FRANZ ANTON MESMER Biography - Famous Medicine & health care related men and women


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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.