By Professor Donato.
Among the curious phenomena of the latter part of this century so noted for scientific progress there must hereafter be counted the definite revival of mesmerism. The flitting and indistinct glimpses which were had of this curious subject form century to century in the world’s history have culminated in experiments which have definitely revealed the leading principles of this art. Expelled for many centuries from the realm of scientific investigation, it has finally become a leading subject of inquiry and has attracted many of the brightest minds of the medical profession as a most fascinating subject. To the humdrum plodder that one human being by merely looking intently or raising his finger or suggesting an idea, may entirely and completely upset the mental equilibrium of a fellow being and cause him to follow his behests as would a trained spaniel, seems outrageous.
Very curiously the remarkable development which has taken place in this subject is more largely due to the professional magnetizers and mesmerists who have made it a source of income than to the medical profession itself. Without the exhibitions from town to town and from country to country, of professors of the art like the Du Potets, the Lafontaines, the Regazzounis, Hausens and many others, mesmerism would still be sleeping in the obscurity in which the Academy of Medicine had buried it. Without these energetic propagandists, without their example and their lessons, neither Doctor Charcot, Doctor Bernheim, Doctor Braid, Doctor Liebeault, nor Doctor Hegndenhain would ever have written their remarkable works, and the question might have remained in oblivion. Unfortunately the mesmerism which is today triumphing over the obstacles that had accumulated in its route during the past century, stands a strong chance of perishing between Charybdis and Scylla; for if, not long ago the savants denied the most evident phenomena, they now affirm the least proved facts. In trying to overreach each other in the pursuit of their chimeras, they fall into exaggerations.
Toward the end of the last century the Austrian, Mesmer, discovered the germs of a science which is still in embryo, but which had already been preserved by Maxwell in 1673, by Paracelsus in the sixteenth century, and by Van Helmont in 1630. He studied and presented it to the public under the name of animal magnetism. Mesmer claimed that men could exercise over each other a beneficent influence by means of a fluid which is universally distributed and which insinuates itself in the substance of the nerves, and transmits itself by contact or by passes or movements of the hands at a distance.
A pupil of Mesmer, the Marquis of Paysegur, in magnetizing after the process of his master, succeeded in making a critical departure unknown until then, and to which he gave the name of magnetic or artificial somnambulism. This memorable discovery marks the decisive phase in the successive advances of mesmerism. For the first time it puts the observer in presence of a characteristic and undeniable phenomenon. Up to that time magnetizers studied above all the means of producing somnambulism; but as soon as the fact was placed beyond doubt, it was interpreted in different manners.
The Abbe Faria (1817) pretended that suggestion alone, without the aid of any fluid agent, could put to sleep any person who had faith. This was also the opinion of Hen in de Curillers (1822), who proposed the terms hypnobates and hypnoscopes and who preceded Doctor Braid by eighteen years. In 1841 this latter gentleman, who was a doctor at Manchester, after having followed the magnetic seances of Lafontaine, also denied all fluidic action. He attempted to explain the production of somnambulism by cerebral exhaustion resulting from long concentration of the eyes on an object offering little surface. He gave to his system the name of hypnotism. The system has fallen into disuse, but the word has remained without any plausible reason and has dethroned the more exact term of somnambulism.
In 1873, the time in which I in my turn was initiated in mesmerism by the Canon Mouls de Bordeaux, the question had for a long time been abandoned on account of the condemnation pronounced by the scientific societies and particularly by the Academy of Medicine of Paris, which in 1842 had solemnly declared that the whole thing was only a tissue of frauds and impostures. Hardly would a doctor admit the possibility of even inducing sleep.
This state of things is explained by the imperfections of the processes used in the work up to that time. They were slow, laborious and not efficacious, easily discouraging the efforts of the magnetizers and facilitating the incredulity of their adversaries.
In the same year I had the happiness of soon making a discovery which in a measure put me in the way of convincing the world not only of the reality of somnambulism, but also and above all of other phenomena much more astonishing.
My predecessors made interminable movements of the hands before their subjects, or else they forced them to fixedly regard the blade of a knife during twenty minutes before obtaining any appreciable result.
I am quick, ardent, impetuous to excess. It is to these natural defects that I owe my discovery, as the reader will judge. Under the dominion of a feverish impatience I made my first experiment. Minutes seemed to me centuries. My will to end quickly, energetically expressed by my gesture and my glance, impressed the subject, who went to sleep with an astonishing rapidity. Excited by success I tried to provoke sleep more and more rapidly, in three minutes, in two minutes, finally in one single minute, and my success was complete.
I began to understand then that the theory of Mesmer and that of Braid were erroneous.
Somnambulism was explained by suggestion, by the domination of a strong will, and not by the action of a fluid or by cerebral fatigue.
The art consisted in captivating the mind of the subject, in striking vividly his imagination, in seducing, charming or subduing it. The phenomenon was not of a physical order, nor of a physiological or pathological. I had to solve a psychical problem.
A multitude of experiments which I attempted confirmed my hypothesis and justified my previsions. Never did one of my subjects go to sleep, no matter what process I employed, unless he knew that I proposed to send him to sleep. And vice versa, all the subjects went to sleep when a witness persuaded them that I wished them to sleep, even if I was at a distance and was occupying myself with them in no way. After that I became sure that the phenomena could in no case be attributed to a fluid, and that the fixity of gaze brings sleep only to the very rare persons who are subject to a special affliction, as hysteria. But it is necessary to add that all incidental causes fear, joy, surprise, a sudden noise, a brilliant light — produced exactly the same result on these unfortunates.
One evening in Liege (Belgium) in 1874, finding myself in a café, I overheard a young lawyer — M. Cudell — who denied my power and attempted to turn me into ridicule. Indignant and furious I placed myself before him and without braggadocio but with a profound conviction I announced to him that with a single glance I would make him fall backward. My audacity paralyzed his mind and succumbing to the power of my will he immediately rolled to the earth.
Another time I attended Madame Michele (also at Liege, which is my native town), who had a stroke of paralysis. Her companion expressed doubts as to the efficacy of my curative power. Finally, somewhat irritated, I said: "Mademoiselle Leonie, to prove to you my power I will paralyze your legs by a gesture. You can walk no more." In effect, Leonie, seized with fright, begged of me to give her back the use of her limbs.
These facts and others of like nature which I will not mention, proved to me that the surest way to affect the imagination of a person, impose upon him a stronger will, consisted in working with the rapidity of lightning without giving him the time to reflect or recover his sang-froid. The reader knows those time-worn expressions: mute with astonishment, paralyzed with fear, dead with fright, petrified with admiration. They come to the support of my system. It is by surprising my subjects that I obtain paralysis, aphony, etc. without even trying to send them to sleep previously.
My theory being definitely acknowledged as exact, it remained to me to invent the most efficacious process to obtain the most serious and practical results, for everybody is more or less apt to submit to the influence, though the measure is very variable, and the final success depends on the ability of the operator nearly as much as on the idiosyncrasy of the patient.
After long studies I adopted several processes, which I use alternatively according to circumstances. The principal consists in making the patient press his hands strongly on mine. Suddenly I push him backward and I quickly plunge my glance into his eyes. Surprised, he recoils, and immediately the expression of his eyes indicates to me his degree of impressionability. When I find him easily submissive to my influence I make a circular movement with the head and body while regarding him with devouring fixity. At least twenty per cent of the persons who submit to the proof are carried away by visual fascination, chained as by a charm, following me everywhere without trying to detach their eyes from mine.
In December 1886 the illustrious Doctor Bernheim invited me to see his curious experiments at the hospital of Nancy. He proceeds by a word only, the same as his old master in mesmerism, Doctor Liebeault. Acting with gentleness and care he tries to persuade the subjects rather than dominate them. This method may be successful with weakened patients disposed to acknowledge their faith in the doctor who treats them. But it would be without effect on strangers in vigorous health, like those I fascinate.
I, having looked fixedly at a patient he threw himself upon me, to the great astonishment of Doctor Bernheim and of those of his confreres who were present. This unexpected circumstance embarrassed him the more that he could not himself repeat the experiment I had just achieved. He feared at first a check to his theory of suggestion. But he immediately reflected that it was also mine, and that I had professed it for a much longer time than he. But there is suggestion and suggestion!
In the second edition of his remarkable work on suggestion (Paris,Librairie Doin, 1888), Doctor Bernheim explains my processes of psychical suggestive fascination in a manner thoroughly in conformity with my ideas. This is the way in which the celebrated professor of the University of Nancy expresses himself
"The fascination used for the first time by Donato has already been described by Doctor Bremaud. Donato, who operates specially on young people, proceeds as follows: He asks the subject to apply the palms of his hands on his own, which are stretched horizontally, and to press downward with all his strength. The attention and all the physical strength of the subject are absorbed in this manoeuvre, while his concentrated innervation toward the muscular effort prevents his thoughts from being distracted. Donato looks at the young man quickly, brusquely and very near; the operator then turns round the subject, continuing to fix and provoke him with his glance; the latter, as though attracted and fascinated, follows him with wide open eyes which can no more be detached from his own. It is a matter of suggestion by gesture. The subject understands by the fixity of the magnetizer's eyes on his that his eyes must remain attached to the magnetizer's and follow them everywhere. He thinks himself attracted toward him; it is a psychical suggestive fascination and in no way physical."
The eminent Doctor Bernheim could have added to be complete that the art of hypnotism consists in striking the imagination of the subject in such a manner as to convince him that he attracts him as the magnet attracts the iron; when in reality the man possesses no magnetic physical virtue, but on the other hand certain men are gifted with a prodigious moral magnetism and exercise an irresistible ascendency over all the persons who surround them.
Here is a second process of my invention.
I ask the patients to kneel before me and to look steadily into my eyes. Standing before them I place my hand on their foreheads and incline their heads slightly backward. As soon as they try to straighten them I direct into their pupils an imperative glance which paralyzes them if they are sensitive to my influence. From the moment that a patient has given proof of submission by following my eyes in my first process, as in remaining nailed to the ground in my second, I can almost always make him go through the successive phases which I will mention succinctly, without entering into details of intermediate periods, of which the description would be too long.
1. With a word, a look, a significant gesture I make him walk and move backward in spite of himself. I arrest his arm if he wishes to strike, his hand if he wishes to write, his legs if he wishes to walk. I render him numb or mute, etc. I obtain these results by provoking different forms of paralysis. The subject is in no way asleep; he possesses full consciousness of his acts and, brought back to the normal state by a word or a breath, he can relate the different experiments he has submitted to.
2. By degrees in the course of the experiments the power of a fixed idea takes complete possession of a subject; his psychic individuality is effaced, and he ends by being absorbed in me. At first he saw, heard and felt only me: now he feels, thinks, desires and acts only in conformity to my caprice. I can force upon him the falsest ideas, the most illusory sensations, the most unnatural desires, the strangest acts. He accepts them and obeys without resistance. He has abdicated his will without regret, under the charm of a seductive fascination. This is the unconscious phase; it presents none of the characteristics of either physiological or pathological sleep. I will speak further on of suggestion in its expiration.
When the subjects are quite docile the most marvelous results are obtained at once. Thus in presence of the photographic apparatus I have attracted a number of subjects by a glance; then with a gesture I have rendered them as immobile as wax figures in a museum.
In another photograph is represented a subject seated in an arm chair. Laughing slightly, I looked at him. He commenced to laugh by imitation, then his risibility was progressively accentuated, until he was in an ecstasy of hilarity at the moment in which he was photographed. I could as easily make him sing, cough, sneeze, make faces, etc. A little later I chose to suggest to this subject that a tiger pounced upon hint. He immediately made a touching gesture of unspeakable terror.
In Paris in 1881 Mounet-Sully the greatest French tragedian, having assisted in my seance, wrote me a long letter in which he said: If your experiments are not real, your subjects are comedians of genius worthy of being engaged at the Come-die Francaise; for neither the great Talma nor the prodigious Frederic Lemaitre could equal them."
Jules Claretie director of the Comedic Francaise, made a similar declaration in Le Temps; and Sara Bernhardt confessed herself incapable of assuming the attitudes and ecstatic expressions which I suggested to four lady friends of hers at a séance improvised by the celebrated painter Louise Abbema.
A young subject wishing to lift a newspaper is made to believe that the paper weighs fifty pounds, and he exhausts himself in his effort. The imaginary weight drags him down and would make him fall did I not restore the lost equilibrium by pressing my hand on the opposite shoulder.
At Bordeaux in 1887 in presence of all the press, I prevented Lawyer X (whose name I have forgotten), the most robust man in the city, front lifting a handkerchief.
Another impromptu scene represents subjects shivering with cold; they pull up their coat collars, put their hands in their pockets and stamp their feet; one places his handkerchief about his neck.
These scenes were totally unknown fifteen years ago when I commenced my demonstrative lectures in public halls. I improvised them all under the eyes of the spectators as circumstances suggested them to my mind. For example in 1886 at the war school of Turin, having fascinated about thirty young officers (from about 100 who submitted themselves) I made them go through their military exercises and take part in imaginary combats. I suggested to one that he was Garibaldi at Aspromonte; to another that he was the commanding general of the school, etc. They assumed the gait, the carriage, the gestures and the voices, and played perfectly the parts of the personages whom they represented, and with whom of course they were acquainted; for fascination no more than hypnotism can give to anyone a knowledge of the unknown.
From the beginning of the study I blamed the exaggerations of a few savants. Doctor Lombroso (the celebrated insanity expert, himself insane) affirms to have seen a hypnotized woman read through her toes without the aid of her eyes; to have made a medical student write music, of which he knew not a note; and another student speak German correctly, a language of which he was entirely ignorant. As the two students mentioned were patients formed by myself I made inquiries of them and they informed me that they knew perfectly-both music and the German language, and that, besides, Doctor Lombroso went through his experiments without method, without sincerity and with a brutality of which the subjects suffered and complained.
The newspapers have for a long time resounded with accounts of the famous experiments of Doctor Lays, member of the Academy of Medicine, on the influence of medicaments enclosed in glass tubes and acting at a distance on two hypnotized women at the hospital of La Charite. I denied these facts energetically. They were submitted to an academical commission who declared them false in every particular. Doctor Lays had been duped by his two patients, who had tried to render themselves interesting.
At the request of the queen of Belgium I gave a séance at the Theatre d'Ostende on the 11th of August 1887 at which all the court assisted. I had asked the commander of the marine school to bring me about twenty cabin boys with whom I might experiment, to put aside all suspicion of trickery. That night I invented complicated scenes of fishing, swim ming, navigation and shipwreck. When I fascinated lawyers, as in Milan, Gaud and Douai, I made them deliver political speeches, or I composed a tribunal with judges, public accusers, defendants, etc. In Yassy (Roumania) the judge was easily found, since I fascinated the president of the tribunal in the presence of Queen Natalie of Servia. Experiments have also been suggested to me by antithesis. It was thus that in 1882 in Paris it occurred to me to make Prince Louis Murat wait upon me, having transformed him into a man servant by the force of my will. And again I obliged Count Maurice Fleury, son of General Fleury, a gentle young man, reserved and timid, to dance a wild can-can before his astonished friends.
To the subjects, who had just been giving every evidence of suffering from cold, I suggested that they were suffering from an excess of tropical heat. They mopped their foreheads and removed their coats. A respect for truth incites me to say here that in this experiment the subjects are not always really warm; however in all cases the phenomena are subjective and not objective.
Boxing is an act of simple suggestion. The dentist scene is more complicated. A subject suffers with toothache (suggested sensation). He goes to the dentist, sits in the chair and opens his mouth (suggested action). A second subject believes himself to be a dentist (suggested idea) and goes through the motion of extracting the bad tooth.
The other photographs represent different phases of suggested crime. It must be confessed it is only simulated, for the alleged dagger is a roll of newspaper. This gives rise to a formidable question. Would it be possible to bring about a veritable crime in real life, instead of an imaginary crime in a theatre or hospital? I do not hesitate to reply no, a thousand times no! Hypnotism, all powerful for good, is disarmed for evil. As fascination and magnetic somnambulance it takes its source in trust, and cannot exist without voluntary abandon. No one can be fascinated or hypnotized against his will. It is indispensable that the patient should lend himself decidedly to the experiments; otherwise they fail. A man of healthy mind and body can always of his own free will act so as to favor or facilitate or to react against and prevent the influence of a magnetizer.
Dr. Braid affirms with reason (Neurhypnology, page 18) that the hypnotic state can be determined in none of its periods without the consent of the person operated upon. Dr. Bernheim also affirms that no one can be hypnotized against his will if he resists the injunction, and, he adds, sleep depends on the subject — it is his own faith which causes sleep.. These two authors who are authorities in this matter render it unnecessary to cite others. The conclusion of this is easily drawn: No one will ever consent to being hypnotized without witnesses, by a suspicious individual in circumstances favorable to the perpetration of a crime. Supposing however that owing to circumstances impossible to foresee, a malefactor should win the confidence of a person whom he would use as the unconscious instrument of a crime; once fascinated, would that person obey the criminal suggestion? No, answers the illustrious Doctor Bruardel of Paris; if an individual pleasing to the somnambulist offers him agreeable or indifferent suggestions, he submits; but if the suggestion is revolting to his personal affections or his natural instincts, he opposes an invincible resistance. This is also the opinion of Doctor Charcot, who regrets that ignorant people should throw discredit on a science still in embryo and as innocent as youth itself.
From a speech made in the Academy of Medicine on the 30th of December 1888, I take the following lines: “The apprehensions in regard to the dangers of hypnotism carried out as an instrument of crime are very exaggerated. If we refer to the minute inquiries made on the question, the dangers which hypnotism brings to bear on society are more theoretical than real. Besides criminals have believed until now, and they are right, that it is more prudent for them to operate directly and without intermediaries." Space is wanting to multiply citations to the proof of my theory.
What has most disturbed the timid fearful and rebellious to all innovation is that it is possible to produce suggestion by date; that is to say, to command a subject to commit an act in the future at a given day and hour. Like the alarm of a clock which rings at a certain hour, the subject falls into a trance and executes the mandate at the moment indicated. But I repeat the most sensitive is, refractory to acts that are repugnant to him. The fascinated subject feels vaguely that he is the sport of illusions, plunged in a sort of intoxication. He enjoys it as long as it flatters his taste or his inclinations, but he refrains with all his energy as soon as he feels in peril. As an intoxicated man will become sober under the influence of a strong emotion, the subject exposed to danger endeavors to regain his liberty, awakening then as from a nightmare.
Like somnambulism, fascination is called upon to render striking services. The science being still in its cradle it is not possible to foresee at the present time what will be its destiny. The anesthesia provoked by fascination offers a process far preferable to chloroform for surgical operations. Suggested lethargic sleep repairs the strength of patients. From a philosophical standpoint mesmerism has upset the old psychology and opens before us unknown regions. Assuredly a good many false ideas are mixed up with profitable truths in the melee of too hasty words which abound in hypnotism.
I believe there is more chaff than wheat. But the exact sciences have always been engendered from a study of the most absurd theories. Chemistry is the daughter of alchemy which itself originated from the art of Hermes. Astronomy comes from astrology, born of astrolatry. Magic gave birth to physics.
A great discovery in the so little explored domain of mesmerism has perhaps in store for us the supreme manifestation of the scientific spirit of the twentieth century.
As Victor Hugo wrote in a sublime verse,
"The real is narrow, the possible immense."
Let us work then without flinching, to remove the limits of the real and to reach the limits of the possible.
Originally published in Cosmopolitan Magazine. August 1890.