Philosophy:The Royal Commission on Animal Magnetism

From HandWiki

The Royal Commission on Animal Magnetism involved two entirely separate and independent French Royal Commissions, each appointed by Louis XVI in 1784, that were conducted simultaneously by a committee composed of five scientists from the Royal Academy of Sciences (Académie des sciences) and four physicians from the Paris Faculty of Medicine (Faculté de médecine de Paris) (i.e., the "Franklin Commission"), and a second committee composed of five physicians from the Royal Society of Medicine (Société Royale de Médecine) (i.e., the "Society Commission").

The "Franklin Commission's" investigations are notable as a very early "classic" example of a systematic controlled trial, which not only applied "sham" and "genuine" procedures to patients with "sham" and "genuine" disorders, but, significantly, was the first to use the "blindfolding" of both the investigators and their subjects.[1][2][3]

"The report of the ["Franklin"] Royal Commission of 1784 … is a masterpiece of its genre, and enduring testimony to the power and beauty of reason. … Never in history has such an extraordinary and luminous group [as the "Franklin Commission"] been gathered together in the service of rational inquiry by the methods of experimental science. For this reason alone the [Report of the "Franklin Commission"] … is a key document in the history of human reason. It should be rescued from obscurity, translated into all languages, and reprinted by organizations dedicated to the unmasking of quackery and the defense of rational thought." -- Stephen Jay Gould (1989).[4]

Both sets of Commissioners were specifically charged with investigating the claims made by Charles d’Eslon for the existence of a substantial (rather than metaphorical) "animal magnetism", 'le magnétisme animal', and of a similarly physical "magnetic fluid", 'le fluide magnétique'. Further, having completed their investigations into the claims of d'Eslon -- that is, they did not examine Mesmer, Mesmer's theories, Mesmer's principles, Mesmer's practices, Mesmer's techniques, Mesmer's apparatus, Mesmer's claims, Mesmer's "cures', or "mesmerism" itself -- they were each required to make "a separate and distinct report".[5]

Each Commission took five months to complete its investigations. The "Franklin" Report was presented to the King on 11 August 1784 -- and was immediately published and very widely circulated throughout France and neighbouring countries -- and the "Society" Report was presented to the King five days later on 16 August 1784.

From their investigations both Commissions concluded that there was no evidence of any kind to support d'Eslon's claim for the substantial physical existence of either his supposed "animal magnetism" or his supposed "magnetic fluid"; and, in the process, they determined that all of the effects they had observed could be attributed to a physiological (rather than metaphysical) agency. Moreover, each Commission -- implicitly accepting that there was no collusion, pretence, or extensive subject training involved on the part of d'Eslon -- independently reported that, in their view, all of the experimentally observed phenomena could be directly attributed to "contact",[6][7] "imagination",[8] and/or "imitation".[9]

King Louis XVI in 1776.

Franz Mesmer

Franz Mesmer c.1800.

Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815), born in Swabia, having first studied law at Dillingen and Ingolstadt universities, transferred to the University of Vienna and began a study of medicine, graduating Medicinae Doctor (M.D.) -- his doctoral dissertation (Mesmer, 1766) had the official title "A Physico-Medical Dissertation on the Influence of the Planets" [10][11][12] -- at the age of 32, in 1766. Although he was made a member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 1775,[13] and despite his M.D. qualification, there is no record of Mesmer ever having been accepted as a member of any medical "learned society" anywhere in Europe at any time.

Mesmer left Austria in 1777, in controversial circumstances, following his treatment of the young Austrian Pianist Maria Theresia von Paradis for her blindness, and established himself, in Paris, in February 1778. He spent several years in Paris itself, interspersed with time spent in various parts of France, a complete absence from France (1792-1798), a return to France in 1798, and his final departure from France in 1802.

While in France it was his habit to travel to the town of Spa, in Belgium to "take the waters"; and he was enjoying an extended stay at Spa when the reports of the two Royal Commissions were released. Mesmer lived for another 31 years after the Royal Commissions. He died at the age of 80, in Meersburg, in the Grand Duchy of Baden, on 5 March 1815.

Positioner of a concept

Rather than being the "inventor" of "a technique", as some (mis)represent the circumstances, it is clear that Mesmer's significance was in his "positioning" of an overarching "concept" (or "construct") through his creation and development -- using analogies with gravity, terrestrial magnetism, and hydraulics (as they were understood at the time) -- of "an explanatory model to represent the way that healers had been healing people for thousands of years" (Yeates, 2018, p.48).[14][15]

According to Tatar (1990, p.49), rather than Mesmer's proposal being some sort of "occult theory", "he actually remained well within the bounds of eighteenth-century thought when he formulated his theories" and, moreover, "the theories [that Mesmer] invoked to explain [the agency of "animal magnetism"] fit squarely into the frame of eighteenth-century cosmology".[16]

In other words, as a product of its time,[17] Mesmer's enterprise was one of protoscience, rather than being one of pseudoscience or, even, one of fringe science.

A concept that must not be reified

Mesmer[18] was well aware of the human propensity -- in the normal, conventional use of language (la langue de convention) -- to speak of "properties" or "qualities" (i.e., these "metaphysical abstractions", illusions de la méthaphysique), as if they were "substances": in Mesmer's words, "substantivise the properties", substantisia les propriétiés (in other words, "reification", in the manner of Whitehead's ""fallacy of misplaced concreteness").

He was also well aware of the extent to which, through the "distortion" caused by these "substantive words" (mot substantif) -- which inapproriately "personified" (personnifia) these metaphysical abstractions -- one is induced to believe in the actual physical existence of the "substance" itself. Given these observations, Mesmer was most emphatic in his continuous warnings that his abstract "principles" should not be "substantivised".

It is significant that Mesmer (1799) describes how, once he had had formulated the abstract, overarching (metaphorical) construct/concept of "animal magnetism" as the therapeutic agent (a quarter of a century earlier) -- and with his hope that this newly-described "principle of action" (principe de action), when considered as an agent, "could become a means of healing and, even, one of preserving/defending oneself against disease" (p.7, Mesmer's emphasis)[19] -- the primary focus of his enterprise had become the threefold quest for the acquisition of an understanding of:

  • (a) how to rouse (and maintain) this agent, by every possible means -- and the knowledge of how, so-roused, it might be therapeutically harnessed in the most efficacious fashion (Mesmer, 1799, p.48);
  • (b) (given that the agent's therapeutic effects were observed to be gradual, rather than instantaneous) the "obstacles" that typically divert, disturb, or impede the agent's capacity to attain the optimal treatment outcomes -- and, once these "obstacles" had been identified, determine appropriate ways to "clear them away" ("de connoître et lever les obstacles qui peuvent troubler ou empêcher son action", p.48); and
  • (c) the natural pathway along which the agent's therapeutic effects are realized, so that, in its application, these outcomes can be systematically anticipated -- meaning that, with this knowledge, the (otherwise random) clinical applications can be controlled, regulated, and incrementally applied in a systematic way, until the target goal of a "cure" is attained (p.49).

Based on natural principles

Gassner, the exorcist, in action.

Mesmer held the materialist position -- that his therapies, which involved easily understood, systematic natural principles, were "physiological", rather than "psychological" interventions[20] -- in contrast to the supernatural positions of, say, the exorcist Johann Joseph Gassner (1727-1779),

By contrast with many "faith healers", [Gassner] had a quasi-scientific method of diagnosis, according to which he separated diseases that should be treated by a physician from those that he should treat. He first admonished the patient that faith in the name of Jesus was essential. He then obtained consent to use the method of "trial" exorcism. He entreated the Devil to defy Jesus by producing the patient's symptoms. If the convulsions or other symptoms appeared, Gassner believed they were the work of the Devil; he proceeded to exorcise the responsible demon. If symptoms failed to appear, he could not attribute them to a demon and sent the patient to a physician. – Ernest Hilgard, (1980).[21][22]

the mystic José Custódio de Faria, a.k.a. "Abbé Faria" (1756-1819), and the magnetists, such as d'Eslon, and, later, Charles Lafontaine (1803-1892),[23] whose demonstrations of "animal magnetism" were attended by James Braid in November 1841,

"Mesmer's approach to healing and his healing theory were physically oriented. His explanation of the phenomena of animal magnetism was consistently formulated in terms of matter and motion, and he believed that every aspect of animal magnetism could sooner or later be verified through physical experimentation and research." (Crabtree, 1993, p.51)
"When Mesmer took a patient, his first concern was to determine whether the ailment was organic or functional. If it was organic, the result of physical damage to the tissue, he considered it, following [his] Proposition 23,[24] beyond the aid of animal magnetism. If it was functional, a physiological disorder affected by the nerves, it fell within the class of diseases he felt uniquely qualified to handle with his therapeutic technique." (Buranelli, 1975, pp.107-108).

Early experiments with magnets

Maximillian Hell.

It is also significant that Mesmer, impressed by the therapeutic enterprises of the Jesuit astronomer, explorer, and healer Maximilian Hell (1720-1792) -- which involved the application of steel magnets specifically shaped either to fit particular body contours, or to match the actual dimensions of a specific organ (e.g., the liver)[25] -- and, recognizing the "prima facie plausiblity"[26] of Hell's approach, purchased a number of steel magnets from Hell in 1774 and began applying them to his patients; however, as Pattie reports (1994, p.2), Mesmer "had [entirely] abandoned the use of magnets" by 1776,[27] because his own clinical experimentation had proved them to be utterly useless.

By 1779, Mesmer (1779, pp.34-35) was expressing his concern that many -- including, for instance, the "Berlin Academy", in 1775 -- had and were continuing to "confuse" the "properties" of his (abstract/theoretical) "Magnétisime animal" with those of an actual physical magnet (l'aimant): objects of which, he stressed, he had only ever spoken of as possible "conductors" of "animal magnetism". And, he argued, from this "confusion" of his "animal magnetism" with "mineral magnetism", his use of magnets -- which, although "useful", were always "imperfect', unless they had been applied according to "la théorie du Magnétisime animal" -- was being consistently misrepresented and misunderstood.

The glass armonica and the "baquet"

Benjamin Franklin's glass Armonica (c.1776).
Three of Mesmer's subjects, with linked hands, at the "baquet".
The sole remaining example of Mesmer’s "baquet", on display at the Museum of the History of Medicine and Pharmacy at Lyon.[28]

Mesmer developed particular theatrical therapeutic rituals, often accompanied by the sounds of the Glass Armonica[29][30] -- an instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin himself[31][32] -- that were associated with a wide range of (figurative) magnetic connotations, such as the use of "magnetic wands", and the treatment tub known as "the baquet", which, in the view of Yeates (2018, p.48), were "obviously, designed to amplify each subject’s "response expectancy" (Kirsch, 1997, etc.) via impressive "metonymical acts" (Topley, 1976, p.254)".

The "baquet" (lit. 'a tub') was a device of Mesmer's design, that he had constructed by analogy with the newly invented "Leyden Bottle" -- i.e., "the first electric condenser [viz., capacitor] in history" (Morabito, 2019, p.90) -- which was "supposed by analogy to 'store' animal magnetism" (Forrest, 1999, p.20).

In its initial conception, Mesmer's "baquet" was "a vat containing bottles of magnetized water from which steel bars escaped through which the 'magnetization’ took place in the [subjects or patients], who were arranged around the tub holding their hands" (Morabito, loc.cit.). According to Mesmer's own description, in the (undated) "Catechism" that he had delivered exclusively to his followers,

"[The baquet] is a vat about six to seven feet, more or less, in diameter by eighteen inches in height. There is a double bottom in the interior of this vat, in which fragments of broken bottles, gravel, stones, and sticks of pounded sulfur and iron filings are placed. All of this is filled with water and covered up with a floor nailed into the vat. On the surface of the lid, six inches in from the rim, one makes various holes in order to allow the passage of iron rods which are arranged so that one end penetrates the bottom of the vat and the other is directed, by means of a curve, over the pit of the stomach of the patient or other affected parts of the body."[33]

Mesmer specifically stressed the primary importance of the patients' hand-holding as a factor in the "augmentation" of the force/quality of the power of the "animal magnetism".[34]

Moreover, and significantly, Mesmer (separately)[35] acknowledged that, if it was ever to come to pass that he had a suitable "establishment" -- i.e., one with sufficient space available for all the assembled patients to hold hands[36] -- he would "abolish the use of baquets" (je supprimerois les baquets) and, as well, also significantly remarking (loc. cit.) that, "In general, I only use these little devices [sc. "baquets"] when I am forced to do so" (En general, je n'use des petits moyes que lorsque j'y suis forcé).

Charles d'Eslon

Charles-Nicholas d’Eslon (1750-1786) (fr), "a disciple of the [eminent French] surgeon J.L. Petit",[37] a docteur-régent of the Paris Faculty of Medicine, and the one-time personal physician to the King's brother, Charles Philippe, Comte d’Artoir -- who, later (following the Bourbon Restoration in France) became King Charles X.

Association with Mesmer

d’Eslon was also a former patient, a former pupil, and a former associate of Mesmer;[38] and, while associated with Mesmer, d'Eslon published a work on Mesmer's version of animal magnetism, Observations sur le Magnétisme Animal (1780).[39] The work contains details of 18 cases (10 male, 8 female) treated by Mesmer.[40]

In stressing the efficacy of Mesmer's "animal magnetism" interventions, d'Eslon defended (at p.124) the absence of clear explanations (from Mesmer) of the mechanism through which "animal magnetism" effects its "cures" with an observation that, although the purgative actions of rhubarb and Shir-Khesht manna (a.k.a. purgative manna) are well known to the medical profession, the mechanisms involved are not; and, so, in these cases, "facts" and "experience" are "our only guides" -- and, in a similar fashion, asserts d'Eslon, "in relation to Animal Magnetism, it is the same, I don't know how it works, but I do know that it does work".

d'Eslon also directly addressed the charge that Mesmer had "discovered" nothing, and that the "extraordinary things" (des choses extraordinaires) that Mesmer had demonstrably effected were due to his "captivation of the imagination" (en séduisant l’imagination),[41] with the comment that,

"If [it were to be true that] Mesmer had no other secret than that he has been able to make the imagination exert an influence upon health, would he not still be a wonderful doctor? If treatment by the use of the imagination is the best treatment, why do we not make use of it?" (1780, pp.46-47).[42]

On 7 October 1780 -- still associated with Mesmer and still a member of the Paris Faculty of Medicine -- d'Eslon made an official request "that an investigation of the authenticity and efficacy of Mesmer's claims and cures be made. The Faculté rejected his plea, and in refusing accused [d'Eslon] personally of misdemeanour".[43]

On 15 May 1782, d'Eslon presented the Faculty with his arguments in the form of a 144-page pamphlet;[44] and then, "on 26 October 1782, [d'Eslon] was finally struck from the [Faculty's] roster and forbidden to attend any meeting for a period of two years".[45]


In late 1782, eighteen months before the Commission, d'Eslon had (acrimoniously) parted ways with Mesmer; and, despite a brief reconciliation, the relationship was terminated in late 1783. On 28 December 1783, d'Eslon wrote a letter to the Journal de Paris, which not only described the difficulties he had experienced with Mesmer, but also announced that he was opening his own (entirely independent) clinic.[46]

Following his break with Mesmer, d’Eslon not only launched his own clinical operation -- on his break with Mesmer d'Eslon had also taken all the patients he had earlier brought to Mesmer[47] -- but also began teaching his own theories and practices (i.e., rather than those of Mesmer).[48] According to d'Eslon's own account (1784b, pp.25-26), Mesmer had taught 300 students, 160 of whom were medical men (Médecins), and d'Eslon himself had taught 160 medical men (this group included 21 members of the Paris Faculty of Medicine).

Given that many of those who had privately paid Mesmer for details of "the secret" were greatly dissatisfied, and "[justifiably] accused [Mesmer] of having enunciated a theory which was merely a collection of obscure principles" (Binet & Féré, 1888, p.13), it seems that d'Eslon's version was little better: greatly confused by d'Eslon's version of "the secret", d'Eslon's student and associate, François Amédée Doppet, is said to have remarked that those to whom d'Eslon had revealed "the secret" doubted it even more than those to whom it had not.[49]

It was under these circumstances that a decision was made to investigate the work of d'Eslon -- although he was already ostracized from the Paris Faculty of Medicine -- when "d’Eslon, through influential friends, and tact, and other favourable circumstances, procured [the commissions'] establishment [specifically] to investigate animal magnetism as practised in his own clinic" (Gauld, 1992, p.7, emphasis added).[50]

Last days

d'Eslon's membership of the Faculty of Medicine was never reinstated; and unlike Mesmer, he remained in Paris following the publication of the reports of the two Commissions. Although apparently in good health in the preceding months, he died somewhat suddenly in Paris, on 21 August 1786, at the age of 47,[51] from a complex of disorders including pneumonia, a malignant fever ('une fièvre maligne'), and renal colic.[52]

"Mesmerism" vs. "Animal Magnetism"

In order to understand the significance of the two Commissions' concentration on their examination of d'Eslons' claims for the existence of "animal magnetism" -- that is, rather than conducting an examination of the clinical efficacy of Mesmer's actual therapeutic practices -- and, in order to clarify certain ambiguities, and correct particular errors that persist in the literature, a number of basic facts need to be addressed (see, for example, Yeates, 2018, pp.48-52).

Similarities and differences

The materialist "mesmerists" and the metaphysical "animal magnetists" each held that all animate beings (i.e., "living" beings: humans, animals, plants, etc.), in virtue of being alive, possessed an invisible, natural "magnetic" or "gravitational force" -- thus magnetismus animalis, "animal magnetism", or gravitas animalis, "animal gravity"[53] -- and the therapeutic interventions of each were directed at manipulating the ebb and flow of their subject's "energy field".

That constant flux and reflux of the vital principles and corporeal humours in man (without which both motion and life are stopped) produce those effects of sympathy and antipathy which become more natural and less miraculous; the atmospherical particle to each individual receives from the general fluid the proper attraction and repulsion. In the divers crossings of those individual atmospheres, some emanations are more attractive between two beings, and others more repulsive; so again, when one body possesses more fluid than another, it will repel; and that body which is less will make an effort to restore itself into equilibrium or sympathy with the other body. — Ebenezer Sibly (1820).[54]

Despite these fundamental similarities, there were many (even more fundamental) differences between the two.

The "mesmerists"

In order to foster and promote orthopraxia,[55] the materialist "mesmerists" used qualitative (rather than quantitative) constructs -- centred on Mesmer's abstract and metaphorical overarching analogies with gravity, terrestrial magnetism, and hydraulics -- to explain the application of their techniques and to describe their therapeutic rationale.

“When we call this principle magnetic fluid, vital fluid, we are using a figurative expression. We know that something emanates from the magnetizer: this something is not a solid, and we call it a fluid.” -- Deleuze (1814), p.233.

The "animal magnetists"

In contrast to the mesmerists, the metaphysical "magnetists" who (mistakenly) reified (i.e., "substantivised") the magnetic/fluidic metaphors of Mesmer, firmly believed that they were channeling a substantial "fluidium" and were manipulating a particular, substantial "force".[56]

What Thomas Brown(e), writing in the seventeenth century,[57] deemed a vulgar error was the belief in sympathy as a unifying force working outside the human state, in this instance between two magnetically charged needles that of themselves are clearly incapable of having feelings, sensibilities, and affections. This alternative use of sympathy experienced a resurgence in the early 1780s, particularly in the field of animal magnetism, a practice that drew on the study of magnetism and electricity and fused these with the language of magic and the occult, blurring the boundaries between superstition and rational experimental philosophy.[58]

The "higher" and "lower" phenomena of the magnetists

By the time of James Braid's (1841) Manchester encounter with the "magnetist" Charles Lafontaine, those who were still committed to the existence of a substantial 'magnetic fluid", etc., maintained that the phenomena produced by their acts of "magnetization" were of two general classes -- lower phenomena,[59] and higher phenomena[60] -- the distinction being "that, while there might be natural explanations for 'lower' phenomena, 'higher' phenomena could only be explained in terms of a paranormal or metaphysical agency" (Yeates, 2018, p.52).

Mesmer's "cures" were never investigated

In relation to the question of the agency/cause of Mesmer's apparently-confirmed "cures" -- and in the process of constructing the protocols for their investigations into d'Eslon's "animal magnetism" -- both Commissions were well aware that "an effect's objective reality does not substantiate [any of the] proffered explanations [for its existence]" (Yeates, 2018, p.61).[61]

Mesmer's earlier refusal to have his "magnetic" interventions scrutinized

Already, in his earlier (18 September 1780) interaction with the Paris Faculty of Medicine, Mesmer had refused to have his therapeutic interventions on a set of entirely "new" patients directly scrutinized, claiming that his already-achieved "cures" were an objective matter of record.[62] Mesmer justified his refusal as follows:

"Here is what I said to M. de Lassonne;[63] however bizarre [it may seem] at first sight it is nevertheless entirely serious and very much applicable to the question. When a thief is convicted of theft he is hanged: when a murderer is convicted of murder he is executed on the wheel. But to exact these terrible penalties the thief is not required to thieve again to prove that he is a thief, and the murderer is not required to murder a second time to prove that he is a murderer. One is content to establish by testimony and by material evidence that the theft or the murder was committed and then one hangs or executes on the wheel in good conscience.
Very well! It is the same with me. I ask, kindly, to be treated like a man to be executed on the wheel or hanged and that an effort should be made to establish that I have cured [patients] without asking me to perform new cures to prove that I am to be regarded as someone who cures."[64]

Reasons for not examining the outcomes of Mesmer's "magnetic" interventions

Notwithstanding Mesmer's earlier refusal to co-operate, and aside from the fact that the two Commissions were specifically charged with investigating d’Eslon’s claims for the existence of "animal magnetism", there were two additional, significant reasons for not investigating the veracity of the "cures" attributed to Mesmer.

  • (1) They had no persuasive evidence to suggest that the reports of Mesmer’s "cures" were false.
  • (2) The Commissioner's took the entirely reasonable and non-controversial step of accepting Mesmer's "cures" as a given.[65]

In support of this decision,[66] and noting that "observations over the centuries prove & Physicians themselves recognize, that Nature alone & without the help of medical treatment cures a great number of patients",[67] the Commissioners agreed with the previously-expressed observations of Mesmer -- namely, that, even when verified, the "cures", in themselves, could not provide evidence of (metaphorical) "animal magnetism" — and, in support of their decision, the Commissioners cited Mesmer's own statements: that “nothing conclusively proves that the Physician or Medicine heals the sick”, and because of that, it was (in Mesmer's own words), "a mistake to believe that this kind of proof is irrefutable".[68][69]

Further, as Kihlstrom (2002) observed, even though the "Franklin Commission" had accepted that "Mesmer's cures were genuine", and that "he was able to succeed where conventional approaches had failed",

"evidence of efficacy was not sufficient for academic approval. The scientific revolution had made physicians increasingly dissatisfied with purely empirical treatments, which were known to be effective but whose underlying mechanisms were unknown. In the emerging profession of scientific medicine, theories of treatment, like theories of disease, had to conform to what was known about anatomy and physiology. Then, as now, this scientific basis distinguished medicine from quackery and so was an important source of the physician's professional authority. While Mesmer wanted approval for his technique, the academy wanted verification of his theory." (p.414)

Common misrepresentation of fact

These facts expose the error in the commonly expressed (in modern literature) and extremely misleading misrepresentation of affairs; namely, the assertion that the Commissions had agreed that, in each case, Mesmer had "cured" his patients:

"Although it is entirely correct to assert that both sets of Commissioners accepted that Mesmer’s "cures" were, indeed, "cures", it is completely wrong to suggest that any of the Commissioners accepted that any of those "cured" individuals had been "cured" by Mesmer.[70]

The "magnetic crisis"

"One feature of Mesmer's methods … was the "mesmeric crisis". Some patients, especially those suffering from more serious symptoms, experienced nervous trembling, nausea, occasionally delirium or convulsions. Mesmer regarded these as an inevitable accompaniment of the process of normalization of the flow of animal magnetism, and had special padded "crisis rooms" [salle de crises] in which patients could throw themselves about without hurting themselves, while Mesmer or his assistants gave them individual attention. The depth of the crisis naturally varied from case to case, but Mesmer insisted that some degree of crisis, no matter how slight or transient, would always be found if it was looked for carefully enough." — (Anthony Campbell, 1988, p.36)

Noting that some of those who were "magnetized" over an extended time, by d'Eslon, "fell into the convulsive movements that have been called Crises" -- and noting that these "convulsive movements" {mouvemens convulsifs) were "viewed [by d'Eslon] as evidence of the perticular agent to whom they are attributed" -- the "Society" Commissioners' Report, in its discussion of the "Crises" (at Poissonnier, et al. (1784), pp.9-19), identified a number of common characteristics among the majority of those who displayed these "convulsive movements" (ibid., p.10):

(a) Only "the most sensitive subjects" -- i.e, who were "sensitive" either as a consequence of "their constitution" or of "their illness"[74][75] -- displayed these "convulsive movements".
(b) In the majority of cases, "convulsive movements" were only displayed after extended exposure to "magnetic procedures that involved direct physical contact" (procédés du Magnétisme animal, par contact immédiat) -- there were, also, they noted, rare examples of "convulsive movements" due to the operator's action at a distance, where no direct physical contact had been involved.
(c) Even the "weakest" of patients very rarely displayed "convulsive movements" if they were "magnetized separately".
(d) Compared with individual treatments, group treatments -- when given to the same subjects -- always produced a greater number of "convulsive movements", of greater magnitude, in a greater number of patients, with less treatment, and in a shorter time.
(e) Female patients were far more likely to display "convulsive movements" than male patients.
(f) Rich female patients (de femmes riches) were far more likely to display "convulsive movements" than poor female patients (de femmes indigentes).
(g) The majority of those who displayed "convulsive movements" only did so after an extended exposure to group treatment at the one treatment location.

In the last section of its Report, the "Franklin" Commission, in addition to its remarks on the impact of the phenomena associated with a "crisis", made a number of significant observations on the perceived dangers of experiencing, or simply observing, a "crisis" in a number of domains, including:

(a) the immediate and long-term physiological and psychological consequences of experiencing a "crisis" on the "animal economy" of an already seriously ill person,
(b) the immediate and long-term physiological and psychological consequences of experiencing a "crisis" on the "animal economy" of an otherwise completely healthy person,
(c) (given the considerable impact of the onlooker-consequences of issues such as behavioral contagion, Vicarious trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder. etc.), the immediate and long-term physiological and psychological consequences of observing another individual manifest a "crisis" on the "animal economy" of an individual observer (regardless of whether the observer in question was healthy or not), and, on, a larger scale,
(d) the detrimental effects of the "crises" on society as a whole.

The two Commissions

The Commissions were appointed in early 1784 by the Baron de Breteuil, Secretary of State for the King's Household and Minister of the Department of Paris at the command of King Louis XVI.[80]

"Franklin Commission"

Benjamin Franklin, 1778.
Antoine Laurent de Jussieu.

The first of the two Royal Commissions, usually referred to as the "Franklin Commission", was appointed on 12 March 1784.

It was composed of four physicians from the Paris Faculty of Medicine -- Jean d'Arcet (1724-1801), Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814),[81] Michel-Joseph Majault (1714-1790),[82] and Charles Louis Sallin -- and five scientists from the Royal Academy of Sciences -- Jean Sylvain Bailly (1736-1793), Gabriel de Bory (1720-1801) (fr), Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), Antoine Lavoisier (1743- 1794), and Jean-Baptiste Le Roy (1720-1800) who was, at the time, the Director of the Academy of Sciences.

It is important to note that, despite the contemporary and modern salience given to Benjamin Franklin -- who, as the most eminent of the Commission's eleven members, was recognized as its titular head[83] -- it is a matter of record that Franklin, now aged 78, and otherwise engaged in his duties as the U.S. Ambassador to France, had little involvement in any of the Commission's investigations, in particular due to the fact that his own ill-health prevented him from leaving his residence in Passy and participating in the Paris-centred investigations[84] -- although the Commission's Report does note that several experiments were, indeed, conducted at Franklin's Passy residence (in Franklin's presence).[85]

"Society Commission"

The second of the two Royal Commissions, usually referred to as the "Society Commission", was appointed on 5 April 1784.

It was composed of five eminent physicians from the Royal Society of Medicine[86] -- Charles-Louis-François Andry (1741-1829) (fr), Claude-Antoine Caille (1743-), Antoine Laurent de Jussieu (1748-1836), Pierre Jean Claude Mauduyt de La Varenne (1732-1792) (fr), and Pierre-Isaac Poissonnier (1720-1798) (fr) -- and, as Pattie remarks (1994, p.156), "the impression given by the report is that the commissioners were busy practitioners who wanted to devote no more time to the project than was necessary".

The investigations

Although the investigations of the "Society Commission" were less thorough and less detailed than those of the "Franklin Commission" they were essentially of the same nature, and it is a matter of fact that neither Commission examined Mesmer's practices; they only examined the practices of d'Eslon.[87]

"At length [the matter of Animal Magnetism] was thought to deserve the attention of government, and a committee, partly physicians, and partly members of the royal academy of Sciences, with doctor Benjamin Franklin at their head, were appointed to examine it. M. Mesmer refused to have any communication with these gentlemen; but M. Deslon, the most considerable of his pupils, consented to disclose to them his principles, and assist them in their enquiries." -- William Godwin (1785).[88]

The substantial existence of "animal magnetism" and "magnetic fluid" were investigated

Rather than being concerned with the applications, utility, and clinical efficacy of d'Eslon's "animal magnetism", the primary concern of each Commission was the significant, crucial, and exclusive question of whether or not d'Eslon's (supposed) "animal magnetic fluid" actually existed in some substantial physical way -- for the simple reason that, as the two sets of Commissioners each noted in their independent reports, "Animal magnetism may well exist without being useful but it cannot be useful if it does not exist."[89]

The efficacy of "magnetic" treatments and the agency of (supposed) "magnetic" cures were not investigated

The two Reports also (separately) explained, in some detail, why the nature of the "effects" of (supposedly efficacious) treatments were not being examined, and why the agency of the (supposed verified) "cures" were not being investigated.

In noting that there were two different ways that "the action of magnetism on animate bodies" ("l’action du Magnétisme sur les corps animés") could be observed:

(a) from the long-term curative effects of "magnetic" treatments on disease, or
(b) from the changes produced by its temporary effects on the individual's "animal economy" (l’économie animale),[90]

and, despite d'Eslon's insistence that its investigations principally (and, almost, exclusively) concentrate on the "prolonged" effects of his (d'Eslon's) treatments on disease, the "Franklin Commission" firmly stated that its investigations would exclusively concentrate on the "momentary" effects of d'Eslon's procedures on the "animal economy".

The Commissioners (Bailly, 1784, p.15) stressed that, because they had been specifically charged with determining whether (or not) d'Eslon's "magnetic fluid" actually existed in some substantial form, and because it was obvious that, in order to unequivocally settle the "uncertain" and "misleading" issue of whether there were real "cures" of "real" diseases from d'Eslon's therapeutic interventions, and whether any such "cures" were entirely the "effects" of d'Eslon's treatment, and nothing else -- and even if the Commissioners were able "to strip from these therapeutic effects all of the illusions which might be involved with them"[91] -- any such determination would require an "infinity of cures", supported by the "experience of several centuries". And, further, given the specified goal of the Commission, the significance of whatever its findings might be, and the obligation to produce its Report "promptly", the Commissioners considered that,

"it was [their] duty … to confine themselves to arguments purely physical, that is, to the momentaneous effects of the fluid upon the animal frame, excluding from these effects all the illusions which might mix with them, and assuring themselves that they could proceed from no other cause than the animal magnetism."[92]

In support of its decision, the "Franklin Commission" produced a cogent, extended argument, consistent with the medical knowledge of the day, that is equally relevant to similar investigations in the present day:

The majority of diseases have their seat in the interior part of our frame. The collective experience of a great number of centuries has made us acquainted with the symptoms, which indicate and discriminate them; the same experience has taught the method in which they are to be treated.
What is the object of the efforts of the physician in this method? It is not to oppose and to subdue nature, it is to assist her in her operations. Nature, says the father of the medical science [viz., Hippocrates] cures the diseased; but sometimes she encounters obstacles, which constrain her in her course, and uselessly consume her strength.
The physician is the minister of nature; an attentive observer, he studies the method in which she proceeds. If that method be firm, strong, regular and well directed, the physician looks on in silence, and [is careful of not] disturbing it by remedies which would at least be useless; if the method be [hindered], he facilitates it; if it be too slow or too rapid, he accelerates or retards it.
Sometimes, to accomplish his object, he confines himself to the regulation of the diet: sometimes he employs medicines.
The action of a medicine, introduced into the human body, is a new force, combined with the principal force by which our life is maintained: if the remedy follow the same route, which this force has already opened for the expulsion of diseases, it is useful, it is salutary [viz., conducive to health]; if it tend to open different routes, and to turn aside this interior action, it is pernicious.
In the mean time it must be confessed that this salutary or pernicious influence, real as it is, may frequently escape common observation.
The natural history of man presents us in this respect with very singular phenomena.
It may be there seen that regimens the most opposite, have not prevented the attainment of an advanced old age. We may there see men, attacked according to all appearance with the same disease, recovering in the pursuit of opposite regimens, and in the use of remedies totally different from each other; nature is in these instances sufficiently powerful to maintain the vital principle in spite of the improper regimen, and to triumph at once over [both] the distemper and the remedy.[93]
If it [viz., "the vital principle"] have this power of resisting the action of medicine, by a still stronger reason it must have the power of operating without medicine.
The experience of the efficacy of remedies is always therefore attended with some uncertainty; in the case of the magnetism the uncertainty has this addition, the uncertainty of its existence.
How then can we decide upon the action of an agent, whose existence is contested, from the treatment of diseases; when the effect of medicines is doubtful, whose existence is not at all problematical? -- Bailly (1784a, pp.11-13).[94]

In addition to reflecting the position of the "Franklin Commission" in these matters, the "Society Commission" also noted that there were other equally significant causative factors, concomitant with, but unassociated with, the treatment delivered, in relation to the circumstances of the patients themselves; namely,

"the hope [of being cured] that they conceived, the exercise that they took every day, [and especially, whilst under the "magnetic" treatment] the suspension of the remedies they were previously using -- the quantity of which is often so harmful in such cases -- these are, in themselves, multiple and sufficient causes for the results that have been said to have been observed in similar circumstances". -- Poissonnier, et al. (1784, p.36).


The "Franklin" Commission's investigations were conducted at a number of different locations, including d’Eslon’s clinic (which they visited once a week[95]), Lavoisier’s home, and the gardens of Franklin’s Passy residence. The intricate structure and detailed procedures of the investigations were designed by Lavoisier;[96][97] and great care was taken to eliminate what James Braid would later identify as "sources of fallacy".[98]

In the process of examining d'Eslon's claims, the "Franklin Commissioners" not only tested the influence of a wide range of situations, circumstances, variables, but also, from time-to-time, individually presented themselves as experimental subjects, because, they reported, "they were very curious to experience through their own senses the reported effects of this agent".[99]

When they visited d’Eslon’s establishment, the Commissioners discovered that, not only did d’Eslon’s standard therapeutics involve (his version of) Mesmer’s "baquet", but also a musical (and, from time to time, vocal) accompaniment as a standard part of his treatment:

"They saw in the centre of a large apartment a circular box, made of oak, and about a foot or a foot and an [sic] half deep, which is called the bucket [viz., the "baquet"];[100] the lid of this box is pierced with a number of holes, in which are inserted branches of iron, elbowed and moveable. The patients are arranged in ranks about this bucket, and each has his branch of iron, which by means of the elbow may be applied immediately to the part affected; a cord passed round their bodies connects them one with the other: sometimes a second means of communication is introduced, by the insertion of the thumb of each patient between the forefinger and thumb of the patient next him; the thumb thus inserted is pressed by the person holding it; the impression received by the left hand of the patient, communicates through his right, and thus passes through the whole circle.
A piano forté is placed in one corner of the apartment, and different airs are played with various degrees of rapidity; vocal music is sometimes added to the instrumental.
The persons who superintend the process, have each of them an iron rod in his hand, from ten to twelve inches in length." -- "Franklin" Report (pp.3-4.)[101]

And, moreover, given that the overarching metaphorical "principle" of Mesmer had been (inappropriately) reified ("substantified") by d'Eslon -- and, also, given that "the existence of [d'Eslon's] alleged magnetic fluid was only based on the effects on the patients: in other words, the existence of a [substantial] physical entity [was being] inferred not from instrumental measurements and/or quantitative considerations, but by the psychophysical reaction of a living body" (Bersani, 2011, p.61) -- it is significant that,

the commissioners in the progress of their examination discovered, by means of an electrometer and a needle of iron not touched with the loadstone, that the ["baquet"] contained no substance either electric or magnetical; and from the detail that M. Deflon has made to them respecting the interior construction of the bucket, they cannot infer any physical agent, capable of contributing to the imputed effects of the magnetism." -- "Franklin" Report (p.5.)[102]

The conduct and rationale of the Commission's investigations is described in considerable detail in its Report.[103]

In the process of their investigations they discovered that many non-"magentized" subjects -- wrongly believing themselves to have been "magnetised" -- displayed a wide range of "magnetic" phenomena; and, by contrast, supposedly "magentized" subjects, believing themselves to be non-"magnetised", displayed no "magnetic" phenomena at all. For instance, during the investigations conducted at Franklin's residence, d'Eslon "magnetized" one of five trees in Franklin's garden, and when a "sensitive" subject was brought to the trees, he fainted at the foot of one of the other four; and, on another occasion, during the investigations undertaken at Lavoisier's house, a normal cup of water swallowed by a subject (who believed the water to be "magnetized") immediately produced "magnetic" phenomena.

The Commission's procedures were, obviously, "[specifically designed] to give unequivocal answers to clearly defined hypotheses" (Donaldson (2017), p.166):

(1) "they tested subjects from all classes of society in both group and one-to-one treatment settings";[104]
(2) "(given claims that "animal magnetism" affected 'the infirm' differently from 'the healthy'), they tested d’Eslon’s procedures on genuine 'healthy', genuine 'infirm', and sham 'infirm' subjects";[104]
(3) "they observed and compared the responses of subjects when blindfolded and when not"[104] -- and, as Jensen, et al (2016, pp.13) observe, the Commissioner's use of blindfolding very strongly suggests that, rather than "[being] interested in proving [something that] they believed to be true", their investigations concentrated on "disproving, rather than proving, the efficacy of [d'Eslon's] treatments"; and
(4) "they observed the responses of all varieties of subject to genuine and sham 'magnetisation'; and, as well, their responses to genuine and sham 'magnetised' locations, objects, apparatus, and equipment".[104]

The Report(s) of the "Franklin Commission"

L'imagination fait tout, le Magnétism est nul ('Imagination is everything, magnetism nothing') -- "Franklin Commission" Report.[105]
"Rather than introducing a problem -- the Franklin report … provided a language for addressing one that already existed, forcefully articulating the suspicion that mechanical imagination could plague natural philosophers and religious "fanatics" alike."[106]

The "Franklin Commission's" investigations oroduced three separate reports.

d'Eslon vs. Mesmer

At the head of their principal report, the Commissioners directly summarize Mesmer’s 27 Propositions,[107] as they were expounded by Mesmer in his 1779 Memoire.[108] They also quote Mesmer’s own "characterization" of his principle[109] -- namely, that "In the influence of the magnetism, Nature holds out to us a sovereign instrument for securing the health and lengthening the existence of mankind".[110]

They clearly state (p.3) that, on the basis of a presentation given to the Commissioners, by d'Eslon (at his residence), on 9 May 1784 -- at which d'Eslon had not only described his version of the "theories" of "animal magnetism", but also described and demonstrated his therapeutic procedures -- the Commissioners were more than satisfied that d'Eslon's theories, principles, methods, and practices were consistent with those that Mesmer had made known through his publications; and, moreover, having acquired this thorough understanding of the "theory and practice of animal magnetism", the Commissioners then concentrated their efforts on determining the effects of its application -- and, in order to do so, they visited d'Eslon's establishment on several occasions.

In an extended footnote to the last paragraph of their principal report, the Commissioners justified their investigative approach, and the appropriateness of their conclusions, in some detail.[111]

The Commission's report

Official Report of the "Franklin Commission"
(11 August 1784).

The first (66 page) report was presented to the King on 11 August 1784.[114]

"Knowing that their report would be published and that the task of convincing the public lay wholly in their hands, the authors produced an account that was both scientifically sound and accessible, making for compelling reading. Chronology was unimportant; few dates were specified. The rationale for every decision and the details of every experiment, however, were explained in terms that anyone could understand.[115]
"For clearness of reasoning and strict impartiality [the "Franklin" Commissioners' report] has never been surpassed. After detailing the various experiments made, and their results, they came to the conclusion that the only proof advanced in support of Animal Magnetism was the effects it produced on the human body -- that those effects could be produced without passes or other magnetic manipulations -- that all these manipulations, and passes, and ceremonies never produce any effect at all if employed without the patient's knowledge; and that therefore imagination did, and animal magnetism did not, account for the phenomena." -- Charles Mackay (1841, emphasis added to original).[116]

The report was immediately published by the government printer; and at least 20,000 copies were rapidly and very widely circulated throughout France and neighbouring countries.[117] Within four months (16 December 1784), the London publishing house of Joseph Johnson was announcing the publication of a complete English version, translated by William Godwin (i.e., Godwin, 1785),[118][119] and, in between February and July 1785, four different "periodical abridgements of the Franklin report, each printed multiple times in the Atlantic coast publications" were published in the United States (Ogden, 2012, p.167); and, in 1837, Godwin's complete translation was published, in Philadelphia, as part of a collected work.[120]

The Commission reported that from their "experiments", and from the "observations" they made, they concluded that "the true causes of the effects attributed to this new agent known by the name of animal magnetism, [and] to this fluid which is said to circulate in the body and to communicate itself from one individual to another" were "touch, imagination, [and] imitation".[121][122]

Moreover, the Commission found no evidence of any kind to support d'Eslon's claim for the existence of a "magnetic fluid":

"The most reliable way to ascertain the existence of Animal-magnetism fluid ["l’existence du fluide magnétique animal'] would be to make its presence tangible; but it did not take long for the Commissioners to recognize that this fluid escapes detection by all the senses. Unlike electricity, it is neither luminescent nor visible. Its action does not manifest itself visibly as does the attraction of a magnet; it is without taste or smell; it spreads noiselessly & envelops or penetrates you without your sense of touch warning you of its presence. Therefore, if it exists in us & around us, it does so in an absolutely undetectable manner." -- Bailly (1784a), p.9.[123]

The Commission's secret report ("for the King's eyes only")

A second report, which was presented privately to the King on 11 August 1784, but not made public until 1800,[124] addressed the perceived moral dangers occasioned by the physical practices of the animal magnetists:

"The uniformly critical tone of this private document was in stark contrast to the scrupulously evenhanded voice of the official report; … [and its] message was blunt: the practice of animal magnetism was a threat not only to health … but also to morality, especially in the case of weak, virtuous women. … [It] provided an explicit description of a certain kind of prolonged "convulsion" that resulted not from the alleged healing power of animal magnetism but rather from the close physical contact and mutual arousal of male magnetizers and female patients who did not fully understand what was being done to them. Deslon himself had admitted, under interrogation by [the Chief of Paris Police] Lenoir [who was present at a number of the Commission's investigations], how easy it would be to abuse a woman in such a state. Many women had been in treatment for years without being cured. Most of them were not ill to begin with, but had been drawn to the clinic for the amusement it provided, attending regularly as a relief from boredom. Around the tub, the ease with which symptoms spread from person to person was striking. The commissioners reiterated the health risks of inducing full-blown crises, a dangerous practice that any responsible physician would shun. They [also] implied [in this secret report] the possibility that magnetic seances were a deliberate fraud."[125]

The Commission's brief "courtesy report" to the Royal Academy of Sciences

Brief Report to Royal Academy of Sciences
(4 September 1784).

On 4 September 1784, Bailly presented a third Report (Bailly, 1784b)[126] to the Royal Academy of Sciences on behalf of himself, Franklin, Le Roy, de Bory, and Lavoisier (the Commissioners who were also Academy members).

The (15 page) report provided their Academy colleagues with a brief account of the proceedings, the rationale behind its investigations, and the results, noting that all the Commission's investigations had been jointly conducted with the four members of the Paris Faculty -- and, given that all nine shared the same "interest in [discovering] the truth" -- it was significant that all the findings of their combined efforts were "unanimous" (p.2).

The Report(s) of the "Society Commission"

The "Society Commission's" investigations produced two separate reports.

The report of four of the five Commissioners

The first of the two reports, made by four of the five Commissioners (of 39 pages) -- namely, Charles-Louis-François Andry, Claude-Antoine Caille, Pierre Jean Claude Mauduyt de La Varenne, and Pierre-Isaac Poissonnier -- was presented to the King on 16 August 1784.[127]

Given that the "Society" Commissioners' investigations were far less complex than those conducted by the "Franklin Commission"[128] -- and, also, given that the (smaller number of) experiments that they described "duplicate[d] similar ones in the ["Franklin Commission's"] Report" (Pattie, ibid., p.156) -- the report itself is briefer (39 pages), far less complex, and, therefore, far less influential. The Report was divided into two sections:

  • Part One (pp.2-21), discussing the theories of the practices known as "Animal Magnetism". It commences with d'Eslon's definition of "animal magnetism"; namely that it is "the action which one man exercises on another, either through immediate contact o at a certain distance by the mere pointing of a finger or any kind of conduct", and that "this action", according to d'Eslon, "is the effect of a fluid that is distributed throughout the universe"[129]
  • Part Two (pp.22-37), discussing the procedures and practices of "Animal Magnetism", as well as addressing the issues of their therapeutic efficacy (or not), and those of whether (or not) the procedures/practices should be admitted to conventional medical practice ("doivent-ils être admis en Médecine!": p.22).

The conclusions drawn (pp.37-39) were, in brief, that they had found no evidence of d'Eslon's "magnetic fluid", that there were "no grounds for any belief in animal magnetism", that "the effects attributed to it are due to known causes", including not only the influence of "contact", "imagination", and/or "imitation", but also the influence of "the environment of the treatment room with its closed windows, fetid air, dim light, and the sight of other patients [and their responses to their treatments]"[130] -- and, as Laurence notes, that "the [observed] results … were not due to animal magnetism but to the patients‘ rest, exercise, abstinence from medication, and hopes for a cure!" (2002, p,316) -- and that, from this, there was no reason for "the procedures to which the name "animal magnetism" has been given [to be] introduced into the practice of medicine" (Pattie, 1994, p.157).

Although the "Society" Commission did not directly investigate the clinical efficacy of d'Eslon's therapeutic interventions, and did not examine the circumstances of any earlier (i.e., pre-Commission) "cures" claimed by d"Eslon, two members of the Royal Academy of Medicine, Charles Burdin (1778-1856) and Frédéric Dubois (1797-1873), writing in 1841,[131] drew attention to the fact that, in the process of their (1784) investigations, the "Society" Commissioners identified three categories of patient treated by d'Eslon[132] -- (a) those with an "obvious ailment" with "a known cause", (b) those with "mild" and "vague" ailments with no known cause, and, finally, (c) the melancholics ("Les mélancoliques") -- and, significantly, having followed the collective progress of d'Eslon's patients over a period of four months, the Comissioners found no evidence of any kind that any members of the '(a) group' (many of whom had been receiving d'Eslon's treatment "for more than a year") had been "cured" (guéris), or, even, "noticeably relieved" (notablement soulagés) of their ailment.[133]

de Jussieu's "dissenting" report

The second of the two reports, made by de Jussieu alone (of 51 pages) was independently published on 17 September 1784.[134]

In de Jussieu's dissenting view, "[and] despite d’Eslon’s "magnetic fluid" claims having been debunked [he felt that] there were sufficient “effects” (such as, for instance, ‘post-magnetic amnesia’) unattributable to "imagination" that still required further investigation into their exact nature; and, therefore, he argued, the continued use of animal magnetism was justified" (Yeates, 2018, p.50).

Noting that, in his view, "a longer use of this agent will make its real action and degree of usefulness to be better understood", de Jussieu concluded:

The theory of magnetism cannot be admitted so long as it will not be developed and supported by solid facts. The experiments instituted to ascertain the existence of the magnetic fluid prove only that man produces on his like a sensible action by friction, by contact, and more rarely by simple approximation at some distance. This action, attributed to a universal fluid not demonstrated, certainly appertains to animal heat [la chaleur animale] existing in bodies, which constantly emanates from them, is carried to a considerable distance, and is capable of passing from one body into another. Animal heat is developed, increased, or diminished in a body by moral as well as by physical causes. Judged by its effects, it participates in the property of tonic remedies, and like them produces salutary or injurious effects according to the quantity communicated, and according to the circumstances in which it is employed. -- de Jussieu, 1784, pp.50-51.[135]

Responses to the Commissions' conclusions

The release of the reports generated a proliferation of publications, many of which were simply addressing issues relating to either "mesmerism" or "animal magnetism" in general -- such as, for instance, those of Jean-Jacques Paulet (1784), and Michel-Augustin Thouret (fr) (1784) -- while others, such as those of Charles Joseph Devillers, himself a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences -- who (at Devillers, 1784, pp.165-166) compared the "cures" of Mesmer, with those supposed to have been effected at the tomb of François de Pâris in Saint-Médard, some forty years earlier -- and Jacques Cambry (1784) -- who provided details of beliefs similar to those of Mesmer previously held by the ancient Greeks, Persians, and Romans -- strongly supported the findings of the Commissions.

Response of the Paris Faculty of Medicine

Immediately following the release of the reports of the two Commissions, the Paris Faculty of Medicine "pressure[d] its own members to renounce animal magnetism" (Crabtree, 1993, p.32).

The Faculty identified some thirty of its docteurs-régent[136] -- including François Louis Thomas d'Onglée and Charles-Louis Varnier -- who "openly favored animal magnetism or were suspected of so doing".[137][138] According to the contemporary account of Thomas d'Onglée (1785, passim), the thirty "magnetic physicians" were subjected to "abuse"[139] and were presented with a declaration, of which it was demanded that they sign.[140] Both Thomas d'Onglée and Varnier, among others, refused to sign the declaration (and were, thereby, immediately expelled). The declaration in question read:

"No Doctor may declare himself a partisan of animal magnetism, through writings or through practice, under penalty of being removed from the role of docteurs-régents".[141]

d'Eslon's response

Caullet de Veaumorel's Aphorismes of M. Mesmer.

[142] In addition to his specific responses to the reports of the two Royal Commissions -- and to emphasize the significance of the Royal Commissions' refusal to investigate either the alleged efficacy of his treatment procedures (i.e., investigate d'Eslon's actual practices, rather than just the veracity (or not) of his theoretical claims, and that alone), and the alleged curative effects of his standard, extended regimens of "magnetic" treatment -- d'Eslon published an 80-page supplementary volume (i.e., d'Eslon, 1784c),[143] that provided the case histories of 115 individuals[144] (the majority of whom were identified by name),[145] that had been successfully treated by d'Eslon's procedures for a very wide range of diseases.

On 10 December 1784, and in support of d'Eslon, one of his associates (and a former student), Louis Caullet de Veaumorel (1743-?), published a set of Mesmer's class notes[146] that he (Caullet de Veaumorel) had acquired from one of Mesmer's "disloyal" students,[147][148]

Caullet de Veaumorel's work, which made no mention of d'Eslon's theories, teachings, or clinical procedures, went into three editions.[149] Caullet de Veaumorel stressed that although, as a "disciple of d'Eslon", he was bound by his "word of honour" not to reveal any of d'Eslon's teachings,[150] he was entirely free to publish Mesmer's material -- and, in doing so, he had not altered one word of Mesmer's "maxims"[151] -- and, moreover, he was certain that, given Mesmer's dissemination of his ideas through his already published works, Mesmer would not be "offended" by the publication of his aphorisms.[152]

Although Mesmer protested to the Journal de Paris that Caullet de Veaumore's Aphorismes "were a distorted account of his lectures", according to Pattie (1994, p.213), "they [were] accurate" and, moreover, "they agree[d] with later writings of Mesmer".[153]

Mesmer's response

In his own responses to the Commissions' Reports,[154] Mesmer stressed that -- because he had not been involved in any of their investigations -- their conclusions had nothing whatsoever to do with his (metaphorical) "animal magnetism"; and, as the conclusions only applied to d'Eslon's theories and practices, any responses to them were entirely the concern of d"Eslon alone.

Further, and immediately following the publication of the Reports of the two Commissions, both Nicolas Bergasse (Bergasse, 1784) and Antoine Esmonin, Marquis de Dampierre (1784) wrote strong criticisms of the Commissions' orientation, investigations, and findings; and, separately, a number of Mesmer's followers published a composite volume (i.e., Mesmer, et al., 1784) of 478 pages, which included a number of previously published items written by Mesmer, as well as a number of shorter, and up-to-date contributions, from a range of various authors describing their continued success with animal magnetism.[155]

Observations of the frequency of "crises"

One interesting aspect of the pro-d'Eslon and pro-Mesmer responses, collectively, was that they provided figures on the level to which the author in question had observed individual patients manifest full-blown "magnetic crises" as a consequence of their exposure to an extended sequence of standard "magnetic" treatments.

  • In his response to the Reports (1784b, pp.21-22), d'Eslon complained that the Commissioners' emphasis on "convulsions" was not justified: among those who received group treatment (i.e, involving "50 to 60 individuals"), he wrote, there were never more than six or seven who displayed "convulsions" to any degree -- and, further, of the more than 500 hundred patients he had treated over the preceding three years, only 20 of them manifested "convulsions" (and almost all of those had been suffering from "convulsions" before presenting for any treatment from d'Eslon). He also rejected the suggestions of any connection between the "convulsions" of epilepsy and those of the "crises", citing the cases of two of his patients, who were epileptic and "frequently had seizures at home", who never had a single "attack" during their treatment at his clinic (p.23).
  • Joseph Michel Antoine Servan, the one time Advocate-General to the Parlement of Grenoble, who reported (at Servan, 1784, p.3) that, in "the Provinces" -- where the various social classes were not kept apart around "the baquet", as they were in Paris -- that, in relation to the concerns that the Commissioners expressed in relation to the "seizures" they had observed (and identified as one of the principal "dangers of magnetism"), he (Servan) had only observed "barely a few convulsions" ("not at all annoying in themselves") in only five or six individuals out of the fifty whose sequential treatments (and responses) he had observed in person.
  • Jean-Baptiste Bonnefoy (1756-1789), a member of the Royal College of Surgeons at Lyon, and an associate of Mesmer, rejected the notion that Animal Magnetism was "the art of arousing convulsions" (l'art d'exciter des convulsions) (Bonnefoy, 1784, pp.87-88); and, although he chose not to comment on d'Eslon's treatments, he stated that, from his own direct observation of Mesmer's treatment of more than 200 patients, he had only seen eight of them display "crises" -- and, further, that only six of the more than 120 patients treated in his own clinic displayed a "crisis".[156]


Four vestiges of the magnetization-by-contact practice


In 1843, Robert Hanham Collyer (1814-1891), an American physician and former pupil of John Elliotson, announced that he had discovered the existence of phreno-magnetism in November 1839;[158] and, prior to Collyer's later retraction, two others claimed to have independently confirmed the veracity of Collyer's "discovery': the architect, Henry George Atkinson (1812-1890), at London, in November 1841, and the chemist, Charles Blandford Mansfield (1819-1855), at Cambridge, in December 1841.[159]

Phreno-magnetism, as a practice, involved the physical activation (termed "excitation") of specific "phrenological organs", via the operator’s 'magnetisation', directly through the particular cranial area supposedly corresponding to that specific phrenological "organ".[160] It was claimed that, in a suitable subject, whenever an operator "excited" a particular phrenological "organ" the subject would manifest whatever sentiments were considered appropriate to that "organ".[161]

Four years later, by mid-1843, further experiments conducted by Collyer had conclusively proved to his own satisfaction that he was mistaken, and he concluded that that there was no such thing as phreno-magnetism at all.[162]

Unaware, at the time, of Collyer’s retraction, James Braid made a careful examination of “phreno-hypnotism” in December 1842;[163] and continued his comprehensive experimentation until August 1844[164] -- when he concluded, along with John Campbell Colquhoun (1843), that there was no foundation for phrenology, in general, and for phreno-magnetism, in particular.[165]

As a consequence of the debunking by Colquhoun, Braid, and others, phreno-magnetism -- which, in yet another case of "prima facie plausiblity", had (initially) seemed to promise such a wide range of valuable therapeutic and moral applications[166] -- "soon morphed into theatrical performances demonstrating the ‘reality’ of phrenology to credulous audiences, with lecturers pressing specific locations on the cranium of their [magnetised] subjects, and their subjects immediately displaying responses appropriate to the characteristics of each phrenological zone" (Yeates, 2018, p.56) [see, for example, figure at right].

Pitres' diagram of the 'hypnogenetic zones' (subject's left side) and 'hypno-arresting zones' (subject's right side).[167]

The "zones" of Albert Pitres

Around 1885, the neurologist Albert Pitres -- the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Bordeaux, and an associate of Jean-Martin Charcot (the founder of the "Hysteria School" of hypnosis) at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris -- claimed that he had discovered a system of "zones" on the surface of the body, the stimulation of which induced (or terminated) the hypnotic state; namely:[168]

  • zones hypnogènes, or "hypnogenetic zones" which, he said, when stimulated, threw[169] people into the hypnotic state,[170] and
  • zones hypno-frénatrices,[171] or "hypno-arresting zones", which, he said, when stimulated, abruptly threw people out of that same hypnotic state.[172]

Pitres further claimed that, despite the location of the specific "zones" differing from individual to individual,[173] the location of the relevant "zones" remained constant for each individual: viz., they had a "position habituelle" (Pitres (1891), p.497).

There is no evidence that there was ever any independent verification of Pitres' claims.

The psychoanalytic couch of Sigmund Freud

Freud's Couch, with his own chair in its standard position at its head.

The noted neurologist and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud not only studied and wrote about "hypnosis" (e.g., Freud, 1891, and 1966), but he also actively used "hypnosis" in his clinical practice for some time.

However the (à la Salpêtrière) "hypnosis" that Freud employed -- quite unlike the conventional "hypnotism" of James Braid – relied upon an induction process that often involved rubbing the top of a patient’s head.[174] This requirement, of course, demanded that Freud sit at the end of the therapeutic couch -- in order to gain easy access to his subject’s head -- a practice that Freud continued to follow for his entire (post-hypnotism) professional career.

Another vestige of phreno-magnetism that demanded that Freud position himself at the patient's head was Freud’s application of the "head pressure" technique that he had, in person, observed Hippolyte Bernheim use,[175] on one of his visits to Bernheim's clinic, at Nancy, in 1899.[176]

Freud had discontinued this "head pressure" practice by, at least, 1904 -- and, possibly, by 1900.[177]

Mistaken identification of Esdaile’s Jhar-Phoonk with d’Eslon’s magnetization-by-contact

The entirely mistaken, generally held, and widely published view that (the otherwise highly significant) James Esdaile used "mesmerism" to produce the pain-free condition under which he conducted completely pain-free surgery is continuously repeated in the modern accounts of the history of mesmerism, anaesthesia, and hypnotism.

It is clear, however, that, having noticed a vague, superficial similarity between Esdaile’s (Islamic/exorcism derived) Jhar-Phoonk procedures and the (secular/healing derived) "magnetization-by-contact" procedures of d’Eslon, the advocates of "mesmerism à la d'Eslon", to use a biological analogy, had mistakenly identified, in "mesmerism à la d'Eslon" what is a clear case of "homoplasy" (i.e., similar entities that have descended from an entirely separate lineage) as a case of "homology" (i.e., similar entities that have descended from a common ancestor).[178]

The "Franklin" Commissions' investigations considered to be a "classic" example of a controlled trial

"Before the ["Franklin" Commission's] investigations began, [Lavoisier] had studied the writings of d'Eslon and [had] drawn up a plan for the conduct of the inquiry. He decided that the commissioners should not study any of the alleged cures, but [that] they should determine whether animal magnetism existed by trying to magnetize a person without his knowledge or making him think that he had been magnetized when in fact he had not. This plan was adopted by the commissioners, and the results came out as Lavoisier had predicted." -- Frank A. Psttie (1994).[179]
"[T]his is the first scientific investigation that we know of into what would today be considered a paranormal or pseudoscientific claim. … [And it is clear that] the control of intervening variables and the testing of specific claims, without resort to unnecessary hypothesizing about what is behind the "power", is the lesson modern skeptics should take from this historical masterpiece." -- Michael Shermer (1996, emphasis added to original).[180]

The detailed studies of Stephen Jay Gould (1989) and John Kihlstrom (2002), drew disciplinary attention to nature and the form of the Commission's extended examination as a watershed moment in history, subsequent to which things were never the same. If it was not the first, it was, at least, one of the very earliest examples of a controlled trial; and, in particular, one that included the use of physical, rather than metaphorical, blindfolds -- that were used from time to time on both the experimenters and their experimental subjects -- as well as both "sham" and "real" procedures on both "sham" and "real" patients.[181]

Inspired by these studies, a number of other scholars, in other scientific domains -- such as, for example, Shermer (1996), Kaptchuk (1998), Green (2002), Best, Neuhauser, and Slavin (2003), Herr (2005), Lanska & Lanska (2007), Davies Wilson (2014), Jensen, Janik & Waclawik (2016), Zabell (2016), Donaldson (2017), and Rosen et al. (2019) -- have also identified the Commission's examination as a previously unrecognized "classic" example of a controlled trial.

"If the effects of magnetism … can be as well explained by the effects of an excited or exalted imagination, all the efforts of the Commissioners must be directed to distinguishing in "magnetism" … [per medium of] a single conclusive experiment [viz., une seule expérience concluante] … those things that are related to physical causes [viz., causes physiques] from those that are related to [psychological] causes [viz., causes morales], [that is,] the effects of a real agent [viz, les effets d'un agent réel] from those due to the imagination. …
By magnetising people without their knowledge and by persuading them that they are being magnetised when they are not … one will obtain separately the effects of magnetism and those of the imagination and, from this, one will be able to conclude what should be attributed to the one and what to the other." -- (Lavoisier's 1784 "Remarks")[182][183]

The "Franklin" Commissions' legacy

Modern facsimiles of a standard pair of Perkins' Patent Tractors (one made of steel, the other brass)

The "classic" structure of the investigations undertaken by the "Franklin" Commission inspired, amongst many others over the ensuing years, the (1799) investigations of Chester physician John Haygarth into the efficacy of Perkins' "tractors".[184][185][186]

In the process of discussing the experiments he had conducted (with medical colleagues as witnesses) with (dummy) "wooden tractors" on 7 January 1799, and with Perkins' "true metallick tractors" on 8 January 1799, Haygarth emphasized his considerable debt to the (earlier) "Franklin Commission" enterprise:

"It need not be remarked, how completely the trial illustrates the nature of this popular illusion, which has so wonderfully prevailed, and spread so rapidly; it resembles, in a striking manner, that of Animal Magnetism, which merited the attention of Dr. Franklin, when ambassador from America, and of other philosophers at Paris. If any person would repeat these experiments, they should be performed with due solemnity. During the process, the wonderful cures which this remedy is said to have performed ought to be particularly related. Without these indispensable aids, other trials will not prove as successful as those which are above reported. The whole effect undoubtedly depends upon the impression which can be made upon the patient’s Imagination.
This method of discovering the truth, distinctly proves to what a surprising degree mere fancy deceives the patient himself; and if the experiment had been tried with the metallick Tractors only, they might and most probably would have deceived even medical observers. Yet this test of truth was perfectly candid. A fair opportunity was offered to discover whether the metallick Tractors possessed any efficacy superior to the ligneous Tractors, or wooden pegs." -- John Haygarth (1801).[187]

See also


  1. According to Devereaux, et al. (2002, p.4):
    "Blinding (or masking) in [randomised controlled trials] is the process of withholding information about treatment allocation from those who could potentially be influenced by this information. Blinding has long been considered an important safeguard against bias. Benjamin Franklin, in 1784, was probably the first to use blinding in scientific experimentation. Louis XVI commissioned Franklin to evaluate mesmerism, the most popular unconventional "healing fluid" of the eighteenth century. By applying [an actual] blindfold to participants, Franklin removed their knowledge of when mesmerism was and was not being applied. Blinding eliminated the intervention's effects and established mesmerism as a sham. From this work, the scientific community recognised the power of blinding to enhance objectivity and it quickly became, and remains, a commonly used strategy in scientific research."
  2. Jensen, et al. (2016), pp.2-5.
  3. Zabell (2016), p.32.
  4. Gould (1989), pp.16.
  5. Duveen & Klickstein (1955), p.287.
  6. Note that the contemporary English translation (Godwin, 1785, passim), consistently rendered the "Franklin Commission's" technical term "attouchement" as "compression" -- which, given that the (contemporary) translator(s), most likely, had some direct understanding of d'Eslon's techniques, strongly suggests that d'Eslon's degree of "contact" was of a far greater intensity than just a superficial stroking.
  7. In his summary of the "Society Commission's" report (i.e., Poissonnier, et al., 1784), Pattie (1994, pp.156-158) notes that the report's references to the issue of d'Eslon's "contact", and its mention of "a lengthy application of the hands, the heat produced by this application, and the irritation excited by friction" (i.e., "sont une longue application des mains, la chaleur produite par cette application, l’irritation excitée par le frottement", Poissonnier, et al. p.15) seems to indicate that "d'Eslon used actual contact and pressure of the hands more than Mesmer did" (Pattie, 1994, p.156).
  8. That is, the "response expectancy" of Kirsch (1997), and certain aspects of the "role enactment theory of "hypnotism"" postulated by Theodore Sarbin and William Coe in the mid-1960s (i.e., Coe & Sarbin, 1966).
  9. That is, the "imitation" that is universally observed in the circumstances of "behavioral contagion" such as, for example, "the "contagious" yawning reflex of individuals exposed to the yawning of others".
  10. That is, Dissertatio Physico-Medica de Planetarum Influxu. Note, however, that elsewere (such as Mesmer, 1779, p.6) Mesmer identifies the same dissertation as "de l'infuence des planètes sur le corps humain" ('The Influence of the Planets on the Human Body') -- i.e., using the title appended to his original manuscript, De Planetarum Influxu in Corpus Humanum (see: [1]).
  11. It is important to note that, despite the dissertation providing a series of "brief case histories" wherein "the symptoms waxed and waned with the gravitational influences of the sun and the moon, which produced tides in the ocean and atmosphere and also … in the human body", "the dissertation had nothing to do with astrology, [a practice] which Mesmer repudiated" (Pattie, 1994, p.1); and, as Gauld (1992) remarks, rather than it being a treatise on astrology, "it is, however, essentially an essay in popular Newtonin physics" (p.1).
  12. The dissertation's title page identifies Mesmer as "Antonii Mesmer, Marisbergensis Acron. Suev., A.A.L.L. & Phil. Doct." ('a Swabian from Meersburg on the Lake of Constance, Doctor of Liberal Arts and Philosophy'). Having been unable to find any other reference in any of Mesmer's extensive works (or anywhere else) to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Pattie (1994) concluded that 'it is reasonable to suspect that this degree was self-conferred" (p.15).
  13. Gauld (1992), p.3.
  14. According to Michel-Augustin Thouret (1749-1810) (fr) -- "an energetic and leading member of the Royal Society of Medicine, and a vigourous opponent of animal magnetism" (Gauld, 1992, p.19) -- Mesmer's "principles" did not "belong" to him; and, rather than his theories representing some "piquant novelty" (nouveauté piquante), they belonged, in fact, to "an ancient system that has been abandoned for more than a century" (un ancien systême abandonné depuis près d’un siecle) (Thouret, 1784, p.xxv).
  15. Similarly useful qualitative metaphorical/abstract overarching constructs of later creation are those such as: Georg Ernst Stahl's "vis conservatrix naturæ", 'the sustaining force of nature', and "vis medicatrix naturæ", 'the healing force of nature'; Arthur Schopenhauer's "Wille zum Leben", 'the will to live'; Friedrich Nietzsche's "Wille zur Gesundheit", 'the will to health'; Henri Bergson's "Élan vital", 'the vital impetus', etc.
  16. "To consider animal magnetism independently of the tradition out of which it emerged is to magnify its distinctively occult characteristics and to diminish in importance those features that mirror the scientific and philosophical temper of the age in which it flourished." (Tatar, 1990, p.49)
  17. "For Mesmer … animal magnetism was a logically sound system fitting well within, and contradicting none of, the empirical natural philosophical discourses that prevailed at this time" (Davies Wilson, 2014, p.1).
  18. Mesmer (1799), pp.15-17; translation at Bloch (1980), pp.96-97.
  19. He also refers to it (1799, p.12) as "a "new method for preserving and re-establishing health" (un moyen nouveau de conserver et de rétablir la santé).
  20. "Mesmer rejected the idea that psychological factors were involved, since he could treat infants and comatose patients with apparent success, and he scornfully rejected the notion that he was 'healing through the mind', calling it 'a miserable objection'." (Pattie, 1994, p.2).
  21. Hilgard (1980), p.xvi.
  22. Gassner's (supposedly) supernatural therapeutic interventions had been debunked by Mesmer, himself, in 1775, when he visited Gassner, and observed him in action, at the behest of Maximilian III Joseph, Elector of Bavaria (see "Mesmer and Gassner" at Crabtree, 1993, pp.8-10). And it is to this activity of Mesmer's that Gauld (1992, p.3) attributes the decision to admit Mesmer to the Bavarian Academy of Sciences.
  23. Lafontain remained a committed "magnetist", publishing the journal Le Magnétiseur: Journal du Magnétisme Animal in Geneva, continuously, from 1859 to 1872.
  24. Namely: "We can see from the fact is this principle, in accordance with the practical rules I shall set forth, can cure nervous aliments directly and other ailments indirectly" -- Buranelli's (1975, p.102) translation of "On reconnoîtra par les faits, d'après les règles pratiques que j'établirai, que ce principe peut guérir immédiatement les maladies des nerfs, & médiatement les autres" (Mesmer, 1779, p.81).
  25. See "Encounter with Maximillian Hell" at Pattie (1994), pp.33-41.
  26. In other words, the initial, apparent, "from a first impression" plausibility -- in contrast to so-called "pro tanto ("to that extent") plausibity", a state of affairs in which later empirical experience shows that the "plausibilty" involved is far deeper than simply superficial. For more on "prima facie plausiblity" see "2.3 Plausibility" in Bartha (2019).
  27. See Mesmer (1779), p.35.
  28. Turner, Christopher (2006), "Mesmeromania, or, The Tale of the Tub: The Therapeutic Powers of Animal Magnetism", Cabinet, No.21, (Spring 2006).
  29. See, for instance, Gallo & Finger (2000), Hadlock (2000), Finger & Gallo (2004), and Kennaway (2010, 2012).
  30. "Mesmer regarded animal magnetism as a matter of "sympathetic vibration" just as much as music, and argued that it could be communicated, propagated and reinforced by sounds" (Kennaway, 2012, p.273) -- Mesmer's assertion is in his Proposition 19 (at Mesmer, 1779, p.79).
  31. See, for instance, Hyatt King (1945), and Meyer & Allen (1988).
  32. Franklin was most emphatic that his device was an Armonica (and not, as many modern writers suppose, a Harmonica), having named it "in honour of ["armonia",] the Italian word for "Harmony"." (Meyer & Allen, 1988, p.185.
  33. Paulet, 1784, pp.117-118: English translation taken from Bloch, 1980, p.83.
  34. For instance, see his Catechism, at Paulet, p.117.
  35. Namely, at Mesmer, 1781, p.189.
  36. This statement by Mesmer is directly supported by the observation of Binet and Féré (1888, p.9) that "the patients were ranged in several rows round the baquet, connected with each other by cords passed round their bodies, and by a second chain, formed by joining hands" (emphasis added to original).
  37. Crabtree (1993), p.16.
  38. Crabtree (1993, p.16) notes that, having seen Mesmer at work, d'Eslon was convinced … of the reality of animal magnetism" and that d'Eslon, "constantly in search of ways to benefit his patients, … placed himself under Mesmer's tutorship".
    Crabtree (loc. cit.) also notes that, as "a disciple of the surgeon J.L. Petit and a highly respected member of the powerful [Paris] Faculty of Medicine, d'Eslon gave a prima facie legitimacy to the practice of animal magnetism"; and, further, that "[d'Eslon's] high standing with the faculty held out the hope that that august body might be persuaded to put its stamp of approval on Mesmer's discovery".
  39. Pattie (1994) remarks that, as a consequence of this relationship, Mesmer had "permitted [d'Eslon] to observe his work for four years".
  40. d'Eslon (1780), pp.40-89; see Pattie (1994), pp.115-116 for brief summary of the disorders which d'Eslon reported that Mesmer had treated.
  41. For an historical account of changes in the understanding of "the imagination" over the centuries, see Fischer-Homberger (1979).
  42. Translation taken from Goldsmith (1934), p.155.
  43. Duveen & Klickstein (1955), p.285: it would seem that application of the term misdemeanour (viz. wrong behaviour) in this case -- as distinct from misfeasance or malpractice -- is intended to denote something similar to the military notion of "conduct unbecoming".
  44. That is, d'Eslon (1782)
  45. Duveen & Klickstein (1955), p.286.
  46. See D'Eslon (1784a).
  47. Pattie (1994, p.131) estimated that there were something like 60 of these patients who left Mesmer and went with d'Eslon.
  48. See, for example, Brown (1933); Gauld (1992), pp.6-7; Crabtree (1993), pp.16-18; and Pattie (1994), pp.86, 94-116.
  49. "Ceux qui savent le secret en doutent plus que ceux qui l'ignorent", (Deleuze, 1813, p.24).
  50. "[The Royal Commissions] had not been requested by Mesmer or any of his followers. It is possible that some noblemen, who were patients of d'Eslon, used their influence to have [the commissions] set up; it is also possible that the King and his advisors were annoyed by the strife [between Mesmer and d'Eslon] and were determined either to accept animal magnetism or to get rid of it" (Pattie, 1994, p.142).
  51. According to Darnton (1968, p.50), d'Eslon "[died] while being mesmerized in August 1786".
  52. Grimm (1880), p.446.
  53. According to Dingwall (1967, p.6), Mesmer's earlier conceptualization of "animal gravity" was, later, replaced by his more sophisticated concept of "animal magnetism".
  54. p.276 in "Arguments to prove that Animal Magnetism is the cause of sympathy in Man and other animals, and in plants, &c.", Sibly (1820), pp.276-277.
  55. Namely, "correctness of behaviour", as distinct from its counterpart, orthodoxia, "correctness of theory".
  56. For more on "action at a distance" see Hesse, (1961); and, especially, Kovach (1979), pp.161-171.
  57. Specifically referring to Browne (1658), pp.83-84.
  58. Pollitt (2019), p.70.
  59. Yeates (2018), p.52: "'lower' phenomena included: displays of amnesia, state dependent memory, loss of sense of identity, suggestibility, heightened memory, deadening of the senses, insensibility to pain, rapport with the operator, and Schlafwachen ("sleep-waking": see Elliotson, 1835, pp.627-630; Herfner, 1844, pp.81-83, etc.)." -- Yeates also notes that "[al]though the defining "somnolence" of the sleep-waking state — a subset of sleepwalking — was often combined with "somniloquism" ("sleeptalking"), it was never combined with "ambulism" ("walking") of any sort (Barth, 1851, p.24).".
  60. Yeates (2018), p.52: "'higher' phenomena included: displays of transposition of the senses (hearing with fingers, sensing colours with the soles of the feet, etc.: see Melton, 2001a, 533-534; 2001b, pp.1027, 1359-1360, 1499, 1585, etc.), physical rapport or "community of sensation" (subjects experiencing the operator’s physical sensations of taste, smell, etc.: see Townshend, 1840, p.65; Melton, 2001a, p.319, 2001b, pp.989-990, etc.), clairvoyance (seeing persons/events distant in time or place: see Melton, 2001a, p.297-301), psychical rapport (able to read operator’s thoughts, and be mesmerised from a distance: see Crabtree, 2008, p.569), and ecstasy ("immersed in an elevated state of consciousness with an awareness of spiritual things": see Crabtree, 1988, p.xxiv; 2008, p.569)."
  61. As Yeates (2018, p.61) observes, "[the presence of] gifts in a child’s Xmas stocking does not support claims for the supposed existence of Santa Claus".
  62. See Donaldson (2006).
  63. That is, Joseph-Marie-François de Lassone (1717-1788) (fr), personal physician to the King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and President of the Paris Faculty of Medicine.
  64. Mesmer (1781), p.198; translation at Donaldson (2005), p.575 -- note that (a) the passages in square brackets come from Donaldson, and (b) Donaldson cites the passage as coming from page 196, rather than 198, of Mesmer's work
  65. Salas & Salas (1996), p.71; Franklin, et al. (2002), p.338.
  66. "One cannot avoid the suspicion that the Commissioners were relieved that they were able to extricate themselves from a full investigation of the remarkable phenomena they had observed at the baquet, an investigation for which at the time there was no precedent and no methodology…" (Forrest, p.67).
  67. Salas & Salas (1996), p.71; Franklin, et al. (2002), p.338.
  68. Salas & Salas (1996), p.71; Franklin, et al., 2002, p.338; the Commissioners were quoting statements from Mesmer (1781), pp.35, 37.
  69. Anon (1785), pp.37-38, translates the relevant passage as follows (citing Mesmer (1781), pp.35, 37):
    Upon this head the commissioners are of the opinion of M. Mesmer. He rejected the cure of diseases, when this method of proving the magnetism was proposed to him by a member of the academy of sciences: "It is a mistake", replied he, "to imagine that this kind of proof is unanswerable; it cannot be demonstrated that either the physician or the medicine causes the recovery of the patient."
  70. Yeates (2018), p.52; emphasis added.
  71. Anon (1911/1912), p.79; translation of Bailly (1784a), pp.5-6.
  72. Anon (1911/1912), p.80; translation of Bailly (1784a), pp.6-7.
  73. Anon (1911/1912), p.80; translation of Bailly (1784a), pp.7-8.
  74. In 1877, James Braid's colleague, William Carpenter observed that, "the nervous paroxysm termed the "crisis" … [that was manifested] in the hysterical subjects who constituted the great bulk of [Mesmer’s] patients … was at once recognized by medical men as only a modified form of what is commonly known as an "hysteric fit"; the influence of the imitative tendency being manifested as it is in cases where such fits run through a school, nunnery, factory, or revivalist-meeting, in which a number of suitable subjects are collected together" (Carpenter, 1877, p.17).
  75. In 1972, Ronald Shor concluded (1972, p.20) that, overall, the patients' "agitated reactions" were probably due to three factors:
    (i) "expectations deriving from medieval demonic exorcism rites, the dancing manias (St. Vitus's Dance, for example), and possibly epilepsy";
    (ii) "a probable aftereffect of anxiety release after direct symptom suppression" (Shor drew particular attention to the case of Maria Theresia von Paradis); and
    (iii) "a derivation of the ‘’vapeurs’’, the hysterical fainting and nervous fits fashionable among society women at that time".
  76. Anon (1911/1912), p.137; translation of Bailly (1784a), pp.61.
  77. Anon (1911/1912), p.137; translation of Bailly (1784a), pp.61-62.
  78. Anon (1911/1912), p.137; translation of Bailly (1784a), pp.62-63.
  79. Anon (1911/1912), p.137; translation of Bailly (1784a), pp.63-64.
  80. Poissonnier, et al, (1784), p.1.
  81. Despite the widespread (erroneous) statements to the effect that he was executed by "his own invention" -- namely, the guillotine -- Guillotin survived the Revolution, and died of natural causes (from the effects of a carbuncle), on 26 March 1814; however, both Lavoisier (executed on 8 May 1794) and Bailly (executed on 12 November 1793) were guillotined during the Reign of Terror.
  82. Majault was not one of the original Commissioners. The original commissioner was one "M. Borie", of the Paris Faculty, who died on 21 May 1784; and Majault, also a member of the Paris Faculty, was appointed to replace him (Bailly, 1784a, p.1).
  83. "Benjamin Franklin, the American minister to France living at Passy, received the signal honor due his international eminence of being named to head the [Academy of Science's] commission. His age (seventy-eight) made his appointment nominal [and] his duties devolved upon his colleagues…" (Buranelli, 1975, p.161).
  84. As Franklin (2021) records, Benjamin Franklin was a long-term (intermittent) sufferer from the extremely painful conditions of gout and bladder stone.
  85. See, for example, Bailly (1784a), at p.22: translated, at Anon, (1785), p.48, as:
    "Dr. Franklin, though the weakness of his health hindered him from coming to Paris, and assisting at the experiments which were there made, was magnetised by M. [d'Eslon] at his own house at Passy."
  86. According to Forrest (1999, pp.18-19), the "primary function" of the Royal Society of Medicine, which had only been formed some 5 years earlier (by contrast, the Paris Faculty of Medicine had been formed more than 5 centuries earlier), was "to evaluate patent medicines and, by extension, new forms of therapy".
  87. The inaccurate comments by Harte reflect the typical misrepresentation of the Committee's investigations into D'Eslon as being concerned with Mesmer:
    "[The "Franklin" Report] was taken to be a refutation of the claims of Animal Magnetism, and is still believed generally to be so; but, if examined, it is found to have avoided the main issue -- whether Mesmer had discovered a new means for curing disease -- and to have confined itself to the theoretical question, whether or not there exists a universal medium such as Mesmer described, and whether the curious effects which no one denied that the process of Mesmer produced, were caused by it" (Harte (1902), p.66).
  88. Godwwin's commentary, at p.xv of the Introduction to his translation of the Report of the "Franklin" Commission.
  89. Salas & Salas (1996), p.70; Franklin, et al., 2002, p.335; emphasis added.
  90. The term is derived from the original meaning of economy, "the management of a household", and is best understood by the definition supplied by Jean-Joseph Menuret in his article, Œconomie Animale (Médecine)", in Denis Diderot's Encyclopédie of 1765 (at Vol XI, pp.360-366):
    "This term, taken in the most exact and common sense, refers only to the order, mechanism, and overall set of the functions and movements which sustain life in animals, the perfect, universal and constant exercise of which, performed with ease and alacrity, is the flourishing state of health, the least disturbance of which is itself illness, and the full ceasing of which is the extreme, diametrical opposite of life, that is, death. (translation taken from Huneman (2008, p.618, emphasis in originsl).
  91. "en dépouillant ces effets de toutes les illusions qui peuvent s’y mêler",
  92. Translation taken from Godwin (), p.38; other translations at: Anon (1911/1912), p.81; Salas & Salas (1996), p.71; Franklin, et al. (2002), pp.338-339; and Donaldson (2014),p.47.
  93. Stengers (2003, p.14):
    "We see men succumb, it seems, to the same sickness, cured by taking contradictory treatments, and in taking entirely different treatments; Nature is thus powerful enough to support life in spite of poor treatment, and able to triumph over both illness and its remedy. If she has this power to resist remedies, then she has all the more reason to have the power to work without them."
  94. The translation is taken from Anon (1785), pp.33-35; for other translations see Anon (1911/1912), pp.80-81; Salas & Salas (1996), p.70-71; Franklin, et al. (2002), p.337); and Donaldson (2014), p.45.
  95. Pattie (1994), p.147.
  96. For Lavoisier's involvement with the investigations in general, see Lavoisier (1865), passim, and Donaldson (2017), passim.
  97. For a specific example of Lavoisier's experimental design, see Lavoisier's "Plan d'Experiemces" at Lavoisier (1865, pp.511-513); also, see the English translation ("Lavoisier's Plan of Experiments") at Donaldson (2017, pp.167).
  98. Braid spoke of these at a conversazione he conducted in Manchester on 22 April 1844; see: Anon (1844); Bramwell (1903), pp.144-149; and Yeates (2013), pp.741-743.
  99. Salas & Salas (1996), p.71; Franklin, et al., 2002, p.339.
  100. Godwin, the translator, in a footnote (p.23) notes that, "the diameter of this box is usually large enough to admit of fifty persons landing round its circumference."
  101. Translation taken from Godwin (1785), p.23: other translations at Anon (1911/1912), p.79; at Salas & Salas (1996), p.69; at Franklin, 2002, p.333; and Donaldson (2014), p.41.
  102. Translation taken from Godwin (1785), p.24-25: other translations at: Anon (1911/1912), p.79; Salas & Salas (1996), p.69, and at Franklin, 2002, p.334; and Donaldson (2014), p.42.
  103. See Bailly (1784a); translated at Anon (1785), Anon (1911/1912), pp.79-84, 133-137, Salas & Salas (1996), Franklin, et al. (2002), and (Donaldson (2014), pp.39-67.
  104. 104.0 104.1 104.2 104.3 Yeates (2018), p.51.
  105. Bailly (1784a), p.48.
  106. Ogden (2012), p.149.
  107. At Bailly, 1784a, pp.1-3.
  108. That is, at Mesmer, 1779, pp.74-83.
  109. Bailly, 1784a, p.3.
  110. This is Godwin’s (1785, p.21) translation of Bailly (1784a, p.3), which is directly quoting Mesmer’s (1779,, "la Nature offer un moyen universel de guérir et le préserver les Hommes".
  111. See Bailly, 1784a, pp.64-66: translated at Godwin (1785), pp.106-108; Anon (1911/1912), p.137; Salas & Salas (1996), p.83; Franklin, et al (2002), p.363; and Donaldson (2014), pp.75-76.
  112. Anon (1911/1912), p.137; translation of Bailly (1784a), pp.64-65.
  113. Anon (1911/1912), p.137; translation of Bailly (1784a), pp.65-66.
  114. Bailly (1784a).
  115. Founders Online (n.d.).
  116. Mackay (1841), p.323.
  117. Note that both Anon (1911/1912, p.249) and Lanska & Lanska (2007, p.313) refer to "more than 20,000 copies", while Eden (1974, p.15) speaks of 60,000 copies. Regardless of which source is correct, it was certainly a considerable number.
  118. Ogden (2012), p.143.
  119. More recent translations at Anon (1911/1912), pp.79-84, 133-137; Salas & Salas (1996); Franklin, et al. (2002); and Donaldson (2014), pp.39-67.
  120. That is, Anon (1837).
  121. Bailly (1784a), pp.57-58; translation taken from Anon (1911/1912), p.136.
  122. These conclusions are consistent with the declaration made on 1 May 1784 by the eminent French chemist, Claude Louis Berthollet -- both a member of the Paris Faculty of Medicine and the Royal Academy of Sciences -- when leaving Mesmer's training in 1784 (half way through the course of instruction that he had undertaken at the specific request of his patient, the Duke of Orléans, in the hope of learning Mesmer's "secret"), that everything that he had observed could be attributed to "the imagination", "touch", and "imitation" (declaration reprinted at Figuier, 1860, p.177-178; translations at Podmore, 1908, p.55, and at Pattie, 1994, p.133).
  123. The translation is from Salas & Salas (1996), p.70 (and Franklin, et al. 2002, p.336); other translations at Anon (1785), pp.30-31, Anon (1911/1912), p.80, and Donaldson (2014), p.44.
  124. Bailly (1800): translations at Bailly and Others (1963); at Bailly, et al. (2002); and at Donaldson (2014), pp.68-76. See also, Crabtree (1993), pp.92-84, Pattie (1994),pp.154-155.
  125. Founders Online (n.d.).
  126. : English translation at Donaldson (2014), pp.77-83.
  127. Poissonnier, Caille, Mauduyt de La Varenne & Andry (1784): summary at Crabtree (1993), p.28, and at Pattie (1994), pp.156-158.
  128. Although they, too, used blindfolded subjects (Pattie, 1994), p.156.
  129. Poissonnier (1784), p.2; the translation is from Pattie (1994) p.156.
  130. Pattie (1994), pp.156-157, paraphrasing Poissonnier (1784), p.12.
  131. Burdin & Dubois (1841, pp.136-137.
  132. Citing Poissonnier (1784), p.35.
  133. Citing Poissonnier (1784), loc. cit.
  134. de Jussieu (1784): summary at Crabtree (1993), pp.28-29, and at Pattie (1994), pp.152-153.
  135. The translation is taken from Teste (1843), p.10.
  136. Thomas d'Onglée (1785), p.4.
  137. Pattie (1994), pp.155-156.
  138. d'Eslon had already been expelled, for essentially the same reasons, a year earlier.
  139. Thomas d'Onglée (1785), pp.4-6.
  140. See Crabtree (1993), pp.31-32; and Pattie (1994), pp.155-156.
  141. Crabtree's translation (1993, at p.32), of Thomas d'Onglée (1785), p.8: "Aucun Docteur ne se déclarera partisan du Magnétisme animal, ni par ses écrits, ni par sa pratique, sous peine d’être rayé du Tableau des Docteurs-Régens." (emphasis in original).
  142. d'Eslon (1784b): abridged translation at d'Eslon (1963); also, see discussion at Pattie (1994), pp.167-172.
  143. Note that it was published in The Hague, rather than in Paris, thereby avoiding the need for approval by the Royal censor.
  144. That is, 5 girls, 6 boys, 47 women, and 56 men.
  145. "The book … was compiled under great pressure; there are many mistakes in proper names, and the compiler has omitted to take notice that some of the reports deal with more than one patient" (Podmore, 1909, p.9).
  146. Most likely these particular class notes were based upon the notes prepared by Mesmer's close associate, Nicolas Bergasse for Mesmer's students -- who were "dissatisfied with Mesmer's teaching" and "resorted to Bergasse, asking him to give them a more coherent account" (Pattie, 1994, p.131). Pattie (1994, p.132) also notes that, in consequence of "Mesmer's poor command of French", Bergasse "frequently interrupted Mesmer when he attempted to address the assembly [of his students]".
  147. Pattie (1994), p.212.
  148. All who Mesmer taught were required to sign a contract declaring that they would not reveal any of Mesmer's doctrines, teach mesmerism to others, or open a mesmeric clinic without Mesmer's express permission: see Forrest (1999, pp.37-38) for a translation of a (typical) contract -- in this case, the contract signed by the Marquis de Lafayette on 5 April 1784.
  149. For the third edition see Caullet de Veaumorel (1785b); and for an English translation of that version, see Caullet de Veaumorel (1785c). Also, see Pattie (1994), pp.212-215.
  150. Note that, although this appears in the "original's" Introduction (i.e., 1785b, pp.14-15), it is absent from the English version (i.e., 1785c).
  151. "I have changed absolutely nothing to these words, so as not to be accused of having wanted to introduce something foreign to his Doctrine" ("Je n’ai absolument rien changé à ces dictées, asin de ne pas être accusé d’y avoir voulu introduire quelque chose d’étranger à sa Doctrine": 1785b, p.14).
  152. See (1785c, p.viii), which is an abridgement of the original text, at (1785, pp.14-15).
  153. For Mesmer's letter see Mesmer (1785); and for Caullet de Veaumorel's rejoinder, see Caullet de Veaumorel (1785a).
  154. Mesmer, 1784a; 1784b.
  155. The contributors included aristocrats, both Roman Catholic and Protestant clerics, medical practitioners, and both the Marquis de Puységur and his brother the Comte de Chastenet de Puységur (fr).
  156. He also notes that, in their "magnetic" treatment of 37 patients, the Commissioners were unable to produce a single "crisis" (loc.cit.).
  157. Younger (1887), p.69.
  158. See Collyer (1843), p.10; and (1871), pp.49-50.
  159. Footnote at Atkinson (1843), p.294.
  160. The additional, welcome significance of this discovery was that, to the supporters of animal magnetism, and to the supporters of phrenology, "the ['legitimacy' of the] theoretical position of each ‘science’ had now been confirmed by the other" (Yeates, 2018, p.54).
  161. For a description of two exemplar cases, see Anon (1843), pp.205-206.
  162. See Collyer (1843), pp.8-20.
  163. See Braid, 1842a, pp.105-149.
  164. See Braid (1843b).
  165. From his extensive experiments, Braid concluded that all of the observed 'phreno-magnetic’ phenomena were entirely due to “[excitement] by auricular suggestion, [or] by muscular suggestion, or [by] manipulating either the head, trunk, or extremities” (Braid, 1844, p.181).
  166. See, for instance, the views of Newnham (1845).
  167. Pitres (1891), p.499.
  168. see Pitres (1891), pp.97-116.
  169. Note that, in contrast to the being-led-into implications of the term "induction", the references to the subject being-thrown-into strongly suggests a sudden, uninhibited, knee-jerk kind of (entirely involuntary) bio-physiological reflex on the part of the subject.
  170. Pitres (1891), p.98.
  171. Note that many modern English texts repeat the typographical error that occurs in the mistaken rendering of Moll's "zones hypno-frénatrices" (Moll, 1890, p.26) as "zones hypno-férnatrices" in Moll (1890b), p.36.
  172. Pitres (1891), p.101.
  173. See, for example, Pitres (1891), pp.103, 107, 109, 499, etc.
  174. In noting that "the degree of hypnosis attainable does not depend on the physician's procedure but on the chance reaction of the patient", Freud also speaks of the "strikingly soothing and lulling effect … [of] stroking the patient's face and body with both hands continuously for from five to ten minutes" in those cases where he was "not satisfied with the [degree of] hypnosis attained".
  175. See Freud, 1957/1895, pp.107-112; especially the footnote at pp.110-111.
  176. Freud's visits were driven by his desire to investigate the claims and methods of the "Nancy School" (or "Suggestion School"), and compare them with those of the "Paris School" (or "Hysteria School") with which he was already familiar in great detail, from his own extended studies at the Salpêtrière with Charcot.
  177. Freud (1957/1895), p.110.
  178. This issue is, for example, central to the "contentious" question of whether (or not) the cephalopod's eye and the vertebrate's eye evolved independently.
  179. Pattie, 1994, p.145.
  180. Shermer (1996), pp.66, 67.
  181. However, as Lanska (2019, p.168) observes,
    "[It was only] with rare (and methodologically limited) exceptions, [that] comparative prospective clinical trials were … employed [before] the twentieth century, thus allowing many ineffective and harmful traditional therapies to remain in routine use by orthodox physicians (e.g., bleeding, blistering, purging, and administration of highly toxic heavy metals), a point repeatedly made by quacks and their supporters." (p.169).
  182. At Lavoisier (1865, pp.508-510) "Remarques de Lavoisier", at p.510: translation taken from Donaldson (2014), p.27. Although the item is undated, it was obviously (from its content) compiled following the Commission's investigations and prior to the publication of its Report.
  183. And, as Lavoisier later warned his readers in his Elementary Treatise on Chemistry (1789, p.7), the "imagination" was also a problem for the researchers as well:
    "It is in these things which we neither see nor feel, that it is especially necessary to guard against the extravagancy of our imagination, which forever inclines to step beyond the bounds of truth, and is very difficultly restrained within the narrow line of facts" (translation taken from Kerr, 1790, pp.6-7).
  184. They were called "tractors" -- from the Latin tractum, 'to draw' -- because they were drawn (or rubbed) across the skin.
  185. See Haygarth (1801), Booth (2005), and Lanska (2019).
  186. A set of Perkins' patent tractors are on display at the Wellcome Galleries, at London's Science Museum (see: [2]).
  187. Haygarth (1801), p.4.


Note that "many pamphlets on magnetism bear false imprints; they purport to have been printed in London, The Hague, Philadelphia, Peking, etc. In this way they evaded Franch censorship" (Pattie, 1994, p.179).

External links