The voluntary production of those abnormal conditions of the nerves which to-day are denoted by the term "hypnotic researches" has manifested itself in all ages and among most of the nations that are known to us. Within modern times these phenomena were first reduced to a system by Mesmer, and, on this account, for the future deserve the attention of the scientific world. The historical description of this department, if one intends to give a connected account of its development, and not a series of isolated facts, must begin with a notice of Mesmer's personality, and we must not confound the more recent development of our subject with its past history.
The period of mesmerism is sufficiently understood from the numerous writings on the subject, but it would be a mistake to suppose that in Braid's "Exposition of Hypnotism" the end of this subject had been reached. In a later work I hope to show that the fundamental ideas of biomagnetism have not only had in all periods of this century capable and enthusiastic advocates, but that even in our day they have been subjected to tests by French and English investigators from which they have issued triumphant.
The second division of this historical development is carried on by Braid, whose most important service was emphasizing the subjectivity of the phenomena. Without any connection with him, and yet by following out almost exactly the same experiments, Professor Heidenhain reached his physiological explanations. A third division is based upon the discovery of the hypnotic condition in animals, and connects itself to the experimentum mirabile. In 1872 the first writings on this subject appear from the pen of the physiologist Czermak; and since then the investigations have been continued, particularly by Professor Preyer.
While England and Germany were led quite independently to the study of the same phenomena, France experienced a strange development, which shows, as nothing else could, how truth everywhere comes to the surface, and from small beginnings swells to a flood which carries irresistibly all opposition with it. This fourth division of the history of hypnotism is the more important, because it forms the foundation of a transcendental psychology, and will exert a great influence upon our future culture; and it is this division to which we wish to turn our attention. We have intentionally limited ourselves to a chronological arrangement, since a systematic account would necessarily fall into the study of single phenomena, and would far exceed the space offered to us.
James Braid's writings, although they were discussed in detail in Littré and Robin's "Lexicon," were not at all the cause of Dr. Philips' first books, who therefore came more independently to the study of the same phenomena. Braid's theories became known to him later by the observations made upon them in Béraud's "Elements of Physiology" and in Littré's notes in the translation of Müller's "Handbook of Physiology;" and he then wrote a second brochure, in which he gave in his allegiance to braidism. His principal effort was directed to withdrawing the veil of mystery from the occurrences, and by a natural explanation relegating them to the realm of the known. The trance caused by regarding fixedly a gleaming point produces in the brain, in his opinion, an accumulation of a peculiar nervous power, which he calls "electrodynamism." If this is directed in a skillful manner by the operator upon certain points, it manifests itself in certain situations and actions that we call hypnotic. Beyond this somewhat questionable theory, both books contained a detailed description of some of the most important phenomena; but with the practical meaning of the phenomena, and especially with their therapeutic value, the author concerned himself but slightly.
Just on account of this pathological side, however, a certain attention has been paid to hypnotism up to the present time.
In the year 1847 two surgeons in Poictiers, Drs. Ribaut and Kiaros, employed hypnotism with great success in order to make an operation painless. "This long and horrible work," says a journal of the day, "was much more like a demonstration in a dissecting room than an operation performed upon a living being." Although this operation produced such an excitement, yet it was twelve years later before decisive and positive official intelligence was given of these facts by Broca, Follin, Velpeau, and Guérinau. But these accounts, as well as the excellent little book by Dr. Azam, shared the fate of their predecessors. They were looked upon by students with distrust, and by the disciples of Mesmer with scornful contempt.
The work of Demarquay and Giraud Teulon showed considerable advance in this direction. The authors, indeed, fell back upon the theory of James Braid, which they called stillborn, and of which they said, "Elle est restée accrochée en route;" but they did not satisfy themselves with a simple statement of facts, as did Gigot Suard in his work that appeared about the same time. Through systematic experiments they tried to find out where the line of hypnotic phenomena intersected the line of the realm of the known. They justly recognized that hypnotism and hysteria have many points of likeness, and in this way were the precursors of the present Parisian school. They say that from magnetic sleep to the hypnotic condition an iron chain can be easily formed from the very same organic elements that we find in historical conditions.
At the same time, as if to bring an experimental proof of this assertion, Lasigue published a report on catalepsy in persons of hysterical tendencies, which be afterward incorporated into his larger work. Among his patients, those who were of a quiet and lethargic temperament, by simply pressing down the eyelids, were made to enter into a peculiar state of languor, in which cataleptic contractions were easily produced, and which forcibly recalled hypnotic phenomena. "One can scarcely imagine," says the author, "a more remarkable spectacle than that of a sick person sunk in deep sleep, and insensible to all efforts to arouse him, who retains every position in which he is placed, and in it preserves the immobility and rigidity of a statue." But this impulse also was in vain, and in only a few cases were the practical tests followed up with theoretical explanations.