Mesmer, Marie Antoinette and a Royal Commission

During the years before the French Revolution, writes D.M. Walmsley, Mesmer’s treatment of patients by 'animal magnetism' in some ways foreshadowed the methods of modern pyschiatry.

For several years before the revolution, Anton Mesmer built up an immense reputation in Paris among people of all classes. As in our day, the prevalent turmoils and stresses gave rise to mental ills on a large scale. Mesmer’s astonishing cures mainly depended on methods foreshadowing modern psychiatry; and inevitably he found himself at loggerheads with established medical authorities.

Throughout his long life he persisted in his efforts to secure official sanction for the purpose of spreading his teaching and practice the more effectively for the benefit of mankind. After four early attempts, resulting in negative or inconclusive verdicts, he decided to leave Paris.

Friends appealed to the Queen, Marie Antoinette, to prevent such a calamity. What led up to this incident, and what followed, help to throw light on a man often misrepresented and on the age in which he lived.

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