"I believe in the existence within myself of a power. From this belief derives my will to exert it. The entire doctrine of Animal Magnetism is contained in the two words: Believe and Want. I believe that I have the power to set into action the vital principle of my fellow-men; I want to make use of it; this is all my science and all my means. Believe and want, Sirs, and you will do as much as I."
These words spoken by Armand-Marie-Jacques de Chastenet, Marquis of Puysegur captured the spirit of the age in mid 19th century Europe. He organized the Societe Harmonique des Amis Reunis. By 1789 it had more than 200 members with centers in Alsace, France. The Marquis, focused his efforts on "artificial somnambulism." This would become the basis for the future science of hypnosis. He however never claimed to be original in his ideas. He always considered himself a faithful disciple of Mesmer. When the French revolution arrived the Marquis was like many other aristocrats imprisoned. After two years, he was released he took up once again his research in magnetism. After the overthrow of Napoleon, an entire new generation of "magnetizers" viewed him as their patriarch.
"For a long time I have supposed that a universal fluid exists in nature, a fluid which penetrates all animate or inanimate bodies."
This patriarch however had trained under Anton Mesmer, after which Mesmerism is named. Mesmer is today associated with hypnotism, but back then, it was believed to be "animal magnetism" that achieved his results. In the Paris of 1781, Mesmer was much admired and could count as his followers among others people such as Amadeus Mozart, the Marquis de Lafayette and French Queen Marie Antoinette. Mesmer used his animal magnetism for various different things. He performed exorcisms. He did shows that astounded Parisian in their parlors. There were two commissions appointed to examine Mesmer's claims of healing. The first one in which Benjamin Franklin who will be cited later in this article participated is the most famous of the two. This would decided against Mesmer. The second one, done in 1831, reported in favor of Mesmer saying that animal magnetism was a "...therapeutic agent, in a very curious branch of natural history and psychology, upon which the Academy should encourage and favor further researches."
Mesmer's idea of "animal magnetism" flourished. Mesmer formed "Lodges of Universal Harmony throughout France and even in what is now Haiti. Mesmerism was brought to Haiti by a student of Mesmer who was a French naval officer named Antoine Hyacinthe. The idea spread to the French in Haiti, but also it mixed among the African slave population with voodoo and other African spiritual practices, which together, fueled the rebellion of Haiti in the early 1800s. To Mesmer this animal magnetism was essential part of this work. This animal magnetism was to Mesmer based on a "vital fluid." A 1791 British publication explained what this vital fluid was,
Modern philosophy has admitted a plenum or universal principle of fluid matter, which occupies all space; and that as all bodies moving in the world, abound with pores, this fluid matter introduces itself through the interstices and returns backwards and forwards, flowing through one body by the currents which issue therefrom to another, as in a magnet, which produces that phenomenon which we call Animal Magnetism. This fluid consists of fire, air and spirit, and like all other fluids tends to an equilibrium, therefore it is easy to conceive how the efforts which the bodies make towards each other produce animal electricity, which in fact is no more than the effect produced between two bodies, one of which has more motion than the other; a phenomenon serving to prove that the body which has most motion communicates it to the other, until the medium of motion becomes an equilibrium between the two bodies, and then this equality of motion produces animal electricity.Mesmer saw the possibilities that all diseases could be cure by this animal magnetism. A royal commission was appointed by the skeptical King Louis XVI. In this commission were Antoine Lavoiser, the famous chemist, Joseph-Igance Guillotin (of the famed "merciful" execution weapon the guillotine) and Benjamin Franklin among others. Although the commission after a double blind test concluded that there was no such things animal magnetism, Franklin saw something useful in Mesmer's work when he told the commission members,
delusion may, however, in some cases be of use while it lasts. There are in every great rich city a number of persons who are never in health because they are fond of medicines and always taking them whereby they derange the natural functions and hurt their constitutions. If these people can be persuaded to forbear their drugs in expectation of being cured by only a physician’s finger or an iron rod pointing at them, they may possibly find good effects though they mistake the cause.One such example of how Mesmer conducted these cures can be quite illustrating.
Mesmer, wearing a coat of lilac silk, walked up and down amid this agitated throng accompanied by Deslon and his associates whom he chose for their youth and comeliness. Mesmer carried a long iron wand, with which he touched bodies of the patients and especially the diseased parts. Often laying aside the wand, he magnetized the patients with his eyes, fixing his faze on theirs, or applying his hand to the hypochondriac region and to the abdomen. This application was often applied for hours, and at other rimes, the mater made use of passes. He began by placing himself "en rapport" with his subject. Seated opposite to him, foot against foot, knee against knee, Mesmer laid his fingers on the hypochondriac region and moved them to and fro, lightly touching the ribs. Magnetism with strong electric currents was produced. The master, raising his fingers in pyramidal form, passed his hands all over the patient;s body, beginning with the head, and going downward over the shoulders to the feet. He then returned to the head, both back and front, to the belly and the back and renewed the process again and again until the magnetized person was saturated with the healing fluid and transported with pain or pleasure, both sensations being equally salutary. Young women were so much gratified by the crisis that they wished to be thrown into it anew. They followed Mesmer through the halls and confessed that it was impossible not the be warmly attached to the person of the magnetizer.To Mesmer animal magnetism was both the problem and the cure to all diseases. As Catherine Wynne explained mesmerism shared a similar outlook with brunonianism, (a medical theory dealing with defective or excessive excitation) "...reduced the causes of disease to a single dimension, the presence of absence of either of the magnetic fluid or of excitement. Some of the practices associated with mesmerism, such as stroking the body, could also be interpreted from a Brunonian perspective as inducing "excitement."
There were also connections between mesmerism and vitalism, the idea that some life force, energy or vital principle was to be found in every living thing which did not have a biochemical description. Some connected this to electricity, some to magnetism, and when in the late 19th century both of these forces were unified into an electro-magnetic force by James Clerk Maxwell in the 1870s, these two views were also merged. Soon, however, Mesmer's view of animal magnetism would be abandoned to be replaced by a new view which would lead to the breakthroughs of modern hypnotism.
We include the only movie that was made about the life of Anton Mesmer. If you cannot see the embedded video here is the link: http://bit.ly/iZ3xC7.