Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/28

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

treatment, it was not without danger, since the convulsions excited were often violent and exceedingly apt to spread, especially among men feeble in body and weak in mind, and almost universally among women; and they dwelt strongly also on the moral dangers which, as their inquiries showed, attended these practices.

Now, this report, although referring to a form of mesmeric procedure which has long since passed into disrepute, really deals with what I hold to be an important principle of action, which, long vaguely recognized under the term "imagination," now takes a definite rank in physiological science; namely, that in individuals of that excitable nervous temperament which is known as "hysterical" (a temperament by no means confined to women, but rare in healthy and vigorous men), the expectation of a certain result is often sufficient to evoke it. Of the influence of this "expectancy" in producing most remarkable changes in the bodily organism, either curative or morbid, the history of medicine affords abundant and varied illustrations; and I shall presently show you that it operates no less remarkably in calling forth movements which, not being consciously directed by the person who executes them, have been attributed to hypothetical occult agencies.

I shall not trace the further history of Mesmer, or of the system advocated by himself; contenting myself with one ludicrous example of the absurdity of his pretensions. When asked in his old age by one of his disciples why he ordered his patients to bathe in river-water in preference to well-water, he replied that it was because river-water is exposed to the sun's rays; and when further asked how these affected it in any other way than by the warmth they excited, he replied, "Dear doctor, the reason why all water exposed to the rays of the sun is superior to all other water is because it is magnetized—since twenty years ago I magnetized the sun!"

In the hands of some of his pupils, however, animal magnetism, or Mesmerism (as it gradually came to be generally called), assumed an entirely new development. It was discovered by the Marquis de Puysegur, a great landed proprietor, who appears to have practised the art most disinterestedly for the sole benefit of his tenantry and poor neighbors, that a state of profound insensibility might be induced by very simple methods in some individuals, and a state akin to somnambulism in others; and this discovery was taken up and brought into vogue by numerous mesmerizers in France and Germany, while, during the long Continental war, and for some time afterward, it remained almost unknown in England. Attention seems to have been first drawn to it in this country by the publication of the account of a severe operation performed in 1829, by M. Cloquet, one of the most eminent surgeons of Paris, on a female patient who had been thrown by mesmerism into the state of somnambulism; in which, though able to converse with those around her, she showed herself entirely insen-