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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