Anton Mesmer, a Swiss Physician, about the year 1750, was distinguishing himself by his philosophical writings. From some cause or other, he left his native country and appeared in France in 1778. Soon after his arrival, he introduced the new science of Animal Magnetism, which has since been sometimes called mesmerism, from its supposed discoverer.
The phenomena exhibited by Mesmer under the influence of his new science had been familiar, in one form or other, to the inhabitants of the world, so far back as history extends; yet he claimed the honor of discovering its powers and its laws. He introduced the doctrine of the magnetic fluid and was accustomed to magnetize trees, by whose power, in turn, subjects were thrown into the magnetic state, etc.
I believe it has generally been conceded, by all who have succeeded him and who have claimed much honor for having advanced the science, that Mesmer first operated with the animal fluid. In the year of 1784, the subject of Animal Magnetism excited much interest in Paris, and the King was finally induced to direct a committee of the Royal Academy of Medicine of Paris to give the subject a thorough consideration and report their opinion of its merits.
The American Philosopher Dr. Franklin was then Ambassador at the Court of France and was appointed a member of this committee. It appears during the progress of their investigations that two principles were to be decided. First, whether the experiments were really performed as they appeared, or were they a species of deception practiced by collusion, contact or by previous practice? Second, whether, if there should be no deception practiced, there is sufficient evidence from the facts developed to establish a theory of Magnetic Fluid, through which all these strange appearances of the mind were exhibited.
The committee decided that there was not sufficient evidence exhibited to show that the phenomena called magnetic were caused by the action of a fluid, as had been contended by the disciples of Mesmer. This settled, with them, the second part of their enquiry. The results, however, and the facts witnessed were more difficult to reject. They were thought to be "singular and wonderful" and were finally attributed to the power of the imagination. The mysterious influence of mind over mind was readily conceded; yet they supposed the medium to be, not a magnetic fluid, but imagination. We find no fault with this report, except in the term used as its cause; namely, the imagination, believing that even the facts disclosed before the honorable committee were such as to require another expression.
If I imagine a picture or scene, it will not appear real to me. I might create images corresponding to certain names which would be given them, but there would be no belief on my part of the real existence of such created images. The poet may rely upon his powers of imagination and portray in measured verse ideal existences, which please and amuse, but should he portray what he believed to exist, or knows to exist, just as he would describe any fact, no one would contend that the work was a species of imagery but a relation of facts by the author, or at least, what was believed to be true by him.
Milton, in Paradise Lost, displayed the highest powers of the imagination, but we do not presume he believed himself relating simple facts which actually transpired according to the description he has given. Yet to some minds who have read this work of genius and have a belief and a conviction of the reality of his imagery, it is with them a matter of fact.
Imagination can have no permanent effect over the conduct of an individual, because an impression produced upon the mind by an imaginary cause ceases to control him the moment he is conscious of this fact. If I should read an account of some wonderful event in the columns of a newspaper, and I believed it to be a fact, there would be no imagination upon my part, although the whole scene might be the work of the editor's imagination. It would be imagery to him but reality to me.
Now the committee did not pretend that collusion or consent of action produced such results as were exhibited before them, but that it was by some unknown mystery; the influence of imagination. It must be admitted, at the present day, that all subjects act from impressions and that they really believe in the reality of the cause of these impressions; else they would not appear so sincere or would not be sincere. If it were the result of the imagination, it would indeed be a species of polite deception, because a subject could not be supposed to act sincerely and know, at the same time, that it proceeded from false causes and that he was deceiving himself.
The operator, or rather the controller of the mind of a subject in the mesmeric state, may produce impressions upon the recipient from false causes; yet those causes would be real to his subject and produce the same results, as though every impression were the result of a real cause. A mesmerizer may imagine a book before the subject, and the subject will see and feel it, although no book be in a room; that is, the same impression is made upon his mind by the mind of the operator, as though a book had really been placed before him. The operator thinks (or imagines) the book, but the subject receives a real impression and acts as though the object was before him.
I have frequently amused myself with experiments of this nature, fully demonstrating the effect of imagination producing real impressions upon the subject. I have handed Lucius, my subject, a six-inch rule and imagined it to be twelve inches. He would immediately divide the rule into twelve inches by counting. Present him with the rule, and ask him how many inches it contains, and he would answer correctly; unless, by the operation of my mind, I should produce an impression that it contained twelve inches. I have first asked him to tell me how long it was, and he would answer me correctly. I would then ask him to look again, and then I would imagine any length I pleased, and he would answer me according to the impression I produced by my imagination (or thought). So in regard to other impressions which I would cause to be made upon his mind; always producing the same results, as though the real object were presented.
I understand the term "imagination," as employed by the honorable Committee, to refer to the subject and not the operator; that it is a result of the imagination of the subject. Our remarks above, we think, explain precisely how much the imagination has to do with this subject, believing as we do that the mesmerized mind acts from impressions regulated by the same laws as when impressions are made by the communication of the bodily senses. In the experiments we have named, and no doubt it was so before the Committee, whatever imagination has to do with the experiments at all is confined, not to the subject, but to the operator or individual who is in communication with the subject.
We believe the Committee had good and conclusive evidence against the theory of a fluid, and we are equally unbelieving in the imagination as being the result of all they witnessed. We are aware that much, very much, appears at first view to be the power of imagination; but a further investigation into the results will prove that, with the mesmeric subject, there is no such power as imagination.
There was an interesting experiment which was performed before the Committee at Paris of this nature. A tree was magnetized, as the operator supposed, and the subject was to be led up to it, and the magnetic fluid would pass into him and throw him into the magnetic state. This was performed several times with perfect accuracy. But the Committee finally hit upon this method. Instead of taking him to the magnetized tree, he was led up, blindfold, to one not magnetized and quite as mysteriously fell into the mesmeric condition. This proved to the Committee, as it must to everyone, that in fact, one tree possesses the same principle and quantity of magnetism as the other, which the operator had acted upon; or that neither of them was impregnated with magnetism but that some other cause, called by the Committee imagination, produced the mesmeric sleep.
Query, was this imagination! The subject in the first instance believed that he was led to the magnetized tree, which was true; and there could not have been imagination about this. In the second instance, he was led to the natural tree, but he believed it to be magnetized, and of course the same impressions and the same results would follow, if you reject the magnetic fluid. Every circumstance, to the subject, would be the same in both experiments; and if like causes produce like effects, it could not be the result of a magnetic influence, because one tree was magnetized and the other was not; and the impressions, being real in both cases, could not have affected the imagination.
Imagination supposes something not real. These impressions from which the subject acts are real and not imaginary, to him. If the reply is that imagination produced both results, we answer that every thing which makes an impression upon the mind is, then, the result of the imagination. All the impressions we receive are imagined, and man's whole conduct is nothing but a series and succession of imaginations.
If I direct my subject to do a certain thing at such a time, informing him what that is and the result I wish to produce, and nothing further is said or thought about the direction, until the time arrives; and should the subject, by his own voluntary act, do according to my direction, is it the result of his imagination? If, on the other hand, I desire him to do something at a certain time but do not communicate to him my desire, and he should, without further cause, perform the very act I wished, would it be the power of his imagination?
If these are all the result of imagination, then everything which surrounds us exists only in imagery, and the world is ideal. The system of Berkeley, concerning the non-existence of matter and that material existences are but images, etc., might be well adopted; and to carry up the science a little further, Hume, with his creations of images and impressions, would be the pattern philosopher of the images of men! We are rather disposed to confine the use of the word imagination to its proper definition and not to confound it with realities.
We must, therefore, reject both the magnetic fluid and the imagination as being the cause of the phenomena called mesmeric. We embrace a doctrine which both the Committee and the followers of Mesmer do not deny; namely, the influence of mind over mind, not through the medium of a fluid or the imagination, but by direct contact with and action upon mind.
We shall now proceed to examine the theory of a fluid and to show what deception those who have adopted and advocated the theory have practiced upon themselves. It has been remarked, and with what truth, our readers will hereafter decide, that Animal Magnetism is a stupendous humbug; that it is a species of polite deception held up to the community as something strange, wonderful and real; a delusion played upon the credulity of honest citizens by artful and designing operators.
The facts resulting from experiments in this enlightened age cannot be refuted; but I am aware that the oddity and unreasonable methods of accounting for them, by the writing and lectures of the advocates of a fluid theory, are so inconsistent with many experiments performed by the followers of Mesmer, themselves, that not only the animal fluid but all the strange phenomena of mind arising from the mesmeric state are rejected at once and passed over to the grave of delusion. But the rejection of facts should be more carefully done, than of falsehood. Nor should we give up the whole facts, because the system of explanation is inconsistent and absurd.
It is not really the community who are so essentially humbugged, as those who adopt and defend the fluid theory. They are really deceived, supposing they have the agency of a fluid when, in fact, there is no fluid about the experiments. Their belief, however, enables them to perform their experiments, and they proceed as though they were really doing something by its agency. If they should adopt the theory of solids instead of fluids, it would be quite as reasonable, and they might perform all the experiments which they now perform with the fluid; or reject both, and then all the experiments can be better performed, which could be performed by fluids and solids.
The Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend A.M., late, of Trinity Hall, Cambridge has published a volume of some four hundred pages entitled, “Dispassionate Inquiry into Mesmerism.” It is, on the whole, a very interesting work and serves rather to amuse than to instruct and direct the enquirer after truth. His experiments were good and expressed in beautiful language and with scientific terms. But the error of all his labor was in the first impression from a false cause. He was a believer in the magnetic fluid and endeavored to bring all the facts he discovered under its agency. Like the religionist who first writes out his creed and then bends every possible principle he can discover in the Bible to support a fabric which he has, himself, designed, he appears to be more intent upon settling the question of a fluid agency and bending all his experiments to support his theory, than to branch out in opposition and undertake to prove the falsity of his position.
On page 276, Book fourth, we find the following principle laid down. "First, I affirm that, productive of the effects called mesmeric, there is an action of matter as distinct and specific as that of light, heat, electricity or any other of the imponderable agents, as they are called; that when the mesmerizer influences his patient, he does this by a medium, either known already in other guise or altogether new to our experience.”
What proofs, it will be asked, can I bring forward to this assertion? I answer — such proofs as are considered available in all cases where an impalpable, imponderable medium is to be considered; facts, namely, on certain appearances which, bearing a peculiar character, irresistibly suggest a peculiar cause. Let us take only one of these. Standing at some yards distant from a person who is in the mesmeric state, that person being perfectly stationary and with his back to me, I, by a slight motion of my hand (far too slight to be felt by the patient through any disturbance of the air) draw him towards me, as if I actually grasped him. What is the chain of facts which is here presented to me? First, an action of my mind, without which I could not have moved my hand; secondly, my hand's motion; thirdly, motion produced in a body, altogether external to and distant from myself. But it will at once be perceived that, in the chain of events as thus stated, there is a deficient link. The communication between me and the distant body is not accounted for. How could an act of my mind originate an effect so unusual?
Here then follows the explanation. That which is immaterial cannot, by its very definition, move masses of matter. It is only when mysteriously united to a body that spirit is brought into relationship with place or extension; and under such a condition alone, and only through such a medium, can it propagate motion. Now in some wondrous way, spirit is in us, incorporate. Our bodies are its medium of action. By them, and only by them, as far as our experience reaches, are we enabled to move masses of foreign matter. I may sit and will forever that yonder chair to come to me, but without the direct agency of my body, it must remain where it is. All the willing in the world cannot stir it an inch. I must bring myself into absolute contact with the body which I desire to move.
But in the case before us, I will, I extend my hands, I move them hither and thither, and I see the body of another person — a mass of matter, external to myself, yet not in apparent contact with me — moved and swayed by the same action which stirs my own body. Am I thence to conclude that a miracle has been performed; that the laws of nature have been reversed; that I can move foreign matter, without contact or intermediate agency? Or must I not rather be certain that, if I am able to sway a distant body, it is by means of some unseen lever that volition is employing; something which is equal to a body; something which may be likened to an extended corporeity, which has become the organ of my will?