Page images

This was a circular oaken tub, containing bottles filled with magnetized water and arranged in two radiating layers. The patients sat round and held in their hands iron rods which emerged through holes in the lid of the tub. We know now that the rapt attention and concentration of mind were chiefly instrumental in producing the results obtained, but Mesmer still clung to his theory of the magnetic nature of the phenomena, Subsequently, however, he explained that this baquet was only adopted as a convenience for lack of accommodation, and was by no means essential. The effect on the patients took the form of different 'crises,' as he called them, convulsions, trance, and somnambulism. Among the diseases treated, in addition to those mentioned above, were rheumatism and deaf-mutism, It is a mistake to suppose that Mesmer claimed to cure everything; on the contrary he expressly says that his method does not pretend to do any good in cases of organic disease. Some of his modern followers are less modest.

In 1784 two commissions were ordered by the King to investigate the matter, one consisting of five members of the 'Académie Royale des Sciences,' together with four physicians, and the other nominated by the 'Société Royale de Médecine.' Both reported unfavourably, to the effect that the phenomena were due to the imagination only, and were either useless or dangerous. But it is noteworthy that one of the most distinguished members of the medical commission, De Jussieu, refused to sign, on the ground that 'some of the facts were entirely independent of the imagination.' In 1785 Mesmer quitted Paris, and after travelling through Europe finally settled at Mersburg, in Switzerland, where he died in 1815.

Meantime his system continued to be extensively practised in France by D'Eslon and other pupils. Among these the most remarkable was M. Chastelet, Marquis de Puységur. This gentleman's researches were embodied in four or five pamphlets, published between 1784 and 1811, which are exceptionally interesting, because they contain a clear and careful record of actual experiences free for the most part from theoretical speculations, and because they are transparently honest. His motives were purely humane and absolutely free from suspicion; he had indeed nothing to gain by trickery. A sort of accident led him to take up the practice. The daughter of his steward at Busancy, his country seat, had a tooth-ache one day, and it occurred to him to try what he had seen Mesmer do. He accordingly mesmerized the girl, and succeeded in relieving her of her tooth-ache. Other cases followed, the report spread, and he soon had a crowd of sufferers from the neighbourhood,


The baquet was replaced by the village elm, round which the patients stood in a circle, but this was presently given up as unnecessary. The fixing of the gaze, pointing and touching with the finger, were sufficient. The Marquis relates in detail a number of cures effected and attested by ample documentary evidence. One of the most striking was a case of deafness occurring in a young man named Joly. The authenticity of the case and its cure is attested by Joly's father, the mayor and inhabitants of Dormans, where he lived. One of the chief points of the mesmeric state to which De Puységur directed his attention was the peculiar somnambulistic condition into which patients sometimes fell. It occurred to him first in the case of a young labourer on his estate, named Victor, who was suffering from an attack of acute pleuropneumonia. On being mesmerized Victor, who appears to have been a remarkably susceptible subject, fell asleep in his master's arms and awoke some time afterwards much refreshed. Further experience with Victor revealed most of the somnambulistic phenomena, since familiarized by numerous observers; the quickening of the senses and of the intelligence, the curious behaviour of the memory, the subordination of the will and the susceptibility to suggestion:

'Quand il est en crise (i.e. mesmerized) je ne connois rien de plus profond, de plus prudent et de plus clairvoyant. . . . Ce n'est plus un paysan niais, sachant à peine répondre une phrase, c'est un être qui je ne sais pas nommer: je n'ai pas besoin de lui parler: je pense devant lui et il m'entend, me repond. Vient-il quelqu'un dans sa chambre? Il le voit si je veux, lui parle, lui dit les choses que je veux qu'il lui dire. J'arrête ses idées, ses phrases au milieu d'un mot et je change son idée totalement.'

Further he recognized distinctions of states :

'Cette femme s'endormoit quand je la touchois, mais n'entroit pas dans l'état de somnambulisme.'

Here is the foundation of the hypnotic researches of Braid and of the Nancy doctors in the present day; but it is quite a mistake to suppose that these phenomena were unknown to Mesmer, and that De Puységur was the real discoverer of modern mesmerism. The latter himself makes this clear:-

It is to him (Mesmer) alone I owe my feeble lights, my fortunate attempts.' And speaking to an assemblage of Mesmer's pupils he says:- -- We shall never be anything but turners of the handle; it is M. Mesmer who has put it in our hands; he who has the best arm will turn the quickest.' Moreover, among Mesmer's writings is a little-known Mémoire, in which he

' attempts

'attempts to explain more completely the equally diverse and surprising phenomena of the state called somnambulism. This it is that produces the marvellous apparitions, ecstasies, and inexplicable visions, which are the sources of so many errors and absurd opinions.' How is it,' he asks, that l'homme endormi is able to receive the impression of another's will?' And he develops a very ingenious theory upon the whole subject curiously anticipating the remarks of Braid upon the relations between artificial and natural sleep, and those of modern hypnotists upon the different degrees of the hypnotic state. He speaks of the telescopic' arrangement of artificial sleep, the effect varying as the means of adjusting it. Where Mesmer was at fault was in lack of systematic observation and collation of actual phenomena. He seems to have had no notion of doing this; he was entirely occupied with theories on the one hand, and with therapeutical results on the other. But this was due rather to the age in which he lived than to himself; and it is to the credit of the older mesmerizers that they had only the cure of the patient in view, and did not consider themselves justified in experimenting indefinitely with their subjects for the sole purpose of assuaging their thirst for knowledge. They were less scientific but more humane.

The French revolution dispersed the mesmerists, and the practice dropped out of sight for some years. De Puységur was thrown into prison; but when better times returned he renewed his propaganda with great vigour, and was followed by Dr. Pététin of Lyons, and others. Provincial societies were started to carry on the practice, and mesmerism began to flourish greatly in Germany, Russia, and Scandinavia. The Berlin Academy of Science proposed a prize essay on the subject, which was won by Dr. Wohlfart. Before long it became necessary to restrict the practice to medical men. In 1820 the Hôtel Dieu was opened to mesmerism in the wards of Husson-the experiments were carried out under the direction of Dupotet. Perhaps the earliest recorded case of post-hypnotic suggestion occurred here. Dupotet was accustomed to mesmerize a young woman named Samson. One day he tried the experiment of remaining in his room at the usual hour of mesmerizing; but Samson, having the idea in her mind that she ought to go off then, did so of her own accord. The performances were, however, interdicted, and the scene shifted to La Salpêtrière, where Charcot practises the same thing to-day. In 1825 a commission of inquiry was nominated by the Académie de Médecine. It sat for six years, and in 1831 issued a report known as Husson's report, which was on the whole extremely favour


able. The commissioners were of opinion that while the effects were nil in some cases and slight in others, and were sometimes produced by ennui or imagination, yet that

'a certain number of well-established physiological and therapeutical phenomena appeared to depend on magnetism alone, and were never produced without its application, The real effects are very various; agitation, calmness, quickened respiration and circulation, slight convulsive movements, numbness, heaviness, somnolency, and in a small number of cases somnambulism. During this state (of which they indisputably prove the existence) occur clairvoyance, intuition, internal prevision, and insensibility. We can not only act upon the magnetized person, but even place him in a complete state of somnambulism and bring him out of it without his knowledge, out of his sight, at a certain distance and with doors intervening. The action at a distance does not appear capable of being exerted with success, except upon persons who have been already magnetized.'

This report, which in some respects goes far beyond modern 'discoveries' in hypnotism, was never printed; two commissioners refused to sign, on the ground of not having witnessed the experiments. In 1837 the Académie took advantage of the occurrence of some operations under mesmeric anæsthesia to appoint another commission. The second report was entirely adverse:-'no satisfactory proof had been given of the existence of a particular state called the state of magnetic somnambulism,' or of the other alleged phenomena. The experiments on which it was founded were, however, very limited, and according to Husson it ought to have been called Report of Experiments made on two Somnambulists.' As he said, the negative results did not disprove the previous positive ones. Nevertheless, the blow was a heavy one, and practically closed the first epoch in the history of mesmerism. In France it was killed so far as the medical profession were concerned, and did not really revive for nearly forty years.


In England mesmerism had never attracted very much attention. Maineduc, a pupil of Mesmer's, lectured at Bristol in 1778. Perkins, and his metallic tractors,' had a short vogue. Dr. Chenevix, in 1828, performed experiments in hospitals before eminent members of the profession, but they passed without notice. In 1837, Dupotet came over and created some stir. Dr. Elliotson, of University College Hospital, became a convert. Many experiments were performed on patients and students, but some of the subjects, particularly two girls of the name of Okey, were not considered free from suspicion of trickery, and Dr. Elliotson fell into discredit. With Braid, however, mesmerism started on a new career, and received a new Vol. 171.-No. 341. R name.


name. He was a Manchester surgeon, who attended in 1841 the conversazioni of Lafontaine, a professional mesmerist, and readily perceived that all the phenomena were not the result of trickery. Some experiments of his own, made at home, were successful, and he soon became an expert practitioner. His method of proceeding was to take any bright object, and hold it from about eight to fifteen inches from the eyes, at such a position above the forehead as to produce a strain on the eyes and eyelids, while the patient maintained a steady fixed stare at the object. This was the important point-the continued fixation of the mental and visual eye.' As, however, the experiment succeeded with the blind, he considered it not so much the optic as the sentient, motor and sympathetic nerves, and the mind, through which the impression is made,' thereby curiously and unconsciously echoing Mesmer's theory of an inner sense' consisting of the whole nervous system taken together without the nerves of special sense. The first result produced is a condition resembling sleep: hence the term neuro-hypnotism, or nervous sleep, which from its scientific appearance has taken the fancy of the medical world ever since. Braid's earlier conclusions are summarized thus in nine propositions:-(1) By fixing the mental and visual eye the nervous system is thrown into a new condition accompanied by somnolence. (2) At first there is high excitement of all organs of sense except sight, followed by torpor. (3) In this condition we can direct and concentrate nervous energy. (4) We can excite or depress the force and frequency of the heart's action, and the state of the circulation locally and generally. (5) We can regulate and control muscular tone. (6) We can produce rapid and important changes in capillary circulation and in the secretions and excretions of the body. (7) This power can be beneficially directed to the treatment of disease. (8) It can be used for moderating and preventing pain in operation. (9) We can excite certain bodily and mental manifestations by manipulating the cranium and the face. With the exception of the last, which involves phrenology, these propositions are concerned with demonstrable physiological und therapeutical effects, and cover almost the whole ground of recent hypnotic research in the same direction. The mesmeric phenomena are viewed for nearly the first time from a fairly scientific point of view, or at least they are expressed in terms of science, and at once assume an orderly and rational aspect.

The cases successfully treated by Braid were blindness (partial), deaf and dumbness, neuralgia, paralysis of different forms, rheumatism, headache (epileptiform), epilepsy, deformi

« PreviousContinue »