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Thunder and Lightning By Camille Flammarion Characters: 49228

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The destructive work of lightning in every form is immense. A formidable and invisible world skirts the earth-an enchanted world, more wonderful than any Eastern legend-an unknown ocean, whose immaterial presence is constantly brought before us by the most fearful electric conflagrations.

Even to-day the brilliancy of lightning hides itself from us in the darkness of impenetrable mystery. But we feel that there is an immeasurable power, an unimaginable force which rules us.

We are, in fact, but puny beings in comparison with this magic force, and the ancients were wise when they made the King of the Gods responsible for the actions of lightning. He alone in His splendour and sovereignty could exercise such an empire over our modest planet-above all, over man's imagination.

Science slowly follows the centuries in their ascending march towards progress. At present our knowledge of ball lightning is limited, and we have only the principal facts of nature to contribute to the elucidation of the problem.

In increasing our observations, and in comparing those which are analogous, we may hope, if not to arrive at an immediate conclusion, at least to help in the work of discovering what laws govern this subtle and imponderable fluid.

Here it will strike a man dead without leaving a trace; there it will only attack the clothes and insinuate itself as far as the skin without even grazing it. It will burn the lining of a garment, and leave the material of which it is made intact. Sometimes it profits by the bewilderment caused by its dazzling light to entirely undress a person, and leave him naked and inanimate, but with no external wound, not even a scratch.

We find as many peculiarities as facts.

Some of the actions of lightning remind one of the fantastic stories of Hoffmann and Edgar Poe, but nature is more wonderful than the imagination of man, and lightning remains supreme in its phantasmagoria.

Thunder seems to play with the ignorance of man; its crimes and jests would have been ascribed to the devil in olden days. We submit to the effects without being able to determine the cause which directs them.

It would seem as if lightning were a subtle being-a medium between the unconscious force which lives in plants and the conscious force in animals. It is like an elemental spirit, keen, capricious, malicious or stupid, far-seeing or blind, wilful or indifferent, passing from one extreme to another, and of a unique and terrifying character. We see it twisting into space, moving with astonishing dexterity among men, appearing and disappearing with the rapidity ... of lightning ... it is impossible to define its nature.

At all events, it is a great mistake to trifle with it. It means running great risks. It resents being interfered with, and those who try to probe into its domain are generally rather cruelly put in their place.

It was an indiscretion of this kind which cost Dr. Richmann his life.

He had fixed an insulated iron rod from the roof of his house to his laboratory; this conducted the atmospheric electricity to him, and he measured its intensity every day. On August 6, 1753, in the middle of a violent storm, he was keeping at a distance from the rod in order to avoid the powerful sparks, and was waiting for the time to measure it, when, his engraver entering suddenly, he took a few steps towards him which brought him too near the conductor. A globe of blue fire, the size of a fist, struck him on the head and stretched him stone dead.

This beginning to the study of physics was hardly encouraging.

The visitations of lightning are so numerous that it would naturally be impossible to describe them all in this small collection. We must, therefore, choose among them, but here we encounter a great difficulty. Among the thousands of tours de force and of dexterity accomplished by lightning, which should we take and which leave? The selection is very difficult, as it means leaving out a large number of curious examples with a good many very interesting observations.

We will choose the most important-those of which the authenticity appears incontestable, and which contain the most precise details. We will group together those among them which present points of resemblance. This approximate classification will give us a sufficiently complete picture for the harmony of this study.

* * *

One of the most astonishing actions of lightning is certainly that of leaving the victim in the very attitude in which he was surprised by death.

Cardan gives an extraordinary example of this kind.

In the course of a violent storm, eight reapers, who were taking their meal under an oak, were struck, all eight of them, by the same flash of lightning, the noise of which could be heard a long way off. When the passers-by approached to see what had happened, the reapers thus suddenly petrified by death, appeared to be continuing their peaceful meal. One held his glass, another was carrying the bread to his mouth, a third had his hand on the dish. Death had seized them all in the position which they occupied when the explosion occurred.

We hear of many similar cases to this.

Here is one of a young woman who no doubt was struck by lightning in the position in which she was found after the accident. It was during a violent storm on July 16, 1866; she was alone in the house at Saint-Romain-les-Atheux (Loire), and outside the thunder rolled fearfully. When her parents came back from the fields, they found a sad sight. The young woman had been killed by lightning. They found her kneeling in a corner of the room with her head buried in her hands; she had no trace of a wound. Her child of four months, who was in bed in the same room, was only lightly touched.

Quite recently, on May 24, 1904, at Charolles (Sa?ne-et-Loire), a certain Mlle. Moreau, who lived at Lesmes, was waiting for the end of a storm in a grocer's shop where she had been making some purchases. Several people were gathered round the fireplace. They felt a great movement following a violent clap of thunder. The sensation having passed, every one prepared to go. Mlle. Moreau alone remained seated, and did not move. She had been struck by the fluid, which had made a hole under her right ear and come out by the left!

The petrifying action of the electric fluid is so rapid that horsemen who have been struck have remained on horseback and been carried a long way from the place of the accident without being unsaddled.

According to Abbé Richard, towards the end of the eighteenth century, the procurator of the Seminary of Troyes was coming home on horseback when he was struck by lightning. A brother who followed him, not perceiving this, thought that he was asleep when he saw him reeling. When he tried to awaken him, he found he was dead.

The following observation is very remarkable on account of the special attitudes preserved by the bodies which had been struck:-

A vessel which was at Port Mahon was struck at the time when the crew were dispersed over the yards to furl the sails. Fifteen sailors who were scattered on the bowsprit were killed or burned in the twinkling of an eye. Some were thrown into the water; others, bent dead across the yard-arm, remained in the position they had occupied before the accident.

Often the corpses of people who have been struck have been found either sitting or standing.

At the approach of a storm a vine-dresser was seated under a nut tree which was planted near a hedge: soon afterwards, when it had ceased raining and the thunder was quiet, his two sisters, who had been taking shelter under the hedge, saw him sitting, and called to him to go back to work, but he did not reply; on going up to him, they found him dead.

In 1853, in the neighbourhood of Asti, a priest who was struck while dining remained in his place.

In 1698, a ship was struck at about four o'clock in the morning, not far from Saint-Pierre. At daybreak a sailor was found sitting stone dead at the bow of the ship, with his eyes open and the whole body in such a natural attitude that he seemed to be alive. He had suffered no injury either external or internal.

Dr. Boudin describes a still more surprising case. A woman was struck while she was in the act of plucking a poppy. The body was found standing, only slightly bent and with the flower still in her hand. It is hard to understand how a human body could remain standing, slightly bent, without a support to prevent its falling. This case is a contradiction to all the laws of equilibrium. But with such a fantastic agent as that with which we are dealing, nothing is surprising-we may expect anything. Thus-

On August 2, 1862, lightning struck the entrance pavilion of the Prince Eugene barracks in Paris just when the soldiers were going to bed. All those who were lying down suddenly found themselves standing, and those who were standing were thrown on the ground.

In the preceding examples the victims struck dead are not disfigured by the fulgurant force. They preserve a deceptive appearance of life. The catastrophe is so sudden that the face has no time to assume a sad expression. No contraction of the muscles reveals a transition in the passage of life and death. The eyes and mouth are open as though in a state of watching. When the colour of the flesh is preserved, the illusion is complete. But when we approach these statues of flesh-so lately animated with vital fire, now mummified by celestial fire-we are surprised on touching them to find that they crumble to ashes.

The garments are intact, the body presents no difference, it keeps the attitude it had at the supreme moment, but it is entirely burnt, consumed. Thus-

At Vic-sur-Aisne (Aisne) in 1838, in the middle of a violent storm, three soldiers took shelter under a lime tree. Lightning struck them all dead at one blow. All the same, they all three remained standing in their original positions as though they had not been touched by the electric fluid: their clothes were intact! After the storm some passers-by noticed them, spoke to them without receiving an answer, and went up to touch them, when they fell pulverized into a heap of ashes.

This experience is not unique, and even the ancients remarked that people who were struck crumbled to dust.

Here is a similar case, no less curious-

On June 13, 1893, at Rodez, a shepherd named Desmazes, seeing that a storm was threatening, collected his beasts and drove them quickly towards the farm. When he was just there, he was struck by lightning. His body, which was completely incinerated, preserved a natural appearance.

It is by this complete incineration and the probable volatilization of the cinders that certain authors explain the sudden disappearance of some of those who have been struck.

Legend attributes the mysterious death of Romulus to a similar cause. According to Livy, the illustrious founder of Rome was reviewing his army in a plain near the marsh of Capra. Suddenly a storm accompanied by violent claps of thunder enveloped the king in a cloud so thick that it hid him from sight. From that moment Romulus was seen no more on earth.

It is true, Livy adds, that some of the witnesses suspected the senators of having torn him to pieces: kings have sometimes been subject to all kinds of surprises on the part of their "courtiers."

In most cases the electric matter produces burns more or less severe. These, when they do not attack the whole organism as in the preceding examples, are localized to certain parts of the body. Sometimes they are quite superficial and only attack the epidermis. Often without absolute carbonization, they penetrate deep into the flesh and cause death after the most fearful suffering.

Here are some examples of different sorts of burns-

In 1865, in the Rue Pigalle in Paris, a man had his eyes burnt by lightning.

A young soldier of the 27th Battalion of Chasseurs was armed, mounting guard at the Col de Soda. It was in the month of July, 1900. Suddenly he was surrounded by the dazzling glare of lightning, which was almost immediately succeeded by an awful explosion of thunder. The sentinel, leaving his arms, fell backwards screaming. People ran to him, and saw that the fluid, attracted by the point of the bayonet, had struck it, and, gliding down, the metal had burnt his feet rather severely.

At Malines, in Belgium, a mill was reduced to splinters by the fire of heaven. The miller and two of his customers were there at the time of the accident. Not one of the three men was killed, but the miller was seriously burnt in the head, on the chin and the cheeks. He was deaf and blind for twenty-four hours. One of the others was burned in the hands.

On June 19, 1903, at about six in the evening, during a bad storm, five farmers were crossing the Champ de Gentillerie near Saint-Servan, in order to take shelter. Three of them were walking abreast, the two others, of whom one was leading an ass, were some paces behind, when suddenly the five men and the ass were thrown on the ground by a violent clap of thunder. Three of the farmers, recovering their consciousness after the shock, observed that their two companions were struck; the head of one was carbonized, and the left side of the other was burnt as though by a red-hot iron.

Another phenomenon, no less appalling-

A woman who was struck had her leg so horribly burnt that, on removing the stocking, some particles of flesh adhered to it. From the knee to the end of the foot the skin was black as though carbonized, and the whole surface was covered with a species of blister full of a sero-purulent liquid. The burns were very serious but not mortal, and were localized in the leg.

Lightning also sometimes produces wounds which are more or less severe. It perforates the bones. The injuries it causes are similar to those inflicted by firearms.

It can also cause partial or total paralysis, the loss of speech or sight, temporary or permanent. Its action is manifold on the human organism.

A more extraordinary phenomenon still is that people who are struck show no sign of the slightest injury on a minute medical examination. The ancients remarked this, as we see in the charming passage from Plutarch: "Lightning struck them dead without leaving any mark on the bodies nor any wound or burn-their souls fled from their bodies in fright, like a bird which escapes from its cage."

We have already spoken of the smell of fulminated air and of ozone. In some cases there is more than that.

On June 29, 1895, lightning struck a low house at Moulins in the course of a violent storm. The fluid, eccentric as usual, attacked the outer chimney, the bricks of which were loose and projected slightly. It broke some tiles on the roof, the length of one rafter, and inside the corn-loft it broke the wooden handle of an iron rake to splinters. On the ground floor, bricks were both loosened and torn out near where the pipe of the stove went into the wall of the chimney-piece.

A dozen plates were broken in a cupboard to the left of the hearth, and a woman who happened to be near it at the time of the explosion, said she had felt her legs warmed by the burning air which came from the cupboard. The room was afterwards filled with a thick infected smoke, a veritable poison.

Sometimes the victims are nearly asphyxiated by the fulminic effluvium, and only owe their preservation to the extreme care which is lavished on them.

Very often the bodies and the clothes of people who have been struck give forth a nauseous smell-generally similar to that of burning sulphur.

In the month of August, 1879, a woman who had been struck at Montoulieu, in the Champ Descubert quarter, had her skull perforated as though a big ball had passed through it, and her burnt clothes gave forth insupportable emanations.

Dr. Minonzio relates how three persons were wounded by lightning on board the Austrian frigate The Medée. "I remember," he says, "the sensation which was caused in the locality by the stench which came from the bodies and clothes of these people who were struck-a stench nearly as offensive as that of burnt sulphur mingled with empyreumatical oil."

One of the most frequent and good-natured effects of lightning on man is to shave his hair and beard, to scorch them, or even to depilate the whole body.

Generally the victim may consider himself lucky if he leaves a handful of hair as a ransom to the lightning, and escapes with a fright.

There is even a case given of a young girl of twenty who had her hair cut as though by a razor, without perceiving it or feeling the least shock.

On May 7, 1885, two men who were in a windmill were struck by lightning. They were both struck deaf, and the hair and beard and eyebrows of one were burnt. In addition to this, their clothes crumbled to the touch.

A man, who must have been very hairy, was struck by lightning near Aix. The electric current raised the hairs of his body in ridges from the breast to the feet, rolled them into pellets, and incrusted them deeply in the calf of the leg.

Very often the injury to the hair, instead of being spread all over the body, limits itself to certain places where it is thicker or damper on the body of a man, and more especially on that of a woman. Here are some curious examples.

In Dr. Sestier's learned work, vol. ii. p. 45, we read the following case observed at Montpellier:-

"Accidit apud Monspelienses ut fulmen cadens in domum vicarii generalis de Grassi pudendum puellae ancillae pilos abraserit ut Bartassius in muliere sibi familiari olim factum fuisse."

Toaldo Richard has described similar experiences, and d'Hombres Firmas has described several others:-

A number of people were assembled at Mas-Lacoste, near N?mes, when lightning penetrated to where they were. A girl of twenty-six was thrown over and became unconscious; when she came to her senses, she could hardly support herself or walk, and felt a great deal of pain in the centre of her body. When she was alone with her friends, they examined her, and they saw "non sine miratione pudendum perustum ruberrimum, labia tumefacta pilos deficientes usque ad bulbum punctosque nigros pro pilis, inde cutim rugosissimam; ejus referunt amicae primum barbatissimam et hoc facto semper imberbem esse."

Lightning is indeed a joker, but so it has always been.

In most cases the hair grows again, but sometimes the system is completely destroyed, and the victim must either wear a wig or go bald.

We have already spoken further back of the case of Dr. Gaultier, of Claubry, who was struck one day by globular lightning, near Blois, and had his beard shaved off and destroyed for ever; it never grew again. He nearly died of a curious malady, his head swelled to the size of a metre and a half in circumference.

We also hear of corpses of people who have been struck, which show no other injury than a complete or partial epilation.

For example, a woman who was struck in the road had the hair completely pulled out of the top of her head.

On July 25, 1900, a farm servant, Pierre Roux, was killed while in the act of loading a waggon of hay. The only trace the lightning left behind it was to completely scorch the beard of its victim.

Now, here is a case the complete opposite of the preceding ones and still more curious, in which the capricious and fantastic lightning attacked the epidermis without burning the hair which covered it.

At Dampierre thunder broke over a house belonging to M. Saumois. His arm, one leg, and the left side of his body were burnt, and the extraordinary thing is that the skin of the arm was burnt leaving the hair intact.

A little further on we shall have cases where the lightning has proved salutary in certain forms of illness.

Generally the people who are struck fall at once without a struggle.

It has been proved by a great number of observations that the man who has been struck by lightning so as to lose consciousness immediately falls without having seen, heard, or felt anything. This is easy to believe, since electricity is animated by a movement much quicker than that of light, and still more so than that of sound. The eye and ear are paralyzed before the lightning and the thunder could have made an impression on them; so much so that the victims, when they recover themselves, are unable to explain what has happened to them.

People struck by lightning nearly always sink on the very spot where they have been struck. Besides this, we have already remarked several cases where the people struck have preserved the exact positions they had at the moment of the catastrophe.

But, on the other hand, we can quote some examples, rarer, but diametrically opposed to these.

On July 8, 1839, lightning struck an oak near Triel (Seine-et-Oise), and also struck two quarrymen, father and son. This last was killed dead, raised, and transported twenty-three yards away.

The surgeon Brillouet was surprised by a storm near Chantilly, and was raised by the lightning and deposited twenty-five paces from where he had been.

On August 18, 1884, at Namur (Belgium), a man was flung ten yards from the tree under which he had been struck by lightning.

The following notice was in the papers in August, 1900:-

"Brousses-et-Villaret (Aude), August 20. During the storm which burst over that region the lightning killed two cows belonging to M. Bouchère. It also struck, but without hurting him, a young man of twenty-three years of age, Bernard Robart, artilleryman, who was taking a holiday. He was walking to a neighbouring farm when he was suddenly carried through the air for fifty yards. He got up again without any hurt, only he was dazzled by the lightning which had flashed before his eyes."

On writing to the victim to verify this fact, I received the following answer:-

"I have the honour to inform you that the article relating to the incident which happened to me during the lightning, on the 17th, is absolutely true.

"I was on leave at Brousses, Canton of Saissac (Aude). I left my uncle's house at about 8 p.m. There had been a heavy storm. The rain had nearly stopped for about two or three minutes, but it still fell a little. There had been a good deal of thunder during the storm. I was sleeping at home, the house being about two hundred yards away. It was very dark, and seeing that the rain was going to begin again with violence, I started to run. I went very quick. I was crossing the Place, and when I arrived in front of M. Combes' house, I suddenly felt myself stopped, and without being able to explain how, I found myself in the same instant at the other side of the Place, lying on the ground against the wall of M. Maistre's house. I was astounded; I waited a good minute without knowing where I was. When I got home I felt a severe pain in the right knee, and I perceived that my trousers were torn and that I had a big scar on my knee, and that my hands were slightly scorched. It must have happened against the wall where there were some loose stones. I was transported about fifty yards, and I cannot tell you if it thundered at the same time, but there had been a big clap about a minute before. Two people who were leaving M. Combes' house were witness of the fact. The lightning penetrated into M. Bouchère's stables two hundred yards away, and killed two cows and broke the leg of another. As it went in it broke the cover of the doorway, which was of freestone, in two, and knocked over a chair and seven or eight bottles which were on a shelf.

"Believe me, etc.,

"Bernard Robert,

"Artilleryman, Fort Saint Nicholas,


Thus we have several examples of people being transported 20, 30, and 50 yards from the point where the lightning has struck them.

Sometimes the bodies of people who are struck are as stiff as iron and retain their stiffness.

On June 30, 1854, a waggoner, thirty-five years of age, was struck in Paris. The next day Dr. Sestier saw his corpse at the Morgue: it was perfectly stiff. The next day, forty-four hours after the death, this stiffness was still most marked.

Some years ago, in the Commune of Hectomare (Eure), lightning struck a man named Delabarre, who was holding a piece of bread in his hand. The contractility of the nerves was so strong that it could not be taken from him.

On the other hand, the bodies very often remain flexible after death, as in life.

On September

17, 1780, a violent storm burst over Eastbourne. A coachman and footman were killed. "Although the bodies remained from Sunday to Tuesday unburied," remarked an observer, "all their limbs were as flexible as those of living people."

Sometimes the corpses soften and decompose rapidly, leaving an unbearable odour.

On June 15, 1794, lightning killed a lady in a ballroom at Fribourg. The corpse rapidly gave forth a curious odour of putrefaction. The doctor could hardly examine it without fainting. The inhabitants of the house were obliged to go away thirty-six hours after the death, the odour was so penetrating. It was with difficulty that they were able to put the fetid corpse into a coffin. It fell to pieces.

The flabbiness often observed in the bodies of people who are struck is due, no doubt, to the fact that in the case of enormous discharge, the stiffness of a dead body develops so quickly, and is of such a short duration, that it may escape observation.

Numbers of experiments made on animals justify this hypothesis.

Nevertheless, in the majority of cases, bodies which have been struck decompose rapidly, which explains quite naturally the softness of bodies killed by lightning.

The colouration of these presents numerous varieties; sometimes the face is of a corpse-like paleness, at others it preserves its natural colour.

In many cases, the face is livid, red, violet, violet-bronze, black, yellow, and even covered over with brown or blue spots.

The colouration of the face may be extended over all or nearly all the body.

The eight reapers who were killed under an oak, quoted by Cardan in our first example, were quite black.

That the subtle fluid accumulated in great masses in the clouds should kill a man, deprive him of movement, annihilate his faculties, or slightly wound him-this ought not to astonish us when we contemplate the marvellous results and the prodigies of strength accomplished by the much more feeble electricity of our laboratories.

But the extraordinary point about lightning is its variety of action. Why does it not invariably kill those it strikes? and why does it sometimes not even wound them?

There are inexplicable subtleties in the world.

One knows of many examples of people who are struck whose garments remain absolutely intact. The imponderable fluid insinuates itself through the garments, leaving no trace of its passage, and may cause grave disorders in the body of a man without any exterior mark to reveal it to the most perspicacious observer.

We hear of the case of a man who had nearly the whole of his right side burnt from the arm to the foot, as though it had been for a long time too near a quick fire, but his shirt, his pants, and the rest of his clothes were untouched by the fire.

The Abbé Pinel gives the case of a man who, amongst other injuries, had his right foot very badly lacerated, while the left was untouched; the right sabot was untouched, and the left was broken.

On June 10, 1895, at Bellenghise, near Saint-Quentin, a lady was killed under a tree: she had deep marks of burning on the breast and stomach, but her clothes remained intact. Lightning is very mystifying.

Th. Neale cites a case where the hands were burnt to the bone in gloves which remained intact!

At other times, garments, even those nearest the skin, are perforated, burnt, and torn, without the surface of the skin being injured.

Thus the boot of a man who had been struck was so torn that it was reduced to ashes, while there was no trace of a wound on the foot.

An extraordinary case in point happened at Vabreas (Vaucluse) in July, 1873. A peasant was in the fields when there was a violent clap of thunder. The electric fluid struck his head, shaved the left side, and completely burnt his hat. Then, continuing its route, it tore his garments, penetrated the length of his legs, and tore his trousers from top to bottom. Finally, it transported the unfortunate man, nearly naked, six or seven yards from his original place, and laid him on his stomach on a bush with his head hanging over the edge of a river.

Sometimes, when the garments are seriously injured, we find slight injuries under the skin which do not always correspond to the places where the garment is most seriously affected.

Lichtenberg quotes the case of a man who had his clothes cut as by the point of a knife from the shoulders to the feet, without the sign of a wound except a small sore on the foot under the buckle of the shoe.

According to Howard, a man had his clothes torn to atoms without showing any trace of the action of the electric fluid on the surface of his body, except a light mark on the forehead.

Sometimes, as we have already said, the inner garments are burnt while the outer ones are respected.

A woman had her chemise scorched by the fire of heaven, while her dress and petticoats were spared.

On June 14, 1774, lightning fell at Poitiers in a yard where a young cooper was working. It went under his right foot, burning his shoe, passed between his stocking and leg, singed the stocking without wounding the leg, burned the lining of his trousers, raised the epidermis of the abdomen, tore off a brass button which fastened his garment, and went off to twist a carpenter round in a neighbouring lane. Neither one nor the other felt the effects of this stroke of lightning.

Finally, the clothes, above all the shoes, are unsewn carefully and without a tear, as though by the hand of a clever workman.

Here are two cases in a thousand-

On June 18, 1872, at Grange Forestière, near Petit-Creusot, a man had his trousers unsewn from top to bottom and his shoes taken off.

In the department of Eure-et-Loire, some peasants were engaged in binding sheaves, and their daughter, aged nine, was playing near them when a storm broke with great violence.

"Let us go in, I am frightened," she cried, running to take refuge between her parents.

"We will go in immediately, but we must finish binding before the rain comes on."

"Then I will beg of the Good God to keep the thunder from us."


And while the father and mother continued their work, the child went down on her knees, and with her hands over her eyes commenced her prayer.

Suddenly, without hearing or seeing anything, the father felt the straw move under his feet; he turned mechanically, and gave a great cry on seeing his little daughter stretched motionless on the ground. She was dead. Her little corset was unsewn and her chemise burnt.

But of all the fantastic actions of lightning, the most extraordinary and incomprehensible is the mania it has for undressing its victims, and leaving them dead or fainting in the primitive costume of our first parents-or in a dress too simple to be allowed by our civilized customs.

This deplorable and quite inexplicable habit has given lightning a large scientific dossier, from which we have already cited examples in the first chapter, and from which we will again extract some fragments.

Near Angers, on May 12, 1901, a farm lad named Rousteau, aged twenty-three, was killed by lightning in the middle of the fields. The corpse was found nearly naked.

On June 29, 1869, at Pradettes (Ariège), the Mayor was unfortunate enough to take shelter under a very high poplar. Soon after he had done so, there was a burst of lightning which split the tree and struck him. In one of its diabolical freaks it entirely undressed him, throwing his various garments round about him, reduced to rags, with the exception of one shoe.

In June, 1903, at Saint-Laurent-la-Gatine, thunder broke over M. Fromentin while he was working a plough drawn by three horses. Lightning killed the leader, and completely undressed M. Fromentin after burning his hat.

The same day, at Limoges, a farm servant named Barcelot was struck under an oak. His corpse was completely naked and he had a severe wound on his left side.

On August 20 of the same year, a violent storm burst over the Isle of Re. A farmer, who was on his way to the station at Finaud, was struck fifty yards from his own house. The lightning removed all his clothes.

In 1894 the keeper of the Commune of Saint-Cyr-en-Val, near Orleans, was struck while on his rounds; the fluid deprived him of his clothes and removed all the nails from one of his shoes.

On July 1903, at Aseras, near Nice, during a violent storm with hailstones 350 grammes in weight, a Mme. Blanc was on her way to meet a servant who was in the fields. She had only taken a few steps when she was struck by lightning and completely undressed. Her body was uninjured, but the poor woman became dumb.

How fantastic and extravagant it is! It is impossible to assign any rule to the capricious advance of lightning.

How are we to explain the following facts of nature?

One night in April, at about 6 p.m., near Ajaccio, a peasant named J. B. Pantaloni was leaving the fields and hurrying home to escape from a storm. He had hardly reached his house when it was set on fire by an electric discharge, and the unfortunate man was killed dead and carbonized. At the same time his two sons and a daughter, who were in the same room, were completely undressed and their garments disappeared. These last were not hurt in any way.

Very often clothes, which have been torn and tattered, are taken a long way off.

On October 1, 1868, seven people were seeking shelter under an enormous beech near the village of Bonello in the Commune of Perret (C?tes-du-Nord), when, suddenly, lightning struck the tree and killed one of them. The six others were thrown to the ground without being much hurt. The clothes of the one who had been struck were reduced to tatters; several of these were found hanging on the branches of the tree.

One day a workman was sheltering under the shed of a kiosque in which there were five men playing cards. He was grazed by lightning. The fluid, after having passed between the players without hurting them, left the kiosque, and removed a shoe from the poor workman, who was petrified with fright. They searched for the shoe which had been confiscated by the fulminant matter, but in vain.

Moreover, lightning seems to have a special predilection for shoes; it seldom respects them, even when it spares the other garments. Sabots, shoes, and even boots are removed, unsewn, un-nailed, cut to pieces, and thrown far away with extraordinary violence. Very often the discharge penetrates into the human body by the head and leaves it by the feet.

During a violent storm (June 8, 1868) a workman was passing near the Jardin des Plantes, when he felt a great oppression on his stomach. He was then knocked down roughly by an irresistible force, and deprived of the use of his senses at the moment of the fall. He was picked up and taken home, and on being examined, his body bore no trace of a wound, and he escaped with a fright. But some days after, when he had recovered from the shock, he remembered that he had worn boots at the time of the accident. These had disappeared, the lightning had stolen them from him, though it acted from a distance. The boots were found in the street, and the soles had the nails completely removed, although they were screwed in and the boots were nearly new.

On May 31, 1904, at Villemontoire (Aisne), a workman was killed on a hay-cock, his clothes were reduced to fragments, and his shoes were not to be found. Two other workmen were wounded, and the cock was set on fire.

On May 11, 1893, lightning broke over the Commune of Chapelle-en-Blezy (Haute-Marne). A young shepherd, who was watching his flock in the fields, was knocked over by the fluid and lost consciousness. When he came to himself he found that his sabots and cap had disappeared.

Arago states that a workman was struck under a pavilion, and that the pieces of his hat were found embedded in the ceiling.

Biot gives the case of a hat which was flung ten paces without a breath of wind.

We could multiply these very curious observations, but we must restrain ourselves so as to remain within the limits of this little book. Did I not say just now that lightning has sometimes-though very rarely-exercised a beneficial influence on sick people it strikes?

Yes; we hear of several cases where thunder has shown itself a rival to the noblest disciples of Esculapius, and where it has worked veritable miracles.

For instance, a person who had been paralyzed thirty-eight years, suddenly, at the age of forty-four, recovered the use of her legs, after a stroke of lightning.

A paralytic had been taking the curative waters of Tunbridge Wells for twenty years, when the spark touched him and cured him of his terrible infirmity.

Lightning has sometimes worked marvels on the blind, deaf, and dumb, to whom it restores sight, hearing, and speech.

A man who had the whole of his left side paralyzed from infancy was struck in his room on August 10, 1807. He lost consciousness for twenty minutes, but after some days he gradually and permanently recovered the use of his limbs. A weakness of the right eye also disappeared, and the invalid could write without spectacles. On the other hand, he became deaf.

Indeed, if we are to believe stories which appear to be authentic, a cold, a tumour, and rheumatism have been cured by lightning. We have given an example in our first chapter.

It is impossible to explain in what manner the subtle fluid accomplishes these wonderful cures. Are they to be attributed to the shock, to a general upheaval which brings back the circulation to its normal course? Or are we to attribute to the electric substance-still unknown to physicians and physiologists-an action capable of overcoming the most inveterate evils?

The science of Therapeutics already makes excellent use of the electricity of the machines. Can we, then, marvel much that lightning should rival our feeble electric resources? No! What a number of services might it not render if it were not for its mad independence! What an amount of lost power there is in the gleam of lightning!

As a matter of fact, we owe no gratitude to lightning. There are too many miseries for a few happy results. The balance is really too unequal.

Some lightning strokes have proved veritable disasters, on account of the number of the victims and the havoc which has been caused.

The most extraordinary of these are the following:-

On a feast-day lightning penetrated into a church near Carpentras. Fifty people were killed or wounded or rendered imbecile.

On July 2, 1717, lightning struck a church at Seidenburg, near Zittau, during the service; forty-eight people were killed or wounded.

On June 26, 1783, lightning struck the church of Villars-le-Terroy, when its bells were being rung; it killed eleven people, and wounded thirteen.

On board the sloop Sapho, in February, 1820, six men were killed by a stroke of lightning and fourteen seriously wounded.

On board the ship Repulse, near the shores of Catalonia, on April 13, 1813, lightning killed eight men in the rigging and wounded nine, of whom several succumbed.

On July 11, 1857, three hundred people were assembled in the church at Grosshad, a small village, two miles from Düren, when lightning struck it; one hundred people were wounded, thirty of them seriously. Six were killed, and they were six hardy men.

Early in July, 1865, lightning fell on the territory of Coray (Finisterre) in a warren where sixteen people were weeding. Six men and a child were killed by the same stroke, and three others were severely wounded. Several were stripped naked, their garments being scattered in rags over the ground; their shoes were cut to pieces and all broken. A curious point is that the workers were struck at a distance of 100 yards from each other.

On July 12, 1887, at Mount Pleasant (Tennessee, U.S.A.), lightning killed nine people who were taking refuge under an oak during a storm. These formed part of a procession which was conducting a negress to her last home.

Here is another very curious and complex case-

On the last Sunday in June, 1867, during Vespers, lightning struck a church at Dancé, Canton of Saint-Germain-Laval (Loire). A deathlike silence succeeded the noise of the explosion, then a cry was heard, then a hundred more. The curé, who thought that he alone had received the whole electric discharge-and was in reality unhurt-left his place, where he was enveloped in a cloud of dust and smoke, and spoke to his parishioners from the Communion rails, to reassure them. "It is nothing," he said. "Keep your places; there is no harm done."

He was mistaken; twenty-five to thirty people had been more or less struck. Four were carried away unconscious, but the worst treated of all was the treasurer. In raising him they perceived that his eyes were open, but dull and veiled, and he gave no sign of life. His clothes were burnt, and his shoes, which were torn and full of blood, were removed from his feet.

The Monstrance, which had been exposed, had been thrown down on the ground, and was battered and pierced in the stem, and the Host had disappeared. The priest searched for it for a long time, and finally discovered it on the altar in the middle of the corporal, on a thick bed of rubbish.

Three or four yards of the wainscoting of the choir had burnt into atoms. Outside, the arrow of the belfry had been carried off, and its slates were scattered about in the neighbouring fields.

On June 22, 1902, lightning struck, the church of Pineiro (Province of Orense, Spain) during a funeral. There were twenty-five dead and thirty-five severely wounded.

These are cases of destruction on a large scale, but we can give parallel cases where the terrible fluid seems only to amuse itself.

In fact, some people appear to enjoy the privilege of particularly attracting lightning, and of frequently receiving its visits without suffering much from its reiterated attacks.

They say that Mithridates was twice touched by lightning. The first stroke was when he was in his cradle, his swaddling clothes were singed, and the scar of a burn which he received on his forehead was covered with hair afterwards.

According to the Abbé Richard, a lady, who lived in a chateau on an elevation near Bourgogne, saw the lightning several times enter her room, divide itself into sparks of different sizes, of which the greater part attached themselves to her clothes without burning them, and left livid traces on her arms and even on her thighs. She said, when speaking on this subject, that thunder had never done her more harm than to whip her two or three times, though it fell pretty often on her chateau.

There seems to be a sort of relative immunity in women and children. These are seldom struck. We have even several examples of children remaining safe and sound in the arms of their mothers who are struck.

Fracastor's mother had her child to her breast when she was struck by lightning. The child itself was spared.

In August, 1853, at Georgetown (Essex), Mrs. Russel, wife of the Protestant minister, was killed by lightning, while a small child which she had in her arms was unhurt.

It would seem as if lightning pitied the feeble-the women and children.

We hear of cases where people were struck several times during the same storm without succumbing to its manifold attacks.

"In two similar situations," says Arago, "one man, according to the nature of his constitution, runs more risk than another. There are some exceptional people who are not conductors to the fulminating matter, and who neither receive nor pass on a shock. As a rule, they must be ranked among the non-conductor bodies that the lightning respects, or, at least, that it strikes rarely. Such decided differences could not exist without there being finer shades. Thus each degree of conductibility corresponds during the time of a storm to a certain degree of danger. The man who conducts like a metal will be struck as often as a metal, while the man who cuts off the communication in the chain, will have almost as little to fear as if he were made of glass or resin. Between these limits there will be found individuals whom lightning might strike as it would strike wood, stones, etc. Thus, in the phenomena of lightning, everything does not depend on the place that a man may occupy; his physical constitution will have something to do with it."

The phantasmagoria of lightning leaves us perplexed. All these observations are extraordinary and very disconcerting. The facts contradict each other, and lead us to no actual conclusion.

The Gazette de Cologne gave the following case in June, 1867:-

At Czempin, a young girl of eighteen was struck by lightning while she was working near a hearth. She remained unconscious, in spite of all the efforts made to revive her. At last, acting on the advice of an old man, they placed her in a freshly dug ditch, and covered her body with earth, but in such a way as to avoid stifling her. After some hours she recovered consciousness, and was restored to health.

Sometimes lightning amuses itself nicely and innocently. It mixes in the society of men without doing them harm, or leaving any remembrance but a great fear.

One day lightning entered by the chimney into the middle of a lively dance at M. Van Gestien's, the innkeeper at Flone (Belgium). At the sight of it the dancers were petrified with terror, and not one could try and escape. But they misunderstood the intentions of the lightning, which were of the most straightforward; it only wanted to be a spoil-sport. It also had the good taste to depart quietly.

After the first excitement a profound stupefaction seized hold of the persons present; they were all transformed into niggers. The lightning had swept the chimney, and cast the soot into the ball-room, powdering all the faces and toilettes.

Lightning might be the daughter of goblins rather than a messenger from Olympus. The following facts might confirm this impression:-

At Bayonne, on June 6, 1873, lightning knocked over a gas-burner, and threw a person down, after making her turn round three times. A family of twelve were gathered together at a table, sixty yards, at least, from the point where it burst. They were all knocked down, but without sustaining any injury.

During a violent storm, lightning entered a country house by the chimney; it lifted two big stones from the hearth, and carried them over to near the head of a child who was asleep, and placed one on each side, without grazing it or hurting the child.

And this same lightning, whose almost maternal delicacy is quite exquisite, entered another time, also by the chimney, into a house, hit a man savagely on the head, wounded him severely, and left him dead in the middle of a pool of blood. Then it took a quantity of this blood which was accumulated round his head, and went and stuck it on the ceiling of the higher story. A child who was present at this tragic scene was unhurt.

In August, 1901, an electric spark penetrated into a house in the village of Porri, near Ajaccio, and started to make the tour of the property. First it visited the second-floor rooms, without doing much damage there; then it went down to the first floor, where there were two young girls, turned them round, and burnt their legs. It continued on its course as far as the cellar, where its dazzling brightness terrified three young children who had taken refuge there. It spared two, but burned the third rather severely.

Let us finish this series of electric pictures, which depict-sometimes in a very tragic manner-the different modes of activity of one of the grandest of Nature's phenomena, by two facts, the strangeness of which surpasses everything that one can imagine.

Pliny gives the case of a Roman lady, who, having been struck by lightning during her confinement, had a stillborn child, without herself suffering the least harm.


The Abbé Richard, in his Histoire de l'Air, gives a more extraordinary case still. At Altenbourg, in Saxony, in July, 1713, lightning struck a woman who was expecting her confinement. She was delivered some hours afterwards of a child who was half burnt, and whose body was all black. The mother recovered her health.

We can neither define nor delimit the power of lightning. Sometimes merciful, often cruel, it constitutes in the universality of its actions, one of Nature's most terrible scourges.

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