Autograph letter signed, Rome, 31 January 1845, to Emile de la Rue
Purchased in 1968
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."
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.
immensely. But the latter is the great sensation. And I never can forget it.
It is lucky for you that I am going to write forthwith to Madame De la Rue—that I may enclose the note in this—or I would have come down upon you with a blaze of description and fancy, worthy of old Di Negro, when he screws his right hand round, and looks out at the corners of those sly old leering Peepers of his, after the manner of the inspired Improvisatori. Heaven send you may never find me in that humour, with opportunity added to it! For I am much longer about it than a Carnival Horse—and am infinitely slower in my pace, I fear.
I don't know the Writings you ask me about. Not at all. I have a kind of sense that I ought to know