For a long time I have supposed that a universal fluid exists in nature, a fluid which penetrates all animate or inanimate bodies. The phenomena of electricity, as well as those of magnetism, affected this opinion of mine. Thus, I adopted the system of the noble Newton regarding the motion of celestial bodies. As a consequence of this, I obtained my degree on this theme at the University of Vienna in 1766, receiving the rank of doctor. However, I was not satisfied with my own interpretations, and chance gave me the means of correcting my notions.
One day, while in proximity to a person who was bleeding, I noticed that in approaching me and in going away from me, the circulation of this person’s blood varied in a remarkable way; and having repeated this maneuver in other circumstances with the same results, I concluded that I possessed a magnetic quality that was not, perhaps, as impressive as that of others, but a quality which others could possess to some degree, more or less, such as one sees in certain irons or steels which differ in magnetic properties although they have been formed from the same ingot and have been tempered in the same way. I understand very well that it is possible to make emanations of a subtle material, such as magnetic material, in our bodies and in other substances, as is done with the magnet or with magnetized iron. Spanish beeswax, ambergris, and other similar materials, become magnetic when dried out or made more harsh by rubbing.’ Why couldn’t we have this property?
Since time immemorial one has spoken of sympathy, antipathy, of attraction, repulsion, of ethereal matter, of phlogiston, of subtle matter, of animal spirits, of electrical matter, and of magnetic matter. All these agents, whose action is as real as the existence of light-do they not proclaim the widespread universal fluid, but combined differently in accordance with the substances and their manner of being or of action? This view has nothing, which opposes reason. When one considers the promptness with which the will is transmitted from the head to the extremities of our body in the activity of our automatic or voluntary movements, one can easily see that this rapidity is not owed to the lymphatic or serous fluid, which is only destined to serve the maintenance of the suppleness of the nerves but is owed to nervous fluid, to animal spirits, consequently to the universal fluid which penetrates us and whose immense promptness is known in electrical phenomena.
Moreover, the most electric parts of our bodies are dried nerves; the membranes are less electric and very likely owe their electrical property only to their interweaving with the many nerves which enter them. The nerves seem, then, to be the organs or the immediate conductors of the universal fluid in our bodies. In addition, the fluid is susceptible to surprising emanations. Pigeons have been seen to die between the hands of epileptics, and also rabbits when laid against the epileptic’s lower extremities at the moment of the epileptic attack. There is all the reason to believe that this phenomenon would not have occurred except for the electric discharge drawn from the epileptic by the contact. Aside from mentioning the acuteness and subtlety of a dog’s sense of smell, recognizing a trail 30 or 40 leagues long by means of corpuscles which we scatter after its, everyone knows of the characteristic found in healthy young people of being able to rejuvenate old men and strengthen them by means of their emanations; the Holy Scripture speaks of it.
1. The difference between attraction caused by magnetism and attraction caused by static electricity was not well understood at this time. Thus Mesmer frequently quotes phenomena of static electricity as being attributable to the magnet.
Physics these days is too enlightened to attribute the beneficial effects of such things to any cause other than to the elementary discharge [fire, animation] of which youth is abundantly provided, and whose emanations are sucked in by the jeopardized and lax pores of old men. Could not one propose, without offending probability, that sympathy-which is nothing other than an inclination, a pleasant impulse we carry towards one another as two magnets are attracted to each other reciprocally-consists of these reciprocal and mutual attractions? Thus, just as a weak magnet is revived by a stronger magnet, similarly the elemental matter which dies out in an old man because of the debility of his organs, is revived by elemental matter which is more vigorously launched by elastic, fresh, and hearty vessels and nerves.
It is more than likely that all of the bodies and elements of Nature are penetrated by this elemental matter. Created by the Supreme Being and put into action by His omnipotence, the form, existence, and exact and combined movement of the globes, which roll in the ocean of space, result, without doubt, from this universal source.
I can easily conceive that several rounded sponges, rolling upon each other in a basin filled with a highly agitated liquid, would in the meantime instill this liquid with a specific direction [bearing] towards the poles by the pressure of their [the sponges’] opposing circumferences. The resistance resulting from this pressure would clearly establish the flow of this liquid as running from one pole to the other. Isn’t it also conceivable that the particles that would be present on the surface of the sponge, carried by the current from the south, would have a greater similarity and tendency to be attracted to another substance of somewhat similar nature swept along by the current corning from the north and crossing the one coming from the south?
This comparison, as common as it is, seems to give a concept that one can form of the action of the universal principle in the magnet; the curve that this fluid naturally describes towards the poles, being exactly calculated, appears to explain the inclination and declination of the needle. All the phenomena of magnetism offer little difficulty in their explanation. It is no longer considered to be the action of an incomprehensible attraction completely similar to the occult faculties of Aristotle; it is a natural force, received equally by the senses and by reason. Each body has its poles and its surfaces; the universal fluid, composed of a two-fold stream, penetrates this body by means of each pole. This fluid always keeps the salve direction, as long as that direction is not altered by another current, which is stronger than the first. This is what constitutes the reinforcement of mineral magnetism as well as that of animal magnetism. Take several magnetized needles; put them in the same direction, one behind the other, with the north pole of one towards the south pole of the other; they will all tend to approach each other. Change the direction of these needles and arrange them so that the south pole of one is towards the north pole of the other; they will likewise tend to approach each other. Would one say that this is done by an attractive property which has no sense of direction, or wouldn’t one rather attribute this to the impetus of the two-fold magnetic stream, which, in its rapid course, carries along the needles which it penetrates and which presses one against the other, one by the north, the other by the south? As you know, the direction of the poles can be changed by means of electricity.
If a magnetized bar of iron is struck in the middle, the effect of the impact “destroys” the magnetism. If the same bar of iron is struck on one of its ends by a hammer “seven” times heavier, the magnetism is “restored.” Everything can be explained by the two-fold stream of electric material and all of these phenomena can also become understandable. The twofold stream of material, set into action by rubbing, flows through the two extremities from one end of the conductor to the other with the most surprising speed. As long as no obstacle stands in the way of this two-fold flow, all remains in an apparent state of tranquility. But, introduce the slightest obstacle to this two-fold stream so as to not allow it to vary, by interposing whatever body, then these two streams must, by their clash, produce the explosion and the electric shock.
Everyone knows of the electric property of man: how, under the electric influence his hair stands on end and deviates; [how] the movement of the thickest blood is singularly accelerated, as the blood can be caused to spurt out in degrees according to it being more or less impregnated by electric material; how sparks can be drawn from all parts of the electrified human body, etc. Therefore, one can easily understand that man is likewise penetrated by the twofold stream of universal fluid, and that he must have his poles and his surfaces in the same way as do all other substances of nature which are more or less penetrated, according to their own characteristics, by this same universal fluid. The existence of the universal fluid being real in the human body, its two-fold current, its reinforcement, its activity, its emanation being so manifested, let us now look at the mechanism of nervous sicknesses and the course of the magnetic influence.
Is it not true that coarse, pasty, viscous moods, produced by bad digestion, are occasioned by congestions and obstructions? The absence of freedom in the flow of the universal fluid and in the activity that it should impart to the nerves, and from these to the vessels, must be attributed to these viscosities and to these obstructions. Functions become sickly and the juices become spoiled, and the machine is destroyed in full or in part, or it is visibly and greatly impaired.
Iron which rusts and which falls into efflorescence [crumbles] through the passage of time no longer has magnetic properties; in giving it its former structure through the use of magnetism, it gets back its former properties. In the same way, the universal fluid, destroyed or weakened in a sick body, must be strengthened with additional fluid in order that the body be able to regain its former vigor and have the obstacles removed.
From this one can infer to what extent copious bloodletting and viscous medications lead to destruction of the machine, since in debilitating the forces under the pretext of preventing or curing imaginary inflammations, one often produces ailment where none existed. Few nervous sicknesses are seen which do not produce a slackening of the universal fluid and which cannot be dispelled by the reestablishment of that fluid.
Ambergris-a waxy substance found floating in tropical seas. A morbid secretion in the sperm whale.
League-4 kilometers or 2 1/2 miles.
Phlogiston-the hypothetical principle of fire, regarded as a material substance.
Serous-relating to, containing, or producing serum (fluid portion of the blood).