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MESMERISM. - Use of chloroform — History of Mesmer — The true
nature and extent of his discovery-Its applications to medicine and surgery—Various effects produced by mesmeric manipulations—Hysteric seizures-St Veitz's dance-Nervous paralysis Catochus — Initiatory trance — The order in which the higher trance-phenomena are afterwards generally drawn out.
Can no further use be made of the facts and principles we have thus seen verified and established, than to explain a class of delusions which prevailed in times of ignorance? The powers which we have seen successfully employed to shake the nerves and unsettle the mind in the service of superstition, can they not be skilfully turned to some purpose beneficial to society?
A satisfactory answer to the question may be found in the invention of etber-inhalation, and in the history of mesmerism. The witch narcotised her pupils in order to produce in them delusive visions; the surgeon stupefies his patient to annul the pain of an operation. The fanatic preacher excites convulsions and trance in his auditory as evidence of the workings of the Holy Spirit; Mesmer produced the same effects in his patients as a means of curing disease.
It occurred to Mr Jackson, a chemist of the United States, that it might be possible harmlessly to stupefy a patient through the inhalation of the vapour of sulphuric ether, to such an extent that a surgical operation would
be unfelt by him. He communicated the idea to Mr Morton, a dentist, who carried it into execution with the happiest results. The patient became insensible; a tooth was extracted; no pain seemed felt at the time, or was remembered afterwards, and no ill consequences followed. Led by the report of this success, in the course of the autumn of 1846, Messrs Bigelow, Warren, and Heywood, ventured to employ the same means in surgical operations of a more serious description. The results obtained on these occasions were not less satisfactory than the first had been. Since then, in England, France, and Germany, the same interesting experiment has been repeated many hundred times, and the adoption of this, or of a parallel method, has become general' in surgery.
I withdraw from the present Letter a sketch which I had made from the “report” of Dr Heyfelder, of the phenomena of etherisation; for a year had barely elapsed, when the narcotising agent recommended by Mr Jackson was superseded by another, suggested and brought into use by Professor Simpson of Edinburgh. The inhalation of chloroform is found to be more rapid, uniform, and certain in its effects, and compassable in a simpler manner, than the inhalation of ether. Its brief phenomena are wound up by the production of stupor ; they are remotely comparable to those produced by alcohol. Alas! the time is passed when I enjoyed the means of looking through, and forming a practical judgment upon discoveries like the present. Not the less, however, do I hail the advent of this as a boon to the art of surgery. The conception was original, bold and reasonable ; its execution neat and scientific; its success wonderful. It established in the year 1847, to the satisfaction of the public and of the medical profession, that the exclusion of pain from surgical
operations is a practicable idea, and the attempt to realise it a legitimate pursuit.
Then, what is Mesmerism ?
The object of the inventor of the art was to cure diseases through the influence of a new force brought by him to bear upon the human frame.
Talent, for philosophy or business, is the power of seeing what is yet hidden from others. As the eyes
of some animals are fitted to see best in the dark, so the mental vision of some original minds prefers exercising itself on obsure and occult subjects. Whoever indulges this turn will certainly pass for a charlatan; most likely he will prove one. Mesmer had it, and indulged it, in a high degree. The body
The body of science which I have unfolded in the preceding Letters was wholly unknown in his time, (he was born in 1734;) but he was led by his wayward instinct to grope after it in the dark, and he seized and brought to upper light fragmentary elements of strange capabilities, which he strove to interpret and to use.
He had early displayed a bias towards the mystical. When a student at Vienna, (he was by birth a Swiss,) his principal study was astrology. He sought in the stars a force which, extending throughout space, might influence the beings living upon our planet. In the year 1766 he published his lucubrations.
In attempting to indentify his imaginary force, Mesmer first supposed it to be electricity. Afterwards, about the year 1773, he adopted the idea that it must be magnetism. So at Vienna, from 1773 to 1775, he employed the practice of stroking diseased parts of the body with magnets. But in 1776, happening to be upon a tour, he fell in with a mystical monk of the name of Gassner, who was then occupied in curing the Prince-Bishop of Ratisbon of blindness, by exorcism. Then Mesmer
observed that, without magnets, Gassner produced much the same effects on the living body which he had produced with them. The fact was not lost
him : he threw aside his magnets, and operated mostly afterwards with the hand alone. It appears that he was often successful in curing disease, or that his patients not only experienced sensible effects from his procedures, but frequently recovered from their complaints.
But in 1777, his reputation, which must have always hung upon a very slender thread, broke down through a failure in the case of the musician Paradies. So Mesmer left Vienna, and in the following year betook himself to Paris. There he obtained a success which quickly drew upon him the indignation, perhaps the jealousy, of the Faculty, who failed not to stigmatise him as charlatan. They exclaimed against him for practising an art which he would not divulge; and when he offered to display it, averred that he threw difficulties in the way of their investigations. Perhaps he suspected them of want of fairness in their inquiries; perhaps he was really unwilling to part with his secret. He refused an offer from the Government of 20,000 francs if he would disclose it; but he communicated freely to individuals, under a pledge of secrecy, all he knew for a hundred louis. His practice itself gave most support to the allegations against him. His patients were received with an air of mystery and studied effect. The apartment, hung with mirrors, was dimly lighted. A profound silence was observed, broken only by strains of music, which occasionally floated through the rooms. The patients were seated round a sort of vat, which contained a beterogeneous mixture of chemical ingredients. With this, and with each other, they were placed in relation by means of cords, or jointed rods, or by holding hands; and among them slowly and mys
teriously moved Mesmer himself, affecting one by a touch, another by a look, a third by passes with his hand, a fourth by pointing with a rod.
What followed is easily conceivable from the scenes referred to in my last letter as witnessed at religious revivals. One person became hysterical, then another; one was seized with catalepsy; others with convulsions; some with palpitations of the heart, perspirations, and other bodily disturbances. These effects, however various and different, went all by the name of "salutary crises.” The method was supposed to provoke in the sick person exactly the kind of action propitious to his recovery. And it may easily be imagined that many a patient found himself the better after a course of this rude empiricism, and that the effect made by these events passing daily in Paris must have been very considerable. To the ignorant the scene was full of wonderment.
To ourselves, regarding it from our present vantageground, it presents no marvellous characters. The phenomena were the same which we have been recently contemplating—a group of disorders of the nervous system. The causes which were present are not less familiar to us, nor their capability of producing such effects; they were-mental excitement, here consisting in raised expectation and fear; the contagiousness of hysteria, convulsions, and trance, its force increased by the numbers and close-packing of the patients; the Od force, developed by the chemical action in the charged caldron, developed by each of the excited bodies around, its action first favoured by the absolute stillness observed, then by the increasing sensibility of the patients as their nerves became more and more shaken. It is remarkable that Jussieu-the most competent judge in the commission of inquiry into the truth of mesmerism set on foot at Paris in 1784, of which Franklin was