The Real Dr Frankenstein, 1863

OK, so someone was quite the Frankenstein fanboy.

Dr Denis of Brittany is reported in the 1863 Birmingham Journal as having been working on discovering “the secret of the component atoms of the human frame” for fourteen years and was on the brink of success – “Nothing is wanting but the breath of life to animate the statue“.

The breath of life was to be supplied by an electric battery and, once animated, the “homunculus” (love that word) was to be available to answer questions about itself, “whether concerning his health or the state of its poor feet.” I’d like to think Dr Denis had basically invented a Victorian Teddy Ruxpin. Except he evidently didn’t do too good a job on his feet.

Sceptical? Well, “Many wise men who deem that the sight of an example is necessary before denial or irony should be permitted, have been induced to visit the doctor in his retreat, in order to behold with their own eyes what they were called upon to combat with their tongues. All have returned fully convinced of the good faith under which the doctor has been acting; many with awe-stricken wonder at what has already been accomplished…”

Over studying had driven him to a “state of lunacy”, so he was the archetypal mad scientist. And I’m guessing he didn’t succeed as I can’t find any other reference to this Dr Denis anywhere else. Plus there’s the fact the animated homunculuses didn’t play much part in 19th century history. It’s crying out to be a Doctor Who episode though….

Birmingham Journal, 27th June 1863

Birmingham Journal, 27th June 1863

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3 Responses

  1. I remember a school biology book which had a drawing of a homunculus – a man with body parts sized in proportion to the amount of brain activity devoted to them, so massive head, tongue, lips, hands – the somatosensory homunculus. I remember it as being quite cute. But you’ve just prompted me to search for him again online, and there now seems to be a preponderance of three dimensional ones – not at all cute.

  1. May 17, 2015

    […] fruitlessly looking for more information about the real Dr Frankenstein of 1863, I came across this riotous story. Dashingly-dressed Mrs Elizabeth Wilton of Brixton was […]

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