Back to the Index Page

 
 
 

Exchanging their Souls by Edward Page Mitchell

Prince Michalskovich and Dr. Harwood's Wonderful Cure

THE STRANGE CONFESSION OF A NEW YORK PHYSICIAN--A CASE THAT HAS PUZZLED THE MEDICAL FRATERNITY FOR MANY YEARS PAST

Dr. James Harwood, who died last week, stood for more than twenty years very near the head of the medical profession. His fame extended also to the other side of the water, and when traveling in Europe other celebrated physicians availed themselves of the opportunity of consulting him. On one of his Continental tours, Dr. James Harwood effected a most marvelous cure which soon made the rounds of the papers and helped materially in establishing his world-wide reputation. He succeeded in curing the Russian Prince Michalskovich of an almost hopeless form of monomania. What made the case of such interest to the medical profession was the extraordinary and strange means which the doctor had employed to effect the cure. Dr. James Harwood maintained, verbally and in print, that he had restored the prince to a sound mind by means of mesmerizing him. This occurred about twenty or thirty years ago, and mesmerism was then all the rage, and there were many intelligent persons who fully believed in all the wonderful things told of its power. Naturally, the case formed for a long time a fertile subject for discussion in medical circles and periodicals, and after a while, in view of the high respectability of the practitioner and the testimony corroborating it, the prince's strange case of insanity and Dr. James Harwood's wonderful cure was entered as a fact into the various medical annals and finally found also a place in the textbooks used in our medical schools and colleges.

But scientific men are always somewhat skeptical, and to this day some members of the medical profession continue to look with suspicion upon the doctor's account of the cure.

Six or seven years ago the prince himself paid a visit to this city. He had scarcely looked at his new quarters in the hotel when he was told that two celebrated New York physicians, father and son, begged the favor of an interview. When admitted, the older explained that he was a professor of medicine, and now engaged on an elaborate work on physiology, and that he would feel obliged if the prince would give him a detailed account of his own famous case, to be incorporated in the chapter on insanity. The prince graciously complied and, entering upon every particular connected with his cure, he ascribed it again to the effects of mesmerism. The aged professor thereupon ventured on letting an incredulous smile flit across his face. But the moment the prince had seen and interpreted this treacherous smile, the medical gentleman became aware of having been seized by the coat collar and deposited on the soft carpet of the corridor outside of the prince's door, where his son soon came rushing after him, followed by his hat and cane. There is a rumor in medical circles that this is the reason why the prince's curious case is not mentioned in a recently published great American work on physiology.

The original account of the marvelous cure of the insane prince as Dr. James Harwood first gave it reads as follows:

"I was called to St. Petersburg to examine the case of Prince Michalskovich, who was suffering from a very curious mental affection. I found him raving in a language wholly unknown, at least to the attending physicians and several linguists who had been invited to his bedside. After having succeeded in allaying his brain fever, I was in hopes of hearing him resume the use of Russian, French, or English, in which he was in the habit of conversing, but he persisted in using his unintelligible gibberish. Otherwise he was quiet and inoffensive. His deportment toward his numerous serfs and servants was, in fact, wondrously gentle and courteous while, when sane, he exhibited always to them the most irascible temper, and treated them habitually brutally and cruelly. He began to show also an extraordinary preference for coarse clothing and frugal meats. One day he showed a desire to leave the palace. I instructed his attendants to give him as much liberty as possible, and to follow him only at a distance. In the evening these men reported that the prince had been at work all day in the shop of a carriage maker. He had gone into the shop and, without saying a word, had taken hammer and hatchet and assisted the workmen in making a carriage. The wheelwright said that he had let the prince have his way because he saw at once that he was a very skilled laborer. Early in the morning, the prince was at work again in the wheelwright's shop, and continued there until evening. In a week or two it became perfectly plain that the prince had the monomania of being nothing but a simple carriage maker. I tried at first to prevent him from going to the shop, but seeing that it distracted his mind only more, I consented to let him go on, trusting that something would occur which would lead his mind back into its proper channels.

"I was very near fixing a day for my return to New York, and about to decide that the prince was an incurable lunatic, when my eyes fell on a paragraph in a medical journal speaking of the case of an insane journeyman in Tiflis, who imagined himself to be a powerful and wealthy prince. I read the account through a second time, feeling peculiarly impressed by the singular coincidences that this poor fellow was a carriage maker by trade, and that, while he had never been heard to speak anything but an obscure Georgian dialect of Mingrolia, and had always been known as a low and ignorant peasant, he was now heard in his ravings to make a fluent and cultured use of Russian, German, French, and English. It was this unexpected talking in foreign languages which had caused this journeyman's case to make the rounds of the papers. I could not help observing that it was exactly the same case as that of Prince Michalskovich, only inverted. The prince wanted to be a wheelwright; the wheelwright wanted to be a prince. The one had given up talking in civilized languages, and talked gibberish; the other had given up his gibberish, and talked Russian, English, and other tongues. Naturally enough I took at once the necessary steps to have the man removed from the Tiflis to the St. Petersburg insane asylum. I claimed him there and found that the correspondence between his case and that of the prince was most surprising. After consulting the family of Prince Michalskovich, I had the fellow taken to the palace with all the pomp and ceremony that was due a prince, just out of sheer curiosity to see what the development would be. He confounded everybody. He took possession of the prince's private apartments as if he had occupied them all of his life. He greeted the parents, relatives, and friends of the prince by name, used the wardrobe, and ordered the servants, as if he were really the prince himself. The grace of his manners and the elegance with which he expressed himself in various languages were most astonishing, and withal he had the build, the hands, and features of a rough artisan. I put him to another test. I confronted him with the veritable prince in the carriage factory. He spoke to the prince patronizingly, even somewhat familiarly, but still preserving always a certain distance and showing at times unmistakable haughtiness. He did not seem to notice the fact that the prince gave him no answer in return to anything he said.

"Thus another week or two passed by, and I had made no progress in the case of the prince, except that instead of one insane man I had now two on my hands. I was again on the point of abandoning the prince when one day a seedy-looking individual paid me a visit and offered to cure the prince instantly if I guaranteed that he should be paid well for his services. A thousand rubles was his price. I made the bargain with him, but put in the condition that I was to be present at every step of the operation.

"At the appointed time I had the prince and the artisan in the palace. The mysterious stranger made me order them to sit side by side as closely as possible. Then he passed his hands over their faces, moving them continually to and fro as if mesmerizing the two men, who soon fell into a state of the most complete unconsciousness which I have ever witnessed. Thereupon he stripped them of every garment on their bodies, continuing all the time his mesmerizing manipulations. Suddenly the prince and the artisan felt simultaneously a heavy shock, after which their bodies lay as rigid as in death.

"I have caused their spirits to depart from them,' said the stranger, in an explanatory tone. 'Now I shall order the spirit of this one to enter the body of the other, and shall make the spirit of the other come into this body.'

"He stretched out his hands and commanded, 'Now!'

"The very instant he uttered the word the two bodies shook and trembled.

"The stranger then came up to me and said, 'Have you the money ready for me? Take it out, if you please, and hold it in your hand. The moment I order the bodies to move, and you hear the prince talk Russian and see him act like a prince, while the journeyman looks around bewildered and abashed as a peasant would, you will know that I have performed the cure, and you must slip the thousand rubles into my hand. I have not the time to wait another moment. Are you ready? All right, then. Now!'

"Instantly the prince jumped up in full possession of his mind, called in Russian for his servants, and stepped up to me and demanded an explanation of the strange condition in which he had been placed--he was still naked. The Tiflis artisan looked as stupid and terrified as he could. To make the matter short, the stranger had indeed effected a perfect cure; both men were again of a sound mind.

"I turned to the stranger and handed him his thousand rubles, adding that I should like to see him at my hotel and converse with him about the strange methods of his cure. But he shook his head and stole quietly out of the room.

"Mesmerism or no mesmerism," said Dr. James Harwood, in conclusion, "this is the way Prince Michalskovich was cured, and this is all that I have to state in regard to it."

Such was the great sensation of about twenty years ago. The papers were full of it, everybody was full of it, and nobody knew what to make of it. Spiritualists and mesmerizers, of course, were proud of it, and felt triumphant. There was, in fact, no possibility of denying the case. Prince Michalskovich was a well-known character, and his prolonged sickness and final monomania of believing himself a simple carriage maker were well-authenticated facts. Also the Tiflis artisan's sudden and wonderful gift of tongues was attested to by several eminent physicians who had examined and treated him in the early stages of his insanity.

Several years ago, when the doctor was still residing in this city, he was urged by a colleague to come forward with the real facts of the case, and thereby save the honor of the profession as well as his own. The doctor acceded in so far to the demand that he deposited with a friend a full account of the case, taking a solemn promise that the same should not be published before the prince and he himself were dead and buried. This confession is now laid before the world, and though rather strange and unexpected, yet it cannot be said of the doctor that the course he pursued was entirely unjustifiable. He says:

"The medical world will not be very much surprised when they read that I acknowledge the stranger's cure of the prince and the artisan to have been a deception, and that I knew it at the time to have been such, because the whole scene was of my own devising. From the first I have always felt confident that the better class of physicians would not fail to perceive that my making use of a magician to cure an insane man was one of those tricks to which a physician has sometimes to resort in the treatment of the insane, especially of those who are laboring under a great self-deception. But the great credulity of the masses took me by surprise. In a fortnight all the papers had copied the nonsensical account of the prince's cure, and I was at once besieged with thousands of letters from medical men and associations, and everybody I met wanted me to tell him the story over again. I could not do otherwise than give the same version of the case to all inquirers, for in cures of insanity effected by deception it is of the utmost importance that the patient does never discover that his physician only deceived him. Here is a case in point: A merchant once imagined that he had a watch in his head, and that the never-ceasing ticking prevented him from thinking and sleeping. When placed in an asylum, he was told that he had to submit to the very dangerous operation of having the watch got out of his head. He was chloroformed, a deep cut was made into a safe spot, and when he awoke a small blood-stained mechanism was shown and given him with the assurance that it had been taken out of his head. He believed it, and was cured. He resumed his commercial pursuits and made a great fortune.

"But now comes the terrible sequel. One day, after ten or twenty years, he met in the street the physician who had cured him of his insanity. The doctor, attempting to joke with him about the former monomania, said laughingly, 'What a funny fancy that was of yours to think that you carried a watch in your brain. Don't you now sometimes laugh at yourself when you recollect it?'

"The merchant looked at him in surprise. 'Then you did not cut it out of my head! I thought so. I always thought so. I never believed it. I heard it tick all the time just the same. Now put your ear right here. How it ticks! Don't you hear it tick? Tick, tick, tick!'

"The man was insane again. Nothing could cure him now, for nobody could deceive him again.

"I determined to manage my own case better. I resolved to tell my secret to nobody in order to be sure that nobody would tell it again. If a single word of it had at any time crept out, it would have reached the prince by some means or other, sooner or later. Luckily, the mystery was deepened by the strange coincidence of the Tiflis carriage maker, and whenever I could, I drew the attention of medical men away from my trick with the magician to the real and well-authenticated fact of the wonderful similarity and simultaneousness of the insanity of the artisan and the prince. It cannot be denied that the case is one of the most wonderful occurrences in medical practice, and I shall proceed to present it, shorn of everything but what actually happened.

"Prince Michalskovich's nurse was a beautiful Georgian woman whose own child was made his playfellow, and shared his tuition until he was about fourteen years of age. Then the prince went on his travels, and his foster brother returned with his mother to the district of Mingrolia, in Russian Georgia, where he learned the trade of a carriage maker. The prince loved the nurse and his foster brother dearly, and he spent many a season in the Transcaucasian mountains in order to be near them. He was a very active youth, fond of hunting and fishing, and taking delight in mechanical employments, he spent many a day in the wheelwright's shop working at the side of his foster brother.

"Unfortunately the prince fell in love with the same young peasant woman whom his foster brother was about to marry. When the young artisan discovered the unfaithfulness of his betrothed he had a violent scene with the prince and the very day, as misfortune would have it, the young woman died, suddenly and unexpectedly. Her two lovers were then equally wretched. Both left Mingrolia. The wheelwright went to Tiflis and worked there under an assumed name to prevent the prince from finding him again. The prince returned to St. Petersburg and it was soon discovered that he was subject to abnormal fits of melancholia. His yearning for his foster brother, coupled with the unfortunate termination of his love affair, finally developed the peculiar form of insanity already described.

"The young artisan continued at work in Tiflis. He spoke to no one of his past history and formed no friendships among his fellow workmen. The day's work done, he returned at night to his hovel where he spent the remainder of the day in strict seclusion. He became insane, too, imagining on a sudden to be his own foster brother, Prince Michalskovich. This considering one's self to be some great and powerful person is quite a common form of monomania, and hence the artisan's case would hardly have attracted attention if it had not been coupled with his surprising use of foreign languages. He had never been known to speak anything but his peasant dialect, and nobody suspected to think that he was a man of education and refinement. The physician who attended him at once pronounced his case the great marvel of the age. The story of the sudden gift of tongues traveled over the world, and at last reached me also. You know how I sent for the young man and finally took him into the palace. He was instantly recognized as the foster brother of the prince. One day he startled me by inquiring for his brother Paul. I perceived at once that his reason was dawning again, and by careful treatment I succeeded in restoring him to his senses.

"When I told him of the prince's mental malady and of the wonderful coincidence of his own, the young man's affection for the prince revived and he was full of ardor to assist me to set up the situation by which I hoped to bring about a cure. In the course of a conversation he told me one day some anecdotes illustrative of the gross superstition of the prince. He mentioned, among other things, the prince's strong faith in the transmigration of souls, and his firm belief in the pretensions of persons like Cagliostro or Joseph Balsamo. I saw at once an opportunity for another experiment, and I quickly concocted the scene with the magician which I described. When the prince came to his senses again, he listened to my account of his wonderful cure by the mysterious stranger in perfect good faith, and when he saw his foster brother and heard him say that he had also been cured that very moment, he was perfectly satisfied, and acted again the sane man.

"The notoriety which the prince attained through the widespread accounts of his wonderful cure flattered him very much, and if anybody had insinuated to him that he had been duped, he would have regarded it as a great insult. It is rumored that some New York physician was made to feel his wrath when he called on the prince and wished him to understand that he believed that I had only deceived him. Of course, if somebody had told the prince that he had heard me say that his cure was effected simply by a medical trick, the consequences would have been of a very serious nature."

Such is Dr. James Harwood's confession. Does it justify him?

End.

 
 
 

Back to the Index Page