Biography of the Elephant Man John Merrick Part 2

About the English Elephan Man John Merrick, an account and biography written by a doctor of his deformed figure.

JOHN MERRICK (1863-1890). The English Elephant Man.

At the station Merrick seemed pleased to see me, but he was starved and exhausted. I drove him at once to the hospital, where I had him deposited on a bed and supplied with food. We decided we could not turn him out into the world again. The British public is generous; a letter to The Times asking for money for the Elephant Man brought in funds enough to maintain him indefinitely. Two empty rooms at the back of the hospital were converted into a bed-sitting room and a bathroom for him. He had now something he had never dreamed of--a home of his own for life.

I at once began to study my patient. Seeing him almost every day, I soon learned his speech so we could talk freely. He had a passion for conversation, for he had never had anyone to talk to. I found him remarkably intelligent and a voracious reader, especially of romances. In his outlook on the world, however, he was more a child than a man.

I could learn little about the Elephant Man's early days. Of his father he knew nothing. Of his mother he had some memory. Even as an infant he must have been repellent, and she had doubtless deserted him when he was very small; his earliest memories were of the workhouse. Romantic that he was, he spoke of her with pride and reverence. Most of his life had been one dull record of degradation, of being dragged from town to town, from fair to fair, like a beast in a cage. He had had no childhood. He had never experienced pleasure. His idea of happiness was to creep into the dark and hide.

For all his suffering Merrick was gentle and affectionate. I asked a friend of mine, a young, pretty widow, to call on him and she did so. As he let go her hand he bent his head to his knees and sobbed. She was the 1st woman who had ever smiled at him and shaken his hand. From this day he began to change from a hunted thing into a man.

Merrick's case attracted much attention in the papers. Everybody wanted to see him. Many ladies of note called and shook hands with him. They made his room bright with ornaments and pictures. The Queen herself came to see him many times. Little by little he grew less conscious of his unsightliness. One burning ambition of his was to go to the theater and another was to see the wonders of country life. Both of these wishes were satisfied, though special precautions were required to hide him from the public stare. With all these kindnesses, he became one of the most contented creatures I have met. "I am happy every hour of the day," he said to me. Happy as he was, however, because of his deformed mouth his face remained expressionless. He could weep but he could not smile.

In April, 1890, Merrick was found dead in bed. The method of his death was peculiar. So large and heavy was his head, he could not sleep lying down. He sat up in bed with his back supported by pillows; his knees were drawn up, and his arms clasped round his legs, while his head rested on his knees. He had often said he wished he could sleep "like other people." I think on this night he must have made the experiment. His head, when he placed it on the soft pillow, must have fallen backward, dislocating the neck. Thus it came about that his death was due to the desire that had dominated his life--the pathetic but hopeless desire to be "like other people." (As originally recounted in The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences [1923] by Sir Frederick Treves.)

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