Popular Science Monthly/Volume 43/August 1893/The Revival of Witchcraft II
|THE REVIVAL OF WITCHCRAFT.|
FINALLY, I must refer to another set of experiments which Dr. Luys conducted before us at La Charité on two of the patients there (on whom I subsequently performed counter-experiments). Having thrown these patients into the state of artificial sleep, he took from his. pocket some sealed glass tubes. "This tube," he said, "contains alcohol." He placed the tube in contact with the skin of the patient inside the collar of her dress. After a minute she began to complain of feeling giddy and oppressed. Presently she manifested all the signs of incipient drunkenness—she was gay and disposed to sing. A little later she fell from the chair on to the floor in a state of complete inebriety, and with a simulation of the various stages of drunkenness so effectively dramatic that I doubt if any woman so uneducated could go through such a performance, except an hysteric of this class, when "sleep-waking" and freed from the restraint of the fully conscious action of the upper brain. It is this mixture of hysteria, partially numbed consciousness, trained automatism, and imposture, which so often takes in either the wholly credulous or ignorantly skeptical spectator. Of the imposture there was, as I shall presently show, pace the intelligent reporters, no doubt whatever. Nor do I doubt at any rate that this girl was a thorough-paced hysteric and trained hypnotic, and that she was in an artificially induced and pathological condition when she went through these elaborate and brilliantly performed antics. She was lifted into the chair and another hypnotized person placed alongside her in another chair. Their hands were clasped together, "We will now see," said Dr. Luys, whether "the vibrations will be communicated from one to the other," and the state of drunkenness transferred. So said, so done; and a similar performance, not, however, so skillfully executed, was gone through by the second and less experienced subject. On the following day we had yet a more picturesque performance. I was told beforehand that this was "the day of the cat," and that I might expect to see a highly trained subject who usually presented herself at the clinique on that day for what was commonly spoken of as "the cat performance." This was a Mile. V., much described by Dr. Luys in his Leçons Cliniques sur les Phénomènes de l'Hypnotisme.
Of her Dr. Luys speaks as follows in his lectures to his pupils, to whom he presents her in set phrase as "an example of the degree of exaltation which memory and imagination may acquire in certain somnambulic subjects when other regions of the brain are in the condition of functional inhibition."
This account of this remarkable person, which I had read beforehand, so much interested me that I was desirous to see her, and very sorry that she was not there on the usual day to play the cat. But not to disappoint us, the male patient, of whom I have spoken, was introduced in her place. He was rapidly hypnotized by holding a finger in front of his eyes, and when he had arrived at the proper stage Dr. Luys took out a tube and said, "We will try the valerian on him, but I am not sure it will succeed." The tube was, however, put inside his coat-collar in contact with his skin. Presently he became very uneasy, disturbed in countenance, and moving awkwardly about in the chair. I asked him what was the matter. "He can not answer you," said Dr. Luys; "he is dumb, he can not speak; he is transformed; he is no longer a man and can not use the speech of men; he is assuming the nature of a cat." And, sure enough, presently the unhappy creature threw himself on to the ground with every sign of excitement and congestion; he began scratching about the floor on all fours, and presently mewing like a cat—a disagreeable but striking imitation—and when the valerian tube was taken from his neck and held in front of him he came scratching and spitting along the floor on all fours, as though irresistibly attracted, as a cat might be, to the person who held it. This astonishing gymnastic lasted for some minutes and seemed to fatigue him, as well it might. On the following day I secured the presence in my apartments of Mile. V. above mentioned. On calling on her with M. Cremière I found her installed as a hypnotizer as well as a hypnotic subject, and with a plate on her door accordingly. We arranged for a séance on her usual terms. She insisted, however, on bringing "her subject" with her, for she apparently now finds the passive and performing state rather fatiguing and not sufficiently profitable, and prefers the double emploi. When she arrived a very amusing scene followed. Acting Dr. Luys to the life, she proceeded to place her subject before her, and began to give us the magistral demonstration based on his lectures on suggestion, which he describes above as the peculiar endowment of her somnambulistic condition, and of which, as he observes artlessly, he believes her to be quite incapable in her waking state, thinking it only possible when her faculties are peculiarly "exalted" by his manipulation, I have no doubt that, as he says, she would have gone on indefinitely and until she was exhausted; but we were very soon tired of her glib impudence, and stopped the performance after she had shown us how she had trained this new subject in three weeks to a number of the required manifestations. We had the "passional attitudes," "fascination," the prise du regard, etc. The eyelids were duly opened by order for further performances, for she intelligently observed:
Here we stopped' her, for we were beginning to be fatigued, although she was not. We now requested herself to become the subject, and duly regretted her absence at the clinique of Dr. Luys on the previous day.
She then gave us a long list of her capacities, which run through the whole gamut of the phenomena described in the volumes of the professor at La Charité, She was duly put to sleep, and then I produced my tube, I had on the mantelpiece a number of tubes which I had taken at random from the laboratory of my brother-in-law, M. Vignal, containing a great variety of crystalline substances. These, however, she had already spied on the mantelpiece on coming in, and she said, "Oh, I must warn you that I am not at all susceptible to dry powders in tubes, only to fluids, and you won't get any effects with those." Respecting her scientific prudery and affected hypnotic exclusiveness, I humored her by immediately sending to the neighboring chemist for some tubes containing alcohol, valerian, cherry-laurel water, distilled water, and solution of burned sugar. One of the medical frequenters of the Charité was kind enough to go and get them, and he was good enough to see also that all the tubes were incorrectly labeled. A private mark on the corks indicated the true contents, which were duly entered in the notes of the sitting. I now said to him, "Kindly give me the valerian," in a low voice which she was supposed not to hear. This was duly placed in contact with the skin of the neck, the actual contents of the tube being alcohol. Then came the cat performance to perfection. I will do Jeanne (the other name under which this lady will be found spoken of in the lectures of Dr. Luys) the justice to say that she was by far the most accomplished performer of the three of his subjects whom I saw go through this performance at my rooms and at the Charité under similar circumstances. She scratched, she mewed to perfection, she washed imaginary whiskers, she spat, she licked her hands, she lapped milk from a saucer; and when you "pressed the button" at her back she sat up rigid as on hind quarters and caressed her face with her paws with a truly feline grace. She came back to her chair, or was supported back, for she was still supposed to be in deep somnambulism, and we brought into use the tube which was labeled cherry-laurel water, but which really contained valerian. Now commenced another performance, which among the trained subjects of the Charité is supposed to be identified with the "effect at a distance" of the fluid described on the label. After a decent period of waiting she fell slowly on her knees, her face assumed the characters of ecstasy, her eyes were fixed on space, and her features composed with great art to an affected expression of pious rapture; the hands were held up imploringly, then her head dropped and her arms folded across her breast as in prayer. Her hands presently were extended and her face upturned as toward a vision of beauty, and she exclaimed in low and broken tones of rapturous emotion: "She comes, she comes; she is all in white!" and as this sacred vision died away her head dropped in solemn resignation, and after a short interval of resignation and grief the play was over, and she was brought back once more to her chair in a state of well-simulated lethargy. This same performance she repeated under similar conditions at the final séance at Dr. Sajous's rooms, where I organized a continued representation before a number of spectators by Jeanne, by Madame Vix, and Clarice, in all cases with tubes containing anything else but valerians. Clarice was a third subject who figures largely in the writings of Dr. Luys, and whom I met at his clinique. She also was for a long time a patient; she is a thorough hysteric and trained hypnotic, and she goes through some of these performances with even better grace and more seductive accomplishment than Madame Jeanne. We repeated with her twice all these performances, and also some others. For Clarice is now also a "professional"; she is younger and prettier, and charges a higher fee than that of the others; she has hypnotic specialties of her own. She requested that for the final séance she might be permitted to bring "her pianiste" for she told us that what she was particularly celebrated for were the beauty and grace of her attitudes passionnelles, which were best performed when the person who hypnotized her could play to her appropriate music, gay or melancholy. Accordingly, on the final occasion, she came with a pianist, who duly made a few customary passes, to put her into the somnambulistic state, then put her in the middle of the room and began playing suitable music. He supplied her with castanets, and she danced a gay and lively measure; he rose from the piano and took them from her, and then sad music threw her into attitudes of picturesque despair and delicately acted grief. We had no time to go through the whole performance, or I have no doubt it would have-been well worth the money. I need not go through the entire category of proceedings. Prof. Luys told us that he had had as many as three of these people at once engaged in their cat performance, licking their paws, mewing, jumping, and scratching about the place; as he said, "un véritable Sabbat"—a true witches' Sabbath. He dwelt upon the importance of these manifestations (which he takes quite seriously) as opening up new realms of psychological inquiry. I quote from my notes:
This, however, appeared to be as far as we have yet got in this new excursion into psychical research of animals; it is not very instructive or edifying. So far as all these persons went they must be pronounced impudent impostors, and it is difficult to conceive how they can have succeeded in duping serious people, or how they can be permitted to have carried on the fraud for so many years. So also with the imaginary effects of the various medicinal substances in sealed tubes. I repeated this performance on every one of these five subjects of M. Luys, on whom he has for years been lecturing, whom he has photographed, and of whose good faith he gives so many assurances. We made notes (sometimes written by myself, sometimes by Dr. Sajous, sometimes by M. Cremiêre) of the results. The subjects were never once right, even by accident. When Mervel at the hospital supposed the tube to contain mercury although it really contained diabetic sugar, he suffered agonies of the kind which he supposed mercury to produce. He had gnawing pains; his limbs were being eaten away, and he was in dire agony from the worst effects which a prolonged mercurial course used often to produce, and of which the repute is still a tradition in the hospitals. Madame Vix, at my rooms, had another opinion of the effect of mercury, gathered apparently from its use in infantile ailments; for she was a mother. When she thought the tube contained mercury she began to suffer acute pains—"colique d'enfants," she said; and to stop the comedy I had to apply to her neck what was supposed to be a tube of cinnamon Avater, but which was really charged with bisulphide of mercury. This quickly calmed her pains, which were beginning to be indecorous. With Mervel at the hospital, when I had him to myself and hypnotized by the ward attendant, all the effects suj)posed to be due to valerian were produced with burned sugar. He was duly and quickly transformed into a cat, and the whole drama was enacted in the ward, but this time under the influence of a tube of sugar-water, with vivid feline effects. Strychnine, of which I was warned that the effects were most dangerous, for, as Dr. Luys observed to me, "You might kill a patient with it through incautiously applying the tube," I used repeatedly and most incautiously without producing any effects, for I was careful never to mention its name. I may emphasize that on this occasion it was not I who hypnotized Mervel, but a person who was well accustomed to do so.
Leaving now the detail of the various scenes of this tragi-comedy, let us consider for a moment the interpretation of it and the lesson it teaches. It was not, I think always and in all its stages wholly an imposture, although generally it was. Two at least of the subjects, Mervel and Marguerite, and, I think, perhaps Clarice, were pronounced hysterics and thoroughly trained hypnotics; they mingled pathological conditions and an artificially induced state of partial automatism with their abundant frauds. They were at once, as Voltaire puts it, speaking of like impostors, "duped and dupers, deceived and deceivers." Jeanne and Vix appeared to me from first to last to be acting a part with full consciousness of all their frauds. They were, moreover, anxious to accomplish them to my satisfaction, and in such a way, as they both openly stated, to procure from me what Jeanne called "a réclame" and Vix "the favor of my recommendation." After I was gone, Jeanne, the "professor of languages," and "sincere subject" of Dr. Luys's lectures, sent after me the following letter, which I think too interesting a document not to put upon record, I omit the address and the final paragraph, but I preserve the original spelling:
1. On obtien sur moi tres facilement—
Les trois états classiques,
Léthargie, Catalepsie, Somnambulisme.
Tous les différents effects et contracture—au contacte—des differents Metaux.
Les Contractures Neuro-Musculaires.
Le jeu du Diaphragm.
Prise du regard—le point fixe—autométisme—les attitudes—Effets des Couleurs.
Suggestions par gestes.
Effets des Aimants.
Cessation du battement du poux.
Tous les phénomènes de l'hyperestesie de la peau.
Effects de medicaments à distance,
Suggestion—instantanée et à écheance.
Changement de personalité,
Vue absolue à travers tous les corps oppaques sons aucun secour des yeux.
Double vue—transmission des pensées.
Je travail en ce moment comme Sujet (passif) a la Charite avec Mr. le Dr. Louys—et comme Sujet active avec mes sujets—chez moi tous les jours de 2 heures a 6 heures—et dans tous les Salons de la haute Aristocratic Parisienne en soirée hypnotique ou Spirite.Anciennements Mdlle. . . . que Samedi Mr. le Docteur j'avais aperçue dans votre Salon—á été employée par moi—pendant 8 mois comme man sujet. J'ai été forcé de la conjedier pour un fait—assez sérieux. Cette petite dont les aptitudes sont absolument aussi nules que le Cabotinage, est grand profité des visites chez moi de quelques toutes jeunes dames du plus grand monde qui dans l'après midi venaient me consulter et naturellement en cachette de moi, pour grossire ces gages de sujet, cette petite fille sans conscience vendai de la morphine an morphinomane et de l'opiome aux opiomanes, une de mes cliente, Mme. la Vicomtesse de. . . devenue absolument opiomane par l'opiom procurai en secret par. . . a manque payer cela de sa vie. Par un hasard ayant deconvert la verite j'ai mise . . . immediatement à la porte. Voila pourquoi j'ai été desagreablement impressionée voyant celte triste personne singer avec aplond dans le salon de Mr. le Docteur tous ce qu'elle m'avais vu faire etant chez moi.
This document is perfect; its spellicg. its jargon, its revelation of the under side of the genuine "marvels" of the new and old mesmerism, will make it historic.
We see here to what excesses this so-called science of hypnotism may lead, and we catch a glimpse, and only a glimpse, of some of its evil connections. The rest remain to be followed out, and ought to be followed out, by the Paris police, and no doubt the administrative council which presides over the hospital system of Paris will take some steps in the matter. It is hardly possible (except under a system of highly concentrated centralization, in which the true central governing body is so far removed from its peripheral members as to take little notice of what is going on there) that such things should happen or should continue. In any English hospital in which the controlling governors are on the spot, and the staff in habitual communication with them, such proceedings would long before have attracted inquiry, and would have been controlled. That is by the way. How much harm they can do in some directions, M. Luys knows very well and expresses very clearly, for he says in his lectures:
Of course the question will be asked, Are the practical uses or the applications of the artificial sleep (the induction of which is the residuum of this psychological puddle) of such value as to counterbalance its evils? As to its surgical uses, which at first sight are the most obvious, Luys himself says:
In the domain of medicine M. Luys is naturally more hopeful and more affirmative; but obviously inspires less confidence than his calmer and more critical colleagues at the Salpêtrière, who have abstained from following him in these new developments and who regard them with disfavor and distrust. To me, the so-called medical cures by hypnotism seem to rank in precisely the same class as those of the faith-curer.
The hypnotic endormeur is very well able to explain the miracles of faith-cure and pilgrimage by the light of his own experience. They result, as he explains accurately, from the reaction of mind on body, the effects of imagination, of self-suggestion, or of suggestion from without. Those who benefit by them are especially the fervent and the enthusiastic, the vividly imaginative, the mentally dependent, and, above all, the hysterical—male or female. But clearly, the faith-curer may retort upon the hypnotizer that they are brothers in their therapeutic results, if not in their faith and philosophy. The one can work about the same percentage of cures as the other—and no more; and the intervening apparatus, whether of magnets, mirrors, or of grottoes, only serve to affect the imagination, and to supply "the external stimulus" which is necessary.
To this category belong also the long series of thousands of asserted cures of people who wear what they are pleased to call magnetic belts, or who used to wear magnetic rings, who were cured by the Perkins tractors, whether of wood or of iron—they are the prey of the quacks of all ages and countries.
One essential part is, however, I conceive, that no new faculty was ever yet developed in any of these hypnotics. The frauds of clairvoyance, of spirit perceptions, of gifts of language, of slate-writing, of spirit-writing, of far-sight, of "communication across space," of "transfer of mental impressions," of the development of any new sense or ghost of a new sense, remain now as ever, for the most part, demonstrable frauds or perhaps in a few cases self-deceptions. At the Salpêtrière, at Nancy, wherever the facts have been impartially and critically examined, this has been the result. It results once more now from my test of the subjects of the Charité and the École Polytechnique. It will, I suppose, be too much to expect that we shall hear no more of the "New Mesmerism," but it will be easy for any one thus experimentally to reduce it to its true dimensions.
Finally, as to the practical question, which has perhaps a greater interest for the sociologist than any which have suggested themselves up to this point. Since the hypnotist faith-curer of the hospital ward and the priestly faith-curer of the grotto are in truth utilizing the same human elements and employing cognate resources, although masked by a different outward garb, we may ask ourselves which can approximate to the greater successes and which does the least harm.
So far as I can see, the balance is in favor of the faith-curer of the chapel and the grotto. The results at least are proportionately as numerous, and they are more rapid. Numerically there are, I incline to think, more faith-cures at Lourdes than there are "suggestion-cures" in the Salpêtrière or the Charité So far as hypnotism is good for anything as a curative agent, its sphere is limited, by Charcot, Féré, Babinski, and all the most trustworthy medical observers of Paris, to the relief of functional disorder and symptoms in hysterical patients. The Nancy school put their pretensions higher; but any one who will analyze for himself, or who will study Babinski's able analysis of the Nancy reputed cases of cure, will easily satisfy himself that such claims are not valid. As to the use of "suggestion" as an anæsthetic substitute of chloroform for operation purposes, that " " dates back now beyond the ages of Esdaile and of Elliotson. It has been given up and fallen into disuse because of its unreliability and limited application. It is now sagely proposed to use hypnotism for "tooth-drawing," for the treatment of drunkards and of school children. The proposition is self-condemned. To enable a dentist to draw a tooth painlessly, the average man or woman is, by a series of sittings, to be reduced to the state of a trained automaton; but happily only a very small proportion can be. The criminal courts have seen enough of hypnotic dentists. As to the "suggestion" cure "of drunkards or the "suggestion" treatment of backward or naughty children, systematic and intelligent suggestion is what every clergyman, every doctor, and every schoolmaster tries to carry out in such cases and often does successfully—and in a better form than the degrading shape of hypnotism. Moreover, for drunkenness it is, so far as my inquiries go, a failure.
If a striking effect is to be produced by an apparatus destined powerfully to affect the imagination, the faith-curer of the grotto has this advantage over the endormeur of the platform or the hospital. He does not intrude his own personality and train his patient to subject his mental ego to that of his "operator." The "mesmerizer" seeks to dominate his subject; he weakens the will power, which it is desirable to strengthen. He aims at becoming the master of a slave. I do not need to emphasize the dangers of this practice. I need not even relate them. I have briefly quoted the warnings of one of its apostles, or at least so much of them as it is seemly here to relate.
The faith-curer of the grotto strengthens the weaker individuality. He plays upon the spring of self-suggestion. The patient is told to believe that he will be cured, to wish it fervently, and he shall be cured. So far as he is cured, he returns perhaps a better and a stronger man, and his cure is quite as real and likely to be quite as lasting as if he had become the puppet of a hypnotizer. The experiments of the Salpêtrière have served to enable us to analyze more clearly the nature of faith-cures generally, and they have thrown a ray of light on a series of phenomena of human automatism never before studied so clearly or philosophically, but they have added practically little, if anything, to our curative resources. It is hardly to he set down to their discredit that they have incidentally favored the reign of the platform hypnotizer or the vagaries of the subjects at La Charité; that is their misfortune rather than their fault, but it is a grave misfortune. But the intervention of authority might at the present, in respect to the latter, cut short these absurdities and put an end to some social mischiefs which have fastened on to them and hang to their skirts. Thus much as to the sociological question. To the student of "psychological phenomena" it has a great interest to note how successive functions may be separately abolished as the brain is partially set to sleep, and in what exaggerated forms the remaining activities may be brought upon the stage when restraining self-consciousness is stilled. The vulgar, too, may find an ignoble amusement in the antics of these drinkers of petroleum and vinegar, in the semi-idiotic postures and proceedings of the hypnotized manikin, as they do in fantocchini show or a puppet play. But against such philosophic satisfactions and vulgar amusements must be set the avowed and the unconfessed mischiefs, and who can doubt that these outbalance any good result which can be discerned?—Nineteenth Century.
- This is another favorite subject of the Charité.
- Leçons cliniques sur les principaux Phénomènes de l'Hypnotisme dans leurs Rapports avec la Pathologie mentale. Par J. Luys. Paris: Georges Carré, Editeur, 58 Rue St. André-des-Arts, 1890.
- Applicatlons thérapeutiques de l'Hypnotisme. Par le Dr. J. Luys. Paris: Imprimerie F. Lève, 17 Rue Cassette, 1889.