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'Under The Influence': Mesmerism in England

A rage for Mesmerism gripped society in London at the end of the 18th century, as it had in Paris and Vienna. But it was to be short-lived. The excesses of its devotees soon discredited the 'science' in the eyes of the public and it eventually became a vehicle for unbalanced fringes of society.

Franz Anton Mesmer
Franz Anton Mesmer

In 1785, Mesmerism first came to England. We know about Mesmerism today largely as the forerunner of later movements – hypnotism, which became important in Victorian medicine, spiritualism, and not least, psycho-analysis, since in his early practice Freud used Mesmerism as his therapeutic medium. But who exactly was Mesmer, and what impact did his ideas have when they first came to England?

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