Anton Mesmer Biography
MESMER, Franz, or Friedrich-Anton (1733–1815). A physician and founder of the doctrine of animal magnetism, or mesmerism (q.v.), born at Iznang on Lake Constance. He studied theology at Ingolstadt and medicine at Vienna, where he took his degree in 166. About 1772 he began, along with Father Hell, to investigate the curative powers of the magnet, and was led to adopt the opinion that there exists a power similar to magnetism, which exercises an extraordinary influence on the human body. This he called animal magnetism, and published an account of his discovery and of its medicinal value in 1775. Honors were conferred upon him in Germany. In 1778 he went to Paris, where he attracted much attention and made a fortune by his famous magnetic cures. His system obtained the support of members of the medical profession as well as of others, but he refused an offer of an annual pension of 20,000 livres (about $4000) to reveal his secret; and this, combined with other circumstances, gave rise to suspicion and induced the government to appoint a commission, composed of physicians and scientists, whose report was unfavorable to him. He now fell into disrepute, and after a visit to England retired to Meersburg, where he spent the rest of his life in obscurity.
MESMERISM. The name of the process by which, towards the end of the eighteenth century, Franz Mesmer (q.v.), promulgator of the doctrine of animal magnetism, induced the so-called mesmeric trance or sleep. Since Mesmer's day the subject has been transferred from the domain of charlatanism to that of scientific research. The mesmeric trance is identical with the condition known today as induced somnambulism, or hypnotism, or the hypnotic state; it has presented to the observer many highly interesting phenomena. In persons who are favorably disposed for passing into the hypnotic state the condition is easily induced by weak, long-continued, and uniform stimulation of the nerves either of sight, of touch, or of hearing. This state is, on the contrary, almost always easily capable of being brought to a close by some strong or suddenly varying stimulation of the same nerves.
The scientific study of the phenomena presented by hypnotized persons is of great interest and has a definite though very limited sphere of usefulness in the cure of mental and functional disorders. Actual harm may result from the practice of hypnotism upon some nervous and impressionable persons. Moreover, the number of those susceptible to its influence is so small that its general use is impossible. For obvious reasons, women should never be hypnotized without reliable witnesses, and the public use of hypnotism can only appeal to the morbid. Hypnotism tends to destroy self-reliance and to make patients imaginative, weak-minded, and neurasthenic. Suggestion (q.v.) is a mighty aid to the physician, and without producing hypnosis, positive and intelligent assertion can accomplish all that is likely to be done by hypnotism short of the somnambulistic stage. A fair realization of the part suggestion plays in therapeutics is one of the recent achievements of the most progressive medical minds. See Hypnotism; Mental Science; Psychotherapy; Somnambulism; Spiritualism; Suggestion.
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XV (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 457.