Letter 13 | 31 January 1845 | to Emile de la Rue, page 2

Primary tabs

Charles Dickens
(1812–1870)

Autograph letter signed, Rome, 31 January 1845, to Emile de la Rue

Purchased in 1968

MA 2626.1
Item description: 

Shortly after his arrival in the United States in January 1842, Dickens told Dr. R. H. Collyer that, "with regard to my opinion on the subject of Mesmerism... I am a believer [but] I became so against all my preconceived opinions and impressions."

While in America, Dickens carried out his first mesmeric experiment on his wife, recalling that he "magnetized [hypnotized] her into hysterics, and then into the magnetic sleep." But his first significant efforts began in Genoa in December 1844, with his mesmeric treatment of Madame Augusta de la Rue. In this letter Dickens informed the husband of Madame de la Rue that she was "now in a state most favorable and advantageous to the best influence The Mesmerism could possibly exert upon her."

Exhibition section: 

Mesmerism

In his life and art, Dickens worked energetically for healing. His fiction exposed many of the social ills of his day, and a significant portion of his later journalism is devoted to an impassioned campaign to improve sanitation and public health. Although he was a committed evolutionist and progressive in his attitude toward science and the improvements wrought by technological advances, he was also, by imagination and temperament, attracted to the fantastic and pseudoscientific. This was manifested in his interest in spontaneous combustion and phrenology as well as his fervent belief and active experiments in mesmerism (or "animal magnetism"), an early type of hypnotism.

Dickens was introduced to mesmerism through Dr. John Elliotson, his family physician and one of his "most intimate and valued friends." He became convinced of the therapeutic effects of mesmerism after witnessing Elliotson's demonstrations in 1838, and, although there is no record of Dickens undergoing the procedure, he learned to mesmerize others. Throughout the 1840s, he conducted mesmeric experiments on his wife and friends.

Transcription: 

which had transpired in a conversation between himself and Meloni.

We arrived yesterday, just in time for the horse Race. It was very pretty, but uncommonly short. I sneezed as I put my head out of window to look at it; and the whole business was begun and ended during that short convulsion. It was not a strong sneeze either. Quite a mild one.

As to the Masks, of which there were many scores going round and round the Piazza, afoot and in coaches; I must confess that my present impression of their powers is not a very high one. They were marvellously dull and stupid, so far as I could see. There have been none today, and there will be none tomorrow (when there is a Festa); but I shall correct my judgment on Monday and Tuesday. I have been to St. Peters, and to the Coliseum. The former struck me