Victorian London - Science and Technology - Mesmerism

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IT was reported to the associated Association for the Encouragement of Mesmeric Mummery, that Dr. Collyer had thrown a woman into such a state that a tooth was extracted from her head without her knowing anything about it. Professor Quizemall immediately brought under the notice of the meeting the following case that had occurred under his own eye as late as yesterday
    He (the professor) had observed an individual to emerge from a public-house, who was evidently under a strong mesmeric influence. He oscillated considerably from side to side, and described various semi-circles, his arms and legs forming as it were radii, of which his body appeared to be the Centre. He at length fell with great violence on the pavement, and did not appear to suffer in the least, when a policeman began to manipulate upon his collar, and made a few passes with a thick staff over the shins of the patient, with the view most probably of disengaging the mesmeric matter. The patient struggled a good deal, and he (the professor) might mention as a parallel case to that of Dr. Collyer and the tooth, that the mesmerised individual lost the whole of one skirt of his coat without exhibiting any consciousness of the fact having happened.
    A member wished to know how the case terminated. Professor Quizemall had seen the patient the next day, when he was completely dis-mesmerised, and was fully conscious of the loss of five shillings, taken from him no doubt by way of experiment though when under the mesmeric influence he had lost several sovereigns without being in the least aware of it.

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1842

MORE MESMERISM. - On Tuesday evening, at the Royal Oak, Abbey-street, Bethnal-green-road, the conversation turned upon the subject of "mesmerism," when a gentleman present (Mr. Elisha Harey of No.7, Ramsay-street, who has attended several lectures on the science) offered, for a trifling wager, to send any person into a "mesmeric sleep;" upon which the potboy, a fine active, intelligent youth, about 18 years of age, expressed a wish to be "mesmerised," and his wish was complied with. After a few minutes, the lad's arms and legs began to stiffen, the muscles of the throat appeared to swell, and he gave utterance to a low moaning expressive of great pain. At this time, Mr. De Llenen, the landlord of the house, entered the room and endeavoured to arouse him, but without success. After a lapse of about an hour, the party became alarmed, and a medical gentleman (Mr. Vandenberg) was sent for; but, nothwithstanding every attention has been paid to him, up to the present time he had remained in the same state. Several other medical gentlemen have since seen the lad, but none seem to be aware what course to pursue with respect to him.

The Times, December 22, 1843

To John Welsh, Esq., Liverpool.

Chelsea : Dec. 13, 1847.

My dearest Uncle, - I write to you de profundis, that is to say, from the depths of my tub-chair, into which I have migrated within the last two hours, out of the still lower depths of my gigantic red bed, which has held me all this week, a victim to the 'inclemency of the season'! Oh, uncle of my affections, such a season! Did you ever feel the like of it? Already solid ice in one's water jug! 'poor Gardiners all froz out,' and Captain Sterling going at large in a dress of skins, the same that he wore in Canada! I tried to make head against it by force of volition - kept off the fire as if I had been still at 'Miss Hall's,' where it was a fine of sixpence to touch the hearthrug, and walked, walked, on Carlyle's pernicious counsel (always for me, at least) to 'take the bull by the horns,' instead of following Darwin's more sensible maxim, 'in matters of health always consult your sensations.' And so, 'by working late and early, I'm come to what ye see'! in a tub-chair - a little live bundle of flannel shawls and dressing-gowns, with little or no strength to speak of, having coughed myself all to fiddle-strings in the course of the week, and 'in a dibble of a temper,' if I had only anybody to vent it on! Nevertheless, I am sure 'I have now got the turn,' for I feel what Carlyle would call 'a wholesome desire to smoke'! which cannot be gratified, as C. is dining with Darwin; but the tendency indicates a return to my normal state of health.
    The next best thing I can think of is to write to thee; beside one's bedroom fire, in a tub-chair, the family affections bloom up so strong in one! Moreover, I have just been reading for the first time Harriet Martineau's outpourings in the 'AthenŠum, and 'that minds me,' as my Helen says, that you wished to know if I too had gone into this devilish thing. Catch me! What I think about it were not easy to say, but one thing I am very sure of, that the less one has to do with it the better; and that it is all of one family with witchcraft, demoniacal possession - is, in fact, the selfsame principle presenting itself under new scientific forms, and under a polite name. To deny that there is such a thing as animal magnetism, and that it actually does produce many of the phenomena here recorded, is idle; nor do I find much of this, which seems wonderful because we think of it for the first time, a whit more wonderful than those common instances of it, which never struck us with surprise merely because we have been used to see them all our lives. Everybody, for instance, has seen children thrown almost into convulsions by someone going through the motions of tickling them! Nay, one has known a sensitive uncle shrink his head between his shoulders at the first pointing of a finger towards his neck!
    Does not a man physically tremble under the mere look of a wild beast or fellow-man that is stronger than himself? Does not a woman redden all over when she feels her lover's eyes on her? How then should one doubt the mysterious power of one individual over another? Or what is there more surprising in being made rigid than in being made red? in falling into sleep, than in falling into convulsions? in following somebody across a room, than in trembling before him from head to foot? I perfectly believe, then, in the power of magnetism to throw people into all sorts of unnatural states of body; could have believed so far without the evidence of my senses, and have the evidence of my senses for it also.
    I saw Miss B÷lte magnetised one evening at Mrs. Buller's by a distinguished magnetiser, who could not sound his h's, and who maintained, nevertheless, that mesmerism 'consisted in moral and intellectual superiority.' In a quarter of an hour, by gazing with his dark animal eyes into hers, and simply holding one of her hands, while his other rested on her head, he had made her into the image of death; no marble was ever colder, paler, or more motionless, and her face had that peculiarly beautiful expression which Miss Martineau speaks of, never seen but in a dead face, or a mesmerised one. Then he played cantrups with her arm and leg, and left them stretched out for an hour in an attitude which no awake person could have preserved for three minutes. I touched them, and they felt horrid - stiff as iron, I could not bend them down with all my force. They pricked her hand with the point of a penknife, she felt nothing. And now comes the strangest part of my story. The man, who regarded Carlyle and me as Philistines, said, 'Now are you convinced?' 'Yes, said Carlyle, there is no possibility of doubting but that you have stiffened all poor little Miss B÷lte there into something very awful.' Yes, said I pertly, but then she wished to be magnetised; what I doubt is, whether anyone could be reduced to that state without the consent of their own volition. I should like for instance to see anyone magnetise me!' 'You think I could not?' said the man with a look of ineffable disdain. 'Yes,' said I,' I defy you?' 'Will you give me your hand, Miss?' 'Oh, by all means;' and I gave him my hand with the most perfect confidence in my force of volition, and a smile of contempt. He held it in one of his, and with the other made what Harriet Martineau calls some 'passes' over it, as if he were darting something from his finger ends. I looked him defiantly in the face, as much as to say, 'You must learn to sound your h's, sir, before you can produce any effect on a woman like me!' And whilst this or some similar thought was passing through my head - flash there went over me, from head to foot, something precisely like what I once experienced from taking hold of a galvanic ball, only not nearly so violent. I had presence of mind to keep looking him in the face, as if I had felt nothing; and presently he flung away my hand with a provoked look, saying, 'I believe you would be a very difficult subject, but nevertheless, if I had time given me, I am sure I could mesmerise you; at least, I never failed with anyone as yet.'
    Now, if this destroyed for me my theory of the need of a consenting will, it has signally destroyed his of moral and intellectual superiority; for that man was superior to me in nothing but animal strength, as I am a living woman! I could even hinder him from perceiving that he had mesmerised me, by my moral and intellectual superiority! Of the clairvoyance I have witnessed nothing; but one knows that people with a diseased or violently excited state of nerves can see more than their neighbours. When my insane friend was in this house he said many things on the strength of his insanity which in a mesmerised person would have been quoted as miracles of clairvoyance.
    Of course a vast deal of what one hears is humbug. This girl of Harriet's seems half diseased, half make-believing. I think it a horrible blasphemy they are there perpetrating, in exploiting that poor girl for their idle purposes of curiosity! In fact, I quite agree with the girl, that, had this Mrs. Winyard lived in an earlier age of the world, she would have been burned for a witch, and deserved it better than many that were; since her poking into these mysteries of nature is not the result of superstitious ignorance, but of educated self-conceit.
    In fact, with all this amount of belief in the results of animal magnetism, I regard it as a damnable sort of tempting of Providence, which I, as one solitary individual, will henceforth stand entirely aloof from.
    And now, having given you my views at great length, I will return to my bed and compose my mind. Love to all; thanks to Helen. With tremendous kisses,
    Your devoted niece,
            JANE CARLYLE.

Jane Welsh Carlyle, Letters, December 13th, 1847


On the 19th ult. at Rotherhithe (in the unconsciousness of mesmeric sleep, induced by Mr. Chandler), the wife of Mr. Thomas Moss, of a son.

The Times, February 2nd, 1848


On the 9th inst., at Rotherhithe, in the unconsciousness of mesmeric sleep, the wife of Mr. James Payne, of a daughter.

The Times, June 16th, 1848


SELECT a quiet place, and require the strictest silence from all parties present, who ought to be as few as possible, and those only who have an interest in the recovery of the patient. The temperature should be neither very high nor very low, say 60░. Have the room partially darkened if in the day-time, and if in the night, have the candles so placed that when you move your hands over the patient's face, their shadow shall not pass over the eyes. Be careful that all draughts are excluded, and give strict orders that the door of the room shall not be opened until you give your consent. Also tell those present to sit quietly, not to cough or speak to each other even in a whisper, and not upon any account to come near or touch your patient, unless requested to do so by yourself. Have a small basin of cold water placed on a table close by your side and a pocket-handkerchief near it.
    Having gone through these preliminaries, place your patient in a chair with a high back, tell him to keep his mind perfectly calm, to offer no mental resistance, and if his eyelids become heavy, to allow them to close. Then seat yourself in front of him (if your patient be a female, you had better stand up), and take his hands, allowing the inside of your thumbs to be in contact with the inside of his. Gaze steadfastly at one of his eyes, he also gazing at one of yours. Will strongly that he shall close his eyes and go to sleep, being careful, whilst willing strongly, not to squeeze the thumbs. Upon the mesmeric action manifesting itself, which it most likely will do in about ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, the indications of which are quivering of the eyelids, frequent deglutition, a deep sigh, quickened respiration, and coldness of the extremities, place your hand for a few minutes upon his forehead, then make slow passes with both your hands from his forehead to his knees, each pass occupying about half a minute, allowing the fingers to point a few seconds at the eyes, the stomach, and the knees. In raising the hands for the purpose of resuming the pass, close them and let them rise at some distance from each other, and at each side of your patient.
    Having made these passes for eight or ten minutes without contact, you may make them with contact, taking care that the pressure shall be very light. If gazing at the eyes produce an uncomfortable feeling in your patient, you may look and will strongly at his forehead instead of at his eyes; it is also frequently of much service to begin by standing behind your patient, and make slow passes over his head and down his spine. After having operated in this way for about ten minutes, if he be not already asleep, he will be much more susceptible of your influence if you then adopt the method before detailed of holding the thumbs, &c. . . . . .


Stand before your patient, and will that he shall wake and open his eyes (for your patient may wake and yet be unable to open his eyes), make reverse or upwards passes with both your hands from his chest to above his forehead. After having made these passes, blow over his eyes and forehead, the top of his head, and then on the nape of his neck; draw your thumbs along his closed eyes in an outward direction, and shake a handkerchief over his whole body, particularly over his face. If after this he does not wake, let him sleep on, and nature will wake him when the proper time has arrived. . . . .


Breathe strongly over the chest and stomach, point the fingers to the same organs, and afterwards lay the palms of the hands, one on the chest, and the other on the back between the shoulders; also make some strong or vigorous passes from the throat to the knees. . . .


Point your fingers to the part burnt, and the heat will pass off into your fingers; afterwards place a piece of lint dipped in mesmerised water upon it. Be careful not to touch the burn with your hand, as it will cause too much pain to the patient. Dip your fingers frequently into the basin of water. This is one of the cases in which but little time should be devoted in inducing the sleep. . . .


Make passes with both hands, then breathe over the past.


Hold the points of your fingers (of both hands) round the tumour, move them slowly to the centre of the disease, and then draw them towards you with a strong muscular movement. After repeating this for about twenty minutes, mesmerise your patient generally with long passes down the spine, in order to improve his general health. Linen saturated with mesmerised water should be kept upon the tumour when you are not mesmerising it. See Dr. Elliotson's splendid cure of the disease in the "Zoist," Vol.VI. . . . .

 S. D. Saunders, The Mesmeric Guide for Family Use, 1852