Paris 1778

A new force in nature

Franz Anton Mesmer arrives in Paris to present a revolutionary theory to the French Academy of Sciences. He claims he has harnessed a universal life-force called ‘animal magnetism’ that can cure all disease.

His therapy is an immediate sensation. It becomes known as ‘mesmerism’.

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In Mesmer’s Salon

In his salons, or séances, a mysterious ‘magnetic fluid’ flowed invisibly round the participants. They convulsed, spoke in tongues and collapsed in violent fits. When they were revived they found themselves cured of all manner of illnesses, from toothache to paralysis and even blindness.

Animal Magnetism

Mesmer claimed that animal magnetism was a superfine fluid that permeated all living things. He had learned how to control and direct it by the power of his mind. By making stroking movements, or ‘passes’, over the bodies of his patients he could remove the blockages in the magnetic fluid that were causing their illnesses.

Gallery: The tools of mesmerism

Mesmer’s salons became overwhelmed with patients. When he could no longer accommodate them, he magnetised a tree in the street outside and crowds of people connected themselves to it using cords.

Mesmer’s therapy, and the mass hysteria it provoked, were widely satirised.

But Mesmer insisted that his theory should be assessed by the highest scientific authorities.

The committee investigates…

  • A goat-headed man caresses a sleeping ewe-headed woman, in a satire of the notion of animal magnetism View Download hi-res image
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A machine to control the mind

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