Two years after meeting Gassner he went to Paris, and at once threw that capital into the wildest excitement by the marvellous effects of his manipulations. He was treated with contumely by the medical profession; but the people flocked to him, and many wonderful cures were effected. His methods, in the light of present knowledge, smack of charlatanism; but that he believed in himself was demonstrated by his earnest demand for an investigation. This the Government consented to, and a commission, composed of physicians and members of the Academy of Sciences, was appointed, of which Benjamin Franklin was a member. The report admitted the leading facts claimed by Mesmer, but held that there was no evidence to prove the correctness of his magnetic fluid theory, and referred the wonderful effects witnessed to the "imagination " of the patients. Their conclusion was that the subject was not worthy of further scientific investigation.
It is difficult at this day to conceive by what process of reasoning that learned body could arrive at such a conclusion. They admitted the existence of a motive force capable of controlling man's physical organization, that this force is amenable to control by man, and that this control is capable of being reduced to an art. Then they proceed to announce a discovery of their own, - a discovery, by the way, which turns out to be the most important which modern science had, at that time, contributed to the solution of the great problem. They discovered that the phenomena were purely subjective, thereby demonstrating the power of mind over matter. If they had stopped there, or if they had concluded that this wonderful force was worthy of the most searching scientific investigation, they would have been entitled to the gratitude of all mankind, and the science would have been at once wrested from the hands of ignorance and empiricism. That they should content themselves with disproving Mesmer's theory of causation, and, after having themselves made a discovery of the true cause, should announce that their own discovery was not worth the trouble of further investigation, is inexplicable.
Soon after this, Mesmer was driven into exile, followed by the execrations of a majority of the medical profession, and died in 1815. He left many disciples, a majority of whom were shallow empirics, and mesmerism was brought still further into disrepute. There were a few able and scientific men, however, who still pursued the investigation, among whom were the Marquis de Puysegur, Deleuze, and others. These gentlemen revolutionized the art by first causing their subjects to sleep by means of gentle manipulation, instead of surrounding them with mysticism in dimly lighted apartments filled with sweet odors and the strains of soft and mysterious music, as was the practice of Mesmer. They developed in their subjects the power of clairvoyance, and demonstrated it in a thousand ways. They caused them to obey mental orders as readily as if the orders were spoken. They healed the sick, caused the lame to walk, and the blind to see. In short, they so far revived the interest in the subject that the Royal Academy of Medicine, in France, felt compelled to order a new investigation. This was done in 1825. A committee was appointed, composed of the ablest and most cautious scientists in their body.
For nearly six years that committee pursued its investigations, and in 1831 it submitted its report. It would be tedious to enumerate all the conclusions at which it arrived. Its principal efforts were directed to the determination of the therapeutic value of mesmerism. It confirmed much that had been claimed for it in that respect, and demonstrated the power of clairvoyance, by indubitable tests. It also confirmed the claim that persons could be magnetized at a distance as well as by contact, although there is nothing in the report which shows how far the possibilities of suggestion were removed in that class of experiments. Indeed, in deference to truth it must be here remarked that mesmerists at that time had but a faint and undefined notion of the subtle role which suggestion plays in all psychological phenomena. Hence it follows that in examining the record of experiments in the higher phenomena of hypnotism we must make due allowance for possible error in all cases where the nature of the experiments does not preclude the possibility of suggestion having influenced the result, or where the possibilities of suggestion have not been intelligently eliminated.
The effect of this report was instantaneous and remarkable. The advocates of magnetism as a therapeutic agent, and the believers in the occult features of the phenomena, such as clairvoyance and thought-transference, had scored a triumph. But it served only to exasperate the average scientist and to intensify his prejudices. The Academy refused to dignify the report by printing it, and it rests to-day in silent oblivion in the manuscript archives of the institution. Another committee was soon after appointed, headed by a member who had openly sworn hostility to the doctrine. The result was what might have been expected. After the examination of two subjects under circumstances which, in the light of what is now known, rendered failure inevitable, the committee made a very undignified report, announcing the failure to produce the occult phenomena promised, and impugning the intelligence of the former committee. Strange and illogical as it may seem, the later report, which proved nothing, which was confined to an announcement of merely negative results, which simply showed that the committee did not witness certain promised phenomena, was accepted by the average scientist as containing the gospel of hypnotism, as against the report of the earlier committee, which, after five years of laborious research, announced that it had witnessed the phenomena in question and demonstrated their reality.
For some years subsequent to this the investigation the subject was confined to its psychological and therapeutic features; but every scientist who dabbled in it was tabooed by the majority of his associates. Many able works were produced on the subject, but none of them attracted the attention of the academicians until Dr. Braid, of Manchester, undertook to demonstrate the theory that the hypothetical magnetic fluid had nothing to do with the production of the phenomena. Braid discovered that by placing a bright object before the eyes of the subject, and causing him to gaze upon it with persistent attention, he could be thrown into the hypnotic sleep, during which many of the well-known phenomena ascribed to magnetism could be produced. This seemed to point to the possibility of a physiological explanation of the subject-matter. It attracted the attention of the scientists, and thus to Braid belongs the credit of causing the subject to be at last acknowledged as being within the domain of the exact sciences. The academicians were now mollified. The pet theory of the mesmerists appeared to have been demolished. The method was simple and easily applied. The phenomena of thought-transference could not be produced by its methods.