Text: Carroll Dee Laverty, “Chapter 11,” Science and Pseudo-Science in the Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (1951), pp. 284-305 (This material may be protected by copyright)


[page 284:]

Chapter XI


One of the popular offshoots of medicine in the late eighteenth century was mesmerism. A forerunner of modern hypnotism, this pseudo-science took its name from Frans Anton Mesmer, a Vienna-trained German doctor, who professed to heal his patients by a subtle fluid — animal magnetism. Mesmerism began as a respectable attempt to solve certain problems in medical science and came into disrepute when Mesmer’s imitators made more extravagant claims for it than its founder ever sanctioned. Even though he was bitterly attacked by orthodox physicians, Mesmer attained great popularity on continental Europe, and many psychologists today think that he did a service in focusing attention on the mental element in healing bodily disease.

Although mesmerism — also known as animal magnetism — was a live issue in France in the 1820s, it was not until the 1830s that it created much stir in the United States. According to one historian of the subject, “Animal magnetism was first brought to America in a more or less orthodox form by [page 285:] Du Commun, a pupil of Puységur, in 1829. . . .”(1) And in 1836, Charles Poyen, called “the most prominent mesmerizer practicing in the United States during the first half of the century, . . . a personal friend of Deleuze and Puységur, was lecturing in Maine(2) and had appeared before the faculty of Brown University.(3)

In the 1840s the pseudo-science was even more in the journals of the day. In that decade American magazines contained many references to animal magnetism,(4) many of them satirical. So great was the interest in it in this country and abroad that in 1845 William Newnham could write that in France and Germany mesmerism had produced 1400 publications and hundreds of volumes.(5)

“Medical free-thiu:cing is almost a necessary qualification for the popular romance writer and poet of the present day,” wrote a reviewer in the [page 286:] London Lancet in 1846.(6) He might well have had mind Poe and his tales using mesmerisml for it was little more than a month earlier that Poe had ublished his most exciting story of animal magnetism “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” — in the American Whig Review of December, 1845. This story aroused a tempest in literary and smeric circles that did not subside for two years, and, furthermore, was a climax, fitting in the furore it created, to a group of stories in which Poe made use of the ideas and terminology of mesmerism.

The third paragraph of the tale begins”My attention, for the last three years, had been repeatedly drawn to the subject of mesmerism. It seems likely that the statement is autobio raphica1, because only a 1841 did Poe show a decided interest in the subject. Before that time had mentioned animal magnetism casually,(8) but used it in his stories or reviews to no appreciable extent before 1842.

Why Poe became interested in it in the 1840s is hard to know,but many factors probably contributed to the phenomenon. In 1841 was published Facts of Mesmerism: Animal Magnetism, etc., by the Rev. Chauncy Hare ownohend, a book that Poe twice took occasion to praise.(9) Perhaps it stimulated his interest in mesmerism. A review of it asserts that “the book is in high repute with the believers in Animal Magnetism,”(10) a statement [page 287:] implying some interest in the pseudo-science in this country.(11) With its emphasis on psychic phenomena and its alleged release of the soul from the body it also probably appealed to Poe’s interest in the romantic.

Being alert to the public curiosity concerning mesmerism and knowing its main principles, Poe worked it into his writing. He began by making reference to it in book reviews and stories, continued with the flowering period of 1844 and 1845, when he used it to a considerable extent in three stories, reviewed one work on the subject, and treated it often in the Broadway Journal. Thereafter he made allusions to mesmerism and probably used some of its ideas in Eureka.

His mention of animal magnetism in his reviews shows his developing interest in the subject and his February, 1842, Poe reviewed Wakondah, the Master of Life. A Poem, and called one of the speeches in it “a barefaced attempt at magnetism.”(12) In March, 1844, in a criticism of Orion, he mentioned mesmerism again at somewhat greater length, half contemptuously.(13) And finally, on April 5, 1845, he reviewed a book of mesmerism in terms that show his familiarity with the subject. In the review, of a volume by William Newnham, he mentions what seems to be his [page 288:] favorite book on the subject the one by Chauncy Hare Townshend. This review only incidental discusses mesmerism, concentrating on weaknesses in logic. But Poe says that he agrees in general with the author — except for his disparagement of Townshend, whose book Poe regarded highly — and that he does not dispute the “importance of the mesmeric influence in surgical cases. . . .”(14)

The facts of mesmerism are vital to an understanding of three of his stories,(15) and in at least three others the pseudo. . .science or its terminology is employed. The three in which it is an integral part appeared between April, 1844 and December, 1845. Although after this period British and American periodicals continued to notice mesmerism for five years or more, Poe did not again make it fundamental to his works.

“A Tale of the Ragged Mountains which appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book in April, 1844, is his first tale to make any great use of mesmerism. This story combines information from medicine, metempsychosis, and animal magnetism.

Dr. Templeton, who might be called the real hero, “had been a traveller in his younger days, and,at Paris, had become a convert, in great measure, [page 289:] to the doctrines of Mesmer.”(16) Poe knew enough of Mesmer’s life to know that he had practiced in Paris and gained fame there. The main action of the story is carried on while the young man, Bedloe, is under mesmeric influence. The author details at some length the lessening difficulty Dr. Templeton has in getting Bedloe to respond fully to the mesmeric influence. Almost all writings of the time point out that it becomes progressively easier to gain a complete rapport with the subject each additional time he is mesmerized.(17) As a person in poor health, Bedloe was more susceptible than a healthy individual.(18) Eventually Dr. Templeton gained the power of putting Bedloe to sleep almost instantaneously “by the mere volition of the operator, even when the invalid was unawareof his presence.”(19) Mesmerists labored hard in the 1840s to prove that this could be accomplished, and Poe handles the subject as a good mesmerist would have done.(20) The temperament of Bedloe was, in the highest degree, sensitive, excitable, enthusiastic.”(21) A temperament which the mesmerist considered ideal for a subject! [page 290:]

The main action of the story is experienced by Bedloe in the extreme state of mesmeric somnambulance during the exact time while Dr. Templeton is writing an account of that very action. Thus the subject Bedioe was experiencing what, the operator Dr. Templeton was thinking — willing him experience — in accordance with the accepted theories of mesmerism.(22) The subject Bedloe, in this story, goes back about fifty years time and experiences to the deeds of his grandfather. Among the claims of mesmerism, according to one critic,was the “most blasphemous extravagance, it pretends to annihilate distance and time. . . .”(23) When Bedloe walks into the Ragged Mountains, his transition from the normal physical state to the metaphysical is accomplished accordingto mesmeric theory. “And now an indescribable uneasiness possessed me,” he related species of nervous hesitation and tremor. I feared to tread, lest I should be precipitated into some abyss.”(24) Thus Bedloe, unknowing, is put under the mesmeric spell by Dr. Templeton. To help the reader’s belief, Poe adds the fact that Bedloe is under the influence of morphine. He thus offers two possible explanations to make a fantastic story seem credible while it is being read.

“A Tale of the Ragged Mountains” ends, on a note of mesmerism, confounded with metempsychosis. One of the ba tenets of mesmerists was that [page 291:] the subject is in sympathy with the mesmerizer. According to J. B. Dods, who had begun lecturing in the United States on mesmerism as early as 1830 and who lectured much during the 1840s —

In mesmerism there is a sympathy so perfect between the magnetizer and the subject, that what he sees the subject sees — what he hears, the subject hears — what he feels, the subject feels — what he tastes, the subject tastes . . . .and what he smells, the subject also smells; and lastly, what the magnetizer wills, is likewise the will of his subject.(25)

In Poe’s story Dr. Templeton wills that Bedloe shall go through the experiences that he is writing down — experlences that Bedloe’s grandfather actually had years before. The grandfather died when his forehead was pierced by a spear. Bedloe,on coming out of the mesmeric trance, soon contracts a fem., and leeches are applied to his head. One of the leeches turns out to be a “venomous vermicular sangsue.” It fastens itself on Bedloe’s right temple, exactly where the spear had pierced his grandfather’s forehead. Here Poe is trying to afford a simple physical explanation for what is obviously a wound received by the young man while the mesmeric trance undergoing in spirit the experiences of his grandfather.(26)

Or by suggesting the physical characteristics of Bedloe that hint of great old age, Poe may be trying is say that Bedloe’s grandfather by metempsychosis has entered the body of his grandson, and then by means of mesmerism [page 292:] is made to relive the exciting adventures of his youth in India.(27) Eighteenth-century India in the time of Hastings can be visited by the spirit released from the body by mesmerism — a spirit free of the limitations of time and space. In the story, Bedloe vividly describes Benares, a city has never visited physically. He sees it only when his spirit is released by uhe mesmeric trance.(28)

A reader cannot get the full significance of “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains” without knowing that Bedloe acted according to well-known principles of mesmerism — a Lac intended to give the story more credence among the readers who know that i was based on the pseudo-science.

Poe’s next important story using mesmerism is “Mesmeric Revelation,” published in August of 1844 in Columbian Magazine. The whole narrative is a fictional account of mesmeric experience. It opens, with a little essay that details the basic tenets of the “science.” The story makes use of one common and highly disputed hypothesis of mesmerism — that in a trance a person can accurately diagnose his own illness and even foresee its outcome. Flora its beginnings mesmerism had been associated with medicine, and by prevision or clairvoyance had become one of its tenets.

The main part of “Mesmeric Revelation” is a dialogue with the magnetizer [page 293:] questioning the subject a style typical of mesmeric trances. Only the operator could properly question his subject, and according to some mesmerists he was the only one the subject could hear. The opening question “Are you asleep?” is a typical one, it being common mesmeric practice to wit just such a query to the mesmerized one.

And the body of the colloquy is interspersed with ideas from mesmerism. For example, the idea of “gradations of matter. Poe says: “We have . . . a metal, a piece of wood, a drop of water, the atmosphere, a gas, caloric, electricity, the luminiferous ether.”(29) Mesmer himself is quoted as saying: “the whole universe is filled with a fluid, more subtle than the ethe just as this is more subtle than air, and air more so than water.”(30) Poe, too, speaks of a fluid more subtle than ether — he calls it “unparticled matter.”(31) And Mesmer, like Poe, believed this subtlest of all fluids to be responsible for holding the heavenly bodies in their places by its powers of attraction and repulsion. This idea, though, was not the exclusive property of the amerists: scientists, too, were debating the nature of matter and its difference from spirit.

Furthermore, in the whole discussion of perception of “external things direc.ly, without organs, through a medium which I shall employ in the ultimate, unorganized life,”(32) he is talking mesmerism. The literature of mesmerism contains accounts of subjects who perceived directly without the intervention of the eyes or ears, etc., between the perceived and [page 294:] the brain. Poe states: “It is to the absence of idiosyncratic organs, therefore, that we must attribute the nearly unlimited perceptions of the ultimate life.”(33) The mesmerists contended that it was such freedom of spirit from corporeal limitations that gave the somnambulist his powers of clairvoyance. It is almost as if in “Mesmeric Revelation” the author were trying to explain philosophically the facts that the mesmerists proclaimed.

In a letter written to Chivers on July 10, 1844, Poe asserts:

My own faith is indeed my own. You will find it, somewhat detailed, in a forthcoming number of the unolumbian Magazine,” published here. I have written for it an amicle headed “Mesmeric Revelation,” which see.(34)

This letter contains bits of his philosophy, as does the story “Mesmeric Revelation,” and Eureka,which brought against Poe the charge of materialism and pantheism. The epistle states:

There is no such thing as spirituality. God is material. All things are material; yet the matter of God has all the qualities which we attribute to the Spirit; thus the difference is scarcely more than words. There is a matter without particles — of no atomic composition: this is God. It permeates and impels all things, and thus is all things in itself. Its agitation is the thought of God, and creates. Man and other beings (inhabitants of the stars) are portions of this unparticied matter, individualized by being incorporated in the ordinary or particled matter. Thus they exist rudimentally. Death is the painful metamorphosis.(35)

Such thoughts, common to mesmerism, are probably an outgrowth of Mesmer’s own speculations as to the magnetic fluid with which he effected his cures. [page 295:]

Toward the close of “Mesmeric Revelation,” the subject, upon being released from a trance, “with a bright smile irradiating all his features fell back upon his pillow and expired.”(36) A good subject is often elated n coming out of the mesmeric trance.

Even the suggestion with which the story closes — “Had the sleepwaker,(37) indeed, during the latter portion of his discourse, been addressing me from out of the regions of the shadows?”(38) — may have come to Poe from the literate of mesmerism. A work of C. Chardel, one of the better known mesmerists, details the case of a clairvoyant who speaks thus of her mother’s illness: “My mother has been very weak for some days; she has only lived by the magnetism, which has artificially sustained her; life is failing.”(39) Did Poe first find here the idea that the animal magnetism might cheat death? A third edition of Chardel’s work was published in 1844, and Poe [page 296:] might have seen it or an earlier edition.

It remains to be said only that some of the ideas discussed in the colloquy in “Mesmeric Revelation,” which Poe may have got from his reading in the literature of animal magnetism, he may also have found elsewhere in the philosophical or scientific thought of the day; for the mesmerists took whatever they could use from the intellecteel atmosphere of their time and worked it into their own theories, thereby giving them a greater seeming kinship with the accepted science of the time. Since Poe was acquainted with both mesmerism and the accepted science, one cannot say with complete certainty from which source he drew his own ideas.

The idea that a person might be kept alive by animal magnetism alone beyond the period when death otherwise mould have occurred, Poe developed in his most sensational story of mesmerism, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” published in the American Whig Review of December, 1845. This idea Poe could have found in the literature of mesmerism current in his own.(40) [page 297:]

Another feature of the a Cory may have come to him from Hall’s “Mesmerism,” which was appearing in the issue of the Lancet that Poe refers to. “Magnetise a dying man — “ the article says, “he will tell you, with all his good sense, as much as there will remain strength to speak.”(41)

“Valdemar” primarily is a story purporting to show that mesmerism can keep life existent even after death has come to the body. Not until the spirit, released from its mortal clay by mesmerism, has returned to that earthly prison, may final dissolution and death occur. With great emphasis on details of the procedure to give verisimilitude, Poe relates in a matter-of-fact way the case-history of a patient whop having foreseen the tine of his approaching death, agrees to be mesmerized. The patient is in the mesmeric trance when death arrives to the body or would have arrived had not Mr. Valdemarts spirit been away from home on a mesmeric journey. For seven months Mr. Valdemar is kept alive while the mesmeric trance endures, but when he is brought out of the trance when his spirit returns to his body he dies immediately and his body disintegrates — “a nearly liquid mass of [page 298:] loathsome — of detestable putridity.”(42) Such was the state of mind of the enthusiasts of mesmerism that some of them believed the story as related by Poe. Those who didn’t believe still fell under the spell of the horrible naturalism with which he told the tale. Truly, it created a sensation, particularly in England and Scotland, where mesmerism had generated more excitement than in the United States. But interest was not lacking in our own country.

Philip Pendleton Cooke in a letter to Poe dated August 4, 1846, states:

The “Valdemar Case” I . . . pronounce it without hesitation the most damnable, vraisemblable, horrible, hair-lifting, shocking ingenious chapter of fiction that any brain ever conceived, or hands traced. That gelatinous, viscous sound of man’s voice! there never was such an idea before. That story scared me in broad day, armed with a double-barrel Tryon Turkey gun.(43)

Writing of Poe in 1848, Cooke asserts:

I understand that some foreign mesmeric journals, German and French, reprinted it as being what it purported to be — a true account of mesmeric phenomena. That many others were deceived in like manner by this strange tale. . .is very probable.(44)

Of course, Cooke may have got this idea from Poe himself.

Robert H. Collyer, the author of an appendix to the Reverend Townshend’s book on mesmerism that Poe admired, and (in 1841) a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society, wrote to Poe that the tale “has created a very great [page 299:] sensation” in Boston, declaring that he himself did not have “the least doubt of the possibility of such a phenomenon, and finally asking Poe deny that it is “merely a splendid creation of your own brain.”(45) Miss Elizabeth Barrett wrote to him in April of 1846:

. . . this tale of yours. . .is going the round of newspapers, about mesmerism, throwing us all into the “most admired disorder,” and dreadful doubts as to whether “it ran be true. . . .”(46)

Setter Arch Ramsay a druggist, wrote to Poe from Stonehaven, Kincardshire, Scotland, on April 14, 1847, asking him at once to affirm or deny the truth of the facts in the case.(47) Of this story as of “Mesmeric Revelation,” Poe asserted to his friends that “I had not the slightest idea that any person should credit it as anything more than a ‘Magazine-paper’ — . . . .”(48)

“The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” then marked a fitting climax to Poets important use of mesmerise in his tales. With the sense of timeliness of a good journalist and with a consummate skill in verisimilitude, he sent his story out at the most propitious moment for popular success.

“The Spectacles,” written by 1844, is a tale in which the author attempts to gain acceptance, temporary at least, for the idea that a very weak-eyed young man fell in love with his great-grandmother. Poe realized that the idea was preposterous and triad to gain more redence for it by reference [page 300:] to the general intellectual excitement created by animal magnetism. The young man falls in love at first sight, and the author explains the phenomenon:

Modern discoveries, indeed in what may be termed ethical magnetism or gagnetoesthetics, render it probable that the most natural, and, consequently the truest and most intense of human affections, are those which arise in the heart as if by electric sympathy — in a word, that the brightest and most enduring physical fetters are those which are riveted by a glance.(49)

The poor lad, Poe suggests, was under some kind of spell of arimel magnetism when he fell in love with his great-grandmother. Poe explains the spell later in the story, re-emphasizing the weird force: “An unaccountable and what I am compelled to consider a magnetic sympathy of soul for soul, seemed to rivet, net only my vision, but my whole powers of thought and feeling on the Admirable object before me”(50) — his great-grandmother! Poe needed some device at least as strong as magnetism to explain this strange attraction.(51)

Mesmerism appears again, more or less incidentally, in another story of this period — “Some Words with a Mummy,” published in the American Whig Review for April, 1845. Here, while the mummy is being catechized very much in the manner of a mesmerist interrogating his subject, the quizzers explain [page 301:] to the mummy Count Allamistakeo, two of the marvels of modern science to show their own superiority over the ancient Egyptians. The narrator asserts: “Here our whole partyp joining voices detailed, at great length, the assumptions of phrenology and the marvels of animal magnetism.”(52) But, the narrator continues:

Having heard us to an end, the Count proceeded to relate a few anecdotes, which rendered it evident that the prototypes of Gall and Spurzheim had flourished and faded in Egypt so long ago as to have been nearly forgotten, and that the manoeuvres of Mesmer were really very contemptible tricks when put in collation with the positive miracles of the Theban savans, who created lice and a great many other similar things.(53)

Here Poe is taking advantage of his knowledge that many of the people of his day were scornful of mesmerism and would be interested in any disparaging statement about it.

Mesmerism was a popular subject in the Broadway Journal, and the editors in at least one instance asked for an account of an operation performed on a patient in a mesmeric trance. Some of the articles are clearly by and he certainly read all of them and no doubt approved of their publication.(54)

After Poe had become editor, he wrote:

The Mesmeric journals, and some others, are still making a to-do about the tenability of Mr. Vankirkis doctrines as broached in a late Magazine paper of our own, entitled “Mesmeric Revelation.(55) [page 302:]

He then goes on to say that the eharge of materialism against him is due to a false reading of his article. A later note mentions Mesmer, along with such other supposed faddists as Perkins, Gall, Lavater, and Dee.(56) He comments on Harriet Martineau’s alleged cure by mesmerism,(57) and remarks that “Mr. Simms had a mesmeric sketch, rather overstrained” in the September, 1845, issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book.(58)

In three consecutive issues of the Broadway Journal appeared “The Magnetizer; or Ready for Any Body,” by the author of “The Vision of Rubeta,”(59) Poe’s friend Laughton Osborn. Later Poe jibes at the Tribune for doubting that the alleged facts in his story about Valdemar are true. The Tribune had said, according to Poe’s quotation of it, “. . .whoever thought it a veracious recital must have the bump of Faith large, very large indeed.” Poe comments:

For our parts we find it difficult to understand how any dispassionate transcendentalist can doubt the facts as we state them: they are by no means so incredible as the marvels which are hourly narrated, and believed on the topic of Mesmerism. Why cannot a man talk after he is dead? Why? — why? that is the question; and as soon as the Tribune has answered it to our satisfaction we will talk to it farther.(60)

The Broadway Journal praises Horace Smith’s Love and Mesmerism in these words: “A really admirable book by an author who never did anything ill.”(61) [page 303:] And the next to the last issue of the magazine printed Poe’s letter from Robert H. Collyer already mentioned.(62) The Broadway Journal, then, furnished corroboration for the opinion that Poe considered mesmerism a newsworthy subject.

That Poe made use of the current interest in mesmerism is clear. He did so, partly because he was a capable magazinist who sensed when the reading public would manifest a keen interest in a scientific fad or sensation. Realizing the stir mesmerism had been in England for several years and feeling the growing interest in it in his own country, he decided to work it into his stories — primarily some of those of 1844 and 1845. But mesmerism made other appeals to him. In the mesmeric state, he fancied, a person could learn more of the conditions of death than anywhere else. Mesmerism appealed to his persistent interest in mental phenomena phrenology, insanity, psychology, the operations of the “soul.” Mesmerism was in the romantic tradition: it was strange and mysterious; it temporarily released the soul from its carnal bonds; it transcended space and time; it involved an exertion of the will — a subject often interesting to him. For these reasons, probably, he used mesmerism in his short stories.

How far Poe believed in mesmerism is difficult to decide. His interest in it came later than his concern with phrenology, and apparently he thought animal magnetism less scientific than the “science,” of Gall and Spurzheim. His own published statements on the subject are contradictory, but most of them suggest that he thought of mesmerism more as a metaphysical fad than as a true science. [page 304:]

There are, however, certain statements that suggest a belief in mesmerism. He considered the Reverend Mr. Townshend’s work on the subject of the most truly profound and philosophical books of the day.”(63) And he asserted that in general he agreed with the conclusions of W. Newnham in his book on mesmerism. He begins “Mesmeric Revelation” with the statement: “Whatever doubt may still envelop the rationale of mesmerism its startling facts are now almost universally admitted.”(64) Speaking in the editorial he says, “We have firm faith in Mesmerism but not in all Miss Martineau dreams of it.”(65) At times he accepts the facts of the pseudo-science for purposes of comparison. For example, in speaking of dreams,he declares the phenomena of dreaming differ, radically, from those of reverie — of which latter the mesmeric condition is the extreme.”(66) And finally in such comments as the following, he indicates his general attraction to the doctrines like animal magnetism:

In fact there are few highly sensitive or imaginative intellects for which the vortex of mysticism, in any shape, has not an almost irresistible influence, on account of the shadowy confines which separate the Unknown from the Sublime.(67)

That he almost certainly refers to mesmerism here is indicated by the fact that the same passage contains a reference to “some Mesmeric mode of communication.”(68) [page 305:]

On the other hand, Poe’s most frequent comments on mesmerism seem indicate that he held the conservative, conventional opinion that mesmerism was only a passing enthusiasm and that most mesmeric’s were humbugs and frauds. In his review of Orion in March of 1844, he seems to be poking fun at the pseudo-science when he says:

The “Seer,” therefore, has no resource but to oblige mankind by holding his tongue, and suffering his Idea to remain quietly nunevolved,” until some Mesmeric mode of intercommunication shall be invented, whereby the antipodal brains of the SEER and of the man cf Common Sense shall be brought into the necessary rapport.(69)

A note in “Marginalia,” first published in Godey’s Lady’s Book for August, 1845, suggests his derision of mesmerism:

The Swedenborgians inform me that they have discovered all that I said in a magazine article, entitled “Meameric Revelation” to be absolutely tree, although at first they were very strongly inclined to doubt my veracity — a thing which, in that particular instance, I never dreamed of doubting myself. The story is pure fiction from beginning to end.(70)

Such comments are probably more typical than the favorable ones. And the last references to mesmerism are in that tone. In Eureka, for example, he classifies together “Magnetism, or Mesmerism, or Swedenborgianism, or Transcendentalism, or some other equally delicious ism of the same species, and invariablypatronized by one and the same species of people.”(71) This, apparently, represents his final opinion of mesmerism, which as a popular psychological fad, he had made the good use of in his short stories.



[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 285:]

1.  Margaret Goldsmith, Franz Anton Mesmer A History of Mesmerism (New York, 1934), pp. 245-246.

2.  Ibid., pp. 257-258.

3.  Niles’ Weekly Register, II (Dec. 3, 1836), 222.

4.  Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, II (Feb., 1338), 138-139, suggested in a review of Vandeleur; or Animal Magnetism that the subtitle was employed at the instigation of booksellers to capitalize on the current interest in the subject, One may note the similarity in the names Vandeleur and Valdemar. Sturmer: a Tale of Mesmerism, by Isabella F. Romer, was announced for publication in December of 1841. — “Literary Notices,” Quarto Boston Nation, Dec. 11, 1841. A reviewer in Graham’s Magazine, XX (March, 1842), 192, asserted: “This work is republished, we presume, not so much on account of its intrinsic merit, as on account of the present emeute in our immediate vicinity and elsewhere on the subject of animal magnetism.” Poe probably wrote this short review. The word émeute is a rather unusual one that he used elsewhere. — Works, V, 6.

5.  Human Magnetism (London, 1845), p. 9.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 286:]

6.  Review of Mesmerism a Mystery, by Horace Smith (Jan. 24, 1846), p. 101.

7.  Works, VI, 154.

8.  Ibid., IX, 152 and XV, 213-214.

9.  Ibid., XII, 134 and XVI, 115.

10.  Boston Quarterly Review, IV (Oct., 1841), 522.

[The following footnotes appeared at the bottom of page 287:]

11.  A representative list of contemporary references to mesmerism will help demonstrate this interest. Poe is known to have read some of these magazines: Leigh Hunt’s London Journal, I (Sept. 3, 1834), 182-183; American Journal of Medical Sciences, XXI (Nov., 1837), 268-276; North American Review, XLV (Oct., 1837), 516; Knickerbocker, X (Nov., 1837), 445; Casket, XIII (July, 1838), 315-324; Polytechnic Journal, II (Feb., 1840), 106-112; Saturday Evening Post, XXII (Nov. 13, 1841), 2; Niles’ National Register, LXIV (March, 11, 1843), 48; New Monthly Magazine and Humorist, Part I (1845), 125-129; and Graham’s Magazine, XIX (Oct., 1846), 204.

12.  Works, XI, 27.

13.  Ibid., XI, 251-254

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of a page 288:]

14.  Ibid., XII, 123.

15.  For another study of the three stories, see Sidney E. Lind, “Poe and Mesmerism,” PMLA, LXII (Dec., 1947), 1077-1094. One book on mesmerism, The Philosophy of Animal Magnetism, by A Gentleman of Philadelphia, has been attributed to Poe by Joseph Jackson. But the book is probably not Poe’s. The style is not his; some of the ideas are not his, for example, the praise of Colonel William L. Stone, for whom Poe had little friendship. It is the opinion of Dr. T. O. Mabbott, too, that “with the writing of this book. . . Poe had nothing to do. . . .” This is part of a quotation written on the flyleaf of the copy in the Duke University Library.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 289:]

16.  Works, V, 164-165.

17.  For example, Chauncy Hare Townshend Facts in Mesmerism, or Animal Magnetism (Boston, 1841), p. 131.

18.  Most writers on the subject contended that a sick person was more susceptible. For example, Newnham states, “. . . the feebler nervous systems and those in inferior health, are the most susceptible.” — Op. cit., p. 82.

19.  Works, V, 165.

20.  One convert to mesmerism contended: “We can not only act upon the magnetized person (by volition alone,) but even place him in a complete state of somnambulism . . .without his knowledge, out of his sight, at a certain distance. . . .” — Quoted in The London Lancet, Feb. 1, 1845, p. 116. That is exactly what Dr. Templeton did to Bedloe. See also Newnham, op. cit., p. 338 and Townshend, op. cit., pp. 441 and 442.

21.  Works, V, 166.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 290:]

22.  It should be remembered that the various mesmerists themselves were not completely in agreement on many of the suppositions of their practice.

23.The  Lancet, June 20, 1846, p. 688. Newnham is specific on the subject; .and having escaped from the control of reason and experience, and of the powers arising from the comparison of objects, time and space appear to be annihilated; — years of time and hundreds and thousands of miles of sea and land are passed over in a second of time. . .by an activity of mental agency which . . . is impossible in any ordinary condition.” — Op. cit., 357.

24.  Works, V, 167-168.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 291:]

25.  J. B. Dods, The Philosophy of Electrical Psychology (New York, 1851), p. 30.

26.  A similar case is reported as fact in the United States Magazine and Democratic Review of December, 1841. A woman dreamed she had hacked her forearm and hand while chopping wood. She was admitted to the hospital with her left hand and arm covered with blood, suffering cuts and bleeding, with some broken bones. Here, as in Poe’s story, the injury dreamed of apparently becomes a reality. — “Animal Magnetism,” IX, 521-522.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 292:]

27.  In detailing his description of the scenes in Benares, Poe indulged his love of the geographically and historically romantic places and times. He drew on Macaulay for his description. See Henry Austin, “Poe as Plagiarist, and His Debt to Macaulay,” Literature, No. 30, M.S. (Aug. 4, 1899), 83.

28.  Dr. Caldwell, in his book on mesmerism published in this country in 1842, cites the case of the sleepwalker who clearly depicted cities she had never been in. — Quoted in London Lancet, June, 1845, p. 505. Newnham, in treating of a similar case, remarks: “This case seems to exemplify that species of clairvoyance which results from seeing objects through the previously informed brain of the magnetizer.” — Op. cit., 268.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 293:]

29.  Works, V, 246.

30.  Alfred Moss, Hypnotism, translated from fourth enlarged edition by Arthur F. Hopkirk (London, 1909), p. 492.

31.  Works, V, 246 and 247.

32.  Ibid., V, 250.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 294:]

33.  Ibid., V, 251.

34.  George E. Woodberry, editor, “The Poe-Chivers Papers,” p. 441.

35.  Ibid., p. 441.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 295:]

36.  Works, V, 254.

37.  Sleepwaker is the technical term — not sleepwalker. Poe writes: “He is a sleep-waker — not a sleep-walker. . . .” — “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, XXXII (March, 1848), 178. This entire instalment of “Marginalia” is given to Poe’s discussion of the reception and misconception of “Mesmeric Revelation” and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” in England.

38.  Works, V, 254. Townshend, op. cit., p. 161, cites the case of a mesmerizer who puts to his subject questions about the state after death. Hawthorne also must have known that some people believed that mesmerism could bring information to living people from the region beyond death. In 1841 he wrote: “Take no part, I beseech you, in these magnetic miracles. . . . I have no faith whatever that people. . .gain any insight into the mysteries of life beyond death by means of this strange science.” — Passages from the American Note-Books, Vol. IX of The Complete Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne Riverside edition (Boston and New York, 1910), p. 244.

39.  Joseph W. Haddock, Somnolism & Psycheism (London, 1851), p. 54. Chardel’s findings were originally published before 1844.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 296, running to the bottom of page 297:]

40.  A likely source for this most famous of Poets stories of mesmerism is en article in Blackwood’s Magazine, “On the Present State of Animal Magnetism in Germany.” — II (Oct., 1817), 36-38. The article appeared long before Poets story — October, 1817. It reports a case made known by a Professor Nasse and concerns “The Dependence which a dying Person who has been magnetised has on the Magnetiser.” The case is that of the “wife of Mr. Zimmermann in Bielefeld, who was dying of consumption” — as was Valdemar. All the usual remedies were tried in vain. Finally Dr. Nasse suggested that Zimmermann try to magnetise his dying wife. He did so. After twenty-four days Mrs. Zimmermann “showed no amendment” and her husband lost interest in her cure and discontinued the manipulations of mesmerism. She grew worse then and weaker, and “the hour of death approached.” But — and the italics are in the original — “the patient could not die.” For two days more Dr. Nasse watched her struggle between life and death, reviving perceptibly every time her husband entered the sickroom. Her husband wanted to renew the magnetic treatments then but Dr. Nasse thought it improper at “the very brink of the grave,” so Mr. Zimmermann yielded “and permitted his wife to depart in peace.”

Mrs. Zimmermann’s last days were similar to those of M. Valdemar, who [page 297:] was not allowed to die for seven months, with the final loathsome result described in the story, Also M. Valdemar was suffering for months from “a confirmed phthisis.” — Works, VI, 156. The reader may wonder how the condition of M. Valdemar’s lungs as described in detail in the story could be known to the narrator. An ordinary doctor could know the condition only by post-mortem examination, It was a conventional belief among mesmerists, however, that a subject could describe in detail the condition of his diseased organs in illness by a sort of inner sight available only to the mesmerized. For a discussion of the diseased condition of Valdemar’s lungs, see the chapter “Medicine,” Newnham asserts that “The susceptibility is greatly increased in emaciated persons, who have been enfeebled and exhausted by chronic disease.” — Newnham, op. cit., p. 103. Such was M. Valdemar!

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 297:]

41.  The London Lancet (March, 1845), p. 517. This issue, the one Poe refers to, was republished in New York by Burgess & Stringer, with the two date lines: London, March: 5 and New York, June, 1845.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 298:]

42.  Works, VI, 166. It has been suggested that Poe found the idea for the final dissolution of Valdemar in The Seeress of Prevorst, advertised in the Broadway Journal, II (Aug. 2, 1845), 63. — Killis Campbell, The Mind of Poe, p. 169.

43.  Ibid., XVII, 263-264.

44.  Ibid., I, 386-387.

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45.  Ibid., XVII, 225.

46.  Ibid., XVII, 229.

47.  Ibid., XVII, 284-285.

48.  Letter to E. A. Duyckinck, March 8, 1849, Works, XVII, 342. For a similar statement with respect to “Mesmeric Revelation,” see “Marginalia,” XVII, 71. See Also “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, XXXII (March, 1848), 178-179.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 300:]

49.  Works, V, 177.

50.  Ibid., V, 181.

51.  In theme Poe’s “The Spectacles” is strikingly like a story signed E. E. that appeared in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, II (May, 1838), 323-325. The story is “The Veil.” In it a young man falls in love with a beautiful creature who wears a veil, which hides her features as did the lack of spectacles in Poe’s story. After a pursuit, similar in purpose to the one in Poets story, the young man persuades the woman he loves to lift her veil — only to discover she is a sexagenarian. In Poets story the young man is persuaded to don his spectacles and look at his love — who is his great-grandmother. In both stories the young hero is both startled and chastened by the discovery that he has been pursuing an aged female in the impetuosity of his love at first sight.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 301:]

52.  Works, VI, 133.

53.  Ibid., VI, 133.

54.  “Letter from Dr. Sidney Doane,” Broadway Journal, I (Feb. 1, 1845), 75.

55.  “Editorial Miscellany,” ibid., II (Sept. 2 1845), 174.

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56.  “Letter to Broadway Journal,” ibid., I (June 14, 1845) 373.

57.  “Editorial Miscellany,” ibid., II (Aug.16, 1845), 94.

58.  Ibid., II (Aug. 30, 1845), 122.

59.  Ibid., II (Sept. 6, 13, and 20, 184 131, 149, 164.

60.  Ibid., II (Dec. 13, 1845), 359.

61.  Ibid., II (Dec. 20, 1845), 375.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 303:]

62.  Ibid., II (Dec. 27, 1845), 390-391.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 304:]

63.  Works, XII, 123.

64.  Ibid., V, 241.

65.  “Editorial Miscellany,” Broadway Journal, II (Aug. 15, 1845), 94.

66.  Works, XIV, 187.

67.  Ibid., XI, 253-254. se also Works, XIV, 255-256 and XV, 135-136.

68.  Ibid., XI, 253.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 305:]

69.  Ibid., XI, 253.

70.  Ibid., XVI, 71.

71.  Ibid., XVI, 223. Poe’s comment that the delicious isms were patronized by the same kind of people is partly borne out by the facts. Dr. John Elliotson of England and Dr. Charles Caldwell of the United States were pioneers and leaders in both phrenology and mesmerism in their respective countries. Mesmerism is considered as a direct forerunner of spiritualism in both countries, and many mesmerists turned to spiritualism.




[S:0 - CDL51, 1951] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Science and Pseudo-Science in the Writings of EAP (C. D. Laverty) (Chapter 11)