Page images
[ocr errors]

England, and is the agent most generally employed for felonious purposes.

In France, arsenic is by far the most popular poison : its fatal employment equals that of all the rest put together; indeed, some authorities say two-thirds of the deaths by poison in France are to be attributed to this mineral. Opium seems to be comparatively rarely used by our neighbours for either felonious or suicidal purposes.

In Denmark, the national tendency appears to be towards vitriol -a most frightfully painful mode of exterminating life : it is employed chiefly by suicides and murderers of babies. Arsenic is the next in favour in Denmark.

Another table return gives the astonishing fact, that out of seventy-five cases of poisoning by opium, forty-two occurred in children under five years of age! Indeed, out of deaths from “improper administration of medicine” po less than three-fourths befall young children. This is a strong corroboration of a fact well known to medical men—the gross ignorance and stupid cruelty daily exercised upon the infantine world. Mothers and nurses between them destroy, directly and indirectly, a large proportion of the population annually boru into the world.

More women commit suicide by poison than men—the proportion being 87 to 74. More men, on the other hand, are, ly

, murder or accident, poisoned—the proportion being 107 to 81. The hospital statistics with regard to poisonings require some explanation, which we hope Dr. Taylor will afford in the next edition of his book ; for we see that of Guy's forty per cent. of the poisoned patients died-i. e., two out of five-wbilst at the Birmingham hospital only eight per cent., or one out of twelve, perish! Not only, however, are statistics, as here and as in various other instances, very anomalous and imperfect; but a strong impression is left on the mind, that through accident, ignorance, or villany, many cases of poisoning escape investigation and record. A nervous person might well feel alarmed at the perusal of Dr. Taylor's book. Supposing that he has no malicious person domi- . ciled with him, skilled in the art of despatching foes by the herbs

[ocr errors]

which grow around, or the drugs of the chemist's shop ; yet the common soft water from the leaden cistern, as well as the costly old port-wine (decanted from the bottle whence all the shot had not been taken)-the metal vessels in which his food is cooked the food itself by adulteration or error—the paper which brightens his walls, and the atmosphere which he inhales, may all contain latent weapons for his destruction. Poison, indeed, slays multitudes by modes unknown to themselves and neighbours. Dr. Taylor narrates that he nearly fell a victim to a baker. The morning rolls were observed to have something green sticking to the crust. The green was examined—it was only a little of the soft paint that came off from the shelf in the window. This paint on the bread only contained arsenic enough to have made the whole family capital illustrations for a posthumous edition of Dr. Taylor's book on poisons, under the head of accidental poisoning by arsenic.

With the spread of knowledge many accidents and mischiefs may be prevented, as well as many improper suspicions averted.

are now more generally able to be referred to the causes in operation, and remedies are also better understood than they formerly were.

When the use of certain violent drugs was known only to the initiated few, it was possible for them, if diabolically minded, to dispense mysterious deaths without suspicion, or at least free from detection. Brinvilliers ran a successful career of murder

, and Anna Maria Zwanziger (whose crimes are recorded by Feuerbach), moving amongst ignorant and unsuspicious families, dealt, for many successive years

, murder as she list. Indeed, there seems to be a stage in the career of the crime of poisoning when the process becomes one of peculiar fascination. It is carried on not merely for revengeful or covetous purposes, but in exercise of a secret power which gratifies the morbid soul A clerical friend of ours had recently prepared in a copper, during hard



some extraordinary good soup for the poor. This charity had nearly conducted some two or three score of his parishioners to some one of the other worlds. Simultaneous sickness drew attention to the cause, which


was a dirty copper.

of the horrid practitioner. Cases are recorded where the suffering victim is nursed and wept over by the wretch whose hand is daily administering the fatal and agonizing doses. Arsevic Thuys have been far less common than one would suppose ; nor can the student of psychology have a more curious subject for his consideration than such an instance of perverted feeling.

The reports from our assizes occasionally contain particulars which, while one is astounded to think that these things can bethis cruelty, cunning, unnatural brutality, hardihood-suggest the unpleasant ideas that a large amount of undetected crime may possibly be committed in the centre of society. An eminent physician of our own days, and of very large practice, has said in relation to domestic crime of the nature we are referring to, not committed among the lower classes, that he only knew of two cases among his patients where he believed husbands and wives had poisoned each other. "Foul play” is, however, naturally found more rife among the lower, uneducated, and brutal classes, where life too is held cheap, and where we must fain believe not a few meet their deaths from causes which would admit of painful explanation, but the facts of which are never revealed.

There is one point in Dr. Taylor's book which we cannot help alluding to. We mean the controversial and personal tone which the author falls into too frequently-unless indeed it is unavoidable. In the present state of the practice of exports, and the morale of “professional witnesses," it may be true that an upright and honourable mind cannot avoid taking every opportunity of bitterly denouncing the abuse of scientific knowledge, and the disregard of the responsible office of assisting public justice, and securing private rights. Yet we wish the frequency of the attack and exposure of the conduct of certain wellknown professional men, were not so perpetually recurring, and so broadly put forth. We are far from saying that the author condemns unfairly; but is it necessary in a standard work to adopt the bitter and pointed language which we are now noticing? We are fully aware of the evils he complains of; indeed, in an article in the Law Magazine for August, 1856 (“The Evidence in Palmer's case"), we have ourselves expressed our opinions strongly with regard to the disreputable mode in which medical evidence is proffered. We there have said—“The witness-box seems to be sought by some as a cheap advertisement, by others as the means of contradicting or discomfiting a rival; but from whatever cause it may arise, the worst danger to the administration of justice, and the greatest injury to the scientific character, will be incurred whenever it shall be known that professional witnesses may be retained to establish indifferently a case for either side. This is no fanciful danger; for we believe that there are few lawyers of considerable practice who could not within their experience give instances of the profligacy with which scientific testimony is tendered, and not in criminal cases only.”—(L. M. & R., Vol. I., N. S., p. 349). And again : "That there have been frequent occasions when (to use Lord Campbell's expression) the medical witness is turned into the retained advocate' is as true as it is grievous, and when such occasions occur they call for most unrelenting comment."

It is not, therefore, that we do not concur with the author in condemning notorious and scandalous misconduct of so-called scientific“ professional” witnesses; but we think, in a standard work like Dr. Taylor's, contemporary culprits need not be so perpetually pilloried. We get tired of perpetually seeing notes of admiration placed after the assertions, doctrines, and imperfections of Dr. Letheby and Mr. Herepath. These seem to be Dr. Taylor's especial aversion, and their incousistencies are frequent themes of observation. One effect of Dr. Taylor's remarks on this head will be, that every unscrupulous jail attorney or accomplice of felons, who seeks to have a case made out, got up, or carried through, has had plainly indicated to him that there is a market of “scientific evidence," where he can procure the testimony best suited to his wants.

The observations of Dr. Taylor with reference to Palmer's case (and also illustrating the observations we have just made) are well worthy of perusal. He says :

" That the prisoner was guilty of the foul crime of murdering

his friend, no one who views the whole case apart from prejudice can entertain a reasonable doubt. A distinguished German who has commented on his trial, expresses his astonishment that any professional men could be found in England, who could stand forward and publicly state on oath that the symptoms under which Cook died might be explained by any form of nervous disease, epilepsy, or angina pectoris (Dr. Husemann in Reil's Journal, 1857, 4te Heft, p. 564). It argues but little for the knowledge or moral feelings of medical witnesses, and must shake the confidence of the public, as it has already done to a great extent, in the trustworthiness of medical opinions. Such must be the result when scientific witnesses accept briefs for a defence; when they go into a witness-box believing one thing, and endeavour to lead a jury by their testimony to believe another—when they make themselves advocates, and deal in scientific subtleties, instead of keeping to the plain truth. Such men should be marked by the public, and their efforts at endeavouring to confer impunity on the foulest crimes, and to procure the acquittal of the most atrocious criminals, should be duly noted. The chemical defenders of the culprit Tawell on the 'apple pip'theory (ante, p. 682), were in the foremost rank to defend the culprit Palmer! Fortunately for society their efforts did not prove successful in either case. In the mean time, this pernicious system is a heavy blow and a great discouragement to the detection and exposure of murder by secret poisoning. No man in this country can henceforth venture to denounce a grave crime of this kind, committed by a person of wealth or of social position, without being prepared to incur the most calumnious attacks, and to have his opinions and motives grossly misrepresented. If, after due consideration, he boldly expresses his opinion at an inquest, and persists in it, he is said to be prejudiced ; if he hesitates or expresses himself timidly, he is not to be trusted! There is but little protection afforded to a witness by a court of law; the accused person is there the sɔle object of sympathy and consideration; and a learned counsel is only mildly rebuked, who, against the whole bearing of the scientific evidence, asserts that the prisoner is innocent, and asks

« PreviousContinue »