TO SIR JOSEPH BANKS, BART. P.R.S.
SIR,St. Martin's-Lane. May 28, 1787.
THE following very extraordinary caſe, communicated to me by Dr. BLANE, F. R. S. I take the liberty, at his deſire, to tranſmit to you, with his letter to me, containing the proofs of its authenticity; hoping that it will appear to you, as it did to us, worthy of being read at one of the meetings of the Royal Society, as a fact in natural hiſtory, which is equally uncommon, curious, and well vouched. In order, however, to make its ſingularity more apparent, I have taken the liberty to ſubjoin ſome obſervations on births of this kind, with ſuch well authenticated accounts of ſimilar events as I have been able to procure, confining myſelf chiefly to thoſe which have happened in our own country, where we are leaſt likely to be deceived.
I have the honour to be, &c. MAXWELL GARTHSHORE.
P. S. As one proof of its ſingularity, I, many months ago, employed various friends at Peterſburg, Berlin, Vienna, Lyons, Paris, and Ghent, to collect for me well authenticated caſes of this kind, and I have not as yet been able to procure any.
DEAR SIR,Sackville-Street, June 22, 1786.
A few days ago, I received from the country an account of a woman who was delivered of five children at a birth in April laſt. As your extenſive experience and reading in this line of practice enable you to judge, how far this fact is rare or intereſting, I ſubmit it to you, whether it deſerves to be communicated to the Royal Society. Mr. HULL, the gentleman who ſent me the caſe, is a very ſenſible and ingenious practitioner of phyſic at Blackburn, in Lancaſhire. He attended the labour himſelf from beginning to end, and his character for fidelity and accuracy is well known to me, as he was formerly a pupil at the hoſpital to which I am phyſician; ſo that no fact can be better authenticated. He mentions alſo, that he has preſerved all thoſe five children in ſpirits; and, if deſired, he will ſend them for the inſpection of the Society*.
I am, with great regard, &c. GILBERT BLANE.
MARGARET WADDINGTON, aged twenty-one, a poor woman of the townſhip of Lower Darwin, near Blackburn in Lancaſhire, formerly delivered of one child at the full term of pregnancy, conceived a ſecond time about the beginning of December 1785, and from that period became affected with the uſual ſymptoms that attend breeding. At the end of the firſt month, ſhe became lame, complained of conſiderable pains in her loins, and the enlargement of her body was ſo remarkably rapid, that ſhe was then judged by her neighbours to be almoſt half gone with child. At the end of the ſecond month ſhe found herſelf ſomewhat larger, and her breeding complaints continued to increaſe. When the third month was completed, ſhe thought herſelf fully as large as ſhe had formerly been in her ninth month, and to her former ſymptoms of nauſea, vomiting, lameneſs, and pain of the loins, ſhe had now added a diſtreſſing ſhortneſs of breath. She continued to increaſe ſo rapidly in ſize, that ſhe thought ſhe could perceive herſelf growing larger every day, and ſhe was under the frequent neceſſity of widening her cloaths. When ſhe reckoned herſelf eighteen weeks gone, ſhe firſt perceived ſomewhat indiſtinctly the motion of a child. By the 20th of April, 1786, all her complaints were become much more diſtreſſing; ſhe had much tenſion and pain over all the abdomen, her vomiting was inceſſant, and ſhe now could not make water but with the utmoſt difficulty. The ſymptoms being palliated by Mr. LANCASTER, ſhe advanced in her pregnancy to Monday the 24th of April, when being ſuppoſed to have arrived at the twentieth week, ſhe was ſeized with labour pains. Theſe continued gradually to increaſe till the next day, about two in the afternoon; at which time I was ſent for, Mr. LANCASTER being abſent; [Page 6] and ſhe was ſoon delivered of a ſmall, dead, but not putrid, female child. The pains continuing, this was ſoon followed by a ſecond leſs child; to this very ſoon ſucceeded a third, larger than the firſt, which was alive; to theſe a fourth ſoon followed, ſomewhat larger than the firſt, and very putrid; laſt of all, there ſoon ſucceeded a fifth child, larger than any of the former, and born alive. Theſe five children were all females; two were born alive; and the whole operation was performed in the ſpace of fifty minutes. The firſt made its appearance at two in the afternoon, and the laſt at ten minutes before three. Each child preſented naturally, was preceded by a ſeparate burſt of water, and was delivered by the natural pains only. In a ſhort time after the birth of the laſt, the placenta was expelled by nature without any haemorrhage, was uncommonly large, and in ſome places beginning to be putrid. It conſiſted of one uniform continued cake, and was not divided into diſtinct placentulae, the lobulated appearance being nearly equal all over. Each funis was contained in a ſeparate cell, within which each child had been lodged; and it was eaſy to perceive, by the ſtate of the funis, and that part of the placenta to which it adhered, in which ſac the dead, and in which the living children had been contained. I examined the ſepta of the cells very carefully, but could not divide them as uſual into diſtinct laminae, nor determine which was chorion or which amnios. I could not prevail on the good women to allow me to carry it home, to be more narrowly inſpected; and I ſubmitted more readily to their prejudice for its being burned, as its very ſoft texture ſeemed to me to render it hardly capable to bear injection. The two living children having ſurvived their birth but a ſhort time, I was allowed to carry them home; and I have preſerved the whole five in ſpirits, and have [Page 7] ſince weighed and meaſured them, and find their proportions to be as follows in Avoirdupois weight, inches and parts.
The mother, in ſpite of the crowds with which her chamber was continually filled, continued to recover, and was able to be out of bed on the 27th and 28th, her third and fourth days; but finding herſelf then weak, by my advice, kept her bed till the 11th of May, when ſhe went out of doors, and on the 21ſt walked to Blackburn, two miles diſtant. This was the 27th day from her delivery, ſhe having entirely recovered her ſtrength without any accident. It may not be improper to add, that the huſband of this woman has been in an infirm ſtate of health for three years paſt, and is now labouring under a confirmed phthiſis.
I am, &c. Signed, JOHN HULL.Blackburn, Lancaſhire, June 9, 1786.
THOUGH the females of the human ſpecies produce moſt commonly but one child at a birth; and though their formation with only two breaſts, and one nipple to each, renders it probable they were not originally intended to produce in general more than two; yet, from what we know of the womb and its appendages, and what from the lateſt experiments we are led to conjecture as to the mode of conception, we cannot preſume à priori to ſet limits to the fertility of nature, nor determine deciſively what number of foetuſes may be conceived and nouriſhed to a certain period in the human uterus at the ſame time.
The preſent ſingular and well-atteſted caſe aſſures us, that five have certainly been born at once, and we have no title abſolutely to reject all the teſtimonies of even more numerous births, or to ſay that, in ſome rare inſtances, this number has never been exceeded.
What has tended to render relations of this ſort ridiculous, and to throw a degree of diſcredit on the whole, is the many marvellous, and evidently abſurd and incredible hiſtories, which not only the retailers of prodigies, but even the credulous writers of medical obſervations, have collected.
But, in order to ſhew how very uncommon births of this kind are, and how truly ſingular the caſe communicated by Mr. HULL to Dr. BLANE is, I take the liberty to ſubjoin a [Page 9] ſhort view of the uſual courſe of nature in this matter among our own country-women, where we are leaſt likely to be deceived.
Though female fertility certainly varies according to the climate, ſituation, and manner of life; yet, I believe, it may be taken for a general rule, that where people live in the moſt ſimple and natural ſtate, if they are the beſt nouriſhed, and if they enjoy the firmeſt health and ſtrength, they will there be the moſt fertile in healthy children; but we have no data to determine that they will there have the greateſt number at one birth.
At the Britiſh Lying-in Hoſpital, where we have had 18,300 delivered, the proportion of twins born has been only one in 91 births. In the Weſtminſter Diſpenſary, of 1897 women delivered, the proportion of twins has been once in 80 births; but in the Dublin Lying-in Hoſpital, where above 21,000 have been delivered, they have had twins born once every ſixty-ſecond time. The average of which is once in 78 births nearly, in theſe kingdoms.
But in a more accurate and later calculation made at Paris, by M. TENON, Surgeon to the Salpêtriere, we learn, that in 104,591 births the proportion of twins was only one in 96, which is only a ſmall degree leſs than we have calculated at the Britiſh Lying-in Hoſpital.
It would be eaſy to add other calculations, all differing from theſe and from one another, more or leſs; but I hope theſe are ſufficient to ſhew that nature obſerves no certain rule in this [Page 10] matter; and that even twins, the moſt uſual variation, is not a very common occurrence.
When we advance to triplets, or three born at once, we find comparatively very few inſtances in this or any other country; and though every one has heard of ſuch events as now and then happening, yet very few have ſeen them.
In all thoſe 18,300 women delivered at the Britiſh Lying-in Hoſpital, there has not been one ſuch caſe. In the London Lying-in Hoſpital, where, being inſtituted later, much fewer have been delivered, they have had two ſuch recorded as prodigies. In the Weſtminſter Diſpenſary, in 1897 women delivered, there has been but one ſuch event.
In a pretty extenſive practice of above thirty years, both in the county of Rutland and in London, I have attended but one labour where three children were born; am perſonally acquainted but with one lady who, at Dumfries, in Scotland, after bearing twins twice, was delivered of three children at once; and I was never acquainted with any one who produced a greater number.
MAURICEAU, in a long life of very extenſive practice at Paris, with opportunities of knowing moſt things extraordinary that happened in his time in France, tells us, he had ſeen triplets born but a few times; had heard of four in that city but once, and mentions no greater number.
One circumſtance which he relates is ſo far worthy of attention, as it accords with one ſomewhat ſimilar ſubjoined to Mr. [Page 11] HULL's caſe now read, viz. ‘"That the huſband of one of thoſe women who bore three children was by trade a painter, and had been, for two years preceding this birth, paralytic over one-half of his body, and yet had no reaſon to doubt the fidelity of his wife."’
Theſe facts, as far as they are to be depended on, may ſhew us, that the capacity of procreation in the male may remain under very infirm health; and that we ought to judge with candour of ſuch wives as are fruitful when living with very ailing huſbands, and who produce healthy children in the eighth, or even ninth, month after their death; as we can never ſay determinately under what degree of diſeaſe the male is totally incapable of procreation: more eſpecially as we are very certain, that the female is not, when labouring under very deſperate, and certainly fatal, diſeaſes, provided the principal organs of generation be ſound. Nay, in caſes of pulmonary phthiſis, the life of the female ſeems to be protracted by pregnancy; and I have attended a lady, who, after being pronounced irrecoverably hectic, lived long enough to be twice delivered naturally of healthy children at the full time.
But what particular circumſtances of conſtitution, or ſtate of health, can capacitate the male to become the father of more than one child at a birth, or how this could be effected, ſhould it be wiſhed, remains among thoſe ſecrets of nature which our want of facts and obſervations renders us utterly incapable to ſpeculate upon.
It ſeems probable, and theſe two obſervations, as well as SPALLANZANI's, and other late experiments, would rather incline us to ſuppoſe, that theſe numerous births do depend moſt on the ſtructure and ſtate of the female organs; but [Page 12] nothing, that I know of, has ever been diſcovered in this obſcure matter.
The occurrence of four born at once we find to be much more uncommon; and, I think, HALLER's conjecture rather than calculation of its happening once in 20,000 births, very much under-rated, as it appears that once in 100,000 would be much nearer the truth. Of this, however, we have ſeveral well authenticated caſes which have happened in this iſland. In the year 1674, there was publiſhed in London a quarto pamphlet, intituled, ‘"The fruitful Wonder, or a ſtrange Relation, from Kingſton upon Thames, of a Woman who, on Thurſday and Friday, the Fifth and Sixth Days of this Inſtant March, 1673-4, was delivered of Four Children at one Birth, viz. Three Sons and One Daughter, all born alive, luſty Children, and perfect in every Part, which lived Twenty-four Hours, and then died, all much about the ſame Time, with ſeveral other Examples of numerous Births, from credible Hiſtorians, with the Phyſical and Aſtrological Reaſons for the ſame. By J. P. Student in Phyſic."’
Sir ROBERT SIBBALD, in his Scotia Illuſtrata, after mentioning a caſe of three born at once, adds, ‘"Imo in variis regni locis repertae ſunt mulieres quae quatuor foetus uno partu ediderunt;"’ but makes no mention of more.[Page 13]
ANN BOYNTON, of Henſbridge, in Somerſetſhire, was this day, June 1, 1736, delivered of three daughters and one ſon; one of the daughters died, the reſt are likely to live. The mother has been married but four years, and has had twice twins before, which completes the number of eight children at three births.
Dr. HAMILTON before mentioned writes, that, not many years ago, a woman was delivered of our children, at Pennycuick, the ſeat of Sir JOHN CLARK, Bart. near Edinburgh, when ſhe was advanced to the middle of her laſt month of pregnancy, and that ſome of theſe children lived two or three years. He further ſays, that, five years ago, he attended a woman at Edinburgh, who, in the ſeventh month of her pregnancy, after a journey of thirty miles, was ſuddenly delivered of four children, all perfect and well grown for the time, of which one was born dead, and three alive; but thoſe three [Page 14] died next day. He further adds, that theſe are the only caſes of quadruplets, or any larger number, he had ever heard of, as born in Scotland, in his memory.
Though caſes ſimilar to the preſent of five children born at once, are ſtill much more uncommon; and though HALLER's aſſertion of their not happening above once in a million of births, may be reckoned a very moderate calculation, yet we are not altogether without ſuch inſtances in this country.
From the Gentleman's Magazine we learn, that on the 5th of October, 1736, a woman at a milk-cellar, in the Strand, was delivered of three boys and two girls at one birth; and that in March, 1739, at Wells, in Somerſetſhire, a woman was delivered of four ſons and a daughter, all alive, all chriſtened, and all then ſeeming likely to live.
In the Commercium Literarium Norimbergenſe for the year 1731, we have two ſuch caſes; one happening in Upper Saxony, the other near Prague, in Bohemia; in each of which five children were born and chriſtened, all of whom were arrived to that equal degree of maturity, which rendered it probable, they were all conceived about the ſame time.
I learned from two foreign Profeſſors, when in London laſt winter, that they had each heard of a caſe of five children born near Paris, and near Ghent in Flanders; but the particulars not being ſent as promiſed, I preſume they may have been miſinformed.
When we advance farther we get into the region of tradition and improbability; and it would ill become me to trouble a Society, whoſe profeſſed object is truth and ſcience, with the numerous and wonderful relations which many grave and learned authors have recorded as facts they themſelves believed; yet I ſtill think we have no authority to reject abſolutely every [Page 15] relation of this kind, when AMBROSE PAREY, a very honeſt though credulous man, tells, that in his time, in the pariſh of Sceaux, near Chambellay between Sarte and Maine, the mother of the then living lord of the noble houſe of MALDEMEURE had, in the firſt year of her marriage, brought forth twins, in the ſecond triplets, in the third four, in the fourth five, and in the fifth year ſix children at one birth, of which labour ſhe died; and when he adds, that of theſe laſt ſix one is yet alive, and is now Lord of Maldemeure, how can we diſbelieve this circumſtance? This ſtory may very poſſibly be inaccurately ſtated, yet the whole cannot be a fiction, as it was publiſhed among the very people, and in the age when it happened, and never has been ſince contradicted ſo far as we know. Though the wonderful regularity of the progreſs gives an appearance of fable to the whole, yet we muſt believe the thing to be poſſible; and that this then exiſting lord might be the only one of the ſix who lived long enough to be born at the full time, in a mature ſtate; the whole, or moſt of the other five, as we have ſometimes ſeen in caſes of twins, having been born as dead abortions, which had never arrived to a bulk ſufficient to interfere with his growth.
I leave the learned to pay what degree of credit they pleaſe to the wonderful relations we read of the extreme fertility of the women of Egypt, Arabia, and other warm countries, as recorded by ARISTOTLE, by PLINY, and by ALBUCASIS, where three, four, five, and ſix children are ſaid to have been frequently born at once, and the greateſt part of theſe reared to maturity; and will only ſay, that though a late traveller M. SAVARY gives ample teſtimony of the extreme general fertility of Egypt in all vegetable and animal productions, and particularly [Page 16] of its abundant population, he mentions nothing of the numerous births recorded by the ancient naturaliſts and hiſtorians.
Of ſtill more fruitful births I will paſs over a number of inſtances which I could adduce from JOHANNES RHODIUS, LUCAS SCHROECKIUS, CASPAR BAUHIN, JOHANNES HELVIGIUS, BIANCHI, and others, and finiſh with one caſe more, recorded by PETRUS BORELLI in his Second Century of Obſervations, publiſhed at Paris in the year 1656; a collection indeed filled with many wonderful ſtories, though by a man of equal integrity and ingenuity: he tells us, that in the year 1650, juſt five years before, the lady of the then preſent Lord DARRE produced at one birth eight perfect children, which he owns was a very unuſual event in that country.
I think it totally unneceſſary to purſue this enquiry farther; but muſt obſerve, that the preſent is the only caſe I have found, where the children were all females; that the males have in all the other caſes been at leaſt equal, and generally the moſt numerous; that in many of them, at leaſt a part was dead born; and that moſt commonly the reſt died in a ſhort time. It is thence clear, that thoſe numerous births are certainly unfavourable to population, as very few indeed of thoſe children can be carried to near the full term of pregnancy, and fewer ſtill to that degree of ſtrength that admits of their being reared, where more than two are born at one time.
As from Mr. JOHN HUNTER's very curious Experiments and Obſervations, read lately to this Society, on the Procreation of Swine, we are led to believe, that a certain determined number of ova, capable of receiving male impregnation, are originally formed in each ovarium; and which number, when exhauſted, the female conſtitution has no power to renew; if this be the [Page 17] true account of the oeconomy of nature in this particular, which has every appearance of probability, thoſe numerous births muſt occaſion a very fruitleſs profuſion and waſte of the human race, and become every way detrimental to its increaſe.
From the united teſtimony of the foregoing caſes, it is undeniably clear, that the females of the human ſpecies, though moſt commonly uniparous, are, in certain circumſtances to us unknown, every now and then capable of very far exceeding their uſual number; and I muſt again repeat, that it does not appear that we can ſet any bounds to the powers of nature in that reſpect; or pretend, as ſome have done, with certainty to ſay, what may be the utmoſt limits of human fertility.