MoboReader > Literature > Thunder and Lightning

   Chapter 10 PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING

Thunder and Lightning By Camille Flammarion Characters: 42440

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


In this last chapter I would like to group together a series of instances of pictures made by lightning, some of them very curious and attributed, it would seem, to flashes of a special character, which we may perhaps term Ceraunic Rays, from Keraunos, lightning. These instances are of great variety, and doubtless admit of many different explanations. Here, then, is a selection worth looking into.

In this case, as in so many others, it is extremely difficult to get at the exact truth.

Generally speaking, it is from the newspapers that we get the facts-more or less accurately observed, more or less accurately recorded. I have made great efforts to inform myself personally as to the incidents whenever this has been practicable.

The Petit Marseillais of June 18, 1896, published the following:-

"A correspondent writes to us from Pertius, June 17:-

"'In the course of the storm here yesterday, two day-labourers of our town, Jean Sasier and Joseph Elisson, took refuge in a cabin constructed of reeds. They were standing at the entrance when they were struck by lightning and thrown violently to the ground. Elisson, who was not much hurt, soon recovered his senses and called for help. People ran up at once and carried the two men to where they live, where all necessary attention was given to them.

"'Sasier's condition, though serious enough by reason of a burn on his right side, is not causing anxiety. The curious part of the incident is the effect the electric fluid has produced upon Elisson. The lightning cut open one of his boots and tore his trousers; but over and above this, like a tattooer making use of photography, it reproduced admirably on the artisan's body a representation of a pine tree, of a poplar, and of the handle of his watch. It is an undoubted case of photography through opaque materials; most luckily the sensitive plate-Elisson's body-merely took the impression and received no injury.'"

On reading this narrative, I wrote to the Mayor of the Commune of Pertius to ask him for confirmation of it, and for a photograph, if possible, of the picture on Elisson's body. By a fortunate circumstance, the Mayor happened to be the doctor who had attended the victim. Here is his reply:-

"M. Joseph Elisson, of Pertius, aged about thirty-eight, was struck by lightning on June 17. Called to attend to him at about two in the afternoon, I found some superficial burns forming a trail, which began near the teat of his left breast, at the level of his waistcoat pocket, in which there was a watch (which had not stopped), and went down towards the navel, then turned boldly to the right towards the iliac spine and down the outer side of his right leg as far as the ankle, at the level of which his boot, made of strong leather, had been split open.

"To the right, a little outside the vertical line passing the teat, there was imprinted in vivid red-the red of the burn-a picture of a tree. The foot of it was on a level with the edge of the ribs, the top went slightly above the teat. This picture was absolutely vertical. Its outlines stood out very distinctly from the white skin. It was composed of bold, clearly defined lines, about a demimillimetre in width. Neither waistcoat nor shirt were burnt or marked in any way to correspond with it. Other representations of tree branches were reproduced higher up on the breast, but not so distinctly in the midst of a uniform redness. Not having by me my camera, I made a sketch of the tree, which was marvellously distinct, leaving the taking of a photograph until next day. Next day, when I returned with my camera, the picture was still clearly visible, but it had faded a good deal, lost in the colour of the skin, and no longer to be reproduced by photography. I regretted bitterly not having taken it the day before. I regret this all the more now that you have done me the honour of writing to me on the subject, and I am glad to be able to send you my sketch of the picture, which is correct as to dimensions, and which represents what I saw as accurately as I could make it.

"Dr. G. Tournatoire."

Here is a facsimile of the sketch enclosed by the doctor.

It is somewhat like the shape of a poplar. There is nothing to suggest that we have here a case of swollen veins, or arteries made conspicuous by a flow of blood, nor of a tree-like form due to blood vessels, in which the blood has taken on a more or less marked aspect. On the other hand, it is certainly not much easier to recognize in it a photograph of a more or less distant tree. In this state of uncertainty on the subject, I wrote again to Dr. Tournatoire, and begged of him to go to the scene of the incident and to make a plan of the ground, and take a photograph of the view. Here is the doctor's reply: -

"This plan can be reproduced by a few typographical lines in such a way as to show clearly how things happened-

"The square represents the cabin in which the two workmen took refuge. They were sitting almost opposite each other on the seats marked A and B. There is a flash of lightning. One of the men is knocked over, and bears on his right side a picture of the poplar P, which stands one hundred metres away, and is visible by A through the door O, of which the width is one metre. Behind this poplar stands a big pine, a branch of which is also depicted on the man's body. By this same stroke of lightning the other worker, seated at B, is thrown out of the cabin three metres by an opening D, about forty centimetres wide. The two men are alive, and have come out of it with a few days' rest. They saw nothing, heard nothing, and can remember nothing."

In the photographs taken by Dr. Tournatoire it is not clear which is the tree, for the poplar, P, does not stand out alone. As the cabin stands under the shade of a pine tree, one is disposed to ask whether the lightning did not strike this pine? But judging by the position of the trees relatively to the man struck, the most likely hypothesis is that the electric discharge came from the point P towards A, and that the poplar as well as the adjacent pine formed a sort of screen, and reproduced their reflection by the agency of some unknown constituent of these Ceraunic Rays, which enable them to photograph things in this way through clothes on to the human body.

This assuredly is a more extraordinary effect than those obtained by the cathodic rays or anti-cathodic rays, of which science seems equally unable to give any explanation.

Let us proceed with our studies. It is important above all never to take the newspaper narratives on trust without verification. In the month of June, 1897, the following appeared in the newspapers:-

"Photographic Lightning.-A chasseur of the 15th battalion, in barracks at Remiremont, was struck by lightning. He was standing upon a mound not far from a grove of pines, in the midst of ferns. Curious to relate, on the occasion of recording the fact of the man's being dead, it was discovered that his body was covered with punctures imprinted on it by the lightning, and representing the nature and aspect of the branches and plants all round him at the time when he was struck."

I wrote at once to the chef de bataillon for a precise confirmation of this, and received the following reply:-

"M. le Commandant Joppé, commanding officer of the 15th Battalion of Chasseurs, has handed me your letter of June 14th, and asked me to reply to it.

"It is the case that a chasseur of the battalion was struck by lightning on the afternoon of June 4, but it is quite untrue that there was found on his body a photograph of the trees adjoining the spot of the accident. The man's clothes were not affected in any way, and the only traces left by the passage of the lightning, consisted in some slight irregularly shaped burns on the upper part of the hollow of the right temple of linear formation, save for one circular burn measuring from three to four millimetres in diameter, and depressing the skin into the shape of a saucer. There was no lesion on the whole surface of the body.

"Mauny,

"Surgeon-Major 15th Battalion of Chasseurs."

This reply was covered by a note which ran as follows:-

"I thought it desirable that the reply to your letter of the 14th inst. should be made by the surgeon-major of my battalion in order that it might be the more scientifically accurate and authoritative.

"Joppé,

"Chef de bataillon breveté,

"Commanding Officer of the 15th Battalion of the Chasseurs des Vosges."

Clearly, the student of natural phenomena cannot take too many precautions. And yet ... an officer of high rank confided to me recently that "surgeon-majors hardly ever take the trouble to examine bodies thoroughly," and that it is possible that in this case "the examination may have been very superficial." If this be a general rule, there must have been an exception here, as also in the fifth case, to which we shall be coming just now.

The problem is far from being solved, and we can but seek to study it as set forth in a number of instances. Here is a third case:-

On Sunday, August 23, 1903, a certain number of riflemen were practising at the Charbonnières range, near the village of Le Pont, in the valley of Lalle Joux (Canton de Vaud, Suisse), five targets out of six were in use. The targets, distant 300 metres from the firing-line, are placed to the side of a grove of pines. Between stretches an undulating rock-strewn meadow-land. Only the butts are provided with a lightning-conductor, and in it are five markers. There are six telephone wires along the line of fire; they come as far as the stand and go down to within about 50 centimetres of the scorers' seats. Each target has its own telephone bell.

The weather was not stormy, though the sky was somewhat overcast. Firing was going on. At about 3.30 there was a clap of thunder, and lightning struck the electric wires. In the stand twenty-eight men, riflemen, scorers, and spectators, are thrown to the ground in every direction and in every position. Some are quite inert, apparently dead; others, looking as though they were asphyxiated, give out a painful rattling noise from their throats. At the bar, to the side of the stand, no one felt anything-it was not even noticed that there had been a violent stroke of lightning. A kilometre away the band, which had been giving a concert in front of the Hotel de la Triute on the bridge, continued to play. Presently a man reaches them with the report that twenty of the riflemen have been killed. Consternation becomes general, and relief parties are organized. Fortunately the damage done was much less than was supposed.

Let us describe the men actually engaged in firing, and placed in a line, A, B, C, D, and E, their scorers are behind them.

Let us give our attention, first, to these men and their scorers. Presently we shall come to the others awaiting their turn, then to the spectators, and finally to the markers at the targets.

The men were firing, either kneeling or lying.

A remained in position, kneeling "like a statue," unable to move. He turned right over as soon as he was touched. Killed.

B had a pine tree depicted on his breast-upside down, its roots indicated by some outlines up at the top; the picture was of a brownish rather than a blueish shade. It was suggested that it resembled a pine, because of a pine being ten metres away from the stand, but really it was more like a branch of fern. Killed.

C felt hardly anything apart from a certain heaviness in his limbs when picking himself up.

D had some slight burns, which were healed within two or three days.

E was holding his rifle with the barrel vertically. He found himself about 2? metres from his position on the ground, with a stone in his hands; his rifle had been bent in two below the trigger.

A's scorer held the pear-shaped handle of the electric bell between his fingers, his elbows upon the table. Saw nothing, heard nothing. Felt himself suddenly bent up double, his face buried in the gravel; lost consciousness while he was being carried away; when he came to himself again he began to ramble in his speech; his pencil was broken lengthwise into four pieces. The wire of his bell had been electrified. By way of wound, he had a picture of a pine branch on his back; water issued from it as from a blister; there were no traces of blood. The picture disappeared at the end of two days. For a certain time the young man had a pain in his loins; he still limps somewhat; probably what he now suffers from is sciatic lumbago, the result of partial and temporary paralysis.

B's scorer had only some insignificant burns.

C's scorer only came to himself twenty minutes later as the result of artificial respiration. At the moment of the lightning he was pressing the electric button with his thumb in order to give the signal, "Change the target;" he had a small hole in his thumb. This burn bled later, and the wound took four weeks to heal. He had also some burns on his legs.

D's scorer was holding the handle of the bell against his left cheek, on a level with his eye. The handle, made of wood, burst. The sight of his left eye is still affected, being very weak-the retina was probably torn away. The day after the accident, the young man's face became all inflamed, especially the part round the eyes. These were quite hidden. This inflammation, of a bluish tint, is due to the dilation of the small veins or of the capillaries.

Dr. Yersin, who attended several of the victims, attributes this dilation to a paralysis of the vasomotor nerves, "which would also explain the tree-like form of the pictures seen upon the skin," and the transudation (?) of water across the small blood-vessels.

E's scorer had time to see the men on his left fall, in a green or violet light. He had heard a general death-rattle-like chorus, "A???"-then, before he could make out what was happening, he found himself driven up against the wall of the stand. He had a wound under his feet; his thumb torn also, probably in trying to hold himself up against the wall.

Behind the scorers were a dozen other riflemen and some spectators. To the left the electric current left intact the rifles standing on the rack. Quite near this, a man awaiting his turn fell, clinging on to the neck of one of his comrades, also struck. Later he found his purse in the middle of the stand.

In the case of several of the spectators, the burns were to be found in separate sores. One had his hair burnt on one spot of about the size of a five franc piece; others, who had burns upon their feet and legs, are under the impression they saw a small blue flame at the tips of their shoes.

The general feeling was at first merely that of stupefaction. Terror did not come until afterwards. "Those who did not lose all consciousness were half stunned." A young boy was noticed jammed up against the wall, incapable of moving, but bewailing his inability to get to his father, who lay dead upon the ground. Two men took flight without throwing aside their guns; another ran as far as the village, and some hours afterwards he was found asleep in a house "to which there was nothing to take him." One young spectator, a stranger to the neighbourhood, was seized with a partial paralysis of the brain; he could not keep his balance when walking, and when questioned he would recite the names of stations on a Swiss railway. He is better now.

This event will not be soon forgotten in the Joux valley. But Dr. Yersin's explanation of the Ceraunic pictures does not seem to me to be justified.

Here is a fourth instance, given me long ago by one of the most learned physicists of last century, Hoin, of the Institute.

"I am going to tell you," he wrote to me in July, 1866, "of a stroke of lightning which was very curious in its effects. It occurred at midday on June 27, at Bergheim, a village situated to the north of Logelbach at the foot of the Vosges. It struck two travellers who had taken refuge under the tree and knocked them over senseless-one of them was lifted to a height of more than a yard and thrown upon his back. It was thought they must be dead, but thanks to the attention given to them at once, they were brought to themselves, and they are now out of danger. But here is the strange feature of the accident. Both travellers have on their backs, extending down to their thighs, the imprint, as though by photography, of the leaves of a lime tree; according to the statement of the Mayor, M. Radat, the most skilful draughtsman could not have done it better."

Here is a fifth instance which I find among my records. The incident happened at Chambéry, May 29, 1868.

In the course of a violent storm, a soldier of the 47th Regiment was struck by lightning underneath a chestnut tree. In a memorandum drawn up on June 18 by a learned doctor of Chambéry, an eyewitness of the occurrence, the following facts are recorded:-

"The man who was killed had been standing in the centre of a group of eight soldiers, who had their guns in their hands, without bayonets. Struck in the region of the heart, he did not succumb for about a quarter of an hour, after saying a few words. The corpse bore an oval plate, so to speak, of about 13 to 14 centimetres in length, by 4 to 5 in width, occupying largely the precordial region, and presenting the parchment-like aspect of a vesicatory that had become rapidly dried up. The clothes were neither torn nor burnt.

"Two hours after his death an examination of the body resulted in the discovery of a phenomenon already recorded by several observers-the reproduction of photo-electric pictures.

"On the right shoulder were three bunches of leaves of a more or less deep reddish violet hue, reproduced minutely with the most absolute photographic precision. The first, situated on the lower part of the inside of the forearm, represented a long branch of leaves like those of a chestnut tree; the second, which seemed to be formed by two or three such branches twisted together, was in the middle of the outside of the arm; and the third, in the middle of the shoulder, larger and rounder, showed only some leaves and small branches at the top and at the borders, the centre presenting a red stain diminishing towards the circumference. The body, when dissected, bore no sign of any interior lesion."

Here is a sixth instance:-

In June, 1869, a Trappist was struck by lightning at the monastery of Scourmant, near Chimay in Belgium. It was the afternoon, and the monks were busy mowing. The storm coming along obliged them to seek shelter. One of them, who was following the mowing machine worked by two horses, directed it towards an ironwork enclosure, and knelt down beside this trellis. There was a terrible thunderclap, the horses bolted in their fright, and the monk remained with his face to the ground. The others, who saw him fall, ran up to his assistance, only to find him dead. The medical attendant of the monastery, sent for at once, discovered on the body two large and deep burns, identical in shape, and placed symmetrically to each side of the breast; he pointed out also to those who were present a white spot under the left armpit, presenting a very distinct picture of the trunk of a tree with branches on it.

Out of these six cases, five may be taken as fully authenticated.

Dr. Lebigne, Mayor of Nibelle (Loiret), published the following narrative in the Moniteur of September 7, 1864.

"On Sunday, September 4, 1864, at about 10.30 a.m., three men were busy gathering pears about 200 metres out of Nibelle, when the pear tree was struck by lightning, and was distorted from top to bottom in the form of a screw; the lightning carried away the bark and about a centimetre of the wood beneath; then quitting the tree, it struck the head of one of the workmen, who was eating some bread at the time, and killed him, as well as a dog by his side. The head was burnt behind from top to bottom and was impregnated with a strong smell of sulphur.

"The two other workmen who were on the tree were thrown to the ground, and remained for some time senseless. When they came to themselves they could not move their legs. They were taken to their homes, and it was found that both had been in contact with the electric fluid. The astonishing thing about them is, that one of them had the branches and leaves of the pear tree clearly imprinted on his breast as though by daguerreotype. The terrible photographer had been merciful, however, for that evening both the men were up again and able to walk."

The Comptes rendus of the Academie des Sciences for the year 1843 (xvi. p. 1328) records that in July, 1841, in the department of Indre-et-Loire, a magistrate and a miller's boy were struck by lightning in the vicinity of a poplar. It was found that both of them had on their breasts stains exactly like the leaves of a poplar. These marks, in the case of the magistrate, went away gradually as the blood began to circulate again. In the case of the boy, who was killed on the spot, they had faded somewhat by the day after, when de

composition had begun to set in.

A propos of this case, very similar to those preceding, Arago recalled the fact that in 1786 Leroy, a member of the Academie des Sciences, declared that Franklin had several times told him how a man who was standing at a door during a storm had seen a tree struck by lightning opposite him, and that a representation of this tree was found imprinted upon his breast. Arago recalled, too, in this connection a report made to the old Academy in August 2, 1786, by Bossuet and Leroy, in which there was question of a man killed by lightning on May 10, 1585, in the Collegiate School of Riom in Auvergne; in this case the electric fluid had entered by the heel and gone out by the head, leaving on the body singular marks, described in the report. It was thought that the lightning on its way, through having forced the blood into all the vessels in the skin, must have made all the ramifications of these vessels sensitive to impressions from without. Extraordinary though this may appear, they go on to say, it is not new; Père Beccaria cites a similar case; and Franklin's case is cited here also as analogous. Besile, the author of the record of the Riom case, "did not hesitate," he tells us, "to attribute the effect to an eruption of the blood in the vessels of the skin, producing a result similar to that of an injection." The statement in the Comptes rendus is entitled "Strange appearance of Ecchymoses formed by lightning upon the skin of two persons."

That is just the question. Was there in these pictures nothing but ecchymoses-infiltrations of the blood into the cellular tissue? Perhaps that may be so in some cases, but not in all. Photography, the photo-electric pictures produced in the laboratories of physicists, Moses's figures(?), the Lichtenberg flowers, cathodic rays, Rontgen rays, radiography-all these things open new horizons for us. And even if we do not find any explanation satisfactory, we should not be justified in accepting the first offered to us as being so, if in fact it be not.

Here are four interesting cases recorded by Poey in his "Rélation Historique des images photo-electriques de la foudre."

Mme. Morosa, of Lugano, seated near a window during a storm, experienced a shock from which she is not stated to have suffered any ill effects; but a flower, which had stood in the route of the electric current, was found perfectly drawn on her leg, and this picture lasted the rest of her days.

In August, 1853, a young girl in the United States of America was standing at a window facing a nut tree at the moment of a dazzling flash of lightning; a complete picture of the tree was reproduced on her body.

In September, 1857, a peasant woman of Seine-et-Marne, who was minding a cow, was struck by lightning under a tree. The cow was killed, and the woman was thrown on the ground insensible. She was, however, soon revived. In loosening her clothes to attend to her, the people who came to her assistance found perfectly reproduced on her breast a picture of the cow.

On August 16, 1860, a mill at Lappion (Aisne), belonging to M. Carlier, was struck by lightning. On the back of a woman of forty-four, who was also struck, the lightning left a reproduction (of a reddish hue) of a tree-trunk, branches, foliage, and all. Her clothes bore no trace of the passage of the lightning.

Unless we are to suppose that all these have been inaccurately observed, it seems to me that we must admit that there is something else besides ecchymoses, something else besides the workings of veins and arteries in these pictures wrought by lightning.

Certain of these tree-like pictures resemble the patterns we get in photographing electrical discharges upon sensitized plates. Might they not be produced by this discharge upon the surface of the body-or by the emission of electricity from the body struck?

The pictures we shall now hear of, to be distinguished from those already dealt with, are easier to explain, and about their genuineness there can be no doubt.

In the summer of 1865, a doctor from the neighbourhood of Vienna, Dr. Derendinger, was returning home by train. On getting out at the station he found that he had not got his purse on him-some one probably had stolen it.

This purse was made of tortoise-shell, and had on one side of it a steel plate marked with the doctor's monogram-two D's intermingled.

Some time after, the doctor was called to attend to a stranger who had been found lying insensible under a tree, having been struck by lightning. The first thing that he noticed on examining the man's body was that on his thigh there was a reproduction, as though by photography, of his own monogram. His astonishment may be imagined. He succeeded in reviving the stranger, who was taken to a hospital. The doctor remarked that in his clothes his lost tortoise-shell purse would probably be found. So it proved. The individual struck by lightning was the thief. The electric fluid had been attracted by the steel plate, and had imprinted the monogram upon the man's body.

In this case we are set thinking of electro-metallurgy, all the more because there are a number of other instances which certainly belong to this category. Thus, for instance, on July 25, 1868, at Nantes, a stranger near the Pont de l'Erdre, on the Quai Flesselles, was enveloped by a flash of lightning, but proceeded on his way without experiencing any ill effects. He had on him a purse containing two pieces of silver in one compartment and a ten-franc piece in gold in another. On taking out his purse he found that a coating of silver taken from one of the silver pieces-a franc-had been transferred to both sides of the ten-franc piece. The franc, slightly thinner, especially over the moustache of Napoleon III., was in parts slightly bluish. This transference of the silver on to gold was made through the skin of the partition of the compartments![1]

Another case. In Gilbert's "Annalen der Physik" (1817) we read that a flash of lightning struck the tower of a chapel near Dresden and took the gilt off the framework of the clock and transferred it to the leaden runs of the window-panes in such a way as to leave no sign of how these had been gilded.

In these cases the analogy with galvano electro-metallurgy is evident. But in the earlier cases this was not so; the trees contained no metallic element. It was not a case of transference. They seem to have been photographed by the ceraunic rays.

On October 9, 1836, a young man was killed by lightning. The corpse bore in the middle of the right shoulder six rings of flesh-colour, which seemed the more distinct in that the rest of the man's own skin was very dark. These rings, overlapping each other, were of different sizes, corresponding exactly with those of the gold coins which he had on him on the right side of his belt, as the public official who examined his body and all the witnesses were able to testify.

This makes us think of radiography.

A correspondent of Poey, the astronomer, told him that he had known a Trinidad lady who had been struck by lightning in her youth and on whose stomach the lightning had imprinted a metallic comb which she carried in her apron.

In these instances there was some kind of contact of the objects with the persons struck. Here are others in which the objects reproduced are further removed, but still of metallic substance and still reminding us therefore of electro-metallurgy.

In September, 1825, the brigantine Le Buon-Servo, at anchor in the Bay of Armiro, was struck by lightning. A sailor seated at the foot of the mizzen-mast was killed. On his back was found a light yellow and black mark, beginning at his neck and going down to his loins, where there was discovered an exact reproduction, in facsimile, of a horseshoe nailed to the mast.

The mizzen-mast of another brigantine was struck by lightning in the roadstead of Zaube. Under the left breast of a sailor who was killed was found imprinted the number 44, which his mates all declared was not there before. These two figures, large and well formed, with a full stop between them, were identical with the same numbers in metal affixed to the rigging of the ship, and placed between the mast and the sailor's bunk, in which he was lying asleep when struck.

May it not have been a tattoo-mark in spite of what his companions declared?

M. José Maria Dau, of Havana, records that in 1838, in the province of Candaleria, in Cuba, there was found on the right ear and on the right side of the neck of a young man struck by lightning, the reproduction of a horseshoe, which had been nailed up at a short distance from him against a window.

These various records lead us to the reflection: first, that ceraunography should form a new branch of physics, well meriting study; secondly, that the facts set forth are sufficiently inverse in their nature to show us that we have before us several quite distinct specimens of phenomena.

However, these matters have been a subject for study long before our day.

A priest, P. Lamy, of the Congregation of Saint Maur, published in 1696 an excellent little work,[2] informed by the most lucid common sense upon the curious effects of lightning-then a text for the most superstitious commentaries. Voltaire could not have reasoned the thing out better. He deals with two very extraordinary cases among others.

The first had for scene the Abbey of Saint Médard, at Soissons, on April 26, 1676. A flash of lightning struck the tower of the abbey, went into the clock, penetrated a wall eight feet thick, by a hole conducting an iron rod à l'aiguille de cadran, detached two planks, four feet high, and threw them to the extreme end of the dormitory, followed a brass wire stretched along the whole length of the wall, setting fire to it and spreading it out like a ribbon painted to represent a furrow of flames. Here is the author's own description:-

"The most surprising effect, and one which has aroused the curiosity of an immense number of people, is a kind of frieze of all kinds of colours extending along the wall of the dormitory and just above the doors.

"The depth of this frieze is about two feet; its length is almost equal to that of the dormitory; the designs upon it are of flames darting up and down from a kind of wide band which occupies the centre of the frieze throughout its length.

"I have had a portion of this frieze copied, so as to give the reader an idea of it, but it must be admitted that it is difficult to suggest the variety of nuances in the original. Some people declare that in the midst of all the colours in the flames, faces of men may be descried as well as of marmosets and demons; but those who are less richly endowed with imagination can see nothing of all this."

On p. 274 is a copy of the design by P. Lamy.

At this period, physicists were of the belief that lightning was "an exhalation of nitre and sulphur, " acting something after the fashion of powder, and able to burn up or throw over everything encountered on its route. In this girdle traced by the lightning, the author sees a scattering of all the constituents of the brass wire, transformed into all kinds of colours due to the dilation of the copper, melted and vaporized over the width of two feet, the colours, in which yellow predominates, varying according to the thickness and the inequalities of the "projection."

The second case examined into by P. Lamy, was that of what happened in the church of Sauveur at Lagny, when it was struck by lightning on July 18, 1689. This is one of the most astounding in the entire history of the subject. Let us see what our author has to tell us:-

"If we were to look for some excuse for the strangeness and diversity of the people's sayings and doings in connection with the Lagny case of lightning, we should assuredly find it in the extraordinary nature of the case itself.

"For what would naturally be the effect upon minds accustomed to see mysteries in the most transparently natural events, minds whose philosophy never goes beyond the senses, when they learn-

"1. That the lightning had not only descended upon the clock-tower of the church, and carried off the slates from its roof, but had struck and overthrown nearly fifty persons inside the edifice, and wrought great havoc on the high altar.

"2. That it knocked over and broke the pedestal on which the figure of Christ was raised to the level of the altar-screen, though this figure remained miraculously suspended in the same place-for this is what is reported.

"3. That it carried off the curtain covering the panels of the altar and threw it to the ground without breaking or melting any of its rings, which were made only of copper, and without displacing the rod above the ring-bolts on which they hung.

"4. That it upset the oil-lamp burning before the high altar.

"5. That it broke into two pieces the stone upon which the priest consecrates the Host.

"6. That it tore into four pieces the card on which the canon of the Mass was printed.

"7. That it tore the altar-cloth and the cloth which was over it-both of them in an extraordinary way, namely, in the form of a cross of St. Anthony.

"8. That the high altar was seen to be burning.

"9. That it burnt a part of the communion-cloth and of the tabernacle, upon which it formed several black waves.

"10. Finally that it imprinted upon the altar-cloth the sacred words of the consecration, beginning with Qui pridie quam pateretur, and going down to H?c quotiescumque feceretis in mei memoriam facietis, inclusive; only omitting those which are usually set forth in special characters, namely, Hoc est Corpus meum; et Hic est Sanguis meus.

"What, I repeat, can you expect unphilosophical minds to make of so astonishing an affair as this? How account for the choice, the discernment, and the mysterious preference for some words over others. Which shall we consider the privileged words-those taken or those left? What is one to think of the extraordinary way in which the figure of the Saviour was left hanging? And of that strange imprint of the cross? How resist all the thousand delusions and uncertainties and fears the entire thing calls forth?

"I wonder whether the unfortunate Balthasar, when his eyes beheld the terrible sight of the unknown hand inscribing upon the walls of his banqueting-room the announcement of his doom, can have been a prey to a greater variety of fears and tremors than those who witnessed or who even heard of the effects of the lightning at Lagny. For no doubt was felt that they were the outcome of supernatural forces-spirits alone could have worked these marvels; it was a question only whether they were the work of evil spirits or good. Some believed them to be the work of good spirits, deducing this from the omission of the words, Hoc est Corpus, etc., which they set down to a spirit of reverence for the sacred mystery.

"Others believed them to be the work of evil spirits, but here again there were different theories. Some held that bad spirits had perpetrated these things out of sheer wickedness, wilfully profaning the holy objects and suppressing out of contempt, or some other evil design, the words so essential to the mystery; others held that mere imps had been at work, actuated more by mischief than sinfulness, and wishing only to give amusement to themselves and others by the quaintness of their pranks. I myself do not share any of those theories."

Lamy's narrative proceeds to an examination of all the effects recorded, which he explains in the simplest way in the world, without having to have recourse to any occult causes. He comes, finally, to the last of all and the most extraordinary.

"Not wishing to put trust in anything but my own eyes, I went to the church myself, and the effects of the lightning I saw there repaid me for the trouble.

"I examined carefully the new imprint on the cloth. I found it very clear and fine, the letters well finished, but the ink a little indistinct, perhaps I should say faded. As M. le Curé de Saint-Sauveur (who was kind enough to show me everything) assured me that at the moment of the lightning the three-leaved card which contains the canon of the Mass lay between the altar-cloth and the small mat upon the stone on which the consecration takes place, folded in such a way that the printed side was next to the altar-cloth, I compared the characters printed by the lightning with the original lettering, and found that they corresponded exactly, except that they went from right to left, backwards, so that they had to be read with the help of a mirror, or else through the cloth from behind.

"I observed that the words which the lightning had not printed on the cloth, but had omitted, were done in red letters on the card, and were no more favoured nor ill-used than certain other marks without any significance also printed in red upon the card, and leaving no trace upon the altar-cloth."

The author proceeds to explain the so-called mystery, ascribing it to the difference between the two inks-the thick black ink and the thin red ink. He examines also into the other phenomena, explaining them in the same way, like the sagacious and enlightened observer he was. It is clear, then, that the study of the phenomena of lightning is no new thing, and that it has been followed conscientiously for many centuries.

In the case of the canon of the Mass printed by the lightning at Lagny, the reproduction was by contact and pressure-it was not a case of reproducing distant objects as though by photography. Here is another case hardly less remarkable. The narrative is from the pen of Isaac Casaubon, in his Adversaria:-

"On a summer's day, about 1595, while divine service was in progress in the Cathedral at Wells, two or three thunderclaps were heard, of so terrible a nature that the whole congregation threw themselves down on the ground. Lightning followed at once, but no one was hurt. The astonishing thing about the affair lies in the fact that crosses were afterwards found to have been imprinted upon the bodies of some of those present at the service. The Bishop of Wells assured the Bishop of Ely that his wife told him she had a cross thus imprinted upon her; and that on his being incredulous, she had shown it to him, and that he himself found afterwards that he, too, was thus adorned-on his arm, if I remember right. Some had it on their breast, some on their shoulders. It is from the Bishop of Ely I have these facts, which he tells me are well authenticated."

What shall we say now of the photographing of a landscape on the inside of the skin of sheep which had been struck by lightning? The record of this seems well authenticated.

In 1812, near the village of Combe-Hay, four miles from Bath, there was a wood composed largely of oaks and nut trees. In the middle of it was a field, about fifty yards long, in which six sheep were struck dead by lightning. When skinned, there was discovered on them, on the inside of the skin, a facsimile of part of the adjacent landscape. These skins were exhibited at Bath.

This record was communicated by James Shaw to the Meteorological Society of London at its session of March, 1857. Here are his own words:-

"I may add that the small field and its surrounding wood were familiar to me and my schoolmates, and that when the skins were shown to us we at once identified the local scenery so wonderfully represented."

Andrès Poey tells us of these other curious cases:-

In the province of Sibacoa, Cuba, in August, 1823, lightning imprinted on the trunk of a big tree a picture of a bent nail, which was to be found, bent in the opposite direction, embedded in one of the upper branches.

On July 24, 1852, in a plantation at St. Vincent in Cuba, a palm tree was struck by lightning, and engraved on its dried leaves was a picture of pine trees which surrounded it at a distance of nearly 400 yards.

Dr. Sestier tells us that after the 1850 meeting of the American Association, a person was killed by lightning while standing up near a whitewashed wall, and that his silhouette was fixed upon the wall in a dark colour.

With such facts before us, we seem bound to believe in the existence of some kind of especial rays, ceraunic rays, emitted by lightning, and capable of photographing alike on the skin of human beings, animals, and plants, more or less distinct pictures of objects far and near.

Decidedly, we have much to learn in this as well as in all the other branches of knowledge.

PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED, LONDON AND BECCLES.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Academie des Sciences, Ao?t 3, 1868.

[2] "Conjectures physiques sur les plus extraordinaires effets du Tonnerre." Paris, MDCXCVI.

Transcriber's Note

Obvious typographical errors were corrected.

Duplicate title at the beginning was deleted.

Hyphenation and accent variants were changed to the most frequently used in the original. Those occurring equally were retained (for example: rainwater and rain- water).

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares