Human combustion, especially but not limited to the spontaneous variety, has always been a subject of deep fascination for me. Both the idea of it, and the fact that learned folks such as scientists and scholars actually believed in it is mind boggling. What’s even more compelling is that back when it was a “reality” that people could just burst into flame the temperance movement said that they figured out why. According to them people were bursting into flame because they simply drank too much. Enter Thomas Trotter a young medical student who in 1804 writes his dissertation on the subject De Ebrietate ejusque effectibus in corpus humanum, or in English, An Essay, Medical, Philosophical, and Chemical on Drunkenness, and Its Effects on the Human Body.
Despite the fact that Trotter’s dissertation concerns people exploding from consuming too much
booze I expected that actually reading it would be pretty boring. For some reason I just can’t imagine medical dissertations from the 1800’s as pleasurable reading. Luckily, I found the majority of it to be a breeze. One passage I especially enjoyed was trotter describing the symptoms of drunkenness: