Anton Mesmer arrived at Paris in 1778, and began modestly by making himself and his theory of animal magnetism known to the principal physicians. At first, his encouragement was but slight; he found people more inclined to laugh at than to patronize him. But he was a man who had great confidence in himself and was of a perseverance which no difficulties could overcome. He hired a sumptuous apartment, which he opened to all comers who chose to make trial of the new power of nature. M. D’Eslon, a physician of great reputation, became a convert, and from that time animal magnetism, or as some called it, mesmerism, became the fashion in Paris. The women were quite enthusiastic about it, and their admiring tattle wafted its fame through every grade of society. Mesmer was the rage, and high and low, rich and poor, credulous and unbelieving, all hastened to convince themselves of the power of this mighty magician who made such magnificent promises. Mesmer, who knew as well as any man living the influence of the imagination, determined that, on that score, nothing should be wanting to heighten the effect of the magnetic charm. In all Paris, there was not a house so charmingly furnished as M. Mesmer’s. Richly stained glass shed a dim religious light on his spacious saloons, which were almost covered with mirrors. Orange blossoms scented all the air of his corridors; incense of the most expensive kinds burned in antique vases on his chimney pieces; aeolian harps sighed melodious music from distant chambers, while sometimes a sweet female voice from above or below stole softly upon the mysterious silence that was kept in the house and insisted upon from all visitors. “Was ever anything so delightful!” cried all the Mrs. Wittitterleys of Paris, as they thronged to his house in search of pleasant excitement. “So delightful!” said the pseudophilosophers who would believe anything if it were the fashion. “So amusing!” said the worn-out debauchees who had drained the cup of sensuality to its dregs and who longed to see lovely women in convulsions, with the hope that they might gain some new emotions from the sight.
The following was the mode of operation: in the center of the saloon was placed an oval vessel about four feet in its longest diameter and one foot deep. In this were laid a number of wine bottles, filled with magnetized water, well corked-up, and disposed in radiuses with their necks outward. Water was then poured into the vessel so as just to cover the bottles, and filings of iron were thrown in occasionally to heighten the magnetic effect. The vessel was then covered with an iron cover, pierced through with many holes, and was called the baquet. From each hole issued a long, movable rod of iron, which the patients were to apply to such parts of their bodies as were afflicted. Around this baquet the patients were directed to sit, holding each other by the hand and pressing their knees together as closely as possible to facilitate the passage of the magnetic fluid from one to the other.
Then came in the assistant magnetizers, generally strong, handsome young men, to pour into the patient from their fingertips fresh streams of the wondrous fluid. They embraced the patient between the knees, rubbed them gently down the spine and the course of the nerves, using gentle pressure upon the breasts of the ladies, and staring them out of countenance to magnetize them by the eye! All this time the most rigorous silence was maintained, with the exception of a few wild notes on the harmonica or the pianoforte, or the melodious voice of a hidden opera singer swelling softly at long intervals. Gradually the cheeks of the ladies began to glow, their imaginations to become inflamed, and off they went, one after the other, in convulsive fits. Some of them sobbed and tore their hair, others laughed till the tears ran from their eyes, while others shrieked and screamed and yelled till they became insensible altogether.
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