Unbounded enthusiasm and unjust blame alike subsided into a silence that was not broken for ten years. Then Charles Richet, a renowned scientist, came forward in 1875, impelled by the duty he felt he owed as a priest of truth, and made some announcements concerning the phenomena of somnambulism; and in countless books, all of which are worthy of attention, he has since then considered the problem from its various sides.
He separates somnambulism into three periods. The word here is used for this whole class of subjects as Richet himself uses it, viz., torpeur, excitation, and stupeur. In the first, which is produced by the so-called magnetic passes and the fixing of the eyes, silence and languor come over the subject. The second period, usually produced by constant repetition of the experiment, is characterized chiefly by sensibility to hallucination and suggestion. The third period has as its principal characteristics supersensibility of the muscles and lack of sensation. Yet let it be noticed that these divisions were not expressed in their present clearness until 1880; while in the years between 1872 and 1880, from an entirely different quarter, a similar hypothesis was made out for hypnotic phenomena.
Jean Martin Charcot, the renowned neurologist of the Parisian Salpetriere, without exactly desiring it, was led into the study of artificial somnambulism by his careful experiments in reference to hysteria, and especially by the question of metallotherapie, and in the year 1879 had prepared suitable demonstrations, which were given in public lectures at the Salpetriere. In the following years he devoted himself to closer investigation of this subject, and was happily and skillfully assisted by Dr. Paul Richer, with whom were associated many other physicians, such as Bourneville, Regnard, Fere, and Binet. The investigations of these men present the peculiarity that they observe hypnotism from its clinical and nosographical side, which side had until now been entirely neglected, and that they observe patients of the strongest hysterical temperaments. "If we can reasonably assert that the hypnotic phenomena which depend upon the disturbance of a regular function of the organism demand for their development a peculiar temperament, then we shall find the most marked phenomena when we turn to an hysterical person."
The inferences of the Parisian school up to this time are somewhat the following, but their results, belonging almost entirely to the medical side of the question, can have no place in this discussion. They divide the phenomena of hystero-hypnotism, which they also call grande hysterie, into three plainly separable classes, which Charcot designates catalepsy, lethargy, and somnambulism.
Catalepsy is produced by a sudden sharp noise, or by the sight of a brightly gleaming object. It also produces itself in a person who is in a state of lethargy, and whose eyes are opened. The most striking characteristic of the cataleptic condition is immobility. The subject retains every position in which he is placed, even if it is an unnatural one, and is only aroused by the action of suggestion from the rigor of a statue to the half life of an automaton. The face is expressionless and the eyes wide open. If they are closed, the patient falls into a lethargy.
In this second condition, behind the tightly closed lids, the pupils of the eyes are convulsively turned upward. The body is almost entirely without sensation or power of thought. Especially characteristic of lethargy is the hyper-excitability of the nerves and muscles (hyperexcitabilite neuromusculaire), which manifests itself at the slightest touch of any object. For instance, if the extensor muscles of the arm are lightly touched, the arm stiffens immediately, and is only made flexible again by a hard rubbing of the same muscles. The nerves also react in a similar manner. The irritation of a nerve trunk not only contracts all the small nerves into which it branches, but also all those muscles through which it runs.
Finally, the somnambulistic condition proceeds from catalepsy or from lethargy by means of a slight pressure upon the vertex, and is particularly sensitive to every psychical influence. In some subjects the eyes are open, in others closed. Here, also, a slight irritation produces a certain amount of rigor in the muscle that has been touched, but it does not weaken the antagonistic muscle, as in lethargy, nor does it vanish under the influence of the same excitement that has produced it. In order to put an end to the somnambulistic condition, one must press softly upon the pupil of the eye, upon which the subject becomes lethargic, and is easily roused by breathing upon him. In this early stage, somnambulism appears very infrequently.
Charcot's school also recognize the existence of compound conditions, the history of whose symptoms we must not follow here. These slightly sketched results, as well as a number of other facts, were only obtained in the course of several years; yet in 1882 the fundamental investigations of this school were considered virtually concluded. Then Dumont-Pallier, the head of the Parisian Hospital Pitié, came forward with a number of observations, drawn also exclusively from the study of hystero-hypnotism, and yet differing widely from those reached by the physicians of the Salpetriere. In a long series of communications, he has given his views, which have in their turn been violently attacked, especially by Magnin and Bérillon. I give only the most important points.
According to these men, the hyper-excitability of the nerves and muscles is present not only in the lethargic condition, but in all three periods; and in order to prove this, we need only apply the suitable remedy, which must be changed for each period and every subject. Slight irritations of the skin prove this most powerfully. A drop of warm water or a ray of sunshine produces contractions of a muscle whose skin covering they touch.