Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Human Magnetism,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. XII: Literary Criticism - part 04 (1902), pp. 121-123


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[page 121, continued:]

HUMAN MAGNETISM; ITS CLAIM TO DISPASSIONATE INQUIRY. BEING AN ATTEMPT TO SHOW THE UTILITY OF ITS APPLICATION FOR THE RELIEF OF HUMAN SUFFERING. BY W. NEWNHAM, ESQ., M. R. S. L., AUTHOR OF THE “RECIPROCAL INFLUENCE OF BODY AND MIND,” ETC. NEW YORK; WILEY AND PUTNAM.

[Broadway Journal, April 5, 1845.]

THIS is a work of cast importance and high merit, but one of which (on account of its extent of thesis) it is almost impossible to speak otherwise than cursorily, or at random, within the limits of a weekly paper.

The title explains the subject in its generalise. The origin of the work is thus stated in an Introductory Chapter:

“About twelve months since I was asked by some friends to write a paper against mesmerism — and I was [page 122:] furnished with materials by a highly esteemed quondam pupil, which proved incontestibly that under some circumstances the operator might he duped — that hundreds of enlightened persons might equally be deceived — and certainly went far to show that the pretended science was wholly a delusion, a system of fraud and jugglery by which the imaginations of the credulous were field in thraldom through the arts of the designing. Perhaps in an evil hour I assented to the proposition thus made — but on reflection I found that the facts before me only led to the direct proof that certain phenomena might be counterfeited; and the existence of counterfeit coin is rather a proof that there is somewhere the genuine standard gold to be imitated.”

Now the fallacy here is obvious, and lies in a mere variation of what the logicians style “begging the question.”

Counterfeit coin is said to prove the existence of genuine — but this is no more than the truism that there can be no counterfeit where there is no genuine just as there can be no badness where there is no goodness — the considerations being purely relative; but, because there can be no counterfeit where there is no original, does it in any manner follow that any undemonstrated original exists? In seeing a piece of gold we know it to be counterfeit by comparison with coins admitted to be genuine; but were no coin admitted to be genuine, how should we establish the counterfeit, and what right should we have to talk of counterfeits at all? Now in the case of mesmerism our author is merely begging the admission.

Such reasoning as this has an ominous look in the very first page of a scientific work-and accordingly we were not surprised to find Mr. Newnham’s treatise [page 123:] illogical throughout. Not that we do not thoroughly coincide with him in his general views — but that we attain (for the most part) his conclusions by different, and we hope more legitimate routes than his own. In some important points — his ideas of prevision, for example, and the curative effects of magnetism — we radically disagree — and most especially do we disagree with him in his (implied) disparagement of the work of Chauncey Hare Townshend, which we regard as one of the most truly profound and philosophical works of the day — a work to be valued properly only in a day to come.

We hope, however, that nothing here said by us will influence a single individual to neglect a perusal of the book of Mr. Newnham. It should be read, as a vast store-house of suggestive facts, by all who pretend to keep pace with modern philosophy.

In saying above that we disagree with the author in some of his ideas of the curative effects of magnetism, we are not to be understood as disputing, in any degree, the prodigious importance of the mesmeric influence in surgical cases: — that limbs, for example, have been amputated without pain through such influence, is what we feel to be fact. In instances such as that of Miss Martineau, however, we equally feel the weakness of attributing the cure to magnetism. Those who wish to examine all sides of a question would do well to dip into some medical works of authority before forming an opinion on such topics. In the case of Miss Martineau we beg leave to refer to the “London Lancet,” for March, 1845, page 265 of the edition published by Burgess & Stringer.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of Human Magnetism)