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The Sensation of Being Murdered

The Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1344, p. 519.

November 25, 1865


Mr. Seward and his son, says the New York correspondent of the Spectator, have each told, at the request of friends, the story of their own sensations at the time of the attempted assassination.

Mr. Frederick Seward said that, on stepping from his bed-room into the passage, and seeing the assassin, he merely wondered what he was doing there, and called him to account. On his resisting the fellow's endeavour to press into Mr. Seward's room, he (the assassin) drew a revolver, which he presented at Mr. Frederick Seward's head. What followed, it must be remembered, took place in a few seconds. Mr. Frederick Seward's first thought was, "that's a navy revolver." The man pulled the trigger, but it only snapped, and his intended victim thought, "that cap missed fire." His next sensation was that of confusion, and, being upon the floor, resting upon his right arm, which, like his father's jaw, was barely recovered from a bad fracture--the assassin had felled him to the floor with the butt of the pistol--he put his hand to his head, and, finding a hole there, he thought, "that cap did not miss fire, after all." Then be became insensible, and remained so for two days and more. His first indication of returning consciousness was the question, "Have you got the ball out?" after which he fell off again into a comatose condition, which was of long continuance. On the very afternoon of the day when Mr. Lincoln was assassinated Mr. Frederick Seward, who was Assistant Secretary of State, had asked his father what preparation should be made for the presentation of Sir Frederick Bruce, which was to take place the next day. Mr. Seward gave him the points of a reply to be made to Sir Frederick, and he laid the outline of the speech upon the President's table, and Mr. Lincoln that afternoon wrote out the reply, adopting Mr. Seward's suggestions, and thus preparing that reception of the British Minister by President Johnson which was regarded at the time by the people to whose representative it was addressed as so friendly, and fair, and dignified. Mr. Frederick Seward's first inquiry after he came fully to his senses, which was a long time after the assassination, was, "Has Sir Frederick Bruce been presented?" He thought that only one night had passed, since he knew not what had happened to him, and his mind took up matters just where it had left them.

Mr. Seward's mental experience during his supposed assassination was in its nature so like that of his son that it raises the question whether this absence of consternation and observation of minute particulars is not common in circumstances of unexpected and not fully apprehended peril. Mr. Seward wa[s] lying upon his side, close to the edge of his bed, with his head resting in a frame, which had been made to give him ease and to protect his broken jaw from pressure. He was trying to keep awake, having been seized upon by a sick man's fancy: it was that if he slept he would wake up with lockjaw. He was brought to full consciousness by the scuffle in the passage-way, followed by the entrance of the assassin and the cry of Miss Seward, "Oh! he will kill my father!" But he saw nothing of his assailant until a hand appeared above his face, and than his thought was, "What handsome cloth that overcoat is made of!" The assassin's face then appeared, and the helpless statesman only thought, "What a handsome man!" (Payne was a fine-looking fellow.) Than came a sensation as of rain striking him smartly upon one side of his face and neck, then quickly the same upon the other side, but he felt no severe pain. This was the assassin's knife. The blood spouted. He thought, "My time has come," and, falling from the bed to the floor, fainted. His first sensation of returning consciousness was that he was drinking tea, and that "it tasted good." Mrs. Seward was giving him tea with a spoon. He heard low voices around him, asking and replying as to whether it would be possible for him to recover. He could not speak, but his eyes showed his consciousness, and that he desired to speak. They brought him a porcelain tablet, on which he managed to write, "Give me some more tea; I shall get well." And from that moment he has slowly but steadily recovered health and strength.

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