Anton Mesmer
Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005

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  Franz Anton von Mesmer—Physician, Hypnotist: May 23, 1733, Constance, Germany, 8:00 AM, LMT. (Source: Famous Nativities by Maurice Wemyss). Died on March 5, 1815, Meersburg, Germany.

(Ascendant, Cancer; Sun Gemini, with Mars and Neptune also in Gemini; Moon and Pluto in Libra; Mercury and Venus in Taurus; Jupiter in Scorpio; Saturn in Aries; Uranus in Sagittarius)

The name of Mesmer is most associated with the practice of “Mesmerism”, more modernly understood as hypnotism. It is clear that Mesmer was an occultist working along the seventh ray line and  demonstrating the practical application of some of natures “finer forces” and phenomena.


Rare Original writings of Franz Anton Mesmer
For a long time I have supposed that a universal fluid exists in nature, a fluid which penetrates all animate or inanimate bodies. The phenomena of electricity, as well as those of magnetism, affected this opinion of mine. Thus, I adopted the system of the noble Newton regarding the motion of celestial bodies. As a consequence of this, I obtained my degree on this theme at the University of Vienna in 1766, receiving the rank of doctor. However, I was not satisfied with my own interpretations, and chance gave me the means of correcting my notions.
One day, while in proximity to a person who was bleeding, I noticed that in approaching me and in going away from me, the circulation of this person's blood varied in a remarkable way; and having repeated this maneuver in other circumstances with the same results, I concluded that I possessed a magnetic quality that was not, perhaps, as impressive as that of others, but a quality which others could possess to some degree, more or less, such as one sees in certain irons or steels which differ in magnetic properties although they have been formed from the same ingot and have been tempered in the same way. I understand very well that it is possible to make emanations of a subtle material, such as magnetic material, in our bodies and in other substances, as is done with the magnet or with magnetized iron. Spanish beeswax, ambergris, and other similar materials, become magnetic when dried out or made more harsh by rubbing.' Why couldn't we have this property?
Since time immemorial one has spoken of sympathy, antipathy, of attraction, repulsion, of ethereal matter, of phlogiston, of subtle matter, of animal spirits, of electrical matter, and of magnetic matter. All these agents, whose action is as real as the existence of light-do they not proclaim the widespread universal fluid, but combined differently in accordance with the substances and their manner of being or of action? This view has nothing, which opposes reason. When one considers the promptness with which the will is transmitted from the head to the extremities of our body in the activity of our automatic or voluntary movements, one can easily see that this rapidity is not owed to the lymphatic or serous fluid, which is only destined to serve the maintenance of the suppleness of the nerves but is owed to nervous fluid, to animal spirits, consequently to the universal fluid which penetrates us and whose immense promptness is known in electrical phenomena.
Moreover, the most electric parts of our bodies are dried nerves; the membranes are less electric and very likely owe their electrical property only to their interweaving with the many nerves which enter them. The nerves seem, then, to be the organs or the immediate conductors of the universal fluid in our bodies. In addition, the fluid is susceptible to surprising emanations. Pigeons have been seen to die between the hands of epileptics, and also rabbits when laid against the epileptic's lower extremities at the moment of the epileptic attack. There is all the reason to believe that this phenomenon would not have occurred except for the electric discharge drawn from the epileptic by the contact. Aside from mentioning the acuteness and subtlety of a dog's sense of smell, recognizing a trail 30 or 40 leagues long by means of corpuscles which we scatter after its, everyone knows of the characteristic found in healthy young people of being able to rejuvenate old men and strengthen them by means of their emanations; the Holy Scripture speaks of it.
1. The difference between attraction caused by magnetism and attraction caused by static electricity was not well understood at this time. Thus Mesmer frequently quotes phenomena of static electricity as being attributable to the magnet.
Physics these days is too enlightened to attribute the beneficial effects of such things to any cause other than to the elementary discharge [fire, animation] of which youth is abundantly provided, and whose emanations are sucked in by the jeopardized and lax pores of old men. Could not one propose, without offending probability, that sympathy-which is nothing other than an inclination, a pleasant impulse we carry towards one another as two magnets are attracted to each other reciprocally-consists of these reciprocal and mutual attractions? Thus, just as a weak magnet is revived by a stronger magnet, similarly the elemental matter which dies out in an old man because of the debility of his organs, is revived by elemental matter which is more vigorously launched by elastic, fresh, and hearty vessels and nerves.
It is more than likely that all of the bodies and elements of Nature are penetrated by this elemental matter. Created by the Supreme Being and put into action by His omnipotence, the form, existence, and exact and combined movement of the globes, which roll in the ocean of space, result, without doubt, from this universal source.
I can easily conceive that several rounded sponges, rolling upon each other in a basin filled with a highly agitated liquid, would in the meantime instill this liquid with a specific direction [bearing] towards the poles by the pressure of their [the sponges'] opposing circumferences. The resistance resulting from this pressure would clearly establish the flow of this liquid as running from one pole to the other. Isn't it also conceivable that the particles that would be present on the surface of the sponge, carried by the current from the south, would have a greater similarity and tendency to be attracted to another substance of somewhat similar nature swept along by the current corning from the north and crossing the one coming from the south?
This comparison, as common as it is, seems to give a concept that one can form of the action of the universal principle in the magnet; the curve that this fluid naturally describes towards the poles, being exactly calculated, appears to explain the inclination and declination of the needle. All the phenomena of magnetism offer little difficulty in their explanation. It is no longer considered to be the action of an incomprehensible attraction completely similar to the occult faculties of Aristotle; it is a natural force, received equally by the senses and by reason. Each body has its poles and its surfaces; the universal fluid, composed of a two-fold stream, penetrates this body by means of each pole. This fluid always keeps the salve direction, as long as that direction is not altered by another current, which is stronger than the first. This is what constitutes the reinforcement of mineral magnetism as well as that of animal magnetism. Take several magnetized needles; put them in the same direction, one behind the other, with the north pole of one towards the south pole of the other; they will all tend to approach each other. Change the direction of these needles and arrange them so that the south pole of one is towards the north pole of the other; they will likewise tend to approach each other. Would one say that this is done by an attractive property which has no sense of direction, or wouldn't one rather attribute this to the impetus of the two-fold magnetic stream, which, in its rapid course, carries along the needles which it penetrates and which presses one against the other, one by the north, the other by the south? As you know, the direction of the poles can be changed by means of electricity.
If a magnetized bar of iron is struck in the middle, the effect of the impact "destroys" the magnetism. If the same bar of iron is struck on one of its ends by a hammer "seven" times heavier, the magnetism is "restored." Everything can be explained by the two-fold stream of electric material and all of these phenomena can also become understandable. The twofold stream of material, set into action by rubbing, flows through the two extremities from one end of the conductor to the other with the most surprising speed. As long as no obstacle stands in the way of this two-fold flow, all remains in an apparent state of tranquility. But, introduce the slightest obstacle to this two-fold stream so as to not allow it to vary, by interposing whatever body, then these two streams must, by their clash, produce the explosion and the electric shock.
Everyone knows of the electric property of man: how, under the electric influence his hair stands on end and deviates; [how] the movement of the thickest blood is singularly accelerated, as the blood can be caused to spurt out in degrees according to it being more or less impregnated by electric material; how sparks can be drawn from all parts of the electrified human body, etc. Therefore, one can easily understand that man is likewise penetrated by the twofold stream of universal fluid, and that he must have his poles and his surfaces in the same way as do all other substances of nature which are more or less penetrated, according to their own characteristics, by this same universal fluid. The existence of the universal fluid being real in the human body, its two-fold current, its reinforcement, its activity, its emanation being so manifested, let us now look at the mechanism of nervous sicknesses and the course of the magnetic influence.
Is it not true that coarse, pasty, viscous moods, produced by bad digestion, are occasioned by congestions and obstructions? The absence of freedom in the flow of the universal fluid and in the activity that it should impart to the nerves, and from these to the vessels, must be attributed to these viscosities and to these obstructions. Functions become sickly and the juices become spoiled, and the machine is destroyed in full or in part, or it is visibly and greatly impaired.
Iron which rusts and which falls into efflorescence [crumbles] through the passage of time no longer has magnetic properties; in giving it its former structure through the use of magnetism, it gets back its former properties. In the same way, the universal fluid, destroyed or weakened in a sick body, must be strengthened with additional fluid in order that the body be able to regain its former vigor and have the obstacles removed.
From this one can infer to what extent copious bloodletting and viscous medications lead to destruction of the machine, since in debilitating the forces under the pretext of preventing or curing imaginary inflammations, one often produces ailment where none existed. Few nervous sicknesses are seen which do not produce a slackening of the universal fluid and which cannot be dispelled by the reestablishment of that fluid.

(Neptune in Gemini opposition Uranus. Cancer Ascendant.)


FRANZ ANTON MESMER was born on 23rd May 1734, near Lake Constance, on what is now the German side. He received a good and varied education, which ended with a medical qualification at the age of 32. His dissertation was on the influence of heavenly bodies on people's health, which he supposed to be by means of "animal gravity".
At the age of 40 he became interested in the effects of magnets on the body and believed that he had discovered an entirely new principle of healing involving "animal magnetism". This "animal magnetism" that he used was different from physical magnetism in that he believed that he could "magnetise" paper, glass, dogs and all manner of other substances.
His cure of Maria Theresa Paradis, mentioned in Chapter 11 of The Principles , occurred when he was 43, but the repercussions of this affair made it necessary to move from Vienna to Paris, which was to be the scene of his greatest fame.
There he met ready acceptance from the populace but an equally strong scepticism from the medical profession, who attributed the effects he produced to the imagination of the patients rather than to his supposed new force.
There were so many poor people coming for treatment that he had to resort to methods which could help many at once. He first designed a magnetic baquet, a wooden tub nearly five feet across, and one foot deep, filled with water, patterns of bottles and iron filings. Out of this tub projected iron rods which were held by the patients. Later he "magnetised" a tree, so that patients could be healed by holding ropes hanging from its branches. The most noticeable effect of these devices was to induce a "crisis": convulsions.
His prime supporter in Paris was a doctor, D'Eslon, who was to be struck off the register for his pains. In time, however, their ways were to part when Mesmer became annoyed by D'Eslon practising independently.
After the attack by the Royal Commission into Mesmerism, and the continuing opposition of the medical profession, Mesmer chose another means to promote his ideas and support himself. This was by setting up an organisation - the Society of Honour - which consisted of a clinic, a teaching establishment and a register of qualified members who had received his training, and who paid for the privilege. In time, as is the nature of these things, there arose a division in this organisation also, when other members disagreed with Mesmer.
He finally left Paris at the age of 54, and after some years settled back near Lake Constance where he had been born. Here he seems to have led a quiet and contented life, doing a little medicine, playing his glass harmonica, and remaining detached from the outside world until his death on 15th March 1815, at the age of 85. He never changed his views on animal magnetism but did return to the Catholic Church from which he had lapsed for most of his life.

Franz (originally Friedrich) Anton Mesmer

Austrian physician, born May 23, 1734, Iznang auf der Höri, near Radolfzell, on the German side of Lake Constance; died March 5, 1815, Meersburg, Germany.

Franz Anton Mesmer was born and raised in the Swabian village of Iznang auf der Höri, near the Bodensee (Lake of Constance). His father was a forester employed by the archbishop of Konstanz; his mother the daughter of a locksmith. It was a large family, Franz Anton was the third of nine children, Catholic, and not particularly prosperous.

After preliminary studies in a local monastic school in Konstanz, Mesmer commenced the study of philosophy at the Jesuit university of Dillingen, Bavaria, changing in 1752 to theology, presumably as a scholarship student preparing for the priesthood. He continued his studies from 1753 at the University of Ingolstadt, where he soon abandoned theology. It is not known when and where he obtained his doctorate in philosophy. s

In 1759 Mesmer went to Vienna, first studying law, but then changed to medicine under Gerard van Swieten (1700-1772) and Anton de Haen (1704-1776). He received his medical doctorate on May 27, 1766 with a dissertation on the influence of the planets on the human body: Dissertatio physico-medica de planetarum influxu. At the time of its defense, however, the thesis did not strike the Viennese authorities as a revolutionary new theory of medicine. On the contrary, it showed a common tendency to speculate about invisible fluids, which derived both from Cartesianism and from the later queries in Newton’s Opticks as well as from Newton’s remarks about the «most subtle spirit which pervades and lies hid in all gross bodies» in the last paragraph of his Principia.

A year later he began practice as a member of the faculty of medicine in what was one of Europe’s most advanced medical centers; for the Vienna school was then in its prime, owing to the patronage of Maria Theresia and the leadersship of Gerhard van Swieten and Jan Ingenhousz (1730-1799).

By the time he began to propound his theory of animal magnetism or mesmerism, Mesmer had risen through the educational systems of Bavaria and Austria and had advanced to a position of some prominence in Viennese society through his marriage to a wealthy widow, Maria Anna von Posch, on January 16, 1768.

While a medical student at the University of Vienna, Mesmer was impressed by the writings of the Renaissance mystic physician Paracelsus (Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 1493-1541) and attempted to rationalise a belief in astrological influences on human health as the result of planetary forces through a subtle, invisible fluid. It was a friend of his, the astronomist Maximilian Hell (1720-1792), a court astronomer and Jesuit priest, who used magnets in the treatment of disease, and influenced Mesmer to conduct his first attempts at healing with a steel magnet. This learned man was convinced that every body possesse a magnetic force which connects all human beings.

The immediate source of Mesmer’s fluid was Richard Mead’s (1673-1754) De imperio solis ac lunae in corpora humana et morbis inde oriundis (London, 1704), a work upon which Mesmer’s thesis drew heavily. Mead had argued that gravity produced «tides» in the atmosphere as well as in water and that the planets could therefore affect the fluidal balance of the human body.

The modern history of hypnosis, however, begins not with a physician but with a clergyman, a catholic priest who lived at Klosters, Switzerland. Father Johann Gassner used hypnotic techniques to perform what he considered to be exorcisms. Mesmer was said to have watched a number of performances by Gassner in the early 1770's. Mesmer, unable to believe Gassner's hypothesis that patients were possessed by demons, believed that the metal crucifix held by the Father was responsible for magnetizing the patient and hence developed his ideas and explanation of the results into a theory of animal magnetism, which he first tested in 1774 by treating a 28 year old female, Franziska Osterlin.

Mesmer applied magnets to his patients’ bodies and produced remarkable results, especially in the case of a young woman suffering from hysteria. Unlike Hell, Mesmer did not attribute his cures to any power in the magnets themselves. Instead, he argued that the body was analogous to a magnet and that the fluid ebbed and flowed according to the laws of magnetic attraction.

Having moved from «animal gravitation» to «animal magnetism,», in 1775 he announced his new theory in Sendschreiben an einen auswärtigen Arzt. This work was reprinted several times.

Mesmer may have believed that he possessed "animal magnetism" and that he possessed healing forces; basing his practice on these concepts, he developed therapeutic sessions resembling séances. Mesmer at first used magnets, electrodes, and other devices to effect his cures, but, after arousing suspicion among the Viennese physicians, he preferred to utilize his hands. At the séances several patients sat around a vat of dilute sulfuric acid while holding hands or grasping iron bars protruding from the solution.

By this time Mesmer had moved into a comfortable town house in Vienna, which he used as a clinic. His marriage brought him enough wealth to pursue his experiments at his leisure and enough leisure to indulge his passion for music. Mesmer knew Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787), he seems to have been acquainted with Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), and saw a great deal of the Mozarts. The first production of a Mozart opera, the Bastien and Bastienne, took place in Mesmer’s garden, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) later made room for mesmerism in a scene in Cosi fan tutte.

In general, the ten years years between Mesmer’s marriage in 1768 and his departure from Vienna in 1778 seem to have been a time of prosperity and some prominence. He built up a repertoire of techniques and cures; he gave lectures and demonstrations; and he travelled through Hungary, Switzerland, and Bavaria, where he was made a member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciencess at Munich in 1775. Mesmer also developed a taste for publicity. He staged and announced his cures in a manner that offended some of Vienna’s most influentual doctors.

In 1777 an 18 year old, blind, female pianist, singer, and composer Maria-Theresa von Paradies, was brought to Mesmer. Her father had close relations to the court of the empress dowager, Maria Theresa of Austria-Hungary, with whom the girl was a favourite. The girl had been blind since birth, but no physician had been able to find anything wrong with her eyes.

Under the hands of Mesmer mademoiselle Paradies gradually regained what she supposedly never had had. She recovered her sight after treatment by Mesmer despite the fact that she had been under the care of Europe's leading eye specialist for ten years without improvement.

From the medical world of Vienna people flocked to witness this "miracle", and Mesmer enjoyed a period of interst in and respect for his epoch-making methods. But then the patient, who had received an artists scholarship from the empress, during the therapy lost her ability to play the piano, possibly due to the inundation of visual stimuli ruining her nerves. Influenced by jealous doctors, the child's mother took her away from Mesmer's care before the cure was complete. In an emotional scene, the mother struck her child across the face because she resisted leaving Dr. Mesmer's clinic and the hysterical blindness reasserted itself.

This makes her father stage a plot. Accused of the practice of magic, Mesmer decided to leave Austria and perhaps also to leave his wife, who did not accompany him through the later episodes of his career.

The results obtained by Mesmer in his treatment of the blind pianist, seen in hindsight, was probably a result of the effect of hypnosis in psychotherapy. Mesmer's fiercest opponents in this case was doctors Anton Freiherr von Stoerck (1731-1803), life physician to the empress Maria Theresia (1717-1780) and emperor Franz I (1708-1765, reigned from 1745); and the eye specialist Joseph Barth (1745-1818).

The next and most spectacular episode began with Mesmer’s arrival in Paris in February 1778. He set up a clinic, very lucrative, in the Place Vendôme and the nearby village of Créteil and then began an elaborate campaign to win recognition of his «discovery» from France’s leading scientific bodies. Helped by some influential converts and an ever-ancreasing throng of patients’ who testified that they had been cured of everything from paralysiss to what the French then called «vapeurs,» Mesmer seized the public’s imagination and alienated the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Paris, the Royal Society of Medicine, and the Academy of Sciences. His patrons, however, included Louis XVI (1754-1793) and members of the royal court.

The defenders of orthodox medicine took offense at what the public found most appealing about mesmerism - not its theory but its extravagant practixes. Instead of bleeding and applying purgatives, the mesmerists ran their fingers over their patient’s bodies, searching out «poles» through which they infused mesmeric fluid.

By the 1780’s Mesmer had given up the use of Magnets; but he had perfected other devices, notably his famous magnetic baquet, a wooden «tub,» nearly five feet across, and one feet deep, filled with water, a mesmeric version of the Leyden jar. Out of this tub projected iron rods that were held by the patients. Later he "magnetised" a tree, so that patients could be healed by holding ropes hanging from its branches. The most noticeable effect of these devices was to induce a "crisis": convulsions. He reasoned that his own body acted as an animal type of magnet, reinforcing the fluid in the bodies of his patients. Disease resulted from an «obstacle» to the flow of the fluid. Mesmerizing broke through the obstacle by producing a «crisis,» often signaled by convulsions, and then restoring «harmony», a state in which the body responded to the salubrious flow of fluid through all of nature.

His prime supporter in Paris was a doctor, D'Eslon, who was to be struck off the register for his pains. In time, however, their ways were to part when D'Eslon practising independently annoyed Mesmer.

Mesmerism presented itself to the French as a «natural» medicine at a time when the French cult of nature and the popular enthusiasm for science had reached a peak. Mesmer did not produce any proof of his theory or any rigorous description of experiments that could be repeated and verified by others; but like contemporary chemists and physicists, he sseemd able to put his invisible fluid to work. Scores of Parisianss fell into «crises» at the touch of Mesmer’s hand and recovered with a new sense of being at harmony with the world. The mesmerists published hundreds of carefully documented and evene notarized case histories. And they produced an enormous barrage of propaganda - at least 200 books and pamphlets, more than were written on any single subject during the decade before the opening phase of the Revolution in 1789.

Thus mesmerism became a cause célébre, a movement which eventually eclipsed Mesmer himself. He limited his parts in the polemics to two pamphlets, written by or for him: Mémoire sur la découverte du magnétisme animal (1779) and Précis historique des faits relatifs au magnétisme animal (1781). The first contained twenty-seven rather vague propositions, which is as close as Mesmer came to systematizing his ideas. He left the system-building to his disciples, notably Nicolas Bergasse (1750-1832), who produced many of the articles and letters issued in Mesmer’s name as well as his own mesmeric treatise, Considérations sue le magnetisme animal (1784). The disciples also formed a sort of masonic secret society, the Société de l’harmonie universelle, which developed affiliates in most of France’s major cities.

At this society Mesmer lectures and educated some 300 pupils, who soon were active in 40 societies all over France. Mesmer again achieved a tremendous success with the public, and with the subscription connected to his name by his pupils, he became a rich man and was at the height of his influence. In 1785 one of his pupils, in a breach of confidence, published the doctrines of Mesmer, which were to be kept a secret (Aphorismes des M. Mesmer; Paris, 1785).

The spread of the new medicine alarmed not only the old doctors but also the government, and in 1784, on the initiative of king Louis XVI, a commission of the French Academy of Sciences was established to evaluate his practice. The commission was composed of distinguished doctors and academicians, including Jean-Sylvain Bailly (1736-1793), Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794), Joseph-Ignace Guillotine (1738-1814), Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790).

The report of the commission concluded that far from being able to cure disease, Mesmer’s fluid did not exist. They termed him a deceiver and ascribed Mesmer's "healings" to the fantasy of the individual, and physicians using his method were threatened with the loss of their practice. The only member of the commission to speak for Mesmer was the famous botanist Adran Laurent de Jussieu. Another report, of the Royal Medical Society, presented the same conclusion. The report badly damaged the movement, which later dissolved into schisms and heresies. In 1785 Mesmer was forced to leave the city, leaving his followers to their quarrels. After a period of travelling through England, Austria, Germany, and Italy, he settled in Switzerland, where he spent most of the last thirty years of his life in relative seclusion.

Maybe he felt som revenge in the fact that one of the members of the commission fell victim to the invention of another. Joseph Ignace Guillotine was the principal inventor of the machine that bears his name; Antoine Laurent Lavoisier was the founder of moderne chemistry - on May 8, 1794, his became the finest head ever to fall for the guillotine.

Despite his bellicose colleagues, however, it was the French revolution that ruined Mesmer’s practice. During the revolution he lost his entire fortune and fled to England. During 1792/1793 he was in Karlsruhe, then in Wagenhausen bei Stein am Rhein and some other places in Switzerland.

In 1798 Mesmer returned to France in order to attempt to regain his fortune. In 1802 he moved to Versaille and made a settlement with the French government, which granted him a small pension. In 1803 Mesmer left France for good, first living in Meersburg am Bodensee, and then retired to Frauenfeld in Thurgau, where he, forgotten, practiced medicine in all quiet from 1807. Here he seems to have led a quiet and contented life, doing a little medicine, playing his glass harmonica, and remaining detached from the outside world.

In the meantime, however, animal magnetism was practiced as a therapy all over Germany. In 1812 professor Karl Christian Wolfart (1778-1832) from Berlin visited the lonely Mesmer at the request of the Prussian government in order to be educated in his methods. At the same time Johann Ferdinand Koreff (1783-1851) was already in Paris on a similar mission. Wolfart remained Mesmer’s staunchest supporter, and instigated the printing of Mesmer’s main work, Mesmerismus, oder System der Wechselwirkungen, . . . in Berlin in 1814. In the summer of 1813 Mesmer moved to Konstanz, one year later to the village of Riedetsweiler near Meersburg, soon moving on to Meersburg, where he died on March 5, 1815. His memorial at the beautiful cemetary of Meersburg was designed by Wolfart. He never changed his views on animal magnetism but did return to the Catholic Church from which he had lapsed for most of his life.

In 1814 the Abbe Faria suggested that the phenomena described by Mesmer were not due to animal magnetism, but actually due to suggestions. However, the popularity of Mesmer was so well established that Faria's hypothesis was soon forgotten.

In the early nineteenth century animal magnetism was in high fashion in Germany, where his system of therapeutics, mesmerism, had numerous adherents in all walks of society, and influenced both natural philosophy and Romanticism.

Although many of his learned contemporaries regarded Mesmer's practice as quackery, his theory of animal magnetism laid the foundations of modern hypnosis and suggestion therapy.

As a scientific theory mesmerism offered only a thin and unoriginal assortment of ideas. Although Mesmer’s own writings contained little sustained theorizing, they provided enough for his enemies to detect alle manner of ocultist and vitalisstic influences and to align him with William Maxwell, the Scottish physician, author of De Medicina Magnetica (1779), Robert Fludd (1574-1637), Jean Baptiste van Helmont (1577-1644), and Paracelsus (1493-1541) - when they did not categorize him with Cagliostro. This version of his intellectual ancestry seems convinving enough, if one adds Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and Richard Mead to the list. But nothing proves that Mesmer was a charlatan. He seems to have believed sincerely in his theory, although he also showed a fierce determination to convert it into cash: he charged ten louis a month for the use of his «tubs; and he made a fortune from the Société de l’Harmonie Universelle, which, in return, claimed exclusive proprietorship of his deepest «secrets».

Later groups of hypnotists, particularly the mesmeric sects of Lyons and Strasbourg, abandoned the hypothesis of a cosmic fluid. In the nineteenth century hypnosis, shorn of Mesmer’s cosmology and perfected by James Braid and Jean-Martin Charcot, became an accepted medical practice. And finally, through Charcot’s impact on Freud, mesmerism exerted som influence on the development of psychoanalysis, another unorthodox product of the Viennese school.

One of those who embraced Mesmerism was John Elliotson (1791-1868), who was also a cinvinced follower of Franz Josef Gall (1758-1828). Elliotson advocated the doctrines of these two gentlemen in his own magazine, The Zoits, A Journal of Cerebral Physiology and Mesmerism and Their Application to human welfare.

Mesmer was born in the village of Iznang, Swabia. After studying at the Jesuit universities of Dillingen and Ingolstadt, he took up the study of medicine at the University of Vienna in 1759. In 1766 he published a doctoral dissertation with the Latin title De planetarum influxu in corpus humanum, which discussed the influence of the Moon and the planets on the human body and on disease (medical astrology). Evidence assembled by Frank A. Pattie suggests that Mesmer plagiarized his dissertation from a work by Richard Mead (1673-1754).

Soon after receiving his degree, Mesmer married a wealthy widow and established himself as a physician in Vienna. He lived on a splendid estate and patronised the arts. When court intrigue prevented the performance of Bastien und Bastienne, the first opera composed by the twelve-year-old musical prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Mesmer offered his own gardens for the production. Mozart later immortalized his former patron by including a joking reference to Mesmer in his opera Cosi fan tutte.

The advent of animal magnetism
In 1774 Mesmer used a magnet to produce an "artificial tide" in a patient. Mesmer had her swallow a preparation containing iron, and then attached magnets to various parts of her body. She reported feeling streams of a mysterious fluid running through her body and was relieved of her symptoms for several hours. Mesmer did not believe that the magnets had achieved the cure on their own. He felt that he had contributed animal magnetism, which had accumulated in his own body, to her. He soon stopped using magnets as a part of his treatment.

In 1775 Mesmer was invited to give his opinion before the Munich Academy of Sciences on the exorcisms carried out by Johann Joseph Gassner (1727-1779), a priest and healer. Mesmer said that while Gassner was sincere in his beliefs, his cures were due to the fact that he possessed a high degree of animal magnetism. This confrontation between Mesmer's secular ideas and Gassner's religious beliefs marked the end of Gassner's career as well as, according to Henri Ellenberger, the emergence of dynamic psychiatry.

The scandal which followed Mesmer's unsuccessful attempt to treat the blindness of an 18-year-old musician, Maria Theresa Paradis, led him to leave Vienna in 1777. The following year Mesmer moved to Paris, rented an apartment in a part of the city preferred by the wealthy and powerful and established a medical practice. Paris soon divided into those who thought he was a charlatan, who had been forced to flee from Vienna, and those who thought he had made a great discovery.

In his first years in Paris, Mesmer tried and failed to get either the Royal Academy of Sciences or the Royal Society of Medicine to provide official approval for his doctrines. He found only one physician of high professional and social standing, Charles d'Eslon, to become a disciple. In 1779, with d'Eslon's encouragement, Mesmer wrote an 88-page book Mémoire sur la découverte du magnétisme animal, to which he appended his famous 27 Propositions. These propositions outlined his theory at that time.

According to d'Eslon, Mesmer understood health as the free flow of the process of life through thousands of channels in our bodies. Illness was caused by obstacles to this flow. Overcoming these obstacles and restoring flow produced crises, which restored health. When Nature failed to do this spontaneously, contact with a conductor of animal magnetism was a necessary and sufficient remedy. Mesmer aimed to aid or provoke the efforts of Nature. To cure an insane person, for example, involved causing a fit of madness. The advantage of magnetism involved accelerating such crises without danger.

Mesmer treated patients both individually and in groups. With individuals he would sit in front of his patient with his knees touching the patient's knees, pressing the patient's thumbs in his hands, looking fixedly into the patient's eyes. Mesmer made "passes", moving his hands from patients' shoulders down along their arms. He then pressed his fingers on the patient's hypochondriac region (the area below the diaphragm), sometimes holding his hands there for hours. Many patients felt peculiar sensations or had convulsions that were regarded as crises and supposed to bring about the cure.

By 1780 Mesmer had more patients than he could treat individually and he established a collective treatment known as the baquet. An English physician, who observed Mesmer, described the treatment as follows:

In the middle of the room is placed a vessel of about a foot and a half high which is called here a "baquet". It is so large that twenty people can easily sit round it; near the edge of the lid which covers it, there are holes pierced corresponding to the number of persons who are to surround it; into these holes are introduced iron rods, bent at right angles outwards, and of different heights, so as to answer to the part of the body to which they are to be applied. Besides these rods, there is a rope which communicates between the baquet and one of the patients, and from him is carried to another, and so on the whole round. The most sensible effects are produced on the approach of Mesmer, who is said to convey the fluid by certain motions of his hands or eyes, without touching the person. I have talked with several who have witnessed these effects, who have convulsions occasioned and removed by a movement of the hand...
In 1784, without Mesmer requesting it, King Louis XVI appointed four members of the Faculty of Medicine as commissioners to investigate animal magnetism as practiced by d'Eslon. At the request of these commissioners the King appointed five additional commissioners from the Royal Academy of Sciences. These included the chemist Lavoisier, the physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the astronomer Jean Sylvain Bailly and the American ambassador Benjamin Franklin.

The commission conducted a series of experiments aimed, not at determining whether Mesmer's treatment worked, but whether he had discovered a new physical fluid. The commission concluded that there was no evidence for such a fluid. Whatever benefit the treatment produced was attributed to "imagination." In 1785 Mesmer left Paris. His activities over the next twenty years are largely unknown.

Among Mesmer's followers was Armand-Marc-Jacques Chastenet, Marquis de Puységur (1751-1825), who discovered induced or artificial somnambulism.



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