Tuesday, March 28, 2017

XII - Healing of Breast Cancer without Drugs or Surgery by John Elliotson

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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