A Great Chemical Discovery
Walking along the Strand one evening last year towards Pall Mall, I was
accosted near Charing Cross Station by a strange-looking, middle-aged
man in a poor suit of clothes, who surprised and startled me by asking
if I could tell him from what inn the coach usually started for York.
"Dear me!" I said, a little puzzled. "I didn't know there was a coach to
York. Indeed, I'm almost certain there isn't one."
The man looked puzzled and surprised in turn. "No coach to York?" he
muttered to himself, half inarticulately. "No coach to York? How things
have changed! I wonder whether nobody ever goes to York nowadays!"
"Pardon me," I said, anxious to discover what could be his meaning;
"many people go to York every day, but of course they go by rail."
"Ah, yes," he answered softly, "I see. Yes, of course, they go by rail.
They go by rail, no doubt. How very stupid of me!" And he turned on his
heel as if to get away from me as quickly as possible.
I can't exactly say why, but I felt instinctively that this curious
stranger was trying to conceal from me his ignorance of what a railway
really was. I was quite certain from the way in which he spoke that he
had not the slightest conception what I meant, and that he was doing
his best to hide his confusion by pretending to understand me. Here was
indeed a strange mystery. In the latter end of this nineteenth century,
in the metropolis of industrial England, within a stone's-throw of
Charing Cross terminus, I had met an adult Englishman who apparently did
not know of the existence of railways. My curiosity was too much piqued
to let the matter rest there. I must find out what he meant by it. I
walked after him hastily, as he tried to disappear among the crowd, and
laid my hand upon his shoulder, to his evident chagrin.
"Excuse me," I said, drawing him aside down the corner of Craven Street;
"you did not understand what I meant when I said people went to York by
He looked in my face steadily, and then, instead of replying to my
remark, he said slowly, "Your name is Spottiswood, I believe?"
Again I gave a start of surprise. "It is," I answered; "but I never
remember to have seen you before."
"No," he replied dreamily; "no, we have never met till now, no doubt;
but I knew your father, I'm sure; or perhaps it may have been your
"Not my grandfather, certainly," said I, "for he was killed at
"At Waterloo! Indeed! How long since, pray?"
I could not refrain from laughing outright. "Why, of course," I
answered, "in 1815. There has been nothing particular to kill off any
large number of Englishmen at Waterloo since the year of the battle, I
"True," he muttered, "quite true; so I should have fancied." But I saw
again from the cloud of doubt and bewilderment which came over his
intelligent face that the name of Waterloo conveyed no idea whatsoever
to his mind.
Never in my life had I felt so utterly confused and astonished. In
spite of his poor dress, I could easily see from the clear-cut face and
the refined accent of my strange acquaintance that he was an educated
gentleman--a man accustomed to mix in cultivated society. Yet he clearly
knew nothing whatsoever about railways, and was ignorant of the most
salient facts in English history. Had I suddenly come across some Caspar
Hauser, immured for years in a private prison, and just let loose upon
the world by his gaolers? or was my mysterious stranger one of the Seven
Sleepers of Ephesus, turned out unexpectedly in modern costume on the
streets of London? I don't suppose there exists on earth a man more
utterly free than I am from any tinge of superstition, any lingering
touch of a love for the miraculous; but I confess for a moment I felt
half inclined to suppose that the man before me must have drunk the
elixir of life, or must have dropped suddenly upon earth from some
The impulse to fathom this mystery was irresistible. I drew my arm
through his. "If you knew my father," I said, "you will not object to
come into my chambers and take a glass of wine with me."
"Thank you," he answered half suspiciously; "thank you very much. I
think you look like a man who can be trusted, and I will go with you."
We walked along the Embankment to Adelphi Terrace, where I took him up
to my rooms, and seated him in my easy-chair near the window. As he sat
down, one of the trains on the Metropolitan line whirred past the
Terrace, snorting steam and whistling shrilly, after the fashion of
Metropolitan engines generally. My mysterious stranger jumped back in
alarm, and seemed to be afraid of some immediate catastrophe. There was
absolutely no possibility of doubting it. The man had obviously never
seen a locomotive before.
"Evidently," I said, "you do not know London. I suppose you are a
colonist from some remote district, perhaps an Australian from the
interior somewhere, just landed at the Tower?"
"No, not an Austrian"--I noted his misapprehension--"but a Londoner born
"How is it, then, that you seem never to have seen an engine before?"
"Can I trust you?" he asked in a piteously plaintive, half-terrified
tone. "If I tell you all about it, will you at least not aid in
persecuting and imprisoning me?"
I was touched by his evident grief and terror. "No," I answered, "you
may trust me implicitly. I feel sure there is something in your history
which entitles you to sympathy and protection."
"Well," he replied, grasping my hand warmly, "I will tell you all my
story; but you must be prepared for something almost too startling to be
"My name is Jonathan Spottiswood," he began calmly.
Again I experienced a marvellous start: Jonathan Spottiswood was the
name of my great-great-uncle, whose unaccountable disappearance from
London just a century since had involved our family in so much
protracted litigation as to the succession to his property. In fact, it
was Jonathan Spottiswood's money which at that moment formed the bulk of
my little fortune. But I would not interrupt him, so great was my
anxiety to hear the story of his life.
"I was born in London," he went on, "in 1750. If you can hear me say
that and yet believe that possibly I am not a madman, I will tell you
the rest of my tale; if not, I shall go at once and for ever."
"I suspend judgment for the present," I answered. "What you say is
extraordinary, but not more extraordinary perhaps than the clear
anachronism of your ignorance about locomotives in the midst of the
"So be it, then. Well, I will tell you the facts briefly in as few words
as I can. I was always much given to experimental philosophy, and I
spent most of my time in the little laboratory which I had built for
myself behind my father's house in the Strand. I had a small independent
fortune of my own, left me by an uncle who had made successful ventures
in the China trade; and as I was indisposed to follow my father's
profession of solicitor, I gave myself up almost entirely to the pursuit
of natural philosophy, following the researches of the great Mr.
Cavendish, our chief English thinker in this kind, as well as of
Monsieur Lavoisier, the ingenious French chemist, and of my friend Dr.
Priestley, the Birmingham philosopher, whose new theory of phlogiston I
have been much concerned to consider and to promulgate. But the especial
subject to which I devoted myself was the elucidation of the nature of
fixed air. I do not know how far you yourself may happen to have heard
respecting these late discoveries in chemical science, but I dare
venture to say that you are at least acquainted with the nature of the
body to which I refer."
"Perfectly," I answered with a smile, "though your terminology is now a
little out of date. Fixed air was, I believe, the old-fashioned name for
carbonic acid gas."
"Ah," he cried vehemently, "that accursed word again! Carbonic acid has
undone me, clearly. Yes, if you will have it so, that seems to be what
they call it in this extraordinary century; but fixed air was the name
we used to give it in our time, and fixed air is what I must call it, of
course, in telling you my story. Well, I was deeply interested in this
curious question, and also in some of the results which I obtained from
working with fixed air in combination with a substance I had produced
from the essential oil of a weed known to us in England as lady's
mantle, but which the learned Mr. Carl Linnaeus describes in his system
as Alchemilla vulgaris. From that weed I obtained an oil which I
combined with a certain decoction of fixed air into a remarkable
compound; and to this compound, from its singular properties, I
proposed to give the name of Pausodyne. For some years I was almost
wholly engaged in investigating the conduct of this remarkable agent;
and lest I should weary you by entering into too much detail, I may as
well say at once that it possessed the singular power of entirely
suspending animation in men or animals for several hours together. It is
a highly volatile oil, like ammonia in smell, but much thicker in
gravity; and when held to the nose of an animal, it causes immediate
stoppage of the heart's action, making the body seem quite dead for long
periods at a time. But the moment a mixture of the pausodyne with oil of
vitriol and gum resin is presented to the nostrils, the animal
instantaneously revives exactly as before, showing no evil effects
whatsoever from its temporary simulation of death. To the reviving
mixture I have given the appropriate name of Anegeiric.
"Of course you will instantly see the valuable medical applications
which may be made of such an agent. I used it at first for experimenting
upon the amputation of limbs and other surgical operations. It succeeded
admirably. I found that a dog under the influence of pausodyne suffered
his leg, which had been broken in a street accident, to be set and
spliced without the slightest symptom of feeling or discomfort. A cat,
shot with a pistol by a cruel boy, had the bullet extracted without
moving a muscle. My assistant, having allowed his little finger to
mortify from neglect of a burn, permitted me to try the effect of my
discovery upon himself; and I removed the injured joints while he
remained in a state of complete insensibility, so that he could hardly
believe afterwards in the actual truth of their removal. I felt certain
that I had invented a medical process of the very highest and greatest
"All this took place in or before the year 1781. How long ago that may
be according to your modern reckoning I cannot say; but to me it seems
hardly more than a few months since. Perhaps you would not mind telling
me the date of the current year. I have never been able to ascertain
"This is 1881," I said, growing every moment more interested in his
"Thank you. I gathered that we must now be somewhere near the close of
the nineteenth century, though I could not learn the exact date with
certainty. Well, I should tell you, my dear sir, that I had contracted
an engagement about the year 1779 with a young lady of most remarkable
beauty and attractive mental gifts, a Miss Amelia Spragg, daughter of
the well-known General Sir Thomas Spragg, with whose achievements you
are doubtless familiar. Pardon me, my friend of another age, pardon me,
I beg of you, if I cannot allude to this subject without emotion after a
lapse of time which to you doubtless seems like a century, but is to me
a matter of some few months only at the utmost. I feel towards her as
towards one whom I have but recently lost, though I now find that she
has been dead for more than eighty years." As he spoke, the tears came
into his eyes profusely; and I could see that under the external
calmness and quaintness of his eighteenth century language and demeanour
his whole nature was profoundly stirred at the thought of his lost love.
"Look here," he continued, taking from his breast a large, old-fashioned
gold locket containing a miniature; "that is her portrait, by Mr.
Walker, and a very truthful likeness indeed. They left me that when they
took away my clothes at the Asylum, for I would not consent to part with
it, and the physician in attendance observed that to deprive me of it
might only increase the frequency and violence of my paroxysms. For I
will not conceal from you the fact that I have just escaped from a
pauper lunatic establishment."
I took the miniature which he handed me, and looked at it closely. It
was the picture of a young and beautiful girl, with the features and
costume of a Sir Joshua. I recognized the face at once as that of a lady
whose portrait by Gainsborough hangs on the walls of my uncle's
dining-room at Whittingham Abbey. It was strange indeed to hear a living
man speak of himself as the former lover of this, to me, historic
"Sir Thomas, however," he went on, "was much opposed to our union, on
the ground of some real or fancied social disparity in our positions;
but I at last obtained his conditional consent, if only I could succeed
in obtaining the Fellowship of the Royal Society, which might, he
thought, be accepted as a passport into that fashionable circle of which
he was a member. Spurred on by this ambition, and by the encouragement
of my Amelia, I worked day and night at the perfectioning of my great
discovery, which I was assured would bring not only honour and dignity
to myself, but also the alleviation and assuagement of pain to countless
thousands of my fellow-creatures. I concealed the nature of my
experiments, however, lest any rival investigator should enter the field
with me prematurely, and share the credit to which I alone was really
entitled. For some months I was successful in my efforts at concealment;
but in March of this year--I mistake; of the year 1781, I should say--an
unfortunate circumstance caused me to take special and exceptional
precautions against intrusion.
"I was then conducting my experiments upon living animals, and
especially upon the extirpation of certain painful internal diseases to
which they are subject. I had a number of suffering cats in my
laboratory, which I had treated with pausodyne, and stretched out on
boards for the purpose of removing the tumours with which they were
afflicted. I had no doubt that in this manner, while directly benefiting
the animal creation, I should indirectly obtain the necessary skill to
operate successfully upon human beings in similar circumstances. Already
I had completely cured several cats without any pain whatsoever, and I
was anxious to proceed to the human subject. Walking one morning in the
Strand, I found a beggar woman outside a gin-shop, quite drunk, with a
small, ill-clad child by her side, suffering the most excruciating
torments from a perfectly remediable cause. I induced the mother to
accompany me to my laboratory, and there I treated the poor little
creature with pausodyne, and began to operate upon her with perfect
confidence of success.
"Unhappily, my laboratory had excited the suspicion of many ill-disposed
persons among the low mob of the neighbourhood. It was whispered abroad
that I was what they called a vivisectionist; and these people, who
would willingly have attended a bull-baiting or a prize fight, found
themselves of a sudden wondrous humane when scientific procedure was
under consideration. Besides, I had made myself unpopular by receiving
visits from my friend Dr. Priestley, whose religious opinions were not
satisfactory to the strict orthodoxy of St. Giles's. I was rumoured to
be a philosopher, a torturer of live animals, and an atheist. Whether
the former accusation were true or not, let others decide; the two
latter, heaven be my witness, were wholly unfounded. However, when the
neighbouring rabble saw a drunken woman with a little girl entering my
door, a report got abroad at once that I was going to vivisect a
Christian child. The mob soon collected in force, and broke into the
laboratory. At that moment I was engaged, with my assistant, in
operating upon the girl, while several cats, all completely
anaestheticised, were bound down on the boards around, awaiting the
healing of their wounds after the removal of tumours. At the sight of
such apparent tortures the people grew wild with rage, and happening in
their transports to fling down a large bottle of the anegeiric, or
reviving mixture, the child and the animals all at once recovered
consciousness, and began of course to writhe and scream with acute pain.
I need not describe to you the scene that ensued. My laboratory was
wrecked, my assistant severely injured, and I myself barely escaped with
"After this contretemps I determined to be more cautious. I took the
lease of a new house at Hampstead, and in the garden I determined to
build myself a subterranean laboratory where I might be absolutely free
from intrusion. I hired some labourers from Bath for this purpose, and I
explained to them the nature of my wishes, and the absolute necessity of
secrecy. A high wall surrounded the garden, and here the workmen worked
securely and unseen. I concealed my design even from my dear
brother--whose grandson or great-grandson I suppose you must be--and
when the building was finished, I sent my men back to Bath, with strict
injunctions never to mention the matter to any one. A trap-door in the
cellar, artfully concealed, gave access to the passage; a large oak
portal, bound with iron, shut me securely in; and my air supply was
obtained by means of pipes communicating through blank spaces in the
brick wall of the garden with the outer atmosphere. Every arrangement
for concealment was perfect; and I resolved in future, till my results
were perfectly established, that I would dispense with the aid of an
"I was in high spirits when I went to visit my Amelia that evening, and
I told her confidently that before the end of the year I expected to
gain the gold medal of the Royal Society. The dear girl was pleased at
my glowing prospects, and gave me every assurance of the delight with
which she hailed the probability of our approaching union.
"Next day I began my experiments afresh in my new quarters. I bolted
myself into the laboratory, and set to work with renewed vigour. I was
experimenting upon an injured dog, and I placed a large bottle of
pausodyne beside me as I administered the drug to his nostrils. The
rising fumes seemed to affect my head more than usual in that confined
space, and I tottered a little as I worked. My arm grew weaker, and at
last fell powerless to my side. As it fell it knocked down the large
bottle of pausodyne, and I saw the liquid spreading over the floor. That
was almost the last thing that I knew. I staggered toward the door, but
did not reach it; and then I remember nothing more for a considerable
He wiped his forehead with his sleeve--he had no handkerchief--and then
"When I woke up again the effects of the pausodyne had worn themselves
out, and I felt that I must have remained unconscious for at least a
week or a fortnight. My candle had gone out, and I could not find my
tinder-box. I rose up slowly and with difficulty, for the air of the
room was close and filled with fumes, and made my way in the dark
towards the door. To my surprise, the bolt was so stiff with rust that
it would hardly move. I opened it after a struggle, and found myself in
the passage. Groping my way towards the trap-door of the cellar, I felt
it was obstructed by some heavy body. With an immense effort, for my
strength seemed but feeble, I pushed it up, and discovered that a heap
of sea-coals lay on top of it. I extricated myself into the cellar, and
there a fresh surprise awaited me. A new entrance had been made into the
front, so that I walked out at once upon the open road, instead of up
the stairs into the kitchen. Looking up at the exterior of my house, my
brain reeled with bewilderment when I saw that it had disappeared almost
entirely, and that a different porch and wholly unfamiliar windows
occupied its facade. I must have slept far longer than I at first
imagined--perhaps a whole year or more. A vague terror prevented me from
walking up the steps of my own home. Possibly my brother, thinking me
dead, might have sold the lease; possibly some stranger might resent my
intrusion into the house that was now his own. At any rate, I thought it
safer to walk into the road. I would go towards London, to my brother's
house in St. Mary le Bone. I turned into the Hampstead Road, and
directed my steps thitherward.
"Again, another surprise began to affect me with a horrible and
ill-defined sense of awe. Not a single object that I saw was really
familiar to me. I recognized that I was in the Hampstead Road, but it
was not the Hampstead Road which I used to know before my fatal
experiments. The houses were far more numerous, the trees were bigger
and older. A year, nay, even a few years would not have sufficed for
such a change. I began to fear that I had slept away a whole decade.
"It was early morning, and few people were yet abroad. But the costume
of those whom I met seemed strange and fantastic to me. Moreover, I
noticed that they all turned and looked after me with evident surprise,
as though my dress caused them quite as much astonishment as theirs
caused me. I was quietly attired in my snuff-coloured suit of
small-clothes, with silk stockings and simple buckle shoes, and I had of
course no hat; but I gathered that my appearance caused universal
amazement and concern, far more than could be justified by the mere
accidental absence of head-gear. A dread began to oppress me that I
might actually have slept out my whole age and generation. Was my Amelia
alive? and if so, would she be still the same Amelia I had known a week
or two before? Should I find her an aged woman, still cherishing a
reminiscence of her former love; or might she herself perhaps be dead
and forgotten, while I remained, alone and solitary, in a world which
knew me not?
"I walked along unmolested, but with reeling brain, through streets more
and more unfamiliar, till I came near the St. Mary le Bone Road. There,
as I hesitated a little and staggered at the crossing, a man in a
curious suit of dark blue clothes, with a grotesque felt helmet on his
head, whom I afterwards found to be a constable, came up and touched me
on the shoulder.
"'Look here,' he said to me in a rough voice, 'what are you a-doin' in
this 'ere fancy-dress at this hour in the mornin'? You've lost your way
home, I take it.'
"'I was going,' I answered, 'to the St. Mary le Bone Road.'
"'Why, you image,' says he rudely, 'if you mean Marribon, why don't you
say Marribon? What house are you a-lookin' for, eh?'
"'My brother lives,' I replied, 'at the Lamb, near St. Mary's Church,
and I was going to his residence.'
"'The Lamb!' says he, with a rude laugh; 'there ain't no public of that
name in the road. It's my belief,' he goes on after a moment, 'that
you're drunk, or mad, or else you've stole them clothes. Any way, you've
got to go along with me to the station, so walk it, will you?'
"'Pardon me,' I said, 'I suppose you are an officer of the law, and I
would not attempt to resist your authority'--'You'd better not,' says
he, half to himself--'but I should like to go to my brother's house,
where I could show you that I am a respectable person.'
"'Well,' says my fellow insolently, 'I'll go along of you if you like,
and if it's all right, I suppose you won't mind standing a bob?'
"'A what?' said I.
"'A bob,' says he, laughing; 'a shillin', you know.'
"To get rid of his insolence for a while, I pulled out my purse and
handed him a shilling. It was a George II. with milled edges, not like
the things I see you use now. He held it up and looked at it, and then
he said again, 'Look here, you know, this isn't good. You'd better come
along with me straight to the station, and not make a fuss about it.
There's three charges against you, that's all. One is, that you're
drunk. The second is, that you're mad. And the third is, that you've
been trying to utter false coin. Any one of 'em's quite enough to
justify me in takin' you into custody.'
"I saw it was no use to resist, and I went along with him.
"I won't trouble you with the whole of the details, but the upshot of it
all was, they took me before a magistrate. By this time I had begun to
realize the full terror of the situation, and I saw clearly that the
real danger lay in the inevitable suspicion of madness under which I
must labour. When I got into the court I told the magistrate my story
very shortly and simply, as I have told it to you now. He listened to me
without a word, and at the end he turned round to his clerk and said,
'This is clearly a case for Dr. Fitz-Jenkins, I think.'
"'Sir,' I said, 'before you send me to a madhouse, which I suppose is
what you mean by these words, I trust you will at least examine the
evidences of my story. Look at my clothing, look at these coins, look at
everything about me.' And I handed him my purse to see for himself.
"He looked at it for a minute, and then he turned towards me very
sternly. 'Mr. Spottiswood,' he said, 'or whatever else your real name
may be, if this is a joke, it is a very foolish and unbecoming one. Your
dress is no doubt very well designed; your small collection of coins is
interesting and well-selected; and you have got up your character
remarkably well. If you are really sane, which I suspect to be the case,
then your studied attempt to waste the time of this court and to make a
laughing-stock of its magistrate will meet with the punishment it
deserves. I shall remit your case for consideration to our medical
officer. If you consent to give him your real name and address, you will
be liberated after his examination. Otherwise, it will be necessary to
satisfy ourselves as to your identity. Not a word more, sir,' he
continued, as I tried to speak on behalf of my story. 'Inspector, remove
"They took me away, and the surgeon examined me. To cut things short, I
was pronounced mad, and three days later the commissioners passed me for
a pauper asylum. When I came to be examined, they said I showed no
recollection of most subjects of ordinary education.
"'I am a chemist,' said I; 'try me with some chemical questions. You
will see that I can answer sanely enough.'
"'How do you mix a grey powder?' said the commissioner.
"'Excuse me,' I said, 'I mean a chemical philosopher, not an
"'Oh, very well, then; what is carbonic acid?'
"'I never heard of it,' I answered in despair. 'It must be something
which has come into use since--since I left off learning chemistry.' For
I had discovered that my only chance now was to avoid all reference to
my past life and the extraordinary calamity which had thus unexpectedly
overtaken me. 'Please try me with something else.'
"'Oh, certainly. What is the atomic weight of chlorine?'
"I could only answer that I did not know.
"'This is a very clear case,' said the commissioner. 'Evidently he is a
gentleman by birth and education, but he can give no very satisfactory
account of his friends, and till they come forward to claim him we can
only send him for a time to North Street.'
"'For Heaven's sake, gentlemen,' I cried, 'before you consign me to an
asylum, give me one more chance. I am perfectly sane; I remember all I
ever knew; but you are asking me questions about subjects on which I
never had any information. Ask me anything historical, and see whether
I have forgotten or confused any of my facts."
"I will do the commissioner the justice to say that he seemed anxious
not to decide upon the case without full consideration. 'Tell me what
you can recollect,' he said, 'as to the reign of George IV.'
"'I know nothing at all about it,' I answered, terror-stricken, 'but oh,
do pray ask me anything up to the time of George III.'
"'Then please say what you think of the French Revolution.'
"I was thunderstruck. I could make no reply, and the commissioners
shortly signed the papers to send me to North Street pauper asylum. They
hurried me into the street, and I walked beside my captors towards the
prison to which they had consigned me. Yet I did not give up all hope
even so of ultimately regaining my freedom. I thought the rationality of
my demeanour and the obvious soundness of all my reasoning powers would
suffice in time to satisfy the medical attendant as to my perfect
sanity. I felt sure that people could never long mistake a man so
clear-headed and collected as myself for a madman.
"On our way, however, we happened to pass a churchyard where some
workmen were engaged in removing a number of old tombstones from the
crowded area. Even in my existing agitated condition, I could not help
catching the name and date on one mouldering slab which a labourer had
just placed upon the edge of the pavement. It ran something like this:
'Sacred to the memory of Amelia, second daughter of the late Sir Thomas
Spragg, knight, and beloved wife of Henry McAlister, Esq., by whom this
stone is erected. Died May 20, 1799, aged 44 years.' Though I had
gathered already that my dear girl must probably have long been dead,
yet the reality of the fact had not yet had time to fix itself upon my
mind. You must remember, my dear sir, that I had but awaked a few days
earlier from my long slumber, and that during those days I had been
harassed and agitated by such a flood of incomprehensible complications,
that I could not really grasp in all its fulness the complete isolation
of my present position. When I saw the tombstone of one whom, as it
seemed to me, I had loved passionately but a week or two before, I could
not refrain from rushing to embrace it, and covering the insensible
stone with my boiling tears. 'Oh, my Amelia, my Amelia,' I cried, 'I
shall never again behold thee, then! I shall never again press thee to
my heart, or hear thy dear lips pronounce my name!'
"But the unfeeling wretches who had charge of me were far from being
moved to sympathy by my bitter grief. 'Died in 1799,' said one of them
with a sneer. 'Why, this madman's blubbering over the grave of an old
lady who has been buried for about a hundred years!' And the workmen
joined in their laughter as my gaolers tore me away to the prison where
I was to spend the remainder of my days.
"When we arrived at the asylum, the surgeon in attendance was informed
of this circumstance, and the opinion that I was hopelessly mad thus
became ingrained in his whole conceptions of my case. I remained five
months or more in the asylum, but I never saw any chance of creating a
more favourable impression on the minds of the authorities. Mixing as I
did only with other patients, I could gain no clear ideas of what had
happened since I had taken my fatal sleep; and whenever I endeavoured to
question the keepers, they amused themselves by giving me evidently
false and inconsistent answers, in order to enjoy my chagrin and
confusion. I could not even learn the actual date of the present year,
for one keeper would laugh and say it was 2001, while another would
confidentially advise me to date my petition to the Commissioners, "Jan.
1, A.D. one million." The surgeon, who never played me any such pranks,
yet refused to aid me in any way, lest, as he said, he should strengthen
me in my sad delusion. He was convinced that I must be an historical
student, whose reason had broken down through too close study of the
eighteenth century; and he felt certain that sooner or later my friends
would come to claim me. He is a gentle and humane man, against whom I
have no personal complaint to make; but his initial misconception
prevented him and everybody else from ever paying the least attention to
my story. I could not even induce them to make inquiries at my house at
Hampstead, where the discovery of the subterranean laboratory would have
partially proved the truth of my account.
"Many visitors came to the asylum from time to time, and they were
always told that I possessed a minute and remarkable acquaintance with
the history of the eighteenth century. They questioned me about facts
which are as vivid in my memory as those of the present month, and were
much surprised at the accuracy of my replies. But they only thought it
strange that so clever a man should be so very mad, and that my
information should be so full as to past events, while my notions about
the modern world were so utterly chaotic. The surgeon, however, always
believed that my reticence about all events posterior to 1781 was a part
of my insanity. I had studied the early part of the eighteenth century
so fully, he said, that I fancied I had lived in it; and I had persuaded
myself that I knew nothing at all about the subsequent state of the
The poor fellow stopped a while, and again drew his sleeve across his
forehead. It was impossible to look at him and believe for a moment that
he was a madman.
"And how did you make your escape from the asylum?" I asked.
"Now, this very evening," he answered; "I simply broke away from the
door and ran down toward the Strand, till I came to a place that looked
a little like St. Martin's Fields, with a great column and some
fountains, and near there I met you. It seemed to me that the best thing
to do was to catch the York coach and get away from the town as soon as
possible. You met me, and your look and name inspired me with
confidence. I believe you must be a descendant of my dear brother."
"I have not the slightest doubt," I answered solemnly, "that every word
of your story is true, and that you are really my great-great-uncle. My
own knowledge of our family history exactly tallies with what you tell
me. I shall spare no endeavour to clear up this extraordinary matter,
and to put you once more in your true position."
"And you will protect me?" he cried fervently, clasping my hand in both
his own with intense eagerness. "You will not give me up once more to
the asylum people?"
"I will do everything on earth that is possible for you," I replied.
He lifted my hand to his lips and kissed it several times, while I felt
hot tears falling upon it as he bent over me. It was a strange position,
look at it how you will. Grant that I was but the dupe of a madman, yet
even to believe for a moment that I, a man of well-nigh fifty, stood
there in face of my own great-grandfather's brother, to all appearance
some twenty years my junior, was in itself an extraordinary and
marvellous thing. Both of us were too overcome to speak. It was a few
minutes before we said anything, and then a loud knock at the door made
my hunted stranger rise up hastily in terror from his chair.
"Gracious Heavens!" he cried, "they have tracked me hither. They are
coming to fetch me. Oh, hide me, hide me, anywhere from these wretches!"
As he spoke, the door opened, and two keepers with a policeman entered
"Ah, here he is!" said one of them, advancing towards the fugitive, who
shrank away towards the window as he approached.
"Do not touch him," I exclaimed, throwing myself in the way. "Every word
of what he says is true, and he is no more insane than I am."
The keeper laughed a low laugh of vulgar incredulity. "Why, there's a
pair of you, I do believe," he said. "You're just as mad yourself as
t'other one." And he pushed me aside roughly to get at his charge.
But the poor fellow, seeing him come towards him, seemed suddenly to
grow instinct with a terrible vigour, and hurled off the keeper with one
hand, as a strong man might do with a little terrier. Then, before we
could see what he was meditating, he jumped upon the ledge of the open
window, shouted out loudly, "Farewell, farewell!" and leapt with a
spring on to the embankment beneath.
All four of us rushed hastily down the three flights of steps to the
bottom, and came below upon a crushed and mangled mass on the spattered
pavement. He was quite dead. Even the policeman was shocked and
horrified at the dreadful way in which the body had been crushed and
mutilated in its fall, and at the suddenness and unexpectedness of the
tragedy. We took him up and laid him out in my room; and from that room
he was interred after the inquest, with all the respect which I should
have paid to an undoubted relative. On his grave in Kensal Green
Cemetery I have placed a stone bearing the simple inscription, "Jonathan
Spottiswood. Died 1881." The hint I had received from the keeper
prevented me from saying anything as to my belief in his story, but I
asked for leave to undertake the duty of his interment on the ground
that he bore my own surname, and that no other person was forthcoming to
assume the task. The parochial authorities were glad enough to rid the
ratepayers of the expense.
At the inquest I gave my evidence simply and briefly, dwelling mainly
upon the accidental nature of our meeting, and the facts as to his fatal
leap. I said nothing about the known disappearance of Jonathan
Spottiswood in 1781, nor the other points which gave credibility to his
strange tale. But from this day forward I give myself up to proving the
truth of his story, and realizing the splendid chemical discovery which
promises so much benefit to mankind. For the first purpose, I have
offered a large reward for the discovery of a trap-door in a coal-cellar
at Hampstead, leading into a subterranean passage and laboratory; since,
unfortunately, my unhappy visitor did not happen to mention the position
of his house. For the second purpose, I have begun a series of
experiments upon the properties of the essential oil of alchemilla, and
the possibility of successfully treating it with carbonic anhydride;
since, unfortunately, he was equally vague as to the nature of his
process and the proportions of either constituent. Many people will
conclude at once, no doubt, that I myself have become infected with the
monomania of my miserable namesake, but I am determined at any rate not
to allow so extraordinary an anaesthetic to go unacknowledged, if there
be even a remote chance of actually proving its useful nature.
Meanwhile, I say nothing even to my dearest friends with regard to the
researches upon which I am engaged.