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." [2] 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]

  1. A responsive influence exists between the heavenly bodies, the earth, and animated bodies.
  2. 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 influence.
  3. This reciprocal action is subject to mechanical laws, with which we are not as yet acquainted.
  4. Alternative effects result from this action, which may be considered to be a flux and reflux.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. The properties of matter and of organic substance depend on this action.
  8. The animal body experiences the alternative effects of this agent, and is directly affected by its insinuation into the substance of the nerves.
  9. 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 [3] may be observed.
  10. 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
  11. The action and virtue [4] 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.
  12. Experiments show that there is a diffusion of matter, subtle enough to penetrate all bodies without any considerable loss of energy. [5]
  13. This action and virtue may be strengthened and diffused by such bodies.
  14. Its action takes place at a remote distance, without the aid of any intermediary substance.
  15. It is, like light, increased and reflected by mirrors.
  16. It is communicated, propagated, and increased by sound.
  17. This magnetic virtue may be accumulated, concentrated, and transported.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. 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, [6] so as to completely control them.
  25. In communicating my method, I shall, by a new theory of matter, demonstrate the universal utility of the principle I seek to establish.
  26. 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 same advantage.[7]
  27. 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 absolute perfection.


[1] 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]

[2] 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. [Back]

[3] Declination: The needle of a compass points toward the north magnetic pole declining slightly downward through the bulge of the round earth. [Back]

[4] Virtue: The word here means "special power" or "power for good." [Back]

[5] 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" -- -- accessed 11/26/1999). [Back]

[6] 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 early. [Back]

[7] 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.