Tuesday, 28 December 2010


It seems to me that there is a Spiritual Component in the nature of men and women. No matter how this is assailed it surfaces again and again.

In previous Posts I have tried to show that the modern Evolutionary Synthesis has tried, UNSUCCESSFULLY, to reduce human life to nothing more than crass, materialistic components. In short that there are no Spiritual or non material forces within human nature.

I have thus attempted to establish that the attacks on the Spiritual Nature of man have been shown to be deficient. Previously, I have indicated that in the Victorian era such attacks resulted in the resurgence of man's Spiritual Quest. This Spiritual Quest manifested itself in different forms.

Let us look at the way the Victorian Consciousness was formed by the exploration of MESMERISM and later its close relative, ANIMAL MAGNETISM. In later Posts I shall extend the discussion to include other pursuits of the Spiritual. Remember that this paves the way for the deeper understanding of the Victorian novelists. They included in their novels what they believed to be true.

First, a little background on Mesmerism.

Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) was an Austrian Physician and a friend of Mozart was a renowned Austrian physician and a personal friend of Mozart. He asserted that a  superfine, invisible fluid penetrated all nature, incluing the human body. The major cause of disease resulted from a blockage to the free flow of this fluid.

Mesmer ( picture left) also contended that this fluid was closely related to Magnetism. Therefore, if magnets were used correctly then the flow of this invisible fluid could be increased and the health of the subject would be restored. In time, Mesmer realised that this 'fluid' could be directed by touching the patient or by eye contact alone.

Often, during the course of the treatment, the subject would exhibit seizures, fainting fits, trances and give out wild screaming.  But Mesmer concluded that this was part of the blockage clearing process. Mesmer and his fellow practitiioner  believed that when the Mesmerist moved his hands in front of the patient, a physical force of some sort passed between the subject and the Mesmerist. Consequently physical effects took place in the patient's body.

Mesmerism was not a novelty. Such was its influence that it spread like wildfire throughout Europe in the 19th century and in England. Without a doubt, Mesmerism penetrated and helped mould the Victorian Consciousness.

But aside from curing illness, other effects were produced by the practice. Apparently, once in a Mesmerised state some individuals manifested psychic phenomena, such as clairvoyance, prophecy and the elimination of bodily sensations.

In Victorian England Mesmerism permeated the Consciousness to such an extent that in the 1840s literally hundreds of wandering Mesmerists travelled throughout the country exhibiting Mesmeric phenomena in front of paying audiences. In addition public shows were  advertised to attract clients who would pay large sums for private treatment.

During the public demonstrations it was vital to prove that the subject (usually a woman) was not faking. It had to be established that the normal senses of perception were gone.

To achieve this assertion, pistols were fired near the subject's ears, the skin was pricked with needles, smelling salts were waved beneath the subject's nostrils. Some Mesmerists went further. They poured acid onto the skin, knives were thrust under the fingernails, electric shocks were applied, and sometimes vinegar, soap, and even ammonia were placed in the mouth of the mesmerised subject. It was big business and was highly publicised and acclaimed throughout England. 

Eventually, Mesmerism entered the Public Consciousness in a more respectable way.

In 1842 a barrister, William Topham, placed a 42 year old Nottinghamshire labourer, James Wombell, in a Mesmeric Trance, in which the patient reached a state of complete insensibility. The Mesmerist was present whilst a surgeon amputated Wombell's leg at the thigh. 

This received massive publicity and it was stated that during this horrendous operation the patient showed no signs of pain. After the surgery Wombell lived for another thirty years without any apparent ill effects.

This and similar cases were widely publicised and Mesmerism permeated the Victorian Consciousness.  As indicated earlier I shall deal with aspects of Mesmerism when I discuss Bulwer Lytton's A Strange Story  written in 1862.

Mesmerism was related to a similar concept, Animal Magnetism.

This practice was viewed by many as equivalent to Mesmerism. It also received massive publicity and attained great popularity in Victorian England. The foremost advocate of Animal Magnetism was a Dr John Bell. He lectured and practiced in London, Dublin, Bristol, Gloucester, Worcester, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Chester, Liverpool, Manchester and various other places throughout England.

Bell claimed to be able to place a person in a Magnetised State and then cure a host of diseases. He also seemed able to induce a Sleep-walking state, and whilst under the influence the subject could eat, drink, walk, sing, and play various musical instruments. Bell also claimed to be able to Magnetise rivers, streams, trees, and other objects. This trancelike state, induced by Magnetism from a distance appears in the novel which I have mentioned earlier.

It seems fitting to sum up the state of things in Victorian England with the words of the famous George Bernard Shaw. He lived during this period (1856-1950) and described the era as follows.

It was a period 'addicted to table rapping, materialisation seances, clairvoyance, palmistry, crystal gazing, and the like' He went on to say that  never 'before in the history of the world did sooth-sayers, astrologers, and unregistered therapeutic specialists of all sorts flourish as they did during this half century.'

So, there we have it, but there is more to say about the Paranormal and its relation to the Victorian Consciousness. This I shall deal with in future Posts.

I hope you enjoyed this Post.

Any comments?


Picture credits

1. Commons.wikimedia.org
2.         ibid

1 comment:

  1. KS,

    Have you ever read of any comparison between Mesmer's force and Chinese 'chi?'