulse for hours together, not of one part only, but nearly always
of several parts of the body at the same time--of the brain, the hands,
the feet, noting the slightest changes which the activity of thought,
external impressions, noises, or dreams produced on the blood-vessels,
waking or sleeping.

It was already known that the pulsations of the heart augment under
the influence of food and drink, but no one had observed, by means of
other instruments, certain modifications which the form of the pulse
undergoes, and which are so characteristic that I need now only see the
curve of a single pulsation of hand or foot in order to know whether
the person had eaten or was fasting. Again, between two pulsations
presented to me, I can distinguish that of the thinking and that of the
absent-minded man, that of the sleeper and that of one awake, that of
one who is warm and that of one who is cold, that of the tired man and
that of him who has rested, that of one who is afraid and that of one
who is tranquil.

One of my literary friends came one day to visit me in the laboratory,
in order to convince himself with his own eyes of these results, which
seemed to him scarcely credible. I proposed to make an experiment upon
himself, to see whether any change would be observable in his pulse
when he passed from reading an Italian book to a Greek one. At first
he laughed at the idea, but when we put it to the proof, we found
that with him also the pulse of the wrist changed considerably when
he passed from an easy work to the more difficult one of translating,
unprepared, a passage from Homer.

The vital processes are the more active the greater the rapidity with
which the blood circulates in our body; but in order to accelerate the
movement of the blood, the blood-vessels must contract. What we notice
in the course of rivers, namely, that the current becomes quicker
at that point where the bed is narrower, takes place also in our
circulatory system. When we are threatened by a danger, during fear,
emotion, when the organism must develop its strength, an automatic
contraction of the blood-vessels takes place, which renders the
movement of the blood more rapid in the nerve-centres.

It is on this account that the vessels at the surface of the body
contract, and we grow pale from fright or during violent emotion. I
have measured exactly the amount of blood which retreats from hands
and feet during the slightest emotions, also the number of seconds
between the moment when the emotion arises and that when the pallor is
greatest, but this is not the place for statistics.

A gentleman once told me that from fright a ring had one day fallen
from his finger which at other times he could only remove with
difficulty. He had also noticed that his fingers actually grew smaller
whenever he experienced strong emotion, thus rendering it easier to
take off the ring.

The proverb, 'Cold hand, warm heart,’ is the popular expression of the
fact that the hands grow cold when the blood, in consequence of an
emotion, retreats from the limbs to the heart.




In all ages and by all peoples the heart has been looked upon as the
centre of the passions, of feeling and of strength. Our word courage
comes from 'cœur’--heart. Nearly two thousand years ago it was proved
by physiologists that the heart was not the centre of sensibility, and
yet poets and common opinion continue to say that the heart is the most
sensitive part of the body.

In August 1879 Biffi showed in the Instituto Lombardo the heart of a
youth, in the left wall of which, in the autopsy, he had found a needle
sticking. The youth, who was of good family, was a poor unfortunate who
had killed his father in a fit of insanity, had then tried repeatedly
to commit suicide, and at length died mad in the hospital. While he
was still living with his family, about two years before his death, he
had said that he had stuck a needle into his heart, in order to put an
end to his life, but no one believed him. During the whole time which
he spent in the hospital the movements of the heart were regular and
quiet, the pulse normal, respiration easy, sleep good; he could lie in
all positions, and he never complained of any oppression in the region
of the heart. When he was dead a needle with a rusted eye was found
buried in the flesh and covered with a sheath which had grown around
it; the sharp, polished point had penetrated into the cavity of the
heart. The irritation caused by the perpetual pricking had produced
fleshy excrescences at that point where the heart was continually

This instance shows how insensible the heart is, and yet, in the
language of the poets and in the imagination of the people, it will
always remain the centre of the passions and of feeling, because during
fear, and in the decisive moments of life, we feel it hammering against
the walls of the chest like a machine hidden within, the force of its
contractions booming and echoing in our ears and head, exciting that
strange feeling of oppression which we imagine that this rebellious
organ, unchained by a storm of passion, alone produces.

The heart is nothing but a force-pump situated in the centre of the
blood-vessels, which, by the play of its valves and the contractions of
its muscles, keeps up the circulation in arteries and veins, driving
the blood into all parts of the body, an arrangement without which life
would be impossible.


In studying a machine one first seeks the most important part, without
which it could not move nor work. In the mechanism of our body, the
first part to develop and move is the heart, and it likewise is the
last to stand still. The development of this organ may be better
studied in the hen’s egg than in any other animal, as it can be seen on
the second day of incubation. At its first appearance it is in man, as
in animals, a fine, curved tube in the shape of an =S=. If we break an
egg taken from under a brood-hen towards the end of the second or the
beginning of the third day, the first rudiment of the heart may already
be seen pulsating. Towards the end of the fourth week after conception,
the human heart has already nearly the form which it preserves during
the whole of life. It is wonderful with what resistance the heart
struggles on its first appearance against every cause which threatens
its life. Professor Pflüger relates that a human embryo of about three
weeks’ gestation was left a whole night between two watch-glasses
in a cold room. In the morning it was found that the little heart
still contracted at intervals of twenty to thirty seconds, and these
movements were noticeable for almost another hour, becoming gradually
slower and weaker until the complete death of the embryo.

In animals incompletely developed there is no emotion capable of
modifying the rhythm of the heart. In a series of experiments which
I made on the heart in a hen’s egg during the first days of its
development, I found that the application of the strongest inductive
currents, such as were unbearable on the hands, produced not the least
effect. It was a strange sight, this surprising tenacity and unexpected
resistance in a little heart which was scarcely visible, and which
pulsated tranquilly under electrical discharges which would have killed
instantaneously the heart of a horse or an ox.

This shows us how well the organs are adapted to their functions. It is
the task of the heart in the chicken to work blindly and incessantly in
order to bring into circulation the little particles which gradually
build up the body of the animal, using for this purpose the materials
accumulated in the egg after it has received the spark of life through
fecundation. In the embryo there is no need to receive the impressions
of the outside world, and the organs for this purpose are still
lacking, the nerves have not yet appeared, the heart is free in the
midst of the chaos of matter in the course of organisation.


The fully-developed heart has a much more complicated innervation than
the other muscles. The arm or leg cut off from the body ceases at once
to move, but the heart removed from an animal continues to beat for
a long time. Those who frequent the anatomical lecture-rooms notice
sometimes with surprise slight movements at the base of the heart,
although the rest of the corpse has been cold and motionless for a
whole day. The heart owes this tenacity of life to the structure of
its thin walls, to its being immersed in blood, and, more than all,
to there being in its flesh little nerve-centres called ganglia. It
is on this account, however, by no means independent of the brain and
spinal cord, which can modify the rhythm and force of its pulsations
according to the needs of the internal economy. Our organism is one of
the most wonderful examples of that happy autonomy where liberty and
the functions of each organ are always subordinated to the interest
and advantage of all others, while the joint administration has as its
object the maintenance of life and the welfare of all.

The centre of the cardiac nerves is in the medulla oblongata, in the
most important part of the nervous system, near that point the wounding
of which even with a pin-point causes instant death, because there all
the paths of the nervous system converge.

Of the two nerves which carry commands to the heart, one serves
principally to slacken the pulsations, and has, since it acts as a
brake, received the name of inhibitory nerve; while the other, serving
to increase the frequency of the beats, to spur them on, so to speak,
is called the accelerator nerve.

The functions of the cardiac nerves, which may seem in this way to be
extremely simple, are in reality very complicated. Galvani was the
first who showed that an irritation of the spinal cord brought about an
arrest, or, as he called it, an _enchantment_ (_incantesimo_) of the


Boccaccio describes in a masterly manner the effects and changes which
love produces on the pulse:

'Thus it happened that he sickened most seriously through excess of
passion. Then were several physicians called to restore him, but,
despite their careful watching, they could not guess his disease, and
despaired of his recovery. And so it came to pass that one day, while
a physician, still young indeed, but of profound science, sat near
the patient, holding his arm there where the pulse beats, Giannetta
came for some reason into the room where the youth was lying, who,
when he saw the maiden, did not indeed betray his emotion either by
word or gesture, but felt the ardour of passion increase in his heart,
wherefore his pulse began to beat more violently than before. This the
physician incontinently noticed and wondered, but remained still to see
how long these pulsations would continue. When Giannetta left the room,
the pulse became calmer. The physician, now deeming he had discovered
the reason of the malady, caused the maiden to be called on the pretext
of having a question to put to her, he still holding the patient by
the wrist. Scarcely had she come into the room than the youth’s pulse
beat more rapidly, slackening once more at her departure. Whereupon the
physician, believing himself in possession of the truth, arose, and
taking the parents of the young man aside, said to them: “The health of
your son needs not the physician’s art; it lies in Giannetta’s hands.”’

So Boccaccio describes the diagnosis of the illness of the Count
of Antwerp; and long before Boccaccio, Plutarch had already stated
that the physician Erasistratus discovered the love of Antiochus to
Stratonice from the tumultuous irregularity of his pulse.

We here touch upon one of the greatest problems which criminal science
will propound in the future, when it asks the physiologist: 'Tell us of
what does this man think, who remains impassive before the traces of
his crime? Tell us if within him there is nothing pulsating--nothing,
either human or animal?’


I have in my laboratory a dog which was of service to me in a few
studies on fatigue. He is such a good animal that for two years I have
kept him, together with two other dogs of which I have grown fond,
and which, like old friends, shall always stay with me, unless some
dog-lover comes to beg them from me, as so often happens with good,
faithful dogs, that only in the physiological laboratories can escape
from the certain and cruel death to which the Corporation condemns
them. As he is a quiet dog, it occurred to me one day to try the
effect of a violent noise upon him. I made use of a little instrument
called a _cardiograph_, because it transmits the heart-beats to a
lever which traces them on a cylinder covered with smoked paper. I
applied this instrument, which is about the size of a half-crown, on
the place where the heart beats between the ribs, fixing it by means of
an elastic band fastened round the thorax. At first it wrote the curve
of the cardiac pulsations represented in fig. 3, which is reproduced
by means of photozincography. I regret having to present the reader
with more curves, but when one is able to see what the heart itself
writes, it would be unpardonable to try to translate its characteristic
language into words. Besides, it is not difficult to understand these
curves. The line _T_ signifies the time; it is written by an electric
clock which raises a pen every second and marks a tooth. It is, so to
speak, a controlling line, indispensable in graphic studies by which
one wishes to learn with the greatest exactness the changes which the
frequency of the pulse undergoes. In the line _T_ eighteen seconds are
marked, and the heart-beats registered in the same time in line _A_
amount to twenty-nine. If I had applied the cardiograph to the thorax
of a man I should have obtained a similar curve with fewer pulsations.
At each beat of the heart the pen rises and falls rapidly, and then
writes below a trembling line during which the heart does not beat. As
the thorax rises and expands during inspiration, the pen resting on
the ribs must likewise rise, therefore the three or four pulsations
taking place during the expansion of the thorax are marked successively
higher, sinking again with the commencement of expiration, thus forming
waves, as it were. From this curve, traced while the animal was
tranquil, we see that its heart, as indeed is also the case in man,
beats more frequently during inspiration than during expiration, the
heart-beats being nearer to each other in the ascending portion of the
curve, and further apart in the lower portion which corresponds to the
end of each expiration.

While the animal was perfectly quiet I motioned to my servant to fire
a gun, but he failed. It was an old hunting-gun, badly loaded perhaps,
and only the cartridge had caught fire. The dog, however, at once tried
to rise, and became strangely excited, much to our surprise. I had my
hands on the instrument which lay on the ribs where the heart beats,
and felt that its palpitations had become stronger and more rapid.
About a minute later we succeeded in taking the curve _B_ in fig. 4,
from which may be seen how much more frequent the pulsations were. The
animal had become so restless that we had to give up the experiment
and set him at liberty. When he was on the ground he went round the
laboratory sniffing everywhere. Presently we took the curve _C_, fig.
4, from which we can see that the emotion was not yet over, since the
beating of the heart is still quicker than in the normal curve marked
in fig. 3.

[Illustration: _T_




There were several of us together when this experiment was made--the
students of the laboratory, my assistants, and Professor Corona, and we
were all astonished at what took place. Some of the bystanders said at
once that it must be a hound. We had always taken him for a watch-dog,
as he was very big, and did not look in the least like a hound. We
determined to try a decisive experiment the next day.

We waited till the animal was perfectly quiet, and then held a gun so
that he could see it at a distance of a few steps from him, without
threatening him in any way. The dog at once recognised the weapon, and
again grew excited, showing a considerable change in the cardiac curve.

[Illustration: _D_



But the most evident proof that it was a hound was given by the very
violent emotion and the unexpected excitement which took possession
of him as soon as he heard the noise caused by the loading of the gun
and the click of the trigger. Even when he saw nothing, and this noise
was made at some distance from him, the beating of the heart changed
instantly (as may be seen in the following curve), and the animal
tried to rise and sniffed the air.

The curve _D_, fig. 5, shows the pulsations written with the
cardiograph applied to the thorax of the animal when quiet.

At a given time I signed to a person, whom the dog could not see,
to load the gun. Scarcely had the animal heard the clicking than he
moved; a few seconds passed, during which it was impossible to take
the curve, the dog being so restless. About a minute later I succeeded
in obtaining the curve _E_, fig. 6, in which one can see that the form
of respiration, as well as the frequency and force of the cardiac
pulsations, is altered.

[Illustration: _E_



After we had assured ourselves that these alterations of the pulse were
much less marked after other noises which did not resemble the loading
of a gun, we wished to convince ourselves whether the agitation was
caused by a fear of weapons. The next day the dog was again brought
into the laboratory, and while he lay on the table, and the action of
the heart was being marked, someone walked past him with a gun on his
shoulder. The dog recognised it again, became restless, tried to rise,
his heart beat violently, he began to wag his tail, and followed the
hunter with satisfied glances.


When strong emotions such as fear are concerned, one must have recourse
to other methods of writing the pulse, as the animal is very uneasy
and tries to escape. As this is a question as yet little considered in
physiology, I shall communicate a few experiments which I made bearing
upon it. Fig. 7 represents the pulse of the carotid artery of a dog.
During line _F_ the animal was quiet; the pulse is somewhat irregular,
which, in the dog, is a physiological fact. In line _G_ five normal
pulsations may be seen, while at _A_ a shot was fired two steps from
the dog. The report caused such a vibration of the air that the pen
trembled, as may be seen from the irregular outline of the first two
pulsations. The effect of fear on the heart is immediate. The frequency
of the beats becomes at once three times greater than before.

We waited till the dog was quiet again. Fifteen minutes afterwards the
curve _H_, which represents the normal pulse-line, was written, then
came six pulsations of the line _I_, while at _B_ a second shot was
fired, and immediately the pulse was accelerated.

[Illustration: _F_





But why does the heart beat more rapidly and frequently in fear? In
order to explain the cause of this phenomenon I must remind the reader
of the observations which I made during my studies of the pulse, and
of the circulation of the blood in the human brain during sleep. In a
sleeping person, at the slightest noise or touch, the pulse becomes
more frequent without the sleep being interrupted. This change is
indispensable in order to accelerate the circulation and to utilise to
the utmost the strength of the organism in preparing it for defence.
Our machine is so made that it changes automatically as required,
without the interference of the will being necessary. The palpitation
of the heart from fear is the exaggeration of a fact which we always
notice, whenever the organism must develop its maximum of energy and
increase the circulation in the nerve-centres; the heart does not work
for itself, but for the brain and muscles, which are the instruments of
combat, attack, defence, and flight.

The greater or lesser frequency and force of the pulse in emotion
depends upon the greater or lesser excitability of the nerve-centres.
Women and children, who are more sensitive, experience this palpitation
in greater intensity. When we say that women have more tender hearts,
we refer to the fact that their hearts respond to stimuli to which the
hearts of men remain impassive. We say of anyone who blushes and grows
pale easily, and is soon moved to tears or laughter, that he has a good
heart and a sincere character. But even cold, sceptical, egotistic,
impassive men, when they are suffering from some illness, or when the
excitability of their nervous system is intensified by some cause or
other, may be deeply moved, and betray their feelings like children.

One must be a physician in order to see how the most courageous men
become faint-hearted at a trifling loss of blood, and timid people,
in consequence of a more abundant flow of blood to the brain, perform
miracles of bravery. Weakness quickens the heart-beat even when we are
not moved by anything. We all know that we avoid giving certain news to
the convalescent which at other times would have produced little effect
upon them.

One of my colleagues had been ill eight days from a quinsy. When he
recovered and came to the laboratory, I hastened to visit him, and
found him sitting in an arm-chair, pale and exhausted. I asked him
how he was, to which he answered 'Very well,’ but that while scolding
his servant on account of some trifling matter, such a feeling of
oppression had seized him that he had to desist, as he was scarcely
able to draw breath. I felt his pulse, and found that it was above a
hundred. He laughed, and said, 'I never dreamt that my strong body was
such a paltry piece of machinery as to run down during the few days I
have not eaten as usual.’


It is necessary for the heart, as for all muscles, to be fed. For it,
indeed, this need is more imperative, as it may not stand still in
order to rest when it is tired. The continuous work to which it is
condemned explains to us how every alteration in the composition and
amount of blood is immediately manifested by changing its nutrition
and consequently its strength. Knowing that the heart is in constant
contact with the blood, that is, with the nutriment distributed by it
to all parts of the body, one might think that it could in this way
take the best part for itself, as it helps itself at first hand; at
the least, that it would take a more abundant portion than the other
organs, or that nature allowed it to satisfy its appetite unreservedly.
But this is not the case. In our body the rations of all organs are
calculated and distributed according to the need of each. There is also
a very strict economy of nutrition observed, because when any part of
the body works more than usual, its increased needs are supplied by
diminishing the rations of the other organs. The vaso-motor nerves are
charged with this distribution of victuals, if I may so express myself.
The heart, like all other muscles, takes as much blood as it needs for
its maintenance out of its cavity by means of the coronary arteries
branching off from the aorta. There is a control exercised over the
heart also, and the vaso-motor nerves could, if it were absolutely
necessary, diminish its rations and leave it barely sufficient strength
to distribute the food to all the other parts of the body.

Physiologists have endeavoured in vain during the last centuries to
find in the greater or lesser nutrition of the cardiac muscle the cause
of its more or less accelerated movements. One of the most daring
theories was propounded by Giovanni Lancisi, the celebrated Roman
court-physician, one of the most illustrious physiologists Italy has
ever possessed.

In his book 'De motu cordis,’ printed in the year 1728 by the Roman
University Press, he develops a theory so manifestly materialistic of
the origin of the pulsation of the heart during emotion and mental
suffering, that it seems almost impossible the book should have been
dedicated to the memory of Clement XI. and printed with the pontifical
types, by permission of the Sacred College. The Roman curia did not
foresee that those first steps would lead physiology so far away from
their dogmas, and did not suspect that such simple notions about the
functions of the human machine were pregnant with the innovative germs
of modern philosophy, since it allowed its great physician to speak
freely, and since it furnished him with the means for his physiological
investigations, heaped honours upon him, and handed down splendid
editions of his immortal books to posterity.

Mental functions are placed by Lancisi in close dependence on the
nerves, the ganglia, and the coronary vessels of the heart. The
material organs it is which influence mental movements. The heat of
passion, the storm of emotions, have in the heart mechanisms by which
they may be moderated and regulated. It is as though the nerves and
ganglia of the heart, by driving the blood with more or less violence
into the brain, could excite the instincts; as though the character
and disposition of the mind depended on the material structure and the
physical modifications of the body.




Oppression on the chest has in it something so irresistible that the
will cannot subdue it. A slight emotion, a little exertion, a loss of
blood, or a fever is sufficient, nay, it is only necessary to enter
a room where the air is warm or bad, to stoop or to go up steps, in
order at once to accelerate the breath. So long as we are quiet, we may
believe ourselves able to modify our respiratory movements at will;
but, when the calm ceases, the working of our machine becomes apparent,
and we are no longer able to arrest it. Our liberty is in no respect
complete with regard to the functions of the organism. We are like
children whom Nature allows to play so long as there is no danger to

In order to understand the meaning of the continual variations which
respiration undergoes, we must remember that our body is a very
complicated furnace, in which, to keep the flame of life aglow,
something must constantly be burnt. The respiratory movements, the
expansion and contraction of the lungs, represent the untiring work
of a bellows which keeps up the fire in the smithy of our organism.
We may breathe in two ways: either we expand the upper part of the
thorax by raising the ribs, or we expand it lower down by depressing
the diaphragm. The first movement is more common with women, in whom
the rise and fall of the bosom during emotion is so characteristic;
the other is more usual with men. When we sleep it is especially the
diaphragm which reposes; with some persons the abdomen is almost
motionless during sleep, but a slight noise or push, a voice, or any
external action suffices to make it resume its functions, and the
diaphragmatic breathing becomes more active. This takes place suddenly,
without our waking or being aware of it, and without any recollection
of it remaining in consciousness.

After this slight uneasiness, during which sleep becomes lighter
for a few minutes, is past, the respiration resumes the rhythm and
characteristic form of deep sleep. These changes, which take place
without any participation of the will, form one of the most wonderful
arrangements observable in this perfect machine of ours. When we lose
consciousness, Nature could not expose our body to the influences
of the external world, leaving it defenceless, a prey to dangerous
enemies. It is necessary that a detachment of the nerve-centres should,
even during sleep, keep watch on the outside world, and in good time
prepare the material conditions of consciousness and the attitude of
resistance. All unconscious phenomena which I have seen appear in
the transition from sleeping to waking are destined to increase the
circulation of the blood in the brain and reanimate the functions and
energy of the body. These centres are sentinels on the defensive,
watching continually and sounding the alarm when danger is nigh.

Man falls asleep after the labours of the day. The muscles relax, head
and arms fall powerless, the lids droop and cover the eyes, the legs
no longer hold us erect. The feverish waking activity ceases, the
fire slackens gradually within us, combustion is so much less active,
that the respiratory movements, which, during calm, waking moments
introduce about seven litres of air into the lungs every minute, have
now reduced the ventilation to one litre per minute. The heart, too,
rests by lessening the frequency of its contractions and diminishing
the energy and extent of the systole; the vessels enlarge, the pressure
of blood falls, and the body becomes noticeably colder. But, in spite
of this loss of consciousness and complete relaxation of the body,
there is still a close net of nerves and masses of nerve-cells which
retain their energy and watch over us. A voice, a distant noise, a ray
of light, a slight touch, any impression is enough to rouse the bellows
to renewed activity, to double the number of heart-beats, to cause the
vessels of the whole surface of the skin to contract, thus driving the
blood to the centres of life and restoring the material conditions of

In the struggle for existence that organism will most easily escape the
injuries of the external world in which this unconscious vigilance is
most perfect, and which is able with the greatest promptitude to pass
from the condition of profound repose to that of greatest activity
before the danger comes too near and injury is inevitable.


These studies of mine of the respiration in sleeping and waking man
make us understand more readily the signification of oppression during
emotion. The difference is only one of intensity and degree, not of
the nature and quality of the phenomenon. There is the same relation
between waking and sleeping as between calm and agitation of mind. Let
us consider the proof of this.

If we wish to study the respiratory movements with great accuracy,
it is no longer sufficient to observe how the thorax expands and
contracts; we must apply to chest and abdomen extremely delicate
instruments which mark automatically the slightest motion of the
thorax. These instruments, called _pneumographs_, are made in such a
manner as to cause no annoyance to the person on whom they are applied.
I shall communicate a few observations which I made on my dog. He is
such a good animal, that when I apply the pneumograph to the thorax
and put him on the table in order to write the respiratory movements,
he lies for hours quietly slumbering. But a mere nothing, the slightest
noise, is sufficient to cause an alteration in the rhythm of breathing.
This is an experiment which I have often repeated before my colleagues,
in order to show the extreme sensibility of the respiratory mechanism
to psychic conditions.

While all was quiet and the pneumograph was writing the respiratory
curve, it was enough if I spoke to someone, if I gave an order, touched
the apparatus or the table, or even if I looked at the dog and spoke
kindly to him--his breathing immediately became more rapid.

If the impression were slight, the effect lasted a few seconds;
sometimes I found that a single respiration had become quicker, but
generally the effect lasted longer. If a person whom the dog did not
know placed himself before him, the former respiratory rhythm did not
return; if I scolded him, the effect lasted many minutes till the
emotion had subsided.

Since I was in the laboratory at Leipzig I have made researches into
the changes which cerebral activity exercises on the respiratory
movements of men. This is a very complicated problem, as individual
differences are great. In the curves which I obtained from some of
my colleagues, who kindly placed themselves at my disposition for
my observations on respiration, I found that the differences during
intense mental work are very considerable. The reason for this
must be sought in the variable excitability of the nerve-centres,
and especially in the fact that the respiratory mechanism acts in a
contrary manner during strong and during weak emotions. I made a few
experiments on myself in order to see how the breathing changed, when
someone suddenly made a great noise, as, for instance, by firing a gun
behind my back while I was reading or absent-minded. I repeated these
experiments on dogs, and always found that a deeper, often very deep,
inspiration is caused, then there seems to be an arrest of respiration
which may last for several seconds, the respiratory movements becoming
immediately afterwards more frequent than before. Sometimes in a dog I
observed that a shot caused, first, a deep inspiration, then a light
expiration and inspiration, while the chest was much expanded; then
another deep inspiration like the first, after which the chest emptied
itself of the air accumulated in the lungs, and a succession of quicker
breaths with more rapid inspirations than usual was drawn. Those who
wish to find at once a plausible reason for all phenomena will perhaps
say that these deep breaths serve to oxidise and vivify the blood
streaming through the lungs, so that in this way the organism may
prepare itself for defence.


Let us now see of what parts the respiratory machine consists, and how
it puts its force into operation. In man the different parts of this
mechanism never act sufficiently in independence of each other to allow
of our surprising them separately at work. Only after decapitation has
the head been seen to make inspiratory movements although separated
from the trunk. Physicians who have had to be present at the execution
of the condemned tell of the terrible effect produced when the head of
the man rolls, gasping, to the ground, becoming instantaneously of a
corpse-like pallor, and disfigured by strange, spasmodic contractions,
the eyes rolling irregularly, horribly, for several seconds. The trunk
is already motionless, the blood, which at first poured forth in
great streams from the arteries of the neck, only spurts feebly and
at intervals, still obeying the weakening pulsations of the heart.
The eyes at last turn upwards, but life is not yet quite extinct, the
mouth still opens from time to time as though with a great effort. The
inspirations which at first distended the nostrils and opened wide the
mouth soon become less distinct and less frequent, until at last they
die away altogether.

If, after cutting off the head of a very young animal, we stop the
hæmorrhage by means of a bandage and then introduce a bellows into the
trachea, so that respiration may be artificially stimulated, we see
that the headless animal begins to breathe after the cessation of the
perturbing influence of the first shock. With kittens it is sufficient
to administer a small dose of strychnine (0·0005 gr.) in order to
produce respiratory movements in the trunk after decapitation, which,
however, become gradually weaker as they no longer suffice to maintain
the excitability of the nerve-centres through the oxidation of the

This simple experiment proves that respiration is accomplished by
nerves branching off from the brain and spinal cord. The consciousness
of our ego is not necessary; even a decapitated animal responds by
modifications of respiration when we pinch or squeeze his paws, because
the sensory nerves of the skin transmit the impressions of the external
world to the spinal cord. The deep, noisy, and interrupted inspirations
of anyone taking a plunge-bath are also involuntary, and when we
are overcome by fear it is the same mechanism which produces a deep

At every step which physiology makes, we discover fresh complications,
other wheels, if I may use the expression, within the wheels of our
organism. Until quite recently it was thought that the brain controlled
the respiratory centre, accelerating or arresting its movements; but it
has now been shown by Christiani that by means of a vivid light which
must strike the eyes of the animal, deep and frequent inspirations
may be produced even after the brain has been removed. Impressions of
sound, which would have frightened the animal, produce the same effect,
the oppression being even greater than in normal conditions. This
experiment shows us that, independently of cerebral action and psychic
operations, the rhythm of breathing alters at every change which
takes place in the external world, at every peripheral irritation of
the sensory nerves. Thus are explained the oppression and palpitation
of the heart which befall us at the banging of a door, at a clap of
thunder, and which we cannot suppress, which are produced by a sudden
noise on a thousand occasions before we learn the cause, and do not
disappear even when we have done so, and recognised the unimportant
origin of our perturbation.

In these studies, also, the materiality of psychic processes becomes
evident, as well as the slowness of operation in those phenomena which
are believed to be the most rapid in life.

Just as an electric spark or a flash of lightning which lasts the
one-thousandth part of a second leaves an impression in us a hundred
times longer; just as our eye is unable to follow the different
positions of a burning brand swung round in the dark, but sees, as
it were, a ribbon of fire; just as we burn our hand when we touch a
glowing object before we have time to feel the pain; just as, when
in movement, we often stumble against obstacles which confront us
without our having time to stop; so the impressions which reach the
nerve-centres keep us agitated for some time without our having the
force to stand still midway on the declivity down which the sudden
impetus of the emotion is speeding us. We have all experienced this
inability of the organism, we know that we do not succeed in subduing
even the slightest mental perturbations. Suppose a person is walking
quietly along, when suddenly he sees before him the figure of a
man whom he was trying to avoid. At once his blood begins to boil.
Scarcely, however, has he seen the man before he becomes aware that he
has made a mistake, and he is glad; but his heart has already begun
to beat more vigorously, the perturbation and oppression do not at
once subside, but continue to annoy for some time. They are like the
continued vibrations of a cord that has been shaken, like a flame
shooting up as the spark disturbs the equilibrium of the molecules
in the nerve-centres, like the echo of a sound reverberating in the
nervous fibres and slowly dying away.


What is the last expression of pain, the last manifestation of
sensibility? This is a question we must study in order to learn the
relative importance of the phenomena making up the picture of fear,
and to see which of these offer the most lengthened resistance in the
struggle with death.

By means of chloral or alcohol I have produced such a profound sleep in
dogs or rabbits that they could not rouse themselves again. One cannot
imagine a quieter decease, a gentler and more gradual sinking of the
organism into the arms of death.

As soon as a strong dose of chloral or alcohol has been administered,
the animal becomes somewhat excited, the hind legs begin to give
way; when we call him he cannot turn without falling; he rises,
makes another attempt, totters, turns round, falls again, rises with
difficulty, and finally lies down stretched out and tranquil. From time
to time he tries to raise his head and then falls into a leaden sleep.
The respiration is slower, the temperature gradually falls, at length
the wagging of the tail ceases. The lids droop over the sleepy eyes,
the face is tranquil, the ears motionless, whatever pain the efforts
made to awaken him may cause. One might think he was dead.

The only method which physiologists had of finding out whether
an animal in this condition was still capable of feeling was by
investigating whether the heart and blood-vessels still responded to
painful stimuli.

My friend, Professor Foà, showed in a work carried out together with
Professor M. Schiff,[14] that even when heart and blood-vessels
no longer respond, when the circulation is no longer modified,
whatever may be the perturbation of the nerve-centres, a last trace
of sensibility may still be observed in the eye, the pupil dilating
whenever the animal is irritated.

[14] Foà e M. Schiff. _La pupilla come estesiometro._ In the
_Imparziale_, 1874, p. 617.

But I have seen dogs, poisoned with chloral, of which the temperature
had sunk to 30°, so extremely slow had the chemical processes of
respiration become; no electric current, no mechanical action was
capable of producing even the slightest movement of the limbs or
face; the pulse, pressure of blood, the pupil, in a word everything
had become impassive, no effect being obtained on the pulse even when
the cardiac nerves were laid bare, severed, irritated by electric
currents--and yet the animal was still sensible. By carefully studying
the respiration I saw that it was modified whenever a leg or any other
part of the body was pinched.

The alteration of the breathing is therefore the last function of the
organism in which sensibility and emotion reveal themselves.


We know that, whatever nerve of the skin is irritated, a succession of
deeper and more frequent inspirations follows, and we have seen that
this phenomenon is useful to the organism. But if the excitement of a
nerve becomes so strong as to cause violent pain, or if a very vivid
impression is received as in fright, the mechanism stops short midway
in a deep inspiration, and this is injurious.

Some few times I have been in danger of my life, and always remember
to have felt a terrible oppression, as though my breath had been cut
short. A few months ago I was overtaken by a storm on the mountains,
when the lightning struck the ground about fifty steps from me, and
I remember having noticed that respiration was arrested for several

We, who carry this fragile machine of our body about with us
continually, ought to remember that every shock which exceeds the usual
measure may prove fatal. A slight touch of the pendulum accelerates
the rotation of the wheels, a stronger one stops their movement; a
slight impetus helps us onward, a rude push throws us to the ground. It
is thus that the phenomena of fear, which may be useful to us in lesser
degrees, become morbid and fatal to the organism as soon as they exceed
a certain limit; for this reason fear must be looked upon as a disease.

Most noticeable is this irregularity of respiration in children. We
all remember to have seen children fall, and to have remarked with
astonishment that, after a shrill scream, they remained still for
some time, finally bursting into broken sobs. This is a suspension of
respiration. When the sudden pain of a violent blow is felt, the child
draws a deep breath with contracted glottis, and emits a sharp cry,
then at the height of the inspiration a spasmodic arrest occurs.

There are some very nervous children in whom this spasmodic arrest
takes place even in slight emotions. I knew a child of this kind, who,
one day, because its father had not taken it with him, began to cry
brokenly, and suffered an arrest of breath which lasted a minute or
longer. The child’s mouth was wide open, he became livid, lips and
countenance were purplish, the eyes were half shut and full of tears.
The struggle for breath was so great that the child lost its balance
and fell, expelled fæces and urine, and then recovered as though
nothing had happened. I was told that this took place whenever the
child was thwarted.




The old physiologists believed that the mind of brutes only obeyed two
stimuli--pain and pleasure, and that all processes of their organism
had as aim to avoid the bad and procure the good. Albrecht von Haller
combated this opinion in the last century. 'This theory’, he says,
'does not in any way accord with the phenomena. If you consider the
movements of an animal during fear, in imminent danger, as having
preservation of life for their object, is there anything more absurd
than the trembling of the knees and the sudden weakness which befalls
it? I am persuaded that all phenomena of fear common to animals are not
aimed at the preservation of the timid but rather at their destruction.
In order to preserve a just balance it is necessary that the more
prolific animals should be destroyed by the less prolific, therefore
necessary that those animals destined to be the prey of others should
not be able to defend themselves easily’.[15]

[15] Haller: _Elementa physiologiæ corporis humani_, tom. v., lib.
xvii. § vii.

I think Charles Darwin must not have been acquainted with this
explanation of trembling, as I am convinced he would otherwise have
tried to combat it, or would at least have mentioned it in his
writings. He was much too conscientious to ignore an objection made to
his theories.

Here we have the example of another phenomenon which seems to
contradict certain hypotheses of Spencer and Darwin. If it is true
that, in the struggle for existence, animals have always perfected
those capabilities which are most useful to them in defending
themselves, and have gradually left behind, with the generations that
have succumbed, all dispositions of the organism which were pernicious
to the preservation of the species, why have they not succeeded in
freeing themselves from trembling? Why, on the contrary, in critical,
decisive moments, when danger confronts them, when their existence
is threatened, when nothing is more imperative than flight, attack
or defence, do we see animals paralysed with trembling, incapable of
struggling, and perishing without their strength having in the least
profited them? As Haller’s hypothesis is not sufficient to justify
such a serious imperfection in organisms, we must seek the reasons and
causes of this phenomenon elsewhere.


Charles Darwin, in his celebrated book on the 'Expression of the
Emotions,’ says: 'Trembling, which is common to man and to many, or
most, of the lower animals, is of no service, often of much disservice,
and cannot have been at first acquired through the will, and then
rendered habitual in association with any emotion.’[16] He then remarks
that trembling is a very obscure phenomenon, and drops the subject.

Paolo Mantegazza accuses Darwin of great negligence with regard to this
important problem, and says in his estimable work on 'Physiognomy and
Mimicry,’ 'Darwin confesses that he does not consider trembling during
fear useful; but, according to my experimental studies of pain, I find
it most serviceable, as it tends to generate warmth, to heat the blood
which is inclined to grow too cold under the influence of fear.’[17]

Since I must take part in this controversy, there is no other way but
to examine attentively the various conditions of the organism in which
trembling occurs, and then discuss the matter without prejudice. I
acknowledge that I approach this task with some trepidation, because
Mantegazza’s authority in physiology is so great that even Darwin’s
name scarcely encourages an independent opinion. Let us consider the

[16] Darwin, chap. iii., p. 67.

[17] Mantegazza, chap. vii., p. 119.

When we see horses, dogs, or men tremble from fear in the height of
summer, at a temperature of 37°, and under the burning rays of the
sun, one is inclined to think it is not from any necessity of warming
themselves, all the more because monkeys, elephants, and many other
animals always found at the equator tremble when they are frightened,
even in their tropical countries.

In fever our teeth chatter while the temperature of the body is
over 40°, and human economy, far from seeking to heat the blood by
trembling, seems rather to stand in need of some mechanism which would
cool it, so as to preserve life. After severe exertion or protracted
work with the arms, our hands tremble, even when we are panting with
heat. When exhausted after the forced marches which I had to make
during my studies of fatigue, I have noticed that in the evening, on
my return from the peak of Monte Viso or from the highest glaciers
of Monte Rosa, my legs trembled, although the temperature of my body
was one or two degrees above the normal. Tea, alcohol, coffee, and
many stimulating medicines cause a very visible tremor. In convulsive
laughter, pleasure, intoxication, voluptuous enjoyment, anger, when the
necessity for heating the blood is certainly not apparent, one trembles
also, the voice vibrates and the legs shake. All this makes it probable
that Darwin is right, and more decidedly do I incline to his side when
I think of the disastrous effects which trembling produces during fear.
Seals and many animals, of which I shall speak more in detail in the
chapter on Fright, tremble so violently that they cannot make their
escape, and allow themselves to be overcome and miserably killed. How
can we, amongst the sublime perfections which we admire in organisms,
admit the contradiction that an animal, in order to warm itself,
does not flee from danger but trembles till it is killed, whereas in
running away, it could warm itself much better and save its life as
well? But the question must not be judged in this way. The divergent
opinions which arise in the interpretation of facts are most difficult
to resolve in science, because to one of the adversaries there always
remains a certain territory in which he may intrench himself.


In order to learn the actual nature of trembling we must first see how
the muscles are made and how they act.

If we look at a muscular filament as fine as a hair under the
microscope, we see that it consists of nearly a hundred extremely fine
fibrillæ lying close to each other in the form of bundles. It is these
which together form those minute threads seen with the naked eye in
fibrous meat. Each fibril, seen under a powerful microscope magnifying
three or four hundred times, appears formed of a series of muscular
elements, or, let us say, of so many little boxes, piled one on the top
of the other like a battery and about two-thousandths of a millimetre
in thickness. Each little box is prismatic in form and terminates in
two flat ends. It was an English physiologist who described these
little boxes for the first time; they are therefore known in science
as Bowman’s muscular elements. The resemblance of each fibril to
a voltaic pile is so great that some have tried, but in vain, to
establish an analogy between their functions.

The nerves which go to the muscles send their branches to every fibre,
like the fine cords of a match which serve the purpose of firing the
powder in the mines at a distance, or, to make use of another simile
nearer the truth, although still very far from reality, like the thin
wire which conducts the electric spark to a cartouch of dynamite.
When the nerve discharges its influence into the muscles, a very
rapid molecular change takes place in the substance contained in the
cartouches or muscular boxes, which contract, pressing their ends
close together. Scarcely has the action of the nerves ceased than they
relax and resume their previous form. It is well known, that when a
muscle contracts, it becomes thicker and shorter; it suffices to take
hold of the arm a little above the elbow and then to bend it in order
to feel how the biceps muscle swells and hardens. Wherever a muscular
contraction is produced, we may always imagine it as the transverse
thickening of an innumerable series of little prismatic boxes, which at
the same time shorten in the direction of the fibres.

The blood, which circulates in all the most remote corners of the
organism, brings, so to speak, fresh explosive materials to charge
the muscles again, cleansing it also from the soot and scoriæ. The
movement of the blood in the cells and fibres of the body is like a
brook flowing through a village, from which every house may draw water
for its needs, and into which any useless articles may be thrown and so
carried away.

If we stop our ears with our fingers, we hear a dull noise, like the
distant roar of cannon or a prolonged peal of thunder. This thunder
is produced by the contraction of the muscles, for the nerves do not
exercise a constant action on the fibres, but develop their influence
in very rapid, irregular shocks, like the rattle of musketry in a

It is seldom that a nervous discharge takes place all at once, like a
volley of shot, in order to produce an instantaneous contraction, or,
as physicians would say, a clonic contraction. Generally the discharges
in muscular exertion begin in a few fibres; when these become weak,
others come to reinforce the contraction; these cease, and others are
charged; those are exhausted and others take up their work; thus a
continuous tension of the muscle may be maintained. We must, therefore,
consider the contraction of a muscle as an extremely rapid trembling of
its most minute parts. When we become weaker through illness or from
any other cause, we tremble because the contractions are so drawn out
and distended as to show the elements composing them. If we poison a
frog with some substance which diminishes the vitality of the nerves,
there is a trembling of the legs at every exertion which the animal
makes to move. In the violent and fatal contractions of tetanus, one
can hear the muscular noise even at a distance. Those poor dogs which
we see in the street cruelly poisoned with strychnine send forth during
their convulsions, if laid on a sounding-board, a characteristic sound
which arises from the extremely rapid vibrations of their muscles. It
is the sound of tetanus.


Trembling may be produced by two opposite causes, either by an
excessive development of nervous tension, or by weakness. 'Les
tremblements ont deux diverses causes: l’une est qu’il vient
quelquefois trop peu d’esprits du cerveau dans les nerfs, et l’autre
qu’il y en vient quelquefois trop.’ Descartes told us this two hundred
years ago.

If we bend the forearm forcibly against the upper arm, as though to
touch the shoulder with the clenched fist, we notice at once that
our hand trembles, because the discharges, by means of which the
contractions are produced and regulated, do not exactly answer their
purpose. If we press the butt of the musket too firmly against our
shoulder, or shoot with a heavy gun, we hit the mark less easily
because of the trembling of our arms. We may, however, in a great
measure correct these physiological imperfections; thus it is that a
few months of practice in drawing will enable anyone to draw straight
lines and to outline with a firm touch.

In order to understand the whole mechanism of trembling, we must
remember that in grasping an object, we not only make use of those
muscles which bend the fingers but also of those which serve to open
the hand. The work of the muscles which oppose a movement, and which
are therefore called antagonistic, is extremely efficacious, and is
indeed indispensable in order to graduate and regulate muscular actions
with accuracy. When we wish to move our eyes, all the muscles enter
into tension, but one prevails and guides them to the desired point.
When we take hold of the pen to write, we do not only bend the flexors
of the fingers but also involuntarily contract the extensors. Without
this it would be impossible suddenly to arrest the hand, the eyes, or
any other part of the body in rapid motion.

Exhaustion or over-excitement of the nerve-centres destroys the harmony
of aim of muscular contractions. The hand trembles, because the tension
of the flexors and extensors is no longer evenly and firmly, but
jerkily maintained. If we endeavour to keep the arm stretched out,
we find we are not able to regulate the nervous discharges in such a
manner as to preserve the equilibrium of the muscles during work, they
relax and contract alternately on one side or the other; scarcely do
the flexors give way, than the antagonist muscles succeed in bending
the arm in their direction, then these shorten in their turn, rapidly
resuming their previous position; but no sooner has an effort been made
by the muscles of the other side, than they are again overcome by the
antagonists. In this way a perpetual wavering is brought about, and the
organs of the body sway, waver, or tremble according to the rapidity
with which the muscles relax, without the will being able to control

In joy and intense pain there is a degree of emotion in which the
intonation of the voice is changed, because the nerves which move the
muscles of the larynx no longer regularly adjust the vocal cords. This
is the origin of the _tremolo_ which serves to heighten the pathetic
expression in singing. Many are scarcely able to speak, but stammer
under the influence of an emotion. It is difficult to pitch a loud note
and sustain it with expanded chest without the voice trembling; in the
same way one cannot scream for any length of time without the voice
turning shrill and harsh, because the muscles tire and the movements of
the larynx can only be imperfectly regulated; similarly, when we write
after running or violent exercise, certain unusual flourishes appear
which make the characters unrecognisable.

I have noticed a curious tremor during inspiration in suffering men
and animals. I have found it in a less degree also in healthy animals,
particularly in dogs. At every inspiration there is a very noticeable
tremor of the limbs and of nearly the whole muscular system. The
excitement arising in the nerve-centres to produce a contraction of
the diaphragm and of the muscles of the thorax seems to have become so
strong, that it goes beyond the limits of the respiratory centre and
diffuses itself over a great part of the nerves. In anger, fear, and
mental perturbations, when the stormy winds of passion rage, waves flow
to all parts of the nervous system, then break, revealing themselves in
the agitation of the muscles.

Trembling often has a peripheral origin, and may be due to both heat
and cold. It is sufficient to hold the arm in water heated up to 48° or
50° in order to produce a visible tremor. This fact, which I observed
repeatedly on my brother, corresponds to the chattering of the teeth
when a cold stream of air strikes our face.


Very excitable dogs often tremble when another dog approaches. I know
one that trembles like a leaf whenever, from the height of a second
floor, he sees a bigger dog passing in the street. This lively alarm
is quite pitiable, and after all most unnecessary, for the most of
his supposed rivals do not perceive his presence, nor even look up.
But as soon as he catches sight of them in the distance, he becomes
suspicious, a feverish shiver goes over him, the hair on his back
stands on end, his whole body trembles, while he cowers near the
window with ears erect, looking fiercely out of the corners of his
eyes, snarling, and showing his teeth--a ridiculous instance of timid
arrogance and despised pride.

But most clearly does trembling become manifest during fear. As army
surgeon, I had once to be present at the execution of some brigands.
It was a summary judgment. A major of the _bersaglieri_ put a few
questions to one or two, then turning to the captain said simply:
'Shoot them.’ Some were dumb-founded and stood open-mouthed, petrified;
others seemed indifferent. I remember one lad, of scarcely twenty years
of age, who mumbled replies to a few questions, then remained silent,
in the position of a man warding off a fatal blow, with lifted arms,
extended palms, the neck drawn between the shoulders, the head held
sideways, the body bent and drawn backwards. When he heard the dreadful
word, he emitted a shrill, heart-rending cry of despair, looked around
him, as though eagerly seeking something, then turned to flee and
rushed with outspread arms against a wall of the court, writhing, and
scratching it as though trying to force an entrance between the stones,
like a polype clinging to a rock. After a few screams and contortions,
he suddenly sank to the ground, powerless and helpless, like a log.
He was pale and trembled as I have never seen anyone tremble since;
it seemed as though the muscles had been turned to a jelly which was
shaken in all directions.

Even in their minor degrees apprehension and fear make us tremble. When
hurried one cannot perform any minute work, the convulsive fingers can
grasp nothing. I know timid girls who are ashamed of the trembling of
their hands when filling the tea-cups of their guests.

A gentleman in Germany told me some very curious things about his
excitability, amongst others that he had had to give up dancing, as his
legs left him in the lurch at the least emotion. Everything disturbed
his equanimity; if he had to offer his arm to a lady to take her in to
dinner, or to walk across the room when in company, the mere thought of
being observed made him tremble and totter as though intoxicated.

The kneeling attitude which one finds amongst all people as a sign of
adoration, love, and as the position of one imploring pardon or mercy,
must be ascribed to the physiological fact that strong emotions cause a
sudden trembling of the legs and oblige us to sink to the ground.


In thinking over the question of trembling, memory has become
so excited, that wherever I seek a place of repose amongst my
recollections, I still see people before me, trembling. The first,
dimmest of these recollections is of an old uncle of mine, a veteran,
who, while I was a child, used to take me on his knee to tell me
about Napoleon’s battles, and I would look at his snuff-box shaking
in his hands and could not understand why I must help him to steady
his fingers, as he showed me the picture of the emperor on his medal.
And behind him I see a simple, affectionate old lady who used to say
tender words to me with her trembling voice. She was the godmother
of my mother, and was always so indulgent with me when I played near
her little work-table, and used to watch me contentedly over her
spectacles, waiting till I had drawn the thread through the big-eyed
needle, and telling me that her hands no longer obeyed her.

Then the trembling fit which came over me in the Alps when I had
wandered through a glacier, risking my life at every step, and it
seemed a miracle that I should have escaped the dreadful abyss which
was ready to engulf me. Again, amongst the first recollections of my
hospital life, I see the emaciated faces of trembling invalids poisoned
with quinine or mercury; the convalescent, sitting up in bed, unable
to steady the cup in their hand; the anæmic, who, from loss of blood,
performed every movement tremblingly; the ravingly hysterical, who only
found rest in sleep.

I recall again the times and places when I have hurried excitedly
to fires, boiler-explosions, to the ruins of fallen buildings, and
have seen men whose teeth chattered in consequence of burns received,
strong workmen laid on stretchers who trembled from the effect of their
contusions. I remember the night-watches, when we used to relieve
each other in attendance on those unfortunate beings who had fallen
a prey to tetanus, and whose life had to be prolonged by inhalations
of chloroform. In the long, silent halls of the infirmaries I still
see the pitiable look of those suffering from _tabes dorsalis_ or
_paralysis agitans_, who could not stand steadily, nor indeed erect
themselves at all, as though a curse were agitating the muscles, over
which the will had lost all control, and which at last became so rigid
that even the bones of the skeleton were bent and deformed.

But let me turn away from these recollections of misery, now when I
see crowding before me more cheerful pictures--of that solemn tremor
with which I have seen parents overcome, who, at the wedding of their
children, could no longer hold the glass in their hands, and stammered
unintelligible words with tears in their eyes. I see young poets,
too, who cannot steady the paper as they rise to read their verses to
a merry company; and busy housewives with trembling lips, and faces
beaming with satisfaction, who have to sit down because they cannot
subdue their exultation at their success; and lastly, relatives who,
with convulsive hands, embrace each other in the joy of meeting once

I have known men so nervous that they had to retire at the slightest
emotion, lest they should betray an agitation which seemed ridiculous
to them; and I have seen others support themselves with a hand on a
table or chair that they might not tremble when they heard a moving
speech or saw the representation of a tragedy at the theatre.

I remember onanists who, from fear of their trembling-fits, have been
reduced to the humiliation of confessing their loathsome, degrading
vice; love-sick friends who have been startled at the trembling of
their hands, which altered the character of their writing; colleagues
who have consulted me on account of a trembling which appeared after
they were exhausted by mental work; and persons who, in consequence of
a fright, were subject to trembling for the rest of their lives.


But it is in _delirium tremens_ that fear and trembling together form
the most awful torture, the most horrible punishment of human nature.
During my life as a physician I have only seen three such cases, and
the faces of the wretches float before me, covered, as it were, with a
veil of profound melancholy.

I shall condense the observations which I made into a single picture,
so as not to detain the reader too long amongst such scenes of misery.

Generally, one is called in haste to a patient who is vomiting, or
who is thought to be seized with insanity. One finds a wan, emaciated
man, who looks at us indifferently, or answers with a few impolite
words in a dull, rough voice. Relatives, wife and children, who stand
frightened around the bed, tell us that he has been immoderate in
drinking, and had been brought home intoxicated the night before; that
he had grumbled the whole night long, and did not rise in the morning
because of excessive fatigue; that he had felt sick all day and had
had no appetite, and that he had then begun to vomit. When he shows his
tongue, we see that it is covered with a thick, whitish coat, as in
catarrh of the stomach.

In the first period of the illness, the hands do not tremble as they
lie on the coverlet, but when the patient tries to take a cup or a
spoon, they shake so that everything is upset and spilt. At night the
dreams, which have already awakened him in fright, assume the character
of a positive hallucination. Often patients spring out of bed, crying
that a snake is twining round their neck, and they tear, panting, the
clothes from their body, and wander about naked, writhing, as though
trying to release their neck from a noose, to free themselves from
fetters in which their madness has bound them fast.

Then they grow quiet again, but the delirium has broken out and will
develop, leaving them no more peace. They will lend life to every
shadow, and see perpetually before them reptiles and insects crawling
about and multiplying. What agony! Ever and anon they cry out that
monstrous spiders or venomous scorpions are creeping from the walls
on to the bed; that black cats with fiery eyes are crouching on their
breast; that wolves with open jaws or mad dogs with foaming mouths are
biting them, or that loathsome rats, mingling with a black swarm of
beetles, are gnawing at their vitals. And then the patients, tortured,
annihilated by fear, writhe, gnashing their teeth, groaning, howling,
sobbing. They bite their hands, tear the bed-clothes, bury their nails
in their faces disfigured with rage. Then they rise to escape, and fall
heavily backwards into bed, exhausted, pallid, with distorted face,
a rattling in the throat, and their eyes rolling in the most awful

Sometimes this hideous storm blows over, and a little calm returns.
The patients are languid, and when questioned answer intelligibly but
crossly. In lucid intervals some regret their faults, and say that they
drank in order to forget their misfortunes or their misery, but these
are only rays of light in the midst of ruins shrouded in darkness.
Nearly all remain indifferent to the desolation of the family, shake
their heads disconsolately, and talk of suicide. At every feverish
attack, by whatever cause produced, the frenzy becomes so great that
they must be bound and secured in a strait-jacket.

The trembling increases, the patient cannot sleep; he chatters, walks
up and down, wandering about the room like a lost dog. We make out from
his laments that the hallucination is gradually taking possession of
all his senses. In stammering, disconnected words, he complains from
time to time that he is poisoned, has the taste of something loathsome
in his mouth, and he rejects everything because he fears treachery. He
says there are chemical vapours rising in the room which will suffocate
him, and then he runs hither and thither raging, fighting the air with
clenched hands, pressing himself close to the wall, or rushing to the
window, throwing to the ground furniture and utensils from which he
thinks he sees the pestilential vapours poured forth.

My whole life long I shall remember with a shudder the night which,
as a student, I spent with one of these unhappy wretches. It was at
that time when physicians believed that the danger could be averted
and the delirium shortened by a speedy letting of blood. I had been
sent by an old physician into a squalid garret, in order to bleed a
patient. I found him in bed raging violently. He was a sturdy porter,
with inflamed face and swollen neck-veins. When I tried to take him
by the arm, he looked at me with bloodshot eyes that seemed to devour
me. Then he began to mumble and tremble, pouring forth oaths like
stormy thunder, and howling like a lost soul. 'No, no, help! Stop the
murderer who is going to kill me--he has a razor to cut my throat!’
His face wore a terrible expression of fear, the furrows on the brow,
the dilated nostrils, contracted lips, the gnashing of the teeth, gave
evidence of a desperate struggle. Then he writhed in our arms, trying
to escape, while we held him back. 'Help!’ he screamed, 'they are going
to throw me out of the window, on to the bayonets below! Help, quick,
take those cut-throats away! Do you not see that the street is full of
soldiers and executioners, who are climbing up on ladders to stab me?’
Until at last, worn out, bathed in perspiration, livid, breathless,
still cursing and murmuring, he fell gradually into the lethargy of the

When the disease grows worse, the delirium becomes continual, the
trembling increases, the muscles swell to such a degree that it seems
as though they would burst. One might almost think that a furious
demon were hidden within, agitating the body in the bed, distorting
it, hurling it to and fro, as though to shatter it completely. The
most terrible apparitions are those of spectres. Some of these are so
horrible that the patients are paralysed with dread. They suddenly send
forth a terrible shriek, hold their hands in front of them, throw the
head back, but still think they see the lean and colourless face of
some dead man whom they call by name. Disguised enemies with fleshless
countenance, wrapped in grave-clothes, come to lead them away with
them; skeletons stride through the room, rattling their bones and
gnashing their teeth with devilish glances.

Then Death, dressed in all the horrors of the most corrupt reality,
appears to lower them into the grave. 'Take away this rotting corpse
which those wretches have put into my bed! Do you not see that it is
a liquid, loathsome mass, a putrefied abomination, and that the worms
are crawling about the body?’ And they hold their nose to exclude
the putrid smell, and look at their hands, on which they see clots
of blood, livid streaks, and the revolting blackness of gangrene.
Sometimes all ends suddenly, but often they sleep after the delirium
has lasted three or four days, and on waking, fall into imbecility, die
exhausted, or else become quite mad.




The eye examines the human countenance with such rapidity and such
accuracy that no one will ever succeed in giving in words a picture
of the minute details and fugitive traits which we see appear and
disappear on the face during emotion. Even the greatest masters were
not very exact in such-like descriptions, and had recourse to similes,
to flowery and metaphorical language. If, for instance, we write that
someone looked at us in astonishment or fear, we indicate an endless
series of gradations of the same feeling, differing one and all from
each other in intensity and effect, and we leave it to the judgment
of the reader to choose that which seems to him best suited to the
instance, without our having the means to demonstrate it to him. When
we say to a friend, 'I must give you a piece of bad news,’ there
appears a sudden change in his face, his look and his gestures, which
touches us. But there is no art of words capable of describing it,
because we cannot measure the imperceptible changes which take place
in the movement of the eyes, the widening of the pupils, the colouring
of the cheeks, the trembling of the lips, the dilatation of the
nostrils, the acceleration of the breath, the gestures of the hands,
the attitude of the head and trunk.

Certain fine characteristic traits of the face disappear under the
magnifying glass like the diamond burning away in the crucible. The
aspect of the countenance is impalpable; its beauties are covered by a
subtile, delicate veil, which we cannot touch without tearing it and
destroying the charm.

It is on this account that I stretch out my hand hesitatingly to take
hold of the scalpel and lay bare the head of a corpse, in order to cut
through the skin and detach the muscles. When I have separated the
muscles of the face from the bones of the skull, a mask like a funnel
of flesh remains in my hand. Oh, how ugly is the human face seen from
the wrong side! We do not recognise ourselves; we cannot believe that
this fibrous web and muscular network represent the most beautiful and
expressive part of the organism; that this is the face formerly so
graceful in its movements and play of feature, so inexhaustible in its
expressions of benevolence and affection. It is a thorough disillusion,
a sad sight, as when one sees the framework and the burnt-out rockets
of fireworks in broad daylight, or when, at the end of the play, we
examine near-to the daubs and rags of a dazzling theatrical decoration.
We cannot believe that it is this fibrous flesh which lends us the
aspect, the characteristic traits, the expression of our ego; that
it is on this thin leaf of muscle that each writes his life-story;
that it is the chance arrangement of these parts which impels us to
mysterious sympathies, to indifference, antipathy, repugnance; that
it is the unfathomable secret of these organs which unconsciously
draws men together or apart, like atoms that meet, separate, or remain
indissolubly united.


Leonardo da Vinci, who was certainly one of the greatest connoisseurs
of the human countenance, had studied its anatomy with such ardour that
the drawings of his preparations still excite the admiration of the
learned by the accuracy of the most minute details.

'_First study Science, and then follow her daughter Art_’, said
Leonardo to his pupils; and these words are worthy of him who was not
only a great artist and mathematician, and an illustrious philosopher,
but who earned the title, far more difficult to acquire, of being an
innovator in science, and one of the founders of the experimental

We must not begin the study of the face with that of the human
anatomy. The web of muscles is so close, the direction of the fibres
so intricate, that we are baffled unless we know the origin of these
muscles in the lower animals, unless we investigate their office
in simpler beings, and the modifications which they undergo on the
zoological ladder.

The most important parts of the face are the apertures of the mouth and
nostrils. These alone never disappear, however the form of the head
may alter in different animals. The lips, nose, and chin may become
unrecognisable, as in birds; the eye may become a mere point, as in
the mole, or may disappear altogether as in certain animals living in
caves; but the mouth always remains, because the alimentary canal is
the most useful organ of the body. It appears even in animals that have
neither heart nor lungs, and is formed like a funnel at its upper end.
It is this end of the alimentary canal which we call the face. However
grotesque such a mode of expression may seem, it is yet the expression
of truth.

The development of the facial muscles is proportioned to the need of
seizing prey and crushing the food. In frogs, fish, reptiles, birds,
that swallow their food whole, one may say that the face is wanting;
they have no expression except in the eye. In birds, the functions of
the facial nerve are restricted to a little filament distributed to
the cutaneous muscles of the neck, which produces that ruffling of
the feathers and erection of the crest which is the characteristic
expression of their feelings. The more complex the movements of seizing
and devouring the prey become, the more complicated becomes the
formation of the mouth. The lips must be mobile in order to suck the
nipple of the breast, in the manner of a cupping-glass. Later, they
serve to bring the fragments which must be masticated between the
jaws, and further, they must be capable of being drawn upwards, as in
the dog when he shows his teeth in preparing to bite.[18]

Then come the movements of the jaws furnished with fangs for tearing,
crushing, breaking, gnawing, and again the very complex movements of
the tongue in drinking, licking, collecting the food in the mouth,
forming it into a bolus, and finally despatching it.

Of all animals, monkeys possess the greatest development of the facial
muscles. This is owing principally to the circumstance that they eat
everything, being half carnivorous, half herbivorous, and make use of
the mouth as an organ for seizing the prey, and assisting the hands in
tearing, skinning, and continually preparing the food.

The countenance of the monkey is of unexampled mobility; in a few
minutes one sees all expressions pass over it, from desire to contempt,
from cunning to innocence, from attention to carelessness, from love to
rage, from aggression to fear, from joy to sadness.

[18] Darwin believed that animals show their teeth in order to let
their weapons be seen, and in this way to be more feared. This
explanation does not seem to me quite exact, as animals are obliged
to raise the lips when they bite, so that the soft parts of the mouth
covering the jaws may not be injured. It suffices to watch a dog in
order to convince oneself that the showing of the teeth must be an act
preparatory to that of biting.


One of the reasons why the facial muscles move more easily, is their
diminutive size. It was Spencer who first clearly developed this
idea, and I know of nothing more fundamental in the language of the
emotions. 'Supposing,’ he says, 'a feeble wave of nervous excitement
to be propagated uniformly throughout the nervous system, the part
of it discharged on the muscles will show its effects most where the
amount of inertia to be overcome is least. Muscles which are large, and
which can show states of contraction into which they are thrown only by
moving limbs or other heavy masses, will yield no signs; while small
muscles, and those which can move without overcoming great resistances,
will visibly respond to this feeble wave. Hence must result a certain
general order in the excitation of the muscles, serving to mark the
strength of the nervous discharge and of the feeling accompanying
it.... It is because the muscles of the face are relatively small, and
are attached to easily moved parts, that the face is so good an index
of the amount of feeling.’[19]

[19] _Principles of Psychology_, vol. ii., pp. 542-43.

This law, however, is in my opinion insufficient to explain the
expressions of the face, because we have very fine, small muscles
in the ear, the skin, and elsewhere, that yet take no part in the
expression, although the resistance they offer is very small.

Great importance must, I think, be attached to the continual use of
certain muscles, and to the different excitability of their nerves.
The muscles which we most frequently put into movement are also those
which most easily betray the excitement of the nerve-centres. It is
so with the ear of the horse and dog, which is a faithful mirror of
everything they feel, of all their emotions; while the ears of man,
although possessing the same muscles, remain immovable even during the
strongest emotion, and solely because we never make use of them.

The facial muscles are agitated by every little shock which the nervous
system receives, because they are already perpetually in movement in
respiration, speaking, chewing, and in the defence and use of the
organs of sense situated in the head. We very often meet people who, in
consequence of increased irritability of the nerve-centres, suffer from
nervous contractions of the face, which make them wink rapidly, contort
the mouth and frown, but we never notice similar disturbances in hands
or feet, or in any other part of the body.

The varying resistance which the different nerves of the organism
oppose to the nervous currents is an important factor in expression.
The proximity of the muscles of the face, and especially of the eyes,
to the brain renders the nervous discharges easier. Death always begins
in the parts furthest removed from the centre, the legs grow rigid
sooner than the arms, and the eye is the last to be extinguished.

The subject at present under consideration is a field of study which
physiologists have perhaps too much neglected. Johannes Müller,[20]
the father of modern physiology, in speaking of those 'movements which
depend upon mental conditions,’ expresses himself in the following
manner: 'The extremely varied expression of the lineaments of the face
in different passions, shows that, according to the various states
of the mind, entirely different groups of fibres of the facial nerve
are brought into activity. The reasons of this phenomenon, of these
relations of the facial muscles to special passions, are totally

[20] J. Müller: _Handbuch der Physiologie des Menschen_, 1840, ii. 92.

Wishing to make a few experiments on the facial nerve, to see whether
I should succeed in discovering anything in this obscure field of
physiology, I laid bare the facial nerve, at its point of departure
from the skull, in a dog rendered insensible with chloral, and then
fixed two electrodes in such a manner that I was sure of being able
to irritate the whole nerve by means of an electric current. While
using irritants so weak that they were imperceptible on the tongue,
I observed that they could cause a contraction of the muscles of the
forehead and make the ears move, while the whole muzzle remained still
as in an animal in an attentive attitude. When I used a slightly
stronger stimulus, the muscles of the nose and eyelids and the
zygomatic muscle moved; when the irritant was still more intensified,
the muscles of the under-lip contracted and the mouth opened; while
under very strong irritations, the dog assumed the fierce expression
of one about to attack.

There is something fantastic in those experiments on decapitated
animals of which the brain has been destroyed, and the face of which
may be taken up in the hand like a mask of flesh. While applying an
electric current to the motor nerves, one sees the features reanimate
themselves, and a series of expressions pass over them one after
another--attention, joy, rage, as though the electric apparatus applied
to the facial nerve represented the commands of the brain or psychic
impressions which in reality no longer exist.

The mechanical part of expression is, therefore, much simpler than one
thinks. When a psychic operation takes place in the nerve-centres, the
tension propagates itself along the nervous lines of least resistance.
The more sensitive we are, the more graceful, beautiful, expressive,
and fascinating is the curving of the lips produced by a smile.
Peasants and coarse, dull persons cannot smile, with them the stimulus
increases until it bursts out in a noisy, vacant laugh.

The nerve-paths are constructed in such a way that the brain does
not need trouble itself about the muscular movements. It is the
intensity of the excitement which produces the expression; the stronger
it is, the more numerous are the paths through which the nervous
tension forces its way; as it increases, it overcomes all obstacles
and resistance confronting it in other paths impassable till that
movement, and contracts muscles which till then had remained neutral.

The effects of the passions are reflected principally in the muscles of
the face and respiration. No other function has to adapt itself more
continuously than this last to the needs of the organism, standing
as it does in close connection with all changes taking place in the
nerve-centres. The muscles most vividly expressing passion are nearly
all respiratory muscles.


Our nervous system is so constituted that during violent emotion its
activity discharges itself in all directions, and herein must we seek
the reason of the resemblance between such different conditions as
laughter and weeping, pain and pleasure.

_It is the quantity, not the quality, of the stimulus which has weight
on the scale of the expressions._ This statement of mine will appear
clearer if we study the phenomena produced by tickling.

When monkeys are touched in the arm-pit they twist and writhe,
laugh, and emit sounds like human cries. The nerve-centres are very
susceptible to the mechanical excitation of certain nerves, to contacts
which fill us with the most pleasant and delicious sensations, or burst
like a storm upon the organism.

We have heard of persons who let themselves be tickled to death, and
there are many sensitive natures that can scarcely bear the most
ardent enjoyments of life.

Here are prayers for pity, unconscious denials, entreaties in tearful
tones, exclamations of astonishment, humble or clamorous voices, cries
of joy or unsuppressed sighs, lamentations as of those who suffer,
moans with which human nature seems to succumb.

Voluptuous enjoyment causes a vibration of the nerves, and forces from
our lips the same moans as pain, which dulls the fire of life.

The respiratory movements are accelerated and panting, sometimes
arrested, then recommencing irregularly; the breath pours stormily
from the dilated nostrils, there is a singing in the ears, the heart
beats more rapidly, and its pulsations resound with such violence that
we wonder how a slight tickling of the nerves can produce such inward

The vital centres are stunned by a mysterious emotion--by a charm
which deadens the senses and slackens the reins of control. With the
cessation of the moderating force of the brain, the harmony of aim is
destroyed, oppression seizes us, and words almost unconsciously spoken
are now interrupted and repeated, anon breathless and drawn out, and
are at last extinguished in the languor of a swoon. The dim eyes look
upwards or hide moodily behind their lids, roll frightened in their
orbits, or fill with tears of joy and close with the uncertain glance
of the dying. The arms move convulsively, wildly, clutching, grasping,
writhing. The teeth gnash and show themselves; there is a moaning and
howling as though in man the animal soul had reawakened.

And at last, when the storm is past, the convulsions and trembling
die away gradually like the flashes of lightning that follow the roar
of retreating thunder. But the languid glance, the flaccid features,
the moisture of the skin, the fatigue of the limbs, the spasmodic
contractions of the muscles, the quivering of the voice, the thirst,
the palpitation, the weakness, the lethargy of the senses, remain like
the traces of a morbid paroxysm, like the depression after a great




Those who have not carefully followed the history of scientific
progress think that the theory of evolution is solely Darwin’s work.
The same thing has happened as after a victory, when public opinion
lauds the name of a single general, whereas the action of others was
no less efficacious and decisive in winning the battle. But in this
case it would be an injustice not to award the greatest praise to
Herbert Spencer, whom Darwin himself called '_the great expounder_’
of the principle of evolution. So soon as 1855, in the first edition
of his 'Principles of Psychology,’ Spencer maintains the doctrine of
evolution, when, as he says, it was 'ridiculed in the world at large
and frowned upon in the scientific world.’

In the second edition of his 'Principles of Psychology,’ Spencer added
a chapter entitled, 'The Language of the Emotions,’ which is of great
value to us, as it was printed a few months before Darwin published his
book, 'The Expression of the Emotions.’

One of the most important ideas, physiologically speaking, which
Spencer has formulated is the following: 'The molecular motion
disengaged in any nerve-centre by any stimulus, tends ever to flow
along lines of least resistance throughout the nervous system, exciting
other nerve-centres, and setting up other discharges. The feelings
of all orders, moderate as well as strong, which from instant to
instant arise in consciousness, are the correlatives of nerve-waves
continually being generated and continually reverberating throughout
the nervous system--the perpetual nervous discharge constituted by
these perpetually-generated waves, affecting both the viscera and the
muscles, voluntary and involuntary.’

The ideas developed by Darwin on the origin of the expressions have
such a striking resemblance, even identity, with Spencer’s doctrine,
that Darwin felt himself obliged to make the following declaration
in a foot-note: 'I may state, in order that I may not be accused of
trespassing on Mr. Spencer’s domain, that I announced in my “Descent of
Man” that I had then written a part of the present volume.’[21]

[21] Ch. Darwin: _The Expression of the Emotions_. London, 1872, p. 10.

The origin of the movements of expression, as propounded by Spencer and
more amply developed by Darwin in his book, does not convince me. The
profound admiration which I cherish for these two great masters has
made me timid in deviating from their path, but since the facts which
presented themselves to me during my studies have convinced me that
the same results might be obtained in another way, it is my duty to
communicate those observations and experiments which point to another
solution of the problem.

I shall here quote a passage from Spencer’s 'Language of the Emotions,’
thus drawing, as we say, from the well of the great philosopher himself.

'Throughout the animal kingdom, non-pleasurable feelings are most
frequently and most variously excited during antagonism. Among inferior
types of creatures antagonism habitually implies combat, with all
its struggles and pains. Though in man there are many sources of
non-pleasurable feelings other than antagonism, and though antagonism
itself ends in combat only when it rises to an extreme, yet as
among inferior ancestral types antagonism is the commonest and most
conspicuous accompaniment of non-pleasurable feeling, and continues
to be very generally an accompaniment in the human race, there is
organically established a relation between non-pleasurable feeling and
the muscular actions which antagonism habitually causes. Hence those
external concomitants of non-pleasurable feeling which constitute what
we call its expression, result from incipient muscular contractions of
the kinds accompanying actual combat.

'But how does this explain the first and most general mark of
non-pleasurable feeling--a frown? What have antagonism and combat to do
with that corrugation of the brow which, when slight, may indicate a
trifling ache or a small vexation, and when decided, may have for its
cause bodily agony, or extreme grief, or violent anger? The reply is
not obvious, and yet, when found, is satisfactory.

'If you want to see a distant object in bright sunshine, you are aided
by putting your hand above your eyes; and in the tropics, this shading
of the eyes to gain distinctness of vision is far more needful than
here. In the absence of shade yielded by the hand or by a hat, the
effort to see clearly in broad sunshine is always accompanied by a
contraction of those muscles of the forehead which cause the eyebrows
to be lowered and protruded; so making them serve as much as possible
the same purpose that the hand serves.... Now if we bear in mind that
during the combats of superior animals, which have various movements of
attack and defence, success largely depends on quickness and clearness
of vision ... it will be manifest that a slight improvement of vision,
obtained by keeping the sun’s rays out of the eyes, may often be of
great importance, and where the combatants are nearly equal, may
determine the victory.... Hence, we may infer that during the evolution
of those types from which man more immediately inherits, it must have
happened that individuals in whom the nervous discharge accompanying
the excitement of combat, caused an unusual contraction of these
corrugating muscles of the forehead, would, other things equal, be the
more likely to conquer and to leave posterity--survival of the fittest
tending in their posterity to establish and increase this peculiarity.’

If this interpretation of Spencer, which Darwin expanded, were true,
the consequences would be, that in the long succession of generations
animals would have gradually rid themselves of that which is injurious
and fatal to them. But this law does not verify itself in the least,
rather do we see, in studying violent emotions, that the more serious
the danger the greater is the predominance both in number and strength
of injurious phenomena. We have already seen that trembling and
cataplexy render us unable to flee or defend ourselves, and we shall
now be convinced that in critical moments we see less distinctly than
when we are tranquil.

In the face of these facts we must admit that not all phenomena of fear
can be explained by the theory of selection. In their extreme degrees
they are morbid phenomena indicating an imperfection of the organism.
One might almost say that nature had not been able to find a substance
for brain and spinal cord which should be extremely sensitive, and yet
should never, under the influence of exceptionally strong stimuli,
exceed in its reaction those physiological limits which are best
adapted to the preservation of the animal.

But before we go further, let us consider those facts which seem to
contradict the hypothesis of Spencer and Darwin.


We all know that the pupil through which the rays of light pass, in
order to reach the posterior part of the eye, dilates and contracts
with great facility. In the cat its form is variable; generally
elliptic, it becomes in a strong light very narrow and nearly shut,
appearing like a slit scarcely wider than a hair; towards evening, or
in a dark place during the day, it dilates in such a manner that the
iris nearly disappears, and one can see the greenish, phosphorescent
background of the eye.

The iris is like a circular curtain which closes in a strong light
and opens in the dark, regulating automatically the amount of light
necessary for sight without causing injury to the eye.

The perfection of our machine is such, that some indispensable
mechanisms not only work automatically, without any participation of
the will or consciousness, but often also without needing either spinal
cord or brain, as those few nerve-cells, found in the organs in the
form of microscopic ganglia, suffice for the reflex movements. This
harmony by which the body assures the performance of its most important
functions, by putting in motion several mechanisms at the same time,
all of which are directed to the same end, is worthy of meditation.

The mechanism of these movements of the iris is very complicated; I
have noticed that whenever the vessels dilate, the pupil contracts, and
when the vessels contract, the pupil dilates.[22]

[22] A. Mosso: _Sui movimenti idraulici dell’ iride_. R. Accademia di
Torino, 1875.

This relation between the blood-vessels of the iris and its movements
has many important advantages; as, for instance, during sleep, when the
vessels dilate, the pupil contracts, thus preventing the light from
being felt too vividly. In inflammation of the eye, light exercises an
irritating and injurious influence; but the vessels during inflammation
are always dilated, the pupil is therefore narrower, and the light
which strikes the back of the eye less intense, recovery being
consequently more speedy.

After copious loss of blood, in fatigue, deep depression, in pain, and
similar cases, the vessels contract and the pupil dilates, in this way
allowing many things to be seen which would be imperceptible for want
of light if the pupil were contracted.

All this seems perfect as an apparatus, but unfortunately it has grave

Our eye is like a photographic machine, and the pupil acts like the
diaphragm which photographers put before the lens, for in our eye,
too, there is a lens similar to that of the photographic camera,
behind the diaphragm of the iris. When there is little light, the
photographer puts in a diaphragm with a wider opening, but then the
picture becomes dull, because the rays of light in passing further from
the centre of the lens and on its peripheral edge produce a picture
with indistinct outlines. Photographers, therefore, in order to obtain
a picture clear in all its parts, prefer a very strong light, and make
use of a diaphragm with a very small opening. These are also the best
conditions for distinct vision; for if we observe the eyes of a person
who is looking into distance, or is absent-minded, and then hold a
small object before him, we see that the pupil immediately contracts.

But this wonderfully perfect mechanism ceases to act as soon as the
animal or the man is subjected to violent emotion. When the vessels
contract during fear or a struggle, or in any other exertion, the pupil
immediately dilates, and the picture loses in distinctness. If we watch
fighting dogs, cats, or men, we at once perceive that the eye has
become blacker, and that the pupil is at its maximum dilatation.

But how shall we explain, by means of the hypothesis of Spencer and
Darwin, the fact that nocturnal animals present with equal precision
the same movements in the expression of the forehead and eyes? Why,
for the sake of such a small advantage as being able to see a little
better when we have the light in our eyes, is there such a complicated
muscular apparatus always in operation, while nature has not provided
against a far more serious defect, as is the confusion of images caused
by the too great dilatation of the iris?

In order to appreciate the extent of the defect of vision during
emotion, I made the following experiment, together with Dr. Falchi. We
took a small sample of writing from Snell’s tables, and then determined
what was the greatest distance at which it could be easily read by a
certain person; then, on some pretext, we scolded or reproached the
subject in such a manner as to occasion a sudden and strong emotion.
When we then requested the same person to read the writing, he was no
longer able to do so at the same distance, but had to approach the
tablet, often by a few steps, in order to see as before. A violent
muscular exertion, a few turns on the trapeze or in the gymnastic
rings, a race, the rapid ascent of a staircase, also diminish the
acuteness of vision in a noticeable manner.


When one considers as a whole the symptoms by which fear reveals
itself, one might almost think that it was a product of heredity and
selection. Animals that are easily frightened, a disciple of Darwin
would say, are those which can more easily avoid danger and save
themselves; these produce young, and perpetuate their timidity in
their posterity. But we know that the phenomena of fear are the morbid
exaggeration of physiological facts. Animals cannot become continually
more timorous by means of hereditary transmission; the necessity of
struggling brings other faculties than those of flight and fear into
play, and effect the preservation of the species in another way. Our
organism is not such a perfect machine as to be able to resist or
adapt itself to all conditions of environment; there are inevitable
necessities against which selection is of no avail.

In my opinion, although we may accept the principle of Spencer and
Darwin as an explanation of many things, we yet cannot extend it to
all phenomena. Spencer and Darwin were not physiologists enough; in
their studies of the emotions they did not sufficiently seek the causes
of the phenomena observed by them in the functions of the organism.
There are, so to speak, hierarchies in the parts composing our machine,
for all functions are not equally important. But in the whole of the
vital economy one notices the preponderance and supremacy of the
blood-vessels. It is so indispensable that the organism should profit
by all the material procurable for the nutrition of the nerve-centres,
that the circulation of the blood in all parts (therefore in the eye
also) is subordinated to this prime object.

In this way it seems to me the fact may be explained that the
blood-vessels of the iris contract during strong emotions,
notwithstanding that this produces excessive dilatation of the pupil,
and that the back of the eye becomes anæmic, although this contraction
of the vessels of the retina is disadvantageous to distinct vision.

We often hear persons, speaking of some great fright, say: 'I was like
one struck blind, I could see nothing.’ Travellers tell of serpents
blind with fear, that bit the shadows and branches of the trees,
blunting their teeth and shedding their poison fruitlessly.

Darwin maintains that there are two distinct causes for the frown
which every little difficulty in a train of thought produces. One is
very similar to that propounded by Spencer, of which we have already
spoken; the other runs as follows: 'The earliest and almost sole
expression seen during the first days of infancy, and then often
exhibited, is that displayed during the act of screaming; and screaming
is excited, both at first and for some time afterwards, by every
distressing or displeasing sensation and emotion,--by hunger, pain,
anger, jealousy, fear, &c. At such times the muscles round the eyes are
strongly contracted; and this, as I believe, explains to a large extent
the act of frowning during the remainder of our lives.’[23]

[23] Ch. Darwin: _The Expression of the Emotions_, p. 225.

This explanation does not seem to me satisfactory, because it only
pushes the question further back, and we must still ask: But why does
the child frown when it cries? But, indeed, it suffices to render
Darwin’s hypothesis improbable, if we call to mind that new-born
children frown before they shed a single tear.

The following is the explanation which I offer of this phenomenon.

When we look intently at an object, we must contract all internal and
external muscles of the eye. This is indispensable in order to effect
the adjustment by which we modify the curvature of the lens in the
interior of the eye; that is to say, we alter the lens according to
the distance, in the same way as anyone looking through a telescope
adjusts it by lengthening or shortening the tube. We have already seen
that the pupil must contract when we contemplate an object close to us;
thus we cannot direct our gaze towards our nose without a contraction
of the pupil.

The most important movement of the external muscles of the eye is
that by means of which we produce a convergence of the visual rays
from both eyes on the object of attention. Thus, whereas the two eyes
are parallel when we are absent-minded or gazing into distance, they
converge when fixed on an object near us, as the hands would meet in
order to take hold of it. All these movements are effected by a single
nerve, called the motor-oculi, between which and the facial nerve there
is a certain sympathy, as may be seen in the unconscious movement of
the eyelids and forehead when we exercise the eye. And _vice versa_,
when we close the lids, we move the eyeball without intending to do so.
We may convince ourselves of this if we hold one eye shut with a finger
and then close the lid of the other; immediately we feel the eyeball
under the finger turn downwards.

The muscles of the eye contract also when we exert ourselves; for
instance, if we try by night to look at a small distant light, at the
same time lifting a heavy weight, or exerting ourselves in some other
way, we see the light double, owing to the involuntary convergence
of the eyes. I have photographed several persons during physical
exertion, and many of them have quite the appearance of suffering, so
pronounced is the contraction of the muscles of the forehead, although
it was quite unnecessary. The arrangements of our organism are such
that the energy, the tension of the nervous system diffuses itself
in various directions, without the possibility, in certain cases, of
restricting its influence to limited muscular groups. Thus, if we try
to move the ear, the muscles which raise the corner of the mouth also
contract; if we merely tell someone to close his eyes, we see the other
facial muscles move, often causing involuntary grimaces. Again, we
cannot move one eye to the right and the other to the left. Very few
can turn the pupil upwards without raising the eyelids, or move the
eyebrows separately. All this is due to the difficulty of localising
the action of the will in the nervous fibres leading only to certain
muscles; several groups of fibres seem always drawn simultaneously
into the sphere of action, except when there has been much practice in
discerning and selecting the fibres which shall accomplish an isolated
movement, or when an intentional effort is made, which, however, is a
matter of much difficulty.

When animals look attentively at some object, they turn their ears
towards it. This movement, which they make in order to collect the
sounds, must be preceded by a contraction of the muscles of the
forehead and of those serving to turn the auricle of the ear. It is
very probable that these movements, noticeable also in monkeys, have
been preserved in man, although in attention he no longer moves the
ears but only the muscles of the forehead.

In our nature psychic processes are so closely connected with their
external sensory manifestations that it is impossible to check the
manifestation of nervous activity in the muscles whenever the ideas
appear to which these external movements stand in a permanent relation,
even when this external communication is quite unnecessary. Thus we see
that a man lost in thought gesticulates, making a hundred involuntary
movements, and sometimes speaks, although no one is with him to whom
he need communicate his ideas. And so it happens that we reproduce the
characteristic movements of attention in forehead and eye whenever, in
the various contingencies of life or in the development of ideas, an
obstacle hinders the progress of thought. As soon as we begin any work
which demands greater force of attention and reflection, we immediately
and involuntarily put into action the mechanism of forehead and eye,
which has always been made use of in intently scrutinising objects.


All will have noticed that when we look intently at anything, all
other objects become the more indistinct the further they are removed
from the point of attention. This is because we have only one point in
our eye in which vision reaches a maximum of acuteness. This point is
called the _fovea centralis_, because it looks like a little dimple or
funnel of two-tenths of a millimetre in diameter. If the image of an
object falls at a distance of only a few millimetres from the _fovea
centralis_, the eye can no longer accurately distinguish the colours.
Red and green give an impression of palish yellow, violet appears blue.
A little further distant, yellow and blue disappear completely, and
only light and dark are perceived. This anatomical disposition of the
elements destined to perceive the image and colour of objects obliges
us to move the eye and bring it into relation with all parts of an
object if we wish to examine it minutely. On this account no organ has
such precise movements as the eye. If we look at our eye in a mirror,
and move our head up and down, to the right and to the left, we see
to our astonishment that the eye can remain fixed and motionless. Let
the reader repeat this experiment in order to conceive the facility
and precision with which the eye fixes on one point which we wish to
look at attentively. The restlessness of the eye contemplating an
unknown figure, the agitation which is visible in a man when he is
afraid of another, and therefore examines him from head to foot in
order to be ready to defend himself, or escape an impending danger, is
an inevitable consequence of the structure of the eye, which cannot
contemplate and embrace a wide field without moving.

When the object is not small enough to be embraced by the simple
movements of the eye in its orbit, we bend and turn the head, or move
the trunk to right or left; if that does not suffice, we move the whole
body. Actors represent fear by exaggerating the attitude peculiar to
one intently observing an object.

These movements are so spontaneous and natural, that it costs an effort
to keep head and body still when looking at an object situated on
one side of us. A feeling of profound contempt, hatred, or pride is
necessary before we can pass close to a man with head stiff and erect.


Anyone who studies the parts of a machine can judge of the accuracy
of its movements, because the structure of a machine represents its
function; the dead organism is, therefore, no less important a field
for observation and study to the physiologist than the living organism.

When we see, on opening the skull, that three nerves leave the brain
to move the eye, and that six muscles are attached to this little ball
weighing on an average seven grammes, we may conclude at once that
perhaps no other organ has the same variety, independence, and rapidity
of movement.

The eye is indeed unrivalled in the complication of its muscles and the
number and variety of its nerves by any other organ except the tongue.
This explains why both have their own language, and how they are able,
by the infinite variation of their movements, to express every emotion
of the mind.

The life of the eye lies entirely in its movement. A well-made glass
eye which can follow the movements of the real eye can scarcely be
distinguished from the latter when placed in the orbit, but when it
remains motionless it gives to the countenance a dreadful, spectral

I have studied the expression of the eye in those born blind. These
poor people, who could not even see dim shadows of objects, nor
distinguish night from day, as though a sevenfold bandage covered their
eyes, used to play instruments and be happy together, nor would anyone
have thought that in them the eye was dead, insensible for ever to
light; but it was only its movements which gave it an expression of joy
and amiability, which inspired confidence and tenderness.

How eloquent is the eye of a dying friend looking at us for the last
time, and seeming to reflect all the sadness of an existence fading
while still full of hope and aspirations! The eye does not change
for many hours, but when you come back to look at the cold semblance
of your friend, and bid him a last farewell, the immovable look, the
staring eye of death arrests you on the threshold; in it you read the
anguish of pain, the horror of an overwhelming misfortune.

There are also in the pupil of the eye vivid expressions which are
almost entirely unknown. It is curious to note in the eye of a dog,
when quiet, how the pupil dilates and contracts at every emotion. This
cannot arise from his looking at near or distant objects. The iris,
like the blood-vessels, reflects every little emotion. We do not know
these delicate shades in the language of the emotions, because the
analysis of physical facts accompanying the expression of the passions
has not yet become sufficiently minute and accurate. Between the
maximum dilatation of the pupil, so characteristic of fear, and its
greatest contraction in sleep, perfect calm and weariness, is the whole
intermediate series of movements in which the passions are revealed.
There are little alterations in the diameter of the pupil which pass
unnoticed, unless one can look closely at the eye, but, by attentively
observing a great number of persons, I have convinced myself that it is
possible to read the effects of the passions in the movements of the
pupil. When the edge of the iris grows narrower and the middle of the
eye blacker and larger, it is a sign that we are agitated by a strong
emotion which we try in vain to conceal, because the eye, as the poets
say, is the window of the soul, through which we look into the depths
of the heart.




Leonardo da Vinci, in his celebrated treatise on painting, in speaking
of the difference between laughing and weeping, says: 'In eyes, mouth,
and cheeks there is no difference between one who laughs and one who
weeps. They are distinguished from each other only by the position of
the eyebrows, which contract during weeping, while in one who laughs
they are drawn upwards. He who weeps raises the eyebrows at the inner
corners, draws them together, wrinkling the skin above them, and turns
the corners of the mouth down, while one who laughs draws the corners
of the mouth upwards, and has an open, uncontracted brow.’

With these words da Vinci shows the characteristic expression of the
face in laughter and in tears; but the physiologist is not content
with what satisfies the artist, he seeks the cause and origin of the
phenomena, analyses the reason of the difference and similarity in the
expression of laughing and weeping, joy and pain.

The impetus which Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin gave to the study
of human nature was so powerful, the progress made so rapid, and the
new horizon so vast, that numerous philosophical and scientific books
at once became obsolete; and when we now turn over their leaves, we
seem to feel the breath of decay, as though we were groping amid the
ruins and dust of edifices that have crumbled for centuries.

The study of nature was much easier for the spiritualists and
philosophers of the old school than for us, because with little trouble
they found reasons which satisfied them, and in their faith they had a
strong bulwark that sheltered them from the uncertainty and doubt which
follow us everywhere as we grope deeper and deeper, trying to find out
the causes of things.

Duchenne de Boulogne, in his well-known book on the mechanism of human
physiology, printed in 1862, still maintains that the facial muscles
were created for the expression of the soul.

'Le créateur n’a donc pas eu à se préoccuper ici des besoins de la
mécanique; il a pu, selon sa sagesse, ou--que l’on me pardonne cette
manière de parler--par une divine fantaisie, mettre en action tel ou
tel muscle, un seul ou plusieurs muscles à la fois, lorsqu’il a voulu
que les signes caractéristiques des passions, même les plus fugaces,
fussent écrits passagèrement sur la face de l’homme. Ce langage de la
physionomie une fois créé, il lui a suffi, pour le rendre universel et
immuable, de donner à tout être humain la faculté instinctive d’ex
primer toujours ses sentiments par la contraction des mêmes muscles.

'Il était certainement possible de doubler le nombre des signes
expressifs de la physionomie; il fallait, pour cela, que chaque
sentiment ne mît en jeu qu’un seul côté de la face. Mais on sent
combien un tel langage eût été disgracieux.’[24]

According to Duchenne de Boulogne all passions have a special muscle
at their service, which enters into activity in order to express the
feelings of the mind; benevolence, joy, laughter, sadness, attention,
reflection, lasciviousness, irony, contempt, fright, cruelty, pain,
weeping, appear on the human countenance each through the medium of a
muscle possessing the privilege of representing a particular emotion.

[24] G. B. Duchenne de Boulogne: _Mécanisme de la Physionomie Humaine_
(Paris, 1862), p. 32.

Duchenne de Boulogne certainly went rather far with his theory of
localisations. He treated the face as Gall did the skull and brain.
Classifications of mental faculties are too artificial, being derived
from an abstraction based on facts and phenomena neither distinct nor
definable. Gall wished to localise, so to speak, the metaphysical and
theological faculties of the mind in the different parts of the brain,
and invented the phrenology which made him famous. But in none of his
writings is there any penetration to the real origin of facts. He let
his imagination and, more than all, the force of his own eloquence,
carry him away, and his phrenology, then called the science of the
future and the reforming doctrine of society, has now fallen into
oblivion in spite of the prophecies of his followers.


Darwin reduced the principles on which the expression of the emotions
depends to the following three:

  I. The principle of serviceable associated habits.

  II. That of antithesis.

  III. That of actions due to the constitution of the
  nervous system, independently from the first of the
  will and to a certain extent of habit.

According to Darwin the expression of pain depends essentially on the
first and third of these principles. He assumes, indeed, that in all
animals, in the series of innumerable generations, intense pain has
produced the most violent and diverse movements in order to escape its

As the muscles of the thorax and of the vocal organs are those most
habitually used, they were called more particularly into action, and
animals began to make sounds, to howl and to screech. Darwin believed
that vocal sounds were useful to animals, particularly to the young
and to those living in community, because in case of danger the cries
serve to call the parents or to warn the other animals. These opinions
of Charles Darwin open up a wide field for discussion, but for the
present I intend to speak only of the expression of the face, so as to
confine my subject within reasonable limits.

The movements of the facial muscles depend, according to Darwin, on
the constitution of the nervous system. We must remark, however, that
Darwin took this idea from Herbert Spencer, who, a few years before
Darwin published his book, had written a chapter in his 'Principles of
Psychology’ entitled 'The Language of the Emotions.’ Darwin recognised
the priority of Herbert Spencer, and I think it advisable to quote a
passage from his book, 'The Expression of the Emotions,’ so that the
reader may become acquainted with one of the most important pages
published on the subject of which we are treating:

'As Mr. Herbert Spencer remarks’ (says Darwin on p. 71), 'it may
be received as an “unquestionable truth that, at any moment, the
existing quantity of liberated nerve-force, which in an inscrutable
way produces in us the state we call feeling, _must_ expend itself in
some direction--_must_ generate an equivalent manifestation of force
somewhere”; so that, when the cerebro-spinal system is highly excited
and nerve-force is liberated in excess, it may be expended in intense
sensations, active thought, violent movements, or increased activity
of the glands. Mr. Spencer further maintains that an “overflow of
nerve-force, undirected by any motive, will manifestly take the most
habitual routes; and, if these do not suffice, will next overflow
into the less habitual ones.” Consequently, the facial and respiratory
muscles, which are the most used, will be apt to be first brought into
action; then those of the upper extremities, next those of the lower,
and, finally, those of the whole body.’

The simplicity of this theory is seductive, but it suffices to subject
it to a superficial examination in order to see that it does not
quite correspond to the facts. If we find out which are the most
habitual routes of nerve-force, and write them down in order one after
the other, and then compare them with the movements expressing the
passions, we shall see that there is not a perfect correspondence.

It was perhaps for this reason that Herbert Spencer afterwards
introduced the idea of the nervous lines of least resistance, in order
to explain the greater facility with which certain muscles contract,
compared to others. 'The molecular motion’ (says Spencer) 'disengaged
in any nerve-centre by any stimulus, tends ever to flow along lines of
least resistance throughout the nervous system.’

The solution of the problem was thus removed to the domain of
experimental physiology. The question now is, whether in reality the
muscles most commonly in use are those which have nerves offering less
resistance, or whether the nervous excitement hidden in the centres is
sufficiently strong to allow the resistance made by the nerves to its
passage towards the muscles to be disregarded.

Spencer and Darwin gave no proof of their statements, so that it
devolves upon us physiologists to discover experimentally whether the
intuition of these great philosophers is correct. Darwin was, as usual,
very cautious, and in Chapter III., in which he treats of the general
principles of expression, after having mentioned the above theory,
says: 'Our present subject is very obscure, but, from its importance,
must be discussed at some little length; and it is always advisable to
perceive clearly our ignorance.’


I made a few experiments in order to see whether in reality, as
Spencer assumes, there exists a difference of conductibility amongst
the various nervous filaments which move the muscles of the face, and
which, as we know, are united into one bundle called the facial nerve.
I irritated this nerve at its point of departure from the skull, and
near the ear, where it is most easily isolated. There is no need to
describe the process of irritating the nerves by electric currents.
Galvani began in the last century to produce contractions of the
muscles by means of electric currents originated by the contact of
two metals; and we all know that the contractions of the legs of some
skinned frogs, observed by Galvani in Bologna while he was hanging them
on the iron railings in his garden, were the beginning of one of the
greatest conquests of science, and one of the discoveries which have
exercised the greatest influence on civilisation.

The apparatus made use of to irritate the nerves is an invention
of Professor Du Bois-Reymond. Many who are not physicians will yet
know the apparatus, which is often used in the cure of diseases by
electricity; its greatest advantage consists in the facility with which
the intensity of the electrical stimulus may be increased or diminished.

After having produced such a profound sleep in a dog by means of
chloral that he was insensible, I tried to irritate the nerve which
moves the muscles of the face by a very weak electric current. At
first the current was so weak that no effect was visible, but as it
was increased, a slight contraction of the cutaneous muscle of the
neck appeared, and a little movement at the corner of the mouth. It
might perhaps be of use to explain here how, in the muscles situated
under the skin of the neck, other facial muscles originate, amongst
others the so-called risorial muscle; but in order not to interrupt the
relation of this experiment, I shall reserve these remarks till the
beginning of the next section. The intensity of the electric current
when the slight movement of the mouth appeared was equal to 400 units.

If the current is increased, the movement of the lips becomes more
apparent, and when the electric irritation of the _facialis_ reaches
the intensity of 700, a contraction of the orbicular muscle of the
eyelids appears, which closes the eyes. At an intensity of 750 the
muscles which elevate the upper lip contract. At 820 the nostrils
are dilated and elevated. At 950 the contraction of the lips becomes
so pronounced that the dog shows his teeth, and his face assumes an
aggressive expression. At 1,250 there is a depression of the corners
of the mouth, as though produced by pain and disgust. At 1,500 this
expression becomes more intense, and the eye is forcibly shut. If the
stimulus is still further intensified, the face assumes the fierce
expression of an animal about to attack.

I obtained the same results with the animal soon after death.

These experiments show that Herbert Spencer’s hypothesis is correct;
but we shall presently see that the matter is exceedingly complicated,
and that we must take into account other factors no less important in
the expression of the face.


The muscles of the face have certainly not the office, as Duchenne de
Boulogne thought, of expressing the passions of the soul. To speak
frankly and without sentimentality, pedantry, or conventionality,
we must recognise that the most important feature of the face is
the mouth, and that the mouth is a funnel of flesh attached to the
alimentary canal. Sometimes it only serves to seize the prey and
receive the food before sending it to the stomach, as is the case
in fishes, reptiles, and birds, in which the face is reduced to a
minimum. As the apparatus for mastication becomes more complicated with
the appearance of teeth for cutting and crushing the food, and of lips
for sucking, drinking, and closing the mouth, the more complicated also
does the structure of the face become.

One of the most curious things discovered by anatomists is, that many
muscles of the face, of great importance in the expression of the
emotions, were originally, that is, in the inferior animals, muscles
serving a very different purpose. I shall develop this fact briefly,
so that the reader may see how difficulties continually increase the
nearer science approaches to the origin of things.

We all know that the hedgehog rolls itself up on the approach of
danger, its body having the appearance of a ball covered with bristles.
This movement is executed by means of a muscle under the skin which
covers nearly the whole body, and which contracts in a similar manner
to a bag drawn together by a string. Many other animals are similarly
furnished with a fine muscular layer which covers the body. In the
mole, for instance, this muscular system is well developed. Amongst
domestic animals we may mention the dog, the cat, and the horse, in
which, although these layers of cutaneous muscles are less compact,
they are still sufficiently developed to be noticeable when they enter
into action.

We have all remarked the rapid twitching of the skin by which dogs
and horses rid themselves of flies. This movement is due to the rapid
contraction of one of these muscles. It is easily proved that this is
not in reality their office, for they are well developed in birds,
fish, and reptiles that do not need to defend themselves from flies in
this way.

In all higher animals the traces of organs exist, which remind us of
our kinship with the lower animals. Sometimes these organs retrograde
from want of use, at other times they remain in existence but fulfil
a very different office, and one always much less useful than the
original one. Thus the cutaneous muscles still exist under the skin in
many parts of the human body, as an inheritance and a sign transmitted
to us by generations of animals that have preceded us on the earth.

But the contractions of these muscles are no longer of any actual use.
When the nerve-force in emotion spreads from the centre towards the
periphery, these muscles, from their position in the skin, produce
effects which are more easily seen than in other parts of the body,
but which serve no effectual purpose in the struggle for existence and
in the preservation of life. In the dog and cat, for instance, the
contraction of these muscles in strong emotions causes the erection
of the hair on the back, and gives the animal the characteristic
expression of attack or defence, of fear or pain. In man, on the other
hand, a forcible contraction of the cutaneous muscles of the neck which
extend under the skin near the lips gives to the mouth the expression
so characteristic of children when about to cry, or when they are
trying to restrain their tears. Duchenne de Boulogne studied the
function of this muscle, and showed that, when irritated by electric
currents, it opens the mouth in the manner of one under the influence
of terror.

From Ehlers’ observations on the facial muscles of the gorilla and
chimpanzee, we learn that these animals have the same muscles of the
face as we have. Ehlers maintains that the statement made by certain
authors is not true, namely, that the single fasciculi in the muscular
system of the face of these animals are less thick and compact than
in man. Only the wrinklings of the brow are less developed, and the
muscles round the eye are finer, while those distributed to the
nostrils and lips are more highly developed.

It is not true that laughing and weeping are exclusively human. One
need only observe attentively the face of a sensitive and faithful dog
in order to see the first traces of expressions betraying an altered
state of the nervous system. In joyful emotion, as, for instance, when
he meets his master, the lips are lifted in such a manner as to uncover
the teeth, the head inclines in a caressing attitude, the rhythm of
the respiration is modified, and the eyes glisten. Notwithstanding the
difference of anatomical structure and the wide dissimilarity of parts,
we can yet trace in the dog the rudiments of those involuntary muscular
movements which attain their supreme expression in man, in whom a
slight movement of the muscles curves the lips into a smile which sheds
a ray of benevolence over the whole face and increases the charm of
beauty, as though with the breath of love itself.

Darwin wrote many interesting pages about the way in which monkeys
laugh. Humboldt observed the eyes of a monkey fill with tears when it
was overcome by fear, and Brehm relates that seals weep with pain, and
that young elephants when ill-treated shed tears as abundantly as man.


Their reasons why changes in the psychical state are reflected are
numerous with such facility by the muscles of the face. Besides that
of proximity to the nerve-centres propounded by Spencer and Darwin,
there is the anatomical fact that the facial muscles have, for the most
part, no antagonists. We know that in the hand, for instance, a slight
contraction of the muscles which serve to open the hand and extend
the fingers, is opposed by the action of the flexors which bend and
contract the fingers. In the face the majority of the muscles can act
freely, hence a slight nervous shock produces effects far more intense
than in the other muscles of the body, in which the slight contraction
of muscles acting in a contrary sense must always be overcome.

The muscles of the face are also more delicate, and have less volume
than those of other parts of the body. Now the volume of the muscles
exercises considerable influence on the greater or lesser facility with
which they contract. A convincing proof is offered by the heart, in
which, when life ceases, there is an almost immediate stoppage of the
action of the ventricles, which form a thick, firm muscle, while the
auricles, forming a fine muscle, continue to move for hours after all
other parts are rigid in death.

Another anatomical fact of the greatest importance, brought into
prominence by Meynart, is to be found in the origin of the facial
nerve within the brain. All other nerves have a very intricate course,
and are connected with other cells, and other nerve-filaments, which
constitute the cerebral convolutions; the facial nerve only receives
commands directly from the central parts of the brain and transmits
them by the shortest route to the periphery. If I may allow myself
to make use of a comparison, I should say that the facial nerve is
like a telegraph wire, which transmits the messages directly to
their destination, while with the other nerves the messages are sent
successively from one station to another, consequently they pass less
rapidly from the brain to their destination in the muscles.

The investigation of that part of the brain whence are issued the
commands causing the contraction of the muscles, the accurate,
microscopic examination of the cells which, by their activity in the
deep parts of the brain, produce the expression of the physiognomy, is
a new and important study.

An American anatomist, Mr. Edward Spitzka,[25] discovered that the
facial nerve originates in two masses of nerve-cells, called, in
anatomical language, nuclei.

There is a lower nucleus, the cells of which preside over the
respiratory movements and the expression of the emotions, and an upper
nucleus directing the orbicular muscle of the eye. While the latter
presents very few variations when studied in different animals of the
zoological series, the lower nucleus of the facial nerve, on the other
hand, varies considerably, according to the development of the other
muscles of the face.

In reptiles, for instance, the nucleus of the facial nerve which
goes to the eye is well developed, while the lower nucleus is in a
retrograde condition. In birds, which, like reptiles, have no muscles
giving expression to the face, this mass of cells forming the lower
nucleus is entirely lacking. In the elephant, on the other hand, the
lower nucleus is well developed, because the nose is a complex organ
requiring a special group of nerve-cells and nerves in order to act.

Spitzka’s anatomical researches having shown that the lower nucleus
of the facial nerve reaches its maximum development in the monkey and
in man, we must regard it as very probable that the nerve-cells which
we see at this point in the brain, at the lower origin of the facial
nerve, are really those which produce the expression of the physiognomy.

[25] Edward C. Spitzka: _Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease_, 1879,
s. 69.

As I write this, I have before me a very thin section of the brain,
showing the nucleus of the facial nerve as it appears in man. It
is a gray spot, as large as the head of a small pin, slightly
spindle-shaped, and having a volume of about two cubic millimetres. If
we look at it under the microscope we see nothing but an accumulation
of cells, about the five-hundredths of a millimetre in diameter, and
with delicate branches intertwining with each other. In vain the eye
tries to find a path through this intricate network of filaments and
cells; imagination loses itself as in a labyrinth, and we remain
humbled and almost frightened at the thought that we are contemplating
the corpse of the noblest part of the brain. The activity of these
cells has roused the most powerful emotions of our life: our knowledge
of men, our sympathy, indifference, suspicion were provoked by the
movements which they gave to the faces of those we have known;
friendship, affection, and the most holy joys of life brightened our
countenance with a smile which came from these cells; they, again,
diffused the shadow of sadness, pain, and tears--and all this drew
life from a part of the brain so minute that by a mere touch we could
unconsciously crush it.


The greatest difficulties in the study of the alterations which the
human face undergoes in suffering are essentially two in number. The
first is the rapidity and the perpetual restlessness of muscular
movements, which are so fugitive that our eye cannot grasp and
comprehend them. The second difficulty lies in the nature of our mind,
which is disturbed and touched at the sight of pain. Even men who
have been hardened and accustomed to the sight of blood and of human
misfortunes, are yet moved at the terrible picture of pain wreaking its
rude will on a sensitive organism. Human pain is of such importance
that all scientific curiosity becomes a trifling and ridiculous thing,
and our mind rebels and feels an invincible repugnance to every desire
which has not the alleviation of the sufferer for its object, to every
act which does not spring from a lively and intense compassion.

For this reason I made use of instantaneous photographs in studying
the expression of the face. The first experiments were made on a few
friends and on myself. Pain was produced by introducing the fingers
between five pieces of wood, which were then pressed firmly together.
This pressure may become unbearable, but the expression of the face is
less characteristic than we are accustomed to see in suffering people.
In oppression and fear there is not generally that effort of will which
subdues the reflex movements in voluntary pain. Tears, agitation,
spasms, terror, faintness, which appear in the terrible reality of
nature, can only be studied in actual sufferers. I had therefore to
leave my laboratory and continue my investigations in the hospitals.
I owe thanks to my colleagues in Turin who assisted me during these
researches, and allowed me to place my camera in such a position that
I could photograph their patients during surgical operations without
their being aware of it. The machine opened and closed instantaneously
by means of an electric apparatus which I had constructed for this
purpose. I could stand near the patient during the operation, and at a
given moment, by touching a button, I obtained a picture of the invalid
in the camera, which was at a distance of a few paces.

In this way I have made an album of pain. It is a saddening and
terrible book, from which I take only two pages, reproduced in Plates
I. and II. Their reality is represented in it with such vividness that
one shudders on opening it. No artist’s fancy has ever been able to
imagine or express what photography faithfully reproduces. In acute
stages of suffering the human face inspires fear in one contemplating
it; it is not alone the profound commiseration which we feel for the
anguish of a sentient being which moves us, nor the humiliation which
the sight of human misery awakes in us, but also the selfish thought
that this palpitating flesh might be our flesh, that our soul, shaken
with pain, would also forget its tranquillity, and our tortured nerves
wring from us the same cries and the same tears.

[Illustration: PLATE I.]

[Illustration: PLATE II.


The pictures which I reproduce were taken in the Mauriziano hospital
in Turin, and represent a boy, eighteen years of age, who had received
a wound on his elbow which had healed badly, rendering the joint
stiff and leaving the arm bent at a right angle. When he came
to Turin, the treatment was begun at once, the arm being moved and
stretched daily in order to overcome the resistance and render the
joint movable. I photographed the boy twice nearly every day for
several weeks, whenever the surgeon forcibly extended the arm, which
was intensely painful.

I shall not attempt to describe these pictures, because I feel sure
that no words of mine could express the transformation which the human
face undergoes in pain. Even had I the talent and the pen of a great
artist or a great writer, I should yet refrain, for I know that every
description is useless, pale, and vague when confronted with reality.
Instantaneous photographs are the best means of showing how even the
greatest painters and sculptors have fallen far short of reality, in
their representations of the spasms and sufferings which disfigure and
distort the human face.


The expression of pain alters according to age; it is different in the
child, the youth, the adult, and the old. Energy of will or weakness of
character also exercise a profound influence upon it.

I have been present at surgical operations, and have performed them, on
persons who refused to be chloroformed, and have noticed how great was
the difference of conduct. An old officer, who bore the operation of
lithotomy without anæsthetics, only clenched his hands and his teeth,
keeping his eyes closed and his face almost impassive. A labourer,
whose foot had to be amputated, frowned during the operation, and
tapped lightly with curved fingers on the coverlet. There are patients
who gnash their teeth, others who roll their eyes upwards, others again
who puff; some say, before the operation begins, that they would lie
still if only they were allowed to scream.

But none, whatever be the strength of will, succeed in suppressing
completely the expression of pain when intense. Only very energetic
persons succeed in preserving immovable the muscles of the face, while
they discharge the activity of the nervous system into other muscles by
tetanic contractions.

We may say that every malady has its peculiar expression of pain.
Often, by merely looking at the patient and hearing him moan, the
physician can tell which are the affected organs.

This study is very much complicated because of the rare occurrence of
simple sensations of pain. Our states of mind are so variable and so
complex, that the expression of the face is, as it were, the result of
numerous factors. To be convinced we need only think of the touching
sight of a woman about to become a mother. Notwithstanding the pangs
that torture her, in spite of the indescribable agony of the most
intense pains to which human nature is condemned, she yet finds a smile
which expresses the hope of surviving, and the joy of motherhood shines
in the tender radiance of her eyes, beautifying the face furrowed by
cruel suffering.

Italian literature can boast of two very valuable books on the
physiology of pain. The first was written by Professor Filippo Lussana
in 1860, and dedicated to Dr. Paolo Mantegazza, 'who was writing
his celebrated “Physiology of Pleasure” when the joyous spring of
his twenty-second year smiled upon the author.’ Twenty years later,
in 1880, Paolo Mantegazza also published a valuable book on the
'Physiology of Pain.’ The merits of this book are great, and it is
perhaps one of his greatest achievements in the field of physiology,
but science has since made such rapid progress, that it would be well
if a third volume were added to the group, developing the anatomical
and physiological part, illustrating by instantaneous photographs the
most characteristic movements and expressions of pain, and subjecting
to a severe criticism the most celebrated pictures and statues of the
various schools. I cherish the wish that Paolo Mantegazza, who was my
master, and one of the greatest popularisers of science, may find time
to complete and rejuvenate his work, for who else would find courage to
take a place at his side, and to glean where he has reaped?


The art of the future, comprising all visible nature within its limits,
will find a great and terrible potency of effect in the expression of
pain. The difficulties, certainly, are here much greater than in the
calm reproduction of the ideally beautiful, and those painters and
sculptors who wish to grapple with the problem of the expression of
pain must train themselves by the study of reality, and arm themselves
with anatomical and physiological knowledge of which antique art gives
us no example.

I believe that, with the advance of a scientific criticism nurtured on
an accurate knowledge of physiology, and intimately acquainted with the
functions of the muscles, we shall one day recognise that the Greeks
of the epoch of Phidias and Praxiteles were unequal to the effectual
reproduction of violent passions.

Winckelmann said that Greek art was always tranquil and majestic,
like the depths of the sea, which remain immovably calm, however the
tempest may ruffle the surface. But I fear there is some exaggeration
in the statement that beauty was the only law of Greek art, and
that the Greeks shunned the expression of pain because the sight
of suffering excites disgust in the spectator. Sophocles and Homer
believed in an art of wider limits; they made their heroes weep, and
shriek, and groan; all human weaknesses are faithfully represented by
them, descending even to the grotesque and ridiculous. At the epoch of
Phidias monuments vividly expressing the internal passions of the soul
are rare. It was only later, in the time of Praxiteles and Scopas, that
subjects and compositions of greater effect were attempted. The most
ancient monument of pain, that representing the destruction of Niobe’s
children, does not attain the perfection of other famous works of that
epoch. The subject is tragic in the highest degree, and such that one
cannot say the Greeks shunned the terrific. It may be that the statue
of the Niobe in Florence is a bad copy, but it is much more probable
that the artists of that epoch, who were unrivalled and beyond all
rivalry in the representation of grace of attitude and silent majesty,
could not touch with the same master-hand the other chords to which the
human heart vibrates.

Some great artist--perhaps Praxiteles or Scopas--wished to adorn the
temple of Apollo with this terrible picture of revenge taken upon man
by an offended deity. It is Niobe, the daughter of Tantalus, who, proud
of her children, dared to compare herself to the mother of Apollo, and
now sees them killed one after another, shot by the revengeful arrows
of Apollo and Artemis. No subject could be more tragic. The first
time I entered the 'Galleria degli Uffizi’ in Florence, I remember
halting, almost afraid, at the door leading to the hall of the Niobean
group, thinking of the heart-rending scene I was about to see, and of
the emotion which I should feel while contemplating one of the most
celebrated productions of Greek art. I confess that it did not produce
the effect which I had imagined, and that a careful examination of the
statues forming the group resulted in a great disappointment.

Only the mother filled me with emotion, so perfect is her attitude,
so real her gesture; but in her face and in that of her children there
is no true reflection of the awful event taking place. There is no
physiological correspondence in the pose of the limbs and between
the muscles of the body and those of the face. There is insufficient
accuracy in the sculpture of the heads, for in them is lacking the
expression of intense emotion, of horror, fear, and pain which would
inevitably be present in the terrible moment of so cruel a butchery.
Even though the convulsions and spasms had altered the beauty of the
lines to which the eye of the Greeks was accustomed, it was yet the
duty of the artist faithfully to represent reality. Nor can it be said
that the artist feared to fall into the grotesque, because certain
postures of the children are so violent, that in their boldness they
perhaps exaggerate the truth. Though Praxiteles himself were the
creator of the Niobean group, I yet hold that a humble physiologist,
looking with dispassionate eye at these statues, may affirm that they
fall short of the fame of so great a master, because the faces are not
so modelled as to produce the desired effect, because nature is not
faithfully copied, and because there lacks the sublime ideality of
terror aroused by the chastisement of an offended deity, which was the
subject of the work.

It was in the schools of Asia Minor, after the time of Alexander,
in Pergamos and Rhodes, that antique art, before it became extinct,
developed its greatest splendour, showing an irresistible tendency to
the representation of pain. It is to the school of Rhodes that the
Laocoon group belongs. So much has been written about this celebrated
work, that I should have nothing to add if the face of Laocoon were
anatomically correct. Duchenne de Boulogne was the first to notice the
defects of the Laocoon of Rome, and to declare that the furrows of the
brow in this celebrated statue are physiologically impossible. The eye
of the superficial observer does not notice this defect, because the
movement of the eyebrows which produces the fundamental line of pain is
marvellously modelled. Some perhaps will say that it is useless to stop
to criticise the delineation of a few furrows when such an intense and
majestic pain is written on the face, when one seems to hear the sigh
of superhuman agony from his lips, and sees the lines of beauty and of
pain so wonderfully blended.

The discoveries which have been made of late years in the excavations
in the Acropolis of Pergamos have restored to the admiration of
centuries treasures which mark an epoch in the history of plastic
art, and throw a vivid light on the last phase with which Greek art
completed its evolution. Works so moving as those of the sculptors of
Pergamos had never been produced before. Art devoted itself entirely to
the embodiment and representation of physical pain in its innumerable
manifestations, as though the observation and experience of suffering,
the study of the pathetic, having accumulated for centuries in the
mind of artists and people, burst forth impetuously at the sight of
the victories over the barbarians who threatened their country with
invasion. We have in Italy some of the most celebrated masterpieces
of the school of Pergamos. As all know them I shall only mention the
statue of the dying Gaul in the Museo Capitolino. The head is not so
beautiful as those of the Greek statues, but, on the other hand, it
wears so vivid an expression of pain that we feel touched at the brave
death of this barbarian, who breathes his last leaning upon his shield,
while the blood gushes from the fatal wound. This statue, together
with the group in the Villa Ludovisi to which it belongs, was placed
on the Acropolis of Pergamos about 200 years before the vulgar era, in
order to celebrate the victory of Attalus I. over the barbarians. In
the second group we have again a barbarian before us, who, pursued by
an enemy, kills his wife, and then with the same dagger, as he looks
behind him, his eyes wild with the fear that the enemy may be near and
make him a prisoner before he dies, he stabs himself.

Brizio, in his 'Studies of the Laocoon,’ speaking of the school of
Pergamos, says: 'After an exhaustive examination of the statues in the
museums of Naples, Venice, Rome, and St. Germain-en-Laye, not only
the intention of the artists becomes evident, but also the pleasure
they took in representing with the greatest perspicuity the death of
combatants with all the torture and agony preceding it. In none of
the monuments prior to this epoch is anything similar to be found,
although Greek sculpture, beginning with Phidias, boasts a conspicuous
series of representations of combats. In all these scenes the artists
endeavoured to find new situations, to recreate and vary the groups of
combatants, to reproduce the ardour of the fight; they even represented
the wounded and the dead, but simply as episodes; they never made a
study of death itself, of its tragic effects, with the manifest object
of moving and exciting to the highest degree the compassion of the
spectator. In these groups death is rather indicated than represented.

A further step in the representation of physical pain is marked by the
sculpture of the 'War of the Titans’ around the altar of Jove. When we
throw a comprehensive glance on these scenes of the battle between gods
and giants, we are struck by a new and horrible phenomenon--namely, the
part which the animals, tearing the human bodies to pieces, take in it.

Anyone contemplating in the Museum of Berlin the figures in haut-relief
which formerly adorned the plinth of the altar at Pergamos, 135 metres
in length, feels that this is perhaps the most imposing work which
sculpture has ever produced. Art was in full possession of its most
potent means, and more advanced science had contributed its part. It
was by a most minute study of details, by an exact knowledge of the
movements of the muscles, and long practice in the observation of the
physiognomy of passion, that antique plastic art, in the last period
of its splendour, attained its highest effect in the expression of
feeling. This, I think, is the natural law in the evolution of art.




The edifice of the human body may be compared by those studying its
chemical processes to a vast manufactory of which every corner and
every door bears the inscription, 'NO ADMITTANCE.’ The curiosity of the
public could not be greater; fain would they force an entrance, for all
know that the most marvellous things are fabricated therein--wonders
which no human hand, no industry, can produce.

The workmen in this factory are very small--marvellously
small--invisible to the naked eye, and so tightly pressed together
that they sometimes resemble the cells of a beehive, and have, on this
account, received the name of cells. Life proceeds entirely from these
workmen, whose confederation is so perfect that not one can be touched
without the others at once becoming aware of it.

The edifice is somewhat weak in parts, and here one might easily force
an entrance and make a wide breach; but this violence would avail us
little, for when we break into the building the machines stop, causing
such disorder and confusion that we are quite bewildered. We hear a
whirring and throbbing, the pipes burst, the fluids are spilt, the
pumps stop, the valves open--then all grows cold and still; and this is
the strike which we call death.

The history of the attempts made to discover the actual nature of the
activity of these workmen who keep the secret of life is one of the
most beautiful studies in science; in reading it, there comes over
us a feeling of admiration and gratitude towards those men who, in
all ages, have spent their whole life in investigations, accumulating
experience, sacrificing worldly goods and honours for one little gleam
of light, defying poverty and toil, making the hardest and most cruel
sacrifices for the sake of one forward step, of lifting but a little
the mysterious veil, sometimes only to stretch out a hand to help
others to walk over their body.

Thousands of volumes have been written about this struggle, and those
who only read an epitome of it in the treatises of physiological
chemistry are yet astonished at the power of the human mind, and at the
incredible, almost superhuman, difficulties with which it has to cope.

Never was there, nor will there be, any war even faintly resembling in
ardour, perseverance, and power of intellectual means, this siege of
centuries, which seeks to close every issue to Nature and force her to
reveal the secret of her chemical operations.

It is wonderful to see how attacks are prepared in advance, what
cunning traps are laid, and by what subtile signs the road of ingress
is divined. Who can describe the joy of all besiegers when one step
forward has been made, or a glimmer of light is detected in the
darkness? The exultation and applause which welcome every invention
which resolves, or analyses, or recomposes a molecule, every instrument
which enables us to break one crumb off the immense rock of the
Unknown? And who shall tell the tale of pain, of disappointment,
bitterness, and error; of the forgotten or unknown deeds of heroism, of
existences lost in the obscurity of the schools, of the laboratories,
of the hospitals; of those who die unnoticed in these last trenches
where spectators and witnesses to shout applause are lacking?

And yet this deters no one; all press onward. The soldiers of science
renew their vigilance and redouble their caution, the phalanx of the
living draws closer together, returning with fresh courage to the

Nothing can resist this unremitting war, this wonderful harmony of
aim, this iron will of man; we will die on the battle-field with the
certainty that others will take up our weapons and that the victory
will be ours.


The prohibition to enter the manufactory of the human body is not so
strict but that we may advance a little. We can see everything which
goes in, that is, certain substances called food, which we all know,
because they are publicly offered for sale; nor is it difficult to
obtain permission to follow them through the mouth which forms the
entry, and a long corridor, called the œsophagus, into a large, damp,
warm cavity called the stomach, in which all substances are reduced to
a very fine pulp; the whitish juice runs into certain little canals
which flow into the circulating stream called blood, of which we have
already spoken, and out of which every workman, every cell, draws what
is necessary for its work. But no one has ever really discovered what
is done with this appropriated material--the manner of its digestion
and elaboration.

We know that the motor force of the manufactory is due to a change--a
chemical operation, by which the energy of the substances introduced is
transformed and appropriated by the cells that manifest it externally
in that force which we call muscular contraction cerebral activity, &c.

The most important chemical operations performed in the manufactory
are three in number. The first consists in the transformation of food
into protoplasm, or cell-substance; the second, in the discharge of the
energy accumulated in these cells; the third, in the elimination of
those substances which the cells have exhausted and rendered useless.

If we make a careful comparison, by means of chemical analysis, between
the composition of the substances introduced and those eliminated, we
always find that the chemical energy of the latter is much reduced,
from which we may know that it is food which puts everything in
movement, for with nothing, nothing is made.

The walls of the building are often moistened by a fluid which trickles
through in drops, and is called perspiration. Physiologists have
constructed most costly apparatus in order to collect the smoke of the
chimney and the air which escapes from the mouths of the innumerable
ventilators called pores. Every little thing was studied and
conscientiously analysed, and all were surprised that these elaborate
and most intricate operations of life should result finally in products
so simple. We may say that our body only produces carbonic acid, urea,
and a few salts.


Let us enter more fully into this subject, so that we may understand
the meaning of certain phenomena accompanying fear.

The materials rendered useless in the operations of our factory are
easily eliminated through the skin, which thus co-operates in one of
the most important functions, that of internal cleansing, which is more
particularly the office of the kidneys.

We have all observed that we usually perspire when the skin is red; but
there are exceptional cases, as in fear, when we perspire, although
we are pale and trembling. How does it happen that we have a cold
perspiration, and a perspiration with a sensation of warmth in the
skin? I shall here mention an experiment of Claude Bernard. Having
severed a filament of the sympathetic nerves on the neck of a horse,
he saw immediately afterwards, although the animal had not moved, an
abundant secretion on that half of its head where the cut had been
made. The mechanism producing this phenomenon is easily understood: as
soon as the nerve is severed which held the blood-vessels in check, the
latter dilate, blood flows more copiously to the sudoriparous glands,
increasing their activity and causing an elimination of the secreted

When it is warm, or when we are feverish, and the blood tends to
flow more abundantly to the surface of the body to cool itself, the
secretion of perspiration is increased in a similar way. But we see
anæmic persons perspire--the consumptive, for instance, and the
dying, in whom this more copious supply of blood is wanting. In this
case the cause of abundant secretion is different; here it is the
nerves. One of the finest discoveries which have been made of late
years in physiology, is that of the nerve-filaments which connect the
cerebro-spinal system with the glands of the body. Whereas formerly
everything was attributed to the more or less copious flow of blood to
the glands, the secretions of which were considered as a process of
filtration, we now know that the matter is much more complicated, and
that there are nerves which augment and diminish the activity of the
cells charged with the secretion. It is nervous activity which produces
the perspiration characteristic of attention, pain, epilepsy, tetanus.

In order to prove that the secretion of perspiration may be
accomplished independently of the circulation of the blood, we make
an incision in the leg of a cat immediately after death and irritate
the sciatic nerve; we then see that a secretion of perspiration still
appears on the sole of the foot. From this we can understand how in the
death-agony and the extreme pallor of fright, when all the vessels of
the skin are contracted, there yet may appear a peculiar secretion of
perspiration which we call _cold perspiration_.


There is another part of the body which opens periodically to allow of
the ejection of the refuse of the factory; it consists in a _cloaca_
and a cistern which contains a yellow liquid. It is a less beautiful
part of the organism, but during violent emotions involuntary movements
are produced in it so characteristic of fear that we must turn our
attention to it. Physicians thought that these irregularities were
caused by a paralysis of the sphincter muscle, but this is not the
case. The researches which I made with Prof. Pellicani[26] showed that,
in man as well as in animals, there are strong contractions of the
bladder which correspond to psychic facts. Scarcely have we experienced
some slight emotion or been excited by some thought but there is an
immediate change in the state of the muscles of this organ. I regret
that the nature of this book does not permit of the reproduction of the
curves traced by the plethysmograph, which show that psychic phenomena
and any irritation of the sensory nerves produce a contraction of the

[26] Mosso e Pellicani: _Sulle funzioni della vescica_. R. Accademia
dei Lincei, vol. xii. 1881.

This is the reason why, during emotion, we feel the urgent and repeated
need to expel the urine, without the amount of accumulated liquid
being such as to explain the necessity. We can no doubt all remember
the annoyance which the contraction of this organ caused us on certain
solemn occasions; for instance, when we had to make a speech, or
present ourselves for an examination, or were anxiously expecting

The feeling of contraction and pressure in the abdomen when we approach
a precipice, or when we are in great apprehension, is solely due to the
involuntary contraction of the bladder. We have shown that all causes
producing a contraction of the blood-vessels have the same effect on
the muscles of the bladder. I have often seen excitable, good-tempered
dogs, in whom caresses and the sight of food were sufficient to produce
such a contraction of the bladder, that the urine was expelled; and
this suffices to confirm the fact that in our organism the same
phenomena may be produced by opposite causes.

In emotions violently agitating the nervous system, and especially
in fear, the contraction of the bladder is so forcible that the will
can no longer hinder the expulsion of the accumulated liquid; it is
therefore not a paralysis, but too forcible a contraction of the walls
of the bladder which causes the involuntary expulsion.

       *       *       *       *       *

Let us throw a passing glance at what takes place in the _cloaca
maxima_. The intestinal walls are as contractile as those of the
bladder; nor need this surprise us, as they are furnished with smooth
muscles, and receive nerves and blood-vessels from the same source.
We know, indeed, that this canal is subject to rapid movements, for
we have all frequently heard that rumbling noise of the intestines
which we cannot suppress. If the abdominal walls were transparent, we
should see, when this occurs, that there is a limited contraction of
the intestinal walls which propagates itself slowly in the direction of
the egress. These movements, called peristaltic, are present even when
we hear no noise; they serve to mix the food in the stomach, promote
digestion, and convey the useless residuum to the rectum.

In paroxysms of fear the rapidity of these movements is so greatly
increased that, in a very short time, they convey substances introduced
into the stomach to the terminal portion of the intestines before
there has been time to elaborate, digest, and condense them. It is
therefore no paralysis which may, in certain circumstances, make the
most courageous men appear ridiculous, it is a stream overflowing
its banks--the intestines contracting so violently as to eject their
contents rapidly from the organism.

One of my friends, who served as a volunteer in 1866, described to
me the physical disturbances which he suffered the first time he was
under fire. 'Believe me,’ he said, 'nothing can give you an idea of
the furious shower of bullets which whizzed about our ears. We were
near a cemetery; perhaps it was the sight of the crosses and of some
corpses lying by the road-side which increased my terror, but the
bullets burying themselves in the walls and trees, the cries of wounded
comrades, the grim rattle of musketry, the roar of the cannon, seemed
to tear me inwardly. The dysentery was so terrible that my body seemed
to fall to pieces. I was always cowering in the ditches, could only
stumble forwards, scarcely even rise from the ground. I was ashamed; I
could have killed myself only to be able to look death bravely in the
face, but, indeed, my organism could not bear that terrible sight!’


A still more characteristic phenomenon in the picture of fear is
_goose-skin_. Let us see how and why the skin corrugates in this way.
We know that besides the sudoriparous glands there are other glands at
the surface of the body which secrete a peculiar fat called _sebum_,
which oils the surface of the skin and gives it that gloss which we
notice on the face of some people.

If we take a vertical section of the skin, we can see with the
microscope a close network of muscular fibres which traverse the skin
in an oblique direction, and surround every hair in the manner of the
ribs of an umbrella. It is wonderful to see this mechanism under the
microscope, how every hair has its own gland, its own muscle and its
own nerve, its own arteries and veins. When these muscles contract,
the meshes of the skin contract likewise and express the contents of
the glands. We do not notice these movements of the skin, because the
muscles contract very slowly.

Sometimes special muscles appear in the skin called cutaneous muscles,
which play an important part in the life of animals.

We all know how the hedgehog rolls himself into a ball on the approach
of danger. This movement, as we have already stated, is executed by
means of a muscle covering the whole of the body, like a hood or
purse which may be drawn together on one side. In the mole, too,
these muscles are very strong, and we have already mentioned that
dogs and horses twitch the skin to rid themselves of flies, and that
this movement is due to a rapid contraction of one of these muscles.
When animals curl themselves up, with the muzzle close to the tail,
as the sleeping dog does, head and limbs are more easily held in this
position by means of these muscles. I have found them more or less in
all superior animals, and shall now consider the possible uses of these
muscles which exist also in man.

It does not seem to me correct to say that they serve to drive the
flies away, because they are well developed in reptiles and fish,
and in many animals of which the skin is insensible to the stings
of insects; also, if the fly-hypothesis were the correct one, the
cutaneous muscles should be best developed on those parts of the animal
which cannot easily be reached with the head, the leg, or the tail, but
the contrary is the case.

Certainly the muscles are made use of for this purpose, but this is an
accidental fact, as is also, I believe, the circumstance that these
muscles serve to erect the hair when the animal is excited or afraid.
When one dog approaches another in a hostile mood, there is such an
agitation of his nervous system that he begins to tremble, not through
fear, but excessive excitement. All the muscles contract, those of
the blood-vessels, of the bladder, of the intestines, therefore it is
comprehensible that the cutaneous muscles should also contract, raising
the hair on the dog’s back.

If we look at the skin of the arms or legs when we step into a cold
bath, or when we uncover ourselves on rising in the morning while the
temperature of the room is low, we notice the appearance of goose-skin.

Whenever there is, for some reason, a contraction of the blood-vessels,
these muscles contract also and the hair rises. The simultaneous
appearance of these two phenomena is, I believe, useful to the animal,
because, in raising the hair or feathers, the stratum of air enclosed
by these appendages is increased, the loss of heat in this way
diminished, and the cooling of the skin prevented. It is, perhaps, for
this reason that horses, dogs, cats, and birds ruffle their hair or
feathers when cold.[27]

[27] Darwin gives another explanation of this phenomenon which seems to
me less probable. He states that animals erect their dermal appendages
that they may appear larger and more terrible to their enemies.

But how can it be explained that these smooth muscles should be
originally dependent on the will? In order to avoid the doubly
improbable supposition that these muscles should have become smooth
and involuntary, although preserving the same functions, Darwin has
recourse to another explanation. 'We may admit,’ he says, 'that
originally the arrectores pili were slightly acted on in a direct
manner, under the influence of rage and terror, by the disturbance of
the nervous system.’ 'Animals have been repeatedly excited by rage and
terror through many generations; and consequently the direct effects
of the disturbed nervous system on the dermal appendages will almost
certainly have been increased through habit and through the tendency
of nerve-force to pass readily along accustomed channels.’ 'As soon
as with animals the power of erection has thus been strengthened or
increased, they must often have seen the hairs or feathers erected in
rival and enraged males, and the bulk of their bodies thus increased.
In this case it appears possible that they might have wished to make
themselves appear larger and more terrible to their enemies ...
such attitudes and utterances after a time becoming through habit

'It is even possible ... that the will is able to influence in an
obscure manner the action of some unstriped or involuntary muscles, as
in the period of the peristaltic movements of the intestines, and in
the contraction of the bladder.’[28]

[28] Ch. Darwin: _The Expression of the Emotions_, p. 103.




The one who brings up a child represents its brain. Every ugly thing
told to the child, every shock, every fright given him, will remain
like minute splinters in the flesh, to torture him all his life long.

An old soldier, whom I asked what his greatest fears had been, answered
me thus: 'I have only had one, but it pursues me still. I am nearly
seventy years old, I have looked death in the face I do not know how
many times, I have never lost heart in any danger, but when I pass a
little old church in the shades of the forest, or a deserted chapel
in the mountains, I always remember a neglected oratory in my native
village, and I shiver and look around, as though seeking the corpse of
a murdered man which I once saw carried into it when a child, and with
which an old servant wanted to shut me up to make me good.’

Anxiety, fear, horror will twine themselves perpetually around the
memory, like deadly ivy choking the light of reason. At every step
we remember the terrors of childhood: the vaults of a cellar, the
dark arch of a bridge, the cross-roads losing themselves in the
darkness, the crosses hidden amidst the bushes of a cemetery, a dim
light flickering far away in the darkness of night, a lonely cave
washed by the waves of the sea, the ruins of an uninhabited castle,
the mysterious silence of a deserted tower, breathe out the memory of
childish fear. The eye of the child seems to cast one more look on
these scenes from out of the very depths of the soul.

Not only the mother, the nurse, the maid, or the servants, but hundreds
of generations have worked to denaturalise the brains of children with
the same barbarity as those wild tribes who distort the heads of their
children by pressure, deforming what they think to beautify.

The children of ancient Greece and Rome used to be frightened with the
lamias who would suck their blood, with the masks of the atellans, the
Cyclops, or with a black Mercury who would come to carry them away.

And this most pernicious error in education has not yet disappeared,
for children are still frightened with the bogey-man, with stories
of imaginary monsters, the ogre, the hobgoblin, the wizard, and the

Every now and then children are told: 'This will peck at you,’ 'That
will bite you,’ 'Now I’ll call the dog,’ 'There’s the sweep coming,’
and a hundred other terrors which make the tears well up and spoil
their disposition, making their life a burden by incessantly agitating
them with threats, with tortures, which will make them timid and
shrinking for the rest of their life.

The imagination of children is far more vivid and excitable than in
adults. When a child is naturally timorous, it is better not to leave
it in the dark, but to keep a night-light burning in the room, so that,
on waking, it may at once recognise the place, and its fancies may
not assume an air of reality. The child’s eye is much more apt than
ours to trace pursuing spectres in the outlines of accustomed objects.
The stories told them in the evening, any exciting emotions towards
night-time, are most certainly reproduced in their dreams.

A turkey-cock, ten days old, that had never heard the cry of the
falcon, disappeared with the rapidity of lightning when it heard
the cry the first time, hiding itself in a corner, where it cowered
motionless and silent for more than ten minutes.

Spalding took a brood of chickens, a week old, and while they were
chirping around the hen in the meadow, he let fly a falcon. At once
the chickens tried to hide in the grass and bushes, and the hen, that
had always been kept shut up, so that she might have no experience
of enemies, precipitated herself with such violence on the falcon on
seeing it that she would certainly have killed it. Now neither she nor
her first brood had ever seen a bird of prey. Spalding, in order to
assure himself that it really is instinct which causes the recognition
of enemies, had already let some pigeons fly, and these settled
near the hen without producing any disturbance or emotion, as in the
case of the falcon. We must therefore admit that there is an innate
recollection which constitutes fear.


Philosophers, always dominated by a sublime idea of human faculties,
have too much neglected the study of savages and children. And yet it
is here that we ought to begin, if it is true that one must proceed
from the simple to the complex. Physiologists seem, more than others,
to have recognised this necessity, in order to distinguish inherited
psychic facts from those which we are capable of acquiring by the
experience of the senses. Let the physiologist remain long days at home
with a sympathetic wife and a darling child, attentively observing and
writing the whole life of the latter; this is for him the best, the
ideal study.

My colleague, Prof. Preyer, one of the most distinguished of
embryologists, had this happy thought, and his book on the 'Soul of the
Child’[29] is one of the most interesting volumes of modern psychology.

[29] Preyer: _Die Seele des Kindes_. Jena, 1882.

Even the first day after birth the face of the child changes suddenly
if it is held towards the light from the window, or if its eyes are
shaded by a hand.

On the second day it shuts its eyes forcibly and immediately when
a lighted candle is brought near to it, and draws its head back
energetically if a light is held before its eyes on waking.

In this case the child responds through excessive sensitiveness, not
through fear. A child, a few months old, looking at the clouds or a
snow-covered surface, closes its eyes oftener and more forcibly than an

During the first month children do not wink at a sudden noise, or when
one makes a pretence of putting a finger into their eye.

In Prof. Preyer’s child this movement appeared for the first time on
the fifty-seventh day, and only from the sixtieth did it become regular
and constant. We cannot think that a child, nine weeks old, can have
any conception of danger, and that it closes its eyes and lifts its
hands from fear. It was certainly not the result of experience, as we
know that there had been no opportunity for it to learn the injurious
nature of many things.

Instead of entertaining the notion of fear, it seems more logical to
consider these facts as analogous to the shutting of the eyes during
the first hours of life.

The sudden shadow or sound constitutes a disagreeable fact, and the
disturbed nervous system responds by a reflex movement, just as many
children cry when they hear the first clap of thunder, although they do
not know what it is, and start when they suddenly hear a door bang or
some object fall.

Preyer noticed that in the seventh week his child started and lifted
its hands at any sudden noise without waking.

An expression of the greatest wonder can be produced in a child of
seven months old by opening and shutting a fan before it; but the
wide-open eye and mouth and the fixed look are not merely signs of
astonishment, for when one draws the infant away from the breast, it
expresses its lively desire to be fed again by the same attitude.

In these cases the eyes shine with a more abundant secretion of tears.
Wide-open eyes accompany the first smile. One notices that children
have a tendency to open their eyes in joy and close them in displeasure.

Children, like the insane and like animals, when they have had some
disagreeable experience, are frightened at everything which they do not
know. Sometimes fear appears suddenly; from one day to another a child
may become timid and frightened when it sees an unknown person, or if
the father or mother makes some unusual gesture, or calls loudly.

The fear which children have of dogs and cats, before they have learnt
why they are to be feared, is a consequence of heredity; even later,
when they have gained some experience, they are overcome with fear at
the sight of sucking pups or kittens, which would be ridiculous if
it were not an innate aversion. The same may be said of the fear of
falling when they make the first steps, although they have never yet
fallen, and of the fear which children have at the first sight of the


_Pavor nocturnus_ is a malady peculiar to children from the third to
the seventh year, and must not be confounded with nightmare.

The symptoms are the following: Sudden awaking of the child after a
few hours of profound sleep.--A vivid expression of great terror, the
eyes fixed on some point, as though on some apparition standing before
them.--Failure of consciousness: the child recognises no one, and
does not reply to questions.--Skin bathed in perspiration.--Stronger
cardiac pulsations.--Rapid pulse.--Laboured breath.--Trembling of the
limbs.--Temperature normal.

The intensity, duration, and frequency of these attacks vary greatly;
they last generally from five to twenty minutes, after which the
children recover consciousness and fall asleep.

In the morning they remember nothing. Rarely do the attacks occur
several times in the same night; they appear as a rule at intervals of
a few days, often disappearing altogether after occurring two or three

The causes of this malady are hereditary or accidental. Pale, delicate,
thin, scrofulous, anæmic, very intelligent or irritable children are
easily attacked; predisposed to it also are children of excitable
parents, or of those troubled with nervous affections. Amongst
occasional causes of the _pavor nocturnus_ may be specially mentioned
strong emotions, fever, and diseases of the digestive organs. In
general the children recover; the prognosis, as we say, is favourable.

Some retain their excessive nervous excitability, are subject to
palpitation of the heart, but only in very exceptional conditions
have the attacks of _pavor nocturnus_ exercised a lastingly injurious


The dreams of children are more real, vivid, fearful than of adults,
because their brain is excessively impressionable, as is shown by
the fact that things seen in childhood are indelibly impressed on
the memory, and because their life is made up of emotions, while
their weakness renders them more timorous, exaggerates every danger,
and makes every enemy appear disproportionately superior to them in

Emotions and fright may become so great in dreams that some children
have had actual epileptic fits in consequence, as has recently been
proved by Prof. Nothnagel.

In adults dreams seem sometimes so vividly real, that they resemble
delirious paroxysms. What terrible events have taken place, what
catastrophes at which we shudder, recognising the fragility of the
human mind and the awful power of dreams!

I quote a single case which took place in Glasgow in 1878.

A man, twenty-four years old, of the name of Fraser, rose suddenly
during the night, took his child and hurled it against the wall,
shattering its skull. The screams of his wife awakened him, when, to
his horror, he found that he had killed his son whom he had thought to
save from a wild animal which he had seen enter the room and spring on
to the child’s bed to devour it. Fraser gave himself up to justice at
once and was set at liberty, because it was evident that he had acted

He was a workman, pale, of a nervous temperament, sluggish intellect,
and rather childish, but industrious at his work. His mother had
suffered all her life from epileptic attacks, eventually dying in a fit
of this kind. His father, too, was epileptic. His maternal aunt and
her children were insane; his sister died, as a child, in convulsions.
From his infancy he had been the victim of terrifying dreams, in which
he used to spring, screaming, out of bed. These dreams troubled him
especially when he had suffered any emotion during the day. He had once
saved his little sister from falling into the water, and this had made
such an impression on him that he often rose during the night, called
loudly to his sister, and clasped her in his arms as though to keep her
from falling. Sometimes he would awake, sometimes go back to bed, still
sleeping, and in the morning would feel depressed without remembering
anything. After his marriage in 1875 the attacks assumed a different

He was pursued by terrible dreams, and used to spring out of bed
screaming 'Fire!’ or that his son was in convulsions, or that a wild
animal had got into the room, which he would then try to find and
hit with anything which fell into his hands. Several times he had
seized his wife, his father, and a friend who lived with him, by the
throat, nearly strangling them in the belief that he had caught the
wild animal. In these attacks his eyes were wide-open and full of
expression, and he saw all objects, although he was blind to everything
which did not agree with his mental illusions. It was in one of these
attacks that he killed his son.

And he was an affectionate father! The mind shudders at the thought of
his unspeakable grief when consciousness returned.




One of the most terrible effects of fear is the paralysis which allows
neither of escape nor defence.

The history of battles and massacres, the chronicles of the courts of
justice, are full of frightful occurrences when terror strangled even
the instinct of flight in the victim.

But how does it happen that under the influence of a powerful emotion
the empire of the will over the muscles ceases, and the energy for
defence fails?

If we study the phenomena of sleep, we can easily imagine that there
are links between the centres of the will and the muscles which may, in
certain circumstances, be severed. We all know what nightmare is; we
all remember the oppression we have suffered when, in a dream, we have
felt ourselves suffocating under an immovable weight on the chest, or
from a noose round the throat which we cannot unloose. These dreams, in
which we feel ourselves paralysed, are a positive torture; the ground
gives way under us and we are precipitated into an abyss; we fall while
being pursued and cannot get up again; we find ourselves stretched out
in the middle of the street and hear the approaching roll of wheels
that will crush us, or see a horse gallop up to trample us with its
hoofs. We cannot even scream, hands and feet try in vain to move, the
oppression and despair increase until the nightmare passes and we awake
with beating heart and laboured breath.

Women and children overcome by violent fear turn their back, cover
their eyes with their hands, or creep into a corner without looking
behind them. In terror even the most intrepid men do not think of
flight; it seems as though the nerves of defence were severed and they
were left to their fate. Even in slight emotions we notice a partial
failure of the power of the will over the muscles of the hand. Anyone
weeping bitterly or laughing heartily cannot steady the pen between the
fingers, and the writing is altered.

Whytt noticed that after the head is cut off an animal, its
excitability increases greatly after the lapse of a few minutes. The
electric stimuli applied to the skin of the trunk immediately after
decapitation do not produce any movement of reaction, but a few minutes
later the same electric current causes vigorous movements of the legs.

This unexpected phenomena gave rise to the belief that there were
mechanisms in the spinal cord which, when irritated by the violent
blow of the axe, were capable of arresting the reflex movements. But
there are many other experiments which lead us rather to suspect the
existence in the nerve-centres of some mechanism which, in certain
conditions, nullifies the power of the will over the muscles.

Anyone who has tritons in an aquarium can try the experiment of
seizing hold of one by the leg with a pair of pincers; he will see
that it remains motionless, almost rigid, for a few minutes. Frogs,
when suffering a strong irritation of the sensory nerves, are no
longer capable of making a single movement. There are also many
other experiments which show us how, under the influence of violent
and supernormal excitation, the molecular work of the cells of the
spinal cord, requisite for the production of muscular movement through
voluntary stimuli, is impeded.


Horses tremble when they see a tiger, and are no longer able to run.
Even monkeys cannot move when in great fear. The gibbons, the most
agile of all monkeys, when taken by surprise on the ground, passively
allow themselves to be bound by man. Seals become so agitated when
surprised and pursued on shore, that they fall at every step, snort,
tremble, and cannot defend themselves.

I quote a passage taken from Brehm’s 'Animal Life,’ in order to show
in what an ignoble way man makes use of the disastrous effects
which fright produces. Seals are very intelligent animals, and so
good-tempered, that on lonely islands they look with the utmost
indifference at travellers arriving there, and such is their trust,
that they tranquilly allow them to pass or stop in their midst, while
they sun themselves on the shore. But as soon as they learn from sad
experience to know this terrible destroyer of animals, they become so
cautious that they are with difficulty approached or surprised out of
the water.

'To the south of Santa Barbara, in California, there is a plateau,
rising about thirty metres above the level of the sea, which is a
favourite place of repose with the seals. As soon as the boats were
lowered, the animals descended from the plateau and plunged into
the sea, where they stayed till all danger was over and the crew
reassembled on board. The attempt to surprise them was repeatedly
made without success, until one day, when a fresh wind was blowing
from the plateau towards the ship, and a thick fog afforded effectual
concealment. The crew landed at a certain distance, and, keeping
to leeward, crept cautiously up to the herd, then rushed suddenly
upon them, shouting noisily and brandishing guns, clubs, and spears.
Overwhelmed with fear, with staring eyes, their tongues hanging out of
their open mouths, the poor animals remained motionless, petrified,
until at last the oldest and most courageous males tried to break
through the line of destroyers who closed the way towards the sea. But
they were killed before they reached the water, the crew then slowly
approaching the others, which retreated just as slowly. An attack of
this kind soon becomes a butchery, because the poor animals lose all
hope of escape, and abandon themselves helplessly to their fate. This
herd numbered seventy-five seals, and when all had been killed with
clubs and spears but one single animal, the crew thought to try whether
it would allow itself to be driven on without resistance. Forced on
by its cruel persecutors, the poor creature moved as well as it could
over the thorns and undergrowth, until at last, wounded and bleeding,
it stopped, stretched out its fins full of thorns to the sailors, as
though to move them to pity and beg for mercy. A blow from a club on
its head put an end to its sufferings.’[30]

[30] Brehm: _Thierleben_, vol. iii. 1883, p. 601.

And this is Man!


Fear is more manifest in birds than in any other animal. We sometimes
see jugglers, as a proof of their magic power, take a little bird in
their hand and lay it on its back, showing that it no longer moves,
although it might easily fly away. This is an old experiment which was
studied by the celebrated Jesuit Athanasius Kirchner, professor in the
Roman College, who published a book in 1646 with the strange title
of '_Ars magna lucis et umbræ_.’ In the chapter '_De imaginatione
gallinæ_,’ he describes the following experiment: If the feet of a hen
are tied together, and she is then laid upon the floor, she will at
first try to free herself by moving her body and flapping her wings,
but when she perceives that all attempts are vain, she remains quiet.
If, as soon as she is motionless, a line is drawn on the floor with a
piece of chalk, beginning near her eye, the bird will not try to escape
even after the feet are loosed, nor even when she is coaxed to move.

Many of us, when boys, have captured a hen, screamed into her ear, and
then, having put her head under her wing, have laid her breast upwards
on the table, saying that she was asleep.

This trick, known I believe in many countries, may be considered
as another form of the _experimentum mirabile_ of Kirchner. No
physiologist had occupied himself with this phenomenon until Czermak,
in a treatise presented to the Academy of Sciences of Vienna in
1872, maintained that it arose from an hypnotic state, or momentary
somnolence. But this hypothesis does not explain why the breathing is
laboured, the eyes staring, why the animals are unable to move even
when touched, nor why their comb and wittles are so pale, which is not
the case in sleep.

Preyer was the first to declare that these effects are due to fright,
and as there was no word in the German language expressing the
condition of a man overcome with fright, who is incapable of speaking,
moving, or thinking, he called it _cataplexy_.[31] From his work
bearing this title I extract a few observations.

Of all mammals guinea-pigs are most susceptible to fright. Simply
taking hold of them, and keeping them a moment in the hand without any
pressure, is often sufficient to paralyse them with fear. Guinea-pigs
may remain half an hour in this state, rabbits not more than ten
minutes, while frogs will remain for hours without moving. It is
impossible that this interval be spent in sleep, for the animals
expel fæces and urine. Kirchner maintained the necessity of drawing
a white line from the beak of the animal, so that it should imagine
itself bound by this mark; but this is not true, as they remain just
as motionless without the line, and cataplexy is even more easily
produced when the animal sees nothing. Crabs taken out of the water
allow themselves to be put into the strangest positions, and remain
for a long time motionless. Preyer made similar experiments on frogs
and mice.[32] Some serpents remain rigid when their head is slightly
pressed, as Moses is said to have done before Pharaoh.

[31] From [Greek: kataplêx], [Greek: êgos], frightened.

[32] W. Preyer: _Die Kataplexie_. Jena, 1878.

To produce this state a sudden, unexpected agitation is necessary;
it is a matter of indifference in what way the animal is treated,
as all depends on the violent fright caused. A similar condition
has been observed in men struck by lightning and in animals after
electrical discharges from a powerful machine. Many birds, though
scarcely wounded by small shot, fall to the ground as though struck
by lightning, panting, with wide-open eyes, and remaining motionless
when placed on their back. This also is an instance of the cataplectic
condition, for, as their wound is not mortal, nor even serious, they
recover soon afterwards.

Some animals and many insects remain for a long time motionless when
danger threatens. To one of these zoologists have given the name
of _anobium_, as though it feigned death when touched. Many other
coleoptera act in the same way, not even moving when they are caught,
transfixed with a pin, and roasted over a flame. Preyer justly remarks
that this cannot be a feint, nor an instinct which tells them to
preserve the appearance of death as a means of saving their life; for
it would then be incomprehensible that they should let themselves be
burnt alive rather than abandon the deception.

Certainly an animal that does not move can more easily escape from
an enemy. Darwin remarks that when an animal is alarmed, it stops an
instant to collect its senses and discover the source of the danger,
and decide whether it should escape or defend itself; but this is
certainly not the origin and reason of the phenomena of cataplexy and
fear, which we must consider as a serious imperfection in the animal

The phenomena which we are at present investigating find a counterpart
in the story of the Medusa petrifying those who looked upon her, in
the legend of the basilisk that could kill with a look, and of the
serpent that caused death to mortals by hissing. One of these legends
holds its ground to the present day, namely, that the breath of
serpents is poisonous, and that they have a magic power in their look
which attracts and fascinates their prey. But this is not correct,
these also are cataplectic phenomena. When defenceless birds see a
serpent approach their nest, they begin to scream and flap their wings,
as though trying to draw its attention upon themselves, and so to save
their young. Blinded by love and emotion they rush upon the enemy and
then remain as though paralysed, scarcely moving wings or claws, or
else they let themselves fall into the jaws of the serpent and are


It is well-known that fear may result in sudden death. Bichat
maintained that it was essentially paralysis of the heart which causes
death in strong emotions. 'The forces of the circulatory system,’ he
says, 'are worked up to such a pitch that they cannot recover from the
sudden exhaustion, and death ensues.’

Old people in particular are liable to succumb to strong mental
emotions. This fact stands in apparent contradiction to that of their
sensibility, which is generally much less acute than in youth, but it
is the weakness of their nervous system which destroys the balance.
Often after great catastrophes parents succumb in consequence of the
death of their children, while the brothers and sisters offer more
resistance to grief.

Marcello Donato and Paolo Giovio relate that at the siege of Buda, in
the war against the Turks, there was a youth whose valour excited the
admiration of all. Unhappily he fell a victim to the repeated attacks
of the besiegers. When the battle was over, the leaders hastened to
learn who the hero was. Scarcely had the visor been taken from his face
than Raischach of Swabia recognised his son. He stood motionless, his
eyes fixed upon his son, then fell dead to the ground without uttering
a word.

As a proof that weakness more easily causes death in emotion, I here
mention an experiment of Johannes Müller. He destroyed the liver of
some frogs, thus rendering them very weak and excitable. The slightest
stimuli produced contractions in them, but they did not move if left in
peace, and even lived for a long time. Those he took into his hand were
immediately attacked by tetanus and died in a few seconds.

Haller tells of a man who, in stepping over a grave, imagined himself
seized by the foot, and died the same day; others have died from
fear on the day predicted as the day of their death, and some have
fallen down dead at the moment they were condemned to death. Haller
had already noticed that fear could arrest the action of the heart
and profoundly modify the circulation of the blood: _hæmorrhagias
supprimit, et menses, et lac, viresque ad venerem necessarias frangit_.

Surgeons well know how fatal a violent shock to the nervous system
from traumatic or moral causes may prove to their patients. In such
cases the medulla oblongata is so depressed in its activity that
chloroformisation is sufficient to arrest the action of the heart and
respiration. Porta, the great surgeon of the University of Pavia,
when his patients died under an operation, used to throw his knife
and instruments contemptuously to the ground, and shout in a tone of
reproach to the corpse: '_Cowards die from fear_.’

My friend Lauder Brunton, professor of medicine at the hospital of
Saint Bartholomew, in London, published the following fact a few
years ago.[33] An assistant had made himself odious to the students
of a certain college; a body of them, therefore, resolved to give
him a fright. They put ready a block and an axe in a dark room, then
seized the man and led him before a few students dressed in black, who
officiated as judges. When he saw these preparations he took it for a
joke, but the students assured him that all was meant in earnest, and
that he must prepare for death, for he should presently be beheaded.
They bound his eyes, forced him to his knees, and bent his head on
the block. While one of them made a noise by brandishing the axe, as
though to strike the fatal blow, another struck his neck with a wet

[33] Lauder Brunton: _On the Pathology and Treatment of Shock and
Syncope_, p. 8.

When they took the bandage from his eyes he was dead!


One of the greatest physiologists of fear was Edgar Allan Poe, the
unhappy poet who lived in morbid hallucinations, and died at the age
of thirty-seven in a hospital, a victim to intemperance, amidst the
horrors and convulsions of _delirium tremens_.

No one has ever described fear more minutely, none have so ruthlessly
analysed, or made us feel with more intensity, the pain of overwhelming
emotions--the throbbing which seems to burst the heart and crush the
soul, the suffocating oppression, the awful agony of him who awaits
death. No one ever plunged the mind of man into more horrible abysses,
or led it into darker, gloomier wildernesses. None have ever inspired
such horror with storm, tempest, the phosphorescence of decay, the
lightning-flashes in the dead of night, the sighs and moans losing
themselves in the darkness, the grip of fleshless hands amid the
mystery of graves and ruins.

Who can forget those midnight terrors, those streaks of lurid light,
those faint footfalls in the dark which make us shudder, those murders
which paralyse the limbs, the groans, the strangled cries from the
depths of a soul in agony? And those pulsations of the heart, deep,
rapid, restrained, sending forth, like a muffled bell, a dull sound
which spreads in the silence of the night, beating, throbbing even
after death? How useless becomes even the courage of despair before
these motionless spectres which fill us with terror! And the tortures
and horrors for which words fail us, which still the heart, close the
staring eye and numb the trembling limbs, stretch us senseless on this
rack of fright and kill us with agony!




Unhappy invalids who must seek shelter in the hospital, and drag
themselves feebly through those long wards where quiet has reigned for
centuries, only broken by the sobs and cries of those poor wretches
who come to lie down within these walls, as in the common tomb of the

How depressed they are when they leave their family and note the
sadness of the place, advance sighing towards an unfamiliar bed, while
around them they see all the ills which misery begets, and breathe the
oppressive air of that pity which has gathered them together!

The new-comers at once recognise those more dangerously ill, even
though they are at some distance, because the physicians stay longer
beside them, watching them, the assistants and nurses are occupied with
them. Then the bell for the viaticum rings; all who are able rise to
their feet; then the extreme unction--then the rattling in the throat
in the death-agony. And when at last they see the curtains drawn
around the bed, a low, trembling whisper passes the sad news from mouth
to mouth, to the most remote corners of the ward, beyond the dim rays
of the funeral torch shining in the night like the last flicker of life
in a body waxing cold for ever.

In their morning round the physicians find that the serious cases have
grown worse, while those who are better beg to be dismissed. But it
is in the women’s ward that similar sad circumstances cause the most
alarming effects. The physician who has the night-watch must walk up
and down the whole night, prescribing soothing draughts and cordials,
without his presence or his words of comfort preventing convulsive
attacks or fainting fits.

Many patients die in the hospitals from fear and depression who would
probably have recovered had they been tended in their own homes.

We must hope that thrift may so increase that the poorest working-man
may have a cleanly house in which he may be nursed by his family when
he falls ill, and that public benevolence may erect modest houses for
those unhappy ones in need of succour, where the patient may enjoy
efficacious scientific aid, and those comforts which the advance of
hygiene demands, and be spared the heart-rending sights and injurious
effects of the old hospitals.


The young physician, just beginning to practise, is astonished at
the remarkable things which his patients tell him with the utmost
confidence and in all good faith. Nearly all relate the story of their
illness, beginning with that circumstance which, in their opinion,
originated it. It is an innate tendency which spurs the human mind to
find an explanation for everything; and the reason of phenomena, which
is the foundation of science, is yet the cause of prejudices and the
most abundant source of error. If I were to mention the names of all
the maladies which are thought to be produced by fear, I should be
obliged to copy nearly the whole index of a pathological text-book, and
with small advantage to the reader, for the authors, after exhausting
their scientific matter, state empirically everything their patients
tell them, provided their affirmations bear an appearance of truth. I
shall only mention facts beyond doubt, or those least controversial,
supporting them by examples taken from the most reputed authors.

Chomel relates that a physician, after having performed the autopsy of
a man who had died from hydrophobia, was so overcome by the fear of
having infected himself, that he lost both appetite and sleep, felt a
horror of all liquids and a choking sensation in the throat when he
forced himself to drink. For three days he wandered through the streets
like one desperate. His colleagues and friends, believing it to be the
effect of imagination, made every effort to convince him of the fact,
and by keeping him with them, they succeeded in ridding him of the
ill-omened thought, and he recovered.

It is an incomprehensible phenomenon, but yet admitted by all medical
writers, that fear may of itself give rise to phenomena exactly
resembling those of hydrophobic infection. A celebrated physician,
Bosquillon, believed that fear alone was the cause of hydrophobia and
not the bite or the saliva of the dog.

Dubois tells of two brothers who were bitten by a mad dog. One had
to leave at once for America, and thought no more about it. When he
returned twenty years afterwards, he heard through some thoughtless
person that his brother had died of hydrophobia, and was so agitated
by the news that he fell ill and died, showing all the symptoms of
rabies. Medical works are full of instances of persons bitten by dogs,
who only developed hydrophobic symptoms after being incautiously told
that the dog was mad. It is often impossible even for the physician to
distinguish hypochondriac hydrophobia from true rabies; even the manner
of death is no guide, for tetanic contractions of the respiratory
organs appear also in hypochondriac hydrophobia.

The physician can often save these patients, if he knows how to exert
authority and to make use of means to convince the sufferer that he has
nothing to fear.

The story is told of a physician who was called to a female patient
infected with actual rabies, after his colleagues had declared that
she was incurable. He examined her attentively, then kissed her on
the mouth to prove to her that she was not hydrophobic. The patient

More especially during epidemics does fear play havoc. From the most
remote antiquity physicians have observed that the timid die more
easily. Giorgio Baglivi, in his celebrated book 'Praxis Medica,’[34]
describing the effects of an earthquake which took place in Rome in
1703, says that although not a single person was killed, several
died of fever through fear, many women miscarried, and all bedridden
invalids grew worse. Larrey had already noticed that on the fields of
battle and in the lazarets soldiers belonging to the conquered army
succumbed more easily to their wounds, while the victors more speedily
recovered. This was confirmed in the war of 1870.

[34] Baglivi: _Praxis Medica_, liber. i, cap. xiv. s. 5.

Fear alone may develop all the symptoms of a pestilential malady,
even when the epidemic causes are totally wanting. Just recently, in
one of his works on hysteria and hypochondria, Jolly relates the case
of a patient of his, a lady in Strasburg, who received the news of
the death of a relative from cholera in a distant country. She was
very much frightened, and imagined that she herself was attacked by
it. She lost her appetite and suffered for eight days from violent
attacks of diarrhœa, and only after convincing her that there was
not a single case of cholera in Strasburg, and that she was a prey to
her own imagination, was it possible to allay the serious intestinal
disturbances produced by fear. As soon as a report of cholera spreads
through a town, all hypochondriacs feel worse.

Physicians who have described the dreadful spectacle of the lazarets
during epidemics, mention the great number who die victims to fear, in
many of whom the symptoms of the plague had not even appeared. Some
have died suddenly from the fear of being taken to the lazaret, others
have committed suicide, as we are told the cowardly have been seen
to do in battle, who, terrified at the sight of death, or weary of
suffering, have placed their chin on the muzzle of their gun and blown
out their brains.

What horror we should feel could we read year by year the story of
those who have succumbed to nostalgia, grief, humiliation; in misery,
winter-cold, or want of food! Of men who have died hopelessly in the
snow or lost in the sands of the desert, of others who have been
shipwrecked and thrown upon the rocks, and whom a little courage might
have saved; of men who have languished in gloomy prisons, in lonely
monasteries or in exile, and who have died rather of mental than of
bodily suffering.


Maladies which have their origin in fear must be distinguished from
those morbid conditions which are suddenly aggravated by the effect of
a strong emotion.

There are many who, when they receive a fright, become for the first
time aware of some infirmity, which then increases so rapidly as to
endanger their life.

Lamarre tells the following fact.[35] A lady, seventy-five years
of age, had suffered for about ten years from defective action of
the valves of the heart without this disease having hindered her
housewifely activity. Dr. Lamarre, who was her physician from 1865
to 1870, was called a few times to her. The hypertrophy of the heart
sufficiently counterbalanced the defect of the valves, and the pulse
was regular.

When the Franco-Prussian war broke out in 1870, her sons agreed to keep
her in ignorance of it, lest she should be afraid, she having already
witnessed the plundering of her father’s house by the Prussians in
1815. They succeeded easily in keeping all news of national disasters
from her, for they lived isolated in the country, and their mother read
no newspapers.

[35] Ed. Lamarre: _Contribution à l’étude du rôle du système nerveux
dans les affections du cœur_. Paris, 1882, p. 99.

On September 4, 1870, she suddenly heard of the defeats of the
French, and of the march of the German army upon Paris. It was such
a terrible shock to her that her face became livid, and she scarcely
had the strength to cry, as she pressed her hand to her heart, 'I am
suffocating--I am suffocating!’ Three-quarters of an hour later she
died in her sons’ arms.

The movements which she made with hands and face till the last moment,
and the great irregularity of the pulse, caused Dr. Lamarre to abandon
the idea of apoplexy, and accept as the cause of decease a nervous
perturbation of the heart brought on by violent mental agitation.

Pinel, one of the greatest celebrities in the domain of mental
diseases, always began the examination of a patient by asking him
whether he had not had some fright or some great vexation. In the study
of every nervous malady great importance must always be attributed
to the investigation of the moral causes. The vivid impression of a
strong emotion may produce the same effects as a blow on the head
or some physical shock. There are men who, through fear, have lost
consciousness, sight, or speech; others, still more sensitive, have
remained for a long time paralytic, unable to move legs or arms, and
have lost all sensibility. Some remain for a long time sleepless,
others fall into a sort of exaltation resembling the outbreak of mental
disease, many lose their appetite, or are afflicted with articular
diseases, and in some the nervous system suffers such a shock as to
cause violent fever.

Dr. Kohts, in his account of the maladies caused by fright during the
siege of Strasburg in 1870, gives a minute description of the cases of
_paralysis agitans_ and of convulsions which he observed. The tremor
and singing in the ears arose suddenly, often lasting for months,
and even for life in very nervous persons, as is also the case in
catalepsy, paralysis, and aphasy.

Leyden considers fright as one cause of myelitis. Likewise, in
sclerosis of the arteries, cardiac hypertrophy, fright may produce
hemiplegy. Berger instances two cases of perfectly healthy persons
who, immediately after a fright, were attacked by paraplegy, with
accompanying insensibility, without any serious anatomical injury, for
the phenomena rapidly disappeared.

It is often said, and with good reason, that children should not be
allowed to witness an epileptic fit, for the fright and emotion which
they suffer may prove dangerous, causing later a similar attack in
themselves. However difficult it may be to comprehend such a thing, it
is yet admitted by all. Quite recently Eulenburg and Berger saw two
old men, the one seventy, the other sixty-five years of age, who had
an epileptic fit immediately after such a fright, although they had
never had one before, nor were they predisposed to it. Romberg gives an
instance of a boy, ten years old, who was frightened in the morning by
a dog, and in the evening had an attack of St. Vitus’s dance.

One of the most moving instances I have read about the influence of
fear on the organism is in the description of the voyage of a sailing
ship, so storm-tossed that one wonders how it could withstand the
hurricanes which burst upon it. When scurvy broke out on board, the
doctor noticed that the disease increased whenever the fear gained
ground that land might still be far off. In every fresh tempest several
died, and others were seized with the malady; and when at length the
captain died, in whom all had great faith, the number of patients
became five times greater.


The passions have been divided by physicians into the exciting and the
depressing. This distinction cannot, I think, be maintained at the
present day, for we need only think of the effects we see produced
by fear to be convinced that this emotion, which may at first appear
exciting, becomes instead depressing in its paroxysms. The same may
be said of narcotics and depressive remedies, which, in small doses,
excite, but in larger doses depress.

Some phenomena, such as the growing grey of the hair, the immediate
transmission of a nervous malady from the mother to the fœtus under
the influence of fright, the possible death of sucklings a few hours
after the mother has suffered great fear, although the infant was not
present--all these are incomprehensible phenomena which we only admit
because trustworthy observers and physicians affirm that they have
witnessed them.

Michea, a celebrated physician, one of the most profound in knowledge
of mental diseases, used to write insulting anonymous letters to some
of his patients in order to cure them, and, he assures, with good
result in some hypochondriacal cases. The mind may be drawn off from
a fixed idea by preoccupying it with some danger. Physicians have
sometimes had recourse in hysterical cases to threats or a sudden
fright to check dangerous symptoms when all other remedies have proved
useless. Amann tells of an hysterical patient who suffered from tetanic
convulsions and trances, and whose father treated her with blows and
cured her.

It is a well-known fact that fear sobers the drunken and cures slight
nervous affections, but nothing can encourage the physician to raise
fear to the rank of a curative method, as it may be expected that in
the greater number of cases nervous diseases would be aggravated by
such treatment.

Less questionable is, perhaps, the efficacy of fear in subduing nervous
maladies acquired by simple imitation; in this case it is probable
that the greater ill, as the saying is, drives out the lesser. In old
books of medicine stories are found of psychic maladies which, under
the name of St. Vitus’s dance, or tarantism, affected entire provinces
with a morbid excitement. The first symptoms of this malady appeared
in Aix-la-Chapelle, then it broke out in Cologne, afterwards in Metz,
whence it spread along the Rhine. Artisans, peasants, rich and poor, in
hundreds left their families, dominated by an irresistible desire to
dance. Intoxicated with excitement, they performed frenzied contortions
as though possessed, until at last they sank exhausted to the ground
or became incurably insane.

In suchlike cases Boerhave had recourse without hesitation to fright
and violent emotion to prevent the patients giving way to their
inclination. The story is told that while he was physician of the
orphan asylum in Haarlem, he suppressed an epileptic epidemic by means
of fright. Seeing that epileptic fits were daily increasing among his
patients, he ordered a large brasier full of coals to be lighted in the
room, heated a number of pincers and tweezers red-hot, and then told
his little patients he had given orders that all those who had fits
should be burnt.

This inhuman method gave rise to repulsive applications in the
treatment of epilepsy, but cases of cure resulting are so exceptional
that they certainly do not counterbalance the aggravated sufferings
of those uselessly subjected to a cruel emotion. This notion, that
maladies produced by strong emotions may be cured by others equally
strong, is found in the oldest books on medicine. Pliny relates
that the blood of the gladiators used to be drunk as a cure for the

[36] Plinii _Historia Naturalis_: 'Sanguinem quoque gladiatorum bibunt,
ut viventibus poculis, comitiales morbi; quod spectare facientes in
eadem arena feras quoque horror est.’ Lib. xxvii. p. 9, vol. viii.

We read miraculous stories of persons who suddenly became dumb, and of
others who have regained their speech; and, indeed, such occurrences
take place still, although they lose the dignity of the miraculous as
soon as they are studied in the infirmaries.

The following is a case recently described by Dr. Werner.[37] A
girl, thirteen years old, suffered a great fright by falling under a
carriage. She escaped with a slight scratch, but suddenly lost her
speech. Dr. Werner tried to cure her by various methods during thirteen
months, without any result. At last he had prescribed bromide of
potassium, when one day the girl threw herself into her mother’s arms
and said, in a laboured voice, 'Mamma, I shall speak again.’ After one
week she spoke as before.

Wiedemeister tells a story of a bride who, as she was taking leave
after the wedding breakfast, suddenly lost her speech and remained dumb
for several years, until, overcome with fear at the sight of a fire,
she cried out 'Fire! Fire!’ and from that time continued to speak.

Pausanias, too, relates that a youth recovered his speech in the fright
caused by the sight of a lion, and Herodotus, in his history, narrates
that the son of Crœsus was dumb, and that, at the taking of Sardes,
seeing a Persian with drawn sword about to kill his father, he cried
out, overcome with fright, 'Kill not Crœsus!’ and from that moment he
was able to speak.

[37] Kussmaul: _Die Störungen der Sprache_, p. 200.




The most difficult thing in the study of man is to surprise him on the
threshold of life, to meet him as he detaches himself from the tissues
of the mother, in the guise of a cell seeking the mysterious contact
of the fertilising element; to seize the moment in which that wondrous
force containing potentially the whole story of an existence penetrates
the chemical elements of the germ; to learn how, in the protoplasm of
the first imperceptible nucleus, that marvellous activity awakes which
only death will end.

There is a comparatively long period at the very beginning of
our existence in which the nature and differential properties of
the tissues lie, so to speak, dormant in a crumb of protoplasm.
Microscopists discover no difference between the cells of that primary
tissue. The turbidness appearing on the whitish leaflet of the germ
seems regulated from the beginning of the division of labour; at
a few points the materials accumulate which are requisite for the
transformation of the cells, as though these last, too much occupied
in their prodigious activity of separating and multiplying, must find
close at hand the materials which they need to make a man, without the
delay of elaborating and preparing them before they introduce them into
their body. Thus it has been found, that from the beginning sugar or
glycogen, one of the most important substances in the composition of
the muscles, is present in abundance.

But up to this point, and even for many days afterwards, there is no
indication, no possible recognition, even of a rough outline of a human
form. And yet in this confusion of atoms we exist. Here our passions
lie sleeping; on this whitish leaflet are written in undecipherable
characters those links of heredity which connect us with our family and
with past generations. As from the scarcely visible germ in the heart
of the acorn the majestic oak will spring to reign over the forest, so
from this indistinct cellular mass a being will be formed to represent
in his microcosm the whole history of the human race, with its fears,
diseases, instincts, passions, its hate, vileness, and grandeur.

The terrible legend of curses blasting the innocence of unborn
babes, the blessings cast forth into the future for the enjoyment of
generations yet to come, are not wholly a foolish fable. Destiny loads
each one of us with a fatal inheritance. Though we were abandoned in
the forest, imprisoned in the dungeon of a tower, without a guide,
without example, without light, there yet would awake in us, like
a mysterious dream, the experience of our parents and our earliest

What we call instinct is the voice of past generations reverberating
like a distant echo in the cells of the nervous system. We feel the
breath, the advice, the experience of all men, from those who lived on
acorns and struggled with the wild beasts, dying naked in the forests,
down to the virtue and toil of our father, to the fear and love of our


Methods of education are essentially two in number, severity and
indulgence. Which is better? It is impossible to give a categorical
answer, for we are not concerned with the education of a brain or a man
in general, but of the brain and man of a special case.

Some say that until the child has become a rational being it must be
considered and treated as a little animal, because it has no sense of
shame, nor of the rights of property, nor of social duty; that the
didactic methods which it most fears must be adopted, that is to say,
those only which serve to tame and domesticate animals--punishments,
the whip, blows.

Happily, in the midst of the animal instincts a light is soon diffused
in the child’s brain which will place him above all the animals of the
earth, and none can say with certainty when these first flashes of
reason appear.

The pain of a blow must always appear to him so out of proportion to
all his instinctive, involuntary movements, that instead of softening
him it will rouse profound resentment in him, and impress him with
the distressing idea of permanently threatening dangers and of the
strangeness of his surroundings, in which, without any plausible
reason, caresses alternate with blows.

The same methods should be followed in education as in the teaching of
science, which are those giving to man the firmest and most lasting
convictions. Whatever may be the force of authority, it can never be
compared in efficacy to that of conviction; we should never issue any
command without showing the reasons why it should be done in this way
rather than in another.

Children should be brought up as though they were rational, because
the animal in them disappears, the man remains. Recourse should be had
to the most intelligible and convincing means; if it is seen that they
have acquired bad habits, the opportunities for ill-doing should be
removed and the effort made, by offering them other attractions, to
preserve them from the temptation of those acts or those things which
they are to avoid.

One may be more indulgent with good, docile children. Those who cry
easily, who blush and scream, give less trouble than those who grow
pale and tremble, who do not manifest their resentment by an immediate
outburst, as though they were brooding hatred in a corner of their

A peasant-woman, in speaking of someone, once said to me: 'I have seen
him gnash his teeth when a boy for a mere nothing, and so I would not
marry him, and I was quite right.’ In mental sufferings, when the
tension of the nervous system cannot find a vent in immediate emotion,
it accumulates and becomes more incontrollable in long-suppressed
outbursts; the rage which we thought subdued continues to torture us
and gnaw our vitals.

Indulgence should be shown to nervous children who suffer from
convulsions, or are predisposed to such. One must be kind to them and
not oppose their caprices with too much severity, unless they are
actually insensate. Even loving punishment provokes an explosion of
grief and nervous agitation in these unhappy children; every violent
emotion leaves an imperceptible, morbid, accumulative tendency behind.
In opposing them one falls 'out of the frying-pan into the fire.’

It is better to preserve their lives and postpone stricter education
till they become less sensitive; in the meantime they must not be
fatigued with study, but strengthened like a plant which one places in
the sun and open air, and from which one prunes the injurious shoots at
a later time. This is often successful, and then they may be ranked
again with healthy children. Even for the latter, premature education
is a very grievous error. Parents who make their children learn too
many things, sacrifice their future to gratify their own ambition.
Nature must not be forced, nor the activity of the nervous system
exhausted before the body has grown strong.

Parents who have already some weak spot--a little fault in the
character, a slight blemish in the organism--should redouble their
care in order to cure their children from their own defects. Just
as a scirrhus, cancer, consumption, neurosis, are transmitted from
one generation to another, just as the large mouth, the long nose,
the eyes and hair of this or that colour, are inherited, so vices,
virtues, and moral dispositions are handed down from family to family.
In little villages especially, in which one may best trace the customs
of an ancestor in the whole of his descendants, one often hears such
sayings as 'His father was just the same; his grandfather was a great
good-for-nothing, too.’ 'Generosity is hereditary in that house.’ Thus
were cynicism and cruelty transmitted from one to another in the family
of the Claudii.

The root of a family tree may be compared to one of those Chinese
boxes full of other boxes gradually decreasing in size, the unending
succession of which strikes us with wonder. Marriage and intermarriage
with other families mix and mingle these boxes in such a way that an
inextricable confusion arises; but if from some height we could watch
the long line of generations, we should see that they continue slowly
to disclose themselves. Some children resemble the grandfather, the
great-grandfather, or the great-great-grandfather, as though a seed
had passed through several generations without unclosing, and then had
suddenly sprung into life with such resemblance in features, manners,
voice, eyes, character, that the old people recognise it and say, 'He
is the very image of his grandfather.’ Thus the forefathers are born
and live again in future generations.


What a wonderful phenomenon is this power in man to reappear in future
generations by means of heredity, to transmit his own nature to his
descendants by transfusing it--working it into their organism! And no
less wonderful is it to see how not only instincts but organs gradually
disappear in the course of generations when they are not put into
action. In insects, crustaceans, fish, amphibians which have migrated
to caverns and have lived for many generations in the dark, the eyes
are almost imperceptible, and this is certainly not the result of
natural selection, for eyes are not injurious even to beings living in
the dark, but solely because, with the cessation of the activity of an
organ, it must of necessity retrograde.

Three or four generations are necessary before horses completely lose
their wild instincts, so that some horse-breeders only choose those
that have been already trained in the circus.

If one takes two hounds exactly alike (of the same mother and the same
litter) and accustoms the one to the chase, the other to watch the
house; if one then allows them to breed separately, so as to form two
distinct families, one to start the game for man when hunting, the
other to guard his house against strangers, we may be certain that
after four or five generations their instincts will be profoundly
modified. If after ten years one takes a litter from each of these
families descended from a common ancestor, and rears them in the same
room under the same conditions, far from every noise, and brings
them when they are grown into a meadow, it will be seen that, at the
report of a gun, the offspring of the dogs trained for the chase will
look around as though trying to espy a bird, while the others run off

On the shores of certain almost desert islands birds are found
which, like the _Phalaropus_ of Iceland,[38] are very much afraid
of man, while those living in the interior of the island are not at
all timorous. If one reads Brehm’s 'Animal Life,’ one finds similar
instances of fear transmitted from generation to generation, with
marked differences in the same species according to the relations which
the animals have with man. Although monkeys in general are very timid,
and always flee at the sight of man, the _Semnopithecus_ _entellus_,
which the Indians worship and honour as a divinity, has become so bold
that it enters the gardens, steals everything, plunders the houses,
rummages in the trunks and cupboards of the Europeans, and snatches
food from off the table or out of their hands. A missionary relates
that he was once in a disagreeable predicament, because he had nothing
to offer to these impudent monkeys, and that, if he had not defended
himself in time with a stick, the animals would have whipped him.[39]

[38] Preyer: _Kataplexie_, p. 107. 1878.

[39] Brehm: _Säugethiere_. 1883. Vol. i. p. 105.

The mechanism by which these far-reaching changes in the instincts
of animals are accomplished and transmitted by means of heredity to
successive generations is one of the most obscure facts in medicine.
The drunkard begets children predisposed to madness, just as the
syphilitic transmit their curse to the innocent victims to whom they
give life, but we know nothing of the manner of transmission; heredity
of instinct remains inscrutable; the physiologist cannot yet confront
such problems, so that he becomes a simple chronicler of the facts of
which he does not know the laws, nor the intricate connecting threads.

Brown-Séquard tried to subject this problem to experimental study,
and obtained results which surprised all physiologists. He observed
that guinea-pigs in which he had severed the sciatic nerve produced
epileptic offspring, and that the destruction in male or female of
certain parts of the nerve-centres caused marked malformation in the
ears and eyes of the progeny.

Pasteur found that the lambs of ewes that had been protected from a
contagious malady called anthrax by inoculation with a diluted virus,
were not attacked by this disease, and that even when inoculated with
the active virus which would cause the death of other animals, they
resisted it and did not succumb. This fact was confirmed by Toussaint
and others.

There were, indeed, many indications in science which led to the idea
of protecting from diseases by means of heredity. If small-pox does not
rage as formerly, if the victims are no longer so numerous, and if even
the unvaccinated recover more easily, it is because a modification of
our organism has been brought about through heredity and inoculation.
Whenever this disease appears in a district which was never before
infected, it rages as violently as formerly. The same thing takes
place when the inhabitants of a country where this disease is unknown
come to a town in the air of which the germs are present in abundance.
The eight Eskimos who were brought a short time ago to the Jardin
d’Acclimatation in Paris all died of the small-pox.

It is a well-known fact that children of the same stock do not all
resemble each other like stereotyped editions. Very often brothers and
sisters, although they may have a striking physical resemblance to
each other, show great difference of character; and what is of more
importance to our study, these variations occur even though all the
members of a family have been brought up in the same way.

It is with heredity as with certain chemical combinations arranged in
kindred categories because of similarity of structure and composition,
although one is noxious, the other beneficial, one poisonous, the other
neutral. Even in twins joined together--there are several cases in
the annals of medicine--in those also which I studied together with
Professor Fubini, who are connected at the lower part of the trunk
and have only two legs together, and who must certainly have always
lived under the same conditions, there are yet profound differences of

We must therefore distinguish between the hereditary and the personal
character, the characteristics of the family and those of the


The greater the advance of science, the greater should be the authority
of the physician in education. All pedagogic systems deviating from
natural means lead us into error and into morbid conditions of mind and
body. Education should be conducted according to the laws of life, the
needs of the organism, and the material interests of society.

The study of all that relates to the development of the intellectual
faculties, the cure of aberrations of instinct and moral defects caused
by the turbulence of the passions are problems so closely connected
with phenomena of the physical order, that the physiologist and the
physician should devote their attention to them as to a biological
fact, as to the cure of a disease.

Unhappily, even considered from this point, the problem of education
presents most serious difficulties. Some passions are incurable; others
the body cannot resist, but wastes rapidly away under them, as under
the fatal sway of a galloping consumption. The will does not suffice,
for itself is only the result of the vitality of the organism, and of
the greater or lesser resistance of which the nervous system feels
itself capable.

The succession of causes and effects often forms an indissoluble circle
which man cannot break with the simple force of his will. _Weakness
produces fear, and fear produces weakness._ Here is a fatal revolution
in the functions of the organism. Of what use are the arbitrary and
imaginary distinctions philosophers have made in the functions of the
mind, when they cannot be separated from those of the body? There are
in life fatal cliffs, currents which we cannot stem, and which carry us
to inevitable destruction.

_Weakness increases excitability, excitability foments lasciviousness,
and lasciviousness in its turn begets weakness._ Here the functions
of the organism are like a gaping whirlpool, like an avalanche moving
onwards and dragging us to the fatal precipice, does a foot but slip on
the path of life.

We now see that in our body some mechanism is lacking which would
act as a curb to save us when we fall. It is one of the greatest
imperfections of our nature that at every false step we may be thrown
down and crushed, as though in the wheels of a machine. We may compare
ourselves to those poor wretches who intoxicate themselves with opium
or alcohol, and who, at last, cannot stop themselves on their downward
path of intemperance, because if they cease drinking, opium-smoking, or
opium-eating, there is an immediate aggravation of the morbid phenomena
and tremor with which they are afflicted.

The primary cause of their disease now assuages the disease itself; it
is a remedy which soothes them and slowly kills them.

Physiology is still too imperfect to make intelligible to us the
intricate network of causes which impel man to act in one way rather
than in another. Our eye cannot discern many important factors in human
actions which, perhaps, will become evident to future generations.
Chronicles, annals, biographies offer insufficient data and details too
imperfectly known. I do not know when it will be possible to others to
penetrate, as Taine did, far into the history of nations, to discover
the biological laws governing the rise and fall of the greatness of a
people. I only know that I am saddened and perplexed at the unhappy
thought that, as the brain of the human race grows more perfect, the
more sensitive and excitable will it become, the more will emotional
desires wax within it.


Courage springs from three sources: nature, education, and conviction.
Each of these may so preponderate as to compensate for the deficiency
of the others. It is useless to say to a man, 'You must be courageous,’
in order to make him so. Every day we see that the example of parents,
education, admonitions, do not suffice to implant virtue in the
children. There is a vital element in education which must be prepared
long before, like the soil and the seed before the harvest; parents
must bequeath to their children the inheritance of a constitution,
robust and full of courage.

Fear attacks and nullifies every effort of the will in such a manner
that it has always been esteemed a deed of heroism to combat and subdue
it utterly. Alexander of Macedonia offered up sacrifices to Fear before
he went to battle, and Tullus Hostilius erected temples and consecrated
priests to it. In the museum of Turin there are two Roman medals, one
of which bears the impression of a terrified woman, the other the head
of a man with hair on end and frightened, staring eyes. They were
struck by the consuls of the family of the Hostilii in remembrance of
the vows made to propitiate Fear, which threatened to invade the ranks
of the soldiers, who thereupon were led to victory.

The consciousness of strength makes us stronger. The history of
medicine is full of the marvellous effects of confidence. If we were
to cite all the examples of hysterical women, nervous, melancholy,
paralytic men who, on the simple word of a physician, through faith
in the efficacy of some remedy, have taken courage and recovered, we
should see that every day wonders and miracles worthy of the saints are

Neither may we say that it is all the effect of imagination, of
fancy, because the modification of the circulation in the brain of
one who resolutely determines to overcome a difficulty produces such
an increase of energy in the nerve-centres and in the tension of the
muscles that we sometimes see deeds performed by the pusillanimous such
as were never expected of them, however strong and robust they may be

       *       *       *       *       *

We have seen that of itself the brain can originate nothing; at the
most it seems to us free to choose amongst the various things presented
to it. But, however heavily liberty may be fettered, it is yet beyond
doubt that we may give a certain direction to our mind, and the aim
of education must be to keep the attention continually fixed on those
things which can strengthen the character.

In his celebrated book on the 'Passions of the Soul,’ Descartes
says,[40] '_Pour exerciter en soi la hardiesse, et ôter la peur, il
ne suffit pas d’en avoir la volonté, mais il faut s’appliquer à
considérer les raisons, les objets ou les exemples qui persuadent que
le péril n’est pas grand; qu’il y a toujours plus de sûreté en la
défense qu’en la fuite; qu’on aura de la gloire et de la joie d’avoir
vaincu, au lieu qu’on ne peut attendre que du regret et de la honte
d’avoir fui, et choses semblables._’

[40] Descartes: _Les passions de l’âme_. Article xlv, Première partie.


What is most difficult in education is persistence; what is most
efficacious is example. Severity is useless, perseverance it is which
wins the day; there is nothing more harmful and fatal than inconstancy
of purpose.

The paramount object of education should be to increase the strength of
man, and to foster in him everything which conduces to life. Children
whom parents teach to attribute too much importance to every little
pain are thus predisposed to hypochondria. Sadness is a languor of the
body, and we know by long experience that the melancholy and the timid
oppose less resistance to diseases than others.[41]

[41] _Melancholici, qui natura sunt timidi et inconstantes, frequentius
reliquos in morbos incidunt._ An old adage found in the most ancient
books of medicine.

In women one minute of intense fear produces far more frightful
effects, and inflicts far more serious injuries, than in men, but the
fault is ours, who have always considered the weakness of women a
charm and an attraction; it is the fault of our erroneous system of
education, which only seeks to develop the affections of the woman,
neglecting what would be more efficacious--the creation of a strong
character. We sometimes imagine that the most important branch of
culture is that which we attain through education and study, that the
progress of humanity is wholly represented by science, literature,
works of art which are handed down from one generation to another;
but in ourselves, our blood, there is a no less important factor.
Civilisation has remoulded our nerve-centres; there is a culture which
heredity transmits to the brain of our children; the supremacy of
present generations depends upon the greater power in thinking, the
greater skill in acting. The future and the power of a nation do not
lie solely in its commerce, its science, or its army, but in the hearts
of its citizens, the wombs of its mothers, the courage or cowardice of
its sons.

Let us remember that fear is a disease to be cured; the brave man may
fail sometimes, but the coward fails always.

                              PRINTED BY

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber’s Notes:

Italic text is denoted by _underscores_.

Obvious printer’s errors corrected.

Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully as
possible, including obsolete and variant spellings, non-standard
punctuation, inconsistently hyphenated words, and other inconsistencies.

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