Doctor Franz Anton Mesmer.

Bailly, the future Mayor of Paris, participates in some of Doctor Mesmer’s seances and notes:

“In a corner of the room, an assistant plays the pianoforte.  Doors and windows closed, the curtains only allow a weak and gentle light to penetrate.  The patients, in silence, form several rows around the baquet.  Each applies his iron rod to his ill part.  A cord, passed around their bodies, connects them.  Sometimes, a second chain is formed by the hands, the thumb between the neighbour’s thumb and index.  Mesmer passes either a long iron stick that he holds, or his hand, over the bodies.  He descends from the shoulders to the extremities of the arms, and touches the ill part.  The patients offer a varied spectacle.  A few are calm, feeling nothing.  Others turn, spit, feel some slight pain, or heat, or perspire.  Others are agitated and tormented by convulsions.  These convulsions are extraordinary by their length and their strength.  Some have been seen to last for three hours and more.  They are characterised by precipitated, unconscious movements, by the troubling and wandering of the eyes, by cries, tears, hiccoughs, laughter.  One sees patients rush towards each other, smile at each other, talk to each other with affection, and mutually ease their attacks.  All are submissive to the magnetiser.  Even if they appear to be asleep, one gesture, one look from Mesmer wakes them.  It has been observed that, in the number of patients having an attack, there are always more women than men.  The attacks take one or two hours to set in.  Once there is one, all the others begin shortly after.”

Mesmer claimed to cure dropsy, paralysis, gout, scurvy and accidental blindness or deafness.

Apart from this singular consultation room, Mesmer has rented a house, Rue Neuve-Saint-Eustache (the Rue d’Aboukir, today) where he installs another “baquet”.  This second clinic (the word isn’t used at this time) is managed by his first disciple in France, Doctor d’Eslon, the personal doctor of the Count d’Artois, brother to the King [Louis XVI].  Then, to extend to the common people the benefits of his therapy, and demonstrate it, in March 1781, he magnetises a tree in Boulevard Saint-Martin, in the presence of a crowd of on-lookers.  He suspends chains to it, and it is sufficient to touch them to benefit, free-of-charge, from the effects of animal magnetism.

He publishes two works:  Memoire sur la decouverte du magnetisme animal (1779) and a Precis historique (1781).  Dr d’Eslon publishes in London and Paris, in 1780, his Observations sur le magnetisme animal.  Mesmer wants the approbation of the constituted bodies:  The Academy of Sciences and The Royal Society of Medicine.  However, his way of doing things, and his doctrine, appear extravagant to most doctors.  They want to see him only as a charlatan.  Their animosity is increased by a certain jealousy:  he asks considerable honoraries of his rich or noble patients, and he is the only one talked about in the gazettes and songs.  Among Mesmer’s most active supporters are the banker, Kornmann, and the Lyonnais lawyer, Nicolas Bergasse.

Bergasse plays a notable role in preparing people’s minds for the French Revolution, by publishing a pamphlet against imprisonments by order of the King [lettre de cachet] and the arbitrariness of Royal Justice.  In another brochure, “dedicated to the French”, he invites them to answer for themselves, three questions:

“Where do you come from?  Who are you?  Where are you going?”

These are, transposed into profane language, the three interrogations submitted to Masonic Lodge postulants.  Bergasse is, in fact, initiated into the high grades of spiritual Free Masonry, and is a disciple of Willermoz, the founder of a Lodge where the experimentation of mediumnic states and communication with spirits take place (modern spiritism did not appear for the first time in the XIXth Century, in America, with the Fox sisters, as is generally thought, but in the esoteric Lyonnais group of Willermoz).

In 1782, Dr d’Eslon breaks with Mesmer over questions of method.  He wants to be the only one to exercise magnetic medicine.  He accuses Mesmer of imposture before the Faculty of Medicine founded by Doctor Guillotin, famous as the promoter of vaccination in France, and one of the founders of the Order of the Grand-Orient.

Kornmann and Bergasse then conceive the following plan:  organize a vast subscription to buy Mesmer’s discovery.  The subscribers would then become the owners of the “secret” and would constitute a Society destined to teach, diffuse and practise the Mesmer doctrine.

So, in April 1783, the Societe de l’Harmonie universelle is constituted.  This Society resembles a Masonic Lodge crossed with an open university and a commercial business.  It is magnificently installed in the Hotel de Coigny.  Some eminent people are in it:  the Noailles family, the Montesquieu family, the Marquis de La Fayette, the Bailiff des Barres (with the task of introducing mesmerism among the Knights of Malta), the most illustrious names in Paris and at the Court, as well as jurists, magistrates, and highly reputed doctors.  The Societe de l’Harmonie universelle develops, spreads throughout France, organizes affiliates in Lyon, Bordeaux, Dijon, Nantes, etc.  It brings an enormous fortune to Mesmer and raises a passionate interest for animal magnetism in everyone.

France is then divided between mesmerians and antimesmerians, just as deeply as she will be later by the Dreyfus case.  It is a time when magnetism fervents publish poems in its honour.

But it is also the time when the Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Medicine and the Royal Society, after enquiry, conclude that “magnetic fluid”  does not exist, and that its effects must be attributed to imagination.  Only one investigator gives a different opinion:  Jussieu.  For him, there is something real in Mesmer’s therapy.  And he is right.  For there is, in Mesmer’s methods, the germ of what would be called today dynamic psychiatry.  However, to the conclusions of this enquiry, a secret report is added, established by a commission presided by Dr Guillotin:  the “baquet” seances and the touching practised by Mesmer are contrary to good morals.  The King, under pressure from the constituted bodies, has 80,000 copies of the condemnation of animal magnetism distributed.

To be continued.

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