Guillotine , an instrument for inflicting capital punishment by decapitation. It consists of an oblique-edged knife, heavily weighted, sliding easily between two upright grooved posts, and descending on a block where the head of the sufferer rests. This machine, which was brought into use in the early period of the French revolution, is not altogether a modern invention. Similar contrivances were in use in several parts of Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, if not before. According to Crusius, in his Annates Suevici (1595), such an instrument of decapitation existed in early times in Germany, but was superseded by the sword; it was styled Fallbeil, falling hatchet. A representation of it may be seen in two old engravings, the one by Georg Penez, who died in 1550, the other by Heinrich Aldegrever, bearing the date of 1553; and also in an old picture which, according to Reiffem-berg, is still preserved in the city hall of Augsburg. Jean d'Autun, the historiographer of Louis XII. of France, narrating an execution which ho witnessed at Genoa, May 13, 1507, describes a machine exactly like the guillotine.
This is the mannaia, which was used in all parts of Italy for the execution of men of rank, and is fully described by Pere Labat in his Voyage en Espagne et en Itatie en 1730. The same had been introduced into southern France, and Puysegur in his Memoires makes an allusion to it on occasion of the execution of Montmorency in 1032. A similar contrivance existed in the Netherlands. The "maiden" of Scotland, which was used in the decapitation of the regent Morton in 1581, and is still preserved in the museum of the antiquarian society at Edinburgh, was an instrument akin to those above mentioned, and either it or at least the pattern of it had been brought from abroad by the very man who suffered by it. The decapitating machine, therefore, was far from being a novelty when Dr. Guillotin suggested its application in 1789. The scheme being submitted to the carpenter employed by the government, he demanded 5,000 francs for making the instrument; but a German named Schmidt offered to build it for a much smaller sum; and finally a bargain was struck at 824 francs, Schmidt contracting to furnish 83 machines of the same kind, one for each department.
The machine was first tried, April 18, 1792, upon three corpses at the Bicetre hospital, and worked so satisfactorily that seven days later it was used publicly for the decapitation of Pel-letier, a highwayman under sentence. Summering, in the Moniteur of Nov. 9, 1795, denounced it as too rapid in its operation, and maintained that sensation does not cease immediately after the head of the sufferer has been severed from the body. The controversy was kept up by Sue, Oelsner, Cabanis, and others. In the same year appeared Sedillot's Reflexions historiques et philosophiques sur le supplice de ta guillotine, and. in 1796 the Anecdotes sur les decapites. The question has been renewed at different times and in various forms, particularly in an article in the London " Quarterly Review" for December, 1846, republished separately in 1850; Louis Dubois's Re-cherches historiques et physiologiques sur la guillotine (Paris, 1843); and Ludovic La-lanne's Guriosites des traditions, des moeurs et des legendes (1847).