“And now, perhaps, it may not be out of place to inquire what assurance can any physician have, beyond external evidence, that the body is really dead? The best authorities agree in saying that there are none. Dr. Todd Thomson, of London, says most positively that “the immobility of the body, even its cadaverous aspect, the coldness of surface, the absence of respiration and pulsation, and the sunken state of the eye, are no unequivocal evidences that life is wholly extinct.” Nothing but total decomposition is an irrefutable proof that life has fled forever and that the tabernacle is tenantless.
Demokritus asserted that there existed no certain signs of real death. Pliny maintained the same, Asclepiades, a learned physician and one of the most distinguished men of his day, held that the assurance was still more difficult in the cases of women then in those of men.
Todd Thomson, above quoted, gives several remarkable cases of such a suspended animation. Among others he mentions a certain Francis Neville, a Norman gentleman, who twice apparently died, and was twice in the act of being buried. But, at the moment when the coffin was being lowered in the grave, he spontaneously revived.
In the seventeenth century, Lady Russell, to all appearances died, and was about to be buried, but as the bell was tolling for her funeral, she sat up in her coffin and exclaimed, “It is time to go to church!”
Diemerbroeck mentions a peasant who gave no signs of life for three days, but when placed in his coffin, near the grave, revived and lived many years afterward. In 1836, a respectable citizen of Brussels fell into a profound lethargy on a Sunday morning. On Monday, as his attendants were preparing to screw the lid of the coffin, the supposed corpse sat up, rubbed his eyes, and called for his coffee and a newspaper.
Such cases of apparent death are not very infrequently reported in the newspaper press. As we write (April, 1877), we find in a London letter to the New York Times, the following paragraph: “Miss Annie Goodale, the actress, died three weeks ago. Up to yesterday she was not buried. The corpse is warm and limp, and the features are soft and mobile as when in life. Several physicians have examined her, and have ordered that the body shall be watched night and day. The poor lady is evidently in a trance, but whether she is destined to come to life, it is impossible to say.””
H. P. Blavatsky