SCIENCE TAKES A STEP
The Path, May, 1890
The encyclopaedias are not yet out of print which have classed mesmerism among the foolish supersitions of the ignorant played upon for profit by the quick-witted imposter, nor are the learned doctors dead who have published articles in support of the encyclopaedias; yet today the most eminent physicians in Europe declare that Mesmer was right and that mesmerism is not a superstition, but that it is necessary for reputations to adopt a new name,—so mesmerism is rechristened Hypnotism. In this way those doctors who laughed at and derided what has long been known to the common people may now learnedly discuss phenomena which some years ago they ignored under its old name. In the March number of Scribner Dr. William James writes upon this subject under the name of the “Hidden Self,” and the April Forum admits an article by the eminent Dr. Charcot upon “Hypnotism and Crime.”
This step, though taken late, is in the right direction. But the eminent physicians who make this advance cannot claim to be the leaders of the people, for the latter have for generations known quite as much about the matter as the licensed practitioners, except that they use no high-sounding name to call it by. It is well known to many members of the Theosophical Society that there are perhaps thousands of people in the United States who forty years ago pursued the same investigations and made similar experiments to those of Dr. Charcot and others. In the year 1850 a certain Dr. J.B. Dods gave lectures about the country and taught what he called Electrical Psychology. This was then so well known that it attracted the attention of certain U.S. Senators, among them, Daniel Webster, John P. Hale, Theodore Rush, Sam Houston, Henry Clay, and others, who invited Dr. Dods to lecture before them in Washington. He delivered his lecture, went on with his experiments, and published a series of Lectures upon the subject. In these are to be found, together with other things, the directions so loudly proclaimed and appropriated now by physicians who would have hooted at Dr. Dods. And even on the point of the necessity of precaution and of keeping hypnotism out of the hands of unprincipled persons, Dods was not silent. In 1850 he said in his Introduction that, although he had taught more than one thousand individuals whom he had put under solemn pledge not to reveal his methods to impure and immoral persons, yet some were so unprincipled as to violate their pledge and hawk the “science” about everywhere.
Dr. Charcot in the April Forum pleads for legislation that will prevent just such unprincipled persons from dealing with subjects, not solely on the ground that crime may be easily and safely committed with the aid of hypnotism, but rather that sensitive persons may be protected from the recurrence of hysteria or catalepsy, and ventures the opinion that crime will probably not find any aid or safeguard in hypnotism. While we thoroughly agree with Dr. Charcot as to the need for placing safeguards around this budding science, it is from a conviction that crime can be aided and hidden by the use of such a practice, and is today thus aided and hidden. We do not care to commit hypnotism solely to the doctors, as he asks, just for their sake, but we would wish to place restrictions upon even those gentlemen, and to limit the number of them who may be allowed to use it.
The chief value to the Theosophist of this new step of the schools, is not, however, in the likelihood that rules and methods may be published, but that before long time the erstwhile materialist who can be convinced of a fact only when an Academy endorses it will be the more easily convinced that there is a soul. In the March Scribner article above spoken of, we have a public admission that the facts of hypnotism prove a Hidden Self. Dr. Charcot does not go as far as this, but the variety and peculiarly occult character of numerous facts daily brought to light by other investigators will raise such a mountain of proof that hardly any one will be able to overcome it or deny its weight. Once they begin to admit a Hidden Self,—using, indeed, the very words long adopted by many Theosophists and constantly found in the ancient Upanishads, they allow the entering wedge. And so not long to wait have we for the fulfillment of the predictions of H.P. Blavatsky made in Isis Unveiled and repeated in the Secret Doctrine, “. . . and dead facts and events deliberately drowned in the sea of modern scepticism will ascend once more and reappear upon the surface.”