Propositions Concerning Animal Magnetism,
by Anton Mesmer, 1779 
[Sir Thomas Browne complained in
the middle of the 17th century that "Quacksalvers and charlatans
deceive the people."  Quacks are still
among us, but sometime in the 18th century they changed their sales
pitch. Anton Mesmer was among the most famous to offer a cure that
sounded like new physical science but which leading scientists
investigated and rejected. When Mesmer finally closed his elegant clinic
in Paris, he was able to afford a small but comfortable estate in the
country, to which he quietly retired. Potential buyers, and sellers,
too, of any sort of new therapy might wish to know how he recruited so
many paying clients. -dgl]
- A responsive influence exists between the heavenly bodies, the earth,
and animated bodies.
- A fluid universally diffused, so continuous as not to admit of a
vacuum, incomparably subtle, and naturally susceptible of receiving,
propagating, and communicating all motor disturbances, is the means of
- This reciprocal action is subject to mechanical laws, with which we
are not as yet acquainted.
- Alternative effects result from this action, which may be considered
to be a flux and reflux.
- This reflux is more or less general, more or less special, more or
less compound, according to the nature of the causes which determine it.
- It is by this action, the most universal which occurs in nature, that
the exercise of active relations takes place between the heavenly
bodies, the earth, and its constituent parts.
- The properties of matter and of organic substance depend on this
- The animal body experiences the alternative effects of this agent,
and is directly affected by its insinuation into the substance of the
- Properties are displayed, analogous to those of
the magnet, particularly in the human body, in which diverse and
opposite poles are likewise to be distinguished, and these may be
communicated, changed, destroyed, and reinforced. Even the phenomenon of
declination  may
- This property of the human body which renders it susceptible of the
influence of heavenly bodies, and of the reciprocal action of those
which environ it, manifests its analogy with the magnet, and this has
decided me to adopt the term of animal magnetism
- The action and virtue 
of animal magnetism, thus characterized, may be communicated to other
animate or inanimate bodies. Both of these classes of bodies, however,
vary in their susceptibility.
- Experiments show that there is a diffusion of
matter, subtle enough to penetrate all bodies without any considerable
loss of energy. 
- This action and virtue may be strengthened and diffused by such
- Its action takes place at a remote distance, without the aid of any
- It is, like light, increased and reflected by mirrors.
- It is communicated, propagated, and increased by sound.
- This magnetic virtue may be accumulated, concentrated, and
- I have said that animated bodies are not all equally susceptible; in
a few instances they have such an opposite property that their presence
is enough to destroy all the effects of magnetism upon other bodies.
- This opposite virtue likewise penetrates all bodies: it also may be
communicated, propagated, accumulated, concentrated, and transported,
reflected by mirrors, and propagated by sound. This does not merely
constitute a negative, but a positive opposite virtue.
- The magnet, whether natural or artificial, is like other bodies
susceptible of animal magnetism, and even of the opposite virtue: in
neither case does its action on fire and the needle [of a compass]
suffer any change, and this shows that the principle of animal magnetism
essentially differs from that of mineral magnetism.
- This system sheds new light upon the nature of fire and of light, as
well as on the theory of attraction, of flux and reflux, of the magnet
and of electricity.
- It teaches us that the magnet and artificial electricity have, with
respect to diseases, properties common to a host of other agents
presented to us by nature, and that if the use of these has been
attended by some useful results, they are due to animal magnetism.
- These facts show, in accordance with the practical rules I am about
to establish, that this principle will cure nervous diseases directly,
and other diseases indirectly.
- By its aid the physician is enlightened as to
the use of medicine, and may render its action more perfect, and can
provoke and direct salutary crises, 
so as to completely control them.
- In communicating my method, I shall, by a new theory of matter,
demonstrate the universal utility of the principle I seek to establish.
- Possessed of this knowledge, the physician may
judge with certainty of the origin, nature, and progress of diseases,
however complicated they may be; he may hinder their development and
accomplish their cure without exposing the patient to dangerous and
troublesome consequences, irrespective of age, temperament, and sex.
Even women in a state of pregnancy, and during parturition, may reap the
- This doctrine will finally enable the physician to decide upon the
health of every individual, and of the presence of the diseases to which
he may be exposed. In this way the art of healing may be brought to
 Mesmer's Propositions are
included in Binet, A. & Féré, C. (1888) Animal
Magnetism. New York: Appleton and Co. Alfred Binet for a time believed
that he, too, could obtain amazing Mesmeric effects, then realized that he
and his subjects were deluding each other. To his credit, he published an
account of his error. [Back]
 Quacks and charlatans: see
Brewer, E. C. (1870/1975) Brewer's dictionary of phrase and fable.
Centenary edition revised by Ivor H. Evans. London: Cassell & Company.
 Declination: The needle
of a compass points toward the north magnetic pole declining slightly
downward through the bulge of the round earth. [Back]
 Virtue: The word here means "special
power" or "power for good." [Back]
 Subtle matter: There are,
in fact, particles rather like this called neutrinos. Furthermore,
radiation is used to treat cancer. Some people, therefore, are still
impressed by claims that some sort of "universal" rays or
particles can be "accumulated" to produce curative effects (cf.
Wilhelm Reich's "orgone energy" --
http://www.orgonomicscience.org -- accessed 11/26/1999). [Back]
 Crisis: Medical practitioners
believed that some diseases rose to a crisis point after which "the
fever broke" and the patients recovered, unless the crisis had killed
them. Under some conditions, it was thought safest to bring on the crisis
 Women: The authorities in Paris
had complaints that many young single women attended Mesmer's clinic. It
was generally suspected there was some sort of sexual attraction in what
went on there. The Government investigation was probably more motivated by
moral concerns than by an appetite for scientific accuracy. [Back]
This page was posted 11/ 26/1999. ©1999
D. Likely. All rights reserved.