A polemic defense of animal magnetism and hypnotism by Franz Mesmer, 1812

Franz Anton Mesmer. Allgemeine Erläuterungen über den Magnetismus und den Somnambulismus. Als vorläufige Einleitung in das Natursystem. Aus dem Askläpieion abgedruckt. Halle & Berlin, in den Buchhandlungen des Hallischen Waisenhauses, 1812. 8vo. [2], 78 pp. 


Untrimmed (leaving deckle edges and an occasional point hole intact) in original wrappers with the quires sewn on two vellum strips. With bookplate of "[J.] Van der Hoeven" with motto "Recte Faciendo Neminem Timeas", possibly designed by J. Bieruma Oosting, and ex libris stamp of psychiatrist Dr. W. Ploegsma, small library label on front wrapper. The very delicate wrappers damaged, first quire with faint stains, browned.


Rare first separate edition of this pamphlet on animal magnetism, "hypnosis, sleepwalking, and posthypnotic suggestion" by Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), whose "theory of animal magnetism laid the foundations of modern hypnosis and suggestion therapy" (Heirs of Hippocrates).


Mesmer formulated a theory of a universal magnetic fluidum ('animal magnetism') which permeated all things, including human beings. In Mesmer's view, disease is an obstruction of this fluidum and his task as a doctor was to remove this obstruction. At first he used magnets, but over time he relied on touch and even speech to transmit the fluid into his patients. His method typically led to a 'crisis' in the patient, a necessary step to gradual recovery.


His method became hugely popular in Europe. Indeed, "mesmerism was one of the greatest movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries" (Science & imagination, p. 27) and even influenced German romantic literature (more particular the work of Kleist, Hoffmann and Novalis).


Mesmer's disciple Marquis de Puységur developed a method to sooth his patients during the procedure: he replaced Mesmer's 'crisis' with a somnambulistic sleep, which eventually evolved into modern hypnotism. Although Mesmer was convinced that his method was purely scientific, many of his contemporaries regarded him as a charlatan and Mesmer struggled all his life for scientific recognition.


The present pamphlet, published just three years prior to his death, was written as a final (and rather polemic) attempt to defend his discovery.


Waller 6504; cf. Heirs of Hippocrates 1014 (1815 edition); Betsy van Schlun, Science and Imagination. Mesmerism, Media and the Mind (2007), pp. 27-49.

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