Mesmer, Franz Anton (1733–1815)
Famous Austrian doctor and originator of the technique
that bore his name, Mesmerism, forerunner of hypnotism. He
was born at Weil, near Constance, May 23, 1733. In 1766 he
took a degree in medicine at Vienna, the subject of his inaugural
thesis being De planetarum Influxu (De l’influence des Planettes
sur le corps humain). Mesmer identified the influence of
the planets with magnetism and developed the idea that stroking
diseased bodies with magnets would be curative. On seeing
the remarkable cures of J. J. Gassner in Switzerland, he concluded
that magnetic force must also reside in the human body,
and thereupon Mesmer dispensed with magnets.
In 1778 he went to Paris where he was very favorably received—by
the public, that is; the medical authorities there, as
elsewhere, refused to countenance him. His curative technique
was to seat his patients around a large circular vat, or baquet, in
which various substances were mixed. Each patient held one
end of an iron rod, the other end of which was in the baquet.
In due time the crisis ensued. Violent convulsions, cries, laughter,
and various physical symptoms followed, these being in
turn superseded by lethargy. Many claimed to have been
healed by this method.
In 1784 the government appointed a commission of members
of the Faculty of Medicine, the Societé Royale de Médecine,
and the Academy of Sciences, the commissioners from the
latter body including Benjamin Franklin, astronomer Jean Sylvain
Bailly, and chemist Antoine Lavoisier. The committee reported
that there was no such thing as animal magnetism, and
referred the facts of the crisis to the imagination of the patient.
This had the effect of quenching public interest in mesmerism,
as animal magnetism was called at the time. Mesmer’s ideas
were kept alive by a few of his students and reemerged in force
during the next century. Mesmer lived quietly for the rest of his
life and died at Meersburg, Switzerland, March 5, 1815.
Sources
Eden, Jerome, trans. Memoir of F. A. Mesmer, Doctor of Medicine,
on His Discoveries, 1799. Mount Vernon, N.Y. Eden Press,
1957.
Goldsmith, Margaret L. Franz Anton Mesmer The History of
an Idea. Garden City, N.Y. Doubleday, 1934. Reprint, London
Arthur Barker, 1934.
Wyckoff, James. Franz Anton Mesmer. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
Prentice-Hall, 1975.
Wydenbruck, Nora. Doctor Mesmer. London John Westhouse,
1947.