Biography of Famous Scientist and Hypnotist Franz A. Mesmer

About the famous scientist Franz A. Mesmer who used hypnosis, biography and history of the man behind the word mesmerize.

FRANZ A. MESMER (1734-1815).

Franz Anton Mesmer doesn't entirely deserve his centuries-old reputation as a charlatan. Though he wasn't aware of the fact, Dr. Mesmer was one of the 1st to treat patients by hypnosis, and his motives generally seem to have been beyond reproach. Unaware of his hypnotic powers, the Austrian physician 1st believed that his medical successes were due to a method he had devised in which he stroked patients with magnets. Mesmer even kept a little magnet in a sack around his neck and "magnetized" everything in sight at his offices in Vienna, from the tableware to the trees in the garden. His cures for ailments ranging from gout to paralysis made him respected enough to be elected to Bavaria's Academy of Sciences, but the success of another practitioner who effected cures by manipulation alone made him abandon his magnets.

Forced to leave Austria on its account, Mesmer introduced his new "animal magnetism" to Paris in 1778. He knew that he was the "animal" involved in the process, but believed his "magnetism" to be otherworldly, not hypnotic. In any event, his spectacular method became the "in" thing, enjoying the vogue that various group therapy methods enjoy today. Mesmer made himself a fortune, prominent French figures like Lafayette, Marie Antoinette, and Montesquieu either supporting him or flocking to his lavish Place Vendome quarters, where he conducted rituals that did cure some people. Garbed in the flowing, brightly colored robes of an astrologer and waving a magic wand, Mesmer would arrange his patients in a circle, have them join hands in the dimly lit room, and then he would pass from one to another, fixing his eyes upon, touching, and speaking to each in turn while soft music played in the background. Apparently he never did understand that the supernatural had nothing to do with his success, that his hypnotic powers accomplished this. Many reputable physicians supported his claims, but when Louis XVI appointed a scientific commission--which included Benjamin Franklin--to investigate his practice, Mesmer fell into disfavor, the investigators' report labeling him a charlatan and imposter.

A man born before his time the unknowing hypnotist died in obscurity in Switzerland in 1815, aged 81. Freud and others would profit from his work, but he would mainly be remembered as a quack occult healer. Mesmerism--1st named and identified by his pupil Puysegur--was used for hypnotism before the latter word was coined, but today is employed mostly in the sense of to spellbind, to enthrall by some mysterious power, in fact, to sway a group or an individual by some strange animal or personal magnetism.

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