Doctor Franz Anton Mesmer, the German father of animal magnetism.

Madame de Grandhoux has been suffering from strange symptoms since puberty – nervous attacks, fainting spells, convulsions, brief deliriums;  in earler times, “possession” would have been mentioned.  Madame de Grandhoux travels by carriage to Place Louis-le-Grand.  She alights in front of the beautiful hotel which was built by the Bouret brothers, before they were ruined.  (The address is 16 place Vendome, today.)  A tall valet, with a Teutonic face, lets her in.  She climbs the white marble staircase and enters the first floor salon, a magnificent room, containing only two chairs.  A man awaits her, in front of the monumental fireplace with bronze caryatids.  He does not say a word.  From an alcove in orange stucco comes the gentle music of an instrument that is unknown in Paris.  Someone is playing a glass harmonica.

The man, in a powdered wig, his torso well-moulded in an aubergine Rhingrave-style coat, indicates one of the chairs and sits down in front of the Lady, in contact with her knees.  He plunges his big, grey eyes fixedly into those of his visitor.  Then he places his beautiful hands on her head, on her forehead, leaves them there for an instant, descends down her neck, presses her shoulders, slowly passes over her arms, and pushes his thumbs against those of his patient.  Then, sliding his hands underneath the woman’s arms, he follows the spine down to her waist, passes over her hips and along her thighs, and squeezes her knees.  To finish, with the fingers of his right hand made into a point, he brushes her throat, the base of her nose, and presses on her heart.

She wants to ask questions, or perhaps resist.  But a languor takes hold of her, she feels cold and hot, starts to laugh and to cry, trembles, sways, loses her sight, the consciousness of herself, and crumples.

She opens her eyes, stretched out on a sofa in a padded room, after a nervous tumult of gesticulations and cries, of which she has no memory.

She asks what has happened.  The man replies calmly that she will be cured.

She comes back several times to follow this strange treatment.  In less than a month, the troubles from which she has been suffering for ten years have disappeared.  She swears only by Doctor Mesmer.  The whole of Paris praises his merits.  He is the main topic of conversation in the salons.  Soon, so many carriages crowd in front of the Hotel Bouret that Lenoir, the Police Lieutenant, has to organize a policing service Place Louis-le-Grand.

***

The Doctor has come from Vienna, preceded by a reputation of thaumaturge.  He is supposed to be endowed with miraculous powers, and initiated into diverse secret societies.  Because of him, official medicine will fall into derision.

“There is only one disease, one illness, one cure.”

That is his formula.  No remedy, no therapeutic procedure has ever healed anybody.  All recovery is, in reality, the effect of magnetism, of the subtle physical fluid which fills the universe and unites Man to the Earth, to the celestial bodies, to the whole of Nature, and humans to each other.  Illness is the result of a bad repartition of this fluid in the human body, and the universal therapy consists in restoring this lost equilibrium.  Thanks to certain techniques, this fluid can be condensed, stored, and transmitted to other people.  That is why it is possible to provoke in sick people “attacks” similar to their morbid symptoms, and to deliver them from them.  The existence of the magnetism of living things has never been known by doctors, who treat only the symptoms, not the causes.  Mesmer, who has received an ancestral knowledge conserved by the “adepts”, has been designated to reveal the fundamental unity of Nature and modern Humanity.

Paris is unnerved by an unstable government, the agiotage, the philosophy of contestation, and a disastrous war where France has just lost the Indies and Canada.  Paris is enthusiastic about the United States of America’s War of Independence, and shaken by the trembling of an aristocracy clinging to its privileges.  Paris is drunk on philanthropic ideals, antireligious doctrines, occultism and masonic secrets.  Paris is living under stress.  It develops crushes on any unusual stranger, any new idea, and welcomes Mesmer triumphantly.

Mesmer's famous baquet which provoked extraordinary convulsions in those who were in contact with it.

Soon, his clientele is so numerous and fervent that he institutes collective seances by the means of a distributor of magnetic waves installed in a new residence, the Hotel Bullion (the Rue du Louvre quarter).

An English doctor, John Grieve, passing through Paris in May 1784, leaves us this description:

“I was in his house the other day and witnessed how he proceeds.  In the middle of the room is placed a recipient roughly one and a half feet high, that is called here “le baquet”.  It is so big that twenty people can sit all around it.  The edge of the baquet is pierced with holes.  These holes receive bent iron rods, disposed at diverse heights, so that the patients can apply them to different parts of their bodies.  Apart from these rods, a cord allows one of the patients to communicate with the baquet, then, from one to the other, with all his companions.  The most apparent effects are manifested upon Mesmer’s approach, as, they say, he directs the fluid by the movements of his hands and eyes, without touching anyone.  I questioned several people in whom Mesmer has provoked convulsions in this way, then made them stop, by a simple sign with his finger.”

Another witness statement:

“The baquet is a drum of pine.  It is detached from the floor by four inches, so that one is able to slide one’s feet under it.  The cover is slit in its diameter from North to South.  Rods that conduct the fluid come out of the sides of the baquet.  Inside there are several layers of bottles filled with water, crushed glass, or magnetised iron shavings.  The baquet room is dark and there reigns a rather strong heat there.  Rigorous silence is observed, while waiting for the nervous phenomena.”

To be continued.

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