Charles MacKay:
Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds

Vol. III - Fortune Telling and Magnetisers

Chapter 63 - The Magnetisers - 5

Before any attempt at magnetisation was made by M. Berna, the Commissioners determined to ascertain how far, in her ordinary state, she was sensible to pricking. Needles of a moderate size were stuck into her hands and neck, to the depth of half a line, and she was asked by Messieurs Roux and Caventon whether she felt any pain. She replied that she felt nothing; neither did her countenance express any pain. The Commissioners, somewhat surprised at this, repeated their question, and inquired whether she was absolutely insensible. Being thus pressed, she acknowledged that she felt a little pain.

These preliminaries having been completed, M. Berna made her sit close by him. He looked steadfastly at her, but made no movements or passes whatever. After the lapse of about two minutes she fell back asleep, and M. Berna told the Commissioners that she was now in the state of magnetic somnambulism. He then arose, and again looking steadfastly at her from a short distance, declared, after another minute, that she was struck with general insensibility.

To ascertain this, the girl's eyes having been previously bandaged, Messieurs Bouillard, Emery, and Dubois pricked her one after the other with needles. By word she complained of no pain; and her features, where the bandage allowed them to be seen, appeared calm and unmoved. But M. Dubois having stuck his needle rather deep under her chin, she immediately made with much vivacity a movement of deglutition.

This experiment having failed, M. Berna tried another, saying that he would, by the sole and tacit intervention of his will, paralyze any part of the girl's body the Commissioners might mention. To avoid the possibility of collusion, M. Dubois drew up the following conditions:-- " That M. Berna should maintain the most perfect silence, and should receive from the hands of the Commissioners papers, on which should be written the parts to be deprived of motion and sensibility, and that M. Berna should let them know when he had done it by closing one of his eyes, that they might verify it. The parts to be deprived of sensibility were the chin, the right thumb, the region of the left deltoid, and that of the right patella." M. Berna would not accept these conditions, giving for his reason that the parts pointed out by the Commissioners were too limited; that, besides, all this was out of his programme, and he did not understand why such precautions should be taken against him.

M. Berna had written in his programme that he would deprive the whole body of sensibility, and then a part only. He would afterwards deprive the two arms of motion -- then the two legs -- then a leg and an arm - then the neck, and lastly the tongue. All the evidence he wished the Commissioners to have was after a very unsatisfactory fashion. He would tell the somnambulist to raise her arm, and if she did not raise it, the limb was to be considered paralyzed. Besides this, the Commissioners were to make haste with their observations. If the first trials did not succeed, they were to be repeated till paralysis was produced. "These," as the Commissioners very justly remarked, "were not such conditions as men of science, who were to give an account of their commission, could exactly comply with." After some time spent in a friendly discussion of the point, M. Berna said he could do no more at that meeting. Then placing himself opposite the girl, he twice exclaimed, "Wake!" She awakened accordingly, and the sitting terminated.

At the second meeting, M. Berna was requested to paralyze the right arm only of the girl by the tacit intervention of his will, as he had confidently assured the Commissioners he could. M. Berna, after a few moments, made a sign with his eye that he had done so, when M. Bouillard proceeded to verify the fact. Being requested to move her left arm, she did so. Being then requested to move her right leg, she said the whole of her right side was paralyzed -- she could neither move arm nor leg. On this experiment the Commissioners remark: "M. Berna's programme stated that he had the power of paralyzing either a single limb or two limbs at once, we chose a single limb, and there resulted, in spite of his will, a paralysis of two limbs." Some other experiments, equally unsatisfactory, were tried with the same girl. M. Berna was soon convinced that she had not studied her part well, or was not clever enough to reflect any honour upon the science, and he therefore dismissed her. Her place was filled by a woman, aged about thirty, also of very delicate health; and the following conclusive experiments were tried upon her:-

The patient was thrown into the somnambulic state, and her eyes covered with a bandage. At the invitation of the magnetiser, M. Dubois d'Amiens wrote several words upon a card, that the somnambule might read them through her bandages, or through her occiput. M. Dubois wrote the word Pantagruel, in perfectly distinct roman characters; then placing himself behind the somnambule, he presented the card close to her occiput. The magnetiser was seated in front of the woman and of M. Dubois, and could not see the writing upon the card. Being asked by her magnetiser what was behind her head, she answered, after some hesitation, that she saw something white -- something resembling a card -- a visiting-card. It should be remembered that M. Berna had requested M. Dubois aloud to take a card and write upon it, and that the patient must have heard it, as it was said in her presence. She was next asked if she could distinguish what there was on this card. She replied "Yes; there was writing on it." -- "Is it small or large, this writing?" inquired the magnetiser. "Pretty large," replied she. "What is written on it?" continued the magnetiser. "Wait a little-I cannot see very plain. Ah! there is first an M. Yes, it is a word beginning with an M." [The woman thought it was a visiting-card, and guessed that doubtless it would begin with the words Monsieur or Madame.] M. Cornac, unknown to the magnetiser, who alone put the questions, passed a perfectly blank card to M. Dubois, who substituted it quietly for the one on which he had written the word Pantagruel. The somnambule still persisted that she saw a word beginning with an M. At last, after some efforts, she added doubtingly that she thought she could see two lines of writing. She was still thinking of the visiting-card, with a name in one line and the address on the other.

Many other experiments of the same kind, and with a similar result, were tried with blank cards; and it was then determined to try her with playing-cards. M. Berna had a pack of them on his table, and addressing M. Dubois aloud, he asked him to take one of them and place it at the occiput of the somnambule. M. Dubois asked him aloud whether he should take a court card. "As you please," replied the magnetiser. As M. Dubois went towards the table, the idea struck him that he would not take either a court or a common card, but a perfectly blank card of the same size. Neither M. Berna nor the somnambule was aware of the substitution. He then placed himself behind her as before, and held the card to her occiput so that M. Berna could not see it. M. Berna then began to magnetise her with all his force, that he might sublimate her into the stage of extreme lucidity, and effectually transfer the power of vision to her occiput. She was interrogated as to what she could see. She hesitated; appeared to struggle with herself, and at last said she saw a card. "But what do you see on the card?" After a little hesitation, she said she could see black and red (thinking of the court card).

The Commissioners allowed M. Berna to continue the examination in his own way. After some fruitless efforts to get a more satisfactory answer from the somnambule, he invited M. Dubois to pass his card before her head, close against the bandage covering her eyes. This having been done, the somnambule said she could see better. M. Berna then began to put some leading questions, and she replied that she could see a figure. Hereupon, there were renewed solicitations from M. Berna. The somnambule, on her part, appeared to be making great efforts to glean some information from her magnetiser, and at last said that she could distinguish the Knave. But this was not all; it remained for her to say which of the four knaves. In answer to further inquiries, she said there was black by the side of it. Not being contradicted at all, she imagined that she was in the right track; and made, after much pressing, her final guess, that it was the Knave of Clubs.

M. Berna, thinking the experiment finished, took the card from the hands of M. Dubois, and in presence of all the Commissioners saw that it was entirely blank. Blank was his own dismay.

As a last experiment, she was tried with a silver medal. It was with very great difficulty that any answers could be elicited from her. M. Cornac held the object firmly closed in his hand close before the bandage over her eyes. She first said she saw something round; she then said it was flesh-coloured -- then yellow -- then the colour of gold. It was as thick as an onion: and, in answer to incessant questions, she said it was yellow on one side, white on the other, and had black above it. She was thinking, apparently, of a gold watch, with its white dial and black figures for the hours. Solicited, for the last time, to explain herself clearly -- to say, at least, the use of the object and its name, she appeared to be anxious to collect all her energies, and then uttered only the word "hour." Then, at last, as if suddenly illumined, she cried out that "it was to tell the hour."

Thus ended the sitting. Some difficulties afterwards arose between the Commissioners and M. Berna, who wished that a copy of the proces verbal should be given him. The Commissioners would not agree; and M. Berna, in his turn, refused to make any fresh experiments. It was impossible that any investigation could have been conducted more satisfactorily than this. The report of the Commissioners was quite conclusive; and Animal Magnetism since that day lost much of its repute in France. M. Dupotet, with a perseverance and ingenuity worthy a better cause, has found a satisfactory excuse for the failure of M. Berna. Having taken care in his work not to publish the particulars, he merely mentions, in three lines, that M. Berna failed before a committee of the Royal Academy of Medicine in an endeavour to produce some of the higher magnetic phenomena. "There are a variety of incidental circumstances," says that shining light of magnetism, "which it is difficult even to enumerate. An over-anxiety to produce the effects, or any incidental suggestions that may disturb the attention of the magnetiser, will often be sufficient to mar the successful issue of the experiment." ["Introduction to the Study of Animal Magnetism," by Baron Dupotet de Sennevoy, London, 1838, p. 159.] Such are the miserable shifts to which error reduces its votaries!

While Dupotet thus conveniently forbears to dwell upon the unfavourable decision of the committee of 1837, let us hear how he dilates upon the favourable report of the previous committee of 1835, and how he praises the judgment and the impartiality of its members. "The Academie Royale de Medicine," says he, "put upon record clear and authenticated evidence in favour of Animal Magnetism. The Comissioners detailed circumstantially the facts which they witnessed, and the methods they adopted to detect every possible source of deception. Many of the Commissioners, when they entered on the investigation, were not only unfavourable to magnetism, but avowedly unbelievers; so that their evidence in any court of justice would be esteemed the most unexceptionable that could possibly be desired. They were inquiring too, not into any speculative or occult theory, upon which there might be a chance of their being led away by sophistical representations, but they were inquiring into the existence of facts only -- plain demonstrable facts, which were in their own nature palpable to every observer." ["Introduction to the Study of Animal Magnetism," p. 27.] M. Dupotet might not unreasonably be asked whether the very same arguments ought not to be applied to the unfavourable report drawn up by the able M. Dubois d'Amiens and his coadjutors in the last inquiry. If the question were asked, we should, in all probability, meet some such a reply as this: -- "True, they might; but then you must consider the variety of incidental circumstances, too numerous to mention! M. Berna may have been over anxious; in fact, the experiments must have been spoiled by an incidental suggestion!"

A man with a faith so lively as M. Dupotet was just the person to undertake the difficult mission of converting the English to a belief in magnetism. Accordingly we find that, very shortly after the last decision of the Academie, M. Dupotet turned his back upon his native soil and arrived in England, loaded with the magnetic fluid, and ready to re-enact all the fooleries of his great predecessors, Mesmer and Puysegur. Since the days of Perkinism and metallic tractors, until 1833, magnetism had made no progress, and excited no attention in England. Mr. Colquhoun, an advocate at the Scottish bar, published in that year the, till then, inedited report of the French commission of 1831, together with a history of the science, under the title of "Isis Revelata; or, an Inquiry into the Origin, Progress, and present State of Animal Magnetism." Mr. Colquhoun was a devout believer, and his work was full of enthusiasm. It succeeded in awakening some interest upon a subject certainly very curious, but it made few or no converts. An interesting article, exposing the delusion, appeared in the same year in the "Foreign Quarterly Review;" and one or two medical works noticed the subject afterwards, to scout it and turn it into ridicule. The arrival of M. Dupotet, in 1837, worked quite a revolution, and raised Animal Magnetism to a height of favour, as great as it had ever attained even in France.

He began by addressing letters of invitation to the principal philosophers and men of science, physicians, editors of newspapers, and others, to witness the experiments, which were at first carried on at his own residence, in Wigmore-street, Cavendish-square. Many of them accepted the invitation; and, though not convinced, were surprised and confounded at the singular influence which he exercised over the imagination of his patients. Still, at first, his success was not flattering. To quote his own words, in the dedication of his work to Earl Stanhope, "he spent several months in fruitless attempts to induce the wise men of the country to study the phenomena of magnetism. His incessant appeals for an examination of these novel facts remained unanswered, and the press began to declare against him." With a saddened heart, he was about to renounce the design he had formed of spreading magnetism in England, and carry to some more credulous people the important doctrines of which he had made himself the apostle. Earl Stanhope, however, encouraged him to remain; telling him to hope for a favourable change in public opinion, and the eventual triumph of that truth of which he was the defender. M. Dupotet remained. He was not so cruel as to refuse the English people a sight of his wonders. Although they might be ungrateful, his kindness and patience should be long enduring. In the course of time his perseverance met its reward. Ladies in search of emotions -- the hysteric, the idle, the puling, and the ultra-sentimental crowded to his saloons, as ladies similarly predisposed had crowded to Mesmer's sixty years before. Peers, members of the House of Commons, philosophers, men of letters, and physicians came in great numbers -- some to believe, some to doubt, and a few to scoff. M. Dupotet continued his experiments, and at last made several important converts. Most important of all for a second Mesmer, he found a second D'Eslon.

Dr. Elliotson, the most conspicuous among the converts of Dupotet, was, like D'Eslon, a physician in extensive practice -- a thoroughly honest man, but with a little too much enthusiasm. The parallel holds good between them in every particular; for, as D'Eslon had done before him, Dr. Elliotson soon threw his master into the shade, and attracted all the notice of the public upon himself. He was at that time professor of the principles and practice of medicine at the University College, London, and physician to the hospital. In conjunction with M. Dupotet, he commenced a course of experiments upon some of the patients in that institution. The reports which were published from time to time, partook so largely of the marvellous, and were corroborated by the evidence of men whose learning, judgment, and integrity it was impossible to call in question, that the public opinion was staggered. Men were ashamed to believe, and yet afraid to doubt; and the subject at last became so engrossing that a committee of some of the most distinguished members of the medical profession undertook to investigate the phenomena, and report upon them.

In the mean time, Dr. Elliotson and M. Dupotet continued the public exhibition at the hospital; while the credulous gaped with wonder, and only some few daring spirits had temerity enough to hint about quackery and delusion on the part of the doctors, and imposture on the part of the patients. The phenomena induced in two young women, sisters, named Elizabeth and Jane Okey, were so extraordinary that they became at last the chief, if not the only proofs of the science in London. We have not been able to meet with any reports of these experiments from the pen of an unbeliever, and are therefore compelled to rely solely upon the reports published under the authority of the magnetisers themselves, and given to the world in "The Lancet" and other medical journals.

Elizabeth Okey was an intelligent girl, aged about seventeen, and was admitted into the University College hospital, suffering under attacks of epilepsy. She was magnetised repeatedly by M. Dupotet in the autumn of 1837, and afterwards by Dr. Elliotson at the hospital, during the spring and summer of 1838. By the usual process, she was very easily thrown into a state of deep unconscious sleep, from which she was aroused into somnambulism and delirium. In her waking state she was a modest well-behaved girl, and spoke but little. In the somnambulic state, she appeared quite another being; evinced considerable powers of mimicry; sang comic songs; was obedient to every motion of her magnetiser; and was believed to have the power of prophesying the return of her illness -- the means of cure, and even the death or recovery of other patients in the ward.

Mesmer had often pretended in his day that he could impart the magnetic power to pieces of metal or wood, strings of silk or cord, &c. The reader will remember his famous battery, and the no less famous tree of M. de Puysegur. During the experiments upon Okey, it was soon discovered that all the phenomena could be produced in her, if she touched any object that had been previously mesmerised by the will or the touch of her magnetiser. At a sitting, on the 5th of July 1838, it was mentioned that Okey, some short time previously, and while in the state of magnetic lucidity, had prophesied that, if mesmerised tea were placed in each of her hands, no power in nature would be able to awake her until after the lapse of a quarter of an hour. The experiment was tried accordingly. Tea which had been touched by the magnetiser was placed in each hand, and she immediately fell asleep. After ten minutes, the customary means to awaken her were tried, but without effect. She was quite insensible to all external impressions. In a quarter of an hour, they were tried with redoubled energy, but still in vain. She was left alone for six minutes longer; but she still slept, and it was found quite impossible to wake her. At last some one present remarked that this wonderful sleep would, in all probability, last till the tea was removed from her bands. The suggestion was acted upon, the tea was taken away, and she awoke in a few seconds. ["Lancet," vol. ii. 1837-8, p. 585.]

On the 12th of July, just a week afterwards, numerous experiments as to the capability of different substances for conveying the magnetic influence were tried upon her. A slip of crumpled paper, magnetised by being held in the hand, produced no effect. A penknife magnetised her immediately. A piece of oilskin had no influence. A watch placed on her palm sent her to sleep immediately, if the metal part were first placed in contact with her; the glass did not affect her so quickly. As she was leaving the room, a sleeve-cuff made of brown-holland, which had been accidentally magnetised by a spectator, stopped her in mid career, and sent her fast to sleep. It was also found that, on placing the point of her finger on a sovereign which had been magnetised, she was immediately stupified. A pile of sovereigns produced sleep; but if they were so placed that she could touch the surface of each coin, the sleep became intense and protracted.

Still more extraordinary circumstances were related of this patient. In her state of magnetic sleep, she said that a tall black man, or negro, attended her, and prompted the answers she was to give to the various perplexing questions that were put to her. It was also asserted that she could use the back of her hand as an organ of vision. The first time this remarkable phenomenon was said to have been exhibited was a few days prior to the 5th of July. On the latter day, being in what was called a state of loquacious somnambulism, she was asked by Dr. Elliotson's assistant whether she had an eye in her hand. She replied that "it was a light there, and not an eye." "Have you got a light anywhere else?" -- "No, none anywhere else." -- "Can you see with the inside as well as the out?" -- "Yes; but very little with the inside."

On the 9th of July bread with butter was given to her, and while eating it she drank some magnetised water, and falling into a stupor dropped her food from her hand and frowned. The eyes, partially closed, had the abstracted aspect that always accompanies stupefaction. The right-hand was open, the palm upwards; the left, with its back presented anteriorly, was relaxed and curved. The bread being lost, she moved her left-hand about convulsively until right over the bread, when a clear view being obtained, the hand turned suddenly round and clutched it eagerly. Her hand was afterwards wrapped in a handkerchief; but then she could not see with it, and laid it on her lap with an expression of despair.

These are a few only of the wonderful feats of Elizabeth Okey. Jane was not quite so clever; but she nevertheless managed to bewilder the learned men almost as much as her sister. A magnetised sovereign having been placed on the floor, Jane, then in the state of delirium, was directed to stoop and pick it up. She stooped, and having raised it about three inches, was fixed in a sound sleep in that constrained position. Dr. Elliotson pointed his finger at her, to discharge some more of the mesmeric fluid into her, when her hand immediately relaxed its grasp of the coin, and she re-awoke into the state of delirium, exclaiming, "God bless my soul!"

It is now time to mention the famous gold-chain experiment which was performed at the hospital upon Elizabeth Okey, in the presence of Count Flahault, Dr. Lardner, Mr. Knatchbull the professor of Arabic in the University of Oxford, and many other gentlemen. The object of the experiment was to demonstrate that, when Okey held one end of a gold chain, and Dr. Elliotson, or any other magnetiser, the other, the magnetic fluid would travel through the chain, and, after the lapse of a minute, stupify the patient. A long gold chain having been twice placed around her neck, Dr. Elliotson at once threw her into a state of stupor. It was then found that, if the intermediate part of the chain were twisted around a piece of wood, or a roll of paper, the passage of the fluid would be checked, and stupor would not so speedily ensue. If the chain were removed, she might be easily thrown into the state of delirium; when she would sing at the request of her magnetiser; and, if the chain were then unrolled, her voice would be arrested in the most gradual manner; its loudness first diminishing -- the tune then becoming confused, and finally lost altogether. The operations of her intellect could be checked, while the organs of sound would still continue to exert themselves. For instance, while her thoughts were occupied on the poetry and air of Lord Byron's song, "The Maid of Athens," the chain was unrolled; and when she had reached the line, "My life, I love you!" the stupor had increased; a cold statue-like aspect crept over the face -- the voice sank -- the limbs became rigid -- the memory was gone -- the faculty of forecasting the thoughts had departed, and but one portion of capacity remained -- that of repeating again and again, perhaps twenty times, the line and music which had last issued from her lips, without pause, and in the proper time, until the magnetiser stopped her voice altogether, by further unrolling the chain and stupifying her. On another trial, she was stopped in the comic song, "Sir Frog he would a wooing go," when she came to the line, "Whether his mother would let him or no;" while her left hand outstretched, with the chain in it, was moving up and down, and the right toe was tapping the time on the floor; and with these words and actions she persevered for fifty repetitions, until the winding of the chain re-opened her faculties, when she finished the song. ["Lancet," vol. ii. 1837-8, p.617.]

The report from which we have extracted the above passage further informed the public and the medical profession, and expected them to believe, that, when this species of stupefaction was produced while she was employed in any action, the action was repeated as long as the mesmeric influence lasted. For instance, it was asserted that she was once deprived of the motion of every part of her body, except the right forefinger, with which she was rubbing her chin; and that, when thrown into the trance, she continued rubbing her chin for several minutes, until she was unmagnetised, when she ceased. A similar result was obtained when she was smoothing down her hair; and at another time when she was imitating the laughter of the spectators, excited beyond control by her clever mimicry. At another time she was suddenly thrown into the state of delirious stupor while pronouncing the word "you," of which she kept prolonging the sound for several minutes, with a sort of vibrating noise, until she was awakened. At another time, when a magnetised sovereign was given to her, wrapped up in paper, she caught it in her hand, and turned it round flatwise between her fingers, saying that it was wrapped up "very neatly indeed." The mesmeric influence caught her in the remark, which she kept repeating over and over again, all the while twirling the sovereign round and round until the influence in the coin had evaporated.

We are also told of a remarkable instance of the force of the magnetic power. While Elizabeth Okey was one day employed in writing, a sovereign which had been imbued with the fluid was placed upon her boot. In half a minute her leg was paralyzed -- rooted to the floor -- perfectly immovable at the joints, and visited, apparently, with pain so intense that the girl writhed in agony. "The muscles of the leg were found," says the report, "as rigid and stiff as if they had been carved in wood. When the sovereign was removed, the pain left her in a quarter of a minute. On a subsequent day, a mesmerised sovereign was placed in her left hand as it hung at her side, with the palm turned slightly outwards. The hand and arm were immediately paralyzed -- fixed with marble-like firmness." No general stupor having occurred, she was requested to move her arm; but she could not lift it a hair's-breadth from her side. On another occasion, when in a state of delirium, in which she had remained three hours, she was asked to describe her feelings when she handled any magnetised object and went off into the stupor. She had never before, although several times asked, given any information upon the subject. She now replied that, at the moment of losing her senses through any manipulations, she experienced a sensation of opening in the crown of her head; that she never knew when it closed again; but that her eyes seemed to become exceedingly large; -- three times as big as before. On recovering from this state, she remembered nothing that had taken place in the interval, whether that interval were hours or days; her only sensation was that of awakening, and of something being lifted from her eyes.

The regular publication of these marvellous experiments, authenticated as they were by many eminent names, naturally excited the public attention in an extreme degree. Animal Magnetism became the topic of discussion in every circle -- politics and literature were for a time thrown into the shade, so strange were the facts, or so wonderful was the delusion. The public journals contented themselves in many instances with a mere relation of the results, without giving any opinion as to the cause. One of them which gave a series of reports upon the subject, thus described the girl, and avowed its readiness to believe all that was related of her. [Morning Post, March 2, 1838.] "Her appearance as she sits, as pale and almost as still as a corpse, is strangely awful. She whistles to oblige Dr. Elliotson: an incredulous bystander presses his fingers upon her lips; she does not appear conscious of the nature of the interruption; but when asked to continue, replies in childish surprise, 'it can't.' This state of magnetic semi-existence will continue we know not how long. She has continued in it for twelve days at a time, and when awakened to real life forgets all that has occurred in the magnetic one. Can this be deception? We have conversed with the poor child her ordinary state as she sat by the fire in her ward, suffering from the headach, which persecutes her almost continually when not under the soothing fluence of the magnetic operation, and we confess we never beheld anybody less likely to prove an impostor. We have seen Professor Faraday exerting his acute and sagacious powers for an hour together, in the endeavour to detect some physical discrepancy in her performance, or elicit some blush of mental confusion by his naive and startling remarks. But there was nothing which could be detected, and the professor candidly confessed that the matter was beyond his philosophy to unravel."

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