Chapter 4 THE MESMERIC PERIOD
Turning for the time being from the direct line of development of Mr. Quimby's views, we find interesting confirmations of his experiments in newspaper clippings and letters of the period, 1840-47. The first of these are from Quimby' s home town, Belfast. One of these writers says, in part
"Before we proceed to describe the experiments, we will say that Mr. Quimby is a gentleman, in size rather smaller than the medium of men, with a well-proportioned and wellbalanced phrenological head, and with the power of concentration surpassing anything we have ever witnessed. His eyes are black and very piercing, with rather a pleasant expression, and he possesses the power of looking at one object even without winking, for a length of time."
Newspaper writers were fair on the whole in what they said of him, while there were public-spirited citizens who were ready to write testimonials to physicians and other citizens of prominence in neighboring towns, that Mr. Quimby might be well received. In these testimonials and letters one finds the terms "mesmerism," "magnetism" and "animal magnetism" used interchangeably without much idea of what they stood for. Plainly such words equalled "x," as symbols for a power little short of a mystery, although Quimby was credited with entire honesty in performing his experiments. Apparently, it was still assumed that by making passes over a man's head he could be put to sleep by means of some "fluid." Hence interest centered about material facts, and there was no recognition of the fact, now a'commonplace, that the human mind is amenable to suggestion, and that supposed magnetic effects are mere products of one mind on another. The mesmeric sleep was not understood, and so it was an easy matter to speak of the subject as "magnetised." The chief value, therefore, of these contemporary references is found in their testimony to the facts, the authenticity of the public exhibitions and the results coming from examinations made by Lucius. Letters of recommendation were still necessary in those days.
Writing from Belfast, Nov. 18, 1843, and addressing himself to Hon. David Sears, Mr. James W. Webster makes the following statement:
"The bearer, Mr. Phineas P. Quimby, visits your city for the purpose of exhibiting the astonishing mesmeric powers of his subject, Master Lucius Burkmar. Mr. Quimby, as also the young man, are native citizens of this place, and sustain in the community unblemished moral characters.
"Mr. Quimby is not an educated man, nor is he pretending or obtrusive; but I think if you should take occasion to converse with him you will discern many traces of deep thought and reflection, particularly upon the subject above mentioned.
"His boy will I think demonstrate in an extraordinary manner the phenomena of magnetic influence, more especially in that department usually termed clairvoyance; and should you take an opportunity to be put in communication with him, I doubt not you will be gratified with the results. Time and distance with him are annihilated, and he travels with the rapidity of thought. I think he will describe to you the appearance of any edifice, tower or temple, and even that of any person either, in Europe or America, upon which or upon whom your imagination may rest. I say this much from the fact that I have been in communication with him [mentally] myself and do know that he describes remote places and even the appearance of persons at great distances which he never before could have heard or thought of. . . ."
Writing to Dr. Jacob Bigelow, apparently a physician of prominence, Dr. Albert T Wheelock writes from Belfast under date of Nov. 10, 1843, and describes an experiment in "animal magnetism" under mesmeric conditions in the case of an operation for the removal of a polypus from the nose. With a physician's care in describing symptoms, the writer gives an account of the patient's general condition and mentions her desire to be "magnetised." Dr. Wheelock then goes on as follows:
"As she was entirely unacquainted in the town, at her request I procured the attendance of a gentleman who had the reputation of being a good magnetiser (Mr. P. P. Quimby), although entirely faithless on my own part, as I told her at that time . . . I am quite confident that the lady and Mr. Quimby had never met before and that there was nothing previously concerted. I am also confident that she took no drug to induce stupor. In ten minutes after commencing, she was put into a state of apparent natural sleep, breathing and pulse natural, color of countenance unchanged. Mr. Q. asked her if she felt well. `Yes.' I immediately, in the presence of several noted citizens who were called in at their request, began to remove the polypus, and did it thoroughly. . . . I was operating perhaps 4 or 5 minutes at least. During the whole time she evinced not the slightest symptom of pain, either by any groaning, sighing or motion whatever, but was in all these respects like a dead body. I felt convinced that I [could] have amputated her arm. In about ten minutes after she was waked up, but said she was unconscious that anything had been done, complained of no pain, and found that she could now breathe freely through her nose, that previously had been entirely closed up, for several months. . . . Mr. Quimby . . . is an intelligent gentleman and worthy of the utmost confidence."
Another communication, addressed to Nathan Hale, Dr. Jacob Bigelow, and Dr. John Ware, of Boston, dated Belfast, Nov. 6, 1843, has been deprived of its signature through much handling. It is intended to show the authenticity of the experiments performed by Quimby and his subject. The writer, who is careful in stating facts, says that the subject told him even his own thoughts which the writer kept to himself, also words that he simply visualized. Lucius when blindfolded told minute facts concerning things at a distance of half a mile which no one in the room knew, facts which he could not know by "any means within the limit of common experience." The writer says:
"I have good reason to believe that he can discern the internal structure of an animal body, and if there be anything morbid or defective therein detect and explain it. The important advantage of this to surgery and medicine is obvious enough. He, that is, his intellect, can be in two places at the same time. He can go from one point to another, no matter how remote, without passing through the intermediate space. I have ascertained from irrefragible experiments that he takes ideas first directly from the mind of the person in communication with him, and, second, without reference to such mind, directly from the object or thing to which his attention is directed; and in both instances without any aid from his five bodily senses. He can perceive without using either of the common organs of perception. His mind when he is mesmerised seems to have no relation to body, distance, place, time or motion. He passes from Belfast to Washington, or from the earth to the moon, not as horses, steam engines or light, but swifter than light, by a single act of volition.
"In a word, he strides far beyond the reach of philosophy. He demonstrates, as I think, better than all physical, metaphysical or moral science, the immateriality of the human soul, and that its severance from the body involves not its own destruction. At least he proves this of himself. And I suppose other souls are like his. . . . Mesmerism as manifested by this boy lets in more light than any other window that has been opened for 1800 years. This may look like gross extravagance, but if you have the same luck I have you will find it is not so."
Another observer who was greatly impressed by Quimby's public lectures, accompanied by experiments performed through the aid of Lucius, writes from East Machias, Feb. 1845, concerning experiments in private which he thinks more remarkable still. He says, in part:
"The power of perceiving the seat of the disease, and of describing the most minute symptoms which I do not guess but know, his subject possesses when in the mesmeric sleep is astonishing beyond words to express. He has examined my wife twice and . . . I venture to say that all have been perfectly satisfied that there is not the least deception in regard to the matter, but the most satisfactory proof of an extraordinary, I may almost say miraculous, insight. . .
Lucius [sees] every particular in regard to the internal structure and state of the body, especially describing the causes of disease. . . . I write this without the knowledge or suggestion of Mr. Quimby, but hoping that hereby some who may receive inestimable benefit may not lose this opportunity. . . . Mr. Johnson has been put in communication with Lucius in public, and Mrs. Johnson this morning at our home, and he described with astonishing accuracy precisely the object which she had in her mind, which Mr. Quimby calls thoughtreading, and which I am just as certain is real as that I am here and the sun shines to-day, and also things which she did not have in her mind in regard to the persons and places which she took him to visit in spirit. This if true, as has often happened to Mr. Quimby, will place the power of clairvoyance beyond the shadow of a doubt. [Lucius] has it beyond a shadow of a doubt as far as perceiving disease and every internal organ of the body is concerned . . . and we shall write immediately to discover [the facts of the things discerned through] clairvoyance."
The following excerpt from the Bangor Democrat, April, 1843, gives us the date of Mr. Quimby's first experiment away from his home town, not his "native" town, of Belfast.
"Mr. Quimby of Belfast has visited here by invitation, and made exhibitions in public for the first time out of his native town. Some of our citizens are well acquainted with him, and others are acquainted with citizens of Belfast who have the most entire confidence in him: it is therefore preposterous that he attempts to practice imposition.
"He has with him two young men, brothers, one 23 and the other 17. They are clairvoyant subjects. The first evening the experiments were not successful, but one made in private we will relate as a sample of the rest. The young man was magnetised by Mr. Quimby, when one of our citizens was put in communication with him. In imagination he took the boy to St. John, New Brunswick, before the new Custom House, and asking him what he could see, he said a building with a stone front and the rest of it brick. He then began to read the letters on it. `C-u-s-t-o-m. Oh, this is the Custom House.' He then took him inside of the building and asked what he could see there, when he described the stone steps leading into the second story, the iron railing, curiously formed, and when taken into one of the rooms, described a man employed in writing.
"The gentleman says no one knew where he proposed to take the boy: the boy had never seen the building, and yet he described it as accurately as any one who has seen it. This gentleman's word is not to be questioned by any one.
"Such was the experiment, and others can tell as well as I whether it was humbuggery, witchcraft, a juggler's trick, magic, or the mysterious power that one person exerts over another. Real or unreal, it is extraordinary."
The next excerpt, from the Waldo Signal, Belfast, Jan. 25, 1844, is typical of those indicating that a general effort was made to avoid all collusion and if possible to explain the strange phenomena.
"We learn from the Norridgewock Workingman of the 18th inst. that our townsman, Mr. P. P. Quimby, has recently been in that place lecturing upon the science of animal magnetism, and illustrating the subject by numerous experiments. On the evening of the 12th a committee was appointed, consisting of several of the most intelligent men of N. to scrutinize the experiments for the ostensible purpose of satisfying themselves and the audience that there was no deception in the matter. The result was highly satisfactory, Mr. Quimby showing no disposition to avoid any scrutiny required by the committee"
Again, we have a letter confirming one of the experiments in clairvoyance. The letter is dated Eastport, Me., May 3d, 1845.
"Sir: The lady you mesmerised at my house on Saturday last and then requested her to take you to her father's house, a distance of about four hundred miles, you recollect, gave a minute description of the family and what they were about at that time. You also remember, I presume, that she stated that Mr. G., a member of the family died on the 14th ult., and that a Mrs. B., a particular friend of hers, had been there on a visit, was taken sick there, but had so far recovered that her brother had carried her home.
"On the Tuesday following her making the above statement she received a letter from her father in which he wrote that Mr. G. died about 8 o'clock, A. M. on the 14th of April, also stating that Mrs. B. had been there on a visit, and that she was taken sick so as to be obliged to stay a week longer than she intended, and that she had got so well that her brother had carried her home.
"You are aware that I have been sceptical about most of your mesmeric experiments. I therefore feel bound to give you the above statement of facts, and am willing you should show this to your friends. But I am not willing to have my name appear in print."
Other letters express the conviction that the time for ridicule has passed: people should attend the public demonstrations, see for themselves, then bring the sick to be diagnosed by Lucius, that the real nature of their maladies may be learned. There is much testimony regarding Lucius' wonderful clairvoyance in the mesmeric state, and always the conviction that there is no collusion. One of the letters is from Mr. Quimby himself, in which he refers to the case of a patient put into a state of sleep during three hours while an operation upon the teeth was being performed. The patient felt no pain. Mr. Quimby states that while the patient was asleep he told her mother that he would show her how he could talk with the daughter mentally. He then stepped toward the patient but did not put his hand upon her, merely sent her a thought. The patient thereupon laughed out in response to this thought and satisfied all in the room that it was an instance of thought-transference. This experience is significant, for it points forward to the time, presently to come, when Quimby will be able to dispense with his subject, and communicate directly either through telepathy or by the aid of his own clairvoyance, apart from mesmerism.
The last letter of this period is dated Lowell, Sept. 26, '47, and is an appeal addressed to Mr. Quimby to make an examination by the aid of Lucius of her husband's body, with the hope that the cause of his sudden death may be determined. Mr. Quimby assented, the examination was made, and in this instance the description is appended to the letter in Lucius's own words. Lucius describes the condition of the heart, which was somewhat enlarged, the state of the lungs and stomach, liver, blood, and so on. He says, "This I write while I am in communication with Mr. Quimby in the magnetic state."
Later, when reading over what he has written, he realizes that his description as there given does not show why death came about suddenly, and so he returns to the description, still confining his statement to an account of symptoms, and the probable sensations experienced just before death. This is what we might expect from a clairvoyant whose power consisted for the most part in making wonderfully accurate descriptions of things, events, states and conditions, or in reading thoughts in a person's mind; never the interpretation of these states in terms of their real meaning. This remained for Quimby himself to discern when, having found the limitations under which Lucius made these descriptions, he saw the difference between mere symptoms and inner causes. Lucius might describe the actual state of an untenanted body, and throw a little light on the feelings its owner may have had just before he left the flesh; but he could not tell the whole story. His descriptions raised as many problems as they appeared to solve. His clairvoyance was remarkable. But it was the perception of an inferior mind in a passive condition. What was needed was intuition, showing the real state of the individual behind all these symptoms.
Fortunately, for our present interests, there still exists a personal journal in which, beginning December 26, 1843, Lucius noted down matters of interest during his travels with Mr. Quimby. Most of these details are with reference to the towns visited, the interest or credulity aroused by the experiments, or the people met along the way. Plainly Lucius has no theory concerning his own powers. He accepts and uses the term "magnetism" or "magnetised," as matter of convenience, without manifesting any interest to inquire what is behind. He is aware that Mr. Quimby possesses power over him, but that fact neither troubles nor interests him. Apparently, he was glad when the public exhibitions were successful, and he notes that scepticism is overcome. But there he always leaves the matter.' One concludes that Lucius had exceptional receptive powers, so that under other auspices he might have been a spiritistic medium; but that he was almost entirely lacking in analytical power. Consequently, Lucius merely states facts and then leaves them. What he says concerning things discerned by him in the mesmeric state is probably what he could recall when he heard Mr. Quimby and others talking about his descriptions, when awakened into his normal condition.
For example, we find him referring to some of Mr. Quimby's cures in the early period when Quimby himself still believed that "magnetism" had something to do with them. "Quimby," he writes, "has been doing miracles. He has cured a man that couldn't walk nor speak. It has produced a great excitement here among the people. He [the patient] has been confined to his house about a year, and never has spoken or walked. In one hour [Mr. Quimby] made him walk about the room and speak so as to be heard in another room."
Referring to the prevalent scepticism, he writes on another occasion: "As a general thing we didn't find the people so bitter upon the subject of animal magnetism as we thought we should. We generally had the most influential men of the place upon our side of the question, and as a general thing satisfied all sceptics beyond a doubt."
Two years later we find Lucius still noticing this scepticism, and remarking that the people seem to be very bitter upon the subject of magnetism. "But," he continues, "we have satisfied a great many, some very hard cases. This afternoon I examined Mr. Hooper. Thought the kidney and uthera was diseased. Said there was a seated pain in the lower part of the abdomen, also a pain in the small of the back. Thought the pain in the small of the back was caused by sympathy with the kidneys. Recommended a plaster of Burgundy pitch to be worn upon the back. Told him not to drink cold water, for it did not agree with the kidneys. Also examined Mr. Pillsbury's wife. Examined head and pronounced the brain diseased, said there was a congestion of the brain and large clots of blood laid upon the brain, and it would produce convulsions and fits. While I was examining her head she had one of these fits, as I was told by Mr. Quimby."
It is interesting to note that Lucius frequently says merely what he "thought," and draws upon his own opinions. For example, he writes, "Examined Mrs. Barker. Said there was a difficulty in the blood, described one of the valves of the heart as being thicker than the other. Thought she didn't have exercise enough. Said the valve being deranged caused the blood to stop. Was asked what sensation it produced. Said it produced a faintness, said this was the great difficulty; thought there was no other functional or organic disease. At the same time examined Mrs. Bennett. This (as I understood from the Doctor) was a nameless disease."
In another case Lucius discerns what he takes to be spinal complaint and expresses the opinion that the patient "will never get well," although he once more recommends a "plaster of Burgundy pitch," to be put upon the small of the back for relief. These statements show how limited is the range of his own thought in the matter. He tells us nothing whatever concerning inner causes, and nothing about the general state of mind of those he examines. All this remained for Mr. Quimby to discover.
Plainly, Lucius's ability is more manifest when it is a question of describing material things, under the suggestion of some one in the audience who mentally tells him where to travel in spirit. Thus he speaks of being "put in communication with Mr. Buck, and being taken by him to his house." Lucius described the room, "and saw a map lying upon the floor, and told the audience that before he left his house he put a map upon the floor." These descriptions were convincing to the audience, because they proved that Lucius could actually see at a distance.
Lucius also had mind enough to follow Mr. Quimby's lectures to some extent, for he speaks of one occasion when the lecturer "spoke of mind, and how the mind was acted upon while in the mesmeric state." The most significant statement is that Quimby, in his remarks, "clearly demonstrated that there was no fluid, and he showed the relation between mind and matter." But, in confession of his own lack of interest in this striking demonstration, Lucius simply goes on to say, with only a comma between, I have been having a chit chat with a very pretty girl her name is Abey Redman but mum is the word." (1)
(1) This sentence, a characteristic one, is given exactly as found in the ,journal.
Rightly interpreted, this explanation leads beyond "animal magnetism" by showing that it is not a question of a supposed "fluid" or of electricity, but of mental influences which no mesmeric theory could account for. But Lucius has no inkling of this. He does note, however, that Mr. Quimby is himself beginning to cure in a remarkable way. He writes, "Mr. Quimby has performed a miracle here. He took a man that had a lame shoulder. It was partially out of joint. He worked upon it, and the man said there was no pain in it. This astonished them. This afternoon the man went about his work as well as ever. . . . [Mr. Quimby] took a man out of the audience (a perfect stranger to him) and effected a cure on his arm. The man bad not ben able to raise it up for two years and in a few minutes he was able to raise his arm up to his head, and moved it round free from pain " (2)
(2) These preliminary cases must have taught Mr. Quimby much in regard to the re-establishing of confidence, for later we find him beginning as soon as possible to encourage patients to make an effort to walk or raise their arms, in instances where this power had been lost.
So far as Lucius is able to follow, such cases merely show Mr. Quimby's power to exert "magnetic influence," whatever that was supposed to be. He speaks, for example, of a patient to whom Quimby was taken by a Dr. Richardson. "The case was that of a woman who fell down and injured the elbow joint so that she couldn't move it without excruciating pain. He magnetised her and made her move her arm about just as he pleased without any pain."
Turning to Mr. Quimby's own account of his experiments, we find once more that what Quimby was interested in was not the alleged "magnetism," but the activities which resulted when a subject or patient accepted a certain idea and responded to it. For example, in an article dated 1863, Mr. Quimby states that he found his mesmeric subject possessing a psychical sense of smell such that Lucius could not only detect any odor at a distance, but "describe the flower or person that threw the odor." Noticing Lucius's responsiveness to what he had perceived, or at other times merely thought he perceived, Mr. Quimby resolved to try an experiment of another sort, namely, to prove that similar consequences would follow when there was no real object at all, but merely an idea.
"I said," writes Mr. Quimby, that "I could create objects that my subject could see. So, of course I could create things that would frighten him, and I could create all kinds of fruit which he would eat and be affected by. For instance, when awake he was very fond of lemons, and was always eating them. I thought I would break him of it. So when I had him asleep I would create mentally a lemon, and he would see it. Then I would make him eat it till he would be so sick that he would vomit. Then he would beg me not to make him eat any more lemons. I never mentioned the conversation to him in his waking state. After trying the experiment two or three times, it destroyed his taste for lemons, and he had no desire for them and could not even bear the taste of them."
From this experiment Mr. Quimby infers that "ideas that cannot be seen are as as real as those which can be seen ... Then man can account for his troubles as easily as he can account for injuries caused by an accident. . . . Some ideas contain no intelligence because the author puts none in them." If a subject or a patient can be unpleasantly affected by a mere suggestion, one can utilize this power by directing the mind with intelligence, and so disabuse it of its errors. Since minds are reached directly in any event by mere "opinions," working mischief, we all have it in our power to reach minds wisely, and no "subject" is required. Thus it becomes a question of developing that "wisdom," as Quimby later called it, which should free people from adverse suggestions.
Mr. Quimby further saw that even when a subject is clairvoyant this state is of short duration, and the subject readily lapses into the mere mind-reading of those present. So the diagnosis of a disease, as well as the opinion that a certain remedy will be effective, may be in part mere mind-reading. In an article addressed to the editor of a Portland paper, February, 1862, protesting against being classed with spiritists, mesmerists, and clairvoyants, Mr. Quimby says,
"I was one of the first mesmerisers in the state who gave public experiments, and I had a subject who was considered the best then known. He examined and prescribed for diseases just as this class do now. . . . The capacity of thoughtreading is the common extent of mesmerism. Clairvoyance is very rare. . . .
"When I mesmerised my subject, he would prescribe some little simple herb that would do no harm or good of itself. In some cases this would cure the patient. I also found that any medicine would cure if he ordered it. This led me to investigate the matter, and arrive at the stand I now take that the cure is not in the medicine, but in the confidence of the doctor or medium. A clairvoyant never reasons nor alters his opinion; but, if in the first state of thought-reading he prescribes medicine, he must be posted by some mind interested in it, and must also derive his knowledge from the same source from which the doctors derive theirs.
"The subject I had left me, and was employed by _______, who employed him in examining diseases in the mesmeric sleep, and taught him to recommend such medicines as he got up himself in Latin; and, as the boy did not know Latin, it looked very mysterious. Soon afterwards he was at home again, and I put him to sleep to examine a lady, expecting that he would go on in his old way; but instead of that he wrote a long prescription in Latin. I awoke him, that he might read it; but he could not. So I took it to the apothecary who said he had the articles, and that they would cost twenty dollars. This was impossible for the lady to pay. So I returned and put him to sleep again; and he gave me his usual prescription of some little herb, and [the patient] got well"
This result convinced Mr. Quimby that if mediums and subjects had not acquired their alleged knowledge from the "common allopathic belief," and if it were not for "the superstition of the people," very few cures would be wrought. The fact that the medium's eyes are closed, for example, adds to the mystery. The people as readily responded to the suggestions of doctors who helped them create their diseases, in the first place, as to the supposed wisdom of the medium in the second. It is all a matter of suggestion any way. But real service to the sick would consist in showing them how they had been deceived. Mr. Quimby's experience with mesmerism had taught him the real secret of humbuggery in the case of both mediums and of mesmerists or supposed "magnetic healers." He had to pursue his investigations far enough to be thoroughly convinced, and to come into possession of the true principle. Moreover it was necessary for him to experiment with Lucius long enough to make the highly important discovery that he, Quimby, was clairvoyant, too, without the aid of mesmerism, and without any of the psychical manifestions through which the spiritists influenced people.