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Critics of mesmerism

One of Franz Mesmer’s main aims was to gain real recognition for his theories and experiments; he sought scientific establishment to confirm his ‘discovery’ of animal magnetism.  However, pubic concern led Lois XVI to set up a Commission of Inquiry in 1784.  They confirmed that the effects of mesmerism, such as trances and convulsions, were real but denied that this was proof to support the existence of animal magnetic fluid.  Instead, they maintained that Mesmerism was merely a product of the imagination (R. Porter, History Today, 1985).

English Mesmerists received particular criticism as the craze did not take hold as easily as on the continent.  Several hostile pamphlets were published, detailing the scepticism and criticism surrounding mesmerism, such as John Martin’s ‘Animal Magnetism Examined’ (1790) and John Pearson’s ‘A plain and rational account of the nature and effects of animal magnetism’ (1790).  Pamphlets such as these reflected public disenchantment with mesmeric claims (R. Porter, History Today, 1985).

Many critics compared Mesmerism to Catholic miracles and the ‘magic’ of the Middle Ages; they were deemed as mad and accused of quackery.  Contrastingly, Christians also found fault with the practice of Mesmerism; they saw it as a form of diabolism or even heresy.  They also linked Mesmerism to sexual exploitation and feared a decrease in sexual morality as a result.  Mesmerism also came to be linked with the political radicalism of the French Revolution and seen as a threat to political stability; this contributed to the decline of Mesmerism in Britain.  Due to the lack of proof, Mesmerism lost intellectual credibility to the minds of the Enlightenment.

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