Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/27

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of complete blindness a celebrated singer, Mademoiselle Paradis, who had been for ten years unsuccessfully treated by the court physician. His claim to a partial success, however, which was in the first instance supported by his patient, seemed to have been afterward so completely disproved by careful trials of her visual powers, that he found himself obliged to quit Vienna abruptly, and thence proceeded to Paris, where he soon produced a great sensation. The state of French society at that time, as I have already remarked, was peculiarly favorable to his pretensions. A feverish excitability prevailed, which caused the public mind to be violently agitated by every question which it took up. And Mesmer soon found it advantageous to challenge the learned societies of the capital to enter the lists against him; the storm of opposition which he thus provoked having the effect of bringing over to his side a large number of devoted disciples and ardent partisans. He professed to distribute the magnetic fluid to his congregated patients from a baquet or magnetic tub which he had impregnated with it, each individual holding a rod which proceeded from the baquet; but when the case was particularly interesting, or likely to be particularly profitable, he took it in hand for personal magnetization. All the surroundings were such as to favor, in the hysterical subjects who constituted the great bulk of his patients, the nervous paroxysm termed the "crisis," which was at once recognized by medical men as only a modified form of what is commonly known as an "hysteric fit;" the influence of the imitative tendency being manifested as it is in cases where such fits run through a school, nunnery, factory, or revivalist-meeting, in which a number of suitable subjects are collected together. And it was chiefly on account of the moral disorders to which Mesmer's proceedings seemed likely to give rise that the French Government directed a scientific commission, including the most eminent savants of the time—such as Lavoisier, Bailly, and Benjamin Franklin—to inquire into them. After careful investigation they came to the conclusion that there was no evidence whatever of any special agency proceeding from the baquet; for not only were they unable to detect the passage of any influence from it that was appreciable, either by electric, magnetic, or chemical tests, or by the evidence of any of their senses; but, on blindfolding those who seemed to be most susceptible to its supposed influence, all its ordinary effects were produced when they were without any connection with it, but believed that it existed. And so, when in a garden of which certain trees had been magnetized, the patients, either when blindfolded, or when ignorant which trees had been magnetized, would be thrown into a convulsive fit if they believed themselves to be near a magnetized tree, but were really at a distance from it; while, conversely, no effect would follow their close proximity to one of these trees when they believed themselves to be at a distance from any of them. Further, the commissioners reported that, although some cures might be wrought by the mesmericVOL. XI.—2