Owing to his immediate popularity, Mesmer generally credited as the “discoverer” of the subconscious laying the foundation for modern Psychology, developed a method of treating people en masse with the notorious Baquet - a device consisting of a large drum filled with bottles of water which Mesmer had previously magnetized.
Around the drum, up to twenty patients could be arranged in order to benefit simultaneously from Mesmer's superabundance of animal magnetism. With the introduction of the Baquet, Mesmer's treatment procedures became increasingly like theatre: Mesmer would appear wearing a cloak decorated with alchemical symbols and then play the glass harmonica (an instrument that produced an eerie, ethereal sound). Large mirrors were erected in his magnetic salon to reflect invisible fluids and his assistants, like stage hands, were positioned to catch his convulsing patients. Contemporary woodcuts show a magus-fike figure raising his hand and making women on the other side of the room swoon. It was an impressive show.
Needless to say, Mesmer soon attracted a following - who eventually practised under the aegis of the Societe de I'Harmonie, an unusual hybrid of college and masonic lodge dedicated to the practice of mesmerism.
By 1784 Mesmer's disciples were such a conspicuous presence that Louis XVI commanded that mesmerism should be the subject of two official investigations. The first was undertaken conjointly by the Academie des Sciences and the Academie de Medecine, while the second was undertaken by the Societe Royale. With respect to the latter, it is interesting to note that one of the panel members was Benjamin Franklin, not only the American ambassador, but also the inventor of Mesmer's much-loved glass harmonica.
The findings of these investigations were unequivocal: Yes, it was true that patients benefited from Mesmer's treatment, but this benefit had nothing whatsoever to do with Mesmer's animal magnetism. Treatment gains were best attributed to a psychological factor that the learned gentlemen described as 'imagination' - or what modern doctors would now call the placebo effect. A powerful expectation of improvement, once aroused in a patient, is often followed by the remission of symptoms (irrespective of the treatment's theoretical potency). For centuries, physicians have known that through the agency of the mind the body can be 'fooled' into feeling better. Mesmerism was simply a means of exploiting expectations of improvement in credulous patients.
Even though both investigations attacked Mesmer's theoretical framework, the Societe de I'Harmonie continued to expand, and new branches were established all over France. However, as with any expanding empire, it was difficult to maintain sovereignty in the more remote outposts. Many of Mesmer's disciples started modifying his procedures, and some – influenced perhaps by the two enquiries - challenged his orthodoxy concerning the role of animal magnetism. Rifts opened. Factions emerged. The centre would not hold.
Mesmer could not keep the movement he had created in check. Moreover, at the same time his authority was being seriously undermined by humorists who mocked his excesses in cartoons, popular songs, and satirical plays. Mesmer's reputation was finally irreparably damaged when he was invited to attend a meeting of the Lyons Societe de I'Harmonie.
Prince Henry of Prussia was in Lyons on a private visit and presented himself to Mesmer as a demonstration subject. The Prince's high social rank and obvious scepticism were sufficient to overwhelm Mesmer, who discovered that his remarkable powers had chosen a most inopportune moment to desert him. He left Paris in 1785, and for many years his whereabouts were completely unknown. Even so, the Mesmeric bandwagon he had left behind rumbled on, continuing to attract the interest of a new generation of would-be mesmerists.
For the next twenty years Mesmer wandered through Europe - a man of reduced but significant means. A man who preferred the company of birds to people. When Mesmer died in 1815 most practitioners who called themselves mesmerists had no idea where he was, and, more importantly, none of their number was using his techniques to provoke therapeutic crises. They were doing something quite different.
Unlike Mesmer, Amand Marie Jacques de Chastenet, Marquis de Puysegur, was a genuine aristocrat, whose ancestral home was a large castle and extensive estate near Soissons. Puysegur was also a distinguished artillery officer and a keen amateur scientist (with a special interest in electricity).
He was introduced to Mesmer's doctrine of animal magnetism by his brother, Comte Antoine-Hyacinte, but from the very beginning, expressed reservations about the propriety of inducing violent crises in vulnerable patients. Indeed, he found the phenomenon undignified, if not repellent. Subsequently he experimented with a more gentle therapeutic procedure that did not necessitate a dramatic, convulsive climax.
From 1784 Puysegur began offering magnetic treatments to the peasants on his estate. His first two patients were young women suffering from toothache, both of whom were cured in the absence of crises. Puysegur's next patient, Victor Race (a young man with a respiratory disease), proved to be even more interesting. Victor responded to the treatment procedure in a very unusual way. After seven or eight minutes he fell into a kind of steep, during which he was able to hold a perfectly sensible conversation, answer questions, sing songs, mimic shooting, and dance to imagined music; however, on waking, Race had no memory of any of these things.
Puysegur experimented with other patients, and began to employ special instructions that encouraged 'sleep'.
Still encumbered by Mesmer's theoretical framework, Puysegur assumed that he had stumbled upon a new form of crisis - albeit a less dramatic form than Mesmer's convulsive original. He called his new discovery 'the perfect crisis'; however, this term was soon superseded by 'magnetic sleep' and then finally 'artificial somnambulism' (suggesting a progressive willingness to abandon Mesmer's vocabulary). Somnambulism is the medical term for sleepwalking, and Puysegur had obviously recognized that the two states (magnetic sleep and the sleepwalker's trance) were close cousins. Puysegur was leaning towards a psychological explanation, and eventually he concluded that artificial somnambulism had nothing to do with animal magnetism (a supposed physical force), but rather the imposition of the magnetizer's will on that of his subject.
Thus began a major rift in Mesmeric circles. Two factions emerged: traditionalists, who followed Mesmer's doctrine to the letter, and revisionists, who were more enthusiastic about Puysegur's new technique and explanatory framework. The latter group abandoned the provocation of dramatic crises, focused on sending their patients to sleep, and experimented with simpler treatment methods. They also questioned the efficacy of group treatments such as the Baquet. Mesmerism no longer required the presence of a magus and enough props to stage an amateur production of The Magic Flute. In fact, mesmerism no longer required Mesmer.
In Puysegur's wake, artificial somnambulism was understood to be therapeutic in several ways. Firstly, the trance state itself was thought to be beneficial because it possessed the same properties as any restorative or satisfying sleep. Secondly, when entranced, individuals were suggestible to the extent that certain symptoms could be removed by way of a simple command. However, such 'treatments' were only superficially effective, insofar as symptoms tended to reappear on waking. Finally, because artificial somnambulism was a kind of sleep, a dialogue could be established with pathogenic parts of the mind that were normally inaccessible. Thus, treatment sometimes took the form of a discussion between doctor and patient, with the patient replying to questions in his or her sleep. This presumably had a precedent in exorcism, during which priests were often called upon to bargain with evil spirits for the release of their host. Even so, the procedure merits obvious comparison with contemporary psychotherapy.
It is of some interest to note that a little-known Bavarian priest, Johann Joseph Gassner, acquired a considerable reputation as a healer by provoking therapeutic crises in his patients two years before Mesmer developed his magnetic treatment. According to Gassner, however, the therapeutic crises he provoked were caused by demonic entities, with whom he would converse before completing their exorcism with an authoritative command.
Although Puysegur succeeded in transforming the practice of mesmerism, he was a reluctant revolutionary. He always considered himself a loyal follower of Mesmer and never intended to undermine the master's teachings. Indeed, he visited the great man twice, accompanied by Victor Race, to share his discoveries, but Mesmer responded coldly and was obviously unimpressed, considering artificial somnambulism to be of little significance. After all, when his own patients had 'drifted off' he had thought nothing of it.
Artificial somnambulism proved to be an extremely useful tool for probing the human mind. Indeed, Puysegur's experiments revealed phenomena that could only be explained if the standard Enlightenment model - with its emphasis on rationality and transparency - was substantially revised. For example, the fact that patients could not remember what had happened to them while entranced suggested that the mind could keep secrets from itself. Clearly, Puysegur's patients could not have forgotten events that had transpired only a few moments earlier. This suggested that memories of being in the trance (and associated experiences) were present in the mind, but inaccessible. Puysegur went on to demonstrate the mind's capacity for self deception even more dramatically by experimenting with what is now known as post-hypnotic suggestion. If an entranced individual is given a command to perform a simple behaviour (for example, 'Scratch your nose whenever you hear the word "dog ... ), the command will continue to be obeyed even after waking. Such an individual will have no recollection of being given the command and will probably confabulate if asked to explain why the behaviour is being performed. Puysegur had succeeded in hiding a set of instructions in the mind, thus demonstrating that there was a part of the mind which - although not available for conscious inspection - could nevertheless still influence behaviour.
A further intriguing observation of Puysegur's was that some of his patients seemed to be more knowledgeable when 'asleep' than when 'awake'. For example, several individuals were able to diagnose their own problems and recommend treatments. This begged certain questions. Was artificial somnambulism allowing patients to recover information that had simply been forgotten? Or was there some vast, submerged library in the mind that could be consulted during sleep? Needless to say, the early romantic philosophers became particularly interested in Puysegur's work, being inclined to believe that his patients were obtaining information from the world soul the universal unconscious. Artificial somnambulism was quickly perceived as a possible short cut to the numinous.
Puysegur also discovered that the mind was capable of not only concealing information from itself, but also concealing (or at least denying) powerful sensory experiences. Patients were told that they would not feel pain in certain areas of the body, which could then be pricked with pins and probed with heated objects without causing any discomfort. If the sensory apparatus was still functioning, then those parts of the mind allocated for the registration of pain were being shut off. A door was being closed on pain, thus keeping it outside of awareness.
Unfortunately, Puysegur's investigations were interrupted by the revolution of 1789, and he spent two years in prison; however, when he was released he was able to recover his estate and go on to become the mayor of Soissons. He also continued to investigate artificial somnambulism. By the time of his death in 1835, almost all 'mesmerists' employed his procedures rather than those of Mesmer.
But there can be few individuals to whom the gods of posterity have been less generous than Puysegur. In the early years of the nineteenth century I mesmerism' (so called) continued to be endorsed by fringe medical practitioners (and a growing band of travelling entertainers); however, within a very short space of time the name of Amand-Marie-jacques de Chastenet, Marquis de Puysegur, sunk into total obscurity. Yet he had developed a method of exploring the mind which would prove to be of incalculable significance for future students of the unconscious.
From its inception to the 1840s mesmerism was never endorsed as a legitimate treatment by the medical establishment. Even Puysegur's more credible methods were still regarded with considerable suspicion; however, from the 1840s mesmerism began to attract the attention of several British doctors, whose scientific credentials granted it a degree of vicarious respectability.
John Elliotson was appointed professor of medicine at the University of London in 1831. He founded University College Hospital, established a link between pollen and hay fever, and pioneered iodine treatment for goitre. In addition, he was the first doctor in England to make extensive use of the stethoscope, an instrument that many of his colleagues were happy to dismiss as a European fad.
Elliotson became interested in animal magnetism after attending various staged demonstrations conducted by visiting continental mesmerists. He was particularly impressed by the induction of anaesthesia. When in a trance state, subjects could be pinched or have their nostrils packed with snuff without showing any signs of discomfort. Such phenomena suggested that mesmerism could be used to moderate pain during surgery (the very first recorded use of ether was not until 1842 and that of nitrous oxide, 1844). In 1843, Elliotson published a pamphlet titled 'Numerous Cases of Surgical Operations without Pain in the Mesmeric State'. This represented the first attempt to collect together existing documented cases of mesmeric surgical anaesthesia, the first of which was a mastectomy performed by Jules Cloquet in 1829.
Unfortunately, Elliotson's reputation was diminished after his involvement with the Okey sisters - two adolescent patients who proved to be remarkably compliant experimental subjects. Elliotson used them to demonstrate the power of 'animal magnetism', first on the wards and then in the public theatre of the hospital. The girls could be made to go rigid, swoon, and perform astonishing feats of strength.
Unfortunately, Elliotson's demonstrations degenerated into an undignified stage show, attracting large audiences which included not only doctors, but also aristocrats, members of parliament, writers, and anybody of sufficient social rank to gain entry. The behaviour of the Okey sisters became increasingly idiosyncratic and unpredictable. They entertained Elliotson's audiences by adopting a peculiar, childish mode of speech, by using bad language, and showing little or no respect to even the most distinguished members of the gathering. Elliotson's demonstrations became a combination of slapstick comedy and mild sexual titillation. A subsequent investigation concluded that Elliotson was being duped by two crafty imposters - an allegation that Elliotson simply refused to accept. Eventually the hospital authorities informed Elliotson that he should refrain from practising mesmerism in the hospital and that he should discharge the elder Okey sister immediately. Elliotson responded by resigning his post.
Among the great and the good attending Elliotson's demonstrations had been Charles Dickens. The two men became firm friends, and Elliotson taught Dickens how to mesmerize. The author subsequently experimented with his own family, and later successfully healed some of his associates. It has been suggested that Dickens' extraordinary power to captivate large audiences at public readings of his work was in part due to the exercise of his mesmeric gift. Dickens insisted that his audience should always be able to see his face, and if the audience wasn't responsive he was quick to complain that they were not 'magnetic'.
Although Elliotson was spurned by his university colleagues, he was warmly accepted in Dickens' elevated social circle and his medical practice prospered. In spite of his unwise association with the Okey sisters, Professor Elliotson's endorsement of mesmerism was a turning point. Mesmerism had embarked on the road to respectability.
After the publication of Elliotson's pamphlet on the use of mesmerism as a surgical anaesthetic, news began to reach London of a lone enthusiast practising in Bengal. This was James Esdaile, a Scottish surgeon with the East India Company, who ran the so called Native Hospital. Using a mesmeric trance state to induce anaesthesia, Esdaile had conducted several major operations with good results. These included arm and breast amputations as well as the removal of numerous scrotal tumours (which were endemic in the Bengali population). One of these tumours weighed more than the patient, and had to be manipulated with a rope-and-pulley system attached to the rafters. Clearly, Esdaile was a man with considerable nerve.
Remarkably, Esdaile had never seen a professional mesmerist induce a trance state. He based his own procedures on an account given to him by a friend, and subsequently developed a somewhat idiosyncratic technique that accommodated local influences (such as yogic breathing and stroking). Although his technique was improvised, an official investigation was impressed by his results and in due course he became the founder and superintendent of The Calcutta Mesmeric Hospital. He left India in 1851 and returned to Scotland, where he lived a relatively uneventful life of semiretirement.
During his six years in India Esdaile performed several thousand operations on mesmerized patients. Moreover, he kept careful records and tabulated his successful results. Only sixteen deaths were reported, at a time when only 50 per cent of surgical patients were expected to survive. Sadly, Esdaile's findings were not given the consideration and exposure they deserved because of the British medical establishment's racist views. It was suggested that 'natives' of the subcontinent were so different from Europeans that they might actually enjoy surgical procedures. Therefore, it was impossible to assess the effectiveness of mesmeric anaesthesia on the basis of Esdaile's work.
It was yet another Scottish surgeon, James Braid, who finally earned mesmerism scientific respectability; however, the task was not an easy one, and to achieve it the concept of mesmerism had to be thoroughly rehabilitated. Even a name change was necessary.
Like Elliotson, Braid's first experience of mesmerism was at a public demonstration - on 13 November 1841. Braid was so intrigued by what he saw that, one week later, he returned to see the whole thing again (when it was repeated by popular demand). Braid was convinced that he had witnessed a genuine phenomenon; however, he was not satisfied with any of the existing explanations. Even some sixty years after Mesmer's heyday there was still talk of emanations and magnetic fluids (particularly among stage performers who sought to sensationalize their act).
At both demonstrations Braid had observed that during 'nervous sleep' the subject's eyes remained firmly closed. He subsequently concluded that the trance state had been induced by neuromuscular exhaustion, brought about through protracted staring. Two days later, to test his theory, Braid invited a dinner-party guest to stare, without blinking, at the top of a wine bottle. Within minutes the man was asleep. Braid subsequently repeated this experiment with his wife and manservant, who also obligingly fell asleep.
Braid's initial approach, then, was to understand nervous sleep primarily as a physiological phenomenon. He later elaborated his account to the extent that he acknowledged the importance of a psychological factor - 'focus of attention' - as another necessary precipitant of nervous sleep. Braid's explanatory framework is very straightforward and marks a radical departure from all that went before. Concepts such as animal magnetism, or Puysegur's 'imposition of will', are completely rejected in favour of more basic elements. Braid subsequently spent the next eighteen years of his life researching nervous sleep, and in 1843 renamed it neurypnology. He later chose another name, hypnosis, which proved to be so 'catchy' it soon replaced mesmerism, artificial somnambulism, and nervous sleep - going on to achieve international currency.
Braid used hypnosis to treat a wide range of problems, from spinal curvature to epilepsy. Moreover, he often provided a rationale for his successes that demonstrated his fealty to respectable science. Thus, he claimed to be able to cure deafness because the auditory nerve - an object familiar to neurologists - could be excited under hypnosis. Even so, Braid's successes probably owed as much to the placebo effect as did Mesmer's. Braid's explanations were simply much more attractive to the conservative medical establishment and he was subsequently able to publish his findings in mainstream academic journals. As a direct result of Braid's publications, hypnosis was rescued from the world of quacks, mountebanks, and music hall to be delivered safely into the hands of neurologists and physiologists; but just as the scientists were becoming used to the idea that hypnosis was respectable after all, it was more or less hijacked by a burgeoning fringe religion - spiritualism.
Among spiritualists, communication with the dead was usually accomplished after entering a trance state; but such trance states could also be conceptualized as 'self-hypnosis'. Moreover, many hypnotic subjects began spontaneously to report receiving messages from the spirit world. Be that as it may, even though the culture of spiritualism was steeped in superstition and absurdities, certain previously unseen 'psychological' phenomena emerged that captured the attention of the academic and medical communities. The unexpected result was even greater scientific interest in the function and capabilities of the unconscious mind.
The spiritualist movement was inspired by the life and works of the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg. He wrote a number of exegetical works - allegedly under the tutelage of spirits and angels - and described transcendental journeys in books such as On Heaven and its Wonders and on Hell (1758). After his death his visionary teachings were promulgated by a religious sect - the Swedenborgians. Congregations were soon established in northern Europe and, shortly after, America. By the mid nineteenth century the concept of communicating with the dead had become popularized under the banner of spiritualism, whose priest-class - mediums - typically entered a trance state to receive information from favoured spirit guides.
As the movement grew, spiritualist meetings became increasingly theatrical, seances being often enlivened by table-turning, rapping, and the occasional levitation. But such occurrences could easily be dismissed as conjuring tricks (stage magic had become something of an art during the course of the eighteenth century); however, other spiritualist phenomena were far more difficult to explain away - most notably, automatic writing and automatic drawing.
In the 1840s a number of spiritualists began to produce literary and artistic works that had been completed while entranced. It was subsequently claimed that these works were accomplished under the influence of spirit guides. Because the writing and drawing was performed without volition, the term 'automatic' was employed to describe the manner in which they were executed. A perplexing feature of these automatic phenomena was that sometimes works of outstanding quality were produced by individuals who had received little or no formal education. For example, Andrew Jackson Davis, the son of a New York leather worker, wrote numerous books of scientific and philosophical interest, including Principles of Nature (1847), which became a best-seller. Moreover, examples of automatic drawing were so technically proficient - and distinctive - the 'automatic style' exerted an influence on the early symbolists.
For those who wished to account for automatic phenomena without recourse to spirit communication, the unconscious became an invaluable explanatory concept. In 1854, for example, Michel Chevreul suggested that all messages from the spirit world might be nothing more than a transliteration of unconscious thought. Chevreul - a sceptic with impeccable credentials - had already demonstrated in 1833 that the movements of the divining rod were unconsciously directed by the dowser.
Automatic writing and drawing were subsequently considered as further examples of the richness of unconscious life. As the romantics had suggested, the engine of imagination was probably submerged below the awareness threshold. Therefore, entranced mediums were simply surrendering control of their hands to the creative genius of the unconscious; however, the fact that many mediums claimed to be taking dictation or receiving instruction from spirit guides suggested another intriguing possibility - that parts of the unconscious could evolve into fully fledged secondary (or even tertiary) personalities. The unconscious might actually be inhabited by lesser selves amalgams of inaccessible memories that had become organized around a kind of proto-identity.
This arresting idea (that parts of the unconscious could acquire the properties of an independent identity) resonated with a rare medical phenomenon that had been observed (but never explained) since the end of the eighteenth century - split or multiple personality.
As early as 1791, Eberhardt Gmelin reported a case of what he described as 'exchanged personality'. The case in question was a young German woman who regularly swapped her Teutonic sensibilities for those of a French aristocrat. When her alter ego took over she spoke only French and adopted gallic affectations, and when she reverted she had no knowledge of events witnessed as a Frenchwoman. It should be noted that, even in this pioneering case study, there is no suggestion that the woman was the victim of possession. Multiple personality was understood to be a purely psychological phenomenon.
After Gmelin a few cases of multiple personality were reported in the literature, but the proper scientific study of the phenomenon did not begin until the publication in 1840 of a monograph by a general practitioner Antoine Despine. In this work, Despine reported the case of an eleven-year old girl suffering from paralysis. During the course of her treatment she developed the habit of slipping into an altered state of consciousness, in which she became ill-mannered but also miraculously recovered the use of her legs. Eventually, her polite and impolite personalities fused together. Despine's study failed to arouse a great deal of interest in academic circles, but from the 1840s onwards cases of multiple personality were recognized and reported with increasing frequency.
As the nineteenth century progressed, enough cases were reported to discriminate between different manifestations of multiple personality. For example, in some cases two personalities each knew about the other whereas in other cases both personalities were mutually amnesic (i.e. ignorant of each other's existence). The relationship between personalities could also be asymmetric - with only one being amnesic of the other. Finally, a number of cases were known to have several sub-personalities: a community of identities in which each sub-personality might have complete, partial, or no knowledge of every other sub-personality; thus, personality A might be fully aware of B, partially aware of C, and completely ignorant of D. Whereas personality D might be fully aware of A, partially aware of B, and completely ignorant of C. And so on.
These findings had enormous implications for the evolving model of the human mind. Whereas initially one horizontal division had been proposed, to separate upper and lower regions (conscious and unconscious), it now seemed that a multiplicity of divisions was possible. An almost infinite number of complete and partial partitions could be erected, enabling the mind to accomplish endless permutations of self-deception. In the latter half of the nineteenth century two distinct models of the mind became consolidated under the banners of dipsychism and polypsychism.
Advocates of dipsychism believed in the double ego - the presence of a secondary personality, largely concealed in the unconscious. The most contentious issue surrounding dipsychism concerned whether the hidden mind received information exclusively through the gateway of consciousness or whether information could arrive by other pathways. In the former model, the hidden mind was organized around forgotten information and trace perceptual experiences; but in the latter, it was suggested that the hidden mind might develop from more exotic material - the most likely source being mystical in nature (such as the romantic world soul).
Polypsychism was an altogether more complicated idea. Advocates of this approach viewed the human psyche as a community of lesser minds, whose operation was co-ordinated by a master (or executive) mind. The arrangement might be compared to a classical orchestra. Each of the individual sections - for example, strings, wind, or brass - can function independently; however, they are usually united under the conductor's baton. In polypsychism, lesser minds can function independently like the sections of an orchestra. They possess a specialist repertoire (unique memories and unconscious regions); however, these lesser minds usually work together under the watchful eye of the master mind. This overseeing mind - the conductor - is the identity we recognize as ourselves when we introspect. Obviously, polypsychism provided the best account of complex multiple-personality cases. Extending the orchestral analogy, the conductor might be temporarily indisposed, allowing the first violin to leap on to the podium and turn an orchestral concert into a string concert. Needless to say, the heads of the other sections might also be capable of hijacking the programme in much the same way.
Eventually scientific investigators concluded that spiritualist phenomena could be explained entirely within the frameworks offered by either dipsychism or polypsychism. For example, the physician Theodore Flournoy (the teacher of Carl Jung, see first part of our article series) undertook a five-year study of the medium Helen Smith. His results were published in From India to the Planet Mars: A Study of a Case of Somnambulism with Glossolalia (1900).
Flournoy concluded that Helen Smith's revelations were merely .romances of the subliminal imagination', derived largely from forgotten sources (for example, books read as a child). He subsequently coined the term cryptomnesia to describe the phenomenon. Flournoy also concluded that Helen Smith's spirit guide, Leopold, was merely an unconscious sub-personality.
Romanticism had established an intellectual climate which favoured the recognition of unconscious mental activity. Subsequently, hypnotism, phenomena associated with spiritualism, and reports of multiple personality, reinforced the view that any model of mind that failed to acknowledge the unconscious must be incomplete. Indeed, the concept of unconscious mental activity had become an essential explanatory vehicle - at least for those who professed a scientific outlook; however, new ideas about the mind did not respect the boundary between art and science, and throughout the nineteenth century many literary works appeared which were distinctly 'psychological'.