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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

ther 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

every disease):

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

same verdict!

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

clairvoyant powers.

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

Braid's experiences:

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