The Dead Alive.
Some hypochondriacs have fancied themselves miserably afflicted in one way, and some in another; some have insisted that they were teapots, and some that they were town clocks; one that he was extremely ill, and another that he was actually dying. But, perhaps, none of this blue-devil class ever matched in extravagance a patient of the late Dr. Stevenson, of Baltimore.
This hypochondriac, after ringing the change of every mad conceit that ever tormented a crazy brain, would have it at last that he was dead, actually dead. Dr. Stevenson having been sent for one morning in great haste, by the wife of his patient, hastened to his bedside, where he found him stretched out at full length, his hands across his breast, his toes in contact, his eyes and mouth closely shut, and his looks cadaverous. ‘Well, sir, how do you do? how do you do, this morning?’ asked Dr. Stevenson, in a jocular way, approaching his bed.
‘How do I do!’ replied the hypochondriac, faintly; ‘a pretty question to ask a dead man.’
‘Dead!’ replied the doctor.
‘Yes, sir, dead; quite dead. I died last night about twelve o’clock.’
Dr. Stevenson, putting his hand gently on the forehead of the hypochondriac, as if to ascertain whether it was cold, and also feeling his pulse, exclaimed in a doleful note, ‘Yes, the poor man is dead enough ; ’tis all over with him, and now the sooner he can be buried the better.’
Then stepping up to his wife, and whispering to her not to be frightened at the measures he was about to take, he called to the servant. ‘My boy, your poor master is dead; and the sooner he can be put in the ground the better. Run to C___, for I know he always keeps New England coffins by him ready made; and, do you hear? bring a coffin of the largest size, for your master makes a stout corpse, and having died last night, and the weather being warm, he will not keep long.’
Away went the servant, and soon returned with a proper coffin. The wife and family having got their lesson from the doctor, gathered around him, and howled not a little while they were putting the body in the coffin. Presently the pall-bearers, who were quickly provided and let into the secret, started with the hypochondriac for the churchyard. They had not gone far before they were met by one of the townspeople, who having been properly drilled by Stevenson, cried out, ‘Ah, doctor! What poor soul have you got there?’
‘Poor Mr. B__ ,’ sighed the doctor, ‘left us last night.’
‘Great pity he had not left it twenty years ago,’ replied the other ; ‘he was a bad man.’
Presently another of the townsmen met them with the same question, ‘And what poor soul have you got there, doctor?’
‘Poor Mr. B__,’ answered the doctor again, ‘is dead.’
‘Ah, indeed!’ said the other; ‘and so he is gone to meet his deserts al last.’
‘Oh, villain!’ exclaimed the man in the coffin.
Soon after this, while the pall-bearers were resting themselves near the churchyard, another stepped up with the old question again, ‘What poor soul have you got there, doctor?’
‘Poor Mr, B__,’ he replied, ‘is gone.’ ‘Yes, and to the bottomless pit, said the other; ‘for if he is not gone there, I see not what use there is for such a place.’
Here the dead man, bursting off the lid of the coffin, which had been purposely left loose, leaped out, exclaiming, ‘O you villain! I am gone to the bottomless pit, am I? Well, I have come back again to pay such ungrateful rascals as you are.’
A chase was immediately commenced by the dead man after the living, to the petrifying consternation of many of the spectators at sight of a corpse, in all the horrors of the winding sheet, running through the streets.
After having exercised himself into a copious perspiration by the fantastic race, the hypochondriac was brought home by Dr. Stevenson, freed from all his complaints; and by strengthening food, generous wine, cheerful company, and moderate exercise, was soon restored to perfect health.
The Terrific Register, 1825
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Dr Stevenson was Dr John Stevenson [d. 1785], physician, merchant, JP, and one of the founders of the city of Baltimore. A series of smallpox epidemics prompted him to vaccinate, without charge, anyone he could persuade to accept the needle. As one sees from the anecdote above, he had a winning and plausible manner and insight into what Mrs Daffodil’s opposite number, Jeeves, calls “the psychology of the individual.”
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.