Mesmerism was from the philosophical standpoint the most pregnant of all discoveries, even though for the moment it propounded more riddles than it solved. — SCHOPENHAUER.
THEOSOPHY, Vol. 26, No. 10, August, 1938
(Number 25 of a 29-part series)
Anton Mesmer . . . was born in a little town on Lake Constance on May 23, 1734. At the age of nine he entered a monastery school and at fifteen won a scholarship at Dillingen. In his eighteenth year he entered the University of Ingolstadt, where he studied the writings of Paracelsus and obtained the degree of doctor of philosophy. He studied law for a while in Vienna, but his interest in Paracelsus fired him with a determination to become a doctor and he took up the study of medicine under Dr. van Swieten, one of the foremost physicians of the day.
On May 27, 1766, Mesmer received his medical degree. His thesis, based on the writings of Paracelsus, was called “The Influence of the Planets on the Human Body.” Two years later he married a widow ten years his senior, and building a beautiful house on the Landstrasse in Vienna, settled in a neighborhood which was the center of Rosicrucian activities. His home was palatial, a miniature Versailles, with gardens laid out in rococo style, surrounding a charming little theater. Dr. Mesmer was deeply fond of music, playing with skill the piano and cello. His home was soon the meeting place of the music lovers of Vienna, Haydn and Mozart becoming daily visitors. When the Director of the Imperial Opera refused to present an opera by Mozart on the ground that he (then twelve years old) was too young to compose an opera, Dr. Mesmer took pity on the young artist and presented Mozart’s first work to the public in his own garden theater. Mozart acknowledged this service by inserting a complimentary reference to Dr. Mesmer in his Cosi fan Tutte.
Dr. Mesmer divided his time between his musical friends and his philosophical and scientific study, a pleasant life in the Landstrasse which continued for six years — from 1768 to 1774. In 1774 a distinguished foreigner and his wife arrived in Vienna. The lady was taken ill and her husband asked the famous astronomer, Dr. Maximilian Heil, to prepare a magnet for her. Hearing of the experiment, Mesmer watched the lady’s improvements with interest. He decided to use magnets with his own patients. He magnetized the water they drank and bathed in, their clothing and bedding.
News of the cures he effected by these methods spread like wildfire and within a year Dr. Mesmer’s name was known throughout Austria. The Bavarian Academy of Science invited him to membership and the Augsburg Academy officially reported that “Dr. Mesmer had discovered one of nature’s most mysterious motive energies.”
In 1776 an important event occurred in Dr. Mesmer’s life. One day a stranger appeared at his door, introducing himself as the Count de St. Germain. “You must be the gentleman whose anonymous letter I received yesterday,” Dr. Mesmer remarked as he took his caller into his study. “Yes,” St. Germain replied, “I am he.” “You wish to speak with me on the subject of magnetism?” Dr. Mesmer inquired. “I do,” St. Germain replied. “That is why I came to Vienna.” Dr. Mesmer then told his guest of his magnetic experiments, confessing that he was still confused about the higher aspects of magnetism. “Who can enlighten me?” he asked. “I can,” said the Count, with the assurance, “it is my duty to do so.” The conversation which took place on that memorable afternoon lasted for several hours, and, as both men were representatives of the Theosophical Movement, it probably concerned other subjects than that of magnetism alone.
The scientific standing of Dr. Mesmer is admitted by all his biographers. His occult standing is not so generally known. Dr. Mesmer was not only a Mason, but was also an initiated member of two powerful occult Fraternities, the Fratres Lucis and the Brotherhood of Luxor. The latter was the Egyptian branch of the Brotherhood of Lookshoor in Beluchistan, one of the oldest and most powerful of the Eastern Fraternities. Under the order of the “Great Brotherhood” (of which H.P.B. was a member), the Council of Luxor selected Dr. Mesmer to act as their eighteenth century pioneer, later appointing Cagliostro as a helper, with the Count de St. Germain to supervise the development of events.
From that day on, Dr. Mesmer’s methods changed. Up to that time he had been using magnetized objects. Henceforth he used direct vital transmission, which he called “animal magnetism.”
“Animal magnetism” is a fluid, a correlation of atoms on metaphysical planes, which exudes from every human being in a greater or less degree. Some people have the power to emit this fluid consciously, through their eyes and fingertips, and most of the healing “miracles” of history are based upon this psycho-physical power in man.
Following his conversation with the Count de St. Germain, Dr. Mesmer gave up his entire time to healing the sick. The house on the Landstrasse no longer echoed to the strains of Haydn and Mozart. It was now a hospital through which a steady stream of patients flowed from morn to night. However, while Dr. Mesmer’s fame grew among his patients, it decreased among his colleagues. A physician who used visible magnets was one thing; but one who made cures with an invisible “fluid” was quite another. After Dr. Mesmer had restored the sight of a young girl who had been blind from her babyhood, the president of the Medical Council appealed to the Empress of Austria to “put an end to this humbug.” Denounced as an impostor, Mesmer left Vienna and went to Paris, arriving there in February, 1778.
At first the move seemed to be auspicious. Marie Antoinette promised him her patronage and many of the Austrian nobility came to him as patients. But the Academies of Science and Medicine, to whom he immediately addressed himself, refused to respect his theories. In 1779 Dr. Mesmer published his French Report on Animal Magnetism, declaring that “it is not a secret remedy, but a scientific fact, whose causes and effects can be studied.” He frankly admitted that he wished to gain the support of some government courageous enough to give his methods a fair trial and inaugurate a “house where the sick may be treated, and the claims I have made for animal magnetism be tested to the full.”
The publication of this Report caused a sensation. The Clergy attributed his astonishing cures to the Devil. The orthodox physicians denounced him as a charlatan. But the aristocracy of Paris were excited to the verge of madness by his phenomenal cures. Dr. d’Eslon, physician to the Comte d’Artois, promptly rallied to his support. A lady-in-waiting who had been cured of paralysis appealed to the Queen for her public recognition of Dr. Mesmer’s methods. The Princess de Lamballe, the Duc de Bourbon, the Prince de Condé, and even the popular idol of the day, the young Marquis de Lafayette — all gave him their ardent patronage. At the Queen’s request the government entered into direct communication with Dr. Mesmer in order to keep him in France, and Maurepas, one of the King’s ministers, offered him a pension. From 1780 to 1784 Dr. Mesmer was the rage of Paris. He took a house in the Place Vendôme, but this was soon too small to accommodate his patients. He then made a hospital of the Hôtel Bouillon in the rue Montmartre, where he treated the poor free of charge.
Although the Queen of France honored Dr. Mesmer with her patronage, Louis looked upon his cures with suspicion. In March, 1784, the King ordered an investigation of Mesmer’s methods by a committee chosen from among the members of the Academies of Science and Medicine. Among those elected to serve on this committee were Benjamin Franklin, Bailly the astronomer, Lavoisier, the discoverer of oxygen, and the celebrated botanist, Dr. Jussieu.
At this time the French Academy was enjoying a period of unprecedented popularity. Arrogant with success, this youthful embodiment of Science showed all the characteristics of an adolescent. How could there be merit in treatments which savants could not understand? In the report of the Committee handed to the King on August 11, 1784, the members honestly admitted the efficacy of Dr. Mesmer’s cures. Some power was at work, they said, but what was the nature of that power? Could it be perceived by any of the physical senses? It could not. Therefore they concluded that “where nothing is to be seen, felt, tasted or smelled, there nothing can exist.” Hence the amazing cures which they had witnessed must be due entirely to “the imagination of the patients themselves.” Furthermore, these weighty minds affirmed, since
…the commission has found that the fluid of animal magnetism cannot be perceived by any of man’s senses, the commission has come to the conclusion that there is nothing to show that the fluid of animal magnetism exists, and that, consequently, this non-existing fluid can serve no useful purpose. Therefore, to proceed with these methods in the presence of others cannot fail in the long run to be unwholesome.
Thus in 1784 Dr. Mesmer was denounced as an impostor by the French, as he had been denounced in Austria a few years before. In the following year, four of the agents of the Theosophical Movement met in the Masonic convention which took place in Paris. Dr. Mesmer had already failed to obtain recognition for his mission. In 1785 Cagliostro saw the beginning of his downfall. But there were still some hopeful signs in England. Wilkins had just published the first English translation of the Bhagavad-Gita. Thomas Paine was preparing to go to England with some of his inventions. The eyes of the Marquis de St. Martin and the Count de St. Germain were also focused upon English shores.
The storm which broke over Mesmer’s head in 1784 was soon forgotten in the mightier tempest which engulfed the whole of France in 1791. At the beginning of the Revolution he found himself alone in Paris, his fame and fortune gone, his friends concerned with keeping their own heads from the guillotine. Not a French citizen and having no interest himself in politics, Mesmer left Paris and went to Frauenfeld, a little village about twenty miles from Zurich. There he continued his research work and gave free treatments to his humble peasant neighbors who had never even heard of the famous Dr. Mesmer. He never spoke to them of his past glory, never complained about his reversals of fortune, but steadily maintained that attitude of patience and resignation which is a common characteristic of all agents of the Theosophical Movement.
In 1803 Dr. Mesmer was invited to return to Paris, and in 1812 letters from Germany assured him that the King of Prussia, the German Academy and the German people were prepared to give the honor which France had denied him. Both of these invitations were refused. All that he wanted was a place where he could carry on his work and make it permanently useful to those who would follow him. He went to Meersburg, a little village near the place where he was born, and in spite of his eighty years he continued to work among the poor. A pleasant respite from his labors was the weekly concert at the home of his friend Prince Dalberg, which he never missed.
On the morning of March 15, 1815, a young musician of his acquaintance came to call upon him. Dr. Mesmer showed his young friend the set of musical glasses which always accompanied him on his travels and which were copies of the musical glasses made by Athanasius Kircher in the sixteenth century, by which Kircher tried to cure diseases with the power of sound. Dr. Mesmer stroked his glasses with loving fingers. “Mozart and Haydn often played on them when they came to see me in the Landstrasse!” he murmured. “Mozart was so impressed with them that he composed a special quintet for them!” He led his young friend to the piano. “Play something for me, my son! I am very weary!”
Softly the opening theme of Mozart’s A major Sonata tinkled from the keys. The old man’s eyes closed, his hands relaxed, and on the gentle stream of soft-flowing music the great soul of Anton Mesmer went to its own place.
Mesmer’s great work was denounced during his life, but after his death his doctrines continued to spread through the efforts of Lavater, Puysegur and Deluze. In 1820 the German Government and the Royal Society of Paris offered a prize of 300 ducats for the best treatise on mesmerism. Between 1830 and 1846 it again came to public notice through the experiments of the Baron du Potet, who later became an Honorary Member of the Theosophical Society, and who was described by H.P.B. as “the greatest Adept of Mesmerism in this century.”