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There is no doubt that hypnotism is a very old subject, though the name
was not invented till 1850. In it was wrapped up the "mysteries of Isis"
in Egypt thousands of years ago, and probably it was one of the weapons,
if not the chief instrument of operation, of the magi mentioned in the
Bible and of the "wise men" of Babylon and Egypt. "Laying on of hands"
must have been a form of mesmerism, and Greek oracles of Delphi and
other places seem to have been delivered by priests or priestesses who
went into trances of self-induced hypnotism. It is suspected that the
fakirs of India who make trees grow from dry twigs in a few minutes, or
transform a rod into a serpent (as Aaron did in Bible history), operate
by some form of hypnotism. The people of the East are much more subject
to influences of this kind than Western peoples are, and there can be no
question that the religious orgies of heathendom were merely a form of
that hysteria which is so closely related to the modern phenomenon of
hypnotism. Though various scientific men spoke of magnetism, and
understood that there was a power of a peculiar kind which one man could
exercise over another, it was not until Frederick Anton Mesmer (a doctor
of Vienna) appeared in 1775 that the general public gave any special
attention to the subject. In the year mentioned, Mesmer sent out a
circular letter to various scientific societies or "Academies" as they
are called in Europe, stating his belief that "animal magnetism"
existed, and that through it one man could influence another. No
attention was given his letter, except by the Academy of Berlin, which
sent him an unfavorable reply.
In 1778 Mesmer was obliged for some unknown reason to leave Vienna, and
went to Paris, where he was fortunate in converting to his ideas
d'Eslon, the Comte d'Artois's physician, and one of the medical
professors at the Faculty of Medicine. His success was very great;
everybody was anxious to be magnetized, and the lucky Viennese doctor
was soon obliged to call in assistants. Deleuze, the librarian at the
Jardin des Plantes, who has been called the Hippocrates of magnetism,
has left the following account of Mesmer's experiments:
"In the middle of a large room stood an oak tub, four or five feet in
diameter and one foot deep. It was closed by a lid made in two pieces,
and encased in another tub or bucket. At the bottom of the tub a number
of bottles were laid in convergent rows, so that the neck of each bottle
turned towards the centre. Other bottles filled with magnetized water
tightly corked up were laid in divergent rows with their necks turned
outwards. Several rows were thus piled up, and the apparatus was then
pronounced to be at 'high pressure'. The tub was filled with water, to
which were sometimes added powdered glass and iron filings. There were
also some dry tubs, that is, prepared in the same manner, but without
any additional water. The lid was perforated to admit of the passage of
movable bent rods, which could be applied to the different parts of the
patient's body. A long rope was also fastened to a ring in the lid, and
this the patients placed loosely round their limbs. No disease offensive
to the sight was treated, such as sores, or deformities.
"A large number of patients were commonly treated at one time. They drew
near to each other, touching hands, arms, knees, or feet. The
handsomest, youngest, and most robust magnetizers held also an iron rod
with which they touched the dilatory or stubborn patients. The rods and
ropes had all undergone a 'preparation' and in a very short space of
time the patients felt the magnetic influence. The women, being the most
easily affected, were almost at once seized with fits of yawning and
stretching; their eyes closed, their legs gave way and they seemed to
suffocate. In vain did musical glasses and harmonicas resound, the piano
and voices re-echo; these supposed aids only seemed to increase the
patients' convulsive movements. Sardonic laughter, piteous moans and
torrents of tears burst forth on all sides. The bodies were thrown back
in spasmodic jerks, the respirations sounded like death rattles, the
most terrifying symptoms were exhibited. Then suddenly the actors of
this strange scene would frantically or rapturously rush towards each
other, either rejoicing and embracing or thrusting away their neighbors
with every appearance of horror.
"Another room was padded and presented another spectacle. There women
beat their heads against wadded walls or rolled on the cushion-covered
floor, in fits of suffocation. In the midst of this panting, quivering
throng, Mesmer, dressed in a lilac coat, moved about, extending a magic
wand toward the least suffering, halting in front of the most violently
excited and gazing steadily into their eyes, while he held both their
hands in his, bringing the middle fingers in immediate contact to
establish communication. At another moment he would, by a motion of open
hands and extended fingers, operate with the great current, crossing and
uncrossing his arms with wonderful rapidity to make the final passes."
Hysterical women and nervous young boys, many of them from the highest
ranks of Society, flocked around this wonderful wizard, and incidentally
he made a great deal of money. There is little doubt that he started out
as a genuine and sincere student of the scientific character of the new
power he had indeed discovered; there is also no doubt that he
ultimately became little more than a charlatan. There was, of course, no
virtue in his "prepared" rods, nor in his magnetic tubs. At the same
time the belief of the people that there was virtue in them was one of
the chief means by which he was able to induce hypnotism, as we shall
see later. Faith, imagination, and willingness to be hypnotized on the
part of the subject are all indispensable to entire success in the
practice of this strange art.
In 1779 Mesmer published a pamphlet entitled "Memoire sur la decouverte
du magnetisme animal", of which Doctor Cocke gives the following summary
(his chief claim was that he had discovered a principle which would cure
"He sets forth his conclusions in twenty-seven propositions, of which
the substance is as follows: -- There is a reciprocal action and reaction
between the planets, the earth and animate nature by means of a constant
universal fluid, subject to mechanical laws yet unknown. The animal body
is directly affected by the insinuation of this agent into the substance
of the nerves. It causes in human bodies properties analogous to those
of the magnet, for which reason it is called 'Animal Magnetism'. This
magnetism may be communicated to other bodies, may be increased and
reflected by mirrors, communicated, propagated, and accumulated, by
sound. It may be accumulated, concentrated, and transported. The same
rules apply to the opposite virtue. The magnet is susceptible of
magnetism and the opposite virtue. The magnet and artificial electricity
have, with respect to disease, properties common to a host of other
agents presented to us by nature, and if the use of these has been
attended by useful results, they are due to animal magnetism. By the aid
of magnetism, then, the physician enlightened as to the use of medicine
may render its action more perfect, and can provoke and direct salutary
crises so as to have them completely under his control."
The Faculty of Medicine investigated Mesmer's claims, but reported
unfavorably, and threatened d'Eslon with expulsion from the society
unless he gave Mesmer up. Nevertheless the government favored the
discoverer, and when the medical fraternity attacked him with such vigor
that he felt obliged to leave Paris, it offered him a pension of 20,000
francs if he would remain. He went away, but later came back at the
request of his pupils. In 1784 the government appointed two commissions
to investigate the claims that had been made. On one of these
commissions was Benjamin Franklin, then American Ambassador to France as
well as the great French scientist Lavoisier. The other was drawn from
the Royal Academy of Medicine, and included Laurent de Jussieu, the only
man who declared in favor of Mesmer.
There is no doubt that Mesmer had returned to Paris for the purpose of
making money, and these commissions were promoted in part by persons
desirous of driving him out. "It is interesting," says a French writer,
"to peruse the reports of these commissions: they read like a debate on
some obscure subject of which the future has partly revealed the
secret." Says another French writer (Courmelles): "They sought the
fluid, not by the study of the cures affected, which was considered too
complicated a task, but in the phases of mesmeric sleep. These were
considered indispensable and easily regulated by the experimentalist.
When submitted to close investigation, it was, however, found that they
could only be induced when the subjects knew they were being magnetized,
and that they differed according as they were conducted in public or in
private. In short -- whether it be a coincidence or the truth -- imagination
was considered the sole active agent. Whereupon d'Eslon remarked, 'If
imagination is the best cure, why should we not use the imagination as a
curative means?' Did he, who had so vaunted the existence of the fluid,
mean by this to deny its existence, or was it rather a satirical way of
saying. 'You choose to call it imagination; be it so. But after all, as
it cures, let us make the most of it'?
"The two commissions came to the conclusion that the phenomena were due
to imitation, and contact, that they were dangerous and must be
prohibited. Strange to relate, seventy years later, Arago pronounced the
Daurent Jussieu was the only one who believed in anything more than
this. He saw a new and important truth, which he set forth in a personal
report upon withdrawing from the commission, which showed itself so
hostile to Mesmer and his pretensions.
Time and scientific progress have largely overthrown Mesmer's theories
of the fluid; yet Mesmer had made a discovery that was in the course of
a hundred years to develop into an important scientific study. Says
Vincent: "It seems ever the habit of the shallow scientist to plume
himself on the more accurate theories which have been provided f, by the
progress of knowledge and of science, and then, having been fed with a
limited historical pabulum, to turn and talk lightly, and with an air of
the most superior condescension, of the weakness and follies of those
but for whose patient labors our modern theories would probably be non-
existent." If it had not been for Mesmer and his "Animal Magnetism", we
would never have had "hypnotism" and all our learned societies for the
study of it.
Mesmer, though his pretensions were discredited, was quickly followed by
Puysegur, who drew all the world to Buzancy, near Soissons, France.
"Doctor Cloquet related that he saw there, patients no longer the
victims of hysterical fits, but enjoying a calm, peaceful, restorative
slumber. It may be said that from this moment really efficacious and
useful magnetism became known." Every one rushed once more to be
magnetized, and Puysegur had so many patients that to care for them all
he was obliged to magnetize a tree (as he said), which was touched by
hundreds who came to be cured, and was long known as "Puysegur's tree".
As a result of Puysegur's success, a number of societies were formed in
France for the study of the new phenomena.
In the meantime, the subject had attracted considerable interest in
Germany, and in 1812 Wolfart was sent to Mesmer at Frauenfeld by the
Prussian government to investigate Mesmerism. He became an enthusiast,
and introduced its practice into the hospital at Berlin.
In 1814 Deleuze published a book on the subject, and Abbe Faria, who had
come from India, demonstrated that there was no fluid, but that the
phenomena were subjective, or within the mind of the patient. He first
introduced what is now called the "method of suggestion" in producing
magnetism or hypnotism. In 1815 Mesmer died.
Experimentation continued, and in the 20's Foissac persuaded the Academy
of Medicine to appoint a commission to investigate the subject. After
five years they presented a report. This report gave a good statement of
the practical operation of magnetism, mentioning the phenomena of
somnambulism, anesthesia, loss of memory, and the various other symptoms
of the hypnotic state as we know it. It was thought that magnetism had a
right to be considered as a therapeutic agent, and that it might be used
by physicians, though others should not be allowed to practice it. In
1837 another commission made a decidedly unfavorable report.
Soon after this Burdin, a member of the Academy, offered a prize of
3,000 francs to any one who would read the number of a bank-note or the
like with his eyes bandaged (under certain fixed conditions), but it was
never awarded, though many claimed it, and there has been considerable
evidence that persons in the hypnotic state have (sometimes) remarkable
Soon after this, magnetism fell into very low repute throughout France
and Germany, and scientific men became loath to have their names
connected with the study of it in any way. The study had not yet been
seriously taken up in England, and two physicians who gave some
attention to it suffered decidedly in professional reputation.
It is to an English physician, however, that we owe the scientific
character of modern hypnotism. Indeed he invented the name of hypnotism,
formed from the Greek word meaning 'sleep', and designating
'artificially produced sleep'. His name is James Braid, and so important
were the results of his study that hypnotism has sometimes been called
"Braidism". Doctor Courmelles gives the following interesting summary of
"November, 1841, he witnessed a public experiment made by Monsieur
Lafontaine, a Swiss magnetizer. He thought the whole thing a comedy; a
week after, he attended a second exhibition, saw that the patient could
not open his eyes, and concluded that this was ascribable to some
physical cause. The fixity of gaze must, according to him, exhaust the
nerve centers of the eyes and their surroundings. He made a friend look
steadily at the neck of a bottle, and his own wife look at an
ornamentation on the top of a china sugar bowl: sleep was the
consequence. Here hypnotism had its origin, and the fact was established
that sleep could be induced by physical agents. This, it must be
remembered, is the essential difference between these two classes of
phenomena (magnetism and hypnotism): for magnetism supposes a direct
action of the magnetizer on the magnetized subject, an action which does
not exist in hypnotism."
It may be stated that most English and American operators fail to see
any distinction between magnetism and hypnotism, and suppose that the
effect of passes, etc., as used by Mesmer, is in its way as much
physical as the method of producing hypnotism by concentrating the gaze
of the subject on a bright object, or the like.
Braid had discovered a new science -- as far as the theoretical view of it
was concerned -- for he showed that hypnotism is largely, if not purely,
mechanical and physical. He noted that during one phase of hypnotism,
known as catalepsy, the arms, limbs, etc., might be placed in any
position and would remain there; he also noted that a puff of breath
would usually awaken a subject, and that by talking to a subject and
telling him to do this or do that, even after he awakes from the sleep,
he can be made to do those things. Braid thought he might affect a
certain part of the brain during hypnotic sleep, and if he could find
the seat of the thieving disposition, or the like, he could cure the
patient of desire to commit crime, simply by suggestion, or command.
Braid's conclusions were, in brief, that there was no fluid, or other
exterior agent, but that hypnotism was due to a physiological condition
of the nerves. It was his belief that hypnotic sleep was brought about
by fatigue of the eyelids, or by other influences wholly within the
subject. In this he was supported by Carpenter, the great physiologist;
but neither Braid nor Carpenter could get the medical organizations to
give the matter any attention, even to investigate it. In 1848 an
American named Grimes succeeded in obtaining all the phenomena of
hypnotism, and created a school of writers who made use of the word
In 1850 Braid's ideas were introduced into France, and Dr. Azam, of
Bordeaux, published an account of them in the "Archives de Medicine."
From this time on the subject was widely studied by scientific men in
France and Germany, and it was more slowly taken up in England. It may
be stated here that the French and other Latin races are much more
easily hypnotized than the northern races, Americans perhaps being least
subject to the hypnotic influence, and next to them the English. On the
other hand, the Orientals are influenced to a degree we can hardly
Links to Additional Media for Complete Hypnotism: Mesmerism, Mind-Reading and Spiritualism by A. Alpheus such as audio and ebooks are located at the bottom of this web page.