Anton Mesmer, a Swiss Physician, about the year 1750 was distinguishing himself by his philosophical writings. From some cause or other, he left his native country and appeared in France in 1778. Soon after his arrival, he introduced the new science of Animal Magnetism, which has since been sometimes called Mesmerism from its supposed discoverer. The phenomena exhibited by Mesmer under the influence of his new science had been familiar in one form or other to the inhabitants of the world so far back as history extends; yet he claimed the honor of discovering its powers and its laws. He introduced the doctrine of the "magnetic fluid" and was accustomed to magnetize trees by whose power in turn subjects were thrown into the magnetic state etc. I believe it has generally been conceded by all who have succeeded him and who have claimed much honor for having advanced the science, that Mesmer first operated with the Animal fluid. In the year of 1784, the subject of Animal Magnetism excited much interest in Paris and the King was finally induced to direct a committee of the Royal Academy of Medicine of Paris to give the subject a thorough consideration and report their opinion of its merits. The American Philosopher, Dr. Franklin, was then Ambassador at the Court of France and was appointed a member of this committee. It appears during the progress of their investigations that two principles were to be decided. First, whether the experiments were really performed as they appeared or were they a species of deception practiced by collusion, contact or by previous practice. Second, whether, if there should be no deception practiced, there is sufficient evidence from the facts developed to establish a theory of "Magnetic Fluid" through which all these strange appearances of the mind were exhibited. The committee decided that there was not sufficient evidence exhibited to show that the phenomena called Magnetic were caused by the action of a fluid, as had been contended by the disciples of Mesmer. This settled, with them, the second part of their enquiry. The results, however, and the facts witnessed, were more difficult to reject. They were thought to be "singular and wonderful" and were finally attributed to the power of the imagination. The mysterious influence of `mind over mind,' was readily conceded; yet they supposed the medium to be (not a magnetic fluid), but "Imagination." We find no fault with this report except in the term used as its cause, namely, the "Imagination," believing that even the facts disclosed before the honorable committee were such as to require another expression. If I imagine a picture or scene, it will not appear real to me. I might create images corresponding to certain names which would be given them, but there would be no belief on my part of the real existence of such created images. The poet may rely upon his powers of imagination and portray in measured verse ideal existences which please and amuse, but should he portray what he believed to exist or knows to exist just as he would describe any fact, no one would contend that the work was a species of imagery, but a relation of facts by the author, or at least, what was believed to be true by him. Milton, in Paradise Lost has displayed the highest powers of the imagination, but we do not presume he believed himself relating simple facts, which actually transpired according to the description he has given. Yet to some minds who have read this work of genius and have a belief and a conviction of the reality of his imagery, it is with them a matter of fact. Imagination can have no permanent effect over the conduct of an individual, because an impression produced upon the mind by an imaginary cause ceases to control him, the moment he is conscious of this fact. If I should read an account of some wonderful event in the columns of a newspaper and I believed it to be a fact, there would be no imagination upon my part, although the whole scene might be the work of the editor's imagination. It would be imagery to him, but reality to me. Now the committee did not pretend that collusion or consent of action produced such results as were exhibited before them, but that it was by some unknown mystery, the influence of "Imagination."
There was an interesting experiment which was performed before the Committee at Paris of this nature. A tree was magnetized, as the operator supposed, and the subject was to be led up to it and the magnetic fluid would pass into him and throw him into the magnetic state. This was performed several times with perfect accuracy. But the Committee finally hit upon this method. Instead of taking him to the magnetized tree, he was led up, blindfold, to one not magnetized and quite as mysteriously fell into the mesmeric condition. This proved to the Committee, as it must to everyone, that in fact one tree possesses the same principle and quantity of magnetism as the other, which the operator had acted upon; or that neither of them was impregnated with magnetism but that some other cause, called by the Committee imagination, produced the mesmeric sleep. Query, was this imagination! The subject in the first instance believed that he was led to the magnetized tree, which was true, and there could not have been imagination about this. In the second instance he was led to the natural tree, but he believed it to be magnetized and of course the same impressions and the same results would follow, if you reject the magnetic fluid. Every circumstance to the subject would be the same in both experiments, and if like causes produce like effects, it could not be the result of a magnetic influence because one tree was magnetized and the other was not and the impressions being real in both cases could not have affected the imagination. Imagination supposes something not real. These impressions, from which the subject acts, are real and not imaginary to him. If the reply is that imagination produced both results, we answer that every thing which makes an impression upon the mind is, then, the result of the imagination. All the impressions we receive are imagined, and man's whole conduct is nothing but a series and succession of imaginations.
The Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend A.M. late of Trinity Hall, Cambridge has published a volume of some four hundred pages, entitled Dispassionate Inquiry into Mesmerism. It is on the whole a very interesting work, and serves rather to amuse than to instruct and direct the enquirer after truth. His experiments were good and expressed in beautiful language and with scientific terms. But the error of all his labor was in the first impression from a false cause. He was a believer in the magnetic fluid and endeavored to bring all the facts he discovered under its agency. Like the Religionist who first writes out his creed and then bends every possible principle he can discover in the Bible to support a fabric which he has, himself, designed, he appears to be more intent upon settling the question of a fluid agency and bending all his experiments to support his Theory than to branch out in opposition and undertake to prove the falsity of his position.
Mesmerism was introduced into the United States by M. Charles Poyen, a French gentleman, who did not appear to be highly blest with the powers of magnetizing to the satisfaction of his audience in his public lectures. I had the pleasure of listening to one of his lectures and pronounced it a humbug as a matter of course. And that his remarkable experiments, which were related, were, in my belief, equally true with witchcraft. I had never been a convert to witchcraft, nor had ever had any personal interviews with ghosts or hobgoblins and therefore considered all stories bordering on the marvelous as delusive.
Next came Dr. Collyer, who perhaps did more to excite a spirit of enquiry throughout the community than any who have succeeded him. But the community were still incredulous and the general eccentricity of his character no doubt contributed much to prejudice the minds of his audience against his science. He, however, like all those who had preceded him on both sides of the water, must have a long handle to his science, namely, a subtle fluid of the nature of electricity. So contrary to all experience did all the facts, elicited from his experiments, appear in connection with the laws which govern electricity, that almost every man of science would reject both theory and facts without a moment's consideration. However, the perseverance of the Dr. overcame, in part, some of the prejudices and he at last drew out of a committee in the city of Boston an acknowledgement of the facts, although they refrained from any expression of their opinion as to their occasion.
Collyer was, like all others, satisfied as to the fluid-and nothing could be accomplished without producing a current upon the subject or surcharging him with a quantity of the electric fluid. In a work published by him in 1842 although he is still the advocate of the fluid, yet he rejects the doctrine of Phreno Magnetism, neurology etc.as introduced and defended by Dr. Buchanan and LeRoy Sunderland. The same course, which enabled him to detect the fallacy of their theories, would have led him, upon pursuing the subject a little further, to have rejected entirely his whole theory of a fluid. He would have looked to another cause of all this phenomenon. From testimony, now before the community, there is no doubt that Collyer performed the first phreno-magnetic experiments in this country and that the honor, if there be any, of the discovery should be yielded to him. It is a matter of little consequence to the community who shall wear the wreath of honor, but we prefer to see the peacock dressed in his own plumage and not bear the shame of a naked plucking by his neighboring fowl.