1813: Elderly Gentleman’s Fiery Death

In 1813, an article about the effects of addiction to intoxication in The Philosophical Magazine related the following short incident. Dr. Lettsom, who appears to have made the initial study about intoxication the article stems from, told of an old and esteemed school-fellow of his who had become so addicted to alcohol that when denied the pleasure of rum, gin, and brandy, he opted for a much cheaper substitute... tinctures of valerian and gum guaiacum. One night while intoxicated on this odd mix, he rolled out of bed and landed near the fire in the room... and was burnt to a cinder, with no damage to the bed or sheets.

In Context

        This short account is implied to have been caused by a proposed state called "Preternatural Combustibility," rather than by spontaneous human combustion. Essentially, it was believed that people who became too saturated with the alcohols they drank would become far more likely to catch fire and burn than a non-drinker, because it was known that alcohol itself would easy catch fire. Therefore the author is sure to tell us that the elderly man's body was "saturated" with the cheap alcohol.

        Another possibility, however, is that the man simply died after rolling out of bed, and therefore did not resist as he and his clothing caught fire and slowly cooked away.

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