Tuesday, March 28, 2017

XII - Healing of Breast Cancer without Drugs or Surgery in 1848

Last time, we read of the painless mastectomy performed on Madame Plantin in 1829 under magnetic treatment. This present case goes a step further as Dr. Elliotson is described working persistently with magnetism to heal Miss Barber and prevent her from going under the knife.



London, 1848

I CONSIDER the following paper to contain the account of one of the most important and instructive cases in the annals of surgery. When Mr. Ward, of Wellow, removed the poor man's leg without his being conscious of pain, under the mesmeric superintendence of my friend, Mr. Topham, all those persons who were engaged in mesmeric investigation considered the case to be the most important which had been presented to the medical profession. And so it was. Here was a man placed in a state of insensibility by a few passes of the hand, and during the continuance of this state a fourth part of his body removed by the knife of the surgeon. This was in November, 1842. Since that period the world has become so familiar with the performance of surgical operations without pain by means of ether and chloroform, that the proceedings of those who have operated on persons under the influence of mesmerism have not attracted so much notice as they deserved. Nevertheless, the number of operations performed in this state amount, I believe, to nearly four hundred.

Great as this boon to suffering humanity must be considered, and important as every one must admit the facts to be, there is yet another portion of the subject demanding our attention, viz., the alleviation and cure of disease. It is quite impossible to obtain a return of the number of cases of prolonged suffering which medicines had failed to alleviate, but which have been speedily and effectually cured by means of mesmerism.  "The Zoist," from which this paper is extracted and now near the completion of its sixth volume, contains an immense mass of information, and to all those who are afflicted, and more especially those who have had recourse to medical treatment and whose diseases have not been cured, I say, search this record, and you will find cases analogous to your own, and from abundant experience on this subject, I feel myself justified in promising you considerable relief, and in many cases a positive cure.

The sudden removal of a diseased mass is a very simple affair, and the production of the state of insensibility in the mesmeric state is one of the most common phenomena presented to the physiologist. But the removal of a diseased growth, a malignant tumor, not suddenly with the knife of the surgeon, but with the aid of mesmerism, so acting on the inherent powers of the constitution as to produce a steady and progressive absorption, —– this is a phenomenon which has not been witnessed on any former occasion, and certainly demands the most serious consideration of the medical profession. Can any surgeon refer to a single example of tumor of the breast like the one under consideration, which steadily progressed, either with or without medicine, toward a perfect cure? Here was a tumor, carefully examined and unanimously doomed to extirpation by several practical surgeons, and the fact of their doing so, clearly proved that they knew of no other plan by which the diseased mass could be removed. Nevertheless this tumor underwent such changes, day after day, and month after month, just in the proportion that the efforts of the mesmeriser were continued, and finally, became absorbed, —– and not only so, but the constitutional symptoms, which were of an aggravated character, yielded, —– the darting pains ceased, sleep returned, the sallow complexion vanished, the swollen arm returned to a natural size, and the situation of the patient became in every respect more and more satisfactory. On one occasion, during the absence of Dr. Elliotson on the continent, the treatment was nearly discontinued for two months, —– what was the result?

"On my return at the end of October," he says, "I found a very painful and bleeding sore, and, what was worse, the darting pain had returned, and the diseased mass had grown firmly to the ribs." After two years exertion, here was enough to discourage any one not endowed with the same powers of perseverance —– the same determination to prosecute a new and important truth —– the same benevolent desire to alleviate the sufferings of a fellow-creature, which, fortunately for Miss Barber, her friend, Dr. Elliotson, possessed.

Again she was mesmerised daily, and again "the mass began to diminish." During the year 1847 the disease "steadily gave way." "The mass had become not only much less but detached from the ribs and moveable again." And now, September, 1848, the report is, "The cancerous mass is now completely dissipated; the breast is perfectly flat, and all the skin thicker and firmer than before the disease existed. Not the smallest lump is to be found, nor is there the slightest tenderness of the bosom or the arm-pit."

I ask whether there is not here a manifestation of cause and effect? Have we not the same evidence here that we have when a beneficial effect follows the exhibition of a drug? To what other conclusion can we come, than that this growth was removed by the aid of mesmerism? I trust that the publication of this pamphlet will stimulate my professional brethren to test the power of mesmerism over other cases of this formidable disease. The time for the sneer, the jest, and the look of contempt is gone by. To indulge in these vulgar manifestations is always unjustifiable, and, to any one anxious to seek for truth in a philosophical spirit, highly derogatory. An array of new facts demands investigation, and the claims of those suffering from disease should be answered in this instance by the members of that profession whose duty chiefly consists in alleviating the miseries of the human race. Medical and surgical societies may consider the investigation beneath their notice, they may do again what the members of the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society did in 1842, —– declare that the statement of a natural fact, which they could not understand, was not a fit subject to be chronicled in the record of their proceedings! *

* Numerous Cases of Surgical Operations without Pain in the Mesmeric State, with Remarks upon the Opposition of many Members of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society and others to the reception of the inestimable blessings of Mesmerism. By John Elliotson, M.D. Cantab. F.R.S. H. Bailliere, Regent street.

But the dial of the world moves on. Truth and science overleap the barriers which man in his wisdom erects, and the men of each succeeding generation contemplate with wonder and astonishment the narrow views and sectarian prejudices of the men of the preceding. And yet this experience does not prevent them from repeating the same irrational course of conduct while contemplating other subjects. From the course pursued during the last eight years, one would suppose that the members of the medical profession imagined their duty to consist in holding fast to their physiological notions with determined obstinacy, whereas their real duty consists in following out, by persevering inquiry, the difficulties of all physiological problems; and after this, in the honest recognition and avowal of what they have satisfactorily ascertained.

The views of the teachers of an imperfect science should not be received as dicta from which there is to be no swerving; but rather as the probable interpretation of facts, so far as they have been ascertained, and therefore indicative only of points of departure for future investigators.  How different has been the course pursued with regard to mesmerism! Tempting, as this subject is, this is neither the time nor the opportunity for its discussion. My object is simply to point to the following paper as containing matter, physiological phenomena, —– chronicled by one of the most hard-working, fact-seeking, truth-loving physicians of the present age. Let the investigation be conducted in a fair and impartial spirit. Let each individual remember that he has to assist in the discovery of truth. He has not to engage in any party investigation, but simply to collect and test the value of facts, and then to record his experience in the simple language of sincerity, which is invariably estimated at its true value by all those worthy of consideration, and thus to aid and assist in the grandest of all occupations —– the promotion of true science and the alleviation of the miseries of his fellow creatures.

Let us all keep in view in our scientific studies the eloquent declaration of a great man of a past generation: —– “The pursuit of truth hath been my only care, ever since I first understood the meaning of the word. For this I have forsaken all hopes, all friends, all desires, which might bias me, and hinder me from driving right at what I aimed. For this I have spent my money, my means, my youth, my age, and all I have, that I might remove from myself that censure of Tertullian, — Suo vitio quis quid ignorat [To his own fault, he does not know what every many should]? If with all this cost and pains, my purchase is but error, I may safely say, to err has cost me more than it has many to find the truth; and truth itself shall give me this testimony at last, that if I have missed of her, it is not my fault, but my misfortune.”

W. C. Engledue, M.D.
Southsen, October 30th, 1848


The details of the case as presented fill the rest of a 40-page booklet which can be found at


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Friday, March 17, 2017

XI - A Mastectomy Performed Painlessly on Madame Plantin in Paris in 1829

The following narration, found in one of Dr. John Elliotson’s writings, describes the amputation of Madame Plantin’s breast. Under usual conditions in the time period, a mastectomy was a horrible procedure to undergo - as you might very well imagine. You can read about one done on Nabby, the daughter of President John and Abigail Adams, in 1811: http://www.shsu.edu/~pin_www/T@S/2002/NabbyAdamsEssay.html  Elliotson adds further commentary on other patients treated painlessly with magnetism - mesmerism.

I shall now detail a case which occurred many years ago in Paris; the mesmeric operator—Dr. Chapelain, and the surgical operator—M. Jules Cloquet, are now both alive in that city. "Madame Plantin, aged 64, living at No. 151, Rue Saint Denis, consulted M. Cloquet, April 8th, 1829, respecting an open cancer which had existed for several years in her breast, and which was complicated with a considerable enlargement of the right axillary ganglions. M. Chapelain, her physician, who had mesmerised her for some months, with the view of dissipating the disease, could effect only a profound sleep, in which sensation appeared suspended, but intellect remained perfect. He suggested to M. Cloquet to operate upon her in the mesmeric sleep-waking. M. Cloquet, having judged the operation indispensable, consented, and it was fixed for the following Sunday, April 1st. The previous two days, she was mesmerised several times by Dr. Chapelain, who prevailed upon her when in the state of sleep-waking to bear the operation without fear, and brought her even to converse about it calmly; although, when she was awake, she could not listen to the proposal for horror.

"On the day fixed, M. Cloquet arrived at half-past ten in the morning, and found the lady dressed in an arm-chair, in the attitude of a person calmly asleep. She had returned about an hour from mass, which she habitually attended at that time of the day. Dr. Chapelain had thrown her into the mesmeric sleep on her return. She spoke with perfect calmness of the operation which she was about to undergo. All being ready she undressed herself, and sat upon a common chair.

"Dr. Chapelain supported her right arm. The left was allowed to hang at her side. M. Pailloux, internal student of the Hospital Saint Louis, had the charge of presenting the instruments and applying the ligatures. The first incision was begun at the arm-pit, and carried above the breast as far as the inner side of the nipple. The second was begun at the same point, and carried under the breast till it met the first. M. Cloquet dissected out the enlarged ganglions with care, on account of their proximity to the axillary arteries, and removed the breast. The operation lasted ten or twelve minutes.

"During all this time, the patient conversed calmly with the operator, and gave not the least sign of sensibility; no movement occurred in the limbs or FEATURES, no change in the RESPIRATION or VOICE, no emotion EVEN IN THE PULSE, was discernible; this patient remained uninterruptedly in the same state of automatic indifference and passiveness, (état d’abandon et d’impassibilité automiques, or, as Mr. Topham says of his patient, 'uncontrolled, in perfect stillness and repose,' 'like a statue!') in which she was some minutes before the operation. There was no necessity to restrain her, we had only to support her. A ligature was applied to the lateral thoracic artery, which was opened in removing the ganglions. The wound was closed with sticking plaster and dressed, and the patient was put to bed, still in the same state of sleepwaking; and was left in this state for eight and forty hours. An hour after the operation a slight haemorrhage occurred, which proved of no importance.

“The first dressing was removed on Tuesday the 14th; the wound was washed and dressed afresh; the patient shewed no sign of pain; the pulse was undisturbed. After this dressing, Dr. Chapelain awoke the patient whose sleep-waking had lasted from one hour before the operation, i. e. two days. The lady seemed to have no idea, no conception, of what had passed; but, on learning that she had been operated upon, and seeing her children around her, she experienced a very strong emotion, to which the mesmeriser put an end by im
mediately sending her to sleep again."

Some of the surgeons of Paris scouted this case just as the London Medical Society, in imitation, scouted that of the amputation [of Wombell]. Lisfranc explained it somehow or other, and Baron Larrey accused the poor lady of being an “accomplice of the mesmerisers." The latter should have remembered that there was once a soldier named Blanchard, who refused all his advice to part with his right leg on account of fistulous ulcers of the foot, tumefaction of the cellular membrane, a white swelling of the inner ankle, disease of the ligaments, and caries of the tarsal bones, and who was pronounced incurable by the certificates of six physicians and surgeons; that, when the Marquis de Puysegur mentioned to him that by means of mesmerism the poor man was greatly relieved, he burst into a laugh, said the patient would never be cured because the bones were diseased and the periosteum gone, and that amputation would be indispensable. By mesmerism the poor soldier was completely cured.

I have extracted the case of the lady from the highly-favourable report, in 1831, of the Committee appointed by the French Academy of Medicine to report upon mesmerism, and to be found in Dr. Foissac's excellent work. The committee continues thus:—

"The committee sees in this case the most evident proof of the suspension of sensibility during sleep-waking, and declares that, though it did not witness the case, they find it so stamped with the character of truth, it has been attested and reported to them by so good an observer who had communicated it to the surgical section, that they do not fear to present it to you as a most unquestionable proof of the state of torpor and stupefaction produced by mesmerism."

I may mention that the case is related as perfectly genuine in the Penny Cyclopaedia, published by our Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, article Somnambulism, in which the truth of mesmerism is admitted to the extent even of clair-voyance; Lord Brougham being president of the society, and the Bishop of Durham, several peers, several Fellows of the Royal Society, men of the first distinction in science and literature, and several professors of University College, where a general stand was made against mesmerism, being my colleagues on this committee. In the Hermès it is stated likewise, that M. Cloquet attests not only that there was complete absence of pain, but that, while he was washing the surface around the wound with a sponge, the patient felt tickled, and several times said merrily, "Come, leave off, —don't tickle me." Her laughter, thus occasioned, was heard by M. Plantin—the patient's son, and by Madame Granier, who were outside the door.

This remarkable circumstance must be viewed side by side with the uneasiness felt from the blood in the mouth of my patient who had no sensation from the extraction of her tooth, and whose case I have related at p. 66; and with the exquisite sensation she always had both of heat and cold in parts perfectly insensible to pinching, &c.—a fact noticed by me in several other cases, and by Mr. Prideaux in regard to heat in one of his patients, spoken of at p. 71; and in regard to cold in the Spanish Lady mentioned at p. 49, who was comatose without mesmerism.

No man who has a heart can read the narration without being affected and earnestly hoping it is true. But, though its truth is equally certain as that there is such a surgeon as M. Cloquet, it has lately been denied in England and the parties have been vilely traduced.

In the London Medical Gazette for the 2nd of last December, immediately after an imperfect and incorrect account of the discussion in the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society on the paper which detailed the case of amputation [of Wombell] in the mesmeric state, is an anonymous letter of three paragraphs,—signed "a member of the Medical and Chirurgical Society," who is ashamed to give his name, and there fore does the deed in darkness,—the first styling the account "very silly" and unfit for the society, the second heartlessly accusing the poor patient of deception, and the third as follows:

''It is rather remarkable that it should have occurred to no one present to mention the case of a woman whose breast was amputated, some years ago in Paris, by M. Cloquet, while she was (as it is supposed) in a state of mesmeric stupor. This woman was believed to have been insensible to pain during the operation; and was a better actor than the man mesmerised by Mr. Topham, as she did not even moan. Some considerable time afterwards, however, while dying of an internal complaint in another hospital, she confessed to the nurse that the whole had been a cheat; that she had experienced pain like other persons, but had sufficient command over herself not to shew it."

The Nottingham surgeon, to whose letters I have already twice referred, writes,—"some years ago in France the breast of a female was removed while she was professedly in the mesmeric sleep. She died a few days afterwards; an operation which in other cases rarely indeed proves fatal. Is it not too probable that the attempt to bury the anguish in her own bosom proved too much for nature to sustain? Another mesmeric operation case succeeded better, but the patient subsequently confessed that her insensibility was all feigned."

"Many similar cases have occurred, &c." Now the statements of both writers are altogether untrue. Madame Plantin was never in an hospital, but the wife of a wealthy merchant of Paris; resided in a country house which she could hardly be prevailed upon to leave in the fine season of spring to take up her abode in Paris for the purpose of being mesmerised, for she disliked mesmerism because it had been tried upon her at different times unsuccessfully, and she was unwilling to submit to the restraint of mesmeric treatment; and she was terrified at the thought of a surgical operation under any circumstances, and declared she would rather die, and had indeed suffered severely from
refusing even to be bled in one of her pregnancies.

M. Cloquet testified to the Academy that she was pious, modest, and incapable of any collusion; and Dr. Caldwell of America, hearing a rumour in London that this surgeon confessed he had operated upon other patients in an ordinary state who bore the pain as unmoved, called upon M. Cloquet, in Paris, to ask the question, and told me that he received for answer, "Jamais! jamais! jamais!” [Never! never! never!] However, Dr. Davison, a friend of mine, called upon M. Cloquet at my request in January, to make enquiries respecting the case; and the following is an extract from his reply,— "The letter to which you allude in the Medical Gazette is false in every particular, save the death of the patient. The lady was never the inmate of an hospital. She was the wife of a rich negotiant, an excellent person, respected by all who knew her. She died above a fortnight after the operation, of a pleurisy; the wound having done well, and she having taken a drive some days previously. Cloquet saw her and is quite sure that she never made the confession alluded to."

As to the other case, spoken of by the Nottingham surgeon, Dr. Davison has made every enquiry in Paris, and cannot learn that it ever occurred. "Many similar cases have occurred!" I call upon him to make good all his assertions. He knows that Mr. Wood flatly contradicted him in The Nottingham Journal in regard to the one, and pointed out that he gave no authority whatever for the others: yet, though two months have elapsed, this candid person has never replied or ventured to recur to the subject.

The next post will be on Dr. Elliotson's mesmeric treatment of a patient with breast cancer which did not lead to surgery and produced cure.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

X - James Esdaile Performs Painless Surgeries in 19th Century India

James Esdaile was a surgeon assigned to work in the mid 19th century in colonial India. He spent almost twenty years there. Like many surgeons of the era, he was at large disadvantage compared to colleagues in Europe and especially those working after the appearance of chloroform and ether anesthesia. Opium and alcohol were for practical purposes the only painkillers available. Biting the bullet was often the only remedy hand for patients about to undergo major operations and even amputations.

Furthermore, he worked under very difficult conditions in a distant land, under tropical climate, and questionable sanitation. There were no blood transfusions and IVs, and not much more than beds, shelter and operating rooms with simple sharp knives, crude saws and rudimentary clamps. 

Working with Indian convicts in a prison hospital near Calcutta, Esdaile was struck by the idea of trying magnetism – mesmerism – on his patients in hopes of relieving the pain and discomfort of major operations to be done at his hand. [The following extract comes from his book Mesmerism in India published in England in 1851.]

Note: There is unfortunately no portrait of Esdaile (1808-1859) to be found on the Internet. 

An English surgeon ready with the knife circa 1840

First Experiment.
Madhab Kaura, a hog-dealer, condemned to seven years' imprisonment, with labour on the roads, in irons, for wounding a man so as to endanger his life, has got a double Hydrocele [fluid filling the scrotal sac common at the time in India, sometimes to enormous size and weight].

He was ordered to be taken from the jail to the charity hospital, to be operated upon.

April 4th.— The water was drawn off one side of the scrotum, and two drachms of the usual cor. sub. [corrosive sublimate - mercuric chloride] injection were thrown in. On feeling the pain from the injection, he threw his head over the back of the chair, and pressed his hands along the course of the spermatic cords, closing his eye lids firmly, and making the grimaces of a man in pain.

Seeing him suffering in this way, I turned to the native sub-assistant surgeon, an eleve [student] of the medical college, and asked him if he had ever seen Mesmerism? He said, that he had seen it tried at the medical college, but without effect. Upon which I remarked, "I have a great mind to try it on this man, but as I never saw it practised, and know it only from reading, I shall probably not succeed." —

The man continuing in the position described, I placed his knees between mine, and began to pass my hands slowly over his face, at the distance of an inch, and carried them down to the pit of his stomach. This was continued for half an hour before he was spoken to, and when questioned at the end of this time his answers were quite sensible and coherent.

He was ordered to remain quiet, and the passes were continued for a quarter of an hour longer — still no sensible effect. Being now tired (thermometer 85°), I gave it up in despair, and declared it to be a failure. While I rested myself, the man remained quiet, and made fewer grimaces, and when ordered to open his eyes, he said there was a smoke in the room. This roused my attention, and tempted me to persevere. I now breathed on his head, and carried my hands from the back of his head over his face and down to the Epigastrium, where I pressed them united. The first time this was done, he took his hands off his groins and pressed them both firmly down upon mine; drew a long breath, and said, "I was his father and mother, and had given him life again." The same process was persevered in, and in about an hour he began to gape, said he must sleep, that his senses were gone; and his replies became incoherent. He opened his eyes, when ordered, but said he only saw smoke, and could distinguish no one: his eyes were quite lustreless, and the lids were opened heavily. All appearance of pain now disappeared; his hands were crossed on his breast, instead of being pressed on the groins, and his countenance showed the most perfect repose. He now took no notice of our questions, and I called loudly on him by name without attracting any notice.

I now pinched him, without disturbing him, and then asking for a pin in English, I desired my assistant to watch him narrowly, and drove it into the small of his back; it produced no effect whatever; and my assistant repeated it at intervals in different places as uselessly. His back had continued to arch more backwards latterly, and he now was in a state of "opisthotonos;" the nape of his neck resting on the sharp back of the chair, and his breech on the edge of it. Being now satisfied that we had got something extraordinary, I went over to the Kutcherry, and begged Mr. Russell, the judge, and Mr. Money, the collector, to come and see what had been done, as I wanted the presence of intelligent witnesses in what remained to do. We found him in the position I had left him in, and no hallooing in his ears could attract his attention. Fire was then applied to his knee, without his shrinking in the least; and liquor ammonia?, that brought tears into our eyes in a moment, was inhaled for some minutes without causing an eyelid to quiver.

This seemed to have revived him a little, as he moved his head shortly afterwards, and I asked him if he wanted to drink; he only gaped in reply, and I took the opportunity to give, slowly, a mixture of ammonia so strong that I could not bear to taste it; this he drank like milk, and gaped for more. As the "experimentum crucis," I lifted his head, and placed his face, which was directed to the ceiling all this time, in front of a full light; opened his eyes, one after the other, but without producing any effect upon the iris; his eyes were exactly an amaurotic person's, and all noticed their lacklustre appearance. We were all now convinced that total insensibility of all the senses existed, and I ordered him to be placed on a mattress on the floor, and not to be disturbed till I returned.

It was now one o'clock, the process having commenced at 11 a. m. I returned at three o'clock, and was vexed to find that he had awoke, and been carried back to the jail hospital. The native doctor of the jail had come in; and on hearing that the Sahibs could not awake the patient, he set about doing so, and succeeded by throwing water on his face, &c. I again went to Messrs. Russell and Money, and requested them to accompany me to the jail, to be present when he was interrogated regarding his reminiscences; and we put down a series of questions to be put to him, at once, and without explanation. We found him looking well, with a lively expression of face, and the following questions were put to him ; his answers being taken down at the same time:—

"How do you feel?"

"Very well.”

"Any pain in the throat, or elsewhere?"

"A little uneasiness in the throat, no pain anywhere else."

"What has happened to you to-day?"

"I went in the morning to the Imbarah Hospital, to get the water taken out of my scrotum."

"Was the water drawn off?"


"What do you remember after the operation?"

"I went to sleep soon after, and remember nothing else."

"Did you eat or drink after the operation?"

"I felt thirsty, but got nothing to drink till Kurreem AH, the native doctor, awoke me."

"Did any body prick, or burn you?"

"No, no."

"Did you smell anything disagreeable?"


"Were you happy when asleep?"


"Did you hear any thing when you were asleep?"

"I heard voices, but did not understand them."

"Did you see any gentleman in the hospital but me?"


"Did you feel any pain in the scrotum after going to sleep?"

"I felt none till I awoke."

"Any pain in that part now?"

"A very little."

"How many motions have you had to-day?" (he was suffering from chronic diarrhoea.)

"Four, before going to the hospital, none since; belly is much easier than it has been for some time."

Having answered all these questions readily and frankly, he began to cry, thinking it was some kind of judicial investigation, I suppose.

"The above is an exact relation of what took place in our presence, and we are thoroughly convinced that there was a complete suspension of sensibility to external impressions of the most painful kind.

(Signed) F. W. Russell, D.J.Money.

Esdaile went on to perform numerous surgeries on the likes of the patient pictured below. 

The following is a letter from Esdaile (further explaining his work) to James Braid, the claimed inventor of hypnotism who took mesmerism in another direction. It was published in 1850 towards the end of Esdaile’s surgical career in India.

I shall find much in the books to interest and instruct me, as I did in your first work on Hypnotism; but I shall not wait to read them before replying to your communication.
I have not seen any of the papers you allude to in the journals; but am glad to hear that the doctors are, at last, condescending to turn their attention to one of the most interesting and important subjects ever submitted to the consideration of the physiologist, the metaphysician, and natural philosopher.
Regarding the reality and cause of the mesmeric phenomena, if I venture to differ from you even, who are so much better prepared to investigate the subject [than certain individuals to whom the Doctor had referred], it is for reasons which I hope you will consider worthy your attention. I am fully aware that there are various modes of inducing the mesmeric symptoms, to a certain extent, without the probability, or even possibility, of any vital force proceeding from the operator being concerned in the matter. But I have never (except for experiment) produced the mesmeric state of the system by the exhaustion of any organ, such as the eye, or by acting strongly on the imagination, or by any means that could favour self-mesmerization, as you will perceive from the following resumé of my practice:—

During the last six years I have performed upwards of 300 capital operations of every description, and many of them of the most terrible nature, without inflicting pain on the patients; and, in every instance, the insensibility was produced in this fashion.

All knowledge of our intentions was, if possible, concealed from the patients; and if they had never heard of mesmerism and painless operations, so much the better. They were taken into a darkened room, and desired to lie down and shut their eyes. A young Hindoo or Mussulman then seated himself at the head of the bed, and made passes, without contact, from the head to the epigastrium, breathing on the head and eyes all the time, and occasionally resting his hands for a minute on the pit of the stomach. This often induced the coma deep enough for the severest surgical operation in a few minutes; but the routine was for me to examine the patient at the end of an hour, and if he was not ready, the process was repeated daily. Taking the average, the operation, of whatever description, was usually performed on the fourth or fifth day.

Probably as many more cases were subjected to the trance for medical
purposes, and were usually treated in the same way, for its convenience to both parties.

The enclosed remarkable case of clairvoyance, with transference of the
senses to the epigastrium, will show that the mesmeric control of the system may be obtained, when the patient is not only asleep, but in a state of intense natural coma.

I have also entranced a blind man, and made him so sensitive, that I could entrance him however employed, (eating his dinner, for instance) by merely making him the object of my attention for ten minutes. He would gradually cease to eat, remain stationary a few moments, and then plunge, head foremost, among his rice and curry.

Numbers of madmen have been entranced in the lunatic asylum of Calcutta; and I performed a mesmeric operation on one man who had cut his throat.

I frequently desired the visitors of my hospitals to pretend to take the
portraits of patients, and to engage their attention as much as possible, by conversing with them. I then retired to another room, and reduced them to statues, without the possibility of their suspecting my intentions.

How such phenomena can be accounted for, without presuming the
existence of a physical power transmitted from the operator to the subject, passes my comprehension. That the mesmeric virtue can be communicated to inanimate matter, is a physical fact, of which I am as well convinced as of my own existence. It was my common hospital practice to entrance patients for the purpose of having their sores burned with Nitric Acid, by giving them mesmerised water to drink.
Community of taste, and thought-reading, are among the most common of the higher mesmeric phenomena; and how they are to be explained, except by the transmission of the operator’s sensations, through his thought-stamped, nervous fluid, sent to the brain of the subject, I cannot conjecture.

"Important, if true", you will probably say. I can only say, that healthy senses, a natural power of seeing things as they really are, and an earnest desire to know the truth, whatever it may be, are perfectly useless for the acquisition of knowledge, if all I have related is not perfectly true.
Till such facts are known to medical men and natural philosophers, it is surely premature to dogmatise about the only source of the mesmeric phenomena.
[End of letter]

Esdaile performed his 300+ operations in truly extraordinary circumstances with no aseptic techniques, crude instruments, difficult climate and on criminals. His operations included major surgeries, amputations, extraction of tumors and hydroceles weighing up to 100 pounds and yet the mortality rate of his patients was around 5 percent. That number in itself, phenomenally low even in the best of modern conditions, should have produced global interest. But ...

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

IX - Magnetism Used for Painless Leg Amputation in 1843

Dr. John Elliotson put his life and reputation on the line many time in support of the discipline commonly called Mesmerism or Magnetism.  He told that, “I should be untrue to myself if I should shrink for a moment from saying that I am a believer, and that I became so against all my preconceived opinions.”

John Elliotson, M.B., M.D., F.R.C.P., F.R.S., was professor of the principles and practice of medicine at University College London, and senior physician to University College Hospital for many years early in the 19th century. He had a large and lucrative practice, wrote medical textbooks based on his highly-regarded knowledge, and was adored by his students at the associated medical school.

Life changed for him in many ways when Elliotson was introduced over time to animal magnetism by the Scottish chemist Richard Chenevix and later by the Frenchman Baron du Potet. By the late 1830s, Elliotson had become a devoted convert to mesmerism aka magnetism and used it to a greater and greater degree with patients. He also became a showman and promoter of magnetism. This eventually caused great distress among his colleagues and eventual loss of his position at University College.

In 1843 while relieved of medical school teaching duties, Elliotson started his own medical journal centered largely on magnetism and phrenology to add to his numerous other publications. He called it The Zoist, and wrote voluminously on his favorite method of healing.

The following episode – which occurred before the appearance of ether and chloroform anesthesia – is taken from his book entitled Numerous Cases of Surgical Operations Without Pain in the Mesmeric State.

Details of this particular case are followed by excerpts of records and commentary by Elliotson on responses of physicians and surgeons to the extraordinary operation – which themselves appear quite extraordinary.

A Surgeon and His Knife in the 1840s.

Last November 22 the Royal Medical and Chi­rurgical Society of London assembled to hear read an “Account of a Case of Successful Amputation of the Thigh, During the Mesmeric State, Without the Knowledge of the Patient,” in the district hospital of Wellow, Nottinghamshire. The mesmerizer was W. Topham, Esq., barrister, of the Middle Temple: the operator, W. Squire Ward, Esq., surgeon, of Wellow Hall. The patient was a laborer, six feet high and forty-two years of age, named James Wombell. He had suffered for nearly five years from neglected disease of the left knee, the interior of the joint of which was found after the amputation deeply and extensively ulcerated. “The slightest motion of the joint was attended by the most excruciating agony; his nights were almost wholly sleepless in consequence of the painful startings of the limb; his pulse weak and rapid; his face constantly marked with a hectic flush; his tongue foul; appetite gone.”

In truth, when Mr. Topham first saw him, on September 9, “He was sitting upright upon a bed in the hospital—the only position which he could bear—he complained of great pain from his knee and of much excitability and loss of strength from his constant restlessness and deprivation of sleep, for he had not, during the three previous weeks, slept more than two hours in seventy.”
On this day he was first mesmerized by Mr. Topham, and for thirty-five minutes. “The only effect produced was a closing of the eyelids, with that quivering appearance that so commonly results from the process, and though awake and speaking, he could not raise them until after a lapse of a minute and a half.”

On the tenth he was sent to sleep in twenty minutes. On the eleventh, “He was suffering great agony, and distressed even to tears.’’ Mr. Topham “commenced by making passes longitudinally over the diseased knee; in five minutes he was comparatively easy, and on proceeding further to mesmerize him, at the expiration of ten minutes more he was sleeping like an infant. Not only his arms were then violently pinched but also the diseased leg itself, without his exhibiting any sensation: yet his limb was so sensitive to pain in his natural state, he could not bear even the lightest covering to rest upon it. That night he slept seven hours without interruption.”

“On September 22, the patient was first apprised of the necessity of an early amputation. The communication seemed almost unexpected, and affected him considerably, and destroyed his natural sleep that night.”

The next day he was still “fretting, restless, and in consequent pain.” Yet he was put to sleep mesmerically in four and a half minutes.

Although in this mesmeric coma the sensibility to mechanical causes of pain was so far lessened that violent pinching and sudden pricking, of even the diseased limb, produced no evidence of sensation, and he lost all pain in his knee while this was in perfect rest, the exquisitely sensitive interior of the diseased joint was not proof against the torture of motion, which, however slight, agonized and awoke him.

At the time of the operation, October 1, it was found impossible, without such torture as aroused him from his mesmeric coma, to remove him from his bed to the table. Indeed, his coma was not so deep but that it was dissipated by attempting to converse with him, and in general it ceased spontaneously in half an hour, his waking being “slow and gradual and without the least start.”
Instead of being placed upon a table, he was therefore lifted with his low bed upon a temporary platform, and “he was soon put into the mesmeric sleep, although he was considerably excited by hearing the cries of another patient upon whom Mr. Ward had been performing a tedious and painful operation.”

He was then “drawn by means of the bedclothes beneath him toward the end of the bed.” Even this movement excited the pain and awoke him. But the pain soon ceased, and his limb being “raised about two inches from the mattress” by a surgeon present (Mr. Wood), who “rested the heel upon his shoulder and supported the joint with his hand,” he was mesmerized into coma again in four minutes.

Mr. Topham continued to mesmerize him for fifteen minutes and then informed Mr. Ward that the operation might be begun, and “brought two fingers of each hand gently in contact with the patient’s closed eyelids; and there kept them, still further to deepen the sleep.” This is a circumstance of no little importance to remember. Of all parts of the body, the eyes are the most ready receivers and transmitters of mesmerism.

The operation was now commenced. “Mr. Ward, after one earnest look at the man,” in the words of Mr. Topham, “slowly plunged his knife into the center of the outside of the thigh, directly to the bone, and then made a clear incision round the bone, to the opposite point on the inside of the thigh. The stillness at this moment was something awful; the calm respiration of the sleeping man alone was heard, for all other seemed suspended. In making the second incision, the position of the leg was found more inconvenient than it appeared to be,” and Mr. Ward, to use his own words, “having made the anterior flap…was under the necessity of completing the posterior one in three stages. First, by dividing a portion of the flap on the inside; then a similar portion on the outside. This proceeding, which was of course far more tedious and painful than the ordinary one, was necessary to enable me to pass the knife through under the bone and thus complete the whole, as I could not sufficiently depress the handle to do so, without the two lateral cuts.” Yet, notwithstanding all this, the patient’s “sleep continued as profound as ever. The placid look of his countenance never changed for an instant; his whole frame rested, uncontrolled, in perfect stillness and repose; not a muscle was seen to twitch.To the end of the operation, including the sawing of the bone, securing the arteries, and applying the bandages, occupying a period of upward of twenty minutes, he lay like a statue.”

Soon after the second incision, “a low moaning” was heard at intervals until the conclusion of the operation, that is, after the leg was off and while the arteries were tying and the bandages putting on, giving “to all present the impression of a disturbed dream.”

That it arose from troubled dreaming I have no doubt, for in the mesmeric coma it is common for patients, after the lapse of a certain time, to dream and talk, and especially of anything which has just before strongly impressed them. Had it arisen from the operation, it would have occurred during the most painful periods—would have occurred, as it did not, exactly and only at moments of the proceeding most likely to be painful, whereas it occurred as much at moments when nothing was doing to give pain. The man could not have moaned from pain in spite of himself at moments when there was nothing to make him moan in spite of himself. It would have been increased, and indeed changed to a sudden and louder noise, whenever the end of the sciatic nerve was roughly treated.

For, still further to test his insensibility, Mr. Ward “twice touched” and, as he informs me, pretty roughly and with the points of the forceps, so that he in fact pricked “the divided end of the sciatic nerve without any increase of the low moaning.” Mr. Ward further informs me that he “once put his thumb roughly upon the nerve in taking the posterior flap in his hand to sponge, and also used the sponge very roughly.”

The mesmeric state of the patient usually lasted half an hour, and after this lapse of time, he “gradually and calmly,” as usual, awoke.

“At first,” said the surgeon, Mr. Wood, “he uttered no exclamation, and for some moments seemed lost and bewildered,”—a characteristic and striking phenomenon so familiar to mesmerists when any visible change in external circumstances has occurred while the patient was asleep. But, after looking around, he exclaimed, “I bless the Lord to find it’s all over.”

“He was then removed to another room, and following immediately,” Mr. Topham “asked him in the presence of all assembled to describe all he felt or knew after he was mesmerized. His reply was, ‘I never knew anything more and never felt any pain at all; I once felt as if I heard a kind of crunching.’” Mr. Topham asked if that were painful. He replied, “No pain at all.”


The following are quotes from Dr. Elliotson’s book [I have added italics to especially striking notes]:

Then Mr. Coulson [Surgeon] believed that the man had disciplined himself to bear pain without expressing his feelings.

Dr. Moore, a physician-accoucheur, living in Saville Row, immediately followed, and made no objections, but protested, in a loud voice and rapid manner, that really such a statement ought to have been accompanied by affidavits, and asked if affidavits before the Lord Mayor or some other magistrate had been made.

The next in eagerness to speak was Mr. Blake, a young surgeon. He urged that this man shammed, because persons often bear operations without expressing pain: and mentioned that he had seen a tooth extracted from a girl who was not, but pretended to be, in the mesmeric state, in University College Hospital, without any sign of pain, although she was strictly observed and even her pulse felt. Now he knew well formerly, for he was present as well as myself, that a friend of his, who counted her pulse during the extraction, declared to us all, truly or not I cannot of course say, that the pulse rose eight beats during the extraction.

Another young surgeon, named Alcock, followed in the same line of argument; not thinking that the absence of pain ever admitted of evidence, and discrediting the reality of the case because he had often seen persons in an ordinary state bear severe operations without manifesting the slightest pain.

Dr. James Johnson, the reviewer, and another doctor whose name I hear was Truman, followed in the same strain with the preceding speakers. Dr. Johnson added that he would not have believed the facts mentioned in the paper had he witnessed them himself.

Dr. Marshall Hall, some years ago, when my Demonstrations went on at University College Hospital, called mesmerism “trumpery” that “polluted the temple of science;” and now, being, like all the other opponent speakers, totally ignorant of the subject, and glorying in his ignorance, very consistently considered the present case to be one of imposition [imposture], because the poor man's sound leg did not start or contract while the diseased leg was amputated! The case, he said, “proved too much, or rather flatly contradicted itself” because the sound leg did not contract when the diseased one was cut. He asserted that,” in cases of insensibility in brutes, from intercourse of any portion with the brain being stopped by division  of the spinal chord, or from absolute decapitation, or from stunning by a blow upon the head, such an injury of an insensible leg as pricking it with any thing, lacerating, or cutting,—such an injury for instance as plunging a sharp instrument into the muscles,” (I sat next to Dr. M. Hall and those were his very words),” invariably causes both legs to contract; and, unless man differs from all other animals, the same must take place in the human being; and, as this man did not move his other leg, did not enact the reflex motions, he was no physiologist.”

Dr. Copland rose to oppose the motion on two grounds,—the character of the paper, and the publication of it by the authors without the permission of the society. He would allow no trace to remain that such a paper had been read. The president stopped his arguments on the first point, as the paper had been discussed at a previous meeting and thanks been voted for it. The deadly hostility of Dr. Copland to mesmerism is well known. But to-night he was particularly unwise. He protested that the paper ought not to have been read, because the author was not a medical man!—As though knowledge was ever to be despised from any source. Why one of the authors was a surgeon, though neither was a fellow of the society. I have heard papers read at the meetings of the College of Physicians (of which he rejoices to be a fellow) by persons not medical, once by the very reverend Dean of Westminster; and the society has of course no law as to who may be authors of papers: and several members of the society are not medical men. On this point he was set right by more than one member. He then contended that, if the account of the man experiencing no agony during the operation were true, the fact was unworthy of their consideration, because pain is a wise provision of nature, and patients ought to suffer pain while their surgeon is operating; they are all the better for it, and recover better! Will the world believe that such folly was gravely uttered? This will be remembered as a doctor's speech in 1842, when the doctor himself shall be forgotten.

Next post will be on a surgeon who did hundreds of painless operations without anesthesia in the same era.

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Monday, February 6, 2017

VIII - Anton Mesmer: The Great Physician and Healing Magician

Anton Mesmer was the greatest physician healer of the past 500 years even as he stands in a long line appearing over many centuries. Even with predecessors, the Doctor told that his discoveries and abilities came to him largely through his experiences with nature. Mesmer was a trained physician and held two if not three doctorates, but his most valuable knowledge came through his unusual studies and experiments. 

Starting with ideas gathered from Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes, Edmond Halley and Richard Mead, and experiments with the plain old iron magnet, Dr. Mesmer learned that he himself had more magnetic power than any piece of metal. In subsequent years, Mesmer shared his learnings and beliefs that all beings are magnetic to one degree or another. Herr Doctor Mesmer was exceptionally magnetic and powerful, charismatic and clairvoyant as well.

Thence, he became the greatest publicist and advertiser of magnetism that the world has ever known. Yet, his gifts and efforts were not universally recognized – in great part because they threatened the medical profession and orthodox authority.

Anton Mesmer’s most unusual work may have been done early on with a young woman in her 18th year who had lost her vision over night, but not as the result of illness, at the age of three. The evidence is abundant that the Doctor brought about the return of her sight – at least for a time. Her father, a Councillor of the Empress in Vienna, published some of his observations of Mesmer’s work during his daughter’s treatment in the writing which follows.

The following snippet was taken from a book [Pioneers of Spiritual Reformation] by Mary Ann Howitt Watts which includes a brief biography of Justinus Kerner, a German physician who wrote his own biography of Anton Mesmer. Kerner found this version of Herr Paradis’s published letter in Mesmer’s personal effects some years after the Doctor’s death.


This young girl, who had become a famous and highly accomplished pianoforte player, and who was protégée of the Empress Maria-Theresa, from her fourth year, according to the examination and belief of the most distinguished physicians in Vienna, had lost her eyesight from paralysis of the optic nerve.
Having experienced the treatment and mistreatment of numerous physicians, she was placed under the care of Mesmer, and recovered unquestionably—at least, for a short time—her eyesight through the use of his magnetic system.

“After a brief but powerful magnetic treatment from Dr. Mesmer, Fraulein Paradis began to distinguish the outline of bodies and figures brought near to her. Her returning sense of vision was, however, so extremely sensitive, that she could only recognise these objects in a room darkened by window shutters and curtains. If a lighted candle were placed before her eyes, although they were bound with a cloth doubled five times, she would fall to the ground like one struck by lightning.

“The first human figure which she recognised was that of Dr. Mesmer. She observed with much attention his person, and the various waving movements of his body which he made before her eyes, as a test of her powers of sight. She appeared somewhat alarmed, and said — ‘That is terrible to behold! Is that the form of a  human being?’ 

“At her request, a large dog, which was very tame, and a favourite of hers, was brought before her. She observed him with great attention. ‘This dog,’ she said, ‘pleases me better than man—at least, his appearance is more endurable to me.’ 

“Especially was the nose on the  human countenance repugnant to her. She could not restrain her laughter on seeing this feature. She thus expressed herself regarding noses: ‘They seem to threaten me as though they would bore my eyes out.’ After seeing a greater number of  human countenances, she became more reconciled to the nose. It cost her much trouble to distinguish colours and their names, and to calculate relative distances, her restored powers of vision being as inexperienced as that of a newly-born child. 

“She was mistaken in the contrast existing between different colours, but she confused the names of the colours, and this especially when she was not led to draw a contrast between the colours with which she was already familiar. Looking at black, she observed that that hue was the picture of her former state of blindness. The colour of black always excited in her a tendency towards melancholy—a condition, be it observed, to which she appeared predisposed during the course of her cure. She would frequently break forth into sudden weeping. Indeed, she was upon one occasion seized with so violent a fit of despair, that she flung herself upon a sofa, wrung her hands, tore off the bands from her eyes, drove every one from her presence, and, in fact, midst cries and sobs, comported herself in such a  manner that any great actress might have taken her as a model of dire melancholy and mental anguish.

“Within a few moments all was over, and she had regained her usual cheerful, pleasant frame of mind; only, however, within a short space again to fall back into her melancholy. A great concourse of relations, friends, and people of fashion, having presented themselves, owing to the report of the recovery of her sight which had been spread abroad, she was much annoyed. She once expressed herself to me as follows, regarding this annoyance: ‘How comes it that I find myself much less happy now, than formerly? Everything that I see causes me an unpleasant agitation. Ah! I was much quieter in my blindness.’

“I consoled her with the representation that her present agitation was only occasioned by her sensitiveness to the new spheres into which she had entered. The new condition into which she must feel transported by the recovery of her eyesight, would necessarily occasion an agitation entirely novel to her. She would undoubtedly grow as calm and contented  as other people, when she once became accustomed to her gift of sight. She replied that this was well, because, were she to experience continued agitation at the sight of fresh objects, she would rather have returned into the state of her blindness. 

“She repeatedly fainted when relatives or intimate friends were presented to her. The same thing occurred upon beholding the pictures of her two uncles, officers in the Imperial army, and towards whom she had always entertained a warm affection. She stretched her hand over the picture, in order to feel the features, but drew it back with surprise, her hand having glided over the smooth glass of the miniature. She imagined that the painted features would have stood forth like the features of a living person. The high head-dresses worn by the ladies here, especially those à la Matignon, are not at all to her taste, although formerly, during her blindness, she wore with pleasure her hair dressed in the same style.

“According to her fancy, the new-fashioned style of headdress is out of proportion with the size of the face; in which opinion she is not far wrong. She asked a lady  who was present to let her see her train, and how it appeared when she walked. But neither did she admire this fashion more than the head-dress. She says that this drapery sweeping behind is heavy. Thus strange are her remarks when she first observes objects. 

“Her newly-awakened sensations place her in the first stage of natural-existence; she judges without prejudice, and names objects from the natural impression which they make upon her. She reads the characters of persons from their countenances with remarkable accuracy. The reflections in a mirror caused her great astonishment. She could not at all comprehend how the surface of a looking-glass should catch up objects and represent them to the eye. She was led into a splendid room where there was a very large mirror. She could not satisfy herself with looking into it at herself. She made the most extraordinary bends and attitudes before it. She laughed much, observing that the reflection of herself stepped towards her as she approached the mirror, and withdrew as she withdrew. 

“All objects which she beholds at a certain distance, appear small to her, and they increase in size to her perceptions as they approach her. When with open eyes she dips a rusk in chocolate and lifts it towards her mouth, it appears to her so greatly increased in size, that she imagines that she cannot put it into her mouth.

“She was shown one evening, through the window, the star-bespangled heaven. She besought permission to go out into the garden, there freely to behold the sky. She was accompanied and led to the terrace of the garden. Here the spectators beheld a touching sight. She raised her hands in deep silence towards the glorious, gleaming heavens, probably uttering from the depths of her heart an ardent, silent thanksgiving. After a few moments, she exclaimed, ‘Oh, how earnestly do those stars gaze down upon me! Nothing in nature can be more glorious than this! If nowhere else, an ardent impulse of worship towards the Highest were felt by the human soul, here, where I stand, surely it must be felt, beneath this shining canopy!’

“She was then shown the reservoir, which she called ‘a large soup-plate.’ The trellis walls appeared to walk along beside her, and upon her return to the house the building appeared to approach her. Its illuminated windows especially pleased her. 

“On the following day, in order to satisfy her, she was again taken into the garden. She re-examined every object attentively, but not with so much pleasure as on the previous evening. She called the Danube, which flowed past the garden, a long, broad white stripe. She pointed out the places where she saw the river begin and end. She thought that with outstretched hands she could touch the trees growing in the so-called Prater-meadow, about a thousand steps on the other side of the river. It being a bright day she could not long endure looking around in the garden. She herself requested that her eyes might again be bound, as the sensation of light was too strong for her and occasioned dizziness. 

“When she now has her eyes bandaged, she does not trust herself to walk a single step without guidance, although formerly, in her blindness, she was used to move about confidently, without the assistance of any one in her well-known chamber. This new disturbance of her senses occasions her now, to use reflection when playing the piano, whereas formerly she was accustomed to execute the most difficult pieces with the greatest accuracy, conversing at the same time with those  who stood around her. With open eyes it is now difficult for her to play any piece. If her eyes are open she regards her fingers as they slip about over the piano, and misses, however, the greater number of the keys.”

The next post will be on magnetism used in a surgical case in the early 19th century, reported by Dr. John Elliotson in one of his books.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

VII - Father Gassner: The Healing Priest

Note: The following is second in a series of brief bios and vignettes intended to present the work of a number of healers from over the ages. You will see several were physicians, but others arose from different walks of life. Healing is more than a profession, much broader than medicine. It is a way of living in which all of us can participate to which I will eventually point. Such that to a greater or lesser degree Every Body Can Heal. The Force Be With You.

Johann Joseph Gassner (1727-1779) was a Catholic priest who caused much happiness among the ill and injured who came to him and much consternation to the authorities of the time. Gassner made relatively simple applications – exorcisms to his way of thinking – to bring about relief and healing of the needy. Thousands attended him and many were helped.

Gassner’s works, however, created worries among physicians, clergy, and government. The mass of evidence was in favor of the authenticity and effectiveness of the work that he did. But, such work prompted fears and worries over time among those in power. Eventually, Gassner was ordered to cease and desist from his healing works by the Emperor and the Pope.

The following article is drawn from Volume II of The History of Magic by the German physician and professor of medicine at Bonn, Dr. Joseph Ennemoser (1787-1854).

Gassner, a clergyman from the country of Bludenz, in Vorarlberg, healed many diseases through exorcism. In the year 1758 he was the clergyman of Klösterle, where, by his exorcisms, he became so celebrated, that he drew a vast number of people to him. The flocking of the sick from Switzerland, the Tyrol, and Swabia, is said to have been so great, that the number of invalids was frequently more than a thousand, and they were, many of them, obliged to live under tents. The Austrian government gave its assistance, and Gassner now went under the patronage of the Bishop to Regensburg, where he continued to work wonders, till, finally, Mesmer, on being asked by the Elector of Bavaria, declared that Gassner’s cures and crises, which he so rapidly, and wholly to the astonishment of the spectators, produced, consisted in nothing more than in magnetic-spiritual excitement, of which he gave convincing proofs in the presence of the Elector. Eschenmayer [Adam Karl August, physician and philosopher], in Keiser’s Archives, treats at length of Gassner’s method of cure.

Gassner’s mode of proceeding was as follows: —“He wore a scarlet cloak, and on his neck a silver chain. He usually had in his room a window on his left hand, and a crucifix on his right. With his face turned towards the patient, he touched the ailing part, and commanded that the disease should manifest itself; which was generally the case. He made this both cease and depart by a simple command.  By calling on the name of Jesus, and through the faith of the patient, he drove out the devil and the disease. But every one that desired to be healed must believe, and through faith any clergyman may cure devilish diseases, spasms, fainting, madness, etc., or free the possessed. Gassner availed himself sometimes of magnetic manipulations: he touched the affected part, covered it with his hand, and rubbed therewith vigorously both head and neck. Gassner spoke chiefly Latin in his operations, and the devil is said often to have understood him perfectly. 

Physical susceptibility, with willing faith and positive physical activity, through the command of the Lord was thus the magical cure with him. There were, in the year seventy, a multitude of writings both for and against Gassner’s operations. These appeared principally in Augsburg, and amongst them two are particularly worthy of notice; the first, under the title of “Impartial Thoughts, or something for the Physicians on the mode of cure, by Herr Gassner in Elwangen, published by Dr. Schisel, and printed in Sulzbach, 1775.” The other, “The Observations of an Impartial Physician on Herr Lavater’s Grounds of Enquiry into the Gassner Cures, with an appendix on Convulsions, 1775;” probably by the same author.

Dr. Schisel relates that with a highly respectable company, he himself travelled to Elwangen, and there saw himself the wonderful cures the fame of which had been spread far and wide by so many accounts both in newspapers and separate printed articles. “Some,” he says, “describe him as a holy and prophetic man; others accuse him of being a fantastic fellow, a charlatan, and impostor. Some extol him as a great mathematician; others denounce him as a dealer in the black art; some attribute his cures to the magnet, or to electrical power; others to sympathy and the power of imagination; and, on the other hand, a respectable party, overcome by the might of faith, attributed the whole to the omnipotent force of the name of Jesus.”

Schisel writes further, that he gave himself all possible trouble to notice everything which might in the most distant manner affect the proceedings of the celebrated Herr Gassner. Schisel, indeed, seems to have been the man, from his quiet power of observation, his impartial judgment, and thorough medical education, which qualifications are all evident in his book, to give a true account of the cures of Gassner, while he notices all the circumstances, objections, and opinions, which had been brought forward or which presented themselves there. He relates that Elwangen must have grown rich through the numbers of people who thronged thither, though Gassner took nothing for his trouble, and that the Elector on that account tolerated the long-continued concourse of people; that in March 1773 many hundred patients arrived daily; that the apothecary gained more in one day than he otherwise would in a quarter of a year from the oil, eye-water, a universal powder made of Blessed Thistle, (Carduus benedictus) and the incenses, etc., which Gassner ordered. The printers laboured, with all their workmen, day and night at their presses, to furnish sufficient pamphlets, prayers, and pictures, for the eager horde of admirers. The goldsmiths and braziers were unwearied in preparing all kinds of Agnus Dei, crosses, hearts, and rings; even the beggars had their harvest, and as for bakers and hotelkeepers, it is easy to understand what they must have gained.

He then describes the room of Herr Gassner, his costume, and his proceeding with the sick: — “On a table stood a crucifix, and at the table sat Herr Gassner on a seat, with his right side turned towards the crucifix, and his face towards the patient, and towards the spectators also. On his shoulders hung a blue red-flowered cloak; the rest of his costume was clean, simple, and modest. A fragment of the cross of the Redeemer hung on his breast from a silver chain; a half-silken sash girded his loins. He was forty-eight years of age, of a very lively countenance, cheerful in conversation, serious in command, patient in teaching, amiable towards every one, zealous for the honour of God, compassionate towards the oppressed, joyful with those of strong faith, acute in research, prophetic in symptoms and quiet indications; an excellent theologian, a fine philosopher, an admirable physiognomist, and I wished that he might possess as good an acquaintance with medical physiology as he showed himself to have a discrimination with surgical cases. He is in no degree a politician; he is an enemy of sadness; forgiving to his enemies, and perfectly regardless of the flatteries of men. For twenty years he carried on this heroic conflict against the powers of hell, thirteen of these in quietness, but seven publicly, and of these last he had now passed six months victoriously in Elwangen.

“Thus armed he undertook in this room all his public proceedings, which he continued daily, from early morning till late at night; nay, often till one or two o'clock in the morning. The more physicians there are around him, the bolder he was in causing the different diseases to show themselves; nay, he called upon the unknown physicians themselves. Scarcely do those who are seeking help kneel before him, when he enquires respecting their native country and their complaints; then his instruction begins in a concise manner, which relates to the steadfastness of faith, and the omnipotent power of the sacred name of Jesus. Then he seizes both hands of the kneeling one, and commands with a loud and proud voice the alleged disease to appear. He now seizes the affected part,—that is, in the gout, the foot in paralysis, the disabled limb and joint; in headache, the head and neck; in those troubled with flatulence, he lays his hand and cloak on the stomach; in the narrow-chested, on the heart; in hemorrhoidal complaints, on the back-bone in the rheumatic and epileptic he not only lays hold on each arm, but alternately places both hands, and the hands and cloak together, over the whole head.

“In many cases the disease appears immediately on being commanded, but in many he is obliged to repeat the command often, and occasionally ten times, before the attack shows itself; in some, but the fewest in number, the command and laying on of hands have no effect.

“The first class he terms the good and strong-faithed; the second those of hesitating and feeble faith; the last either naturally diseased, or pretendedly so, and unbelieving. All these attacks retreat by degrees, each according to its kind, either very quickly on his command, but sometimes not till the tenth or twentieth time, from limb to limb. In some the attacks appeared repressed but not extinguished; in others the commencement of a wearing sickness, with fever and spitting of blood; in others intumescence even to suffocation and with violent pains; others gout and convulsions.

“When he has now convinced the spectator, and thinks that he has sufficiently strengthened the faith and confidence of the sufferer, the patient must expel the attack himself by the simple thought of ‘Depart from me in the name of Jesus Christ!’ And in this consists the whole method of cure and confirmation which Gassner employs in all kinds of sickness which we call unnatural. Through these he calls forth all the passions. Now anger is apparent, now patience, now joy, now sorrow, now hate, now love, now confusion, now reason,—each carried to the highest pitch. Now this one is blind, now he sees, and again is deprived of sight, etc. 

“All take their leave of him, filled with help and consolation, so soon as he has given them his blessing, which he thus administers:— “He lays the cloak on the head of the patient; grasps the forehead and neck with both hands firmly; speaks silently a very earnest prayer; signs the brow, mouth, and breast of the convalescent with the sign of the cross; and extends to the Catholics the fragment of the cross to kiss; orders, according to the form of the sickness, the proper medicines at the apothecary's, the oil, water, powder, and herbs, which are consecrated by him every day; exhorts every one to steadfastness in faith, and permits no one, except those who are affected with defects born with them, to depart without clean hands and countenances full of pleasure.

“He excludes no single sickness, no kind of fever, not even any epidemic disorder.  May not the science of medicine, therefore, partly fear that it will soon be superseded by this moral theory?

“We may now inquire what diseases Gassner calls natural, and what unnatural? For instance, a broken bone, a maimed limb, or a rupture, are complaints with natural causes; but all such as are produced either by want of, or by a superfluity of the natural conditions of the body, are curable,—as the cataract, which he cures to the astonishment of every one. “We may give another demonstration. Two lame persons appear. One has the tendo Achillis or a nerve injured. He is healed, indeed, but the foot remains crooked. This is a natural lameness. The pious crooked man has no hope of assistance from Herr Gassner. The second has a similar shortness of the foot, but the cause of which was gout, wasting of the limb, or paralysis. This is unnatural lameness; and will be cured by Herr Gassner as quickly as the name of it is here written.”

“Here you have now the portrait of this new wonder physician of our great Herr Gassner,”—sic oculos, sic ille manus, sic ora ferebat [so the eyes, so that of the hand and face]. “How does it please you? Have you anything to object to the original, or to the picture?”

The author now puts to the physicians and to the academicians the question whether Gassner actually cured these diseases as related, and whether in his mode of cure there be a hidden magnetic, sympathetic, or magic power? How does he heal, and what circumstances attend the cures? This alone concerns the doctors. “The clergy may settle with him witch-trials, and whether the devil in so many ways can injure men. Whether the accusers of Herr Gassner, ‘ex lege diffamari [from law defamed],’ deserve punishment, or whether Herr Gassner ought to be considered guilty as a deceiver, is a question for the lawyers and criminal judges.” 

He then proceeds to answer these questions, with the admission “that he,” like many of his learned brethren, is somewhat incredulous, and often tolerably stiff-necked. “For,” says he, “it would not be creditable if I should take a thing for granted without cause, enquiry, or conviction.” 

To the first question, whether all those diseases were healed, he answers,— “Yes, I have seen it, with many persons of different religions, and particularly with two most experienced and upright physicians, one a Catholic and one a Protestant. With them I attended nearly all, both public and private opportunities, as eye-witness, and with the most perfect conviction. How! what will you say? A physician? Fie! for shame! Yes, I, a physician, and one, indeed, who has written a whole treatise on gout, sought from Herr Gassner help against the hell-torture. 

“Well, do not imagine that on that account I have ceased for a moment to be a physician; for I confess it now candidly, that I rather intended to test Herr Gassner than hoped to derive any cure from him. But a man that sees will not deny that it is day when the sun burns his neck; and a courageous physician will believe that he is ill when he feels pain. All those present, and the aforesaid physicians, fully testify that which we saw, and I myself, to my astonishment, experienced. 

“He who will not believe that Herr Gassner cures all kinds of diseases,—he who rejects the evidence of such impartial and overwhelming witnesses, I must either send as one dangerously ill to the water-cure, or, if that does not succeed, to the mad-house; or as a non-natural sufferer to the curative powers of Herr Gassner. But he requires believing patients!”

He now proceeds, in the tone of the opposing doctors, that, indeed, every physician has, according to his own statement, cured every kind of disease: some by electricity, and some by other means, by sympathy and imagination. Many also have enquired whether Herr Gassner’s crucifix, or the chain on his neck, or his half-silken sash, be not electric? Whether a magnet be not concealed in his cloak, or his hands be stroked with one, or be even anointed with a sympathic ointment! 

After he has circumstantially shown that none of these accusations will hold good, he comes to the conclusion — “that Herr Gassner performed all his cures merely by the glorified name of Jesus Christ, and the laying on of his hands and his cloak. But he gives the people oil, eye-water, and the like: he counsels them to use such things after the cure has taken place. He has, however, in order to make the blind see, no eye-water, nor oil to put in motion a paralysed limb; much less, powder and fumigations to drive out the devil.  He merely touches the joints of the lame; he rubs the ears and glands of the deaf; he touches with his fingers the eyelids of the blind; he draws the pains forth under his hands by a commanding strong voice. He commands them with the same power, with an earnest and authoritative voice, to come out and depart, and it takes place. Where, then, is the sympathy, where the electricity, where the magnet, and all philosophical acuteness?”

“Yes; but why then does he not cure all by the same means?”

“Ask your own consciences; enquire into the mode of life and the mode of thinking of your uncured friends, whether they come within the conditions required by Herr Gassner, and possess the three kinds of faith which we mentioned in the opening of this account of Gassner, and you may yourselves answer the question.

“Are you silent? You will then first open your thoughts to me, when you have experienced what has been the permanence of the Gassner mode of cure.

“Herr Gassner demands as a security against a relapse into the sickness, like St. Peter, a constant and perpetual conflict. Wherefore? Because the attacks of our invisible enemy are never ceasing.  He prescribes to every one how he can maintain himself in health without his aid; and I assure you on honour sincerely, that I have known many, very many, who have cured themselves of violent illness without going to or having seen Herr Gassner, but merely by following his book by my advice, and who still daily derive benefit from it. And I have never known one person who has relapsed into the old non-natural sickness who has not first deviated from the prescribed rules of Herr Gassner, or wholly abandoned them? Who, then, was to blame?”

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