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Franz Anton Mesmer

[mez' mer] proponent of "animal magnetism"

Franz Anton Mesmer

Frank Anton Mesmer was born on May 23, 1734, at Iznang, a village on the German side of Lake Constance. He studied theology and medicine at the universities of Ingolstadt (Germany) and Vienna (Austria).

Mesmer's interest in the teachings of Paracelsus caused him to believe that the stars influence the health and general condition of human beings by way of a subtle and invisible fluid. He became convinced that there was a healing and magnetic power in his own hands, and in 1775 he began calling this force "animal magnetism" which, he believed, permeated the universe. Mesmer successfully used his new system to cure patients, especially hysterical ones. His technique received some support among members of the medical profession, but some accused him of practicing magic and, in 1778, he was ordered to leave Austria.

Settling in Paris, Mesmer's popularity continued to grow. In 1785, the French government was induced to appoint an investigative commission composed of physicians and scientists. Benjamin Franklin was a member of this commission, which reported that Mesmer had indeed effected many cures but attributed them not to animal magnetism but to some as yet unknown physiological causes. The committee's report was generally unfavorable to Mesmer's theory, and he subsequently fell into disrepute and spent the rest of his life in obscurity. He lived for a time in Switzerland; early in 1814 he moved to Meersburg, a village near his native Iznang, where he died on March 5, 1815.

Since Mesmer's day his technique has been elevated from the domain of charlatanism to that of scientific research. The "mesmeric trance" is today identified as hypnosis, and its value in the management of certain medical conditions has been widely recognized.


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Benjamin Franklin

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This page was last updated on September 27, 2018.