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What Is Hypnotism?

We have seen that so far the history of hypnotism has given us two

manifestations, or methods, that of passes and playing upon the

imagination in various ways, used by Mesmer, and that of physical means,

such as looking at a bright object, used by Braid. Both of these methods

are still in use, and though hundreds of scientific men, including many

physicians, have studied the subject for years, no essentially new

le has been discovered, though the details of hypnotic operation

have been thoroughly classified and many minor elements of interest have

been developed. All these make a body of evidence which will assist us

in answering the question, What is hypnotism?

Modern scientific study has pretty conclusively established the

following facts:

1. Idiots, babies under three years old, and hopelessly insane people

cannot be hypnotized.

2. No one can be hypnotized unless the operator can make him concentrate

his attention for a reasonable length of time. Concentration of

attention, whatever the method of producing hypnotism, is absolutely


3. The persons not easily hypnotized are those said to be neurotic (or

those affected with hysteria). By hysteria is not meant nervous

excitability, necessarily. Some very phlegmatic persons may be affected

with hysteria. In medical science hysteria is an irregular action of

the nervous system. It will sometimes show itself by severe pains in the

arm, when in reality there is nothing whatever to cause pain; or it will

raise a swelling on the head quite without cause. It is a tendency to

nervous disease which in severe cases may lead to insanity. The word

neurotic is a general term covering affection of the nervous system. It

includes hysteria and much else beside.

On all these points practically every student of hypnotism is agreed. On

the question as to whether any one can produce hypnotism by pursuing the

right methods there is some disagreement, but not much. Dr. Ernest Hart

in an article in the British Medical Journal makes the following very

definite statement, representing the side of the case that maintains

that any one can produce hypnotism. Says he:

It is a common delusion that the mesmerist or hypnotizer counts for

anything in the experiment. The operator, whether priest, physician,

charlatan, self-deluded enthusiast, or conscious imposter, is not the

source of any occult influence, does not possess any mysterious power,

and plays only a very secondary and insignificant part in the chain of

phenomena observed. There exist at the present time many individuals who

claim for themselves, and some who make a living by so doing, a peculiar

property or power as potent mesmerizers, hypnotizers, magnetizers, or

electro-biologists. One even often hears it said in society (for I am

sorry to say that these mischievous practices and pranks are sometimes

made a society game) that such a person is a clever hypnotist or has

great mesmeric or healing power. I hope to be able to prove, what I

firmly hold, both from my own personal experience and experiment, as I

have already related in the Nineteenth Century, that there is no such

thing as a potent mesmeric influence, no such power resident in any one

person more than another; that a glass of water, a tree, a stick, a

penny-post letter, or a lime-light can mesmerize as effectually as can

any individual. A clever hypnotizer means only a person who is

acquainted with the physical or mental tricks by which the hypnotic

condition is produced; or sometimes an unconscious imposter who is

unaware of the very trifling part for which he is cast in the play, and

who supposes himself really to possess a mysterious power which in, fact

he does not possess at all, or which, to speak more accurately, is

equally possessed by every stock or stone.

Against this we may place the statement of Dr. Foveau de Courmelles, who

speaks authoritatively for the whole modern French school. He says:

Every magnetizer is aware that certain individuals never can induce

sleep even in the most easily hypnotizable subjects. They admit that the

sympathetic fluid is necessary, and that each person may eventually find

his or her hypnotizer, even when numerous attempts at inducing sleep

have failed. However this may be, the impossibility some individuals

find in inducing sleep in trained subjects, proves at least the

existence of a negative force.

If you would ask the present writer's opinion, gathered from all the

evidence before him, he would say that while he has no belief in the

existence of any magnetic fluid, or anything that corresponds to it, he

thinks there can be no doubt that some people will succeed as hypnotists

while some will fail, just as some fail as carpenters while others

succeed. This is true in every walk of life. It is also true that some

people attract, others repel, the people they meet. This is not very

easily explained, but we have all had opportunity to observe it. Again,

since concentration is the prerequisite for producing hypnotism, one who

has not the power of concentration himself, and concentration which he

can perfectly control, is not likely to be able to secure it in others.

Also, since faith is a strong element, a person who has not perfect

self-confidence could not expect to create confidence in others. While

many successful hypnotizers can themselves be hypnotized, it is probable

that most all who have power of this kind are themselves exempt from the

exercise of it. It is certainly true that while a person easily

hypnotized is by no means weak-minded (indeed, it is probable that most

geniuses would be good hypnotic subjects), still such persons have not a

well balanced constitution and their nerves are high-strung if not

unbalanced. They would be most likely to be subject to a person who had

such a strong and well-balanced nervous constitution that it would be

hard to hypnotize. And it is always safe to say that the strong may

control the weak, but it is not likely that the weak will control the


There is also another thing that must be taken into account. Science

teaches that all matter is in vibration. Indeed, philosophy points to

the theory that matter itself is nothing more than centers of force in

vibration. The lowest vibration we know is that of sound. Then comes, at

an enormously higher rate, heat, light (beginning at dark red and

passing through the prismatic colors to violet which has a high

vibration), to the chemical rays, and then the so-called X or unknown

rays which have a much higher vibration still. Electricity is a form of

vibration, and according to the belief of many scientists, life is a

species of vibration so high that we have no possible means of measuring

it. As every student of science knows, air appears to be the chief

medium for conveying vibration of sound, metal is the chief medium for

conveying electric vibrations, while to account for the vibrations of

heat and light we have to assume (or imagine) an invisible, imponderable

ether which fills all space and has no property of matter that we can

distinguish except that of conveying vibrations of light in its various

forms. When we pass on to human life, we have to theorize chiefly by

analogy. (It must not be forgotten, however, that the existence of the

ether and many assumed facts in science are only theories which have

come to be generally adopted because they explain phenomena of all kinds

better than any other theories which have been offered.)

Now, in life, as in physical science, any one who can get, or has by

nature, the key-note of another nature, has a tremendous power over that

other nature. The following story illustrates what this power is in the

physical world. While we cannot vouch for the exact truth of the details

of the story, there can be no doubt of the accuracy of the principle on

which it is based:

A musical genius came to the Suspension Bridge at Niagara Falls, and

asked permission to cross; but as he had no money, his request was

contemptuously refused. He stepped away from the entrance, and, drawing

his violin from his case, began sounding notes up and down the scale. He

finally discovered, by the thrill that sent a tremor through the mighty

structure, that he had found the note on which the great cable that

upheld the mass, was keyed. He drew his bow across the string of the

violin again, and the colossal wire, as if under the spell of a

magician, responded with a throb that sent a wave through its enormous

length. He sounded the note again and again, and the cable that was

dormant under the strain of loaded teams and monster engines--the cable

that remained stolid under the pressure of human traffic, and the heavy

tread of commerce, thrilled and surged and shook itself, as mad waves of

vibration coursed over its length, and it tore at its slack, until like

a foam-crested wave of the sea, it shook the towers at either end, or,

like some sentient animal, it tugged at its fetters and longed to be


The officers in charge, apprehensive of danger, hurried the poor

musician across, and bade him begone and trouble them no more. The

ragged genius, putting his well-worn instrument back in its case,

muttered to himself, 'I'd either crossed free or torn down the bridge.'

So the hypnotist, goes on the writer from which the above is quoted,

finds the note on which the subjective side of the person is attuned,

and by playing upon it awakens into activity emotions and sensibilities

that otherwise would have remained dormant, unused and even


No student of science will deny the truth of these statements. At the

same time it has been demonstrated again and again that persons can and

do frequently hypnotize themselves. This is what Mr. Hart means when he

says that any stick or stone may produce hypnotism. If a person will

gaze steadily at a bright fire, or a glass of water, for instance, he

can throw himself into a hypnotic trance exactly similar to the

condition produced by a professional or trained hypnotist. Such people,

however, must be possessed of imagination.