Mesmerism was a largely public phenomena in European countries such as Germany, where mesmeric salons, societies and retreats were common for a range of the population, as well as widespread publications of pamphlets, books and journals. Particularly in France, mesmerism was highly popular, and not solely for the elite, and as Robert Darnton’s work reveals, mesmerism became a public phenomenon in ‘mesmerist tubs’. Darnton argues that mesmerism appealed widely in Paris in particular as a result of ‘curiosity and the stronger passion for “the marvellous”’ and this is what sparked the popular support of ‘fads’ surrounding mesmerism.
Mesmerism was further publicised in popular poetry and literature, a good example being the work of Victor Hugo. Press and literature became crucial for mesmerism, as new sciences were aiming to legitimise and popularise themselves by publishing journals of their ideas and findings and public demonstrations. These journals include The Phrenological Journal and Mescellany (1823-47) in Edinburgh, the Illustrated Phrenological Almanac (1842-45) in the United States, as well as the infamous The Zoist (1843-56), founded and edited by John Elliotson. This was also evident in ‘phreno-mesmeric lectures’ aiming to appeal to the public and achieve recognition of their authenticity.
Historians have alluded to no conclusive pattern in the supporters of mesmerism in terms of class, gender, or region, however there does seem to be a relatively concentrated number of supporters in London, presumably due to prominent figures such as John Elliotson. A few examples of those who supported mesmerism include a small circle of London Jewish enthusiasts, mostly wealthy merchants, who supported private mesmerism publications and exploration of animal magnetism.
While it may be expected that only the literate classes were prominent supporters, Darnton explores how mesmerism was used by the working classes ‘in times of need,’ especially to mesmerist fortune-tellers in Paris, suggesting it appealed to a wider audience. This is clear in popular methods of summoning ghosts and triggering convulsions, and the use of techniques involving wands and chains.
Mesmerism also inserted itself into the political arena, influencing political systems such as the Holy Alliance. Political theorists were especially attracted to mesmerism, in particular the ‘mystic conservatives’ following Fabre d’Olivet’s ideas, but as well as liberals and utopian socialists in the Restif-Bonneville tradition. Further, ‘mesmerist propaganda’ was produced by radicals in Paris such as Jacques-Pierre Brissot, proving to be crucial in dispersing radical ideas about political theory.
Alison Winter explores the fact that the mesmerism conflict was about the ‘conquest for legitimacy’ rather than ‘empirical validity’ which helps to understand why the scientific professionals generally opposed and distanced themselves. Moreover, medical elites often opposed mesmerism in the context of the debate surrounding whether it could be used as an anaesthetic in surgery.
Mesmerism is practiced today in a school in Nice. Practiced more like a therapy than a medical procedure. Focus on being mindful about your body and being aware of your senses.
‘Established medical doctors from London tended to be dismissive toward (mesmerism), whereas many itinerant medical lecturers from the provinces embraced it.’ - Michael Saler