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Observations placeholder

Agassiz, Louis – A personal description of the effects of the mesmeric state



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

As described in Illustrations Of The Influence Of The Mind Upon The Body In Health And Disease, Designed To Elucidate The Action Of The Imagination - Daniel Hack Tuke, M.D., M.R.C.P.,

The early stage of the mesmeric state, so well described by Agassiz in his own person, would probably be allowed by mesmerists themselves to be capable of induction by psycho-physical means alone. This description is so interesting that I append it :

" Neufchatel, Feb. 22d, 1839. Desirous to know what to think of Mesmerism, I long sought for an opportunity of making some experiments in regard to it upon myself, so as to avoid the doubts which might arise on the nature of the sensations which we have heard described by mesmerized persons.

M. Desor and Mr. Townshend (Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend, A.M.) arrived here with the 'Evening Courier,' and at 10 p.m. Mr. Townshend commenced operating on me. While we sat opposite to one another, he, in the first place, only took hold of my hands and looked at me fixedly. I was firmly resolved to arrive at a knowledge of the truth, whatever it might be; and therefore, the moment I saw him endeavour to exert an action upon me, I silently addressed the Author of all things, beseeching him to give me power to resist the influence, and to be conscientious in regard to myself as well as in regard to the fact.

I then fixed my eyes upon Mr. Townshend, attentive to whatever passed. I was in very suitable circumstances ; the hour being early, and one in which I was in the habit of studying, was far from disposing me to sleep. I was sufficiently master of myself to experience no emotion, and to repress all flights of imagination, even if I had been less calm ; accordingly, it was a long time before I felt any effect from the presence of Mr. Townshend opposite me. However, after at least a quarter of an hour, I felt a sensation of a current through all my limbs, and from that moment my eyelids grew heavier. I then saw Mr. Townshend extend his hands before my eyes, as if he were about to plunge his fingers into them ; and then made different circular movements around my eyes, which caused my eyelids to become still heavier. I had the idea that he was endeavoring to make me close my eyes, and yet it was not as if someone had threatened my eyes, and in the waking state, I had closed them to prevent him; it was an irresistible heaviness of the lids which compelled me to shut them ; and by degrees I found I had no longer the power of keeping them open, but did not the less retain my consciousness of what was going on around me, so that I heard M. Desor speak to Mr. Townshend, understood what they said, and heard what questions they asked me, just as if I had been awake, but I had not the power of answering. I endeavored in vain, several times to do so, and when I succeeded, I perceived that I was passing out of the state of torpor in which I had been, and which was rather agreeable than painful.

 In this state I heard the watchman cry ten o'clock; then I heard it strike a quarter past; but afterwards I fell into a deeper sleep, although I never entirely lost my consciousness. It appeared to me that Mr. Townshend was endeavoring to put me into a sound sleep ; my movements seemed under his control, for I wished several times to change the position of my arms, but had not sufficient power to do it, or even really to will it; while I felt my head carried to the right or left shoulder, and backwards or forwards, without wishing it, and, indeed, in spite of the resistance which I endeavored to oppose; and this happened several times.

 I experienced at the same time a feeling of great pleasure in giving way to the attraction which dragged me sometimes to one side, sometimes to the other, then a kind of surprise on feeling my head fall into Mr. Townshend's hand, who appeared to me for the first time to be the centre of attraction. To his inquiry if I were well, and what I felt, I found I could not answer, but I smiled ; I felt that my features expanded in spite of my resistance; I was inwardly confused at experiencing pleasure from an influence which was mysterious to me. From this moment I wished to wake, and was less at my ease, and yet, on Mr. Townshend asking me whether I wished to be awakened, I made a hesitating movement with my shoulders. Mr. Townshend then repeated some frictions, which increased my sleep ; yet I was always conscious of what was passing around me. He then asked me if I wished to become lucid, at the same time continuing, as I felt, the frictions from the face to the arms.

 I then experienced an indescribable sensation of delight, and for an instant saw before me rays of dazzling light which instantly disappeared. I was then inwardly sorrowful at this state being prolonged ; it appeared to me that enough had been done with me; I wished to awake, but could not. Yet when Mr. Townshend and M. Desor spoke I heard them. I also heard the clock, and the watchman cry, but I did not know what hour he cried. Mr. Townshend then presented his watch to me, and asked if I could see the time, and if I could see him, but I could distinguish nothing; I heard the clock strike the quarter, but could not get out of my sleepy state. Mr. Townshend then woke me with some rapid transverse movements from the middle of the face outwards, which instantly caused my eyes to open, and at the same time I got up, saying to him, 'I thank you.' It was a quarter past eleven (about an hour having elapsed since I passed into the mesmeric state). He then told me, and M. Desor repeated the same thing, that the only fact which had satisfied them that I was in a state of mesmeric sleep, was the facility with which my head followed all the movements of his hand, although he did not touch me, and the pleasure which I appeared to feel at the moment when, after several repetitions of friction, he thus moved my head at pleasure in all directions." —

Agassiz (Facts in Mesmerism, with Reasons for a Dispassionate Inquiry into it. By Rev. Chauncy Hare Townsend, A.M. 1844, p. 388).

The source of the experience

Agassiz, Louis

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps