Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer (May 23, 1734 - May 5, 1815) was a German physician, known for his theory of animal magnetism, which would later be referred to as mesmerism.

Early Life Edit

Born in 1734 in Iznang, Austria, Franz Mesmer was the third of nine children. His family was strongly Catholic and he was intended to become a priest. However, his preference in the sciences and rejection of religion became evident during his time at the universities of Dillingen and Ingolstadt. He therefore began studying at the Vienna Medical School in 1670.

During his study, Mesmer argued that there exists an effect that is similar to the effect that the gravity of the sun and the moon has on the tides and the atmosphere inside the human body. Mesmer believed that there were small particles in the human body which could react to magnetism and electricity. He initially termed this concept, "animal gravitation".

Mesmerism Edit

Mesmer first used magnets for medical performances on a 28 years old woman named Fraulein Oesterlin. Oesterlin suffered from hysterical fever which caused symptoms such as chronic vomiting. His solution to Oesterlin's condition was to control the flow of the gravitational body fluid with the use of artificial magnets. Artificial magnets were placed on Oesterlin's body and the results appeared immediately. The patient suffered great pain initially, but these pains eventually seized as she became used to the magnets. Oesterlin's symptoms were relieved and Mesmer concluded that the magnets were influencing the movement of the patient's body fluids. [1]

Nevertheless, Mesmer's reputation was damaged following his failed practices on Maria Theresia Paradis. She was an 18 years old girl who suffered from hysteria and was blind since the age of 3. Mesmer was unable to cure her blindness, therefore damaging his reputation which was already tainted by accusations of his relationships with his patients.

As a result, he moved from Vienna to Paris in 1778. In Paris, people were soon divided on opinion towards his discoveries. Mesmer claimed to have cured patients suffering from paralyses, chronic vomiting and stoppages in the spleen and other organs. Critics, however, objected his claims based on the ground that the condition of the patients were not known before the treatment. In 1784, a commission appointed by King Louis XVI found that there was no evidence of the physical fluid that Mesmer claimed to have discovered. As a result, Mesmer was driven into exile.

Mesmer continued to practice mesmerism in Frauenfeld, Switzerland until his death in Meersburg, Germany. Despite being exiled, the concepts of the mesmeric fluid survived for a long time. His student, Marquis de Puségur continued to have many followers. The theory survived even after Braid found the concept of hypnotisability. Mesmerism resurfaced as late as 1885, when Binet and Féré used horse-shoe magnets to transfer movements from one side of the body to another.

  1. Forrest, D., ‘Mesmer’,International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 01 October 2002, Vol.50(4), 298.