Punch,  34 (1858), 131.

On the Singular Electrifying Qualities of Plaice, and the Cure of its Benumbing Effects

Mr Punch, M.A., F.R.S., F.L.S., F.R.S.L., &c., &c.


Paper, Spoof


Natural History, Zoology, Animal Behaviour, Mental Illness, Physiology, Politics, Human Development

    A report on a paper presented to the 'Natural History Section' of the British Association for the Advancement of Science opens with a description of Alexander von Humboldt and John Hunter's work on the Gymnotus electricus (electric eel), and a reminder that the 'unscientific' can see it at the Royal Polytechnic Institution. With his familiar juxtaposition of esoteric scientific terms and social commentary, Mr Punch presents his detailed researches supporting that claim that the 'power of producing torpidity' is exhibited by 'the second, or Subbrachial group of the Malacopterygii' which includes sole, founder, turbot, and plaice. Describes the effects on humans of eating these particular species of fish: sole seems to produce a shock and a tendency to escape from the room, while the common flounder affects the muscles and nerves of speech and accordingly ruins after-dinner speeches. More potent, however, is the plaice, which according to Mr Punch's experiments on the effects of the fish on the statesman Ralph Bernal Osborne, has the immediate effect of causing 'a visible indisposition to exertion'. Osborne's movements are 'evidently done [...] in a cataleptic state', and his 'faculties became benumbed', his 'promises and pledges' forgotten, and other characteristics lost. After fellow statesmen removed the plaice, Osborne was seen to regain his powers of 'vivacity, sting, and readiness', and is now so fully recovered that nobody would think he was once a 'dull, dead, silent, and apparently insensible man'. Mr Punch submits that the plaice must rank higher than the Gymnotus electricus for its electrical powers.

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