The Confessions of a Professional ' Hypnotist ' 1
That genial old sceptic, Montaigne, summed up his criticism of life in the terse aphorism, ' L'homme se pipe.' Man cheats himself even more than he is cheated. Gullibility springs eternal in the human breast ; in the evolution of the race other feelings and beliefs wither away like organs which have lost their use ; this alone abides with us as an inalienable birthright. In the immortal words of Robert Macaire, ' Tout passe ; mais les badauds ne passeront jamais.' In the eternal gullible, which is a primary constituent in the nature of ' this foolish-compounded clay, man,' lies the whole secret of the success of quackery of all kinds.
This chronic disease of the human mind is subject to periodical exacerbations under the influence of what appear to be pandemic waves of credulity. At the present moment we are passing through such a phase of occultation of common sense, and hypnotism, spiritualism, telepathy, ' spookism ' in its various manifestations, Mahatmism, Matteism, and intellectual fungi of a like kind, flourish in rankest luxuriance in the minds of men and women, some of whom in other respects give evidence of more than average intelligence.
To prevent misconception, it may be well for me to repeat here that 1 do not deny the physical facts of hypnotism and its heteronyms. It is the interpretation of them, put forth by some hierophants of the cult, that I consider erroneous. I fully admit that, under the influence of certain psychological stimuli, persons whose nervous system is ill-balanced, or at best in a condition of unstable equilibrium, readily pass into a state which we may, if we choose, call ' hypnotic sleep.' In view of the doubtful connotation which, owing to unsavoury associations, the word ' hypnotism ' has acquired, I prefer to designate the condition here referred to as ' Braidism,' after the name of its most philosophical exponent, the late Mr. Braid of Manchester. I think there can be no doubt that the condition is mental and purely subjective, but there must also be a pathological coefficient on which the susceptibility of the patient to the so-called ' hypnotic influence ' depends. As to the nature of this coefficient, or of the condition which it underlies, we are at present in the dark ; there are unfortunately still some riddles in medicine of which the solution has yet to be discovered, and this which we call ' Braidism,' or ' hypnotism,' is to that extent one of them. However, we are at least sure that there is nothing miraculous about this condition, no ' magnetism,' no ' efflux of will-power,' no added function of the organism or new power of mind, nothing, in short, preternatural— unless it be the credulity of those who accept them as signs and wonders. The hypnotist counts for nothing in the matter, except as an object inanimate or animate affecting the imagination of the subject, who is always self-hypnotised.
1 Reprinted from the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, October 1894.