The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Animal Magnetism

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The American Cyclopædia
Animal Magnetism
Edition of 1879. See also Animal magnetism on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

ANIMAL MAGNETISM, or Mesmerism, an influence analogous to terrestrial and metallic magnetism, supposed to reside in animal bodies and to be capable of transmission from one to another. It was first brought into notice in Germany in 1775 by Mesmer, a native of Swabia, who had graduated in medicine at Vienna nine years before, and had written as his inaugural thesis a treatise on “The Influence of the Planets on the Human Body.” He regarded the new force, which he said could be exerted by one living organism upon another, as a means of alleviating or curing disease. Maximilian Hell, a professor of astronomy at Vienna, had made some suggestions to Mesmer a few years earlier as to the possibility of producing an effect on the human body by magnetism, and he soon claimed to be the discoverer of the new influence. Mesmer declared that the effects he produced were those of animal magnetism, capable of transmission without his touching the body of the patient, while Hell's theory, he affirmed, had made necessary the actual contact of the patient with a metallic magnet. The disputes to which this rivalry gave rise, together with various accusations of imposture, caused Mesmer to receive a warning from the government. He left Vienna, and in 1778 transferred his residence to Paris. Here he appears to have been from the first regarded with dislike, or at least with suspicion, by the medical profession, but with great favor by the general public. He received at his house patients suffering from various diseases, and performed upon them many reputed cures by the influence of the magnetic fluid. His method was to seat himself in front of the patient, with his eyes steadily fixed upon him, and to perform with the hands a few preliminary manipulations about the epigastrium and hypochondrium in order to establish between them what he called the “magnetic relation.” He then proceeded to operate upon the diseased part by touching it with the right hand on one side and the left on the other, and performing certain circular or vibratory movements with the fingers which were left free; an essential condition being that actual contact should be kept up on the two opposite sides in order that the magnetic influence might circulate, passing into the body of the patient on one side and out again on the other. His idea with regard to the nature of the influence termed animal magnetism may be best conveyed in his own words, as contained in a set of so-called “propositions” or “assertions,” in a volume published by him in 1779 and entitled Mémoire sur la découverte du magnétisme animale. The most important of these propositions are as follows: 1. “There exists a mutual influence between the celestial bodies, the earth, and animated beings.” 2. “This reciprocal action is regulated by mechanical laws which up to the present time have been unknown.” 3. “Animal bodies are susceptible to the influence of this agent; and they are affected by it on account of its disseminating itself through the substance of the nerves.” In cases where the body was affected by some disorder which pervaded all parts of the system, Mesmer was in the habit of magnetizing his patients with long and wide passes, made from a distance, either with the open hands or with the aid of a short rod or wand of glass or steel. His success with the public, however, and the number of patients who presented themselves, increased so rapidly that he could no longer give to each one the personal attention rendered necessary by this method of practice, and a new one was adopted which soon became the main feature of the magnetic system, and was in fact the principle from which mesmerism, or animal magnetism as practised by Mesmer, acquired its greatest reputation and popularity. This was the “magnetic tub,” about a foot and a half high and six feet in diameter, placed in the centre of a spacious apartment. This tub was filled with water up to a certain level, and its bottom covered with a mixture of iron filings and broken glass. Around its outer circumference were ranged a series of bottles with their necks looking inward toward the centre, and around its centre another set of bottles with their necks looking outward. The whole tub was surmounted by a wooden cover pierced with a number of small holes; and through these holes were inserted an equal number of glass or metallic rods bent at right angles, the inner ends of which dipped beneath the surface of the water, while the outer portions radiated horizontally in every direction, and were held in contact with the bodies of the patients, arranged in concentric circles round the tub. Thus a large number could be subjected at the same time to the magnetic influence. The tub was a sort of reservoir in which the magnetic force was condensed, and from which it radiated in continuous currents through the bodies of the patients. Its circulation was secured by means of a long cord, attached by one extremity to the tub, and passed in successive loops round the waist of each person, the magnetizer himself forming one link in this continuous chain of living bodies. Thus the magnetism, radiating from the tub by the metallic rods, returned again to it by means of the cord, and so continued its course in a closed circuit without ever becoming exhausted. The more susceptible of the patients soon felt a nervous influence pervading the affected parts, or even their whole bodies. This often became so intensified as to produce irregularity of respiration, and, especially among the female patients, sobs and laughter of an hysterical nature, exaltation of the sensibilities, partial unconsciousness, and even convulsions and a kind of maniacal delirium. These effects, however, lasted but for a time after the patient was removed from the magnetic circle, and resulted in many cases, according to the assertions of Mesmer and his friends, in the relief or cure of diseases previously regarded as hopeless. The receipts of Mesmer from the patients resorting to his establishment were said at one time to amount to nearly 100,000 francs a year. His system had indeed become so popular that he ventured to address a note to the French government, stating that he had discovered an agent by which most of the diseases of the human frame could be cured, and requesting the grant of a certain château and adjoining lands as a reward for his discovery, and as a place for the establishment of a great healing institute. The government refused his request, but offered him a yearly pension of 20,000 livres, and a certain sum for the establishment of a hospital, on condition that he should teach his doctrines to some persons, of whom three should be selected by the government. This offer he rejected; and his friends, desirous of giving him some lasting pecuniary reward for his discoveries, proposed that classes should be formed of pupils whom he should instruct in animal magnetism. Each pupil should pay 100 livres as tuition fee, and bind himself not to teach others. These classes were formed, and they paid him in all 340,000 livres. Among those who subscribed themselves as pupils were Lafayette, D'Esprémenil, the marquis de Puységur, and Dr. D'Eslon, D'Eslon was a man of much influence, and held the post of physician to the king's brother. He took great interest in animal magnetism, used it in his practice, and made a large fortune by its means. In 1784 the French government ordered the medical faculty of Paris to investigate Mesmer's theory, and make a report upon it. Under this order a commission was appointed, consisting of Benjamin Franklin (at that time minister to France from the United States), Lavoisier, Bory, Bailly, Majault, Sallin, D'Arcet, Guillotin, and Le Roy. Mesmer refused to appear before them, but D'Eslon took his place, made himself the advocate of the new doctrine, and tried a great number of experiments before them. In their report to the government the commissioners say that, “in regard to the existence and the utility of animal magnetism, they have come to the unanimous conclusion that there is no proof of the existence of the animal magnetic fluid; that this fluid, having no existence, is consequently without utility; and that the violent effects which are to be observed in the public practice of magnetism are due to the manipulations, to the excitement of the imagination, and to that sort of mechanical imitation which leads us to repeat anything which produces an impression upon the senses.” The special report of the committee of the academy of sciences, consisting of Franklin, Le Roy, Bory, Lavoisier, and Bailly, and made to the academy itself, concludes as follows: “Magnetism, accordingly, will not have been altogether valueless for the philosophy which pronounces its condemnation; it is one more fact to be recorded in the history of the errors of the human mind, and an important experiment upon the power of the imagination.” (Histoire de l'académie royale des sciences, 1784, p. 15.) This report of the commission, together with a previous quarrel in regard to money matters between Mesmer and his partisans, seems to have rapidly diminished the prosperity and esteem which he had enjoyed in Paris. He left that city in 1785, and passed the rest of his life in retirement in Switzerland, in the possession of considerable wealth acquired from his former magnetic practice. — About the time of Mesmer's retirement from Paris, animal magnetism entered upon a new phase of development, by the discovery by the marquis de Puységur of the magnetic sleep, or somnambulism, which afterward became still further developed by the addition of clairvoyance. It is under this title that the most surprising phenomena of animal magnetism have been exhibited during the present century. A magnetic clairvoyant is a person who, having been thrown into the somnambulistic condition by the manipulations of the magnetizer, becomes possessed of extraordinary powers of sense and perception. The term clairvoyant designates the power which is claimed for these persons of seeing distinctly through the substance of opaque objects. Thus a clairvoyant, it is said, can read a book unopened, or a letter which is enclosed in a solid wooden box. He can do this as well as with his eyes closed or bandaged as if they were open and uncovered. Sometimes the sense of sight, or a faculty capable of perceiving things which the normal man perceives only by means of the organ of vision, seems seated in the forehead, in the backhead, in the fingers, or in the knuckles of the hand. It is asserted that the clairvoyant can hear also without using his ears, and with more acuteness than can others in the waking state using their ears. Sometimes the sense of hearing appears to have its seat at the pit of the stomach, and the clairvoyant hears no sounds except those made at his breast. The senses of taste, touch, and smell are ordinarily inactive. But while insensible to impressions upon his own nerves, he feels all those which are experienced by his magnetizer; and if the latter be pinched, the clairvoyant winces, as though he felt the pain at the corresponding part of his own body. He is governed by the will of the magnetizer; whatever the latter orders him to do, he does; and this order is understood and obeyed, even if not spoken, but merely thought. As the theory of these alleged phenomena was gradually developed, mesmerism again rose into some degree of favor. M. Deleuze, assistant secretary and naturalist of the Jardin des Plantes, published in 1813 a favorable “Critical History of Animal Magnetism;” and other friendly publications followed rapidly in France and Germany. Several able German physiologists spoke of the new agent as worthy of attention. Well conducted magazines were established to propagate its principles. The Prussian government took notice of it in 1817, so far as to order that none save physicians should practise it; and in the following year the academy of sciences of Berlin offered a prize for the best treatise on the subject, but this offer was subsequently withdrawn. Ennemoser, Kluge, Kieser, Wolfarth, and Nees von Esenbeck defended mesmerism in books and magazines before the German public, and Deleuze kept the subject before France by publishing a number of works. In 1825, Dr. Foissac, a young physician and an enthusiastic believer in animal magnetism, demanded of the royal academy of medicine in Paris that another commission should be appointed, and another investigation made. The academy consented and appointed a commission of five members to conduct the inquiry. Their report, not made till 1881, while it did not concede by any means all that the believers in the new force claimed, was in general favorable to the theory of its existence and effects; and although not regularly adopted by the academy, or printed as a part of its formal memoirs, it gave a powerful impulse to the investigation of mesmerism, and extended it into Britain and America, where it had been almost unknown before. In 1833 J. O. Colquhoun published in English a translation of the report with remarks; in 1836 he published an original work on the same subject, entitled Isis Revelata. In 1837 the subject was again taken up by the academy. A committee of nine was appointed, among whom were Roux, Bouillaud, and Cloquet, who tested in several sessions the phenomena exhibited by a reputed clairvoyant. Their report, made Aug. 17, 1837, detailed all the particulars of their investigations, and expressed the results as follows: “The facts which had been promised by M. Berna (the magnetizer) as conclusive, and as adapted to throw light on physiological and therapeutical questions, are certainly not conclusive in favor of the doctrine of animal magnetism, and have nothing in common with either physiology or therapeutics.” This report was adopted by the academy Sept. 5, 1837. In the same month M. Burdin, a member of the academy, made a standing offer of 3,000 francs to whoever within two years should produce a clairvoyant able to read without the use of the light, the eyes, or the touch. The conditions of the trial were afterward modified so that the paper to be read might be illuminated, provided the eyes of the clairvoyant were properly covered, and the sense of touch might be used as an aid, but with a smooth glass surface covering the object to be examined. The time during which the prize was to remain open was also extended to three years. The money was deposited with a notary subject to the order of the academy, and a committee appointed to supervise the experiments. Several clairvoyants appeared as contestants for the prize at various times, but the committee in each case reported their complete failure. — About 1840 a new and prominent student of animal magnetism appeared in the person of Mr. Braid of Manchester, England, who discovered that he could produce sleep in most persons whom he tried, by ordering them to look steadily at some small object about a foot from the eyes, and above their level. He gave the name of “hypnotism” to the sleep and somnambulism thus produced, and styled his theory for the explanation of the phenomena “neurypnology.” The principles discovered by him were applied by other persons in various ways, and variously styled “biology,” “electro-biology,” &c. All the phenomena produced under these different names are substantially mesmeric. Mr. Braid had no faith in clairvoyance proper; but he admitted an “exaltation of the senses” in the mesmeric and hypnotic states, giving a delicacy of perception, and sometimes a perspicacity of reasoning, exceeding that of the normal state. These views were sanctioned by Dr. William B. Carpenter in his “Human Physiology.” Recently there has been no special change in the doctrine of clairvoyance, except that it has become somewhat closely connected with that of spiritualism. While the members of the medical profession, with few exceptions, have always opposed the claims of mesmerism, these have nevertheless found supporters in many men of learning and eminence; among them, besides those already mentioned, are Laplace, Cuvier, Agassiz, Hufeland, Sir William Hamilton, Dr. Herbert Mayo, and Prof. Edward Hitchcock. For information in regard to the theories of its advocates, see Deleuze's “Practical Instruction in Mesmerism;” “Letters on Animal Magnetism,” by Prof. William Gregory; “Mesmerism, its History, Phenomena, and Practice,” by William Lang; “Facts in Mesmerism,” by the Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend; “Truth in Popular Superstitions,” by Dr. Herbert Mayo; and “Practical Instruction in Animal Magnetism,” by Dr. Alphonse Teste.