Mesmerism Under this heading we propose to consider the various phenomena which have at different times been presented for public consideration under the names of Mesmerism, Animal Magnetism, Magnetic Somnambulism, Clairvoyance, etc., etc. The nature of this Cyclopedia of course limits us in the consideration of this subject from a theological stand-point.
Animal magnetism is a supposed influence or emanation by means of which one person can act upon another, producing wonderful effects upon his body, and controlling his actions and thoughts. It was fancied to have some analogy to the magnetism of the loadstone, and hence its name. The term has been used to group together a multitude of manifestations deemed to be of a wonderful kind, which have given rise to an amount of delusion and credulity hardly exemplified on any other subject. Electro-biology, odylism, table-turning, spirit-rapping, table-talking, spiritism, have been classed as only modifications of the same phenomena. For the sake of securing a thorough review of the various phenomena: which mesmerism, so called, or better, animal magnetism, has been conceived to produce in those who were brought under its influence, we divide the subject into two classes: cases which are effected while the person operated upon remains awake, and those which take place while the patient is in a state of sleep, or in a state resembling it. These two classes of phenomena, moreover, belong to different periods of the history of mesmerism. To those of the first class chiefly the early practitioners of this mysterious art confined their pretensions, and it was only at a later period that the magnetizers laid claim to the power of producing those wonderful manifestations included under the second class.
Mesmerism Proper.-Anthony Mesmer, whose personal history we have detailed above, is supposed to be the first in modern times who claimed to have discovered the process of healing physical derangements by the application of animal magnetism, as already defined. Many were the cures pretended to be wrought by Mesmer and his disciples, until he was suddenly checked in his auspicious career by the unfavorable report of the committee which the French government appointed in 1785. "This pretended agent," said they, "is not magnetism; 'for on examining the grand reservoir of the fluid by a needle and electrometer, neither magnetism nor electricity could be detected. We tried it upon ourselves and others without effect. On blindfolding those who professed great susceptibility of its influence, all its ordinary effects were produced when nothing was done, but they imagined they were magnetized; while none of its effects were produced when they were really magnetized, but imagined nothing was done. So also when brought under a magnetized tree; nothing happened if they thought they were at a distance from it, while they immediately went into violent convulsions when they thought they were near the tree, though really not so. The effects, therefore," say the commissioners, "are purely imaginary; and although they have wrought some cures, they are not without evil results, for the convulsions sometimes spread among the feeble of mind and body, and especially among women. And, finally, there-are parts of the operations which may readily be turned to vicious purposes, and in fact immoral: practices have already actually grown out of them."
Mesmerism Modified. — But even long before the supposed discovery of Mesmer had been subjected to the test of scientific investigation, mesmerism had entered on a new phase, and assumed a form differing widely in many respects from that which it obtained from the hands of its author. We allude to what is scientifically termed Magnetic Somnambulism, and which was first brought before the public for consideration by one of Mesmer's pupils, the marquis de Puysegur. In the hands of Mesmer animal magnetism was simply a curative agent; in the hands of Puysegur, however, we find it not only to be a curative means, but to confer the power of detecting the morbid condition of parts, both in the person operated on and in others, and the instinctive knowledge of the remedies required to effect a cure. With this important advance, the mesmeric system was after this time advocated by Mesmer himself, and hence the mistake on the part of some that Mesmer was acquainted with the phenomena of somnambulism and had discoursed upon them from the very first during his stay in Paris. But whether De Puysegur. or Mesmer be the discoverer of magnetic somnambulism, certain it is that if this discovery had not been made, animal magnetism would have found its resting-place in the grave of Mesmer. Remodelled by this valuable addition, new life was infused into the expiring system; "a life so vigorous, indeed, that it has been sufficient to keep it alive till the present time." The art of inducing the magnetic state, as practiced by its discoverer, Mesmer, involved the use of apparatus the baquet, or magnetic tub, iron rods, etc.; but the means which De Puysegur first used, and which became the more common, are passes made by the hands of the magnetizer from the head of the "subject" or patient downward, or simply making him fix his eves on the operator. "Ordinarily," we are told, " the magnetizer and the patient are seated opposite to each other; the former, with each hand, lays hold of the opposite hand of the latter, with the balls of the thumbs resting against each other. Thus they sit for five or ten minutes, or until the influence begins to be felt. The magnetizer then withdraws his hands, and makes slow passes with open hands and outspread fingers over the patient from the head to the foot, turning the hands away while moving them upward, and while making the downward passes keeping the points of the fingers within an inch or two of the patient's clothing. After making a dozen or two of such passes, the magnetizer resumes his former position.
During the whole of this process he keeps his attention on the patient, and exercises his will in silent commands that he shall become somnambulic. The patient should be still, quiet, and resigned. Some persons cal be mesmerized within a few minutes; others can not be affected by trials of an hour daily for weeks; but after the experiment has once succeeded, it can be more easily repeated. The patient becomes more susceptible, and the magnetizer more powerful, by every successful trial. The patient who could not, at first, be thrown into the mesmeric sleep in less than an hour of constant contact with the operator, may at last be magnetized in a few minutes or seconds, without contact, by the mere outstretched hand, glance, or even will of the mesmerist." According to the mesmeric theory, the nervous energy of the operator has overpowered that of the subject, as a powerful magnet does a weak one, and the two are in rapport, as it is termed. In some cases the mesmeric trance assumes the form of clairvoyance.
The various stages of the magnetic influence mesmerizers distinguish as six different classes. "The first stage is that of waking magnetization. The patient feels a singular influence pervading his body, frequently a pricking, somewhat like that felt in a limb asleep. Sometimes there is an increase of temperature and sweat. The second stage is that of drowsiness. The pulse becomes fuller, the breathing slower; there is a feeling as though warmth were radiating from the stomach; there is a heavy pressure on the eyelids, which close against the will of the patient, and he is unable to open them; but still he retains his normal consciousness and sensation. The third stage is that of coma, or senseless sleep, wherein he is insensible to the loudest noises, and all the nerves of sensation are as if benumbed. The fourth stage is that of magnetic somnambulism. The patient awakes from the third stage into a new sphere of existence, and as another person. He has consciousness and sensation, but they differ greatly from those of his normal condition. He hears only the voice of his magnetizer, or of some person in contact with him. The magnetizer can make his muscles rigid in almost any position, and has the power of governing his physical motions. His own senses of touch, taste, and smell appear to be dormant, but he perceives all the impressions produced on those senses in the magnetizer's frame. The fifth stage is that of clairvoyance. This is a heightened condition of the fourth stage. The patient has means of perception unknown to man in his normal state, and so singular that the assertion of their possession, measured by the general experience of the race, appears to be an impudent falsehood or imposture. The somnambulist can see with his eyes closed and bandaged; he can then even see what waking men in his place can not see with their eyes open. He can read the contents of letters unopened; he can see through clothing, wood and metal boxes, and walls of brick or stone; he can tell what is going on in the room above him or in the room below. 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 to reside in the forehead, in the back-head, in the fingers, or in the knuckles of the hand. Thus the clairvoyant will sometimes move about holding his fist in front of him for the purpose of seeing where he is going. How this means of perception can exist apart from the organs of vision, why it exists in one part of the body more than another, and why one should have it in the hand, another in the forehead, and a third in the back- head, are questions very proper to be asked, but to which there is no satisfactory answer.. The clairvoyant not only sees things outside of his body, but even in it. His whole physical frame is transparent to him; he looks through and sees all the functions of life as though they were going on in a glass case. He can see through the bodies of others placed in magnetic connection with him in the same way. Frequently he will describe, with the accuracy of high anatomical, physiological, and pathological knowledge, the operations of healthy and diseased organs; and will even prescribe remedies for disease." While in this state the functions of the body are liable to be much affected the pulsations of the heart and the respirations are quickened or retarded, and the secretions altered, and that chiefly at the will of the operator. At his direction the limbs are made rigid, or become endowed with unnatural strength; one liquid tastes as any other, and is hot or cold, sweet or bitter, as the subject is told; in short, every thought, sensation, and movement of the subject obeys the behest of the mesmerizer, if we may take the word of mesmerists for the subject's experience. The sixth and last stage finally, the mesmerists claim to be that of "perfect clairvoyance," and a far more exalted position than the fifth. "The perfect clairvoyant," we are told, "sees what is going on at a distance of hundreds of miles. reads the thoughts of all persons about him, reads the past, and can truly foretell the future. His soul dwells in light and delight; he often regrets that he cannot continue in that state forever; he shudders at the necessity of being brought down into the dull, tiresome, base world of normal life." Between these different stages of the mesmeric condition, as here described, no precise line can be drawn. The transition from one stage to the other is gradual, and generally imperceptible at the time. Thus many of the characteristics of the clairvoyant stage belong also to the somnambulic stage, in which they are, indeed, most frequently observed.
These are the phenomena alleged by mesmerists. To say that they are not true statements, or to decide which only are true, if any there be that are false, does not lie within our domain as encyclopedists, but it may be well enough to state here that physiologists, physicians, and savans are pretty well agreed that the notion of a force of any kind whatever proceeding in such cases from a person, or from a magnetizing apparatus, is a delusion. The effects, whatever they are, must have their cause somewhere else. Where it is to be looked for-was already indicated in the earliest days of mesmerism by the committee appointed by the French government, who closed their report by saying, "the effects actually produced were produced purely by the imagination." This part of the science of human nature the reflex action of the mental upon the physical-had not then, however, been sufficiently studied, and is not now widely enough known to render the conclusion of the reporters a satisfactory explanation of the phenomena; and the fallacies of mesmerism, though subjected to many similar exposures (Dr. Falkoner, of Bath, e.g., annihilated the patent metallic tractors of Perkin by making wooden ones exactly like them, which produced exactly the game effects), have constantly revived in some shape or other. One chief cause of the inveteracy of the delusion is that the opponents of mesmerism do not distinguish between denying the theory of the mesmerists and the facts which that theory pretends to explain, and have been too ready to ascribe the whole to delusion and fraud. It thus happens that the most sceptical often become all of a sudden the most credulous. Finding that things do actually happen which they cannot explain, and had been accustomed to denounce as impostures, they rush to the other extreme, and embrace not only the facts but the theory, and call this, too, believing the evidence of their senses. Now the reality of the greater part of the manifestations appealed to by the mesmerist must be admitted, though we deny his explanation of them; and even where their reality must be denied, it does not follow that the mesmerist is not sincere in believing them; there is only greater room than in any other case for suspecting that he has deceived himself.
The first to give a really scientific direction to the investigation of appearances of this class was Mr. Braid, a surgeon in Manchester, who detaches them altogether from the semblance of power exerted by one individual over another, or by metallic disks or magnets, and traces the whole to the brain of the subject, acted on by suggestion, a principle long known to psychologists, though never yet made so prominent as it ought to be. The subject has been ably handled in a paper in the Quarterly Review for September, 1853 (said to be by Dr. Carpenter). The reviewer traces the operation of this principle through the most ordinary actions, which no one thinks wonderful, up to the most miraculous of the so-called "spiritual" manifestations. Ideas become associated in our minds by habit or otherwise, and one being awakened brings on another, thus forming a train of thought; this is internal suggestion. But impressions from without originate and modify those trains, constituting external suggestion. While awake and in a normal condition, the will interferes with and directs these trains of thought, selecting some ideas to be dwelt upon, and comparing them with others and with present impressions. A comparative inactivity of this selecting and comparing faculty, leaving the flow of ideas to its spontaneous activity, produces the state of mind called reverie or abstraction. In dreaming and somnambulism, the will and judgment seem completely suspended; and under internal suggestions the mind becomes a mere automaton, while external suggestions, if they act at all, act as upon a machine. These are well-known facts of the human constitution, and independent of mesmerism, though their bearing upon it is obvious. Another fact of like bearing is the effect of concentrated attention on any object of thought in intensifying the impression received. This may proceed so far, in morbid states of the nervous system, that an idea or revived sensation assumes the vividness of a present impression, and overpowers the evidence of the senses. Ideas thus become dominant, overriding the impressions of the outer world, and carrying themselves out into action independently of the will, and even without the consciousness of the individual. These dominant-ideas play a greater part in human actions and beliefs than most are aware of. "Expectant attention" acts powerfully on the bodily organs, and often makes the individual see and hear what he expects to see and hear, and, without his consciousness, moves his muscles to bring it about. These, too, are recognised facts in the sciences of physiology and psychology. See Carpenter's Human Physiology and Dr. Holland's Chapters on Mental Physiology.
In the Illustrations of Modern Mesmerism, from Personal Observation, published by Dr. (the late Sir John) Forbes in 1845, we have. in small compass a complete exposure of- the pretended clairvoyant powers of some of the most notorious persons of this class. In the preface he states that he only professes, by a simple narrative of facts, to illustrate the actual pretensions and performances of the mesmerists of the present day, and to show on what sandy foundations the popular belief in their marvels rests. He expresses the modest hope that what is contained in this little book may teach a useful lesson to those numerous unscientific persons who are accustomed to attend mesmeric exhibitions. public or private, from motives of rational curiosity, or with the commendable object of investigating what seem to be important truths. He believes that such persons must now feel convinced that no reliance whatever is to be placed on the results presented at such exhibitions as evincing the truth and powers of mesmerism. He found that it was impossible for the ordinary visitor at these exhibitions to discriminate the true from the false, and that the coarsest juggling might pass with the trusting spectator, seated at a distance from the scene of action, for mysterious and awful truths. Mesmerism or clairvoyance may be true or false, and he professes to be ready to believe them on obtaining sufficient proof of their reality. If, however, we find the most eminent, and apparently the most trustworthy of the clairvoyants, not only uniformly unsuccessful when the necessary precautions are taken to test their powers, but actually detected, and confessing with shame that they have been guilty of the grossest imposture and deceit where are we to look for the means of establishing the truths of this mysterious science? If we were-to believe a fiftieth part of the pretensions put forth in the works and lectures of professional mesmerists, it would be the easiest matter in the world to carry off the prizes offered to any one who could read writing contained in an envelope so secured that it could not be read in the ordinary way. If it is an easy matter to see what is going on in the arctic regions, it cannot surely be difficult to see what is contained in a deal-box. In July, 1839, M. Bourdin, a member of the French academy of science and medicine, as one of a commission of that celebrated body, appointed to inquire into the merits of clairvoyance, made the following offer to the mesmerists: "Bring us a person magnetized or not magnetized, asleep or awake; let that person read with the eyes open, through an opaque substance, such as tissue of cotton, linen, or silk, placed at six inches from the face, or read even through a simple sheet of paper, and that person shall have 3000 francs." No candidate appeared. (Bull. de 'Acad. 3:1123.) If such a power as seeing in any other way than by the organ of vision really existed, as was vaunted to be possessed by so many persons both before the prize was offered and since, surely some one of the clairvoyants would have come forward and established a just claim to the prize, but, as none appeared, we may conclude with safety that both then and now no such marvellous power exists or is developed in the human constitution.
So signal and repeated were the failures of the magnetists to establish the truth of their doctrines in France, that the whole subject seems to have fallen into merited contempt and oblivion. In more-recent times the exciting phenomena of spirit-rapping have superseded those of somnambulism, and spiritual media have of late too much occupied the public attention to leave any room for those who can boast no higher powers than those of which magnetic clairvoyants claim the possession.
Our limits do not permit us to pursue the subject at greater length. SEE SPIRITISM. We must content ourselves with stating briefly the following general conclusions advanced by the Encyclopacdia Britannica:
1. That it has not been proved that there is any magnetic influence, or nervous fluid, which passes from the operator to the person operated on, and produces in him the various phenomena of magnetic somnambulism.
2. That it has been proved that all the phenomena recorded, which have received sufficient scientific scrutiny to convince men of their truth and reality, can be accounted for on ordinary principles, without the aid of mesmerism.
3. That the lower phenomena-such as sleep, diminished or exalted sensibility, loss of voluntary motion, muscular rigidity, and the like, can be produced by persons acting on themselves by means of fixed staring at objects; which are incapable of giving out- any nervous or magnetic influence.
4. That the evidence which can be obtained of the reality of the existence of magnetic somnambulism, in any case, is inconclusive; that it is possible that the person supposed to be in such a state may really be awake, and simply feigning sleep; and that in many cases there is the most conclusive evidence that the persons pretending to be so affected are impostors, while in other cases, in which no intention to deceive may have existed, the patients have acted under a peculiar state of mind, to which only the weak and nervous are liable.
5. That though numerous cases of surgical operations are recorded in which the patients are reported not to have felt pain, it is probable that some at least may have really experienced painful sensations without giving any outward expression of their sensations; that we have no evidence or means of knowing, except from their own testimony, that they did not really feel pain; but that it is very probable that in some cases, from a peculiar state of the mind acting upon the nervous system, the patients were really rendered unconscious of pain.
6. That it does not appear from experiment that immunity from pain in operations can be induced, in any but exceptional cases, in Europeans; though it appears, from the experience of Dr. Esdaile, that it can be produced with comparative facility in the natives of India.
7. That the higher phenomena of clairvoyance, pre-vision, intro-vision, and retro-vision, do not rest on adequate and satisfactory evidence. That it has never been proved in a single instance, when the necessary precautions have been taken, that a person could read or see objects through opaque substances; and that the alleged instances of the possession of such a power, when put to the test, have proved uniformly unsuccessful, and have amounted to nothing more than attempts at vague guessing. That it has been proved in some cases that the persons pretending to know events which happened at a distance were fully acquainted with the events through ordinary channels of information. That the description of events pretended to have been discovered by means of clairvoyance has not been in accordance with the truth, unless it has been possible for the patient to employ the usual means of discovering them; and that in most instances there are observed the most manifest attempts, on the part of their friends, to assist clairvoyants by suggestions and leading questions. That the attempts to describe what is going on in the interior of their own bodies, to diagnose diseases in themselves or others, and to prescribe remedies for the cure of the diseases which they pretend to discover, have been complete failures, and mere repetitions of such notions of anatomy, of disease, and of treatment, as they may have acquired by casual reading, conversation, or more careful study.
8. That there is. no recorded instance, worthy of credit, of transference of the senses-that is, of persons being able to read, taste, smell, or hear, by the fingers, stomach, or any other part of the body, other than the organs by which these functions are naturally performed-and that pretended instances of the possession of such powers have been proved to be cases of fraud and wilful imposition.
9. That phreno-mesmerism does not prove the truth of phrenology, or throw any light upon the doctrine that the faculties of the mind have a local seat in 'special parts of the brain, which can be tied up and let loose- mesmerized or de-mesmerized-at pleasure; and that the experiments designed to prove the excitement of the so-called phrenological organs by magnetic operations have all resulted in manifest failures or impositions when properly tested.
10. That the phenomena described by different authors, under the various designations of animal magnetism, magnetic somnambulism, hypnotism, odyle, and electro-biology, are identical in their nature, and can be explained, in so far as they possess any truth or scientific value, upon recognised physiological principles. That the whole subject has been systematically obscured by its cultivators with a cloud of mystery, which has given rise to difficulties, and placed impediments in the way of rational and scientific investigation. That the real phenomena which not unfrequently occur in the weak and nervous subjects of magnetic olerations are in themselves very remarkable, but that they are not different from phenomena which occur spontaneously; and that they are to be explained by the reciprocal influence exerted by the mind and the nervous system upon each other, and by the unnatural influence thus induced of the nervous upon the muscular systems. See Thouret, Recherches et Doutes sur le Magnetisme animal (1784); Eschmayer, Versuch fiber die scheinbare Magik des Magnetismus (Stuttg. and Tub. 1816, 8vo); Thiorie du Mesmerisme (Paris, 1818, 8vo); Jozwik, Sur le Magnetisme animal (1832); Townshend, Facts in Mesmerism (Lond. 1853); id. Mesmerism Proved True (Lond. 1857); Sandys, Mesmerism and its Opponents; Amer. Bib. Repository, 2d Ser. 1:362; Brit. Qu. Revelation 2:402; Christ. Examiner, 1:496; 51:395; For. Qi. Revelation v. 96; 12:413; North Brit. Revelation 13:1; 15:69; Lond. Qu. Revelation 61:151; 1871, Oct. art. i; Blackw. Mag. 57:219; lxx. 70 sq.; New-Engl. 4:443; Bib. Sacra. 1:333.