General Historical Observations. -- Prolificity is a much discussed subject, for besides its medical and general interest it is of importance in social as well as in political economy. Superfluous population was a question that came to consciousness early; Aristotle spoke of legislation to prevent the increase of population and the physical and mental deterioration of the race, -- he believed in a population fixed as regards numbers, -- and later Lycurgus transformed these precepts into a terrible law. Strabonius reports that the inhabitants of Cathea brought their infants at the age of two months before a magistrate for inspection. The strong and promising were preserved and the weak destroyed. The founders of the Roman Empire followed a similar usage. With great indignation Seneca, Ovid, and Juvenal reproved this barbarity of the Romans. With the domination of Christianity this custom gradually diminished, and Constantine stopped it altogether, ordering succor to the people too poor to rear their own children. The old Celts were so jealous of their vigor that they placed their babes on a shield in the river, and regarded those that the waves respected as legitimate and worthy to become members of their clans. In many of the Oriental countries, where the population is often very excessive and poverty great, the girl babies of the lower classes were destroyed. At one time the crocodiles, held sacred in the Nile, were given the surplus infants. By destroying the females the breeding necessarily diminished, and the number of the weaker and dependent classes became less. In other countries persons having children beyond their ability to support were privileged to sell them to citizens, who contracted to raise them on condition that they became their slaves.
General Law, and the Influence of War. -- In the increase of the world's population, although circumstances may for a time alter it, the general average of prolificity has, in the long run, been maintained. In the history of every nation artificial circumstances, such as fashion, war, poverty, etc., at some period have temporarily lowered the average of prolificity; but a further search finds another period, under opposite circumstances, which will more than compensate for it. The effect of a long-continued war or wars on generation and prolificity has never been given proper consideration. In such times marriages become much less frequent; the husbands are separated from their wives for long periods; many women are left widows; the females become in excess of the males; the excitement of the times overtops the desire for sexual intercourse, or, if there is the same desire, the unprolific prostitute furnishes the satisfaction; and such facts as these, coupled with many similar ones, soon produce an astonishing effect upon the comparative birth-rate and death-rate of the country. The resources of a country, so far as concerns population, become less as the period of peace-disturbance is prolonged. Mayo-Smith quotes von Mayr in the following example of the influence of the war of 1870-71 on the birth-rate in Bavaria, -- the figures for birth are thrown back nine months, so as to show the time of conception: Before the war under normal conception the number of births was about 16,000 per month. During the war it sank to about 2000 per month. The maximum was reached in March, 1872, when it was 18,450. The war of 1866 seems to have passed over Germany without any great influence, the birth rate in 1865 being 39.2; in 1866, 39.4; in 1867, 38.3; in 1868, 38.4. On the other hand, while the birth-rate in 1870 was 40.1, in 1871 it was only 35.9; in 1872 it recovered to 41.1, and remained above 41 down to 1878. Von Mayr believes the war had a depressing influence upon the rate apart from the mere absence of the men, as shown in the fact that immediately upon the cessation of hostilities it recovered in Bavaria, although it was several months before the return of the troops.
Mayo-Smith, in remaking on the influence of war on the marriage-rate, says that in 1866 the Prussian rate fell from 18.2 to 15.6, while the Austrian rate fell from 15.5 to 13.0. In the war of 1870-71 the Prussian rate fell from 17.9 in 1869 to 14.9 in 1870 and 15.9 in 1871; but in the two years after peace was made it rose to 20.6 and 20.2, the highest rates ever recorded. In France the rate fell from 16.5 to 12.1 and 14.4, and then rose to 19.5 and 17.7, the highest rates ever recorded in France.
Influence of Rural and Urban Life. -- Rural districts are always very prolific, and when we hear the wails of writers on "Social Economy," bemoaning the small birth-rates of their large cities, we need have no fear for urban extinction, as emigration from the country by many ambitious sons and daughters, to avail themselves of the superior advantages that the city offers, will not only keep up but to a certain degree increase the population, until the reaction of overcrowding, following the self-regulating law of compensation, starts a return emigration.
The effect of climate and race on prolificity, though much spoken of, is not so great a factor as supposed. The inhabitants of Great Britain are surpassed by none in the point of prolificity; yet their location is quite northern. The Swedes have always been noted for their fecundity. Olaf Rudbeck says that from 8 to 12 was the usual family number, and some ran as high as 25 or 30. According to Lord Kames, in Iceland before the plague (about 1710) families of from 15 to 20 were quite common. The old settlers in cold North America were always blessed with large families, and Quebec is still noted for its prolificity. There is little difference in this respect among nations, woman being limited about the same everywhere, and the general average of the productive function remaining nearly identical in all nations. Of course, exception must be made as to the extremes of north and south.
Ancient and Modern Prolificity. -- Nor is there much difference between ancient and modern times. We read in the writings of Aristotle, Pliny, and Albucasis of the wonderful fertility of the women of Egypt, Arabia, and other warm countries, from 3 to 6 children often being born at once and living to maturity; but from the wonder and surprise shown in the narration of these facts, they were doubtless exceptions, of which parallels may be found in the present day. The ancient Greek and Roman families were no larger than those of to-day, and were smaller in the zenith of Roman affluence, and continued small until the period of decadence.
Legal Encouragement of Prolificity. -- In Quebec Province, Canada, according to a Montreal authority, 100 acres of land are allotted to the father who has a dozen children by legitimate marriage. The same journal states that, stimulated by the premium offered, families of 20 or more are not rare, the results of patriotic efforts. In 1895, 1742 "chefs de famille" made their claim according to the conditions of the law, and one, Paul Bellanger, of the River du loup, claimed 300 acres as his premium, based on the fact that he was the father of 36 children. Another claimant, Monsieur Thioret de Sainte Geneviève, had been presented by his wife, a woman not yet thirty years old, with 17 children. She had triplets twice in the space of five years and twins thrice in the mean time. It is a matter of conjecture what the effect would be of such a premium in countries with a lowering birth-rate, and a French medical journal, quoting the foregoing, regretfully wishes for some countrymen at home like their brothers in Quebec.
Old Explanations of Prolificity. -- The old explanation of the causation of the remarkable exceptions to the rules of prolificity was similar to that advanced by Empedocles, who says that the greater the quantity of semen, the greater the number of children at birth. Paré, later, uses a similar reason to explain the causation of monstrosities, grouping them into two classes, those due to deficiency of semen, such as the acephalous type, and those due to excess, such as the double monsters. Hippocrates, in his work on the "Nature of the Infant," tells us that twins are the result of a single coitus, and we are also informed that each infant has a chorion; so that both kinds of plural gestation (monochorionic and dichorionic) were known to the ancients. In this treatise it is further stated that the twins may be male or female, or both males or both females; the male is formed when the semen is thick and strong.
The greatest number of children at a single birth that it is possible for a woman to have has never been definitely determined. Aristotle gives it as his opinion that one woman can bring forth no more than 5 children at a single birth, and discredits reports of multiplicity above this number; while Pliny, who is not held to be so trustworthy, positively states that there were authentic records of as many as 12 at a birth. Throughout the ages in which superstitious distortion of facts and unquestioning credulity was unchecked, all sorts of incredible accounts of prolificity are found. Martin Cromerus, a Polish historian, quoted by Paré, who has done some good work in statistical research on this subject, says that Margaret, of a noble and ancient family near Cracovia, the wife of Count Virboslaus, brought forth 36 living children on January 20, 1296.
The celebrated case of Countess Margaret, daughter of Florent IV., Earl of Holland, and spouse of Count Hermann of Henneberg, was supposed to have occurred just before this, on Good Friday, 1278. She was at this time forty-two years of age, and brought forth 365 infants, 182 males, 182 females, and 1 hermaphrodite. They were all baptized in two large brazen dishes by the Bishop of Treras, the males being called John, the females Elizabeth. During the last century the basins were still on exhibition in the village church of Losdun, and most of the visitors to Hague went out to see them, as they were reckoned one of the curiousities of Holland. The affliction was ascribed to the curse of a poor woman whom, holding twins in her arms, approached the Countess for aid. She was not only denied alms, but was insulted by being told that her twins were by different fathers, whereupon the poor woman prayed God to send the Countess as many children as there were days in the year. There is room for much speculation as to what this case really was. Thee is a possibility that it was simply a case of hydatidiform or multiple molar pregnancy, elaborated by an exhaustive imagination and superstitious awe. As late as 1799 there was a woman of a town of Andalusia who was reported to have been delivered of 16 male infants, 7 of which were alive two months later.
Mayo-Smith remarks that the proportion of multiple births is not more than 1 per cent., of the total number of parturitions. The latest statistics, by Westergaard, give the following averages to number of cases of 100 births in which there were 2 or more at birth: --
In Prussia, from 1826 to 1880, there were 85 cases of quadruplets and 3 cases of 5 at a birth.
The most extensive statistics in regard to multiple births are those of Veit, who reviews 13,000,000 births in Prussia. According to his deductions, twins occur once in 88 births; triplets, once in 7910; and quadruplets, once in 371,126. Recent statistics supplied by the Boards of Health of New York and Philadelphia place the frequency of twin births in these cities at 1 in every 120 births, while in Bohemia twins occur once in about 60 births, a proportion just twice as great. Of 150,000 twin pregnancies studied by Veit, in one-third both children were boys; in slightly less than one-third both were girls; in the remaining third both sexes were represented.
Authentic records of 5 and 6 at a birth are extremely rare and infinitesimal in proportion. The reputed births in excess of 6 must be looked on with suspicion, and, in fat, the great majority of reports are apocryphal..
The examples of multiple births of a single pregnancy will be taken up under their respective numbers, several examples of each being given, together with the authorities. Many twin and triplet brothers have figured prominently in history, and, in fact, they seem especially favored. The instance of the Horatii and the Curatii, and their famous battle, upon which hung the fate of Rome and Alba, is familiar to every one, their strength and wisdom being legendary with the Romans.
Twins and triplets, being quite common, will not be considered here, although there are 2 cases of interest of the latter that deserve citation. Sperling reports 2 instances of triplets; in the first there was 1 placenta and chorion, 2 amnions, and the sex was the same; in the second case, in which the sexes were different, there were 3 placentas, 3 chorions, and 3 amnions. What significance this may have is only a matter of conjecture. Petty describes a case of triplets in which one child was born alive, the other 2 having lost their vitality 3 months before. Mirabeau has recently found that triple births are most common (1 to 6500) in multiparous women between thirty and thirty-four years of age. Heredity seems to be a factor, and duplex uteruses predispose to multiple births. Ross reports an instance of double uterus with triple pregnancy.
Quadruplets are supposed to occur once in about every 400,000 births. There are 72 instances recorded in the Index Catalogue of the Surgeon General's Library, U.S.A., up to the time of compilation, not including the subsequent cases in the Index Medicus. At the Hôtel-Dieu, in Paris, in 108 births, covering a period of sixty years, mostly in the last century, there was only one case of quadruplets. The following extract of an account of the birth of quadruplets is given by Dr De Leon of Ingersoll, Texas:--
"I was called to see Mrs. E. T. Page, January 10, 1890, about 4 o'clock A.M.; found her in labor and at full time, although she assured me that her 'time' was six weeks ahead. At 8 o'clock A.M. I delivered her of a girl baby; I found there were triplets, and so informed her. At 11 A.M. I delivered her of the second girl, after having rectified presentation, which was singular, face, hands, and feet all presented; I placed in proper position and practised 'version.' This child was 'still-born,' and after considerable effort by artificial respiration it breathed and came around 'all right.' The third girl was born at 11:40 A.M. This was the smallest one of the four. In attempting to take away the placenta, to my astonishment I found the feet of another child. At 1 P.M. this one was born, the head of this child got firmly impacted at the lower strait, and it was with a great deal of difficulty and much patient effort that it was finally disengaged; it was blocked by a mass of placenta and cords. The first child had its own placenta; the second and third had their placenta; the fourth had also a placenta. They weighed at birth in the aggregate 19 1/2 pounds without clothing; the first weighed 6 pounds; the second 5 pounds; the third 4 1/2 pounds; the fourth 4 pounds. Mrs Page is a blonde, about thirty-six years old, and has given birth to 14 children, twins three times before this, one pair by her first husband. The has been married to Page three years, and has had 8 children in that time. I have waited on her each time. Page is an Englishman, small, with dark hair, age about twenty-six, and weighs about 115 pounds. They are in St. Joseph, Mo., now, having contracted with Mr. Uffner of New York to travel and exhibit themselves in Denver, St. Joseph, Omaha, and Nebraska City, then on to Boston, Mass., where they will spend the summer."
There is a report from Canada of the birth of 4 living children at one time. The mother, a woman of thirty-eight, of small stature, had 4 living children of the ages of twelve, ten, eight, and seven years, respectively. She had aborted at the second month, and at full term was delivered of 2 males, weighing, respectively, 4 pounds 9 1/4 ounces and 4 pounds 3 ounces; and of 2 females, weighing 4 pounds 3 ounces and 3 pounds 13 3/4 ounces, respectively. There was but one placenta, and no more exhaustion or hemorrhage than at a single birth. The father weighed 169 pounds, was forty-one years old, and was 5 feet 5 inches tall, healthy and robust. The Journal of St. Petersburg, a newspaper of the highest standard, stated that at the end of July, 1871, a Jewish woman residing in Courland gave birth to 4 girls, and again, in May, 1872, bore 2 boys and a girl; the mother and the 7 children, born within a period of ten months, were doing well at the time of the report. In the village of Iwokina, on May 26, 1854, the wife of a peasant bore 4 children at birth, all surviving. Bousquet speaks of a primiparous mother, aged twenty-four, giving birth to 4 living infants, 3 by the breech and 1 by the vertex, apparently all in one bag of membranes. They were nourished by the help of 3 wet-nurses. Bedford speaks of 4 children at a birth, averaging 5 pounds each, and all nursing the mother.
Quintuplets are quite rare, and the Index Catalogue of the Surgeon General's Library, U.S.A., gives only 19 cases, reports of a few which will be given here, together with others not given in the Catalogue, and from less scientific although reliable sources. In the year 1731 there was one case of quintuplets in Upper Saxony and another near Prague, Bohemia. In both of these cases the children were all christened and all lived to maturity. Garthshore speaks of a healthy woman, Margaret Waddington, giving birth to 5 girls, 2 of which lived; the 2 that lived weighed at birth 8 pounds 12 ounces and 9 pounds respectively. He discusses the idea that woman was meant to bear more than one child at birth, using as his argument the existence of the double nipple and mamma, to which might be added the not infrequent occurrence of polymazia.
In March, 1736, at a dairy cellar in the Strand, London, a poor woman gave birth to 3 boys and 2 girls. In the same journal was reported the birth at Wells, Somersetshire, in 1739, of 4 boys and a girl, all of whom were christened and were healthy. Paré in 1549 gives several instances of 5 children at birth, and Pliny reports that in the peninsula of Greece there was a woman who gave birth to quintuplets on four different occasions. Petritus, a Greek physician, speaks of the birth of quintuplets at the seventh month. Two males and one female were born dead, being attached to the same placenta; the others were united to a common placenta and lived three days. Chambon mentions an instance of 5 at a birth. Not far from Berne, Switzerland, the wife of John Gelinger, a preacher in the Lordship of Berne, brought forth twins, and within a year after she brought forth quintuplets, 3 sons and 2 daughters. There is a similar instance reported in 1827 of a woman of twenty-seven who, having been delivered of twins two years before, was brought to bed with 5 children, 3 boys and 2 girls. Their length was from 15 1/2 to 16 1/2 inches. Although regularly formed, they did not seem to have reached maturity. The mother was much exhausted, but recovered. The children appeared old-looking, had tremulous voices, and slept continually; during sleep their temperatures seemed very low.
Kennedy showed before the Dublin Pathological Society 5 fetuses with the involucra, the product of an abortion at the third month. At Naples in 1839 Giuseppa Califani gave birth to 5 children; and about the same time Paddock reported the birth in Franklin County, Pa., of quintuplets. The Lancet relates an account of the birth of quintuplets, 2 boys and 3 girls, by the wife of a peasant on March 1, 1854. Moffitt records the birth at Monteicello, Ill., of quintuplets. The mother was thirty-five years of age; examination showed a breech presentation; the second child was born by a foot presentation, as was the third, but the last was by a head-presentation. The combined weight was something over 19 pounds, and of the 5, 3 were still-born, and the other 2 died soon after birth. The Elgin Courant (Scotland), 1858, speaks of a woman named Elspet Gordon, at Rothes, giving birth to 3 males and 2 females. Although they were six months' births, the boys all lived until the following morning. The girls were still-born. One of the boys had two front teeth when born. Dr. Dawson of Rothes is the obstetrician mentioned in this case.
The following recent instance is given with full details to illustrate the difficulties attending the birth of quintuplets. Stoker has reported the case of a healthy woman, thirty-five years old, 5 feet 1 inch high, and of slight build, whom he delivered of 5 fetuses in the seventh month of pregnancy, none of the children surviving. The patient's mother had on two occasions given birth to twins. The woman herself had been married for six years and had borne 4 children at full term, having no difficulty in labor. When she came under observation she computed that she had been pregnant for six months, and had had her attention attracted to the unusually large size of her abdomen. She complained of fixed pain in the left side of the abdomen, on which side she thought she was larger. Pains set in with regularity and the labor lasted eight and three-quarter hours. After the rupture of the membranes the first child presented by the shoulder. Version was readily performed, the child was dead (recently). Examination after the birth of the first child disclosed the existence of more than one remaining fetus. The membranes protruded and became tense with each contraction. The presentation was a transverse one. In this case also there was little difficulty in effecting internal version. The child lived a couple of hours. The third fetus was also enclosed in a separate sac, which had to be ruptured. The child presented by the breech and was delivered naturally, and lived for an hour. In the fourth case the membranes had likewise to be ruptured, and alarming hemorrhage ensued. Version was at once practised, but the chin became locked with that of the remaining fetus. There was some difficulty and considerable delay in freeing the children, though the extent of locking was not at any time formidable. The child was dead (recently). The fifth fetus presented by the head and was delivered naturally. It lived for half an hour. The placenta was delivered about five minutes after the birth of the last child, and consisted of two portions united by a narrow isthmus. One, the smaller, had two cords attached centrally and close together; the other, and larger, had two cords attached in a similar way and one where it was joined to the isthmus. The organ appeared to be perfectly healthy. The cord of the fourth child was so short that it had to be ligated in the vagina. The children were all females and of about the same size, making a total weight of 8 pounds. The mother rallied quickly and got on well.
Trustworthy records of sextuplets are, of course, extremely scarce. There are few catalogued in Washington, and but two authentic cases are on record in the United States. On December 30, 1831, a woman in Dropin was delivered of 6 daughters, all living, and only a little smaller than usual in size. The mother was not quite twenty years old, but was of strong constitution. The 6 lived long enough to be baptized, but died the evening of their births. There was a case of sextuplets in Italy in 1844. In Maine, June 27, 1847, a woman was delivered of 6 children, 2 surviving and, together with the mother, doing well. In 1885 there was reported the birth of sextuplets in Lorca, Spain, of which only one survived. At Dallas, Texas, in 1888, Mrs. George Hirsch of Navaroo County gave birth to 6 children, the mother and the children all doing well. There were 4 boys and 2 girls, and they were all perfect, well formed, but rather small.
Valsalli gives an instance which is quoted by the Medical News without giving the authority. Valsalli's account, which differs slightly from the account in the Medical News, is briefly as follows: While straining at stool on the one hundred and fifteenth day of pregnancy the membranes ruptured and a foot prolapsed, no pain having been felt before the accident. A fetus was delivered by the midwife. Valsalli was summoned and found the woman with an enormously distended abdomen, within which were felt numerous fetal parts, but no fetal heart-sounds or movements were noticed. The cervix was only slightly dilated, and as no pains were felt, it was agreed to wait. On the next day the membranes were ruptured and 4 more fetuses were delivered. Traction on the umbilical cord started hemorrhage, to check which the physician placed his hand in the uterine cavity. In this most arduous position he remained four hours until assistance from Lugano came. Then, in the presence of the three visiting physicians, a sixth amniotic sac was delivered with its fetus. The woman had a normal convalescence, and in the following year gave birth to healthy, living twins. The News says the children all moved vigorously at birth; there were 4 males and 2 females, and for the 6 there was only one placenta. The mother, according to the same authority, was thirty-six years of age, and was in her second pregnancy.
Multiple Births over Six. -- When we pass sextuplets the records of multiple births are of the greatest rarity and in modern records there are almost none. There are several cases mentioned by the older writers whose statements are generally worthy of credence, which, however incredible, are of sufficient interest at least to find a place in this chapter. Albucasis affirms that he knew of the birth of seven children at one time; and d'Alechampius reports that Bonaventura, the slave of one Savelli, a gentleman of Siena, gave birth to 7 children, 4 of whom were baptized. A teh Paris of San Ildefonso, Valladolid, Julianna, wife of Benito Quesada, gave birth to 3 children in one day, and during the following night to 4 more. Sigebert, in his Chronicles, says that the mother of the King of Lombardy had borne 7 children at a birth. Borellus says that in 1650 the lady of the then present Lord Darre gave birth to eight perfect children in one parturition and that it was the unusual event of the country.
Mrs. Timothy Bradlee of Trumbull County, Ohio, in 1872 is reported to have given birth to 8 children at one time. They were healthy and living, but quite small. The mother was married six years previously and then weighed 273 pounds. She had given birth to 2 pairs of twins, and, with these 3 boys and 5 girls, she had borne 12 children in six years. She herself was a triplet and her father and her mother were of twin births and one of her grandmothers was the mother of 5 pairs of twins. This case was most celebrated and was much quoted, several British journals extracting it.
Watering of Maregnac speaks of the simultaneous birth of 8 children at one time. When several months pregnant the woman was seized with colicky pains and thought them a call of nature. She went into a vineyard to answer it, and there, to her great astonishment, gave birth to 8 fetuses. Watering found them enclosed in a sac, and thought they had probably died from mutual pressure during growth. The mother made a good recovery.
In 1755 Seignette of Dijon reports the simultaneous birth of nine children. Franciscus Piecus Mirandulae, quoted by Paré, says that one Dorothea, an Italian, bore 20 children at 2 confinements, the first time bearing 9 and the second time eleven. He gives a picture of this marvel of prolificity, in which her belly is represented as hanging down to her knees, and supported by a girdle from the neck (Fig. 23). In the Annals, History, and Guide to Leeds and York, according to Walford, there is mention of Ann Birch, who in 1781 was delivered of 10 children. One daughter, the sole survivor of the 10, married a market gardener named Platt, who was well known in Leeds. Jonston quotes Baytraff as saying that he knew of a case in which 9 children were born simultaneously; and also says that the Countess of Altdorf gave birth to twelve at one birth. Albucasis mentions a case of fifteen well-formed children at a birth. According to Le Brun, Gilles de Trazegines, who accompanied Saint Louis to Palestine, and who was made Constable of France, was one of thirteen infants at a simultaneous accouchement. The Marquise, his mother, was impregnated by her husband before his departure, and during his absence had 13 living children. She was suspected by the native people and thought to be an adulteress, and some of the children were supposed to be the result of superfetation. They condemned them all to be drowned, but the Marquis appeared upon the scene about this time and, moved by compassion, acknowledged all 13. They grew up and thrived, and took the name of Trazegines, meaning, in the old language, 13 drowned, although many commentaries say that "gines" was supposed to mean in the twelfth century "nes," or, in full, the interpretation would be "thirteen born."
Cases in which there is a repetition of multiple births are quite numerous, and sometimes so often repeated as to produce a family the size of which is almost incredible. Aristotle is credited with saying that he knew the history of a woman who had quintuplets four times. Pliny's case of quintuplets four times repeated has been mentioned; and Paré, who may be believed when he quotes from his own experience, says that the wife of the last Lord de Maldemeure, who lived in the Parish of Seaux, was a marvel of prolificity. Within a year after her marriage she gave birth to twins; in the next year to triplets; in the third year to quadruplets; in the fourth year to quintuplets; and in the fifth year bore sextuplets; in this last labor she died. The then present Lord de Maldemeure, he says, was one of the final sextuplets. This case attracted great notice at the time, as the family was quite noble and very well known. Seaux, their home, was near Chambellay. Picus Mirandulae gathered from the ancient Egyptian inscriptions that the women of Egypt brought forth sometimes 8 children at a birth, and that one woman bore 30 children in 4 confinements. He also cites, from the history of a certain Bishop of Necomus, that a woman named Antonia, in the Territory of Mutina, Italy, now called Modena, had brought forth 40 sons before she was forty years of age, and that she had had 3 and 4 at a birth. At the auction of the San Donato collection of pictures a portrait of Dianora-Frescobaldi, by one of the Bronzinos in the sixteenth century, sold for about $3000. At the bottom of this portrait was an inscription stating that she was the mother of 52 children. This remarkable woman never had less than 3 at a birth, and tradition gives her as many as 6.
Merriman quotes a case of a woman, a shopkeeper named Blunet, who had 21 children in 7 successive births. They were all born alive, and 12 still survived and were healthy. As though to settle the question as to whom should be given the credit in this case, the father or the mother, the father experimented upon a female servant, who, notwithstanding her youth and delicateness, gave birth to 3 male children that lived three weeks. According to dispatches from Lafayette, Indiana, investigation following the murder, on December 22, 1895, of Hester Curtis, an aged woman of that city, developed the rather remarkable fact that she had been the mother of 25 children, including 7 pairs of twins.
According to a French authority the wife of a medical man at Fuente-major, in Spain, forty-three years of age, was delivered of triplets 13 times. Puech read a paper before the French Academy in which he reports 1262 twin births in Nimes from 1790 to 1875, and states that of the whole number in 48 cases the twins were duplicated, and in 2 cases thrice repeated, and in one case 4 times repeated.
Warren gives an instance of a lady, Mrs. M____, thirty-two years of age, married at fourteen, who, after the death of her first child, bore twins, one living a month and the other six weeks. Later she again bore twins, both of whom died. She then miscarried with triplets, and afterward gave birth to 12 living children, as follows: July 24, 1858, 1 child; June 30, 1859, 2 children; March 24, 1860, 2 children; March 1, 1861, 3 children; February 13, 1862, 4 children; making a total of 21 children in eighteen years, with remarkable prolificity in the later pregnancies. She was never confined to her bed more than three days, and the children were all healthy.
A woman in Schlossberg, Germany, gave birth to twins; after a year, to triplets, and again, in another year, to 3 fairly strong boys. In the State Papers, Domestic Series, Charles I., according to Walford, appears an extract from a letter from George Garrard to Viscount Conway, which is as follows: "Sir John Melton, who entertained you at York, hath buried his wife, Curran's daughter. Within twelve months she brought him 4 sons and a daughter, 2 sons last summer, and at this birth 2 more and a daughter, all alive." Swam mentions a woman who gave birth to 6 children in seventeen months in 2 triple pregnancies. The first terminated prematurely, 2 children dying at once, the other in five weeks. The second was uneventful, the 3 children living at the time of the report. Rockwell gives the report of a case of a woman of twenty-eight, herself a twin, who gave birth to twins in January, 1879. They died after a few weeks, and in March, 1880, she again bore twins, one living three and the other nine weeks. On March 12, 1881, she gave birth to triplets. The first child, a male, weighed 7 pounds; the second, a female, 6 1/4 pounds; the third, a male, 5 1/2 pounds. The third child lived twenty days, the other two died of cholera infantum at the six month, attributable to the bottle-feeding. Banerjee gives the history of a case of a woman of thirty being delivered of her fourth pair of twins. Her mother was dead, but she had 3 sisters living, of one of which she was a twin, and the other two were twins. One of her sisters had 2 twin terms, 1 child surviving; like her own children, all were females. A second sister had a twin term, both males, 1 surviving. The other sister aborted female twins after a fall in the eighth month of pregnancy. The name of the patient was Mussamat Somni, and she was the wife of a respectable Indian carpenter.
There are recorded the most wonderful accounts of prolificity, in which, by repeated multiple births, a woman is said to have borne children almost beyond belief. A Naples correspondent to a Paris Journal gives the following: "About 2 or 3 stations beyond Pompeii, in the City of Nocera, lives Maddalena Granata, aged forty-seven, who was married at twenty-eight, and has given birth to 52 living and dead children, 49 being males. Dr. de Sanctis, of Nocera, states that she has had triplets 15 times."
Peasant Kirilow was presented to the Empress of Russia in 1853, at the age of seventy years. He had been twice married, and his first wife had presented him with 57 children, the fruits of 21 pregnancies. She had quadruplets four times, triplets seven times, and twins thrice. By his second wife he had 15 children, twins six times, and triplets once. This man, accordingly, was the father of 72 children, and, to magnify the wonder, all the children were alive at the time of presentation. Herman, in some Russian statistics, relates the instance of Fedor Vassilet, a peasant of the Moscow Jurisdiction, who in 1872, at the age of seventy-five years, was the father of 87 children. He had been twice married; his first wife bore him 69 children in 27 accouchements, having twins sixteen times, triplets seven times, and quadruplets four times, but never a single birth. His second wife bore him 18 children in 8 accouchements. In 1872, 83 of the 87 children were still living. The author says this case is beyond all question, as the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg, as well as the French Academy, have substantial proof of it. The family are still living in Russia, and are the object of governmental favors. The following fact is interesting from the point of exaggeration, if for nothing else: "The New York Medical Journal is accredited with publishing the following extract from the history of a journey to Saragossa, Barcelona, and Valencia, in the year 1585, by Philip II. of Spain. The book was written by Henrique Cock, who accompanied Philip as his private secretary. On page 248 the following statements are to be found: At the age of eleven years, Margarita Goncalez, whose father was a Biscayian, and whose mother was French, was married to her first husband, who was forty years old. By him she had 78 boys and 7 girls. He died thirteen years after the marriage, and, after having remained a widow two years, the woman married again. By her second husband, Thomas Gchoa, she had 66 boys and 7 girls. Those children were all born in Valencia, between the fifteenth and thirty-fifth year of the mother's age, and at the time when the account was written she was thirty-five years old and pregnant again. Of the children, 47 by the first husband and 52 by the second were baptized; the other births were still or premature. There were 33 confinements in all."
Extreme Prolificity by Single Births. -- The number of children a woman may bring forth is therefore not to be accurately stated; there seems to be almost no limit to it, and even when we exclude those cases in which remarkable multiplicity at each birth augments the numbers, there are still some almost incredible cases on record. The statistics of the St. Pancras Royal Dispensary, 1853, estimated the number of children one woman may bear as from 25 to 69. Eisenmenger relates the history of a case of a woman in the last century bearing 51 children, and there is another case in which a woman bore 44 children, all boys. Atkinson speaks of a lady married at sixteen, dying when she was sixty-four, who had borne 39 children, all at single births, by one husband, whom she survived. The children, 32 daughters and 7 sons, all attained their majority. There was a case of a woman in America who in twenty-six years gave birth to 22 children, all at single births. Thoresby in his "history of Leeds," 1715, mentions three remarkable cases -- one the wife of Dr. Phineas Hudson, Chancellor of York, as having died in her thirty-ninth year of her twenty-fourth child, and lastly, of Mrs. William Greenhill, of a village in Hertford, England, who gave birth to 39 children during her life. Brand, a writer of great repute, in his "History of Newcastle," quoted by Walford, mentions as a well-attested fact the wife of a Scotch weaver who bore 62 children by one husband, all of whom lived to be baptized.
A curious epitaph is to be seen at Conway, Carnarvonshire:--
"Here lieth the body of Nicholas Hookes, of Conway, gentleman, who was one-and-fortieth child of his father, William Hookes, Esq., by Alice, his wife, and the father of 27 children. He died 20th of March, 1637."
On November 21, 1768, Mrs. Shury, the wife of a cooper, in Vine Street, Westminster, was delivered of 2 boys, making 26 by the same husband. She had previously been confined with twins during the year.
It would be the task of a mathematician to figure the possibilities of paternity in a man of extra long life who had married several prolific women during his prolonged period of virility. A man by the name of Pearsons of Lexton, Nottingham, at the time of the report had been married four times. By his first 3 wives he had 39 children and by his last 14, making a total of 53. He was 6 feet tall and lived to his ninety-sixth year. We have already mentioed the two Russian cases in which the paternity was 72 and 87 children respectively, and in "Notes and Queries," June 21, 1856, there is an account of David Wilson of Madison, Ind., who had died a few years previously at the age of one hundred and seven. He had been 5 times married and was the father of 47 children, 35 of whom were living at the time of his death.
On a tomb in Ely, Cambridgeshire, there is an inscription saying that Richard Worster, buried there, died on May 11, 1856, the tomb being in memory of his 22 sons and 5 daughters.
Artaxerxes was supposed to have had 106 children; Conrad, Duke of Moscow, 80; and in the polygamous countries the number seems incredible. Herotinus was said to have had 600, and Jonston also quotes instances of 225 and even of 650 in the Eastern countries.
Recently there have been published accounts of the alleged experiments of Luigi Erba, an Italian gentleman of Perugia, whose results have been announced. About forty years of age and being quite wealthy, this bizarre philanthropist visited visited various quarters of the world, securing women of different races; having secured a number sufficient for his purposes, he retired with them to Polynesia, where he is accredited with maintaining a unique establishment with his household of females. In 1896, just seven years after the experiment commenced, the reports say he is the father of 370 children.
The following is a report from Raleigh, N.C., on July 28, 1893, to the New York Evening Post:--
"The fecundity of the negro race has been the subject of much comment and discussion. A case has come to light in this state that is one of the most remarkable on record. Moses Williams, a negro farmer, lives in the eastern section of this State. He is sixty-five years old (as nearly as he can make out), but does not appear to be over fifty. He has been married twice, and by the two wives has had born to him 45 children. By the first wife he had 23 children, 20 of whom were girls and 3 were boys. By the second wife he had 22 children -- 20 girls and 2 boys. He also has about 50 grandchildren. The case is well authenticated."
We also quote the following, accredited to the "Annals of Hygiene:" --
"Were it not part of the records of the Berk County Courts, we could hardly credit the history of John Heffner, who was accidentally killed some years ago at the age of sixty-nine. He was married first in 1840. In eight years his wife bore him 17 children. The first and second years of their marriage she gave birth to twins. For four successive years afterward she gave birth to triplets. In the seventh year she gave birth to one child and died soon afterward. Heffner engaged a young woman to look after his large brood of babies, and three months later she became the second Mrs. Heffner. She presented her husband with 2 children in the first two years of her wedded life. Five years later she had added 10 more to the family, having twins 5 times. Then for three years she added but 1 a year. At the time of the death of the second wife 12 of the 32 children had died. The 20 that were left did not appear to be any obstacle to a young widow with one child consenting to be the third wife of the jolly little man, for he was known as one of the happiest and most genial of men, although it kept him toiling like a slave to keep a score of mouths in bread. The third Mrs. Heffner became the mother of 9 children in ten years, and the contentment and happiness of the couple were proverbial. One day, in the fall of 1885, the father of the 41 children was crossing a railroad track and was run down by a locomotive and instantly killed. His widow and 24 of the 42 children are still living."
Many Marriages. -- In this connection it seems appropriate to mention a few examples of multimarriages on record, to give an idea of the possibilities of the extent of paternity. St. Jerome mentions a widow who married her twenty-second husband, who in his time had taken to himself 20 loving spouses. A gentleman living in Bordeaux in 1772 had been married 16 times. DeLongueville, a Frenchman, lived to be one hundred and ten years old, and had been joined in matrimony to 10 wives, his last wife bearing him a son in his one hundred and first year.
Possible Descendants. -- When we indulge ourselves as to the possible number of living descendants one person may have, we soon get extraordinary figures. The Madrid Estafette states that a gentleman, Señor Lucas Nequeiras Saez, who emigrated to America seventy years previously, recently returned to Spain in his own steamer, and brought with him his whole family, consisting of 197 persons. He had been thrice married, and by his first wife had 11 children at 7 births; by his second wife, 19 at 13 births, and by his third wife, 7 at 6 births. The youngest of the 37 was thirteen years old and the eldest seventy. This latter one had a son aged forty-seven and 16 children besides. He had 34 granddaughters, 45 grandsons, 45 great granddaughters, 39 great grandsons, all living. Señor Saez himself was ninety-three years old and in excellent health.
At Litchfield, Conn., there is said to be the following inscription: --
"Here lies the body of Mrs. Mary, wife of Dr. John Bull, Esq. She died November 4, 1778, aetat ninety, having had 13 children, 101 grandchildren, 274 great grandchildren, and 22 great-great grandchildren, a total of 410; surviving, 336."
In Esher Church there is an inscription, scarcely legible, which records the death of the mother of Mrs. Mary Morton on April 18, 1634, and saying that she was the wonder of her sex and age, for she lived to see nearly 400 issued from her loins.
The following is a communication to "Notes and Queries," March 21, 1891: "Mrs. Mary Honeywood was daughter and one of the coheiresses of Robert Waters, Esq., of Lenham, in Kent. She was born in 1527; married in February, 1543, at sixteen years of age, to her only husband, Robert Honeywood, Esq., of Charing, in Kent. She died in the ninety-third year of her age, in May, 1620. She had 16 children of her own body, 7 sons and 9 daughters, of whom one had no issue, 3 died young -- the youngest was slain at Newport battle, June 20, 1600. Her grandchildren, in the second generation, were 114; in the third, 228, and in the fourth, 9; so that she could almost say the same as the distich doth of one of the Dalburg family of Basil; 'Rise up, daughter, and go to thy daughter, for they daughter's daughter hath a daughter.'
"In Markshal Church, in Essex, on Mrs. Honeywood's tomb is the following inscription: 'Here lieth the body of Mary Waters, the daughter and coheir of Robert Waters, of Lenham, in Kent, wife of Robert Honeywood, of Charing, in Kent, her only husband, who had at her decease, lawfully descended from her, 367 children, 16 of her own body, 114 grandchildren, 228 in the third generation, and 9 in the fourth. She lived a most pious life and died at Markshal, in the ninety-third year of her age and the forty-fourth of her widowhood, May 11, 1620." (From 'Curiousities for the Ingenious,' 1825.) S.S.R."
Animal prolificity, though not finding a place in this work, presents some wonderful anomalies. In illustration, we may note the following: In the Illustrated London News, May 11, 1895, is a portrait of "Lady Millard," a fine St. Bernard bitch, the property of Mr. Thorp of Northwold, with her litter of 21 puppies, born on February 9, 1895, their sire being a magnificent dog -- "Young York." There is quoted an incredible account of a cow, the property of J. N. Sawyer of Ohio, which gave birth to 56 calves, one of which was fully matured and lived, the others being about the size of kittens; these died, together with the mother. There was a cow in France, in 1871, delivered of 5 calves.