Soho’s Sleepy Frenchman, 1887

Monsieur Chauffat had come to Soho for business. He was a wine merchant and, knowing London well, had elected to stay at the french hotel on Greek Street, Soho. Like many a visitor to the Uncanny Capital, he wanted to make the most of London’s nightlife and managed to persuade two other hotel guests to go out with him to Leicester Square. Despite being firmly middle aged, Chauffat out-drunk his new friends, hitting three different bars and inviting two ladies back to his room, both of whom robbed him when he passed out.

Witnesses saw him shambling around Tottenham Court Road in the early hours of the morning. He asked a cab driver for help, but he was brushed off: the driver recognised the two women he was with, and anyone associated with ‘that sort’ of woman had no business in his cab. Luckily, an elderly passerby helped the poor man back to his hotel, where he was spotted by the receptionist drunkenly stumbling up to his room, where he promptly went to bed.

He didn’t wake up for nineteen days.

After he hadn’t emerged from his hungover state, the hotel owner called a doctor. He tried everything to wake Mr Chauffat: pinching him, shining lights into his eyes…nothing worked. Since Dr Kesser was worried he wouldn’t get paid since he couldn’t succeed in waking Chauffat up, on 30th March he called in the newspapers and some of his more famous friends from the medical world. They were absolutely delighted with the chance to experiment on a catatonic patient. Sir William MacCormac found that when raised, Chauffat’s arms would remain upright, but he wouldn’t respond to any stimuli. The doctors had to get a little more creative: they found a french speaker to shout ‘open your eyes!’ at him in french, and hired a tuba player to play the french national anthem at him from a corner of his bedroom. Alas, nothing seemed to help.

After a week in bed, Chauffat was able to drink brandy. By 16th April, he was sufficiently mobile to be able to wash himself, and read about himself in the newspapers. Fortunately, his doctor’s efforts and publicity meant that he didn’t have any bills to pay for his medical ‘treatment’ or his hotel! He immediately travelled back to Paris.

However, one of his doctors published an article shortly afterward declaring he was a fraud. He was just asleep, claimed the doctor, and besides, french people sleep all the time. He’d even heard reports of a young lady in rural France who’d slept for months with no problems. This was normal in his culture.

Sadly for poor Chauffat, he suffered another attack in November, but this time he was under the care of his specialist at home and made a full recovery. This is the last history reveals of him, so we can only hope he had a long and conscious life.

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