Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Plymouth Monster - Conjoined Twins

Examples of conjoined twins from Pare
A true and certain relation of a strange birth which was 
born at Stonehouse in the parish of Plymouth, 
the 20th of October, 1635. 

Together with the notes of a sermon preached October 23rd, 1635 
in the church of Plymouth at the interring of the said birth: 
by Thomas Bedford, B.D. London, 

printed by Anne Griffin for Anne Bowler, 
dwelling at the Marigold in St- Paul's Churchyard, 1635. 

To the curious beholder of the former picture [not the one above]
Dear countryman, 

Not the mere fiction of the over-daring picturer dost thou here behold, but if he hath done his part, the true portraiture of the work of God, presented to the world to be seen and to be admired.

Two things I have to deliver to thine ear, which this figure cannot convey unto thine eye. First, what it intendeth; next, how thou mayest correct the picture, if it need amending.

For the first, it intendeth to acquaint thee with this story. In the county of Devon, and in the parish of the famous town of Plymouth, there is a village called Stonehouse; viculum piscatorium I may justly term it, a pretty little fishertown, for it consisteth mostly of men that live by the sea and gain their livelihood by the water. In this village there dwelleth one John Persons, a fisherman whose wife, having fulfilled the usual months and weeks of women's burdens, upon the twentieth day of this present month, October, fell in travail, and by the help of a second midwife, (through God's mercy and goodness), was the poor mother, (after the weary travail of thirteen or fourteen painful hours), safely delivered of the burden. A birth not more painful to the mother, (though very painful doubtless, being still born), than strange and wonderful to all the beholders. The eye is not satisfied with seeing with admiration, and, as it falleth out in such a case, soon is the fame thereof spread all abroad. Town and country cometh to see, that hereafter they might, as for my part must, say, I saw the strangest birth in all respects that ever I saw or heard before. Two heads and necks, two backs and sets of ribs, four arms and hands, four thighs and legs; in a word, from head to heel (so far as the eye could discern), two complete and perfect bodies, but concorporate and joined together from breast to belly, two in one.

For the second thing propounded, viz. how to correct the picture, if it need amendment, take this. When I first cast mine eye upon them lying on the table I said, surely if those children had been living, art might have caused a just separation of them, for I conceived them to be no other than two bodies joined together in one common skin. But I soon perceived mine error when putting my finger to feel the collar, the collar bone, (I mean that place where you see them begin to join together), I found that they had but one breast bone common to them both, and by it, as by a partition wall, were their two bodies, (as two chambers), both joined and separated in respect of the internal contents. This concorporation lasted down to the navel, or a little beneath, which also was in common to them both, (I still speak of what the eye could see), happily so soon as that string of the umbilical vessels by which the mother's womb supplied food and nourishment to the birth had passed the skin, it might dispart itself. But outwardly it was one in common. Whence also it was conjectured that though these twins might have several hearts and lungs answerable to their several heads and necks, yet but one common liver to them both. The truth of this conjecture I leave to the College of Physicians to discover that is not my profession, nor will I presume to determine anything in another's art - only this objection I have against it: that supposing one common liver; it must either gird them round or be misplaced in one of them, for turning breast to breast and belly to belly, you join the left side of the one body to the right side of the other, so that I say except the liver do compass it round, it shall be misplaced in the one.

But to return to the story. These two twins were not more nearly joined in the bulk of body than they were in all parts and proportions like to one another where they were disparted, so that two the likest twins that ever you saw were not more like; nay, the glass cannot, (I think), give a truer answer to the face than these were each to other. Which I do the more boldly affirm, because having satisfied mine eye with beholding them on the one side as they lay, I caused the women to turn the other side, and laying them as before, face to face and foot to foot, I could perceive no difference in them at all from what I had seen before. One thing I forgot till it was too late, which I had remembered, I verily persuade myself might have been done, viz., to lay them one upon another. The which I mention, lest happily any might conceive that the jointure of their bodies might lean to one side more than to another. I was about to ask the women whether the mother felt them living in the womb, when presently I corrected myself, seeing each part and limb, yea, and the whole body of either grown, (as indeed it was), to a just maturity. Each by himself, had they been sundered, had been a just birth, having hair on the heads, nails on their hands and toes, nay, which is more, (except the women were much deceived), they had some teeth in their head, and to confess the truth, I thought so too, till some others that had more skill and experience persuaded me to the contrary. Howsoever, the children were each of them as complete and perfect as births use to be.

Upon these grounds I corrected myself in my former intended question, for how should they grow to that perfection of stature had they wanted life? But the midwife and the women told me that they were living and lively some few hours before they were born, so that in all likelihood, had a skilful hand been made use of at the first, they might have lived to see the light, if not to enjoy it. But God, that gave them life and being in the womb, knowing that life upon earth would have been a burden to them, provided better for them, and took them to himself.

Thus have I given a true, and I think, a full narration of this work of wonder which God hath showed here amongst us. And with it, I am content to send abroad some few notes prepared for the confluence of people met together when this birth was laid unto the earth. Something methought was fitting to be commended to them that saw it while the thing was fresh in mind, and that something, such as it is, lo, here it is. Rather would I shame myself in being over busy than be wanting in what I conceit may not be unprofitable to the country wherein I live. Read then these notes, and if thou count not this half hour ill bestowed, thou wilt I trust, (I desire thou wouldst), pray for him, who if thou love the Lord Jesus in sincerity, prayeth for thee that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.


Plymouth, October 30th, 1635.

Hebrews 11 v.3. “Being dead, yet speaketh.”

As the Word of God, so the works of God are for our doctrine and instruction. The works of creation teach us, saith St. Paul, God’s eternal powerhead and Godhead. The works of providence, but much more remarkable in those that are extraordinary, when either the course of nature is hindered, as the sea and sun stopped in the midst of their carrier, or altered as when the sun went backward in the days of Hezekiah. Touching which, saith the Psalmist, "He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered", or as the words stand in the original and the Greek translation, a memorial hath he made to his wonderful works, id est, he hath ordained and commanded that they should be remembered. Good reason, that where God with his finger pointeth forth something in special to the sons of men, they should follow it with the eye of the body, till the eye of the soul, viz., the understanding spirit, have thence received some instruction.

Not only the other creatures, but also the sons of men are otherwhiles made the object of these wonderful works of God: or if you had rather call it the subject matter on which he stampeth the marks of his providence, either in hindering or in altering the ordinary course of nature, sometimes in the conception, sometimes in the births of our expected and desired issue.

Conception I count the natural and proper work of the womb, in receiving, retaining, and ripening the seed for the birth. The womb is, by the hand of God, sometimes closed up, that it receiveth not, as in the case of Abimilech's family, (Genesis 20), sometimes opened, or rather loosened, that it retaineth not, as in the case of abortive and untimely births, sometimes weakened, that it ripeneth not the birth, either not at all, or at least not within the just time. And all these do teach us the presence of God's providence. Well may we say the hand of God hath been there. It is he that thus hath hindered the work of the womb and withheld the blessing of a good conception. So for the birth.

Birth I must call that which properly and from the Latin we might call parturition. This doth God by the hand of his special providence hinder sometimes in part, sometimes in whole, so that whereas all times of the woman's travail and labour are full of sorrow, yea, (as the philosopher saith, Aristotle, De Historia Animalibus, Lib. 7, cap. 9, and the scripture itself doth confirm the same), more full of difficulty and danger than any other creature's, (an evident demonstration of the hand of God visiting the first sin of our grandmother Eve upon all the sex). Whereas I say all times are full of sorrow: of fear and frightfulness some do receive an increase and multiplication by such accidents supervenient and unexpected dangers of births not capable of deliverance till God, by the hand of special art, vouchsafed his gracious help and good assistance. Of these therefore, as of the former, well may we say, digitus dei; it is the finger of God that hath been here and manifested his presence by hindering the common and ordinary course of nature in the birth of the womb.

As in hindering, so also in altering and changing the course of nature, doth God call man to an observation of his providence, nay, here more than in anything else doth he show forth his works of wonder - understand me still to speak of the conception and of the births of the sons of men. What variety of strange births do we see and hear of! Strange births we call them: more properly we might term them strange conceptions, for what the womb in conception formeth, that is not usually altered in the birth. 

What variety, I say, of strange births do we see and hear of! Strange in the quantity of (a) stature strange in the (b) number of parts, strange in the (c) multiplication, strange in the (d) concorporation of several births, but above all, most strange in (e) quality and kind altered and changed. All these, but especially this latter sort, which alter the quality and kind, the Latins call monstra a monstrando, quia monstrantur: I would add ur monstrent. They are showed that they may show the special handiwork of God, and though, peradventure, dead, yet speak, and tell the forgetful world that God himself hath a special hand in forming and featuring the births conceived in the womb. Here, by the way, let me touch upon a case of conscience or two. Whether monsters and misshapen births may lawfully be carried up and down the country for sights to make a gain by them; whether the births being once dead may be kept from the grave for the former ends; whether the parents of such births may sell them to another. For my part, I would be loath to prejudice the better and moral judgements of any. But to speak plainly, I do make scruple of the first, and therefore much more of the two latter cases. For if not living they are to be prostituted to the covetousness of any, much less being dead when the grave calls for the bodies of all christian births: the grave I say, wherein they are to be laid up that therein they may lay down the present dishonour and thence be raised again in glory. And if the parents may not do this, how much less may they deliver it over to another? But you will say to me, suppose them living; why may they not be used to this end, being fit for none employment? My reasons are these. Our delight is to be measured by our desires, nor do I see it lawful to delight in what may not be desired. And who would desire a misshapen birth to be the issue of his own body? Add this: all crosses call for humiliation, and where that is expected, I see not how there can be place either for profit or pleasure to be thought upon.

But to return again to what we had in hand. These births, (as I said), though dead, yet speak and preach to the world the present hand of God in the womb of the mother.
In all these accidents and occasions the philosophers, (and physicians also who build upon the ground of philosophy, nor can well subsist without them), they, I say, would attribute all these impeditions and alterations of nature to secondary causes, either internal, as the defectiveness or excess of seminal materials, or external, as in the dullness of the formative faculty, or the indisposedness of the vessels, or strength of conceit or imagination.

The astrologer may add another cause, powerful in his opinion, to pervert and overthrow the good intentions of nature, sc., the constellations of the planets and configuration or their aspects. And happily, they may pitch upon some reasons for the coalition of these two twins into one. Nor do we deny but the philosopher may be allowed in these his conjectures, nor may he seem to shoot beside the mark that should ascribe it to some accident, colliding and dashing these two new-formed embryones in the womb, casting them so one upon the other as that the contiguity and overmuch closeness of their bodies caused the aforesaid coalition: so have we seen two trees over-closely leaning one upon another grow into one and covered with one bark. The philosopher, I say, may seem to speak reason, (not so the astrologer, at least in mine opinion). Only he and others must be entreated to look higher and to take notice of the special hand of God whose work alone it is to sort and compounds the activities of secondary causes; that what might have been otherwise is now thus disposed of for ends best known to himself.

This is the conclusion which religion teacheth and which it becometh me as a divine to put you in mind of. The astrologer is taught to say, astra regunt homines: the influence of the stars do rule the actions of the sons of men. But the christian knoweth that regit astra Deus: God over-ruleth the stars. So that if we should grant an influence in the planets, and a power in the constellations, yet far be it from us to account it fatal and inalterable. No, we know that God sitteth in the heavens and doth whatsoever he will. David in the Psalms ascribeth to his hand the framing of his body and members in the wombet. "Thine hands have made me and fashioned me. Thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. Thine eyes," (saith he), "did see my substance yet being imperfect, and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned," or (as it is in the margent), "all of them written what days they should be fashioned," when as yet there was none of them. To him therefore belongeth the disposing of the materials and shaping of the birth. Now then, is God so tied to his materials that if there be too much for one, or too little for two complete and perfect features, he can neither detract nor multiply? Must his work be cut off with what the philosopher saith of nature, lavendit quod optimum facit tamen id quod pot est, that is, nature intendeth perfection, but being hindered doth what she can?

Let no man therefore tax me of any excess in religious thoughts, or count it overmuch/ curiosity, if I propound to you an observation or two grounded upon this and the like occasions. Each comet, (as experience hath taught me), is in its kind doctrinal and blazeth forth something or other worthy our observation. Nec in vivum toties arsere cometa: seldom are those superterrestial blazes kindled in vain. Men do commonly count them praenunti belli et calamitatum, forerunners of some imminent calamities, and therefore do call upon one another to appease the wrath of God by fasting and humilation.

I shall not therefore, I hope, transcend the limits of my calling, nor wrong the providence of God, if I take liberty to say, touching this strange birth which God hath caused to blaze here amongst us, and from us to the whole country, to say of it as the apostle saith of the blood of Abel, being dead it yet speaketh. What did or doth the blood of Abel speak, but the irreversible wrath of God against all willful and malicious persecutors of religious persons? I do not say this speaketh so bitter things, but yet it speaketh something in common with the rest of strange and misshapen births, and if I deceive not myself overmuch, something in peculiar by itself. So then, it speaketh two things, perhaps more, but two I pitch upon, not averring them both spoken with the same evidence, but both truly, and which is more, seasonably.

First then this, and all monstrous and misfeatured births speak this: that it is a singular mercy of God when the births of the womb are not misformed, when they receive their fair and perfect feature. A lesson truly worth the noting in this forgetful age; mercies that are ordinary we swallow and take small notice of them. Such a work as this causeth us to see what difference there is betwixt comeliness and deformity, betwixt perfection and imperfection in the body. Doth any make scruple of what I say? Let that man consider the discomfort of deformity, how liable it is daily to exprobation through the evil custom of wicked men, more ready to cast it in the teeth than condole or commiserate, if God hath stamped a deformity upon the body.

Know we not that the members of the body are the organs and instruments of the soul in the service of God and man? Defect or excess must needs breed grief because it createth trouble. Consider we this birth thus double-membered; to have seen them lying upon the table, to see them decyphered upon the paper, might happily be thought a sight not much unpleasant. But let your imagination give them life, and tell me how uncomfortable, yea, burthensome, must they be to others, yea, and to themselves, whenas though two, yet so near incorporated that the one cannot help the other. How should they eat, sleep, walk, sit, or satisfy nature, but with much incumbrance? Is it then discomfort to have a mark of deformity or disadvantage cast upon the births of the womb? And is it not a singular mercy to have them born complete in shape and feature? Doubtless it is.

All reason therefore is that this mercy of God unto us in the issue of our loins should be acknowledged with all thankfulness. If other mercies, why not this? The husbandman when he hath his corn and wine increased, when housed, the merchant when his venture is returned, the owner when his ship is arrived and both have made a good voyage; if there be any religion dwelling in their breasts, will in a solemn manner confess before the sons of men the loving kindness of the Lord. When women have received safe deliverance from the great pains and perils of childbirth, the Church doth call them (and surely it had need to call them), to give hearty thanks to God: and ought not this also to be remembered, that the children born give hope of comfort to their parents? Hope, I say, that a fair and well-featured body may be the comfortable house and habitation of an holy soul? Doubtless it ought. Doth not David intimate so much in the aforementioned Psalm when he saith, "I will praise thee for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well"?

Know we not that God hath just cause to blast every birth of ours if he would be extreme? Partly in respect of the abuse of the bed, which, though he hath sanctified to the use of man by the benediction of the Church, that so in the sober use thereof everyone should possess his vessel in sanctification and honour, yet it is too often riotously and wantonly abused. Partly, I say, for these abuses, but specially in respect of that original corruption which cleaveth to the fruit of the womb, even from the first conception, as the Psalmist showeth. From this guilt and filth not one of all the race of Adam is exempted. No sooner do we receive a being, but it is accompanied with sinfulness. In which respect, who can deny but God might justly blast the body with deformity? Which if he do not when he might, is it not a favour, and so to be acknowledged? We acknowledge it a special favour to the soul, (as it is reason we should), that God doth exempt any from that common damnation which is due to all by Adam's transgression. And is it not to be confessed a mercy to the body? For why? When the body doth want its perfect feature, when the soul doth want the exercise of wit and reason, more or less is not this an effect of sin, and so to be accounted? Doth God in this anything more than what justice doth allow? Shall we say it is an act of his absolute dominion? I trow not. What is justly done to some, is it not mercy to do to others? Yes, (my dearly beloved), it is mercy, free and undeserved mercy. O that in this also as in other things, I say, O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness and for his wonderful works to the sons of men!

Contrarily, when the hand of justice hath found any out, when any birth of ours is brought into the world misformed and misfeatured, if God hath, (as it were), spit in the face and laid the black finger of deformity upon the body, ought it not to be entertained with sorrow of the heart and humiliation? Hath God written in great letters the guilt of sin, and in a deformed body drawn aresemblance of the soul's deformity; drawn it, (I say), so that others may see and know that we also are defiled in his sight, and shall we not blush to hear it, to see it thus cast in our teeth, and laid before us?

This for the parties, but is this all? Is it nothing to you all that pass by or that come to see? Methinks it should. Can you, any of you, wash your hands in innocency? Are not you also sinners in the sight of God? What can you allege why this might not have been yours? Did you prevent it by prayer? I trust you will hereafter, and acknowledge the justness of their devotion who remember women with child, but happily you have not hitherto thought upon it. If so, if God might have thrown the Tower of Siloam upon your heads also, if set a mark of his displeasure upon your births and yet hath not done it. Will you not see and say, "The Lord hath done great things for us. Lord, what amI that thou hast spared me? Am I more holy, less sinful than my neighbour? No, no, it is thy free mercy and undeserved favour. O enlarge my heart to praise thy name"?

Here then see and bewail the iniquity and irreligion of this our age, at least of numbers in the same. The common sort make no further use of the prodigies and strange births than as a matter of wonder and table talk, look upon them with none other eyes than with which they would behold an African monster, a misshapen beast. It was not thus in the better ages of the world. We read in the ninth chapter of St John that the disciples when they saw the man that was born blind, they come to our blessed Saviour with, "Quis peccavit; Master, who hath sinned?" See the religion of those times! They looked upon sin as the cause of defective or redundant births. Truth indeed, our Saviour answereth, "Neither this man nor his parents". By which speech of Christ we must not think that they are excused from all sin. Doubtless his parents had sinned, and conceived him in sin, else had not this been cast upon him: no place for defects and deformities in the state of innocence. But why God should take the forfeiture in this rather than in his neighbor, this was merely Dei bene placit; the good pleasure of God, who had in this a purpose to prepare and make way for the glory of Christ in curing the man.

The same happily might be said in these occasions whereof we speak. To the question, quis peccavit; (who hath sinned), happily Christ, (who was acquainted with the counsels of his father), might answer, neque hic; neque parentes, (neither he nor his parents), not to exempt them from sin altogether, but to teach us that some other end and purpose God had beside the visitation of their sin, (though that also we find sometimes to be manifested, when God by such occasions doth awaken the conscience to confess secret and unbewailed sins). Beside, I say, the visitation of sin,sometimes to discover the atheism, irreligion of many; perhaps also their covetousness, who would rather make a benefit of such births, and instead of humiliation for a cross, teach the parents to account such births for blessings which do prove so profitable; sometimes to prompt unto the ministry a word of exhortation needful for the present state of the people, a meditation which happily his text would not afford him. This lesson, as you see, is by this occasion prompted to me, presented to you, that you remember hereafter to acknowledge it as a mercy when children come into the world well-featured, the members of their body in a due proportion aptly each to other corresponding, neither defective or redundant; to bewail it as a cross from God when it is otherwise, that so penitency may provide a remedy either of the deformity by the hand of man, or of the discomfort by the stroke of death. This lesson, I say, is now presented to you and I trust will be remembered by you, and if so, the answer to the question may go on as it is in the words of our Saviour: neither this man nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

To wind up this first observation in a word, I noted the religion of the disciples: they look up to sin as to the cause of God's hand. Nor shall it misbecome us to do the like, provided alway that it be, (what they forgot), in our own occasion rather than in another's. Do I suffer? Let me say, "Lord, I have sinned; thou art just". Doth another suffer? Let me say, "Lord, thou art merciful to me; this case might have been mine. Blessed be thy name forever!"

Something long have I stood upon this because I am sure this is a lesson which all monstrous and misshapen births, though dead, yet speak for the instruction of the living. I will dispatch the other more briefly, which may seem to be peculiar to this one in respect of the shape thereof.

The twins you see are males; brothers had they been born alive. To love as brethren is the duty of christians, a duty frequently remembered by the apostles, and powerfully pressed. To love is to have one soul in two bodies; one not so much by union of essence as by combination of affection. And lo, here is a fit resemblance of this mutual duty, as fit, as lively, almost as can be devised. Here are all the parts and members of consultation and operation for two persons; only here is one body, one breast, one belly. The breast is the seat of the heart, the belly of the bowels. One, I say, not in the identity of substance, but in the conglutination of external parts from breast to belly: whether one heart, one liver, one community of intestines is more than we could see, though all reason indeed giveth them to be two throughout in all parts, yet you see so two in one that had they lived to the years of expression, we might well have expected from them united hearts, entire affections, and more than sympathy, each to other as to himself. Surely these are not more nearly conjoined in breast and belly than christians ought to be in heart and affection. These two were one body; christians are one spirit, though several bodies and souls, yet one and the same spirit diffused into all to enliven and quicken all. Nor would it have been more prodigious for these twins, (suppose they had lived to be men), to have quarrelled and contested one against another than it is for christians to quarrel and contend, specially to live in the mind of irreconcilation. To these twins, (had they quarrelled), a man might have said, "You are one body": to christians a man may well say, "You are one spirit: why do you wrong one to another?" Was that an argument in all reason fit to compound the supposed differences of these? And shall not this be able to persuade peace, nay love, among christians? Methinketh it should. Nay, I am sure, if this do not prevail, the faulty person shall one day smart for it, perhaps when repentance for it will come too late.
Well, I have now acquainted you with my thoughts. I have showed to you how this birth, though dead, yet speaketh. Truth it is: faith alone hath ears to hear these lessons, these instructions. Nature is deaf and reason dull in these occasions. A brutish man knoweth not, neither doth a fool understand. Faith quickeneth the understanding to apprehend, the will to believe, the affections to take pleasure in these meditations.

Which faith, since it is the gift of God, let us now turn ourselves to him to bestow upon us the gift of faith, and all graces, by which we may learn to make an holy use, as of all his works in general, so of this and the like in special, to the glory of his name, and the eternal comfort of our own souls, through Jesus Christ our Lord. To whom, with the Father and the blessed Spirit, Three excellent Persons, one glorious God, be ascribed all honour and praise now, and for evermore, Amen.


No. 25/1000 

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1 comment:

  1. One may have one soul,even if the baby has two brains and two spines.And only one heart.Medical science has to face sophisticated scientific questions to be remedied and the ethics will have to face new questions.God,direct the hands of doctors for noble deeds.Every problem has to be faced and remedied.Then only man can go forward.