“It is important to society to know whether Mesmerism is true”*

Portrait of Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815)

*Harriet Martineau, writing in the Athenaeum, 1844.

The prolific author Harriet Martineau claimed in her Athenaeum articles that mesmerism, originally termed animal magnetism, had miraculously allowed her to recover from years of illness (apparently caused by uterine tumours). Jane Carlyle’s views on the subject would lead to a cooling in their correspondence. According to Charles Buller, it was Jane’s opinion that a “long course of Iodine” Harriet had taken earlier, not mesmerism, had been responsible for her so called miraculous cure.

Kathy Chamberlain’s biography of Jane Carlyle tells how, one evening in late 1844, Jane encountered “a distinguished Magnetiser” at Mrs Buller’s house. Jane wrote to her uncle:

” – flash – there went over me from head to foot something precisely like what I once experienced from taking hold of a galvanic ball – only not nearly so violent – I had presence of mind to keep looking him in the face as if I had felt nothing…

…When my insane friend (Richard Plattnauer) was in this house he said many things on the strength of his insanity – which in a mesmerized person would have been quoted as miracles of clairvoyance – “.

Jane concluded her letter by saying that she regarded “Animal magnetism” as “a damnable sort of tempting of Providence which I “as one solitary individual” will henceforth stand entirely aloof from – “.

Kathy Chamberlain writes:

“But Jane remained open to what she later referred to as spiritual magnetism. In 1861, writing to the American actress Charlotte Cushman, who had asked if she believed in that concept, Jane responded, “Most assuredly! I believe in it absolutely and entirely! It is the Great Central Fact of the Universe for me! – The concentrated Essence of Life!” By spiritual magnetism Jane appeared to mean a kind of mental telepathy practiced by kindred spirits, “one human will having power over another even thro’ some miles of other human beings.”.

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