Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 442 - Volume 17, New Series, June 19, 1852
Author: Various
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The small figures, which appeared to have created the chief consternation, were, we are inclined to believe, very innocent things. There was, it is true, a belief that an individual could be injured or slain by operations on his likeness. There was, however, another purpose connected with Mrs Turner's pursuits to which small jointed images, like artists' lay figures, were used. This was to exhibit the effect of any new fashion, or peculiar style of dress. In this manner small figures, about the size of dolls, were long used in Paris. We have seen people expressing their surprise at pictures of full-grown Frenchwomen examining dolls, but in reality they were not more triflingly occupied than those who now contemplate the latest fashions in their favourite feminine periodical. Mrs Turner was very likely to have occasion for such figures, for she was, with her other pursuits, a sort of dressmaker, or modiste; in fact, she seems to have been a ready minister to every kind of human vanity and folly, as well as to a good deal of human wickedness. In the department of dress, she had a name in her own sex and age as illustrious as that of Brummel among dandies in the beginning of this century. As he was the inventor of the starched cravat, she was his precursor in the invention of the starched ruff, or, as it is generally said, of the yellow starch.

The best account we have of the starched ruff is by a man who wrote to abuse it. An individual named Stubbes published an Anatomy of Abuses. Having become extremely rare, a small impression of it was lately reprinted, as a curious picture of the times. Stubbes dealt trenchantly with everything that savoured of pride and ostentation in dress; and he was peculiarly severe on Mrs Turner's invention, which made the ruff stand against bad weather. He describes the ruffs as having been made 'of cambric Holland lawn; or else of some other the finest cloth that can be got for money, whereof some be a quarter of a yard deep; yea, some more—very few less.' He describes with much glee the elementary calamities to which, before the invention of the starch, they were liable. 'If AEolus with his blasts, or Neptune with his storms, chance to hit upon the crazy barque of their bruised ruffs, then they goeth flip-flap in the wind, like rags that flew abroad, lying upon their shoulders like the dish-clout of a slut.' Having thus, with great exultation, described these reproofs to human pride, he mentions how 'the devil, as he, in the fulness of his malice, first invented these great ruffs, so hath he now found out also two great pillars to bear up and maintain this his kingdom of great ruffs—for the devil is king and prince over all the kingdom of pride.' One pillar appears to have been a wire framework—something, perhaps, of the nature of the hoop. The other was 'a certain kind of liquid matter, which they call starch, wherein the devil hath willed them to wash and dye their ruffs well; and this starch they make of divers colours and hues—white, red, blue, purple, and the like, which, being dry, will then stand stiff and inflexible about their necks.'

Mrs Turner, at her execution, was arrayed in a ruff stiffened with the material for the invention of which she was so famous. She had for her scientific adviser a certain Dr Forman—a man who was believed to be deep in all kinds of dangerous chemical lore, and at the same time to possess a connection with the Evil One, which gave him powers greater than those capable of being obtained through mere scientific agency. Had he been alive, he would have undoubtedly been tried with the other poisoners. His widow gave some account of his habits, and of his wonderful apparatus, such as 'a ring which would open like a watch;' but the glimpse obtained of him is brief and mysteriously tantalising. We remember that, about twenty-five years ago, this man was made the hero of a novel called Forman, which contains much effective writing, but did not somehow fit the popular taste.

Notwithstanding the scientific ingenuity both of the males and females concerned in this affair, the poisoning seems to have been conducted in a very bungling manner when compared with the slow and secret poisonings of the French and Italians. It is believed that a female of Naples, called Tophana, who used a tasteless liquid, named after her Aqua Tophana, killed with it 600 people before she was discovered to be a murderess. The complete secrecy in which these foreigners shrouded their operations—people seeming to drop off around them as if by the silent operation of natural causes—was what made their machinations so frightful. Poisoning, however, is a cowardly as well as a cruel crime, which has never taken strong root in English habits; and, as we have observed, the poisoners on this occasion, notwithstanding the skill and knowledge enlisted by them in the service, were arrant bunglers. Thus, the confession of James Franklin, an accomplice, would seem to shew that Sir Thomas Overbury was subjected to poisons enough to have deprived three cats of their twenty-seven lives.

'Mrs Turner came to me from the countess, and wished me, from her, to get the strongest poison I could for Sir T. Overbury. Accordingly, I bought seven—viz., aquafortis, white arsenic, mercury, powder of diamonds, lapis costitus, great spiders, and cantharides. All these were given to Sir T. Overbury at several times. And further confesseth, that the lieutenant knew of these poisons; for that appeared, said he, by many letters which he writ to the Countess of Essex, which I saw, and thereby knew that he knew of this matter. One of these letters I read for the countess, because she could not read it herself; in which the lieutenant used this speech: "Madam, the scab is like the fox—the more he is cursed, the better he fareth." And many other speeches. Sir T. never eat white salt, but there was white arsenic put into it. Once he desired pig, and Mrs Turner put into it lapis costitus. The white powder that was sent to Sir T. in a letter, he knew to be white arsenic. At another time, he had two partridges sent him by the court, and water and onions being the sauce, Mrs Turner put in cantharides instead of pepper; so that there was scarce anything that he did eat but there was some poison mixed.'[5]

It is impossible to believe that the human frame could stand out for weeks against so hot a siege. It would appear as if Franklin must really have confessed too much. It has already been said, that the confused state of the whole evidence renders it difficult to find how far a case was made out against the Earl and Countess of Somerset. Such a confession as Franklin's only makes matters still more confused. That Sir Thomas Overbury really was poisoned, one can scarcely doubt, if even a portion of what Franklin and the others say is true; but the reckless manner in which the crime was gone about, and the confusion of the whole evidence, is extremely perplexing. Not the least remarkable feature in this tragedy is the number of people concerned in it. We find, brought to trial, the Earl and Countess of Somerset and Sir Thomas Monson, who, though said to be the guiltiest of all, were spared: Weston, Franklin, and Mrs Turner, were executed: Forman, and another man of science who was said to have given aid, had gone to their account before the trials came on. Then, in Franklin's confession, it was stated that 'the toothless maid, trusty Margaret, was acquainted with the poisoning; so was Mrs Turner's man, Stephen; so also was Mrs Home, the countess's own handmaid;' and several other subordinate persons are alluded to in a similar manner.

The quietness and secrecy of the French and Italian poisonings have been already alluded to. The poisoners, in general, instead of acting in a bustling crowd, generally prepared themselves for their dreadful task by secretly acquiring the competent knowledge, so that they might not find it necessary to take the aid of confederates. They generally did their work alone, or at most two would act together. It certainly argues a sadly demoralised state of society in the reign of King James, that so many persons should be found who would coolly connect themselves with the work of death; but still there was not so much real danger as in the quiet, systematic poisonings of such criminals as Tophana and the Countess of Brinvilliers. The great Oyer of poisoning was, however, calculated to make a very deep impression on the public mind. It filled London with fear and suspicion. When rumours about poisonings become prevalent, no one knows exactly how far the crime has proceeded, and this and that event is remembered and connected with it. All the sudden deaths within recollection are recalled, and thus accounted for. People supposed to be adepts in chemistry were in great danger from the populace, and one man, named Lamb, was literally torn to pieces by a mob at Charing-Cross. The people began to dwell upon the death of Prince Henry, the king's eldest son, who had fallen suddenly. It was remembered that he was a youth of a frank, manly disposition—the friend and companion of Raleigh and of other heroic spirits. He liked popularity, and went into many of the popular prejudices of the times—forming altogether in his character a great contrast to his grave, dry, fastidious, and suspicious brother Charles, who was to succeed to his vacant place. He had died very suddenly—of fever, it was said; but popular rumour now attributed his death to poison. Nay, it was said that his own father, jealous of his popularity, was the perpetrator; and it was whispered that this was the secret which King James was so afraid his favourite Somerset might tell if prosecuted to death. In a work called Truth brought to Light, a copy was given of an alleged medical report on a dissection of the body, calculated to confirm these suspicions: it may be found in the State Trials, ii. 1002. Arthur Wilson, who published his life and reign of King James during the Commonwealth, said: 'Strange rumours are raised upon this sudden expiration of our prince, the disease being so violent that the combat of nature in the strength of youth (being almost nineteen years of age) lasted not above five days. Some say he was poisoned with a bunch of grapes; others attribute it to the venomous scent of a pair of gloves presented to him (the distemper lying for the most part in the head.) They that knew neither of these are stricken with fear and amazement, as if they had tasted or felt the effects of those violences. Private whisperings and suspicions of some new designs afoot broaching prophetical terrors that a black Christmas would produce a bloody Lent, &c.' Kennet, in his notes on Wilson's work, says that he possesses a rare copy of a sermon preached while the public mind was thus excited, 'wherein the preacher, who had been his domestic chaplain, made such broad hints about the manner of his (Prince Henry's) death, that melted the auditory into a flood of tears, and occasioned his being dismissed the court.'

But suspicion did not stop here. When King James himself died in much pain, his body shewing the unsightly symptoms consequent on his gross habits, poison was again suspected; and as it had been said on the former occasion, that the father had connived at the death of his son, it was now whispered that the remaining son, anxious to commence his ill-starred reign, was accessory to hurrying his father from the world. The moral character of Charles I. is sufficient to acquit him of such a charge. But historians even of late date have not entirely acquitted his favourite, Buckingham, who, it was said, finding that the king was tired of him, resolved to make him give place to the prince, in whose good graces he felt secure. The authors of the scandalous histories published during the Commonwealth, said that the duke's mother administered the poison externally in the form of a plaster.


[4] State Trials, ii. 932.

[5] State Trials, 941.


Obstructives and sceptics are in one sense benefactors: although they do not generally originate improved modes of thought and action, they at least prevent the adoption of crude theories and ill-digested measures. To meet the criticism of these opponents, inventive genius must more carefully bring its ideas and plans to the test of practical experiment and thorough investigation; and as truth must ultimately prevail, it cannot be considered unjust or injurious to insist upon its presenting its credentials. This is, we submit, one of the benefits resulting from schools, colleges, and guilds: it is difficult to impress them with novel truths; but in a great degree they act as breakwaters to the waves of error. In no department of social life is this doctrine better illustrated than in the medical profession, which is among the keenest and most sceptical of bodies in scrutinising novelty; but it has rarely allowed any real improvement to remain permanently untested and unadopted. We believe this to be the fair view to take of a class of scientific men who have certainly had a large share of sarcasm to endure.

General readers, for whom we profess to cater, take no great interest in medical subjects and discussions; but as historians of what is doing in the world of art, science, and literature, we think it our duty to record, in a brief way, any information we can collect that may be beneficial to the suffering portion of humanity; and in this 'miserable world' it is most probable that one-fourth part of our readers are invalids. Why should they not have their little troubles, whims, and maladies studied and cared for? The disease which gives a title to this short notice is perhaps one of the most mysterious and vexatious to which our nature is liable; both its cause and cure are equally occult, and its modus operandi is scarcely intelligible. A contemporary thus playfully alludes to the subject in terms more funny than precise:—'What is neuralgia? A nervous spasm, the cause of which has, however, not been satisfactorily and conclusively demonstrated; but we may, perhaps, obtain a clearer view of its nature, if we look upon it as connected with "morbid nutrition." Every one knows that the system is, or ought to be, constantly subject to a law of waste and repair; and if the operation of this law is impeded by "cold," "mental excitement," or any other baneful condition, diseases more or less unpleasant must ensue. The vis naturae uses certain particles of matter in forming nerves; others in forming membrane, bones, juices, &c.; while used-up particles are expelled altogether from the system. We can readily conceive that each order of atoms is used by a distinct function, and has a different mission; and any morbid perversion or mingling of their separate destinies must end in disorder and suffering—nature's violent endeavour to restore the regularity of her operations. A cough is simply an effort of the lungs or bronchiae to remove some offending intruder that ought to be doing duty elsewhere; and may we not call neuralgia a cough of a nerve to get rid of a disagreeable oppression—nature's legitimate coup d'etat to put down and transport those "red socialist" particles that would interfere with the regularity of its constitution? Let us fancy, for a moment, a delicate little army of atoms marching obediently along, to form new nerve in place of the substance that is wasting away: another little army of carbonaceous particles have just received orders to pack up their luggage and be off, to make way for the advancing nerve-battalion; but in their exodus they are met by a fierce destroyer, in the shape of an east wind—a Caffre that suddenly throws the ranks of General Carbon into disorder, and drives them back upon the brilliant and pugnacious array of General Nerve: a battle-royal is the result. General Nerve immediately places lance in rest, and advances to the charge with the unsparing war-cry of: "Mr Ferguson, you don't lodge here!" and if Caffre East-wind is not despised and trifled with, he is generally beaten for a time; but great are the sufferings of humanity—the scene of this encounter—while the fight is raging.'

Now comes the question: How to get rid of this cruel invader? Dr Downing has undertaken to give an answer, which we believe to be satisfactory. In addition to the proper medical and hygienic treatment, which is carefully and ably stated in the work before us, Dr Downing has invented an apparatus which appears to be very efficacious; and we will therefore allow him to describe it in his own words:—'From considering tic douloureux as often a local disease, depending on a state of excessive irritability, sensibility, or spasm of a particular nerve, and from reflecting upon its causes, and observing the effect of topical sedatives, I was led to the conclusion, that the most direct way of quieting this state was by the application of warmth and sedative vapour to the part, so as to soothe the nerves, and calm them into regular action. For this purpose, I devised an apparatus which answers the purpose sufficiently well. It is a kind of fumigating instrument, in which dried herbs are burned, and the heated vapour directed to any part of the body. It is extremely simple in construction, and consists essentially of three parts with their media of connection—a cylinder for igniting the vegetable matter, bellows for maintaining a current of air through the burning material, and tubes and cones for directing and concentrating the stream of vapour. The chief medicinal effects I have noticed in the use of this instrument are those of a sedative character; but its remedial influence is not alone confined to the use of certain herbs. A considerable power is attributable to the warm current or intense heat generated. When the vegetable matter is ignited, and a current of air is made to pass through the burning mass, a small or great degree of heat can be produced at pleasure. Thus, when the hand is gently pressed upon the bellows, a mild, warm stream of vapour is poured forth which may act as a douche to irritable parts; but by strongly and rapidly compressing the same receptacle, the fire within the cylinder is urged like that of a smith's forge, and the blast becomes intensely hot and burning.'

Those who wish to know more of this mode of treatment, had better refer to the work itself. We must content ourselves with having simply drawn our readers' attention to it.


[6] Neuralgia: its various Forms, Pathology, and Treatment. Being the Jacksonian Prize Essay of the Royal College of Surgeons for 1850; with some Additions. By C. Toogood Downing, M.D., M.R.C.S. Churchill, London.


Mr Robert Chambers, in a recent tour of the lakes of Westmoreland (April 1852), has discovered that the valleys of that interesting district were at one time occupied by glaciers. Glacialised surfaces were previously observed in a few places not far from Kendal, but without any conclusion as to the entire district. By Mr Chambers conspicuous and unequivocal memorials of ice-action have been found in most of the great central valleys, such as those of Derwentwater, Ulleswater, Thirlwater, and Windermere. The principal phenomena are rounded hummocks of rock on the skirts of the hills, and in the middle of the valleys; and as these hummocks, whatever may be the direction of the valleys, invariably present a smoothed side up, and an abrupt side downwards (stoss-seite and lee-seite of the Scandinavian geologists), it becomes certain that the glaciers proceeding from the mountains at the upper extremities were local to the several valleys. The smoothed hummocks are very noticeable in Derwentwater or Borrowdale, the celebrated Bowderstone resting on one; a particularly fine low surface appears at Grange, near the head of the lake. At Patterdale, in Ulleswater Valley, the rocks are so much marked in this manner, that the whole place bears a striking resemblance to the sterile parts of Sweden; and some small rocky islets, near the head of the lake, are unmistakable roches moutonnees. The two valleys descending in opposite directions from Dunmail Raise, have had glaciers proceeding from some central point: in that of Thirlwater, the rounded hummocks are conspicuous at Armboth; in the other, near Grasmere, and near the Windermere Railway Station. In all these cases, the characteristic striation, or scratching produced on rock-surfaces by glaciers, is more or less distinct, according as the surface may have been protected in intermediate ages. Where any drift or alluvial formation has covered it, the polish and striation are as perfect as if they had been formed in recent times, and the lines are almost invariably in the general direction of the valley.

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